August 30, 2019

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v33)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times 
Ah, the dog days of summer.

We're here, in Syracuse and Buffalo and the North Country, in the Southern Tier and the Catskills, in the Adirondacks and on Long Island, or in the five boroughs, we're sitting out here enjoying our  end of summer BBQs, the Great New York State Fair, back to school shopping and the like. 

But meanwhile, back in Albany, the wheels of government keep turning, and churning, and causing trouble. This time? New license plates.

That's right - the DMV has determined that we need new plates for the scanners that we'll use when we go to cashless tolling next year. The scanners need crisp, non-faded, non-peeling plates, or they won't be able to identify people to bill when they don't have an E-ZPass transponder.  New plates will be required at the time of registration if the current plates are 10 years old or more - and it'll cost $25 to get new plates, or $45 if you like your random number or have vanity plates and want to keep them.

To distract us from the kerfuffle our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, announced a contest where we could pick the design for our new license plate. There are five designs, four of which feature Excelsior, the state's motto, at the bottom of the plate. The one that doesn't have the motto? The one that has the Mario don't forget the M Cuomo Bridge; not sure if that's a way to get votes for that one, or if it was just an oversight.  (Voting closes on Monday, so there's still time for you to vote for #5.)

Needless to say, people are in an uproar - "it's just another Cuomo money grab" is a common lament, as if the money was going directly to the governor for his personal use. Politicians, in a rare showing of bipartisanship, are mad on the left and the right and everywhere in between.  And blame? Oh my, there's plenty to go around.

For example, the governor is blaming his predecessor, David Patterson, and the Legislature for the cost. Here's that piece of insight:
The fact is the Legislature set the $25 fee 10 years ago, before I was governor.
Similarly, DMV commissioner Mark Schroeder said, in a statement,
Some legislators have now expressed an interest in lowering the fee. The governor would like to lower the fee. If the legislators are sincere and want to lower the fee immediately, although they haven't in the last decade, the governor has made clear he invites them back for a special session to do it. 
The thing is, $25 is the maximum that can be charged, not the required amount that needs to be charged - but these are politicians, after all, so there's no way they'd charge, say, a quarter or a dollar to make the change.

And, of course, it ignores the fact that today, a peeling plate can be replaced - for free. So why next year does it have to cost as much as $45? Schroeder seemed to suggest that maybe the fee won't stand the test of time, noting
The 10-year-life replacement program does not go into effect until next April so we have time to work with the Legislature to explore alternatives. We support reducing costs wherever possible. 
Even after the laughter died down across the state, no word was forthcoming on who decided on the maximum fee, or why whoever made that decision doesn't just un-make it and choose a lesser amount.

The legislators are not sitting still, either. One Long Island Dem, Senator Monica Martinez, submitted a bill that would protect plates from replacement unless they're damaged. Her bill would also make license plate inspection part of the annual vehicle inspection. On the other side of the aisle, Schenectady-area Republican Senator Jim Tedisco has taken a different approach, pointing out in his own statement that legislators
have a sworn duty to represent our constituents and hold a public hearing to hold the Administration and the DMV accountable and get answers as to what happened with the old plates, why they believe the mandatory license plate fees are necessary, and where the money is going. 
To a lot of this, I say Poppycock!
  • We don't need hearings, we need the DMV or the Sonofa Gov to explain their plan, justify why they need $75M+ for the cashless tolling system (and tell us why that wasn't included in the legislation that authorized the switch) - or they can just drop the fee to something reasonable, like $5 bucks. Or zero. 
  • Regarding the Martinez bill, if inspecting license plates becomes part of a vehicle inspection, how will that impact the price of an inspection? Will there be a separate charge for the license inspection? Guidelines issues on how to determine what whether a plate is damaged? Training for inspectors? Laugh if you will, but we're in New York and a simple, two-paragraph bill can't be allowed to stand on its own here, can it? And, one more thing -- the Legislature is not in session, so who read her bill twice and submitted it to committee?
  • And to Cuomo and the DMV, requiring new plates for New Yorkers to ensure they're readable is one thing, but what about plates from other states and Canadian provinces, which may also be damaged and unreadable? What's the plan for those, when we go cashless? Inquiring minds want to know.
We can always do better, New York.

If the money is truly needed, show us why. If it's not needed, or it was an arbitrary decision, come clean.

If the Legislature really needs to have hearings on something, let them have hearings on how they're justifying their full-time salaries for part-time work.  Because if you ask me, that's a real money grab.

And remember, voting closes on Labor Day, so get your vote in now for plate #5, just in case this whole thing doesn't fall apart in the next couple of weeks. 

August 29, 2019

Quick Takes (v41): Who Loves Me, Baby?

Quick Takes
I mentioned in yesterday's post, in the wondering about who might be joining my junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand in dropping out of the 2020 presidential race, that there were only going to be ten people on the stage for the next Democratic debate.

Nine of them are Democrats, and the tenth of course is Bernie Sanders, who is the key reason why I changed my voter registration from Democrat to 'no party' earlier this year. Of course, that won't take effect here in NY until after the 2020 vote, so officially I still am a Dem.

Whether it's because I'm still a Democrat as far as record-keeping goes, or because I had previously made a donation and I'm still in the DNC database, or because I'm just plain lucky, I get emails from Joe Biden. Lots of emails from Joe Biden.

I'd go so far as to say Joe Biden literally a ton of emails from Joe Biden. This week (so far), I think I've gotten ten or eleven.

And this is even after I've twice discouraged him from running for president - in 2015 and again this year.

For some reason,  I don't hear from any of the other candidates - not Warren, not Harris, not Booker, not Buttigieg; not Klobuchar, not Castro, not Beto, not Yang, and not Sanders.  Which seems downright weird to me. Don't the all have access to the same database? I thought that was all taken care of last time around, when the non-Dem wanted access and it was given to him.

