Sally Yates’ Confirmation Hearing


Yesterday, acting Attorney General Sally Yates indicated that the Department of Justice would not defend President Trump’s executive orders against immigration and refugees. Trump promptly fired her

Flash back to her Senate confirmation hearing in 2015, when Trump’s current nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), inquired of Yates: 

He asked Yates if she would be willing to defy the orders of the President if he asked her to do anything illegal or unlawful. She replied that an Attorney General has an “obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give independent legal advice to the President.” Trump fired her for doing just that. 

Dear Assemblyman DiPietro


What happened in your life to turn you into such a dick? What part of your Christian faith enables your ignorance and lying? 

You traveled to Washington to watch your leader, Donald Trump’s, inauguration, and in the process posted this: 

(The plural of “bus” is “buses”). You took to social media and purported to relay some statement that a cop supposedly told you as fact. How did you verify the truth or falsity of what the cop told you? Did you go and ask the protesters in those buses whether they were being paid? Sounds like nonsense to me. But before we even get to that, all I see is buses – no people. How do you know those buses transported protesters and not average spectators? This is hearsay on top of speculation – an absolute joke of a status.

Guys like you on the right have been spewing this lie for weeks about how the protesters are all paid for by George Soros, or whatever other bogeyman you’ve concocted. It’s completely and utterly false, but if you repeat the lie often enough, it becomes an immutable truth to the people backing the autocrat. Put another way, you and your ilk are completely incapable of engaging in meaningful or thoughtful debate about issues, so you instead make up lies about their illegitimacy. We know this because you spent over 8 years doing exactly that to our President, repeatedly calling him a foreign Kenyan un-American Muslim. 

Utter stupidity, as it prompted responses such as this ignorant drivel: 

Assemblyman, do you believe it was a “COUP” as President Obama – a man you think is a foreign-born Muslim – handed the country over to a perverse madman? LOL, who knows? Your private pronouncements are routinely unbecoming of an elected official. 

Enter Colleen Aungst, your constituent, who politely called you out on your “rumors and fake news”. In response to your false and made-up garbage about buses in Washington and who was in them, she asks you – her Assemblyman – to “work MORE on uniting and getting work done and LESS on complaining and finger pointing.” 

Did you – an elected, sitting Assemblyman – respond graciously to the criticism? Did you ignore it? Or did you say, “screw you” to your constituent? We know you; we already know the answer. 

Now, let’s unpack this for a second. Aungst was calling you out for making up lies (or repeating lies) about buses that allegedly transported paid protesters. It had nothing whatsoever to do with your claims that the anarchist black bloc shoved you or your wife, or yelled nasty things that your daughter heard. What the hell does the bus post and Aungst’s reply to it have to do with your supposed interaction with anarchists at a major political event? That was the gist of Ms. Aungst’s reply, 

Another lie: you accuse Aungst of “defending” the anarchists who “attacked” your family, when she did no such thing. Aungst didn’t mention – much less defend – the actions of the black bloc, whom you claim you encountered on Inauguration Day. In fact, your fact-free lumping of the black bloc in with everyone who protested Trump’s inauguration is just a lie, as is your claims that they’re all paid by George Soros. (Also, it’s “you’re” – how does NYSUT justify endorsing you?!). 

You’re a banal oaf who is allergic to the truth

Barack Obama is a Muslim,” said DiPietro, former East Aurora mayor. “I don’t like the president. I think he’s a Muslim. I think he’s a foreigner to our nation. I oppose every principle he stands for.”

There’s nothing wrong with being Muslim – you’re just saying this out of race hate and birtherism. 

You’re the same deceitful asshole who tried to defraud and cheat his own constituents by claiming Hillary Clinton voters could “text” their votes and stay home. If a Democratic elected official did something similar to try and fool Trump voters, you’d be howling with righteous indignation. But they didn’t – they respect the process and their constituents too much to try that. You? You’re an anti-democratic weasel.

It amazes me that you get the endorsement of teachers, since you’re such an outspoken proponent of hatred against Muslims, and you casually start hate campaigns against entire religions over a children’s book.  

Let me make a prediction: at least one person will comment here or on social media with something about how you’re going to sail to re-election. This is probably true; you will. You’re safely ensconced in a predominately Republican district that was almost tailor-made for you. To sail to re-election, all you have to do is shout about downstate, about how much you hate Cuomo, and stick to your three main issues: guns, guns, and guns. A Republican Assemblyman from upstate is nothing more than a seat-moistening collector of time in the state pension system. 

But sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. You have to answer to your constituents every once in a while. Perhaps many of them go along with you because of your stance on guns and whatnot, but if you’re exposed as the hateful liar you are, that might change. Who knows? 

Go back to Albany and post dumb shit to your social media about how awful Andrew Cuomo is on taxation and spending while you collect your $80,000 annual public salary, plus an extra $9,000 “lulu” as ranking member of some small business committee, plus $172 per diem for Albany travel. Moan and whine about Obamacare while being on the rich and generous state employee health insurance plan. Have fun hating the state while banking in time towards a fat, state-tax-free pension. 

And every time you badmouth an earnest constituent on social media, remember in the back of your withered mind that you’re a fake, phony, fraud. 

Voter Fraud Dezinformatsiya


Either unable to believe he actually won, or unable to stomach the fact that he dramatically lost the popular vote, President Donald Trump insists that there was rampant voter fraud affecting the 2016 election. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, and his #1 congressional sycophant, Chris Collins (R-NY) go out of their way to explain this fantasy by repeating not that this is fact, but that it is what Trump “believes”. Dezinformatsiya is a Russian term for deliberately spreading false or misleading information (fake news?) in a calculated way to influence target audiences. 

Trump’s own lawyers representing him in several recount states averred in court documents that, “all available evidence suggests the 2016 election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

So, it’s not that rampant voter fraud actually affected the 2016 election, but that Trump “feels” it happened because he is embarrassed by his popular vote loss. This is snowflakeism at its most dangerous, because Trump is now one of the most powerful men in the world who has surrounded himself with sycophants: it’s not enough that people occasionally tell him “no”, but that he actually take the advice. 

Voter fraud isn’t a problem in the United States. The logistics of any group or party designing and implementing a 3 million+ voter fraud exercise would be overwhelming, and here’s the key: if Clinton or the Democrats had wanted to rig the election, they’d have done it in states where it mattered and won the whole thing. If voter fraud was a thing, you’d expect the person who overwhelmingly won the popular vote but lost the electoral college tally to complain about a rigged system. It isn’t, it wasn’t, and here’s a Republican law firm to explain why (back in October, when Trump first made the allegation): 

Yesterday on the radio, two afternoon conservative commentators wondered aloud why the Democrats were so opposed to Trump’s threatened “investigation” into voter fraud. I can give you several reasons: 1. It’s a waste of money and effort, because it’s already been studied and doesn’t exist in any statistically significant way; 2. we don’t trust Donald Trump or his minions or contractors to produce a credible or true report; 3. this is all an excuse for Trump and the Republicans to further erode, roll back, and eliminate the Voting Rights Act and to make it difficult, costly, or impossible for historically marginalized groups of Americans to vote. 

As it turns out, Trump tweeted about it: 

This is funny, as it was revealed that Trump advisor Steve Bannon, Trump’s daughter Tiffany, and Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin are all registered to vote simultaneously in two states. 

Locally, Republican elections commissioner Ralph Mohr talked with WGRZ

Ralph Mohr, the Republican Election Commissioner overseeing 591,000 registered voters in Erie County, said he’s encountered maybe three or four cases of voter fraud in his 24 years on the job.

“There has never been a situation where any type of fraud would affect the outcome of the election,” Mohr said.

Mohr said Trump’s call for an investigation is “unnecessary,” adding that he doesn’t believe it will even materialize at the federal level. The Department of Justice would likely handle such a situation, but it has not yet commented on Trump’s false accusations of voter fraud.

We’d be able to say two or three were it not for the ongoing allegation of blatant voter fraud by local tea party agitator Rus Thompson. Thompson was evicted from his home on Grand Island in 2014, and in October of that year, his wife notified the Erie County Board of Elections that they were moving out of the county at to remove them from the voter rolls. You don’t get to vote where you feel at home, but where you are actually domiciled. That means Thompson was eligible only to vote at his new home in Niagara County. Instead, when Thompson showed up to vote – improperly – on Grand Island, where he didn’t live – he completed a sworn affidavit averring that he was eligible to vote there.

