Chris Collins Sides with Big Telecom on Net Neutrality

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Net neutrality is shorthand for the notion that all web traffic should be treated equally. The reason why net neutrality is important can be boiled down to a simple example.

Without rules enforcing net neutrality, your internet service provider can deliberately slow down certain content while speeding up other content, and hold internet traffic hostage.

This isn’t a hypothetical example – not only is it actually happening, but at least one content provider, (Netflix), has been forced to bribe an internet service provider, (Comcast), to allow its traffic to be delivered to consumers unmolested.

Without net neutrality being somehow codified, ISPs will have the right to hold all sorts of content hostage in this way. Imagine if the company that delivers electricity to your home could extort money from the generating company you chose, or if Verizon could extort more money from the long distance carrier with which you’ve contracted.

That’s why the FCC is moving to reclassify the internet as a public utility. This ISP extortion harms consumers and competition. ISPs must not have the legal right to dictate your content to you, particularly content that you pay for separately.

ISPs are, naturally, going to sue to keep the right to extort money, remain uncompetitive, interfere with contracts that you – as a consumer – have executed, and dictate what you can and can’t watch. Even more predictable is that Republican corporatist anti-consumer shills like Chris Collins (NY-27) have sided with big telecoms over consumers; protecting Goliath from David.

Last week, Collins issued a press release,

“Plans to reclassify the Internet under Title II pose a direct threat to Internet freedom,” he said. “The FCC’s actions threaten the innovative culture that makes the Internet one of the world’s greatest technologies. Additionally, these actions will add further uncertainty to the net neutrality debate.

“Here in Congress, under chairmen Thune and Walden, we have proposed draft legislation that would achieve the goal of protecting Internet consumers through the bright-line rules that net neutrality proponents are calling for in a way that limits burdensome regulations from crushing innovation.”

Consumer protection is “burdensome regulation” because it prevents big telecoms from throttling content that you pay them to access. It “crushes” innovative ways for telecoms to extort money from consumers and from content providers.

The reason why Collins and his Republican colleagues can’t be trusted to protect net neutrality is that until very recently they didn’t support it, even conceptually.

[Republican John] Thune’s [Senate Commmerce Committee] includes Sen. Ted Cruz, who in November called net neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet.” Now, Cruz “looks forward to having a vigorous discussion on how we can best ensure the Internet remains a forum for freedom and innovation” as the FCC eyes stricter regulations, according to a Cruz spokesman.

We’re meant to believe that the very people who derided net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet” are suddenly totally concerned about implementing net neutrality legislation? To call this disingenuous would be an understatement. The Republicans are spooked because reclassifying the internet as a public utility would forever codify these consumer protections and the authority would rest with the FCC rather than the political whims of the corporatist congress.

Collins’ own constituents are begging him to reject net neutrality, because Obama.

Collins told Roll Call how he had a sign in his office in the Rath Building that read, “In God we trust – all others bring data”. But what if the data isn’t favored by Time Warner and can’t reach its intended recipient? Until recently, Collins objected to any sort of net neutrality rules. Even now, while purporting to promote a Republican alternative to the FCC’s plan, he rejects the notions behind net neutrality as anti-competitive, harsh regulations.

When it comes to you accessing the internet data you pay your ISP to provide – whether it be Netflix or political content – Chris Collins sides with the ISPs’ right to limit and regulate what you can and can’t access.

That’s just bad policy and dumb government. Chris Collins sides with big telecom over you, the consumer.

Chris Collins in NRO: Jim O’Donnell Reacts

Jim O’Donnell is the Democrat running against Chris Collins in NY-27. He is a police officer and a lawyer, and you can learn more about him here. Yesterday, he released the statement below. 

I reached out to Collins’ people on Thursday morning to get their side of the story, and to find out more about the NRO writer’s unusually short tenure on his Congressional staff, but no one got back to me. 

Here is O’Donnell’s statement: 

Unfortunately, there are people across the country that do not know that Chris Collins only represents Chris Collins. Because he holds the position of representative, people assume that he represents the people of our district. Since folks across the country don’t know what the boundaries of our district are, they just assume he represents a good portion of New York. So when he questions whether the “Blacks” in Congress are allowed to be on committees, as the National Review alleges he has done, people think those sentiments are held not just by him, but the all the people of Western New York all the way over to the Finger Lakes.

I’m not one to call anyone a racist. I don’t think it adds anything of value to the debate, if anything it detracts from the important issues that should be discussed. In this case it detracts from the fact that Chris Collins has been pointed out by one of the country’s most conservative publications as a crony capitalist who is using his power in Congress to promote his own self-interest. His lobbying for a wasteful government program that he benefits from is just one example from a long list of times Chris Collins refused to represent the best interests of his district, but instead used his time in government to help out another of his many businesses.

I don’t know if these most recent allegations of racism are true, but I do know it is imperative that Chris Collins answers them immediately. I do know that the ability of congress men and women to serve their country has nothing to do with their color. I do know that Chris Collins does not represent me, my district, any part of New York, or any significant part of this country. He may question why “Blacks” are allowed to serve on committees, but we are all questioning why we ever allowed him to serve at all.

 

Chris Collins Propaganda Call on Line 1

Maybe he just hates everything “common”

My Congressman was desperately interested in hearing my input about education and the Common Core standards that are slowly being transformed from an initiative to improve and enhance education and student expectations for the 21st century into a communard bete noir. Because Common Core was implemented during the Obama Presidency, Collins is automatically against it. Because many people are concerned about its testing protocols, Collins is interjecting himself into an issue about which he has never spoken before, and about which his ignorance is palpable.

Why was Common Core implemented? Because employers were concerned that High School students were unprepared for the job market – a pretty basic and fundamental issue

The initial motivation for the development of the Common Core State Standards was part of the American Diploma Project (ADP).