And, I never heard from Bill de Blasio, or Kirsten Gillibrand (even though they're both New Yorkers, as am I, and as noted above, Gillibrand is my senator). Or any of the rest of them for that matter.

So: now that the field has been cut in half, at least for a couple of weeks, and in the interest of trying to get a sense of how aggressive (desperate?) the other candidates are relative to Biden, I signed up on all of their websites today, using one of my alternate emails. I'm going to unsubscribe to Biden emails under my primary account (which would be the one on file from the Obama donation I made) and see how things go.

I can tell you that it took me 12 minutes to locate all of their official websites, enter my email address and zip code and become a 'supporter' of each of the ten. And so far, 45 minutes later, I've only gotten 'thanks for signing up' messages from three campaigns: Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and yep - you guessed it, Joe Biden.

I'll keep track of things and keep you updated on who really wants my vote - or, more likely, who really wants my money.

August 28, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v179)

I had no idea it's been so long since I've wondered out loud, as it were, on Wednesday - looks like it was a month ago?

I wonder about that right off the bat. I mean, vacation aside, it's not like there nothing head-scratch worthy going on. Sigh

Here's just some of what has me wondering tonight.
  • The 'prorogation' of the British Parliament. What a fascinating process! Just suspend the whole thing, and don't let anything get in my way, says PM Boris Johnson. And we thought the filibuster was bad? How long, I wonder, before #POTUS will be asking Snitty Snitty Bill Barr if there's a way he can do the same thing here? It would be way more cooler than just forcing Mitch McConnell to 'go nuclear', something Trump has called for several times. I mean, he sees a massive military parade, and wants one... He sees an obsequious press in a dictatorial country, and wants one... I mean, this 'put parliament on the sidelines' thing is right up his alley.
  • There are around a dozen members of Congress not running for reelection next year - so far - and the majority of them are Republicans. This is on the heels of 34 Republicans not running for reelection in 2018. There are a variety of reasons cited - usually the desire to do something else (is Fox News hiring?), or spend more time with their families, and so on. Most don't say it's because they can no longer keep quiet about the direction the party is taking, but I have to wonder how much that plays a part?  And will we have to wait for the books to come out before we know for sure? 
  • How many resorts are there in the United States that are near airports and are not owned by the Trump family, I wonder? And why wouldn't the United States government consider using even the worst of those resorts for the next G7 summit, instead of entertaining discussions about enriching the president by using his Doral resort? How hard do you have to wonder about simple things like this?
  • And speaking of Snitty Snitty Bill Barr, is there really no other place for him to throw his annual holiday party than the president's hotel in DC, I wonder?  Seriously - that's the ONLY place that could accommodate him, in all of the capitol area? And lest you're wondering, this is not a case of me being disappointed I'm not on the guest list - it's really a case of how can people like Barr be so unconcerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest, of a lack of independence, for the role of AG, for the Justice Department as an institution, and for the people that work there? 
  • It seems that Kirsten Gillibrand is the first of the rest of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to read the handwriting on the wall; a couple of hours ago she announced she's dropping her candidacy after failing to qualify for the September 12th debate. Who else will be announcing a similar decision tonight, I wonder?  Ten have qualified: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro, Yang and Castro. The rest have not. I'm liking that smaller debate stage - how about you?
There's more to wonder about - there always is. What's on your mind?

August 27, 2019

The Update Desk: Sports Betting and More

I've done several updates on the experiment with non-Native American casino gambling here in New York, most recently in April, when sports betting was approved, the new regs came out, and all that excitement filled the air. Here's Schenectady-area Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, quoted in the April post.
Allowing sports betting in our upstate casinos brings sports betting out of the shadows and at a benefit to the taxpayers. It levels the playing field so we can create a responsible market for sports betting in a safe regulated manner... The additional revenue to the state makes it a win-win. 
Well, sure, except for reports of revenue falling well short of projections in other states that have already moved forward. Sort of sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Anyway -- the sports books at Tioga Downs, Resorts World Catskills and the Rivers Casino in Schenectady were up and running earlier, and del Lago's opened last Friday, with former SU and Philadelphia Eagles QB placing the first bet. I'll give an update on this latest "win-win" gamble once we have some data.

There are ownership changes on tap at two casinos. First, Wilmorite, the developer of del Lago and several shopping malls in the CNY area, is getting out of the casino owner business. The company, owned by the Wilmot family, is selling its shares to the property's co-owner, Peninsula Pacific. The investment firm's chairman and managing partner, M. Brent Stevens, said
This will position Peninsula Pacific as the sole owner of the property and signals our further commitment to be the premier source of gaming and entertainment in the Finger Lakes region. 
Stevens made it clear Peninsula Pacific is aware of the financial situation with del Lago and the other casinos in New York. noting
Sure, it has been disappointing. Sure, there are structural issues in the overall gaming market in upstate New York, But in the long term, we have faith in this property and we are as excited today as we ever have been about the ability to do the right thing, to grow our operations and have the right things happen within the broader industry in New York. 
Speaking on behalf of Wilmorite, chairman Thomas Wilmot Sr. said
del Lago Resort and Casino is good for our community - it has created employment opportunities, an entertainment destination and a new stream of revenue for the town and county. The continued success of del Lago is good for everyone in the Finger Lakes region.  
Meanwhile, Empire Resorts, the public company that runs the $1.2B Resorts World Catskills property, is losing money and suggested that bankruptcy might be the answer. In the end, Empire reached a deal to sell its stake to the majority owner, Kien Huat Realty and Genting Malaysia. The buyers are paying nearly $10 per share of Empire Resorts, about 15% higher than the trading price when the deal was announced. There's also an increased funding commitment - $77M - which will help with debt repayment.