This was, however, a lie made under oath. He is under indictment for felony voter fraud – something Thompson considers to be treason. Thompson was offered a plea, but rejected it despite the overwhelming evidence against him. His defense seems to be: 1. it’s not like he voted twice!; and 2. he just did what the election inspectors told him to do. The real question is whether Thompson committed voter fraud out of stupidity or malicious intent. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t vote twice; he voted to influence elections that have nothing to do with him, and the election inspectors undoubtedly recognized Thompson when he showed up at his former polling place on Grand Island and certainly would have helped him with a provisional ballot – that’s because how are they supposed to know that he no longer lived there? 

Voter fraud is not a problem in WNY, and it’s not a problem nationally. This is a huge waste of time and effort designed to distract from more important things that the Trump administration is up to. In fact, the most prominent instance of voter fraud locally was allegedly committed by one of Trump’s loudest local supporters. 

Irony is dead. 

Frank Max Pleads Guilty

Frank Max

Cheektowaga Democratic operative Frank Max pled guilty in Albany Wednesday to two class-A misdemeanors relating to improper and falsified campaign finance disclosures for his “Progressive Democrats of WNY” political club. In recent years, Max has been closely aligned with the Steve Pigeon breakaway faction of nominal Democrats. This conviction falls squarely within the Preetsmas canon. 

Max’s guilty plea was detailed in an afternoon press release from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Max entered a guilty plea today before the Hon. Joshua Farrell in Albany City Court, Criminal Part, to two class A misdemeanors, including Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law section 175.30, and one count of Knowingly and Willfully Filing a False Campaign Finance Disclosure Report, in violation of Election Law 14-126(4). He was charged after an investigation revealed Max’s failures to truthfully disclose to the New York State Board of Elections the financial activity of the Progressive Democrats of Western New York, a Political Action Committee Max both founded and served as treasurer of since its inception.

“Campaign finance laws exist for a reason-to protect voters and keep our democratic process honest and transparent,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “When well-connected political operatives fail to make proper disclosures, it creates widespread distrust in the system as a whole. Today’s plea sends the message that political committees, treasurers and candidates will be held accountable if they fail to obey the law.”

The maximum penalty for each count is up to one year in jail for each count. Sentencing is scheduled for May 5, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.

Under the Election Law, political committees and candidates are required to file periodic financial disclosure reports accurately disclosing their expenditures and contributions in order to maintain transparency in the election process.  According to documents filed in Court and Max’s guilty plea, Max failed to provide accurate information on two Campaign Finance Disclosure Reports. The inaccurate information included falsely claiming that donations received by the Progressive Democrats of Western New York in amounts over $99, which should have been itemized, were less than $99, thereby circumventing the reporting requirements. In addition, a $900 donation was reported as $400. Finally, corporate donations were not properly noted. This is particularly significant because corporations are subject to strict limitations on the amount of total annual contributions they can make to political candidates.

“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence and transparency in the electoral process,” said Risa Sugarman, Chief Enforcement Counsel for the New York State Board of Elections. “The public has the right to know who contributes to political committees and how the money is spent. We will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners, including the Attorney General, to assure New Yorkers that violations of the public trust do not go unpunished.”

Schneiderman thanked not only the members of his own team and the State Police, but also agents from the FBI and the office of the acting United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, James Kennedy.

Longtime readers of my Preetsmas series regarding the campaign finance irregularities of people and entities with ties to Steve Pigeon will already be familiar with Max and his chronic, opaque electoral shenanigans.

Most recently, in November 2016, one of Max’s former allies/campaign workers publicly accused him of refusing to pay for petition gathering. The more important revelation was that Max’s group had clearly participated in the 2016 primaries, but failed to file requisite disclosures for same. In 2015, we had similar evidence of primary activity without primary financial disclosures being made; there was a definite pattern of deceptive non-compliance

In February 2015, Max’s club showed a balance of $2.00 despite having held a big Christmas fundraiser in December. Max’s allies created their own club in 2015, and to this day it remains out of compliance with election law. 

On the 7th Day of Preetsmas, June 2015, I detailed how Max’s club had donated well in excess of the allowed maximum to its preferred candidates for county legislature, apparently colluding with the WNY Progressive Caucus, or “AwfulPAC”, which was active in 2013 and is alleged to be at the center of an ongoing state and federal investigation

In 2016, Max and his club tried one last, Pigeonless gasp at statewide office, running the former AwfulPAC steward for state assembly. That campaign tanked as dramatically as it deserved, but not before first releasing its own emetically hilarious campaign finance disclosures

The Preetsmas story is ongoing, but progressed visibly last June with the guilty plea of Supreme Court Justice John Michalek and the indictment of Steve Pigeon. It was very clear then that the investigation was far from over, and Pigeon’s attorneys have been in court a few times since then to challenge the government’s evidence. 