A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” from 2004 found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past. According to Achieve, Inc., “current high-school exit expectations fall well short of [employer and college] demands.” The report explains that the major problem currently facing the American school system is that high school graduates were not provided with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed in college and careers. “While students and their parents may still believe that the diploma reflects adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of adult life, in reality it falls far short of this common-sense goal.” The report continues that the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school, and that the solution to this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.

Why implement it nationwide? So that a kid in Alabama meets the same standards as a kid in Vermont, and so that no kid is shortchanged. But to Chris Collins, this is communistic hogwash. Here’s the press release that followed the call: 

Jan 27, 2014 Press Release Thousands of district constituents participate in discussion about new educational standards

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) talked to parents about Common Core today as part of a district-wide telephone town hall meeting.  The new educational standards are currently being implemented in New York State.  Common Core is widely criticized for forcing students to learn skills necessary to perform well on tests as opposed to actually learning critical material. 

Thousands of NY-27 constituents participated in the town hall to learn more about Common Core and voice their concerns about how the new standards are impacting their children. 

“There are few issues as important to the future of our country as the education of our children,” said Congressman Collins.  “Unfortunately, in today’s world, too many of the decisions surrounding our children’s education are being made by government bureaucrats far removed from the classroom.  I believe strongly that parents, teachers and local school leaders know what is best for our children.  Common Core is a typical one-size-fits-all approach generated by big government bureaucrats.”

New York State adopted Common Core standards in 2010.  Across the country, 45 states have begun Common Core implementation, but recently ten states, including Massachusetts, have started to rethink or delay their participation over growing concerns from parents, educators and students themselves.  States were incentivized to participate in Common Core by the federal government through grant money available as part of the American Recovery and Restoration Act (federal stimulus). 

During the telephone town hall, parents voiced concerns about the student testing standards, mandated curriculum, and teacher/school evaluations tied to test results as dictated by Common Core.   Joining Collins for the town hall was Neal McCluskey, Associate Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom

“We should all want our children to be college or career ready following high school graduation and we should be willing to raise our standards to achieve that goal,” continued Collins.  “But Common Core is about churning out students as test takers, not inquisitive students excited about learning.

By forcing students to spend their K-12 years arduously focused on test talking, we will never develop our next generation of leaders, educators and entrepreneurs.  That is sad for our children and our country.”

Collins continued to urge parents and educators to raise awareness of Common Core and push for changes to its implementation, if not full repeal.  Parents with questions about Common Core are encouraged to contact Congressman Collins’ office.

Well there it is. It wasn’t so much to let parents vent concerns as much as it was an opportunity for some guy from a libertarian think tank to propagandize to a conservative constituency. Was there a principal from a school in the district on the call? Was there anyone there who wasn’t there to promote an agenda, but had actual practical experience to offer? Was there anyone there with an advanced teaching degree? This less than a year after the school district that covers Collins’ own home underwent a brutal and painful budget process last year – one that saw tons of young, dedicated educators unceremoniously fired and myriad programs cut. Chutzpah is the word. 

Who got to participate in the call? I’m not on Collins’ mailing list, despite having subscribed at least twice. So, yesterday, while my wife and I were at work, we got this call: 

http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/collinscall.mp3

Well, I wasn’t at home. I was at work working. Even though I knew about the call ahead of time, thanks to some local media reporting, I couldn’t participate because I was at work working on work so that I can bring home an income and, among other things, donate money to the school foundation set up to help fund programs that were cut last year. 

Common Core may be susceptible to demagoguery because it sounds ominous, is new, and because the state of New York’s implementation of its standards was as abrupt as it was inept. Tons of kids came home last year having been tested against standards that weren’t taught during the school year, and they got bad scores. But when I talked to my youngest’s school principal and teachers about the new standards, they were universally enthusiastic about it. The new standards will not only ensure that the right things are being taught, but they will have an ability to track how kids are doing in real time, and divert extra help where it’s needed. 

This isn’t about rolling back Common Core. This is about outlawing public education in this country. This is about codifying a fundamentally unfair, tiered education system whereby the poor and middle class receive vouchers enabling their kids to attend de-funded, decontented, tertiary quality schools; the upper middle class might be able to kick in extra for parochial or second-quality private schools; and the millionaire class can afford whatever they damn well please, and have their precious snowflakes’ private educations subsidized by the poor and middle class. It is the very definition of class warfare – by the wealthy against the not-wealthy. This is about the slow dismantling of every progressive goal this country has ever achieved – public K-12 education, social security, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare – anything designed to help average people and the elderly enjoy life. This is a war being waged by millionaires and billionaires against you and me. 

It is a war against the American Dream itself. 

So, if people were hosting a genuine conversation about Common Core and its standards and implementation, that would be great. But that’s not what Collins was doing. He timed the “discussion” so that working parents could not participate. He did not advertise it nearly well enough. He did not have a balanced discussion, but instead propagandized with the help of libertarian school choice advocates (read: public school opponents). 

Chris Collins’ Iranthmetic


The image to the left of this text shows my Congressman’s Facebook reaction to a deal that the “P5+1” countries reached with Iran over its nuclear weapons and energy program. 

The deal was a modest thing, significant for the fact that Iran came to the table in apparent good faith at all. It would dilute existing nuclear material so that it could only be used for energy, and not weaponry, and there would be a 6 month halt to its nuclear weapon program altogether. The aim would be a final deal within 6 or 12 months, allowing for one 6 month extension of the pause. 

Iran’s economy has been absolutely devastated by international sanctions over its nuclear program, and it has a huge incentive to roll back its pariah status. The world benefits if Iran has no nuclear weapons to use against its myriad enemies. To my mind, the whole thing should be rolled into deal whereby Iran ends its support of Hezbollah and recognizes Israel, but diplomacy is often about baby steps. 

