The Republicans Push-Poll

propaganda

Households throughout western New York have received calls from area code 315 purporting to be an opinion poll from an organization that has “Liberty” in its name. The first question had to do with whom you would vote for if the Presidential election was held today: Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton?

An easy way to identify your voter, I suppose, and the choice of Rubio over, say, Trump, is notable.

A push poll is defined as “is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of voters under the guise of conducting a poll.” In other words, it’s a campaign advertisement masquerading as an opinion poll.

It would appear that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Opinion polling is a valuable tool for campaigns, politicians, and the general electorate. It’s a tough and competitive business that oftentimes comes under exquisite scrutiny and partisan condemnation. Push-polling, on the other hand, is little more than propaganda; rumor-mongering.

The push-poll that countless Erie County voters have received in recent weeks is Republican propaganda generally, and more specifically a negative campaign tactic against incumbent Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and in support of his challenger, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter. Walter denied to me that his campaign had anything to do with it, and Nick Langworthy says his committee knows nothing about it. Some people on Twitter speculate that this might be the work of the Casale Group, a pro-Republican campaign communications firm, which is located in the 315 area code. DIsclosure reports reveal that Walter hasn’t paid Casale yet this cycle, but he’s spent $60,000 on their services in his 2011 Assembly race. but there’s no confirmation yet that it did the call. If Walter and Langworthy are telling the truth, the culprit may be some right-wing political committee; perhaps the state Republican committee.

How do we tell a push poll from a legitimate opinion poll?

For starters, this one was a dead giveaway because it refered to Poloncarz as the “Democrat Party” candidate, rather than “Democratic Party”. After asking me about my Rubio/Clinton preference, it went on to set up a question about Walter’s city vs. suburbs tax proposal by lavishing praise and slathering it with a schmear of undeserved equity before asking me if I agreed.

Here’s how it sounded, using a hypothetical example: “Ray Walter believes that kale is a disgusting, malodorous plant that tastes like poison, causes cancer, and should be eaten by no one. Do you support or oppose the eating of cancer kale? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.”

Another question asked whether I supported a spending cap for Erie County. Another accused Poloncarz of personally transporting hundreds of Syrian refugees to basically live next door to you, go directly on welfare, and pose a “security threat” by throwing Sharia Law firecrackers at your head or something. It asked if the county does a good job maintaining roads, and whether I support towns getting more sales tax revenue, thus lowering my town taxes. It asked me my opinion of common core and testing of students.

The people or committee(s) behind this push-poll was not disclosed at the end; state law doesn’t require it.

In 2000, John McCain was the victim of vicious push-polls that George W. Bush and Karl Rove set up in South Carolina after McCain shellacked Bush in New Hampshire.

The rumors [about McCain] were spread through push polls—“really not polls” at all, according to Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and president of the National Council on Public Polls, but “more of a telemarketing device, where you’re actually calling people in the guise of a poll and you’re not gathering information as much as you’re disseminating it.” A push poll is further defined as solely intended to spread false, damning information; a pollster who asks your opinion about something negative but true in a candidate’s record is not push-polling. Tige Watts, a Columbia consultant and pollster who considers push polls unfair and doesn’t do them, said he understood some of the calls went like this: “They’d ask who you’re voting for. If you said Bush, they’d say, ‘That’s great. Be sure to vote.’ ” You’d hang up thinking it was just a normal get-out-the-vote (G.O.T.V.) call. “But if you said McCain, they’d ask a litany of questions: ‘Would you vote for McCain if you knew … ?’ Basically, they just threw the book at him.” Watts could tell when the calls peaked—about a week before the vote—“because everybody started talking about it. It was like a waterfall.”

Push-polling is cheap and easy to get away with. Watts estimated it runs “about a 10th of the price of a truly scientific” poll—as little as 25 to 30 cents a call—since what the voter says isn’t recorded or tabulated. “I doubt they even train the interviewers,” added Warren Mitofsky of the highly respected Mitofsky International polling firm. “They give them a script and tell them to read it.” Some states have laws regulating push-polling, but to little effect, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research investigates public complaints but can rarely trace who’s behind it. People who get push-polled seldom ask who’s calling or get a call-back number, and, Mitofsky says, “none of the campaigns ever admit” to push-polling.