Query whether Max’s plea is indicative of something larger, or the end of a relatively small matter. His sentencing may be dependent on how cooperative he’s been with related investigations into AwfulPAC and the charges pending against Steve Pigeon. 

Mad Money with Chris Collins


Afternoon WBEN talker David Bellavia ran in a Republican primary against Chris Collins to win the right to battle incumbent Kathy Hochul for the 27th Congressional District seat. He wrote this analysis of the allegations against Chris Collins’ alleged insider stock trading

In a world where I get political advice from The Financial Guys, Mike Lomas and Glenn Wiggle, it would only seem only fair that we get stock tips from Rep. Chris Collins. This week, HHS nominee Rep Tom Price (R-GA) was asked by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) during his confirmation hearing:
“Congressman Chris Collins, who sits on President-elect Trump’s transition team, is both an investor and a board member of [Innate Immunotherapeutics]. He was reportedly overheard just last week off the House floor bragging about how he had made people millionaires from a stock tip,” she said. “Congressman Price, in our meeting, you informed me you made purchases based on conversations with Rep. Collins, is that correct?”
So what is the big deal you ask? The Cures Act was a bill signed into law this past December 2016. The bill was originally sponsored by Fred Upton (R-MI). Chris Collins wrote three amendments to the bill. Two of which are alleged to have benefited companies like the one he invests in and sits on the Board of Directors: 

Section 3021, which encourages the broader application of innovative clinical trial designs, including the use of Bayesian  statistics and adaptive trials, to enhance and accelerate effective clinical trials. These changes to the way the FDA approves clinical trial designs will help unleash new, groundbreaking therapies by allowing researchers to efficiently change their trials to meet the individual responses of their participants. 

Section 3071 will expedite and improve the drug approval process by increasing the number of senior biomedical researchers the FDA is allowed to hire and also making the salary of those individuals more competitive with private industry. This will help ensure that our best and brightest scientists will remain with the FDA to review and approve drug applications, and get cures to patients more quickly.

With respect to Price, however, this isn’t the big deal; the big deal is that the Trump transition had publicly stated that a broker made all the decisions concerning the purchase and sale of equities on behalf of Dr. Price, with no input from the Congressman. This turned out to be false, as Price clearly at least retained control over the decision to purchase shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics. According to the New York Times, “[l]ast summer, Mr. Price, [Collins Chief of Staff Michael] Hook and [former WNY Congressman Bill] Paxon bought the stock at a discount as part of a private offering organized by Innate aimed at ‘sophisticated U.S. investors.’ They have since quintupled their money, at least on paper.”

Innate Immunotherapeutics would ostensibly benefit directly from Collins’ amendments to the 21 Century Cures Act, if it decided to enter the U.S. market with its only product, a treatment for M.S. that is now undergoing clinical trials in Australia and New Zealand. Collins sits on the Innate Immunotherapeutics board, and is its largest shareholder. has prepared this chart showing the various personalities at play: 

view this map on LittleSis

Which brings us to this current allegation.
Collins is overheard on a cellphone conversation bragging about how many “millionaires he has made in Buffalo” with this alleged stock tip in the last month.
This is key, because the law was signed in December and directly implies that money was made since President Obama signed the bill.
Now, let’s be honest, the People’s House is not the arena to be talking about stocks, girlfriends or real estate. You are there to do the job of the people. And this is at best unprofessional and at its worst in violation of the Stock Act, passed in 2012, which limits the trading that elected officials can profit from with regards to their position and insider information.
The company in question is an Australian based corporation called Innate Immunotherapeutics, which tests trial drugs for serious diseases such as MS. Collins is a board member, has held the stock for 15 years and two of his children and Michael Hook, his longtime advisor and Chief of Staff are amongst the largest stockholders of the small biotech firm.
Yeah, it’s gross. Collins making the phone call and acting like a big shot is gross too. Has the law been broken? I don’t think so. Is Collins doomed because of this behavior? Not a chance.

Well, not so fast. There simply isn’t any evidence to conclude whether the STOCK Act was or was not broken; any such opinion is based merely on conjecture. If one were to proceed simply on the basis of an “appearance of impropriety” standard, there would be grounds to investigate further. In a nutshell, the STOCK Act exists to prevent members of Congress from using their knowledge as lawmakers in order to personally profit through the purchase or sale of securities. 

