#ChooseBCT

depewbct

Buffalo. A play in three acts. 

Act I: We need a new train station! 

Act II: How about the old train station!?

Act III: GENIUS!!!11!!

Fin

Preetsmas: Unpacking The AwfulPAC Complaint

PreetsmasTrio

On Wednesday, Steve Pigeon, Kristy Mazurek, and David Pfaff were formally charged with four felony counts each arising out of their involvement in 2013 with the “WNY Progressive Caucus”, or “AwfulPAC”. They each pled not guilty and were released on their own recognizance. They stand accused of three Election Law felonies and one criminal count.  Election Law 14-126(5) makes it illegal for a campaign committee to coordinate with individual campaigns in order to bypass mandatory maximum contribution limits. Penal Law 175.35 makes it a crime to knowingly offer a false instrument for filing. 

The complaint itself contains a small handful of mysteries as to the identities of people connected with the AwfulPAC allegations; AwfulPAC’s principals are accused of illegally coordinating with the campaigns of three individuals in order to bypass campaign finance restrictions. The 2013 primaries were held on September 9th, and the campaigns of participating candidates had a duty to file financial disclosures with the state on August 8th, August 29th, and September 19th; the 32-day pre-primary, the 11-day pre-primary, and the 10-day post-primary filings, respectively. 

“Candidate 1” is alleged to have taken in only $450 in contributions between mid-July and mid-September – the busiest time for a primary campaign. According to filings with the State Board of Elections, candidate for Erie County Legislature Rick Zydel took in exactly that paltry amount during that period. 

“Candidate 2” is alleged to have taken in only $700 in contributions between mid-July and mid-September, and apparently spent nothing whatsoever between late August and mid-September. According to the BOE, candidate for Erie County Legislature Wes Moore took in exactly that amount during that period, and spent nothing during the days immediately surrounding primary day. 

“Candidate 3” is identified as a town board candidate. Although the AwfulPAC never properly made its requisite disclosures, Mark Manna‘s own campaign committee did

The complaint informs us that Pigeon was the mastermind and the money guy. Mazurek was Pigeon’s number 2 and helped coordinate AwfulPAC’s work with its preferred candidates. Pfaff as the “administrative” guy who could “run a campaign in his sleep”. Nevertheless, all three of these political veterans will say that anything being alleged is evidence only of inadvertent mistake, rather than intent to commit any crime. 

The complaint also mentions – but does not identify – three “Persons”. The first cannot be unmasked; a business associate emailed the BOE’s campaign finance limits for legislative races to Pigeon in August 2013 – evidence that Pigeon knew what those limits were. More interesting are the identities of Persons 2 and 3. 

On August 19, 2013, AwfulPAC reported receiving $4,000 from Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY, reporting it as AwfulPAC reported that $4,000 as one lump sum, but for some reason Max’s group didn’t. AwfulPAC also reported that it received that money long before Max’s group says it contributed it.

The News wrote:

Now, questions center on the three postal money orders purchased on Aug. 14, 2013 and made payable to the WNY Progressive Caucus, according to the sources.

A name appears on the postal orders as the purchaser. But nobody familiar with the case can say if the person named on the money orders actually purchased them.

Kristy L. Mazurek, treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, endorsed the postal orders and deposited them, the sources said. Yet state Board of Elections campaign finance records indicate no corresponding contribution.

The Postal Service maintains no requirement to show identification when purchasing or sending postal money orders under $3,000, according to spokeswoman Karen L. Mazurkiewicz.

As the Public reported in June 2015, “Person 2”, whose name appears on the money orders, is Matthew Connors, the son of prominent attorney Terry Connors. Connors, however, didn’t buy those money orders and didn’t put his name on them, as he described here to investigators: 

Matt Connors’ employer, “Person 3”, is Nick Sinatra

So, Pigeon begged Sinatra to contribute to AwfulPAC. Sinatra balked because he didn’t want his name connected to Pigeon or to some shady and nominally Democratic organization. So, instead Sinatra bought some money orders in his employee’s name and gave them to Pigeon, who knew the money’s real source was being disguised, saying it was “fine”. 

Last August, Channel 2’s Steve Brown got a hold of one of the search warrants from May 2014, which revealed that the warrant was being requested, in part, to investigate, “Steve Pigeon’s unlawful lobbying on behalf of Nick Sinatra.”

Incidentally, Pigeon’s erstwhile protege and former State Senator Anthony Nanula co-founded American Coastal Properties in San Diego in 2012 with Nick Sinatra. “Candidate 2”, Wes Moore’s 2013 legislative campaign was run out of the Nanulas’ Clarence office. 

The limit on campaign contributions for legislative races in 2013 was $1,476.50. 

The State’s Complaint alleges that AwfulPAC illegally coordinated with – and made $18,000 in payments on behalf of – the Zydel campaign, exceeding the campaign finance limit by about $16,500. AwfulPAC also allegedly illegally coordinated with – and made $13,000 in payments on behalf of – the Moore campaign, exceeding the limit by about $12,000. Finally, AwfulPAC allegedly illegally coordinated with – and made $4,812 in payments on behalf of – the Manna for Amherst town board campaign, exceeding that race’s applicable limit by about $3,200. 

Nothing yet has come about in connection with the Dick Dobson for Sheriff race, which also benefited from AwfulPAC’s aptitude for raising money. 

