New York GOP Goes to Culture War


It is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. – Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The reckoning is almost upon us, and local Republicans seem to be having trouble running on their records, or any coherent agenda. They are, instead, relying on the old standbys of culture war and resentment. 

Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his trusty sidekick Richard Gates stand indicted, accused of “conspiracy against the United States”, tax evasion, conspiracy to launder money, and other crimes relating to their enrichment as representatives of Viktor Yanukovich, a corrupt Ukranian kleptocrat with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Another former Trump foreign policy aide, George Papadopolous, pled guilty in early October for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during the Trump campaign. Papadopoulous was engaged in collusion to dig up Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, including “emails”. Manafort’s patron, Yanukovych, was ousted in a 2014 revolution, and lives in exile in Russia under Putin’s protection. It was that overthrow, and the promised resulting hastening of Ukraine’s departure from Putin’s Russia’s sphere of influence into the waiting arms of NATO and the EU that led Putin to have his proxy army invade and occupy eastern Ukraine, shoot down a Malaysian airliner, and to concoct a sham plebiscite whereby the Crimean peninsula went from being Ukranian to Russian territory overnight.

It was, in turn, Russian aggression and its Anschluss of Ukranian territory that led the US and the EU to impose sanctions on Russia’s oligarchs to make it more difficult for them to spend their stolen fortunes in London, San Tropez, and New York. When combined with the Magnitsky Act, which specifically punishes a handful of corrupt Russian officials for the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, you have the broad-brush outline of why it is that Putin’s Russia is busy trying to sow division and havoc in the US and EU. It begins to explain why Russia, and her agents and tools promoted Brexit, spent money on social media ads and useful idiots to deepen social and political divisions in the US, backed the Trump campaign and sought to destroy Hillary Clinton’s, recruited a naive Tonawandan to push a “Calexit” campaign, and other separatist movements elsewhere. 

While there may not yet be definitive proof that the Trump campaign colluded with Putin’s Russia to meddle in the 2016 campaign, the motive is crystal clear. The fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a cooperating witness regarding the Trump campaign’s Russia outreach is also quite significant. Putin’s nobility can’t remain under economic stress forever. What’s the point of plundering Russia’s wealth if you can’t spend it? 

Against that backdrop, it bears repeating that Erie County’s Republican Committee is almost single-handedly responsible for the Presidency of Donald Trump. It began with a sub rosa effort to quash a proposed Jon Bon Jovi buyout of the Buffalo Bills, segued into an aborted 2013 attempt to convince Trump to run against Cuomo in 2014, and ended up with Clarence’s own Chris Collins coming out as the first sitting Congressman to endorse Trump’s candidacy. All this culminated in what we have today – a country at war with itself; half incensed that Puerto Ricans have been without electricity and clean water for over a month, and the other half offended by pre-game anthem etiquette. 

As we look, then, at the efforts that Republicans locally are mounting in various regional and countywide races of note, we find that nonsense has overtaken substance. Take these, for example. Here’s incumbent Erie County Legislator Ted Morton going after welfare recipients. 

Sure, there’s nothing easier than heaping scorn and derision against the poorest people in your community, but this recyclable claims that Morton is doing something to prevent welfare recipients from spending benefits on cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling. What, exactly, is he doing? Several quick Google searches of various terms including Morton’s name and welfare fraud turn up nothing. Not one news story or article exists highlighting the important work Mr. Morton has accomplished to stamp out welfare fraud. The most recent story I found involving welfare fraud in Erie County has to do with a criminal case. Morton hasn’t even press released anything having to do with this issue neither recently, nor in 2014, or 2015. This is Morton using class warfare and race hate to spur his suburban constituency, which probably pays scant attention to his legislative tenure, to turn out. Don’t believe me? Morton also thinks you’re innumerate or stupid. Here’s another piece of literature he’s sending out, slamming his opponent: 

So, the Grassroots political club endorsed Bruso. How was Bruso “bought off”? If we’re rejecting “politicians who are proud to be supported by organizations raided by the FBI”, someone should sit Mr. Morton down and tell him about Donald Trump’s campaign manager and, frankly, Chris Grant. This side of the mailer reads, “East Side” no fewer than three times – what do you think Morton is trying to convey here to his constituents? I think I know. Let’s flip it over. 

So, Grassroots endorsed Bruso on June 9th. The FBI raided Grassroots as part of the expanding Pigeon / Mazurek investigation on June 15th. I mean, I guess it’s true that Bruso was pleased with the support “within days”, but it was within a few days before the raid.