So, turning to the representative of NY-27, we could certainly fisk his simplistic statement to kingdom come – e.g., it wasn’t an “Obama Administration” deal, it was a deal between Iran on the one hand, and the US, Russia, China, and the European Union (read: the UK, France, and Germany – it’s called “P5+1” because it includes the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, meaning it would be veto-proof in that body, plus Germany) on the other.  Germany, for its part, does huge business with Iran, and all of these powers – working together – have the ability together to put great pressure on Iran to behave and comply. 

I could snarkily comment on Collins’ recent praise of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, or the fact that Collins chooses to manufacture his tchotchkes in China, but I also realize that his public pronouncements are not meant to be taken seriously. I think that we’re witnessing an Andy Kaufman-like comedic performance art that is, unfortunately, unfunny and predictable. Collins is a caricature of a closed-minded conservative backbencher. 

The point of diplomacy, of course, isn’t just to talk with friends. The diplomatic process involves talking with our sworn enemies, as well; to work out differences in a peaceful way rather than war. 

So, why would our caricature be so knee-jerkedly opposed to a rather contextually modest, temporary deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions? Because he’s effectively been paid to oppose it

Just this past August, Collins took his son on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. The trip was financed by a private lobbying group, the American Israel Education Foundation. It paid for transportation, lodging, meals, and all incidentals for Collins (who is well able to afford spending $18,000 to visit Israel) and his son, who visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. 

WGRZ called Collins out on it

Dr. Craig Holman with the government watchdog group Public Citizen said the trips are designed to influence and lobby members of Congress.

“These types of travel junkets have long been one of the favorite means for special interests and lobbyists to use to try to influence members of Congress and peddle their wares on Capitol Hill,” Dr. Holman said.

While AIEF is a non-profit, it is simply the charity wing of the AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobby in America.

AIPAC and its lobbyists are prohibited from giving lawmakers or staff members gifts, including trips. So the group’s charity wing does it for them.

“(The ethics committees) have allowed a lobbying organization — any lobbying entity — to set up a 501(c)3, a charity wing even just on paper,” Dr. Holman said. “And if that (c)3 itself doesn’t employ lobbyists, then it can pay for these congressional travel junkets.”

Neither Congressman Reed nor Congressman Collins would speak with 2 On Your Side either on camera or by phone. They each emailed statements through their spokespeople.

“Congressman Collins’ trip – vetted and approved by the House Ethics Committee – was paid for exclusively by private donations at zero expense to taxpayers,” Collins Spokesperson Grant Loomis said by email. “The bipartisan effort involves both Democrats and Republicans and is critical to educating Members of Congress on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting American interests in the Middle East.”

Israel, for its part, has slammed the Iran nuclear deal, and her Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it an “accommodation” and “political theater” that will “wreak havoc” in the region. Well, not all of Israel. For instance, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has taken a much more conciliatory tone, arguing that the 6 month Iran deal gives Israel an opening to solve the Palestinian crisis so that Israel and the Arab world can be united in putting pressure on Iran. The opposition Labour Party has blasted Netanyahu, as has at least one of his former associates, 

On April 27, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were not fit to stand at helm of the Israeli regime. 

“I will tell you things that might be harsh. I cannot trust Netanyahu and Barak at the wheel in confronting Iran. They are infected with messianic feelings over Iran,” Diskin said. 

Later on Sunday, Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan expressed support for Diskin, saying he was stating his “internal truth.” 

Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said on April 25 that he does not believe Iran will pursue nuclear weapons after years of efforts made by Tel Aviv and its allies to convince the world otherwise. 

Gantz described Iran’s leadership as “very rational” who would not make such a decision. 

There hasn’t been a havoc-free day in the last 3,000 years anywhere surrounding Israel, given its neighbors’ insistence that it be eliminated. Yet with careful diplomacy, Arab and Islamic enemies have succumbed and recognized Israel. It happened with Egypt and Jordan, it could happen with others if talks would take place, but as with all things in the Middle East, it’s just too complicated and fraught with peril. 

If Chris Collins was so effusive with his praise for Putin’s supposed out-maneuvering in Syria, which pledged to destroy its chemical weapons to avoid American military action, his heart should be just as full of praise for the Iran deal, because there isn’t a damn reason why anyone would trust Syria’s Bashir Assad more or less than any of Iran’s mullahs. 

Chris Collins Plays Dress-Up & Other Things

Welcome to Buffalo: Read it in the style of Droopy Dog

1. I visited the Depew Amshack for the first time yesterday, and was struck by how utilitarian and pedestrian it all seems. Taking Amtrak from Buffalo to New York is time-consuming, given that freight takes precedence over passenger service, but there are definite advantages to taking the train. If we are someday lucky enough to join the 21st century and introduce high-speed rail service, it could feasibly take 2 – 4 hours to get from here to Manhattan at speeds of 150 – 200 MPH, instead of 8 – 9. It’s a crime that the gorgeous Central Terminal hasn’t seen a rail passenger since 1979, and instead we have a dumpy shack unceremoniously plopped off Dick Rd between Broadway and Walden.

Correction: I wrote it was utilitarian. But it’s not.

Well, it is insofar as there exists a platform from which you can access the train, and a person who will sell you a ticket, and even a restroom. But there’s not even so much as a newspaper box at the station to pick up the Buffalo News or USA Today. Older passengers have a tough time climbing up into the train – the platform isn’t at door-level.

You know, Rail travel doesn’t have to suck any more than going through toll booths has to suck

2. Apparently, when it comes to this year’s election for Mayor of Buffalo, people are less concerned with the color of the candidates’ skin, and more interested in what they want to do as candidates. The Buffalo News is ON IT. 