The Main Event: Preetsmas Comes to AwfulPAC

preetclaus

Tuesday morning, the Buffalo News reported that three members of a disgraced faction of nominal Democrats would be facing felony election law charges to be announced in a Buffalo courtroom today.

G. Stephen Pigeon is already facing state charges alleging he bribed a state Supreme Court Justice—the judge pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Kristy Mazurek is a former journalist who hosted WGRZ’s 2Sides program with various Republicans. She has managed or otherwise participated in a string of failed races for elective office, including her brother’s race for Assembly in 2014, and her own Assembly bid last year. David Pfaff has hopped around political jobs, most recently working in the office of former State Senator Marc Panepinto. Pfaff has a reputation for being rather competent when working in government, but his ties to Pigeon have led him to be involved in more than a few controversial races. 

When Pigeon and former Supreme Court Justice John Michalek were placed under arrest, I wrote, “There has to be more. I suspect that the Michalek bribery case is just the amuse bouche — the low-hanging, easy to reach fruit that can be pushed through quickly to reassure an impatient public that progress is being made. All the while, law enforcement continues to build its other cases against Pigeon and others. Pass the popcorn, because we’re just watching the trailers.” 

Well, take your seats and silence your cell phones, because it looks like the feature’s just starting. 

According to Bob McCarthy

One source familiar with the charges say they will revolve around the County Legislature candidacies of Richard A. Zydel and Wes Moore, as well as the Amherst supervisor candidacy of Council Member Mark A. Manna.

That means the Pigeon troika are being charged with crimes arising out of the 2013 handling of the WNY Progressive Caucus, which I contemporaneously referred to as “AwfulPAC”. I also coined the word “Pigeoning” as shorthand to describe the sorts of shenanigans in which Steve Pigeon and his associates would engage in races that mosty served only to harass and disrupt the electoral efforts of other Democrats. 

Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing ˈpi-jən-iŋ: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.

The Pigeon crew would often secure the assistance—tacit and overt—of Republicans, but more frequently the execrable and obsequious fusion parties — “Independence” and “Conservative” alike — to conspire with Pigeon to advance not just candidates, but their committees’ access to patronage jobs.

Blindside the party’s endorsed candidate with a sudden and unexpected influx of expensive mailers, robocalls, and ads that defame them, or worse. Fund it through various and sundry LLCs set up for no other reason than to legally flaunt campaign finance rules. Set up PACs or independent committees whose funding and organization is sketchy, at best, or criminal, at worst. Conspire fusion party bosses, for whom influence over patronage hires regularly trumps any manufactured, elastic ideological tenets. 

Nothing that the Pigeon crew ever did brought about real reform or good government. Nothing they touched had anything to do with policy, or helping the community — it was all about enriching Pigeon and the pilot fish who clung to him. Western New Yorkers of every party, of every race, of every nationality, of every class deserve so much better than what Pigeon and his cult offered. 

AwfulPAC was only active for a very short period of time—most of what it did took place between July and September of 2013. In May 2015, state and federal agents executed three nearly simultaneous raids on the homes of Pigeon, former Chris Collins chief of staff Chris Grant, and former Buffalo deputy mayor Steve Casey. I dubbed this law enforcement action and investigation “Preetsmas,” after the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. Bharara had famously taken over the investigation of political corruption cases abandoned by the Moreland Commission when Governor Cuomo abruptly shut it down. 

AwfulPAC wasn’t even properly constitutedit filed its CF-02 in February 2014 to transform it — retroactively — into a multi-candidate committee participating and spending on candidates’ behalf in the 2013 primaries. AwfulPAC declared — nunc pro tunc — that it was an unauthorized committee for Dick Dobson in the primary and general elections, and in the primary for Joyce Wilson Nixon, Barbara Miller-Williams, Rick Zydel, and Wes Moore. They also claimed to be an unauthorized committee for Mark Manna for Amherst Town Board in 2013’s general election. Had AwfulPAC done that at its founding, it could have spent money on behalf of those candidates without coordination; however, as it was originally constituted, it was legally only allowed to raise and donate money to campaigns, and not to promote or oppose specific candidates. We’re meant to believe that it broke the law at the time, but a retroactive “oops” filing of a piece of paper retroactively rendered all its activities legal. 

Part of my antipathy for electoral fusion stems from Pigeon’s deft manipulation and marshalling of minor party lines.  He has conspired with Ralph Lorigo to steer the Conservative fusion Party line to his various candidates, and enjoys a close relationship with Tom Golisano, the founder of New York’s especially corrupt Independence fusion Party.

One way to think about all of this is political racketeering.

For instance, Pigeon associate David Pfaff shows up as a vendor for the “Real Conservatives” PAC, which Lorigo controls and is based out of a funeral home in Hamburg that has contributed to Lorigo’s committee and also to Mickey Kearns. That’s why a flush pro-Byron Brown PAC controlled by Steve Casey and based out of Casey’s home contributed to only one candidate—Conservative fusion Party candidate Joe Lorigo—in 2014 and 2013. So query why it took in $6,000 from Byron Brown’s campaign fund in the 11-day pre-General 2013 and another $6,000 from Brown in October 2013, while it only supported one Conservative fusion Party candidate

None of this was new in 2013, but there was one major difference that tripped up Pigeon’s usual M.O. It was late August and early September that anonynous, no-attribution literature blasting then-incumbent county legislators Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues hit mailboxes throughout Buffalo. The mailers risibly accused Grant and Hogues of being right-wing Republicans, and praised their challengers, Joyce Wilson Nixon and Barbara Miller-Williams. I wrote at the time, “so long as people aligned with the breakaway Steve Pigeon faction of disgruntled nominal Democrats exist, there will be nonsense. It is ever thus.”