I would suggest that Morton lie better, but don’t forget that the FInancial Industries Regulatory Authority, or “FINRA”, the body charged with regulating stockbrokers and financial advisors, temporarily banned Morton from practicing his profession in August 2013 for borrowing over $300,000 from his customers and lying about it. His employer fired him over it. Morton may stand for the National Anthem and kick up some latent race hate over it, but he engaged in corruption before he was ever elected; just before he was first elected. 

Likewise, this piece of literature, generated by the New York State Republican Committee, has substituted dog-whistles for pretty blatant racism. 

Does it get much more obvious than this? Here you have the state Republicans touting two incumbents and one opportunistic Paladino “Democrat” running as a Republican, and instead of running on their respective records, accomplishments, or achievements, it opens with what can be generously described as an effort to manufacture outrage against black football players protesting police brutality, and setting these three white men up as the thing standing between you and Colin Kaepernick’s afro. What, precisely, does the controversy over kneeling have to do with issuing driver’s licenses, law enforcement, or being a fiscal watchdog? 

My favorite part of this pathetic effort to kick up a little good old-fashioned race hate is this line, from the back side of the mailer: “Are you tired of being convinced that you are narrow-minded because you are patriotic and believe in our traditional American values?” Yes, it really says, “being convinced“. Setting aside whether “Democratic Candidates think ‘taking a knee’ is acceptable”, this, too, is nothing more than an effort by Republicans to stoke white resentment and anti-black hatred in a very segregated area. It is incredible and unconscionable that this is the best the Republicans have to offer. Nothing about Trump or the Trump agenda, nothing about these candidates’ individual accomplishments or positions – just little more than, paraphrasing, ‘we share your hatred for uppity negroes’.

Not to be outdone, Representative Chris Collins seems to be all but ready to announce his campaign to unseat Governor Cuomo by deliberately (?) mangling American history.

By way of background, Collins was one of only two New York Congressmen to vote in favor of Trump’s proposed tax reform plan, which would eliminate the deductions for mortgage interest, and what you pay in state or local property taxes. These are, simply put, key deductions upon which New Yorkers rely. Elimination of these deductions – even with a supposed hike in the standard deduction – would burden New York’s middle class homeowners, and utterly ruin housing values and everything these state and local taxes pay for, including public schools. This is nothing more than a massive tax cut for multimillionaires like Chris Collins, paid for by middle class folks already under stress from stagnant wages, Trump’s sabotage of the health insurance industry and Obamacare, and his corrupt, spendthrift administration. Of Collins’ betrayal of New York’s middle class, Cuomo said, “I think it’s modern treason against the state. I think they are the Benedict Arnolds of today. They voted against the interests of the people in their districts. Period.”

In an article Collins published in the right-wing New York Post, he compares Governor Cuomo to King George III, the tyrant against whom the American colonies rebelled in the 18th Century. Collins calls Cuomo an “imperial governor” who imposes “unjust” taxes on New Yorkers. 

The problem is twofold:

1. Americans rebelled against George III not just over taxes, but against “taxation without representation”. Given Mr. Collins’ repeated and reported attitudes towards constituents who do not share his views, it is he who shares George III’s imperial attitude; and 

2. Cuomo doesn’t tax or spend; that’s the legislature’s job, and Mr. Collins’ own party controls one-half of it.

It speaks volumes that Collins is waging this schoolyard battle in the pages of a downstate tabloid, and not here where his constituents live. He has no use for them, after all. He doesn’t hold town halls to seek out ideas or concerns. “I represent the 72% of people who voted for me. You didn’t vote for me.” Let’s expand that sentiment: 

I represent the white people who are angry at black athletes protesting police brutality. 

I represent the suburban folks who share my hatred and disgust for welfare recipients. 

I represent the people whom the new economy has left behind and need someone – or something – convenient to blame. 

New York Republicans have no platform or accomplishments on which to run, so it all boils down to class war, race war, and culture war. 

Trouble in Collinsland


As Vice President Michael Pence parachutes into Buffalo to raise money for Congressman Chris Collins—then makes his hasty escape—consider where the money is going. 

By my count, in the most recent reporting quarter there are almost $163,000 in disbursements to Collins’s attorneys defending him against a facially valid set of ethical complaints. Assuming a conservative hourly DC partner rate of $400, that’s well over 400 billable hours of time on something you’re being told is a meritless witch hunt. 

By my count, that’s almost $163,000 in attorneys fees for Collins to address very serious ethical allegations, including apparent insider trading

…in late 2015 and early 2016, he may have engaged in “tipping” — using inside information that he knew about Innate to persuade investors to put more money down on the company.

In a December 2015 email, he provided Innate investors with information about clinical trials of Innate’s multiple sclerosis drug that the company had not made public, the ethics office said.