3. While not gleefully voting to withhold health insurance from millions of Americans, millionaire Chris Collins played dress-up on Monday, donning the brown uniform of a UPS deliveryperson, and pretended to be a common working man. No word on whether he added a “Six Sigma” logo to the uniform, as he did when he sold county merch for employees to wear. The picture shown below might even be considered offensive, given the fact that Collins is a consistent defender of the millionaire class, and acting against the interests of anyone who has to wear a nametag to work.  

Chris Collins Polls NY-27

Hey, I got mail from my Congresscritter, Chris Collins. I was very happy to receive it, because it made me feel important – like Collins really wanted my opinion!  Brad Riter and I discussed the letter in a podcast we recorded for Trending Buffalo

I Got a Letter from the Government

Anyone who has paid even casual attention to Chris Collins’ political career knows that he’s looking out for only one type of person – the taxpayer. He even started his own minor party line called “Taxpayers First”, and has carefully staked out a position whereby he is perceived to be the grand protector of the tax dollar. 

That’s why our Spaulding Lake millionaire congressional nobleman spent taxpayer money to mail this survey to me! He’s protecting my tax money by spending my tax money! It’s ingenious

The cover letter doubles down on the whole taxpayer theme – “Dear Taxpayer” isn’t just profoundly impersonal, it reduces my identity to a chore. “Dear Laundry-Folder”. “Dear Grocery Shopper”.  

Collins figured he eked out his defeat of incumbent Kathy Hochul by staking out a strong anti-Obamacare position. Indeed, the district isn’t one that’s thrilled with Obama or with health care reform, so there isn’t a breath that leaves Collins’ lungs without denigrating and calling for the complete repeal of Obamacare. He says he’s fought to reduce government regulations, but he’s also voted for massive farm subsidies in an effort to protect your “tax dollars”. 

So, he sent a survey along. Note the registration barcode – more on that below – it all looks so important and official. DO NOT DESTROY. OFFICIAL FEDERAL DOCUMENT. The only thing missing is the imprisonment threat you find on mattress tags. 

But what it really amounts to is a written push-poll. The questions are carefully crafted to mirror GOP talking points, so that Collins can lend himself a smidgen of extra legitimacy as he’s promoting the interests of the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class.  This is a document that represents true class warfare – the wealthy manipulating the aspirations of the poor and middle class to get them to support policies that are against their best interests. 

Is the country on the right or wrong track? Well, gosh, I like Obama, and he’s President, so I’ll put “right track”. But I can’t stand Republican obstructionist nihilism, so I think the country is also on the wrong track. What to do? Some questions were self-explanatory, but then you get to the “vouchers” question, and again – there’s nuance there. I think vouchers should be available to parents of children in failing schools. I do not, however, think that they should be standard for all public school districts. The Republicans are pushing vouchers because they do not believe in public education, and would just as soon pull money out of the system and into vouchers because it would have the joint effect of (a) destroying public education; and (b) busting teachers’ unions. After all, that’s what it’s all about for the millionaire party – making sure the working man and woman know their place and stay quiet; class warfare. 

Then you get to the questions about fundamental changes to Medicare and Social Security.  I’m under 55, and I’ve been paying into both programs towards my retirement since the mid-80s. How on Earth is it fair to anyone currently in the workforce to so fundamentally change a program that people have been paying into? Why is it ok to weaken Social Security and Medicare for someone 54 years old who has been paying into the system for almost 40 years?  

By the way – that important-looking barcode? I scanned it. It’s the barcode for the number 1. 

So, we turn to the second, perhaps stupider, page of this intern-drafted excreta. I don’t agree with private social security accounts because, among other things, I don’t want the government to be called upon to bail out people who do so when the happen to retire during a financial market meltdown such as the one that occurred in late 2008. Do I support Obama’s use of Executive Orders?  Only insofar as they are lawful, which they are. Do I think Congress should expand government, limit government, or keep everything the same? Well, because I’m not a cretin, I think that the issue is far more complicated than that, so I marked “unsure” and annotated my answer. 

Now, admittedly, I mis-read the “energy” question and marked two instead of one, but both of them are ones that I think the government should pursue, and no one’s really looking at this anything, they’re just harvesting email addresses. The United States is drilling more oil now than in 2005, and natural gas exploitation is booming thanks to hydrofracking. Fukushima and BP have shown us that off-shore drilling and nuclear power aren’t perhaps the best solutions to our energy needs, and while it’s important to exploit what we have, it’s also important to find alternatives and use less. 

I annotated another question by adding an answer.  In a question asking what the government should do to help stimulate the economy, there was only a simplistic binary choice – spend more, or reduce taxes on “private businesses and families” as opposed to what, public businesses and single people? So, I said – tax cuts on the middle class. Put more money in regular people’s pockets. 

There are two questions relating to non-scandal scandals. Benghazi and the IRS.  The 27th District is unaffected by either one of those things, and we live in a community with real problems that affect real people. These are partisan distractions by any measure, but to suggest in a push-poll that Congress should do more of that is just sad. 

On immigration, notice the wording – should illegals with no criminal history be allowed to “pay a fine and become a taxpayer?” I annotated that. Everyone on American soil – documented and undocumented – is a “taxpayer” in that they have a legal obligation to pay tax on income. Undocumented aliens are already “taxpayers” – the word he was hunting for was “citizen”. But in the very next question, he uses that term – asking whether undocumented aliens should be able to buy themselves a Green Card, but not citizenship. 

Should the government devote more attention to enforcing immigration law and securing borders? How do you say no to that? Yes, the government should do its job. Hurray. 

I enclosed a note.  

When your Congressman doesn’t have a care in the world, it must be difficult for him to manufacture empathy for people who do. His singular goal is to repeal Obamacare. I have asked him and his staff many times – on Twitter and elsewhere – two things: (a) does Chris Collins believe that every American should have access to affordable, quality health insurance; and (b) if Obamacare is not the good solution to the crisis of uninsurance and underinsurance in this country, what is his solution? What does CollinsCare look like? I have yet to receive an answer to either of these questions.