What is often lost in the AwfulPAC narrative is what it actually did. It mostly produced direct mail and other advertisements, some of which were practically defamatory in their rank falsehoods. Here is a sampler of mailers that AwfulPAC sent out to Democrats during the 2013 county legislature primaries.

They attacked other candidates similarly, including Lynn Dearmyer. The language and imagery used and sent to predominately white households is pretty blatantly racist. Betty Jean Grant is “radical” and “extremist.” “They” are “dead set” on “raising our taxes”

In addition to their defamation of Wynnie Fisher being a lunatic

 I wrote about this in some detail in June of 2015 as “The Story of Preetsmas”. 

Grant and Hogues were understandably outraged.  Mazurek was typically flippant. At bare minimum, Mazurek cut and signed the checks that paid for those inflammatory and racist mailers. 

Under New York’s weak and hitherto habitually unenforced election law, there is no requirement that the groups sending these sorts of mailers out reveal their identity or funding. “Paid for by” isn’t a requirement, and it protects the racketeers instead of informing the voting public. 

Generally, a PAC like the “WNY Progressive Caucus” would need to disclose to the Board of Elections where its money—almost $300,000 came in and went out practically overnight—was coming from. But when these mailers hit in late August 2013, it hadn’t yet filed anything. The reason why anyone found out about it was a FOIL request

[Betty Jean] Grant on Friday charged that a rival wing of the local Democratic party is behind the anonymous ads. A request made under the Freedom of Information Act to the Postal Service has identified the permit holder on the mailings as the Western New York Progressive Caucus, headquartered on Doris Avenue in Lancaster.

That was Kristy Mazurek’s home, and she was listed as the group’s treasurer. Mazurek, at the time, had been a co-host of WGRZ’s “2Sides”, had helped direct the campaign of failed Comptroller candidate David Shenk, and then turned against Jeremy Zellner’s Democratic Committee and began running Moore’s and Zydel’s campaigns. In August 2013, I called them the “emoDems”

It should be noted that WGRZ 2Sides co-host Kristy Mazurek is [Wes] Moore’s and [Rick] Zydel’s campaign manager. Query why [her former co-host Stefan] Mychajliw would have felt the need to abandon the show when he ran for public office, yet the Democrat on the show feels no similar ethical obligation to do so, going so far as to attempt to ridicule an opponent on Facebook who wasn’t interested in going on the show. 

Mazurek had taken to Facebook to ridicule Moore’s opponent Wynnie Fisher for refusing to appear on 2Sides. Yet why on Earth would a candidate appear on a show to be interrogated by her opponent’s campaign manager? It’s an insane proposition. Mazurek left 2Sides just days later. (There’s David Pfaff again, BTW): 

And so, Mazurek Palinistically took to Facebook to issue a non-denial denial about the WNY Progressive Caucus’ literature: 

Translation: After Shenk lost, Zellner didn’t hire/get me hired for something-or-other, and so I’m going to align myself with the people who are working to undermine and unseat him. Note that Mazurek doesn’t deny that she or her PAC sent out the anti-Hogues and anti-Grant mailings. She simply says the complaints “don’t have merit”. So, I replied: 

Reply, (right under one from Erick Mullen, who did all of Jack Davis’ ads that relentlessly went after endorsed Democrat Jon Powers in ’08): 

I have no idea what that means. So, 

There was no reply, natch; I don’t think Ms. Mazurek knew what “meritless” means. Ditto her apparently erstwhile ally Pigeon, who said that the charges against him related to Mazurek’s PAC were “frivolous“. 

These types of anonymous mailers come out all the time, and when anonymous, you can bet that the people behind it want to keep you in the dark. You should be insulted by them – they figure you’re an idiot; an ignoramus. Yet there’s no law that says they have to disclose who they are. So, if you’re outraged when your candidate gets anonymously and unfairly slammed by anonyms, you’re going to have to lobby Albany to demand that the Election Law be amended to (a) require that all campaign advertisements and literature clearly disclose who paid for them; and (b) institute a hefty penalty for any violations – penalties that are confiscatory deterrents. 

Nasty people with unclean hands legally get to make electoral politics dirtier than it has to be. If Mazurek and the people behind the group for which she is treasurer think that Tim Hogues is a closet Clarence Republican and that Barbara Miller-Williams is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then they should disclose who they are. 

The disgruntled nominal Democrats in league with Steve Pigeon might consider this, for instance: instead of working with Republicans and the fusion parties actively to undermine endorsed Democrats, why not convince the various and sundry committee members why they should vote for Frank Max or Mark Manna over Jeremy Zellner for party chair next time around? If you’re in league with the Conservative Party, why even pretend to be a Democrat? 