All of this highlights one of the many problems with New York State election law – that campaign propaganda can be released anonymously. That’s a shame, because people have a right to know who’s trolling them. The fact that I don’t know who was behind that push-poll is a problem, in and of itself.

If we want transparency in campaigns and how they’re financed, we need to not only strictly enforce the laws we already have on the books, but also begin treating the whole issue as a consumer protection issue. If I have a right to know whether something posing as health food is actually packed with high fructose corn syrup, or whether a product actually accomplished the task it’s advertised for, then I deserve to know who is funding campaign propaganda, how that organization got its funding, and from whom and in what amount. Anything less than that serves to protect malfeasors and harm the electorate.

One way to combat poor name recognition and a popular incumbent opponent is to lay the propaganda on thick. Question now is: who’s behind it?

As it turns out, it appears from my social media timelines that people know when they’re being push-polled, and they don’t like it. I sure hope this year’s Erie County Executive campaign can be run on issues rather than negativity and subterfuge.

I Watched the CNN Debate

These are my real-time reactions, at least until 10:20 when I had to get ready for work in the morning.

The End of the Clarence GOP’s Hartzell Experiment

casiliokloss

In 2011, political newcomer David Hartzell (R) challenged and narrowly defeated the incumbent Clarence Town Supervisor Scott Bylewski – a rare elected Democrat in that Republican citadel. The Conservative fusion party had abandoned Bylewski, most likely because he wouldn’t violate the town’s master plan and push through the zoning changes needed to build a massive Wegmans on the Clarence side of Transit Road. To make sure Bylewski’s political coffin was securely sealed, the town’s right-wing establishment also mounted a campaign of personal destruction against him, which was as heartless as it was comically hypocritical.

In 2011, Clarence Republican Committee chairman Dan Michnik wrote this letter to the Clarence Bee in support of Hartzell’s candidacy:

As chairman of the Clarence Republican Committee, I am very proud that our committee unanimously endorsed David Hartzell for Clarence supervisor. His business experience, coupled with substantial volunteer work in the Clarence community, makes him uniquely qualified to serve the taxpayers and make decisions that will make our community a better place to work, live and raise a family.

His four children all graduated from Clarence High School, and one is now proudly serving our country overseas as a Navy Seal. As a fiscal conservative, he will hold the line on taxes and root out wasteful spending in town government.

As a successful businessman, he not only knows how to lead, but he knows how to listen also. His leadership is based on transparency and respect for others, and I fully expect Dave to continue these policies as Clarence supervisor. His record on the Clarence Industrial Development Agency is a pro-business, pro-growth agenda that seeks to make strategic investments in local businesses, with the ultimate goal of creating jobs. I would urge the taxpayers of Clarence to take a close look at Dave Hartzell’s private sector record and his platform and plan for Clarence. I know he will make a tremendous supervisor, creating jobs, growing local businesses and improving our quality of life.

Dan Michnik

Hartzell won, and the town board enjoyed its reversion to one-party rule.

For a time, anyway.

Along the way, something happened.

Fast forward to May 2015, when the Republicans shunned Hartzell in favor of town board member and local developer Pat Casilio. In July 2015, here’s what Michnik wrote to the Bee:

The Clarence Republican Committee is pleased to announce the slate of candidates chosen by the members at their endorsement meeting held May 19.

They are Patrick Casilio for supervisor, Robert Geiger and Christopher Greene for councilmen, Nancy Metzger for town clerk and Robert Sillars for town justice.

Casilio earned the committee’s endorsement for supervisor because of his integrity, work ethic, history of public service, and his commitment to always put the Town of Clarence first.

Councilman Robert Geiger earned our endorsement for another term because of his sound judgment, his ethics, and his hard work on behalf of all of the town’s residents.

Christopher Greene is a newcomer to the slate for councilman. His youth and enthusiasm to get things done will bring new energy to the board.

Nancy Metzger and Robert Sillars are seeking re-election to their current positions. Their experience, leadership and sound judgment also earns our endorsement.

Our committee believes in selecting candidates that put Clarence’s needs and best interests first. We want the best candidate for the job. We think that all of our endorsed candidates have the experience, integrity and dedication to the town that will guide us in the right direction for our future. We ask for your continuing support to elect the best candidates for the Town of Clarence.