Furthermore, I don’t know whether Collins and his family are recipients of one of the federally subsidized health insurance plans that exist for the benefit of Congresspeople. I asked it on Twitter, but also placed a call to his Washington office July 11th at 9:38 and left a message for his press person to contact me. It’s now July 16th and I have not been granted the courtesy of a reply.

Is quality, federally subsidized health insurance something to which Collins and his family are entitled, but not us plebes? Does my Congressman think that people should have access to quality health care, and that the cost should be subsidized depending on ability to pay? Does he even think 50 million uninsured Americans who use the emergency room for primary care is a problem? 

Frankly, I don’t think Obamacare is the solution, either, but the status quo is worse. I now think Obamacare was a Democratic sellout to conservatives who turned their backs on their own idea in order to harm the Democratic President and, by extension, the country. Republican obstruction and attempts to kill Obamacare have served to condense my opinion into something different altogether. 

Health insurance in this country should not be tied to employment. Employers should be free from buying private insurance for their employees, and people should not have to choose employment based on whether or not they will receive health insurance. The solution is Medicare expansion to all Americans. Everyone joins, everyone pays. You want to use a private clinic and pay a private insurer for something extra? Knock yourself out – as long as every American has a guarantee of access to health care they need. 

I wish that my Congressman took his office seriously. It’s not just about protecting “taxpayers” from whatever he wants to demean as socialism. It’s about helping people who are in need or powerless. It’s about finding solutions to longstanding problems that the private sector can’t – or won’t – solve. I wish that I had a Congressman who thought that it was important for me and my family to have access to the same quality of healthcare as he. I wish that I had a Congressman who didn’t wage class warfare against the poor and middle class, instead holding onto an anachronistic and unproven “supply side” theory of trickle-down economics. I wish Batavia was as important to him as Benghazi. 

Curious Funding of the Chris Collins for Congress Campaign

Here’s a document that congressional candidate for NY-27 Chris Collins (R-Clarence) filed with the FEC. It is his final pre-general election filing, and shows who gave him money, and how much. (Carl Paladino maxed out back in June. So did Robert Stevenson, and in October a whole bunch of PACs, local business figures, companies, and committees paid up

The federal limit for donations in a general election congressional campaign is $2,500. You’ll notice, however, that there are a lot of donations that exceed that amount, and are checked off with “primary” next to them, and are made well after the primary election ended. Collins can only use those donations over $2,500 marked “primary” to pay off his own loans to his campaign, (the primary election took place in June).  Is Collins informing his donors – some of them signing off on $5,000 checks – that their money is just going right back into his pocket?

It’s a tricky way for Collins to, essentially, double-fund his campaign – he loans the campaign money in the primary, raises primary funds to pay himself back, and then re-loan the money he raised in primary funds and paid himself back with the campaign to use in the general.  
 
Over the course of this election cycle, Collins has loaned his campaign $250,000 in the pre-primary filing, $400,000 in the October quarterly filing.  (Why is something called the “Western New York Victory Fund” located in a medical complex in Athens, GA? Also: 
 
 
 
All the while, Bob McCarthy can ooh and ah over Collins’ substantial war-chest. 
 

Collins

http://www.scribd.com/embeds/111444894/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-10rvpsh8rub5wn1edb6x

Chris Collins and the Dictatorship of Petty Bureaucracy

Chris Collins

In March 2007, the Erie County Republican Party unanimously endorsed Chris Collins as its candidate for County Executive. After two Giambra terms, replete with cheap politicking and fiscal disasters, Collins seemed to be a successful guy with novel ideas on how to take the county forward.  He pledged to reform county government, rebuild our economy, and restore jobs. I predicted that he would win as early as April of that year.

During the campaign, it was revealed that Collins had loaned money to an East Side slumlord and the debt went bad. When that happened, Collins could have foreclosed and re-sold the properties, or write it off and let them rot. Collins chose the latter, and it’s indicative of his complete lack of any empathy or engagement on urban issues.

He did win, and within the first 12 hours he pledged to hire a “Six Sigma black belt” at tremendous public expense to implement what average people call “common sense”. He eventually hired six-figure Six Sigma people. He even hired someone at over $100,000 to determine how to use county space. But he was doing good, simple things, too. Things that didn’t need million-dollar consultants.  However, in looking back on his first 100 days, there was a lot of stuff I liked.

By July 2008, top people were leaving his administration.  By August, it was becoming clear that Collins wasn’t one of us. He was one of them.  Let’s call it the dictatorship of the bureaucrats – elected officials and their hangers-on cutting petty deals over petty things, rather than addressing the big picture and providing this region with a vision.

Here, we are run by people like Brown and Casey, who are busy trying to engineer a party-political coup (and failing), or by people like Chris Collins who sweats the small stuff just fine (GPS in cars, running government “like a business”), but doesn’t really have any sort of overall vision for what he wants WNY to become. Brown and Casey are hacky members of a cliquey politburo; Collins is bureaucrat-in-chief.

He managed to do an end run around a sleepy legislature to get rid of Tim Kennedy’s Apprenticeship Law.  Under the law, companies bidding on county-funded construction work over a certain dollar amount had to maintain and participate in a state-certified apprenticeship program to teach young workers a trade.  As a commenter below notes, the program “demonstrates a commitment from a contractor the willingness to invest in our own area’s youth.  Also, the program provides for the base and structure that will allow for a competent, unbiased and impartial approach to ensure that when a graduate of the program earns the title of journeyman that they are indeed schooled in all of the requisite work a person with that title should be able to perform within a specified jurisdiction.  Finally, the law would ensure that New York State and local residents had a better chance of being employed on county projects.  The law was in fact largely passed due the discovery of circa 10 illegal workers being found performing asbestos removal in the Rath Building after the award of a contract to do the work to an out of town contractor.”