But in 2013, the Pigeoning was discovered far earlier than Pigeon and Mazurek had expected, on August 30th. Because they were outed via FOIL request, they were forced to file disclosures just 11 days before the primary, and the disclosure was, at best, packed with fiction. Think about it—they clearly didn’t want to disclose who they were on the reams of literature they produced, and so long as people didn’t know who was behind it, they could defame opponents with impunity. This time, however, they were outed and came under a media microscope. Hogues and Grant filed complaints with the Board of Election, bolstered by former Assistant District Attorney Mark Sacha, and that complaint was referred to the state, which then referred it to state investigators, and it came before the Moreland Commission and into the hands of Preet Bharara. 

AwfulPAC supported a small handful of candidates; Nixon, Zydel and Moore lost their September primaries, but Dick Dobson won his for Sheriff and Barbara Miller-Williams defeated Tim Hogues. Only Miller-Williams won in November. Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night, so Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. AwfulPAC, meanwhile, abandoned Dobson during the general election. Wynnie Fisher had defeated AwfulPAC candidate Wes Moore, so in October, Mazurek evidently used Michael Caputo’s PoliticsWNY.com to smear Fisher. Apparently, Fisher and her neighbors don’t get along, so a story was planted accusing Fisher of being crazy.

The problem was that the published letter was sent to Wes Moore at an address in Lancaster. But Moore’s campaign committee was based out of the Clarence office of longtime Pigeon associate Anthony NanulaThe Lancaster address was a house on Doris Avenue where Mazurek was living, and which also served as the mailing address for WNYPC. There was, on its face, a smoking gun of coordination. How and why would Wynnie Fisher’s neighbors decide to send a letter to an address for Wes Moore that didn’t exist in nature?

Mazurek once literally called the Shredd & Ragan show in 2014 to try and intimidate them into keeping me off their air. Almost four years ago, Steve Pigeon, Kristy Mazurek, and David Pfaff used a corrupt slush fund to defame their opponents with false and racist mailers, then called them crybabies for complaining. Now, they’re reportedly facing criminal charges for it all.  

By the way—rumor has it that Mazurek and her crew are sniffing around at least two legislative races this year specifically to exact revenge against or otherwise thwart their opponents. 

And that’s the story of Preetsmas. 

The First day of Preetsmas (5/28/15): The raids & an introduction

The Second day of Preetsmas (6/4/15): All about AwfulPAC

The Third Day of Preetsmas (6/2/15): Seneca cigarette bootlegger Aaron Pierce & Mickey Kearns.

The Fourth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Steve Pigeon, PAPI, and Gene Caccamise

The Fifth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Pigeon’s Tax Liens

The Sixth Day of Preetsmas  (6/4/15): Analyzing tax returns, and litigation surrounding the sale of the Front Page/South Buffalo News

The Story of Preetsmas (6/4/15): Background on AwfulPAC

The Seventh Day of Preetsmas (6/5/15): Financial Shenanigans with Pigeon-connected PACs

The Eighth Day of Preetsmas (6/7/15): The Money Orders and AwfulPAC

The Ninth Day of Preetsmas (6/9/15): Pigeon’s addresses and Ganjapreneurs

The Tenth day of Preetsmas (6/11/15): The Pigeoning

The Eleventh Day of Preetsmas (6/12/15): AwfulPAC FOIL

Preetsmas: In their Own Words (6/14/15): A trip down memory lane

A Preetsmas Recap and Update (6/16/15): Updates on the investigation

The Preetsmas Mysteries (6/22/15): More about the AwfulPAC money orders

Let’s Talk About “Mistakes Were Made” in Campaign Finance Law (7/14/15): On the question of intent.

Preetsmas in September (9/14/15): Big money in Cheektowaga politics. 

Preetsmas: Pigeon’s New Liens (12/28/15): The total reaches $270,000 in tax and condo liens. 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Preetsmas (5/6/16): Pigeon rumors heat up

Preetsmas: Grand Jury and Speculation (5/9/16): Rumors of imminent grand jury action

Mazurek’s Unlikely Candidacy (5/31/16): Kristy Mazurek runs for Assembly while named as key witness in criminal investigation

On the 12th Day of Preetsmas (6/29/16): Charges announced against Pigeon and Michalek

12th Day of Preetsmas: Pigeon Arraigned (6/30/16): Details of the bribery charges

12th Day of Preetsmas: Schneiderman’s Remarks (6/30/16): The investigation is ongoing

How Pigeonism Ends (7/1/16): Analyzing what the charges mean

Mazurek’s Financial: A Sloppy, Illegal Mess (7/22/16): Exactly how it sounds

Unraveling the Mazurek Campaign (7/22/16): Rules exist for a reason

The Tables Turn on Crybaby Mazurek (9/12/16): LOL Karma

Campaign Workers: Frank Max Stiffed Us! (11/2/16): Frank Max Pops Up Again

Frank Max Pleads Guilty (1/25/17): Max busted for false campaign finance filings

Preetsmas: Niagara Edition (3/23/17): The Ortt and Maziarz indictments

Sit back and relax! Enjoy the show!

Paladino Spreads Fake News

fakenews

Elected racist Carl Paladino, Muezzin of the upstate alt-right, is spreading fake news via his chain email news network.

The email: 

 

The links: 

The crime of “treason“:

 

Obstructing a federal proceeding and lying to the FBI are definitely crimes, but they’re not “treason charges”. 

Collins’ Curious Syria Flip-Flop

collinsflip

In April 2017, Congressman Chris Collins uncritically cheered President Trump’s military strike against Syria – the same type of action that President Obama had proposed in 2013, and which Collins vehemently opposed as “ill-conceived”. Is there some substantive difference, or is it just a craven partisan about-face? 