Genting Americas president Ed Farrell said in an interview
We're in a unique position where we can assist with the management of Resorts World Catskills through our Resorts World New York property at a low costs. We can bring synergies to both projects and by just operating at a higher sale, we're going to be able to put the cost structure in a way that Resorts World Catskills can turn to black and we can make money going forward.
Are you a gambler? How much would you wager on any of the casinos turning things around, either through sports betting or the ownership changes?

Given their collective track record, I'm out.

August 25, 2019

Sunday School 8/25/19

Where to go today?

Let's start with Face the Nation, where Margaret Brennan spoke with Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina and The White House), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) who is also a candidate for president.

Kudlow talked about trade, basically that we'll outlast the tariffs and that Trump is doing what needs to be done and everything's going to be OK and there'll be no recession. Graham admitted that tariffs had an impact on his southern constituents, but that we need to accept the pain that comes with Trump's standing up to Beijing.

Klobuchar talked about Trump's China policy, such as it is, noting that he's been using tariffs "like a tweet cleaver" and pointed out all of the twists and turns we've heard on China just this month
...on August 1st he announced $300 billion goods, more tariffs. Then on August 13th they reversed it. Then on August 20th they said they were going to do taxes - because of the fears of recession, they were going to reduce taxes which, of course, would only add more to the debt that he's created. And then the next day they reversed that. 
Her approach, if elected, would be to go back to the negotiating table with our allies. They'd look at the tariffs. Some would go, some would stay - and there'd be focus on enforcement as well.

On the administration's plan to get rid of the Flores agreement, here's Klobuchar's take.
This will end up in court. And my guess is that it will be thrown out because of the way this administration has handled immigration. But I think the bigger issue here, Margaret, is that if he really wanted to do something about this, he's pass comprehensive immigration reform which would be better for our economy, instead of using these immigrants as pawns.
On CNN's Face the Nation, Senator Bernie Sanders (not a D-VT) talked with Brianna Keilar (sittin in for Jake Tapper) about the change that's not a change in his Medicare for All plan.

Basically, the senator caved to unions who were expressing concern about having to give up their hard-fought health insurance benefits. In some cases, the unions negotiated smaller wage increases in exchange for improving (or at least not losing) their health insurance benefits.  So, Sanders now says that if a union benefits plan moves to Medicare for All, the savings for the company have to be given to union members in the form of wages.

Brianna Keilar (sitting in for Jake Tapper) asked why all workers shouldn't receive the same benefit, the wage increase, when their company moves to Medicare for All. Here's the response.
Well, they are going to receive an enormous benefit. The overwhelming majority of the American people are going to pay significantly less for better health care under Medicare for All. Right now you've got 87M people who are uninsured, underinsured; 500,000 go bankrupt every year because they cannot pay their outrageous medical bills. You've got 30,000 people who are dying. People are spending 10, 15, 20% of their limited income on health care. 
But Medicare for all will do is lower the cost of health care for the overwhelming majority of Americans. That's how they benefit, no premiums, no copayments, no deductibles, no out-of-pocket expenses, every American, virtually every American.
Keilar tried again, noting "a non-union worker, unlike a union worker, under your plan, if there is a savings, their employer sees a saving, they would not be guaranteed to have higher wages or benefits to realize the savings."
Well the difference - but the difference is -- I will tell you why not, because union workers gave up wage benefits over the years in order to pay for health care, and non-union workers did not, that's the difference. But at the end of the day, the vast majority of of the American people - union and non-union workers, will benefit under a Medicare for  All. 
And what about his opponents who say this is special treatment?
Very few people - very few people have been attacking me. I think one candidates, and the media picks up on it... the issue again, as I've just said, is that if you are a worker in a union shop and the company says, well we're going to offer you a 3% wage increase, but you know what, you're going to have to pay - you're going to lose 4% in your health care, your deductible is going up, your premium is going up, those workers have given up wage increases in order to retain the health care that they have. Those are the workers we are reaching out to in this -- what we are doing right now. 
Actually, here's the truth: union workers have the opportunity to be at the table  when these decisions are made. Regular folks, non-union workers, are not at the table when these decisions are made. 

I worked for a health insurance company, and when our premiums, copays, or formulary changed, I found out during open enrollment, like millions of other non-union workers. We didn't have the benefit of a two- or three-year contract to help us prepare for the changes in costs - we got hit with them, and we did the best we could to manage them. I'm retired, but why wouldn't my former coworkers and everyone else deserve the same wage bump as the union workers will get when their company moves to the new plan? 

I'll tell you why: unions endorsements carry a lot of weight, and they spend a lot of money helping Dems get elected.  He's creating two separate classes in the 99%, which goes completely against what he supposedly stands for.

It's pandering, pure and simple, I don't care what Sanders says.

See you around campus.

August 23, 2019

TGIF 8/23/19

I hereby order you to appreciate this TGIF post, or else!

Or else, what, you ask?  I'm not certain, honestly, any more than anyone has a clue what the president was talking about when he "hereby ordered" American companies to "immediately start looking for an alternative to China..."  Does it mean they have to leave forthwith? A$AP Rock(il)y? Never?

Trump was trying to make some kind of point, just like he was earlier in the week with his repeated accusations of disloyalty on the part of any Jew who votes with Democrats instead of voting with Republicans or maybe any Jews who don't agree with Trump, it's hard to tell exactly what disloyalty he was talking about.