Daniel A. Michnik

The Republicans kicked Hartzell to the curb, but don’t really tell you why or what happened. They don’t address why they so enthusiastically endorsed Hartzell over Bylewski in 2011, only to abandon him at the first possible chance. Put another way, in 2011, Michnik’s club picked Hartzell to oust an excellent, intelligent Supervisor; if Michnik was so drastically, fundamentally wrong in 2011, why should we believe him now? I don’t much know or care about the ins and outs of Clarence Republican politics, but I have to surmise that Hartzell must have really been just awful for them to have rejected him after just one term, no?

Maybe it was the raises that Hartzell gave himself?

Before election day 2011, outgoing Democratic Supervisor Bylewski had actually cut the Supervisor’s rate of pay for 2012 from $77,096 to $76,357.  Hartzell was sworn into office in January 2012, and reckoned that he deserved more. So in 2013, he bumped himself from $76,357 all the way up to $78,648. That’s a $2,300 raise – 3% – for a part-time job! Not satisfied, in 2013, Hartzell gave himself – with the Republican town board’s help – another $500 raise, from $78,648 to $79,148.

Maybe it was the 2014 audit of the town’s vehicle and fuel use? The state found that controls were lax, resulting in waste – not a headline that residents of any party were especially excited to see.

Some of us saw it coming, though. Here’s what I wrote in 2011:

The town race has been exquisitely ugly this year, thanks in no small part to the execrable Joe Weiss and his puppet, Dave Hartzell. Bylewski enjoys bipartisan support from people who truly care about the town and the direction in which it’s going. His opponents have proven themselves to be a dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes whose idea of good government is to lie to town residents when they’re not berating them. Don’t be fooled by the lies and deception – Bylewski is working hard to keep the town on the right track, despite myriad pressures from many sides to go against the town’s land use constitution.

“Dirty, hypocritical collection of fetid assholes” has a nice ring to it, especially when you recall members like Joe Weiss.  In 2010, someone using Hartzell’s phone number (he denied it) sent out a horribly tasteless “Clarence offers to buy the City of Buffalo” April Fools Day prank. Hartzell opposed moving the Williamsville toll east towards Pembroke, inexplicably calling it Transit Road’s “golden goose”. There was also this, this, Hartzell’s comical behavior at the candidate forum, and a ton of picayune nonsense about stolen campaign signs. I even wrote about shady Republican fundraising in 2011 over the Hartzell race.

Now? Michnik writes – again – to the Clarence Bee demanding that Hartzell return contributions his campaign received from Michele Brown’s Family Court campaign committee. Not to be out-done, the 26-year incumbent town clerk – running unopposed yet again – endorses Hartzell’s opponent, Pat Casilio, who would be the eighth (8th) supervisor with whom she’ll have worked. It’s funny because Republicans are usually the very first and loudest to condemn career politicians. Here’s what she has to say:

I have worked with seven supervisors and have never experienced such disconnect from the operation of the town. The town has been running on autopilot for the last three and a half years without a dedicated leader.

Maybe you should have supported Bylewski in ’11. He was a very “dedicated leader”.

I should not have businesspeople tell me the supervisor ripped them off, or that he will only meet with them at a restaurant and they have to pay for lunch. Every applicant that comes before a board should not be solicited for a campaign donation.

Metzger supported Hartzell in 2011. You break it, you bought it.

Who else endorses Casilio? How about soon-to-be-former Councilman Bernie Kolber, whom the Republican committee shunned on the same day as they did Hartzell. Also publicly endorsing Casilio is Peter DiCostanzo, who inexplicably used his power on the board to fight petty battles against dedicated volunteers. The only check on such abuses of power and childish fits of pique is public outcry.  The Republicans have even gone so far as to send out lit (citing my columns) calling Hartzell that most unspeakable of Clarence slurs – a Democrat.

I appreciate the linkage, but the notion that Hartzell – who isn’t seeking or running on the Democratic line, and who ousted a Democratic Supervisor by a very slim margin – is a Democrat is laughable. Clarence Republicans enjoy 100% ownership of the Hartzell fiasco. Indeed, Hartzell’s victory in 2011 effectively put an end to the town’s Democratic committee until 2013.