People like Chris Collins and Carl Paladino vehemently opposed the law for a reason and a pretext – the reason was that it helped keep private-sector union trades strong, which is anathema to Buffalo’s puny plutocrats. The pretext was that it drove up the cost of this sort of work. Yet as far as anyone can tell, there doesn’t seem to have been some sudden surge in construction since – and due to its – repeal. It’s part of the contemporary Republican ethos to destroy any protection for workers, whether it be good benefits, a living wage, and collective bargaining rights – the right of management and owners to dictate the terms of employment as an adhesion contract with absolutely zero regulation over wages and conditions; a reversion to the days of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Taxes. Chris Collins pledged to lower them. Even today, he rails against job-killing high taxes. Are you totally incensed by Mark Poloncarz’s proposed 2013 budget, which includes a 3.4% property tax hike? Then Chris Collins’ October 2008 3.6% tax hike proposal must have really made you angry.  You must have been even more outraged with what happened later on, when he ended up demanding a 4.8% tax hike. Collins started cutting programs that help the urban poor and diverting money to fixing up suburban roads, calling them a quality of life issue. It was soon revealed that Collins kept a $16 million Medicaid liability off the books.

In the meantime, there was no explanation why 10 months’ worth of Six Sigma implementation at great public cost had not resulted in any palpable cost savings. The Democratic legislature amended Collins’ proposed budget to change its priorities and decrease the tax hike. Collins claims that Six Sigma saved a couple million dollars. Never has that claim been audited, reviewed, or backed up with any facts or evidence.  By all accounts, it cost taxpayers a couple million dollars, and few people know that Collins isn’t even certified as a Six Sigma anything. It’s as if government was being run by a malevolent, trendy management tome.

In the end, it was a choice between a Collins-backed 4.8% property tax hike, and the Legislature’s 0.0% hike. A Supreme Court Justice ruled that taxes would go up 1.6%. Chris Collins didn’t just raise your taxes, he went to court to make sure he could do it.

Meanwhile, you’ve probably heard Collins rail against the Obama stimulus, a collection of tax cuts and appropriations for public works; Keynesian pump-priming to address a growing crisis of falling economic demand. Back in 2009, however, Collins sang the stimulus’ praises.

“As County Executive, I believe strongly that infrastructure improvements are critical to the growth of Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Chris Collins.  “At a time when county resources are scarce, a possible injection of federal dollars could have a tremendous impact on Erie County’s aging and neglected infrastructure.  Funding for even a fraction of these projects would represent a significant investment in our community, the opportunity to hire thousands of local workers, and reduce our need for capital borrowing in the future.”

Senator Schumer made sure that the county received $750,000 in stimulus funding to balance the budget and offset Medicaid expenses. When all was said and done, Collins has $41 million in Obama stimulus money to thank for padding the county’s coffers. Money that was intended to be used to help spur demand and create jobs was instead shunted – like Giambra’s tobacco settlement money – into one-shot salves for budgetary shortfalls. He was downright cavalier about sitting on a pool of free money that was supposed to be put into the economy.

Unlike in his private business affairs, County Executive Collins was subject to financial oversight. This was not something he enjoyed, and he pushed vindictive cuts to the Comptroller’s office, which would have laid waste to any meaningful accountability for what Collins was doing.

Frankly, someone should ask Collins’ former spokesman, Stefan Mychajliw – who is now himself running for County Comptroller – what he thinks about what Collins tried to do to then-Comptroller Poloncarz’s office’s ability to do its job.

In April 2009, Collins completely disregarded an effort to implement a regional framework for planning and growth in a region where we have sprawl without population growth. Again- a lack of vision in favor of bureaucratic stasis. But his gamesmanship became epic, whereby the Legislature would legally override a Collins veto, and Collins would respond by simply jettisoning democratic procedure aside and declaring the override “null and void”

Throughout his administration, Chris Collins was fighting the Justice Department, which demanded that the county improve conditions in its jails. 2009 brought a legislative election, and Collins was set on jury-rigging the system in order to ensure that the second half of his term would be less litigious. He hired Kathy Konst as part of a ploy to leave the (D) line unoccupied. Collins pick Dino Fudoli went to court to keep his Democratic opponent’s name off the ballot. Fundamentally undemocratic gamesmanship, and it should taint Collins and Fudoli in perpetuity. Hell, Collins used an official Twitter account for electioneering purposes.

Collins’ proposed 2010 budget played with the numbers to keep taxes steady, but no spending was cut. None.

Most of you will remember his horrible thing Collins said, calling Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver the “anti-Christ”. It wasn’t the first time he used it, and it was a theme that Carl Paladino picked up on the following year, with similar electoral effect. Even though Collins had a good 2009 election, it didn’t make him happy; it made him angry. But as 2010 began, Erie County finally settled its disputes over payments to ECMC. Soon after that, Collins conspired with the Mayor’s people and Pigeon’s people to obtain a de facto Republican majority on the Legislature. All it took was Barbara Miller-Williams, Christina Bove, and Tim Kennedy to agree to join a so-called “reform coalition”, which reformed nothing. Except hirings and firings. Tim Kennedy did this in spite of Collins’ destruction of his beloved Apprenticeship Law, in order to secure the Independence Party line and be elevated to the State Senate.

In January 2010, Collins was again caught with his foot in his mouth, having asked Republican fundraiser Laura Montante Zaepfel to give him a “lapdance” before she could get to her seat at the State of the State address. Next on his agenda was to take away day care benefits from the working poor in Buffalo and WNY. But we did finally get rid of the Convention Center’s FailSignWhen not declaring legislative veto overrides “null and void”, Collins decided simply to refuse to fund things he didn’t like. Nevertheless, in running government like a failing, closely-held business, Collins created new jobs for pet projects, didn’t cut spending overall, and was facing a massive 2011 deficit. At least he had a compliant, but horribly run legislature

collins-20121016-233135.jpgCollins then turned his ire towards the culturals, and this teed off the central theme of the 2011 County Executive race. The budget process in late 2010 was uglier than ever, and more shenanigan-laden than usual.