Collins provided more previously undisclosed information about those clinical trials in an email to investors in January 2016, the ethics office said. In addition, that email included previously unknown details about Innate’s plans to work with a large pharmaceutical company to produce its multiple sclerosis drug.

And in a June 1, 2016 email, Collins discussed Innate’s upcoming private stock offering before the company announced it.

Adding up the information in those three emails, the ethics office said: “Some information Representative Collins shared with Innate investors was likely nonpublic and may have been important to investors making a decision on whether to purchase Innate stock.”

Collins’s lawyers defend this communication of private, inside company information to induce people to invest, as well as other intervention from Congressman as, “nothing improper…constructed from whole cloth and are without validity…the result of a tortured interpretation of reality and also bespeaks a misunderstanding of the facts, the law, or both, and should be rejected.” Collins’s lawyer’s letter to the House Committee on Ethics cost $12,300 per page. 

tl;dr: $163,000 buys you a lawyer who uses “bespeak” in a filing. 

Collins calls it a “witch hunt.” The problem there is that the term “witch hunt” implies that the accusations lack merit or substance. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there is a there there. 

It also bears mentioning that President Trump “joked” about how Pence wants to “hang” all gay people. So, that’s who’s coming to pump local Republicans for money. Have a nice lunch, assholes!

Terror is the Price of Liberty


The reason why most homicidal jihadist maniacs in Europe use homemade bombs or mow pedestrians down with cars is that it is exceedingly difficult to obtain a gun in those countries. It’s not impossible –  nothing’s impossible – but it is very difficult. In fact, in some cases, the European attackers couldn’t even rent the bigger truck they really wanted to use to mow people down, and had to settle for renting a Ford Transit van. It’s like all the trite, jejune pro-gun retorts about banning cars come to life. 

Yes, I know Switzerland has a lot of guns. The Swiss also take responsibility, order, and discipline seriously. If you want to make us more like Switzerland, that’s a conversation with which I am totally cool. 

I have resigned myself to the reality that America lacks the foresight or political will to do a thing about mass shootings. The 2nd Amendment, as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court, guarantees an individual’s right to possess and own a firearm for hunting, sport, and protection. States can, however, impose restrictions on the ownership of certain types of firearms, and New York’s own SAFE Act passes Constitutional muster, despite what somebody’s lawn sign might say. 

Some random guy set up an arsenal of weapons in a casino hotel and then rained bullets and death at people below who just wanted to hear some music. Just under 60 people killed and over 500 injured, and for what? How is that “freedom”? 

How do you reconcile “liberty” with an inability to peacefully enjoy an outdoor concert? Why does the freedom to own an arsenal of weapons and ammunition trump a citizen’s freedom to listen to Jason Aldean without having to duck for cover or “get small“? Why does the freedom to outfit oneself with the ability to shoot thousands of bullets at innocent people over the course of 10 minutes outweigh the right of those concertgoers to not have bullets shot at them in such volume, at such rapid succession? Why did Adam Lanza’s right to bear those arms outweigh the rights of 20 first graders to see their next Christmas? Where was liberty and freedom for those kids and teachers? The kids’ parents? Are they more free? Would they be more free if they lived in a country where guns like that aren’t available, like the UK or Canada, but their kids were alive? 

In Congress, concerned lawmakers bleat about “mental health” while pocketing blood money from the gun industry lobby. Yet when proposals are put before them to restrict gun sales to people who have been adjudicated to be mentally ill,  they reject them. When they are given an opportunity to ban gun sales to people on the FAA/DHS no fly list, they reject that. Objectively speaking, why isn’t that political suicide, to back the sale of literal arsenals of weaponry to the mentally ill or suspected terrorists? 

Here is some choice verbiage from our own Rep. Chris Collins, from just this week: 

At a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday, there was talk about what happened Sunday in Las Vegas, but, according to several members, little was said about a legislative response.

“We all discussed the tragedy and certainly all of our thoughts and prayers go out to them, and that was pretty much the total extent of it,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.).

Thoughts and prayers, and let’s move on to financing a massive tax cut for millionaires by hiking taxes on the middle class

Collins added that Congress ought to focus on mental health rather than gun restrictions: “We are not going to knee-jerk react to every situation. The Democrats continue to want to say, when a mentally deranged person does what they do, it’s the gun’s fault, not the shooter’s fault. . . . People focused on mayhem and the kind of evil this person was — in their heart, you can’t stop them. They will do it one way or the other. You can’t stop a mentally deranged person.”