Collins’ obsequiousness in the face of Trump’s missile strike is informed only by naked partisanship and the Republican policy of de-legitimizing President Obama not only as President, but de-humanizing him.  Chris Collins’ positions can be summarized as: Trump good, Obama bad, even when the topic at hand is practically identical.

In August 2013, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians living in Damascus’ eastern suburbs – a war crime.  President Obama believed that this attack compelled some sort of American military response, most likely launching missiles from Navy ships at military targets. From CNN

“It is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations” of what he called an “international norm” banning the use of chemical weapons, Obama said at a meeting with visiting heads of Baltic nations Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

He called the Syrian attack a “challenge to the world” that threatens U.S. allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan while increasing the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
 

Our NATO allies, however, preferred that any military action first be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council; however, it had failed to act, in part, because of the Russian veto. Domestically, some Congressmen signed a letter asking that President Obama seek Congressional approval before any military action. 

Chris Collins (NY-27) also demanded that President Obama seek Congress’ okay before launching any naval strike on Assad. In a press release dated August 28, 2013, Collins cited his belief that any military action would, “impact the ongoing civil war within Syria, but possibly have ramifications throughout the region”. 

Within days, President Obama acquiesced to demands that he first consult with Congress.

In one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency, Mr. Obama effectively dared lawmakers to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children with unconventional weapons. By asking them to take a stand, Mr. Obama tried to break out of the isolation of the last week as he confronted taking action without the support of the United Nations, Congress, the public or Britain, a usually reliable partner in such international operations.

“I’m prepared to give that order,” Mr. Obama said in a hurriedly organized appearance in the Rose Garden as American destroyers armed with Tomahawk missiles waited in the Mediterranean Sea. “But having made my decision as commander in chief based on what I am convinced is our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”

Congressman Collins responded on August 31, 2013, again citing that any military action against Syria could have regional ramifications. 

In the ensuing days, Russia intervened on behalf of its longtime client, Assad, and war was averted through a deal whereby Assad would destroy his chemical weapons under Russian supervision. It was a weak response that only served to strengthen Assad – and Russia’s influence in the immediate region – and gave Republicans in Washington an excuse to reject Obama’s half-hearted request for military authorization.

Congressman Collins, like most of his Republican peers, used the Russian “diplomacy” as a partial excuse to tell Obama to pound salt. He released a statement indicating that he would not vote to authorize Obama’s proposed missile attack to punish Assad for his deliberate chemical targeting of civilians, adding that he was “unconvinced” that any such strike would be in America’s “best interests”. 

Characterizing President Obama’s plan to launch a targeted missile strike in Syria as “ill-conceived”, Collins demanded that any such request for military action include a “clear set of objectives” and a “clear exit strategy”. 

Collins even released a video: 

In the ensuing three years, America took a hands-off approach to Syria, arming anti-Assad rebels who found themselves battling each other, Assad, and ISIS. ISIS ran roughshod throughout northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, and its tyrannical horrors became emblematic of the worldwide disease of jihadist terrorism. Russia intervened militarily on behalf of the Assad regime, and the US and Iraq intervened to back, among others, Kurdish fighters battling ISIS. 

Throughout Obama’s Presidency, regime change in Syria was American policy. On March 30, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled a dramatic change

In the last sentence of his news conference later Thursday with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Tillerson said the “longer-term status of President (Bashar) Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” That is a highly significant departure from the long-time stance of the Obama administration, which always insisted the Syrian dictator — accused of killing thousands of his own citizens in indiscriminate bombing — must step down as part of any negotiated political solution to the crisis.

Last week – a few days after Tillerson’s declaration – Assad’s regime again launched a chemical weapons attack targeting civilians. Had Assad actually destroyed his chemical stockpile? Apparently so, according to the team of international inspectors sent to monitor the situation. The Sarin that Assad used was either hidden from inspectors, or part of a fresh batch. This article lays out the chemical realities of the creation, storage, and usage of Sarin. It is chemically difficult to store, so it is either synthesized in flight or shortly before being used. Based on Syria’s capabilities, it is most likely that it was a new batch.

To date, all of the nerve agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare agents, so-named because they are mixed from several different components within a few days of use.  For example, binary Sarin is made by combining isopropyl alcohol with methylphosphonyl difluoride, usually with some kind of additive to deal with the residual acid produced. 

President Trump launched a missile attack from US Navy ships last Thursday night without first seeking any Congressional approval. There was no statement of intent – no plan or exit strategy. In essence, President Trump revealed that this military action was brought about due to the emotions he felt while watching television images of the attack and its victims. Critics accused the Trump Administration of effectively green-lighting Assad’s attack on his own people; it was April Glaspie 1990 all over again

In the absence of strategy or concern for the ramifications of action, Congressman Chris Collins, who is President Trump’s loudest and most consistent Congressional cheerleader, issued this statement

Gone now is the hand-wringing over Constitutionality of Presidential military action. Absent are the concerns about how American intervention might adversely affect the Syrian civil war or regional stability. In essence, Collins was cheering for the exact same thing he had opposed three years earlier, with literally the only difference being who occupies the White House. 

Why shouldn’t we have not tolerated the “status quo” in 2013? How many Syrians have been slaughtered between 2013 and 2017? 