Never mind that such an accusation has long been considered to be anti-Semitic; heck, even Trump said it was when one of the Squad said something along those lines. But when he says it, of course, it's not anti-Semitic. It can't be: his son-in-law and daughter are Jewish, after all. You know, just like someone can't be anti-gay if they have a gay friend, or can't be racist if they have a black friend.

Were any of his points made? Yes, if you listen to his base. No, if  you don't But I think his collective actions put him on top of the 'bad week' list, especially if you include his childish dropping of a visit to Denmark after it was suggested nastily (his characterization) that his offer to buy Greenland was 'abzerd' - and then, to make reference to President Obama in the same conversation, about how the US is being treated by other countries. Egads, man!

On the good week side of the ledger? Democratic presidential primary voters had a good week, I think, with the cast of thousands running for the top spot on the 2020 ballot dwindling by a couple. Jay Inslee and Seth Moulton dropped out this week, joining John Hickenlooper who bailed last week.

Ideally, the third debate, coming up next month, will be held on only one night (I would be delighted, since I live-comment the debates on my Facebook page). Here's the list of the ten who have met both the fundraising and polling requirements:  Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O'Rourke, and Andrew Young.  Anyone who doesn't meet the requirements by the August 28th deadline should drop out, in my opinion.

Of course, I say the same thing about anyone who's not a registered Democrat, but what do I know?

Finally, I wanted to share something that happened last Saturday, when we were returning from vacation in Nova Scotia. We were waiting in line for the ferry to New Brunswick when the line of cars next to us was given the go-ahead to board. Several cars started their engines and pulled forward, but one car wasn't moving. After what seemed like half a minute, I looked over and the two women in the car were both dozing, holding up several other cars in line behind them. I got their attention and they quickly started their car, pulling up to the front of their now-empty lane.

None of the drivers behind the women honked their horns. There was no shouting or cursing or fist-shaking - in fact, it was strangely calm. I pointed out to my husband that the other drivers must have been Canadian, because we're so used to horns, shouting, cursing and fist-shaking if a person doesn't immediately go as soon as a light changes, or as soon as there's even the hint of an opening in traffic leaving the grocery store. I mean, we're Americans, dammit, and we have things to do, people to see, places to go. We certainly don't have time to sit around for an hour in a line of cars...

Truth be told, all but one of the cars that pulled up behind the now wide-awake women had US plates. So, for a brief moment, at the Digby ferry terminal at least, the US had a good week.  Yay, us.

TGIF, everyone.

Hereby ordered.

August 22, 2019

The Update Desk: One Corner at a Time (Again)

It's been a while since I last talked about the new Salt City Market that's coming to downtown Syracuse.

I first wrote about it in June 2018, when we learned that the Allyn Family Foundation (AFF) was planning to revitalize one of downtown's 'parking lot corners' into a mixed-use facility.  Here's an excerpt from that post:.
Early last month, the AFF announced the formation of a new nonprofit organization, the Syracuse Urban Partnership, which will develop our old parking lot into a mixed-use building with apartments, space for philanthropic agencies to collaborate (the AFF will have offices there), and a 'food hall' similar to those we get to see in larger cities like Philly's Reading Terminal Market. The market is designed to help make it possible for folks to get into the restaurant business, such as the ones who have been featured at the With Love project.
In January, I was happy to update that the AFF, in addition to having vision, also had ears. There was a contest to name the new food hall, but the choices that were presented for a community vote, well, they fell short of our expectations.  Here's an excerpt from the update post.
I vaguely remember the social media post where we could vote, and the overwhelming number of comments asking why it didn't mention Syracuse or the Salt City; I might have even given a 'like' to a suggestion with one of those in the name, if I remember correctly.

And it turns out, the AFF listened to what people wanted, and the name has been chosen: the Salt City Market. It's perfect, and it's a perfect example of ensuring the kind of community buy-in that the organization is looking for. Maarten Jacobs, one of the AFF folks, said
We want this to be a space that people feel they have ownership of the minute it opens.
That was a huge step for the project, I think - right from the get-go, the AFF cemented their commitment to having this really be a project that's both of and for the community. And now, where do things stand?

There's moving forward nicely, actually.

Throughout the summer, aspiring market food vendors have been able to test their items with community members; one vendor a week has been featured in the Salt City Market Takeout Friday program at the Westcott Community Center.

Even better, the groundbreaking for the $25M complex was held this past Monday. The Foundation's Executive Director Meg O'Connell noted
This project has been years in the making and it's really coming together today to acknowledge the diverse talents of our residents and also acknowledging that to be a prosperous city, we must with intention, work to provide opportunities that are inclusive for all. 
Continuing to stress the diversity aspects of the market, here's part of what project leader Maarten Jacobs said about the supportive nature of the space:
The idea is to create an environment all under one roof where all walks of life can come and experience the diverse flavors of Syracuse. We're intentionally with primarily entrepreneurs of color, both native born as well as new residents in our community.
I've been excited about this project from the beginning, and now that construction has started, I'm looking forward to seeing this vision come to fruition.

And speaking of vision, the photo above is a rendering of the building from  -- it's definitely something to look forward to.  Stay tuned!

August 19, 2019

Grains of Salt (v47): Seize the Delinquencies

Folks here in the Syracuse area have been hearing, for longer than I can remember, about the battle between Onondaga County and the owners of the now nearly-empty ShoppingTown Mall in Dewitt.

In a nutshell, the mall owes the county over $9M in taxes, and refuses to pay. Well, let me correct that - they refuse to pay what they owe, but offered $10,000 as a good-faith payment while discussions and court cases continue on what their assessment should be and how much they really owe us. The latest salvo? A bankruptcy filing for the property, which will tie things up even longer. It's a mell of a hess, if you know what I mean.