“You can’t stop a mentally deranged person”, except perhaps with universal access to mental health care and appropriate treatment and medication. They’ll do it one way or another, so let’s not restrict the number of available “ways”? Choosing to commit murder may not be something you can legislatively prevent, but limiting the extent of that murderous intent is. No one can perch 32 floors above a concert and in 11 minutes kill 60 people, wounding 500 with a knife, or even with a pistol. Pretending there’s nothing that can be done is stupid; restricting one’s response only to thoughts and/or prayers is depraved. 

After all, when Chris Collins is asked to guarantee universal health coverage to every American – including for mental health treatment and medication – he told the Batavian, 

The Democrats want universal health care, no if ands, or buts. Hillary Clinton wanted that. Barack Obama wanted that. They never could get there and that’s when we ended up with the abomination that I call Obamacare…The life I live is here now, and Republicans will never support universal health.

So, Congress should “focus on mental health” but will “never support universal health”. In other words, get yourself the psychiatric care you need, if you can afford it, and voila! No more mass shootings! 

Like it matters. 

Just as every civilized, 1st world country has seemingly figured out how to guarantee universal health coverage, every 1st world country has devised a way to prevent most mass shootings; after Dunblane, the UK acted.  After Port Arthur, Australia did more than just offer up a round of thoughts and prayers. There are horrific exceptions, obviously, but how many mass shootings has, e.g., Norway suffered since Anders Breivik? 

There is a way to reconcile the 2nd Amendment with the people’s right to attend concerts, clubs, or school without being massacred. 

One argument goes that restricting access to military arsenals won’t prevent bad people from shooting other people. While true, that is literally an argument against every law, ever. I mean, anti-homicide statutes don’t prevent people from murdering other people. Anti-drug laws don’t prevent pushers from selling or users from buying. Anti-DWI laws don’t prevent people from getting behind the wheel after one too many. This is among the sillier arguments. 

I have written more about this topic than I care to admit. The right to bear arms is not absolute; it is not unrestricted or unrestrictable. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t grant you to the right to arm yourself for civil war or insurrection, nor to water the tree of liberty with people’s blood. 

That tree is inundated. 

Thoughts and prayers” are garbage – here’s audio Chris Smith and I did with Brad Riter on that subject for Trending Buffalo in 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing. When a jihadist murders people, we don’t just think and pray, our current government tries to ban immigration and visitation of Muslim people. But when something like Las Vegas happens, Washington stands silent and still, waiting for the heat to blow over so they can get back to lifting restrictions on suppressors, or distracting us with culture wars about the National Anthem. 

Almost exactly two years ago, in October 2015, I wrote about our mass shooting leitmotif. Nothing has changed since then, reminding us of the anecdotal definition of insanity. In 2016, after Orlando, I wrote about how social media reactions generally suck.

After Orlando, Representative Chris Collins blasted President Obama and anyone else who suggested any tighter gun restrictions

“No…it’s actually quite shameful. Our president politicizes every tragedy with a suggestion to Americans that some sort of gun legislation to take away Americans’ second Amendment rights would stop this from happening, and that’s just not truthful. In fact, it’s an outright lie. When you think about it, this was a security guard who obviously had weapons, and it…anything that the President would have suggested, this person still would have had his weapons, and unfortunately the tragedy still would have occurred.  We should be focused on the root cause, which in this case is ISIS — it’s Islamic terrorism, it’s those who don’t respect America’s way of life, who hate women, who hate gays, and hate America.  And that’s the difference you saw yesterday — we need to identify the enemy — it is ISIS, we need to take the fight to them and we shouldn’t try to divide America, and especially suggesting that there’s some sort of law we could pass that would stop ISIS, whether this was a lone wolf or not, from attacking Americans. So, I was very … not pleased at all with the response of the President, Hillary Clinton, or Chuck Schumer, who yet again are politicizing tragedy.

I will say this — I think there’s a lot of Americans waking up this morning saying, who’s going to keep me safe? Who’s putting America first? And in fact that is Donald Trump, I think this could be a bit of a turning point as people are focused not only on jobs and the economy, but they’re focused on their own safety, and I think Americans know who the enemy is, and it’s not the Republican Party. So I was yet again disappointed, and that’s just a mild adjective, in the President, and certainly Hillary Clinton, but I wasn’t surprised…they politicize every tragedy, and it’s shameful. 

When a particular problem has a political, governmental set of solutions and nothing is done, that is already politicized. When you motherfuck the President and an opposition political figure to make a political point, you don’t get to whine about politicization. Who’s keeping us safe, Collins? Who’s putting “America” first?

Way back in early 2013 – soon after Sandy Hook, and around the time the New York legislature passed the SAFE Act, I wrote, “Fuck Your Gun,” and I incorporate its text here by reference. 