Six Sigma – Collins claims it worked. How did it work? The control board granted the county about $1.1 million in efficiency grants to set the program up. Six Sigma salaries: just over $470,000. Six Sigma fringe (60%): Just over $280,000. Vendors (5 vendors, including UB): Just over $610,000. TOTAL:  Just over $1.37 million. How much did it save? You can hear the crickets chirping.

Debating Kathy Hochul, Collins blasted the Obama administration for “picking winners and losers” by having the government take GM and Chrysler bankrupt and using public money to invest in those companies and effectively bailing them out. By doing so, about a million jobs were directly saved, keeping the economy from going from recession to depressionary spiral. But Collins didn’t have a problem using the Erie County IDA to pick winners and losers, did he? That uses public money to help private business. He even went so far as to reward Paladino crony Rus Thompson with a sweetheart IDA loan for his cement truck business. Must be nice to have friends on the IDA like Chris Collins and his neighbor, Jane Corwin’s husband. At the CVB, Collins withheld funding until he packed it with his hand-picked people – after that, he increased its budget.  For real.  Under Collins, the IDA specialized in granting money and tax breaks to businesses that didn’t create many jobs, moved businesses around from town to town.

When Chris Lee got caught shirtless on Craigslist, soliciting dates from people not his wife, a scramble to replace him ensued. David Bellavia had a deal that he would be next when Lee was done. Lee was done. Yet Chris Collins and Carl Paladino tried to intimidate Bellavia out of the race. It was like something out of Goodfellas.

2011 saw Collins and Poloncarz do battle. As usual, Collins and the Republicans cut a deal with Mayor Brown in an effort to depress city turnout. In July 2011, Collins got caught marching at the front of the July 4th parade in Lancaster – even ahead of the flag and veterans. When polls showed that Collins wasn’t doing well, he called the polls a pack of lies. He went out of his way to say that downstate was no friend of upstate’s. Don’t forget that Collins got caught parking illegally several times – including using a spot reserved for the disabled.

And Collins left a mess. In July 2012, Poloncarz revealed,

In the first six months of my term alone, we have identified more than $50 million in unanticipated expense and declining revenue projections not included in Mr. Collins’ 2012 Budget or Four-Year Financial Plan – many of which he, in all likelihood, knew about but failed to address and chose to hide from me as comptroller, the legislature and even the control board.

After leaving office, Collins was caught using his Rath Building office to hold private business meetings to intimidate investors.  In July 2012, Collins basically said that people don’t die from breast and prostate cancer anymore. Seriously. He disrespectfully refused to debate his primary opponent. He apparently bought Facebook likes. Collins is a big backer of the Ryan budget. Collins has not released any of his tax returns to the voters.

Chris Collins can say “Barack Obama” and “Nancy Pelosi” every minute of every hour. He can pretend to be some conservative Republican who will somehow magically work with people across the aisle – something he only did locally when he could derive some short-term political benefit therefrom; something he only did when he could exert control over them and the legislative process through his proxy, Barbara Miller-Williams. Kathy Hochul’s record stands on its own merits. So does Chris Collins’ record, such as it is.

In the end, Chris Collins did not reform county government – in fact, he resisted and blocked reforms almost routinely (another “r”); he did not rebuild the local economy, but ensured that stimulus funds were hoarded to artificially improve his balance sheet; and he did not reduce – but raised – taxes.

 

Chris Collins: Repeal Consumer Protections

This morning, on my way to work, I caught a WBFO interview with Republican candidate for Congress, Chris Collins. The lies and misinformation reveal that Collins is either misinformed, trying to dupe his prospective constituents, or both. 

Collins suggested that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is exactly like the Canadian single-payer Medicare system. While Obamacare is many things, many of which are open to debate and criticism, one thing it decidedly is not is anything resembling what Canadians enjoy*. 

*Yes, enjoy. 82.5% of Canadians in a recent poll indicated that they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their health care system. 86% of them wanted the current system strengthened through public initiative, rather than privatized. American politicians can denigrate a Canadian system that is wildly popular with Canadians.  By contrast, a 2007 Gallup poll found that only 57% of Americans were satisfied with whatever private or public insurance they had.  By contrast, our own domestic single-payer Medicare plan, available only to seniors,  Whereas in 2007 45% of people with expensive private coverage reported problems with access to care, and 35% reported problems with billing, only 18% of Medicare recipients reported access problems, and only 14% reported any billing issues.  A 2010 Suffolk University poll revealed that 94% of American Medicare recipients are satisfied with their socialist, Canadian-style, single-payer plan. 

He went on to say that he hopes that Romney becomes President, and that that Republicans maintain their House majority, and add three Senate seats so that they can “completely” dismantle and repeal Obamacare. In its place, Collins suggested insurer competition across state lines, and minimizing injured patients’ access to the courts to seek redress for medical malpractice. Both of these “solutions” would hardly put a ding in the overwhelming cost of health care in this country, and would do absolutely nothing to guarantee universal coverage, or to shut the emergency room-as-primary care payment budget hole that our taxes fill. 