And they're not the only business that's behind in their tax payments - for example, there's Great Northern Mall, another once-thriving retail center, which owes over $3M for their 2018 and 2019 tax bills.

But now, the County Legislature has a new plan for dealing with delinquent commercial properties like the malls. According to multiple media reports, including this one from WAER,
Onondaga County lawmakers have thrown their support behind a new strategy that could lead to the seizure of certain tax-delinquent properties. The county executive's plan to create the Onondaga County Accountability and Reinvestment Corporation is seen as another tool to go after commercial properties with the goal of future development.
The new corporation will be responsible for seizing delinquent properties when all other efforts have failed, and would hold the title while the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency works to get the property re-developed. Some properties would continue to be auctioned off following current guidelines.

There's about $45M outstanding on commercial properties, the report notes, even though we mainly hear about the big ones like the two malls. Or, we hear about the vacant, tax delinquent residential properties in the City of Syracuse, which we'll discuss in another post.

Legislators expressed some concern about taking property from a private owner, but ultimately, it comes down to fairness.  Here's Legislator Miles Bottrill:
I certainly believe in a property right, and this is a very significant issue relative to property rights.. However, this is really an abuse to the taxpayer and to this community.
One parcel has already been identified for transfer to the county - the former Syracuse Energy Power Corp. plant in Geddes, near the Fairgrounds. There's about $1M owed, and the county had to get a court order to make sure the out-of-state owner didn't dismantle any more of the property and sell it off for scrap. There are developers interested in the parcel, it seems, and that helped convince legislators that transferring this particular property is a good deal. Legislature Chair Dave Knapp noted
There have actually been some phone calls to the administration saying that, when the time comes, there could be some interest. It's in an industrial zone right off a railroad. It's an attractive piece of property for industrial use. 
No properties will be transferred to the new corporation without the legislature's approval. In addition to the Geddes parcel, there are others, including industrial sites, a hotel, and a marina, that could be transferred if there's no resolution to the delinquency. According to County Exec Ryan McMahon,
Many of (the delinquent parcels) are performing commercial properties that are receiving revenue that are just not paying taxes. So, that's why we look for a carrot and stick approach, but at this point we're coming down with a stick on these property owners to force their hands.
If you ask me, this is the kind of program we need to have, and be willing to use. I get that $45M may not seem like a lot of money out of a $1.3B budget, but it's a whole lot of unfairness for residents and businesses that have been paying their property taxes all along. Having this option in the county's toolbox is a good thing.

August 18, 2019

Sunday School 8/18/19

As I've just returned from a vacation to an undisclosed location, I only had time to pop in on one classroom today. And when it's Sunday and there's only time for one, it's time for Fox News Sunday (sorry, Chuck).

Dana Perino sat in for Chris Wallace today, and guests were White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow and Democratic presidential candidate Steve Bullock.  Let's look at highlights from Kudlow first.
  • He doesn't see a recession coming and says the administration will stick with the ones it brung to the dance - regulation rollbacks, opening up the energy sector, and trade wars  - er, trade reform.
  • New initiatives include "a good beef deal" with the EU and progress with Japan on agriculture and telecom stuff.
  • The administration is looking at what Kudlow referred to as "Tax Cuts 2.0" which may be the 10 percent middle class tax cut that Trump promised last year. And he referenced an idea from Florida Senator Rick Scott about taking all the money we're getting from the Chinese tariffs and giving that back to taxpayers as tax cuts. When Perino questioned whether that was the money that Trump was using to shore up farmers (what is it up to no, $28B in farmer welfare payments?), Kudlow says there's room to do both.  They didn't discuss who is actually paying the tariffs, which seems to be American consumers and importers.
  • Trump apparently likes to give us Christmas presents; he's delaying some tariffs that were supposed to go into effect next month until December 15th, mostly those impacting "big American consumer companies."
  • Trade, security, Hong Kong are all part of our negotiations with China. 
  • And yes, the conversations about Trump wanting to buy Greenland are serious. 
Moving on to Bullock, who's the only Western governor in the race since John Hickenlooper dropped out (blowing my Buttigieg-Hickenlooper wrap-around bumper sticker idea right out of the water):
  • He sees himself as the 'get stuff done' guy, the one who has made progress and can do that again, in comparison to some of the progressives. 
  • He thinks it's wrong that someone can buy the votes needed to get qualified for the September debate (Tom Steyer), versus actually talking to voters and getting the word out and having donors make small contributions (everyone else).
  • Trump is messing with something that's always been bipartisan - US support for Israel - and he shouldn't be (and this is me talking, not Bullock, but Dems are falling right into his trap, like they do all the time).
  • "Putting Ken Cuccinelli (Acting Director of USCIS) in charge of immigration would be like putting Putin in charge of election security." Bullock disagrees with using immigration as a divisive tool (another Trump success).
  • He says that America First under Trump really means America Alone, and among other things, farmers don't want aid, they want trade - pushing back against Perino's assertion that the farmers are being made whole by the $28B in welfare going to them because of the trade wars.
  • He's not running for Senate.
  • The idea that Trump wants to purchase Greenland is a wild idea, no matter that Harry Truman had the idea first. You can go to the website Bullock created, for more information.
There was more, including a panel discussion about whether or not Barack Obama will make a Biden  endorsement, and whether or not Elizabeth Warren will take the progressive lead, leaving what's his name, the non-Democrat, in the dust.

See you around campus - hopefully we'll have a full slate of classroom updates next week.

August 6, 2019

GOP Challenges are Everyone's Challenges

On Sunday, Nebraska State Senator John McCollister challenged the Republican Party to, well, to #BeBest. 

His plea came in the aftermath of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, with the El Paso incident looming large, given the shooter's alleged anti-immigration white supremacist 'manifesto. (which I have not looked for online, and won't, so I can't speak to it directly.) 