As the mailer notes, in late July, we revealed how Michele Brown’s campaign – which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pigeon Preetsmas Gang – paid Hartzell over $5,000 for petitioning. What better way to get Republican signatures for Brown on the (R) line than to solicit the help of the embattled Republican incumbent Supervisor? The money was reported as a contribution to Hartzell’s committee, and I got pushback from Brown’s lawyer, Joseph Makowski, on that point.  Makowski claimed that the payments weren’t contributions, but effectively payments made to Hartzell (or his committee) as a vendor.

Here’s how they appeared at the time – listed as expenditures.

It’s still listed that way:

Those are from Brown’s reports. Hartzell’s show the following, and note that the entries were changed in August.

and this:

So, there exists a Board of Elections ruling that dealt with these transfers of funds from Brown’s campaign committee to Hartzell’s campaign committee for, presumably, petitions. But instead of being listed as a straight cash contribution, it’s now listed as a “campaign to campaign transfer”. That seems more appropriate, but Hartzell still lists these sums as contributions to his campaign committee rather than, as Makowski assured me, a payment made to a vendor. If Hartzell was just a vendor selling petitioning services, is his campaign now an LLC or even a DBA? If these sums were paid for services rendered and not a contribution, why is Hartzell listing it as the latter? Why wouldn’t Brown’s campaign just list the individuals who did the petitioning? Even if it was just for convenience’s sake, it remains exceedingly unusual for one campaign to make a contribution or payment to another campaign committee for goods or services.

Who were these individual petitioners that Republican incumbent Supervisor Hartzell retained to perform these services? You can see payments of about $80 – $100 going to individuals for “consulting” services on this page.

The consultants Hartzell paid include Victor Adragna, a Buffalo Democrat, who was paid $88 on June 5th and 13th. Tina Bromund, an unenrolled Cheektowaga voter, was paid $88 on June 5th. Nancy Ferrucci, an Orchard Park Democrat was paid $88 on June 5th. Kimberly LaJudice, a Buffalo Democrat, was paid $72 on June 5th. Ellie Allen, an Amherst Democrat, was paid $88 on June 5th and $94 on June 6th. Joelle Pollak, an East Amherst Democrat, was paid $102 on June 3rd and $66 on June 13th. Also at that same address were Sarah Schultz and Jessica Martin – a Republican and Democrat, respectively, who were paid $77 each on June 13th. Sandra Barile, a Depew Republican, was paid $1,823.72 on June 13th.

The petitions collected for the Hartzell effort were, apparently, all obtained by David Hartzell, Carolyn Hartzell, Ryan Hartzell, and Michael Preggo. No other name appears as a witness to any petition page, except one – you can check them here and here.   Yet, it appears from the July 2015 expense form that myriad people were paid to petition, or – more unlikely – that Hartzell is busy obtaining political consulting services from a gaggle of mostly Democratic 20-somethings living in Buffalo and Amherst. Did Hartzell take the money from Michele Brown’s campaign to hire a bunch of “consultants” to just get her petitions signed, or did he, Carolyn, Ryan, and Michael get them all? What’s going on here? Hartzell personally obtained almost 100 signatures in one day, or did he sign off on the labor of others?

Here’s Hartzell’s mailer, which arrived over this past weekend in Republicans’ mailboxes:

And the other side:

A candidate is generally forbidden from citing an opinion poll in campaign literature. If he does, he has to file its complete results and data with the Board of Elections. Under § 6201.2 of the Election Law,

No candidate, political party or committee shall attempt to promote the success or defeat of a candidate by, directly or indirectly, disclosing or causing to be disclosed, the results of a poll relating to a candidate for such office or position, unless within 48 hours after such disclosure, they provide the following information concerning the poll to the board or officer with whom statements or copies of statements of campaign receipts and expenditures are required to be filed by the candidate to whom such poll relates:

(a) The name of the person, party or organization that contracted for or who commissioned the poll and/or paid for it.

(b) The name and address of the organization that conducted the poll.

(c) The numerical size of the total poll sample, the geographic area covered by the poll and any special characteristics of the population included in the poll sample.

(d) The exact wording of the questions asked in the poll and the sequence of such questions.

(e) The method of polling—whether by personal interview, telephone, mail or other.

(f) The time period during which the poll was conducted.

(g) The number of persons in the poll sample; the number contacted who responded to each specific question; the number of persons contacted who did not so respond.