But the question that wasn’t asked is, what would result from an immediate repeal of Obamacare? Here are the provisions that have already become active

  • Expand the FDA’s ability to approve more generic drugs (making for more competition in the market to drive down prices) ( Citation: An entire section of the bill, called Title VII, is devoted to this, starting on page 766 )

  • An increase in the rebates on drugs people get through Medicare (so drugs cost less) ( Citation: Page 235, sec. 2501 )

  • Established a non-profit group, that the government doesn’t directly control, PCORI, to study different kinds of treatments to see what works better and is the best use of money. ( Citation: Page 684, sec. 1181)

  • Requires chain restaurants like McDonalds display how many calories are in all of their foods, so people can have an easier time making choices to eat healthy. ( Citation: Page 518, sec. 4205 )

  • Creates a “high-risk pool” for people with pre-existing conditions. Basically, this is a way to slowly ease into getting rid of “pre-existing conditions” altogether. For now, people who already have health issues that would be considered “pre-existing conditions” can still get insurance, but at different rates than people without them. ( Citation: Page 49, sec. 1101Page 64, sec. 2704, and Page 65, sec. 2702 )

  • Forbids insurance companies from discriminating based on a disability, or because they were the victim of domestic abuse in the past (yes, insurers really did deny coverage for that) ( Citation: Page 66, sec. 2705 )

  • Renews some old policies, and calls for the appointment of various positions.

  • Creates a new 10% tax on indoor tanning booths. ( Citation: Page 942, sec. 5000B )

  • Forbids health insurance companies from telling customers that they won’t get any more coverage because they have hit a “lifetime limit”. Basically, if someone has paid for health insurance, that company can’t tell that person that he’s used that insurance too much throughout his life so they won’t cover him any more. They can’t do this for lifetime spending, and they’re limited in how much they can do this for yearly spending. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2711 )

  • Allows children to continue to be covered by their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26. ( Citation: Page 34, sec. 2714 )

  • Eliminates “pre-existing conditions” exclusions for kids under the age of 19. ( Citation: Page 64, sec. 2704 and Page 76, sec. 1255 )

  • Limits insurers’ ability to change the amount customers have to pay for their plans. ( Citation: Page 66, sec. 2794 )

  • Helps close the “Medicare Gap” by paying rebates to make up for the extra money they would otherwise have to spend. ( Citation: Page 398, sec. 3301 )

  • Prohibits insurers from dropping customers once they get sick. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2712 )

  • Requires insurers to be transparent about fees. (Instead of just “administrative fee”, they have to be more specific).

  • Requires insurers to have an appeals process for when they turn down a claim, so customers have some manner of recourse other than a lawsuit when they’re turned down. ( Citation: Page 42, sec. 2719 )

  • Increases anti-fraud funding, and new ways to stop fraud are created. ( Citation: Page 718, sec. 6402 )

  • Medicare extends to smaller hospitals. ( Citation: Starting on page 363, the entire section “Part II” seems to deal with this )

  • Medicare patients with chronic illnesses must be monitored more thoroughly.

  • Reduces the costs for some companies that handle benefits for the elderly. ( Citation: Page 511, sec. 4202 )

  • A new website is made to give people insurance and health information. (http://www.healthcare.gov/ ). ( Citation: Page 55, sec. 1103 )

  • A credit program is made that will make it easier for business to invest in new ways to treat illness by paying half the cost of the investment. (Note – this program was temporary. It already ended) ( Citation: Page 849, sec. 9023 )

  • A limit is placed on just how much of a percentage of the money an insurer makes can be profit, to make sure they’re not price-gouging customers. (Citation: Page 41, sec. 1101 )

  • A limit is placed on what type of insurance accounts can be used to pay for over-the-counter drugs without a prescription. Basically, your insurer isn’t paying for the Aspirin you bought for that hangover. ( Citation: Page 819, sec. 9003 )

  • Employers need to list the benefits they provided to employees on their tax forms. ( Citation: Page 819, sec. 9002 )

  • Any new health plans must provide preventive care (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.) without requiring any sort of co-pay or charge. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2713 )

What the ACA really amounts to is a consumer protection act. While Collins and his ilk will call this a job-killing tax on the middle class, or something, it really amounts to a prohibition against insurance companies from engaging in predatory practices against its ratepayers. It provides better protections for consumers.  

The question is – why does Chris Collins want to repeal all of the consumer protections that have gone into effect? 

Collins also suggested that an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended to all Americans, including him and those like him with millions in income. The Obama plan would extend those tax cuts only to the middle class, and revert back to Clinton-era, pre-9/11 rates for those making more than $250,000 per year. 

Under Bill Clinton, unemployment dropped steadily from over 7% in 1993 to 4.4% by the late 90s. To suggest, therefore, that reverting tax rates to what we had in the 90s would stymie employment growth versus the situation we have now – with anemic jobs growth and the Bush tax cuts in place – strains credulity. 

Collins suggested that reverting to the Clinton-era tax rates for those making over $250,000 per year would be a “wet blanket” on job growth. However, only 3.5% of small businesses – mostly professionals like doctors and lawyers – would be affected by this change. An op/ed in the Washington Post goes into more detail here

Chris Collins opens his mouth and finds himself wrong again. Almost like it’s a pattern or something. 

Chris Collins' Internet Inefficiencies

ICYMI on Saturday, the Buffalo News’ Jerry Zremski wrote a piece about NY-27 detailing some of Chris Collins’ online travails, including the fact that his campaign website appeared absolutely nowhere on Google – something that’s been known for weeks, but not repaired.  

Perhaps he should have set up a Six Sigma inquisition into a more efficient way to set up and promote his web presence. 

What does show up when you Google “Collins for Congress”?  This website, prepared by a Florida Tea Party website, which details a variety of reasons why Collins is horrible. 

The Republican primary to select the candidate who will take on Kathy Hochul in November takes place this Tuesday. There seems to be a wide enthusiasm gap between Bellavia’s and Collins’ supporters, but Collins is out-spending Bellavia, at least as far as mailers are concerned – one political activist in the GLOW counties says it’s a 4:0 split. Collins is relying on money and mailers to get his message out, while Bellavia has been out pounding the pavement and shaking hands. Tuesday, we’ll see which one prevails. 

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