Why do the rights of the Orlando murderer or the Las Vegas shooter outweigh the rights of their victims to dance in peace? Just. Answer. That. 

In July 2017, Chris Collins proposed a law which would effectively abolish New York’s laws on firearms and require them to be no more restrictive than those found in the most permissive and ammo-liberal state in the Union. State’s rights matter only in the furtherance of a particular ammotastic political agenda. The people who most stridently oppose legislative action on guns enjoy mocking victims of gun violence, suggesting that the USS Gabby Giffords be nicknamed “grey matter splatter”. Then they’ll whine about “tone”, or kids holding picket signs that read, “f racism”.  

Our nation endured decades’ worth of armed airline hijackings, but it took 9/11 to install armored cockpit doors. What will be the gun equivalent to 9/11? Clearly, 59 killed and 500+ injured isn’t enough. Clearly, 20 1st graders wasn’t enough. What will be the gun law equivalent to armored cockpit doors? 

I don’t have any or all of the answers. But I know that the thoughtless repetition of sentiment and hypocritical, temporary attempts to demand that something be done about mental health aren’t enough. 

The victims of these ceaseless American mass shooting – and the victims of mass shootings yet to be – deserve more. 

Selling Patriotism Out


President Donald Trump is worsening the NFL kneeling controversy for only one reason: he has to drive a wedge through Americans in order to distract from the extraordinary corruption, and catastrophic failure of his administration. What better way to change the subject from the federal government’s slow and inadequate response to the devastation in Puerto Rico than to use patriotism to stoke a culture war, and attempt to transform it into a race war, while he’s at it? 

There is no question now that Donald Trump is even worse than anyone could have reasonably expected. His administration isn’t making America great “again”; it is going out of its way to weaken it physically, mentally, financially, and morally. 

Query, then, why a Republican incumbent in the Erie County Legislature, of all places, would need to grab a bellows and stoke the culture/race war within the context of a county race? Ted Morton (LD-8) did just that, and our local media was all too ready to help him. That help was due either to a conscious effort to assist his campaign, or some serious attention deficit. 

On Friday, the official organ of the local Republican committee, WBEN, gave Morton over five solid minutes’ worth of free air time to publicize his planned giveaway of “proud to stand for the Anthem” bumper stickers. Featuring a blatant violation of the Flag Code, these bumper stickers would be handed out for free at a Majestic Pools location, and both Morton’s campaign and the pool store received free advertising during WBEN’s morning drive “news” show. 

How do we know this was a divisive campaign stunt and not legitimate news? 

Here’s an image that WBEN posted showing Morton getting ready to distribute bumper stickers. Note how his left index finger conspicuously covers up the bottom of that sticker. Could it be that this isn’t Morton personally handing out stickers to constituents? Is it paid for by his campaign? By someone else? 

Better. It’s paid for by the Erie County Republican Committee

Any media outlet that colluded with Morton – or was duped by him – to cover this important sticker “news” either wittingly or unwittingly participated in blatant electioneering on behalf of one candidate and one political party; an in-kind donation of free airtime or ink. If the “news” outlet didn’t make clear to its consumers that this was an election stunt, or in furtherance of a candidacy, it did the public a tremendous disservice. Looking at you, Buffalo News, WKBW, and WGRZ

WBEN is an FCC licensee, and any use of the public airwaves is a matter for federal law. The Communications Act of 1934 requires a broadcast radio station to offer equal time to Morton’s opponent for this blatant free advertising. WBEN’s operations director, Tim Wenger, argued that his station’s in-kind donation to “Friends of Ted Morton” were part of a “bona fide news interview” – one of the exceptions to the equal time rule. Specifically, he said: 

“Coverage of a sticker being distributed”. He really said that. Michael Caputo, sitting in for Sandy Beach on Friday, offered Morton another significant block of electioneering time during the second hour of his broadcast, and that interview touched on more issues than just important, late-breaking bumper sticker developments. The Buffalo News did it, by blindly regurgitating a portion of a press release that went out Friday morning. Here it is. It came not from Ted Morton’s legislative office, but from the Erie County Republican Committee. It’s not news any more than e.g., “Steve Cichon will be handing out lawn signs at his campaign HQ today” would be news. 

Morton’s and Nick Langworthy’s attempt to commandeer patriotism for divisive political purposes is pretty low. FCC licensee of public airwaves WBEN owes Ted Morton’s opponent, John Bruso, a significant block of free air time. If I owned a company that competes with Majestic Pools, I’d be on the phone with WBEN demanding free ad time. Tick tock on that happening.