Here's what McCollister posted on his Facebook page:

As you might imagine, his post caused a ruckus, in Nebraska and elsewhere, with pros and cons (probably not literal cons, but you never know) chiming in. Many thanked him for his candor, including more than a couple who wrote about leaving the Rs within the past couple of years; you can randomly connect some dots there and you'd be right, based on the comments. And on the other hand, many people thought he was out of line and that Democrats are to blame for all the evil in the world, including racism because Rs are not racist, Ds are. 

But it was this response to McCollister that sort of sums everything up. It's a press release, tweeted by the Nebraska Republican Party, in which Executive Director Ryan Hamilton suggested McCollister change his registration.  
John McCollister has been telegraphing for years that he has little if nothing in common with the Republican voters in his district by consistently advocating for higher taxes, restrictions on Americans' Second Amendment rights, and the pro-abortion lobby. His latest false statement about Republicans should come as no surprise to anyone who is paying attention, and were happy he has finally shed all pretense of being a conservative. 
And, Hamilton made a generous offer:
I am happy to send a change of voter registration form along to his office so he can make the switch officially, and start, for once, telling the truth to voters in his district.
Note that the official response doesn't address the point McCollister was trying to get across -  unless you consider calling it "false" to be 'addressing the point." And regardless of your opinion on Trump and racist comments and white supremacists, McCollister's statement was relatively factual. Trump did talk about shithole countries, and he did tell four women of color, three of whom were born here, to go back to where they came from, and it is also true that he is a prolific liar, although it might not be entirely accurate the he lies more than he tells the truth. And of course we all know the Rs are the party of Lincoln, and many Republicans are better than this.

McCollister is also correct that Republican senators and representatives, certainly those who serve us in US Senate and House of Representatives, look the other way when Trump and others in the party misbehave, particularly when it comes to issues of race. They've been seen physically scurrying away from reporters, in fact.

Based on the response of the GOP chair, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that it may also be true in Nebraska that elected officials turn a blind eye when the president says what he says and does what he does, and allows what he allows at rallies, and so forth. And I don't think it's a very long limb, either, if the response is any indication.

So, let's compare what happened in Nebraska with what Republicans are dealing with in Ohio.

In a deleted post, state Representative Candice Keller (who lives about 30 miles from Dayton)  complained about liberals blaming the wrong things after mass shootings. And then she pointed a whole lotta fingers at where the blame really lies. Take a look:

And here is how some Ohio Republican officials responded:
  • Jane Timken, the state's Republican Party chair, said"Our nation is reeling from these senseless acts of violence and public servants should be working to bring our communities together, not promoting divisiveness." She called for Keller's resignation, calling her statements "shocking and unjustifiable."
  • Todd Hall, chair of the Butler County Republican Party (where Keller is running for the state senate in 2020) said that this was a time for 'prayer and reflection' not Keller's comments, adding "some want to politicize these vents, and I cannot condone such comment and behavior."
Interesting, isn't it? Two states, two GOP elected officials, two different takes on things, and two very different responses. Paraphrasing something I saw on Twitter, in one state, Republicans are offering the door to one of their own for mentioning white supremacy, and in another, Republicans are encouraging one of their own to resign for not mentioning white supremacy. 

The reality is more complex than that, for the GOP and for the rest of us.

August 4, 2019

Sunday School 8/4/19

I made myself pay attention to one classroom this morning. Simply because it was the first transcript I found, it was Meet the Press.  I may visit some of the others tomorrow, but I don't have the heart for it today, because I know it will be more of the same.

On the show today: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, both of whom are among the many Democratic presidential candidates; Dayton OH Mayor Nan Whaley; El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar; and Mick Mulvaney, the acting Chief of Staff.

Here's Nan Whaley, on her city being hit with multiple tragedies this year:
I mean, for us in Dayton, we - this is actually the second tragedy to hit our city this summer. First, we had a tornado that tore through Dayton in May. And now, we face this mass shooting. The difference is that one of these tragedies was completely preventable. And one of these tragedies has happened, now, 250 times this year, in our country, And yet, nobody can be moved to do anything about it. 
This is Escobar responding to Chuck Todd's question on what she sees as her responsibility, as an elected official in DC:
My primary responsibility, right now, Chuck, is to be with the community, comfort the community, be of service to the community... so my primary responsibility is here, with my community.  But as a legislator, all of us, as legislators, Chuck, we have to talk about what's really happening and we have to speak the truth.  It's not politicizing an event.. that truth is we have not just a gun epidemic in this country, but we have a hate epidemic in this country.
Here's Booker, after stating the the president is "responsible" and "contributing to what's going on right now" responding to the question "If the president doesn't, doesn't accept the responsibility that you believe he has, what is your  - what would you like the other elected Republicans to do?"
Well, to me, Martin Luther King said it so eloquently. What we have to repent for is not just the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people. There is complicity in the president's hatred that undermines the goodness and the decency of Americans regardless of what party. 
To say nothing in a time of rising hatred, it's not enough to say that, "I'm not a hatemonger, myself." If you are not actively working against hate, calling it out, you are complicit in what is going on. And so this is a moral moment in America, like we have seen before, where demagogues and fear mongers, hatemongers, have risen. We need moral clarity and healing and love in our nation. We need leaders that are capable of doing that. 
Castro, in response to the question of what he sees as what we need to start tackling, said this after talking about "common sense gun reform"
There is this very toxic brew of white nationalism that is arising. And I know that it doesn't reflect by any means, by any means the vast, vast majority of Americans. But unfortunately, what we see is an increasing number of these incidents, these mass shooting incidents. And so we need to pay attention to this, and we need to do something about this...The FBI Director has said that this is a particular problem right now in the United States. 
Todd wondered if the president can lay "any role, constructive role" or "because of how often he uses the language of racial resentment, does he just not have the credibility to do anything to fix this problem?" Here's Castro's response:
This president started his campaign in 2016 on a path of racial resentment and fanning the flames of bigotry. That's how he believes he won in 2016. That's how he thinks he's going to win in 2020. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any credibility anymore. You know, when he didn't step up right away and condemn the neo-Nazis after Charlottesville, (and) allowing that crowd for 13 seconds to chant, "send her back" a couple of weeks ago, he doesn't have any credibility.
 But you know what, Chuck? Like all Americans, I hope, I still hope that this president will do what most presidents have done throughout our history, which is to realize that we have to do everything that we can do to try and unite Americans instead of fanning the flames of bigotry.  He has to be a big enough man, a big enough person in these moments to do that. 
Mulvaney was asked this question: " fairness, Mr. Mulvaney, the President has spent the last month on Twitter stoking racial resentment in different ways and you can, you can try to rationalize that he was speaking about specific incidents, but taken together these sick people as you're describing, they hear what they want to hear. Does the president not have a responsibility to speak with a higher moral clarity when it comes to violence, a higher moral clarity when it comes to refugees?"