Bellavia’s argument, below, is that it’s far-fetched to accuse Collins of unjustly enriching himself in a company with which he has been involved for 12 years. That’s a fair point, taken without any context. Here, however, the company in question has been something of a failure during that entire time. This article explains how Collins came upon the stock in 2005 when its investors were desperate to stay afloat, and that Collins has lent the company money in later years when it seemed doomed. The M.S. drug now undergoing trials is its inaugural product, and its CEO is pretty up-front about the fact that he’s really just fishing for some large pharma firm to buy Innate out

To imply that Chris Collins held a stock for 15 years, ran for County Executive, lost, ran for Congress, in a wild scheme to make $3 million dollars in stocks is absurd. He is worth well north of $120 million. Collins has many businesses involved in the medical field. Are we saying he is disqualified from every authoring legislation or amendments because he may profit from them in the future?
Here is what no one is saying, “Chris Collins’ amendments to the bill were actually really good amendments.” The issue here is the behavior of what is expected of our elected officials.
Collins behaved poorly. Should never be on a cell phone near journalists bragging about his stock tips. Tom Price, should not be taking stock advice from his peers on the floor of congress.
This is a Tom Price problem, not a Chris Collins problem.

That’s only part of the issue, however. The Times points out that Paxon, a lobbyist, could appear before Collins not just to peddle influence, but also as a co-investor in Innate. A bunch of Collins’ friends and associates participated in a special, private offering of Innate stock just last summer – as the Cures Act was wending its way through committee. Price’s investment was between $50,000 and $100,000 – one of the largest investments he made since 2012. The Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski noted Collins’ investment in Innate in his piece reporting on the passage of the Cures Act. Collins argued that his investment wasn’t a conflict of interest, but instead evidence of the “business knowledge” he brings to Congress. 

It’s also quite possible that it is both reflective of his savvy, and also of his conflict of interest; that his involvement in the amendments and passage of the Cures Act resulted in personal gain. 

What Collins did was the equivalent of picking up the back up quarterback in a fantasy league when the star QB is injured. Anyone who was following the market could have made the same decision and made more money on other companies that do the same thing bigger and better. The stock opened the day at $1.50 and closed at $1.46.

Unless other evidence surfaces, he did not appear to use his position and leverage as a Board Member to offer shares at a reduced cost. If there was a new product the company was going to market with and he told his friends to invest, that too is murky, but not illegal. The market turns on new drugs as quickly as it rewards the early bird for jumping first. For every Viagra, there is a thalidomide. This is not insider trading. Board members have to follow the SEC. They can’t purchase bulk stock until announcements are made and rules are followed. If Collins broke any of those rules, we will know quickly.

More significantly, the stock was priced at around AU$0.30 (30 cents) per share last summer for special investors like Price and Collins, and is now worth AU$1.55 – a five-fold increase for stock in a company that has zero products on the market. In the interim, Price and Collins advocated for a law that would benefit companies like Innate. 

More to the point Collins reportedly threw $4 million into Innate during the special summer friends & family stock offering – an investment that is now worth close to $20 million.  

But can we be honest? Confirmation hearings are not court proceedings. There is a lot tossed at the wall. Most slides off and onto the floor.

I have been very vocal in my criticism of Mr. Collins in the past. I have no issue calling him out when and if he does something wrong. In this case, his only sin is quite frankly, being Chris Collins. He is the same brash, self-congratulating man that we have known for over twenty years. The truth is he is a good and decent man. His flaw is that he will the first one in the room to remind you of that. He is calculating, self interested above all other concerns (ask Carl Paladino about his statement of support during his recent BPS issue) but he is not a bad person. Tom Price will be a great HHS secretary with a lot of work to do usher in the new healthcare plan in the wake of the Obamacare disaster.

To me, unless we are hit with a meteor of new information, this is much ado about nothing.

It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks that Chris Collins is a “good and decent man”. Good and decent men commit bad acts all the time. People who believe in good government, the rule of law, the appearance of impropriety, and in the notion that our elected officials should not be colluding to personally enrich themselves through legislative action, should all be demanding a thorough investigation of what transpired here with Rep. Collins and Price. 

The Dilettantes in the Castle


Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is nominated to be the next Secretary of Energy. 

Until a few weeks ago, Perry had literally no idea what the Secretary of Energy does, and it wasn’t too long ago he had called for its abolition. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Whether Rick Perry does his best Mr. Magoo, stumbling obliviously into running the Energy Department is one thing, kids’ education is far more important, and under direct assault. 