(h) The results of the poll.

Unless Hartzell made this disclosure to the Board of Elections, he’s broken the law. Again. Also – “unanimous”? Enough is enough with this guy.

As a Democrat in Clarence, my ballot will feature only two races – the Democratic primary for Family Court Judge, and the Democratic primary for town Justice. (Justin Kloss – who is not enrolled in any party and is therefore independent, is the only endorsed Democrat for any office.) Republicans get to pick who gets to run for Supervisor in November against … no one. So, Thursday’s primary election is the whole shebang, and it will only be decided by a small percentage of enrolled members of the town’s Republican Party. There is no primary on the Conservative or Independence lines, so if Hartzell is out Thursday, he’s out.

The local Republicans’ realization that Hartzell was a bad choice came four years too late, and to the detriment of the town and her residents – it was political malpractice. If they would deliberately and viciously remove a perfectly competent incumbent, only to foist upon us someone even they quickly became unable to stand – politically and personally – it calls into serious question their judgment and leadership in all things. Let’s be clear: in 2011, when the Clarence Republican committee conspired with the corrupt minor lines to jettison Bylewski, it wasn’t acting in the best interests of the town.  Instead, it was a simple power grab cloaked in lies and phony moralizing. Out of that came David Hartzell’s tenure, and I contemporaneously warned you that he was a bad choice.

I may be what some call a “liberal jihadist“, but I guess we liberal jihadists can smell malignant BS a mile away. Good to know.

On Thursday November 10th, I urge Clarence voters to vote for Justin Kloss for town justice, and Pat Casilio for town Supervisor.

Birthright Citizenship: Start Packing

Two imbeciles from South Boston this past week pissed on a homeless man, and then beat the shit out of him. Get a load of what happened,

The homeless man was lying on the ground, shaking, when police arrived early Wednesday. His face was soaked, apparently with urine, his nose broken, his chest and arms battered.

Police said two brothers from South Boston ambushed the 58-year-old as he slept outside of a Dorchester MBTA stop, and targeted him because he is Hispanic. One of the brothers said he was inspired in part by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Forget, for a moment, the fact that “Hispanic” could mean the guy is Puerto Rican – an American citizen at birth from one of our colonial territories. Either way – regardless of his nationality – the victim is documented.  Here’s how Trump responded to this vicious assault done in his name,

When Trump was asked about the Aug. 19 assault in Boston, the billionaire New Yorker reportedly said, “It would be a shame … I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Get that? Trump spends weeks demonizing Hispanic immigrants, two numbskulls beat the shit out of one and invoke Trump’s name, and Trump calls them “passionate” people who “love this country…want this country to be great again.”

Calling that depraved isn’t nearly strong enough. This is incitement. Irresponsible. Un-American. Donald Trump is setting the US up for an anti-Hispanic pogrom. He tried to amend his reaction on Twitter:

Over the past couple of decades at least, Republicans have managed to pull off something of a public relations feat. They purport to love America – love our Constitution, think ours is the best country in the world. Except they don’t. That’s why Donald Trump, whose campaign slogan is synonymous with “America is horrible” is surging.

This has long been a right-wing trope hurled at liberals; that we hate America because we might seek certain changes to our society, politics, law, and economy. It’s just as ridiculous, incidentally, to accuse right-wingers of hating America because they might also seek changes that happen to differ. But Trump has taken the “America sucks” label and made it a campaign slogan.

As Matt Taibbi writes, it’s not funny anymore.

There’s a difference between saying America is great but has room for improvement, and Trump’s slogan-equivalent of “America isn’t great anymore”. Alas, his slogan hits a particular nerve with the people who feel threatened and afraid, and some are responding positively to him. Whether it’s Obamacare, same-sex marriage, or anything in-between, some people are nostalgic for an America that probably never existed.

But Trump’s initial explicit approval of racial violence isn’t funny. Inciting a pogrom isn’t funny. Trump is unlikely ever to be President, but with each passing day, he further disqualifies himself.

Substantively, Trump is calling for the end of birthright citizenship; the Latin phrase is “jus soli”, or “right of the soil”. Trump reveals himself as a typical right-wing cafeteria Constitutionalist, picking and choosing the parts he thinks are important and worth protecting.