Here's how he responded.
Right, Chuck, let me put it to you this way. Even if he did speak the way that you want him to speak, and I get the fact that some people don't approve of the verbiage the president uses, I get that, alright? But even if they did, your point that you just made is absolutely right. People are going to hear what they want to hear. My guess is this guy is in that parking lot in El Paso Texas in that Walmart doing this even if Hillary Clinton is president. In fact, he'd probably go out and blame Hillary Clinton for doing it. 
These are crazy people, sick people, and until we figure out why we are creating this many people like this in this culture, why we are giving them such wide audiences on social media, why we are making weapons available to them when they probably shouldn't get them. Let's talk about background checks, something we have worked on tin this administration. Those are the conversations to have. Not giving Cory Booker a chance to run for president this morning by blaming Donald Trump. That is really disappointing. 
There was some additional back and forth on politics, and on policy, and on the president's "dehumanizing rhetoric", and then the question, "Is he not the president of all Americans here? It does seem as if he's always more worried about how his base is going to react to something than how the American, you know, moral fabric is protected.?
He absolutely is the president of all Americans, alright...Listen, we're going to have policy discussions, but my guess is, you show me how you feel about the president, and I'll show you who you think was responsible for the shooting. 
Todd did not drop it there, adding "well, unfortunately, it does appear this was a political motive of this domestic terrorist." And here was Mulvaney's final thought.
This was a political motive by a crazy person with a gun. How do we stop crazy people from getting guns? That's a - -if we can't agree on that, if we can't figure out a way to prevent that from happening, there's very little hope for this nation. Let's try and fix what allows sick people to get these types of weapons.
Lots to digest here.

Oh - one more thing: Mexico is most unhappy with us; at least six of those killed and several of the injured in El Paso were Mexican nationals. Our neighbors to the south are thinking that we should be doing more to protect their citizens.

See you around campus.

August 2, 2019

Immigration Questions I Wish I Had Heard

There were a bunch of topics on the debates this week, and with three moderators, CNN did what they could to try and cover a lot of ground.

Unfortunately, one way to cover lots of ground is to allow the candidates - or, I should say, encourage the candidates - to go after each other, by referencing a point or two from one candidate's policy or their record, and throwing a question (Do you agree? What are your thoughts? How do you respond?) to the rest of the people on stage.

It makes for good theater, and it gives pundits a whole lot of material to work with, but does it help a voter understand where the candidates stand? Can we ever learn that, when they have one minute to not only respond to the question, but to get in  how their own stance differs from the one that drove the initial question? And to deliver a notable quotable, if they've got one handy?

Not really, in my opinion, but that's where we live these days. To illustrate that, here's an 'under three minutes' recap' of Tuesday's and Wednesday's debates, courtesy of NBC. And ask yourself, "Are those really the key things I was supposed to have walked away from six hours of television remembering?" And ask yourself this, too: "Why is Marianne Williamson getting so much time in this recap?"

I would much rather hear real discussion on key topics, with 30 minutes or more set aside to have a real debate about the issues that matter. The candidates can be made aware of the topics in advance, but obviously not the questions, so everyone can be prepared for a robust discussion. That's right, a discussion - not an argument or dissection of resumes.

For example, let's have an extended conversation on immigration. I'd like to know where the candidates stand on these questions:
  • There are several types of undocumented immigrants, including visa overstays, which outnumber border crossings by around 2-1; people convicted of a crime who have a deportation order; people who have been denied asylum who have a deportation order; and plain old ordinary people who choose to cross the border and disappear into America, but who don't have a deportation order. Do you believe that any of these groups of people should be deported? If yes, which, and if no, why not?
  • Would you pursue implementation of the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for the specific population of people who were brought here as children and meet the requirements outlined in the Act?
  • Do you believe we need some kind of physical barrier on the southern border? If yes, described what you are willing to support, and if not, explain your reasoning for not supporting it.
  • From the following options only, which would be your highest immigration-related priority? Decriminalizing illegal border crossings; fully funding and staffing the immigration courts to eliminate the almost 950.000 case backlog or providing financial and other assistance to Central America's 'Northern Triangle' countries - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. - to help improve safety, increase economic opportunity, and reduce the impetus for asylum seekers and illegal border crossers to come here. 
  • A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that we transform our southern border into a 2,000 mile series of natural gas, solar, and wind power plants. It also includes using some of the energy to desalinate water from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and share it with border residents and farms. This 'border wall' would be built as a collaboration between the US and Mexico, and through public/private partnerships, and would provide jobs, security, and a physical border all at the same time. Would you support this type of initiative? Explain why or why not.
  • The American Farm Bureau opposes the e-Verify system, used by hundreds of thousands of employers to verify work status of employees, saying it threatens the stability and competitiveness of our farmers and ranchers. The AFB proposes two specific reforms to address both short- and long-term needs: a new flexible visa program for farm workers, to be administered by the US Department of Agriculture instead of the Department of Labor, and a pathway to legal status for unauthorized farm workers who meet strict requirements. Would you support and work to implement either of these programs? Explain why or why not.
To me, these are the type of questions that will help us understand what the Dems think about critical immigration issues and, with any luck at all, will give all of us something to talk about. Not only that, it will give everyone a chance to see, with their own eyes, that what the president says the Democrats want, and what they really want, are likely very different animals entirely.  