Betsy DeVos belongs to one of the wealthiest families in Michigan – they own the Amway pyramid selling multi-level marketing cult scheme. She and her husband simply do not believe in secular or public education. Mrs. DeVos is Donald Trump’s nominee to head up the Education Department – a cabinet-level position that Republicans, including Trump, have frequently expressed a desire to abolish altogether, ostensibly to ensure that the quality of public education can vary wildly from state to state. She had once led a ballot initiative to permit public funding of parochial schools, which is violative of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. She was instrumental in creating Michigan’s series of for-profit, unregulated charter schools. They have spent their billions funding so-called “Christian conservative” candidates and causes, most notably spending big money to combat same-sex marriage initiatives in Michigan and California. But for DeVos’ current nomination, this is key

Deep into his first term, [then-Michigan Governor John] Engler wanted to show progress in his signature proposal to reduce the state’s onerous property taxes by 20 percent. Property taxes being the funding source for Michigan’s public school system, Democrats ruled out any plan that did not include a replacement for the lost revenue, and since any new revenue would require legislators to vote for new taxes or fees, that option had little appeal heading into the 1994 campaign. On July 19, 1993, Democratic state Senator Debbie Stabenow proposed an amendment that was interpreted as an attempt to point out the absurdity of Engler’s plan: Why not cut them by 100 percent without having any replacement revenue source?

Democrats were dumbstruck by what happened next: Engler whipped the state Legislature into action, and in the course of a 24-hour period, the Senate and House eradicated property taxes—in the process completely defunding Michigan’s $6.5 billion public-education system. In the ensuing crisis, Engler legalized charter schools.

That wasn’t all. In 1998, DeVos pushed a proposition to legalize statewide school vouchers, which failed overwhelmingly

When you really looked at it, the parents weren’t the ones with the choices; the parochial schools were the ones with the choices. If all you do is transfer the money, you don’t transfer any of the other requirements that are put on public schools. Public schools are required to take everyone who comes through the door. But private schools, parochial schools, get to pick and choose. … It’s not really the parents who have the choice, it’s the schools. And people ultimately understood that.

The DeVos family has been expert in setting up PACs throughout Michigan – and the country – to push their religious and political agendae. 

Today, 16 years after the DeVoses’ failed constitutional amendment, this constant push has totally remade Michigan education. The cap on the number of charter schools eliminated and attempts to provide public oversight have been defeated, making Michigan’s charters among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. About 80 percent of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state. This means that taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to traditional public schools are instead used to buy supplies such as textbooks and desks that become private property. It is, essentially, a giant experiment in what happens when you shift resources away from public schools…

…While a charter school cannot be religiously affiliated, many walk a fine line, appointing, for instance, a preacher as head of the school board or renting school space from a church. “They have a couple ways of getting around it,” says Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University who specializes in charter school evaluation and research. “I’ve been in charter schools where I’ve seen religious prayers to Jesus Christ—they mention Christ by name—and prayer circles with students, teachers and parents.”

What’s the result? Not great. 

Most Michigan charters perform below the state’s averages on tests, even while their enrollment has grown to include more than 110,000 students, nearly half of whom live in the Detroit area. A 2013 Stanford study that compared Detroit’s charters with its traditional public schools found that the charter students gained the equivalent of more than three months’ learning per year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools. But that doesn’t mean they’re performing at a high level, simply that by some measures, certain charters marginally outperform the historically challenged Detroit public schools.

This is the way it’s done: this is the Republicans’ best bet: 

1. Defund or otherwise siphon money out of a public program; 

2. Allow the public program to fail and declare it as such – manufacture an artificial crisis; 

3. Push for your so-called “free market alternative”, with bonus points awarded for appeals to God and capitalism. Maybe throw in some cracks against “socialism”, while you’re at it. You can make even your kid’s kindergarten teacher seem evil if you throw “socialist” at her. 

Now, you’re free to “solve” the crisis you’ve created by inaugurating a privatization of a public right and need. You and all your buddies get to profit off of something that no American family can go without. It is literally an enrichment bonanza – a transparent but politically safe scheme to do palpable harm to the poor and middle class in order to enrich the already wealthy, or in Trump’s case the politically obedient. This is shaping up to be the biggest redistribution of wealth in American history, only backwards as the working and middle classes subsidize massive tax cuts for the rich. There is a class war underway, but it’s being waged against you – not against the millionaires. 