Trump’s missile attack? Within sixteen hours, Syrian jets were taking off from the base that had been targeted. Military expert Malcolm Nance noted that the Pentagon has runway busting munitions, but didn’t use them. 

No plan, no strategy, no consultation, no effect, but Collins supports the same action Trump took that he denied Obama. 

To my mind, Chris Collins’ is complicit in bringing about every “status quo” death and refugee arising out of the Syrian conflict since 2013. His flip-flop is anti-American partisanship at its most craven. Shame on him and his blatant absence of principles.

The Nuclear Option

gorsuch

As the Republican-led Senate and leader Mitch McConnell are poised to change Senate rules to allow for a simple majority vote on Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, it helps to put things in perspective. 

Until now, it has effectively required 60 votes in the Senate to advance a Supreme Court nomination, because that is the number of votes needed to invoke cloture and break a filibuster – cloture is how the Senate votes to end debate on a bill or resolution without it being rejected. Because there do not exist 60 votes in the Senate to invoke cloture on the Gorsuch nomination, McConnell’s only option is to change the Senate rules to effectively forever require only a simple majority to advance a Supreme Court nominee. 

It’s called the “nuclear option”, and Harry Reid famously did this in late 2013 with respect to unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s nominees by the then-minority Republicans in the Senate. Then in 2016, McConnel basically broke the Constitution by refusing even to meet with Merrick Garland, much less grant him a hearing in the Senate. This didn’t happen in September, but in March after Justice Scalia’s death in mid-February. That was a dereliction of duty specifically designed to deny the sitting President any further SCOTUS seat. It was unprecedented. Article II, section 2 of the Constitution is clear on Presidential power to make appointments.

Now, McConnell is whining that the Democrats are going to filibuster Gorsuch using language that can be charitably characterized as ironic, if not hypocritical. 

When Harry Reid went nuclear on Senate appointments it was only after the Republicans had filibustered or otherwise blocked fully 82 Obama nominees – almost as many as under all previous Presidents in history, combined. For Trump? McConnell is willing to go nuclear on one single, solitary nominee who by all rights shouldn’t even be under consideration because it should have been Obama’s seat to fill, under the law. 

I guess what goes around, comes around. McConnell and the Republicans will live to regret this. 

Buffalo Alt-Right April Fool’s Rally

howard

Three area elected officials organized and participated in a rally in Buffalo’s Niagara Square that was billed as “pro-Trump”. Assemblyman David DiPietro, racist old troll Carl Paladino of the Buffalo Board of Education, and Sheriff Tim Howard all appeared, and addressed the assembled crowd. Notably, Sheriff Howard appeared in uniform. 

Here is some video that local photographer and environmental activist Jay Burney recorded (UPDATE: Burney advised Tuesday morning that he had re-configured his settings to private due to harassment and threats from Trump supporters. The videos are, therefore, not visible to people not already connected with him): Many photographs that emerged from that rally, a few stood out. Especially this one: 

The man in the camo is “Scott Lacy”, whom WKBW uncritically interviewed a few days before this rally. Next to him is Todd Biro of Niagara Falls. 

Horace Scott Lacy (aka Scott Lacy, aka HS Lacy), the man who recently leafleted Lewiston with white supremacist propaganda, appears to have come to Western New York to recruit for his Houston-area Neo-Nazi group, the Aryan Renaissance Society (ARS).

WKBW reporter Ali Touhey, who interviewed Lacy, did not further inquire or report on Lacy’s affiliation with the ARS. A YouTube video posted to a White Lives Matter account depicts the entire interview, including Lacy’s statement to Touhey that he is a member of the Aryan Renaissance Society, Touhey’s expression of incredulity that NYS Gov Cuomo was investigating Lacy’s propaganda, and Touhey’s agreement to accompany Lacy and a third party to the Lewiston police station for an interview.

Beyond just spreading offensive rhetoric, Lacy’s associations with violent offenders causes concern that his activities could escalate and pose a serious threat to Western New Yorkers. The following consists of original research into Lacy’s history and associates through social media profiles on Facebook and on VK, the Russian social networking site preferred by white nationalists, and news reports and public documents. Note that this Twitter account ends with “88”, which is white nationalist code for “Heil Hitler”; the number 8 denotes the letter “H”, the 8th letter in the alphabet

According to the Houston Chronicle, Lacy was arrested in 2007 after a police chase in a stolen truck. Shortly thereafter, Joshua Aaron Kennedy, the half-brother of the woman in the truck with Lacy, was arrested in possession body armor and military explosives along with Sean Dolan White, an AWOL soldier. The Chronicle identified Lacy as a “high-ranking member” of the Aryan Circle prison gang. Kennedy was later sentenced to 50 years in prison for plotting the murder of a sheriff’s deputy while in jail on an unrelated charge.

In 2009, an article attributed to a Howard Scott Lacy appeared in the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance, describing the Aryan Circle gang, as well as other aspects of prison life from a white supremacist’s viewpoint.

In August 2016, Lacy was quoted in a news story where he and his organization protested outside the Houston headquarters of the NAACP.