I think this is one of the only ways they will be able to counter his insane tweets and blatant lies. It will also give pollsters a chance to craft good questions for people, and see where the country really stands.

I'll have questions on other topics for long-form debate discussions coming up next week. 

August 1, 2019

The Dem Debates, Round Two

I did it. I watched all of both of this week's debates.

And I shared what was going on with any willing reader on my Facebook page. I did get a thank you from a few people who noted (paraphrasing here) "thank you for sparing me the agony" or similar sentiments.

So, after watching and capturing the shenanigans for posterity, what do I know now that I didn't know before, or what happened that solidified my earlier thinking?

For starters, the progressive candidates went on record stating that if you challenge their ideas as being too far out there for the majority of the electorate, you're not worthy of being called a Democrat, you shouldn't be running for president, or both.  I have changed my registration from Democrat to unaffiliated, in part for that reason, that the progressives think it's their way or the highway, and the rest of us can just go home.

On the other hand, the more moderate candidates believe that the extreme policies will hand the election to Donald Trump, and so we have to find a reasonable way to bring Independents, disaffected Trump voters, and yes, Democrats, including the millions who stayed home in 2016, to show up at the polls to vote for our guy or gal. It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. 
What else?

Twice I've suggested that Joe Biden should not run for president. He listened to me in 2015 race, but he ignored me this time. After last night's debate, I'm even more convinced than I was after the first one that I'm right and he shouldn't have entered the race.

I've been listening to the pundits saying that Biden did much better than the first time, that his defense of his record last night should have reassured his voters that everything's going to be OK. But I've gotta say, I agree with one of the talking heads on CNN during the wrap up that the bar was set so low for Biden after his disastrous performance in the first debate that he would have had a hard time not doing better.
And I'm reminded, as I hope you are, of those same 'low bar' expectations when Trump was debating his opponents - and it never went away. The bar continues to be low for Trump as president, even lower than it was for Trump as candidate. Have we learned nothing? Or, should I say, have the pundits learned nothing?

I honestly don't know if Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump - I know lots of people think he does, but I'm not convinced. 

I don't like Bernie Sanders, at all. Not just because he doesn't belong on the stage with Democrats - because he isn't one - but because he comes off as an always-angry two-trick pony: "big pharma and health insurance companies" is pony number one, and "millionaires and billionaires" is pony number two. Or vice versa, I'm not sure anymore which pony is which.

But healthcare and health insurance are not the same thing, and health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are not the same thing. And not all health insurance companies are for profit bullies. Bernie and the rest of them conflate all of this, and it makes a mess of things. He and the others have to be doing this on purpose. I can't like him any less than I do already, but that makes me like the rest of them a little less, too.

If the candidates in the Tuesday debate, or in the Wednesday debate, were the only ones in the race, we'd have a better idea of where things stand. But they're not the only ones, so we have moderators torn between trying to keep all the focus on the group they're sitting in front of, or trying to make it seem like the debate is really 20 people not just ten. This stinks for the candidates, for the moderators, and most importantly for the voters who have only a speaking point's relationship with the candidates and the debates. And those speaking points, the zingers? Those are the media's bread and butter, for sure.

You know what I'm talking about - "I wrote the damn bill!" and Warren's "I don't know why people take the time to run..." line, and Booker's "You're dipping in the Kool-aid" crack, Gillibrand's promise to Clorox the Oval Office, and more. But there is so much more to the debates than the snappy retorts and attacks and hit lines. And while it seems there's no time like the present to play the sound bites, we don't seem to have time to talk about anything else other than who's leading in the polls (which are meaningless right now). To quote Joe Biden, that's a bunch of malarkey. It is never too early to talk about what these 20 candidates  stand for. Again, look back to the 2016 race, and don't repeat the same mistakes.
What else?

It's time - or past time, as the case may be - for some of these folks to do a Swalwell and step away from the race. Who's on that list? Marianne Williamson. Tim Ryan. Bill de Blasio. Michael Bennet. Steve Bullock. Julian Castro. Beto O'Rourke. The other five who are supposedly in the race - Tom Steyer, Seth Moulton, Joe Sestak, Wayne Messam, and Mike Gravel - yeah, no. Don't even bother.
That leaves us with, in no particular order, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Sanders, Biden, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

It's a good mix (even if I wish two or three of them weren't in it), and includes veterans, young people, old people, moderates, progressives, business owners, people of color, lawyers, entrepreneurs, wealthy people, a climate guy - in short, it leaves us with people who have different enough thoughts on how to move forward to have an actual conversation.

And finally, speaking of hit lines, and of moving forward, I'm going to leave you with Andrew Yang's closing statement. He's not a conventional candidate, by any stretch of the imagination, but he nailed what's going on, and how people react to what's going on, very clearly.

Coming up next? Questions I wish I had heard at the debates.