It’s not for nothing that local Representative Chris Collins (R-Spaulding Lake), now under fire for alleged insider trading, boasted about all the “millionaires” his stock tips made in Buffalo

Betsy DeVos’ Senate hearing took place this week, and her performance was emetic. DeVos has wide and deep experience spending her fortune on political causes, but she is bereft of any experience – direct or otherwise – with teaching, much less administering a school or district. Sure, DeVos thinks that schools shouldn’t be “gun free zones”, and fell back repeatedly on that right-wing trope; she would leave things up “to the states”. To Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, DeVos claimed that, for instance, a school in Wyoming might need a gun to keep “grizzlies” at bay, evidencing that she has no respect for what’s being discussed – the Sandy Hook massacre of first graders. The fact that she lacks even a scintilla of qualification for the job she seeks soon became evident. 

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren took DeVos to task for her utter lack of professional or personal experience with public education or higher education debt, Pell Grants, and the like. 

Minnesota Senator Al Franken revealed that DeVos lacks even a passing knowledge of one of the great debates underway in contemporary American education – the challenge of growth vs. proficiency. It’s an obscure debate if you’re not in the business, but Franken here highlights his preference for growth, which measures how much students improve, versus proficiency, which merely records whether and how many students meet a testing threshold. It was clear that, for DeVos, Franken might as well have been speaking Mongolian.  

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine challenged DeVos on whether all schools who accept federal funding should adhere to federal statutes and regulations concerning disabilities. DeVos didn’t just punt with a “leave it to the states” answer, but revealed a fundamental ignorance about the workings of our federal system itself .

These weren’t gotcha questions. They instead revealed a person who is woefully unqualified for the post for which she has been nominated. Not only that, it is quite evident that the only reason why she was nominated in the first place was to advance the goal of school privatization and parochialization, and because she and her family are big political donors. This might be well and good for an appointment as Ambassador to some friendly principality, but isn’t good enough to shepherd the education of millions of American children. 

Hearings are now underway for Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price. Like Collins, Price is also under fire for having made apparently fortuitous equities transactions that comported with Congressional action. Price and the Trump transition had claimed that this was impossible, because a broker handled all of Price’s trades without the congressman’s direct input. 

Except when it came to Price’s investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, the Australian drug manufacturer on whose board Chris Collins sits, in which Collins owns a majority share of stock, and in which Collins’ children and chief of staff are also heavily invested.

We are entering a dangerous period where government is used to enrich the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of the average working and middle-class American. We are entering a world where it will be easy for the federal government to de-fund and privatize the very foundation of our democracy. This isn’t making America great or putting America first – this is a recipe for devolution into a kleptocratic oligarchical right-wing despotism. The dilettantes are in the castle. The only thing at stake is everything you hold dear. 

Collins: Draft Legislation, Profit


What do you call it when a sitting member of Congress drafts legislation, which passes and then results in a direct personal financial gain? I call it “Corruption 101” and it’s the stuff that 3rd world kleptocracies are made of. 

On Thursday, Washingon ethics watchdog Public Citizen released a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Securities & Exchange Commission alleging that Republican Representatives Tom Price and Chris Collins (NY-27) may have acted unethically and engaged in possible insider trading.

According to Public Citizen and its analysis of news reports and financial disclosures, Collins is a “prolific trader of health care investments on the stock market.” Collins, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, is a board member and the largest shareholder of a major biotech company, Australia’s Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited – a company in which both Price and Collins made major stock purchases within days of each other, according to financial disclosure reports.

“Collins purchased 4 million shares in August in the company whose board he sits on, and Price followed up with his own major stock purchase in the company two days later,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The stock value doubled in the three months following their investments. That’s quite good luck. This is worthy of investigation to determine whether any wrongful conduct occurred.”

Price is alleged to have traded over $300,000 worth of stocks in about 40 health care companies while “sponsoring and advocating legislation that could potentially affect” the value of those stocks. The Wall Street Journal says that since 2012, Price sponsored 9 and co-sponsored 35 bills in the House that could have resulted in direct, personal financial gain. In August, Price bought between $50,000 – $100,000 in Innate Immunotherapeutics, the value of which has since doubled. 

Price is President-Elect Trump’s nominee to be the director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Collins is the Trump transition’s Congressional liaison. Public Citizen bills itself as “protecting democracy from corporate greed.” 