In October 2016, Lacy and his group, some of whom armed themselves with guns, protested at the Anti-Defamation League. Lacy posted a video to YouTube before the protest of himself and his sister Barbara Jo Vidrine, (aka BJ Faulk) attempting to gain access to the ADL office. Lacy is known to the ADL, which describes him as, 

… a felon with an extensive criminal history dating back to 1985, including convictions for possession of a controlled substance, aggravated robbery, and multiple theft charges. He was arrested in April 2016 on aggravated robbery charges. 

A cursory Google search reveals a dossier on Lacy and his White Lives Matter movement from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC identifies White Lives Matter as an initiative of the Aryan Renaissance Society (ARS), a Houston-area Neo-Nazi organization.

The profile names Lacy, along with a woman named Rebecca Barnette, as the moderators of a White Lives Matter facebook group for Oklahomans and Texans. Barnette was also the organizer of the White Lives Matter rally held in Buffalo’s Cazenovia Park in July 2016, but was not in attendance. This summer’s rally, followed by Lacy’s March 2017 leafleting suggests that ARS is attempting to recruit in Western New York. A comment on a photo from one of Lacy’s several Facebook accounts supports this conclusion. The photo shows Lacy with Todd Biro of Niagara Falls; the sole comment on the photo, posted on March 14, 2017 reads “Recruit u fucks…” 

Please take note of the emblem on top of the flagpole behind the two men in the photo. 

Todd Biro’s Facebook profile is an account called “Marie N Todd Biro,” which also belongs to Marie Basile. Basile was identified in a post on It’s Going Down as a participant in the White Lives Matter protest at the Anti-Defamation League attended by Lacy. (Curiously, Basile also appears to have been engaged for a time to John Bobbitt, the Niagara Falls native whose then-wife Lorena severed his penis in the 1990s.)

The “Marie N Todd Biro” account is friends on Facebook with an account belonging to Lacy’s sister BJ Faulk​ aka Barbara Vidrine​. Further corroborating that the man in the “Recruit u fucks…” photo is Biro is a photo from an account named “Todd Andrew Biro” that clearly shows the same man. 

In the image shown above, Biro’s hat bears the number “14”, which is a symbol in Nazi circles of their “14 words” slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Biro has had run-ins with law enforcement in the past, and was once on the list of Niagara Falls’ most wanted, for grand larceny. Todd Biro’s brother, Brett Biro, is currently running for Niagara Falls City Council, according to his Facebook page.

Also, the “Marie N Todd Biro” account posted a message on WKBW reporter Ali Touhey’s Facebook page thanking her “again” for her story on Lacy, implying that Basile or Biro had already thanked Touhey once.

Biro appears to have been posting videos on a Facebook group called “White Lives Matter III” since at least September 2016. In a September video, Biro makes reference to an upcoming ARS protest outside the Anti-Defamation League, which occurred in October 2016. 

Other videos posted to the page as early as 2015 do not have Biro in them, but depict the hanging of a “White Lives Matter” banner on what the cameraman calls “the most heavily trafficked road in Niagara Falls.” Posts on the page are geotagged in Niagara Falls and Connecticut, and include several videos of Lacy’s interview with WKBW and of news coverage of the leafleting in Lewiston.

A post on the account, shared by Kevin Myers Harris​, who appears to be the Connecticut-based administrator, claims to be audio of Todd Biro calling a school and threatening to a class-action lawsuit against any teacher that wears a Black Lives Matter shirt. However, the school he refers to appears to be in Philadelphia, rendering it unclear whether Biro actually has children at the school or if he was just harassing a school hundreds of miles away.

A YouTube video posted by a Melissa Lacy, allegedly of Biro’s wedding day, depicts Todd Biro and Marie Basile begins with a white power salute and includes Biro telling Basile to get off the phone so they can “kill a n*****.” 

There were myriad confederate flags at the rally as well, which led to Sheriff Howard being photographed thusly

On Monday, the organizer of the rally, Rus Thompson said that the image was “photoshopped” – a charge echoed by the Sheriff himself.

Looks like Thompson doesn’t understand what Photoshopping is, as opposed to telephoto lenses. 

Here are other images of Howard that Jay Burney took at that time on that day:

 

No one reporting the lie that these images are “Photoshopped” ever asked Jay Burney, the photographer, about that. Here are some more: 

Also, get a load of this guy, who so hates Senator Chuck Schumer that he likens one of the country’s most visible Jewish politicians to Hitler’s SS. Nice shirt, too!

UPDATE: The man depicted in this photo is perennial candidate Rick(y) Donovan. In 2014, Donovan – a member of the so-called “Independence” Party – lost his own party’s primary to Democrat Tim Kennedy. Donovan is a state employee – a corrections officer at Albion earning over $63,000 in public money.  

After Saturday’s pro-Trump rally, County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner called on Tim Howard to resign, assailing the Sheriff for addressing a crowd including confederate flag wavers and “White Lives Matter” Nazis.  

Here is the text of Sheriff Howard’s speech – again, delivered in full uniform at a partisan pro-Trump political rally – that uniform offers an official county impimatur on it all. He wasn’t there as a private citizen, but as the Sheriff of, ostensibly, the entire county. (all [sic]). 

I am proud to be here today among fellow patriots – but must first recognize that the meaning of the word Patriot has been diluted by political rhetoric over the years

Historically the American Patriots were the colonists who rebelled against British rule, and ultimately gave birth to our nation.