Since passage of the STOCK Act in 2012, members of Congress have been subject to the same laws against insider trading that apply to everyone else. Additionally, congressional ethics rules warn members to avoid substantial conflicts of interest that may cast aspersions on the integrity of their office. Rules also mandate that members may not use their office for personal gain. Public Citizen’s letter asks that the OCE and SEC investigate the stock trading activity of Price and Collins for potential violations of insider trading laws and conflict of interest rules and regulations. 

Request for Investigation Price Collins by Alan Bedenko on Scribd

“Extensive stock trading activity in industries that Price and Collins oversee as congressmen, and unusually good timing and financial benefits of those stock trades, raise red flags about the potential use of insider information,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The public information available falls short of hard evidence of insider trading, but the patterns of trading activity certainly warrant further investigation to determine if it occurred.”

The letter specifically asks, 

These patterns of extensive trading activity in businesses and industries that Reps. Price and Collins oversee in their official capacity, and the beneficial timing of these trades, raise legitimate questions concerning both potential insider trading and conflicts of interest. Some ofthese questions include:

  • Did Price and Collins have access to nonpublic material information accounting for adoubling in value of their investments in Innate Immuno? Collins sits on the board of thecompany, a company which is placing its bets on an experimental drug currently inclinical trials, and both members of Congress made substantial purchases in the company’s stock at almost the same time.
  • Does pharmaceutical and health care legislation sponsored by Price and Collins run afoulof conflicts of interest concerns in that the legislation could directly and substantially benefit the lawmakers’ own investments beyond the benefit to the public generally? These legislative vehicles could well produce windfall profits for Price and Collins

The Wall Street Journal adds

Innate Immuno’s chief executive, Simon Wilkerson, said at investor presentations this year that its future depends on an experimental drug to treat an advanced form of multiple sclerosis, which is currently in clinical trials.

One law enacted this month that could benefit Innate Immuno is the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorizes spending $6.3 billion for medical research, including $500 million for the FDA to speed up drug approvals.

A key provision that would permit clinical trials of new medical treatments to proceed more quickly was written by Mr. Collins as a member of the health panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee…

…[Collins told the Buffalo News that] his authorship of legislation wasn’t a conflict of interest, but rather an instance of bringing his business knowledge to the Congress.

A spokesman for Mr. Collins said he used his business experience and meetings with patients and regulators to write legislation that “will put patients first and get cures more quickly to those who need them most.” The statement added that Mr. Collins “has followed all ethical guidelines related to his personal finances.”

Both Mr. Price and Mr. Collins voted yes for the bill’s final House vote in November, just three months after they bought more stock in the company.

In August 2015, Collins bought between $500,000 and $1 million worth – 4 million shares – of Innate Immuno stock. Collins was an author of a law that has a direct positive benefit on that investment and Collins’ wealth, but dismissed these concerns to the Buffalo News. The value of that stock doubled after passage of that law. Collins has relentlessly pushed for repeal of a tax on medical devices, which would have a direct benefit on two of his stock holdings

Earlier this week, House Republicans held a secret vote with no advance warning that would have changed congressional rules and effectively abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. Public outcry and a Tweet from the President-elect quickly prompted the Republican majority to abandon this first, tone-deaf act of the new Congress. As of this writing, no one knows how Collins voted. Ask him on Facebook, Twitter, or at 

NYS Conservative Fusion Party Discreetly Drops Carl


Later this month, the Conservative Fusion Party – a club for people who care deeply about guns, abortion, defeating the homosexual agenda, and patronage jobs – will be holding its annual statewide fundraiser. Here is the mail piece they sent out in mid-December: 

On December 28, however, they sent out a mass email with one notable omission from its list of promised conference speakers. 

I wonder what happened between December 16 and 28 for the Conservatives to drop Buffalo’s own bestiality and racism enthusiast Carl Paladino? It’s not like the Conservative Fusion Party is in any way distinguished, reasonable, or professional

Local attendees of this sham “party” congress include former Attorney General Dennis Vacco, incoming State Senator Chris Jacobs, and Congressman Chris Collins. 

Incidentally, on Tuesday the Republican congressional majority voted overwhelmingly, and with no warning, to gut Congressional ethics oversight as literally its first act of the Trump era. Public outcry led them quickly to abandon that plan, but we still have no idea how Chris Collins voted at that secret conference. Is he for or against aggressive, independent ethics oversight of Congress?