It began with a Declaration of Independence – and a statement of fundamental beliefs – if you reject these beliefs you are not a modern day patriot

To be an American Patriot you must accept that: 

All men are created equal,

That we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights – including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

That government is instituted to protect these rights, and

That government powers come only from the consent of the Governed

That led to the Revolutionary War, followed by the drafting of our Constitution -and various amendments thereafter

To be a modern day patriot you must both possess and display a strong passion and loyalty

To the fundamental principles upon which our nation was formed, and to the constitution which establishes our form of government.

Many of you have heard me proclaim my support for the Second Amendment’s protection of our right to keep and bear arms.

If you really listened you heard my support of our entire constitution including our choice of religion, freedom of speech, our right to peacefully assemble as we are doing here today,

I also continue to support the freedom of the press, even when they are that is not equally supportive of me.

I have often quoted, or misquoted, the expression “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Last night I searched for the author – and learned that history had incorrectly attributed it to Voltaire when in fact it was written by a woman, Beatrice Evelyn Hall writing about Voltaire. The point I wish to make -is that we must respect the rights of others to express opinions contrary to our own.

I also want to encourage everyone to do their own thinking. Another great quote attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Edgar Allan Poe, suggests that you should believe not of what you hear and only half of what you see.

Let me tell you some other things that I believe –

I believe in the American people – regardless of where they came from

I believe, as stated by Civil Rights Activist Malcom X, that just being in America doesn’t make you an American, nor does being born in America make you an American, just as sitting at a table does not make you a diner, you have to be eating from what’s on your plate to be a diner.

Adding my own comment to this thought – To be an American you must embrace the principles of patriotism, those irrevocable principles cited in our declaration of independence.

I believe that we cannot reject the ideas of one president without rejecting those same ideas as once held by former presidents. By way of example – about 100 years ago President Theodore Roosevelt stated “every immigrant who comes here should be required within 5 years to learn English or leave the country.

He also said “In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin.

But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American. President Roosevelt also denounced divided alliances, and stated that one absolute way of bringing our nation to ruin is to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.

President Ronald Reagan stated that “a nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.

I also believe, as stated by American Journalist Bill O’Reilly, that the most powerful nation on earth should be able to pass a fair, effective immigration law that combines compassion with responsibility and does not injure hard working Americans who are taxed up to here”

I believe that we may be a life boat for the world, but there is a limit to what any life boat can hold, and the responsibility to determine that ultimately rests with the captain, or in our case, the president.

Having spent most of my adult life in policing, I must spend a few minutes addressing the impact of the immigration and border debate upon police community relations.

The police have a responsibility is to assist all victims of crime. About 12 years ago the Erie County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Federal authorities on a human trafficking task force, one of the first in the nation. We know that residents of other countries are often lured by the American dream and place their trust in deceitful people – only to find themselves as modern day slaves. We still have an obligation to help them, and we know that the individuals who smuggle honorable, hard working, but naïve people into this country – are just as willing to smuggle those who would do us harm These smugglers are motivated by greed, and nothing else.

We also know that many of the illicit drugs killing our children are smuggled across our borders, like the heroin from Mexico and fentonil from China that more than 100 Erie county residents already this year, including 7 this week within a 24 hour period.

This week the International Association of Chiefs of Police,IACP released this statement on behalf of the majority of police agencies across our great nation;

Immigration enforcement is a complex and Challenging issue for communities and their law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

State and local agencies are steadfast in their commitment to removing from their communities dangerous criminals and others who pose a threat to public safety Any suggestion to the contrary is simply inaccurate.

The IACP agrees that illegal immigration and border security issues directly impact the safety of communities and that effective action is needed to meet this challenge. At the same time, however, state and local law enforcement agencies depend on the cooperation of immigrants, legal or not, in solving a wide variety of crimes. Striking the proper balance between enforcement and cooperation requires the full participation of elected officials, community leaders, and their law enforcement agencies.

The IACP has and always will strongly oppose the use of sanctions to drive policy; this was true with prior administrations and remains true with the current administration. The funds provided through the Department of Justice support a wide variety of crime fighting , crime prevention, and public health initiatives. Penalizing communities by withholding assistance funding to law enforcement sgencies and other critical programs is counter-productive to our shared mission of reducing violent crime and keeping our communities safe.

We stand ready to work with the administration to help identify thoughtful, effective solutions to this complex and challenging issue.

Let me end on a lighter note with a prayer, paraphrased from an Irish toast;

God bless those who support our constitution and defend our American way of life, and to those set on destroying our freedoms, may God turn their hearts, but if He cannot turn their hearts, may he at least turn their ankles, so we might know them by their limp.

Howard also said that “Black Lives Matter” was there protesting. They weren’t – the people dressed in black and wearing masks were Antifa, which is short for “Anti-fascist”. The organizers of the rally have been twisting themselves like pretzels to try and rebut the notion that there was any sort of white nationalism going on at their rally. One of the louder complainers posted this to his Facebook page: 

The organizer of the rally, recent voter fraud convict Rus Thompson reacted thusly, 

So, there weren’t confederate treason flags at the rally, and even if they were, they’re not racist even though they are emblematic of a regime that was created on the basis that white people should be allowed to buy, sell, and own black people. The tea party, which can’t seem to stop lying, could have – but didn’t and won’t – put this all to bed with one simple statement: 

I condemn hate speech & don’t support the confederate flag

That they won’t speaks volumes. That the sheriff won’t is worthy of removal.