Birthright citizenship is enshrined in the Constitution. So far not just Trump, but even Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker would abolish or amend it. Specifically, this “Party of Lincoln” wants to get rid of the 14th Amendment – one of the most important legacies of Reconstruction.

The 14th Amendment was ratified just after the end of the Civil War, and granted citizenship to, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including, most importantly, former slaves. The 14th Amendment also prohibits the states from denying, “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It was a huge expansion of civil rights to all Americans.

Republican front-runners want it gone.

Pursuant to the 14th Amendment, any baby born on American soil is automatically an American citizen. It has been this way since at least pre-Revolutionary times and was first found in English Common Law. Jus soli applied prior to the 14th Amendment, but only to non-slaves. Jus soli is typical throughout the former colonies of the entire Western Hemisphere.

The alternative is “jus sanguinis”, which is citizenship based on nationality and blood. “American” isn’t a “nationality” in the historic sense. Americans are not bound by ethnicity or religion. Instead, our nationality comes from our citizenship and/or allegiance. Said another way, “French” is a nationality and also an ethnicity. A baby born in the US to two people of French ethnicity is entitled to American and French citizenship from birth. The same goes for most every European and Asian nation-state.

America started as jumble of European colonies, and we’ve continued to bring in immigrants of myriad ethnicities to make up our newfangled type of nation. The citizens of countries of Europe and Asia, by contrast, are bound not just by the contents of their passports, but also through ethnicity or language or religion. (There are, obviously, exceptions. Countries that had been colonized are not homogeneous – think Iraq, Afghanistan, or Burma. In Europe, there are a small number of multi-ethnic states such as Switzerland and Belgium).

As it stands, I’m entitled to Croatian citizenship through jus sanguinis. Under jus soli, I was an American citizen at birth, despite the fact that my parents were recent immigrants with Yugoslav passports.

So, in the event that one of these revisionist conservatives – including Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal, both of whom directly benefited from jus soli (Cruz in Canada) – becomes President, I’ve begun the process of dealing with the possible retroactive rescission of my American citizenship. Ted Cruz had better start looking for Canadian real estate, and Bobby Jindal’s opportunities back home in Punjab are likely better than they were in 1971, when he was born in Louisiana to recent immigrants.

Donald Trump – German by nationality with a fake, phony Americanized name – took to Fox News to rail against what he called “anchor babies”, which is a handy way of literally blaming infants for a crime.

Trump plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and he plans to implement this insane scheme by tripling the number of ICE agents, presumably because he’s going to need a lot of enforcers to round up all the families he needs to deport.

And last but pretty damned far from least, Trump says he’s basically going to either repeal or ignore the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, because he’s planning to end birthright citizenship. His plan doesn’t spell out exactly how he’d accomplish this, probably because he knows it’s never going to happen in the real world.

In fact, none of this is ever going to happen in the real world, and if Trump becomes president and actually tries to make it happen, it would involve turning the United States into a full-blown police state.

But I guess that prospect is attractive to conservatives.

So far the only thing missing is Huckabee telling everyone how jus sanguinis is part of Jesus’ plan for America.

Some on the ultra-right who think Trump has a great idea have convinced themselves that abolition of jus soli in America wouldn’t require a Constitutional Amendment.  Breitbartistan is all over this line of thinking. They point to the italicized text of this 14th Amendment clause, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” So, for instance, because a diplomat in the United States enjoys certain immunities pursuant to custom and treaty, he is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, and any child born of a diplomat in the US is not entitled to jus soli. This is codified, in fact to apply not only to diplomats, but to heads of state and foreign POWs.

They extrapolate from this, (and use some earlier 19th century case law to do it), that this also applies to any foreign national whatsoever. If you are, “subject to any foreign power”; i.e., immigrant – legal or otherwise, dual citizen, your offspring is not entitled to jus soli. They also argue that foreigners are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US, although that is patently false in both law and common sense. If a tourist can be arrested under American law for committing a crime, he’s “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US. If an immigrant must obtain a driver’s license to drive a car that he’s registered with a state DMV, he is “subject to the jurisdiction” of the US.

In 1898 the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed, in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, that everyone born in the United States is an American citizen.

By the way, Ted Cruz thinks you’re stupid. Here’s what he said about birthright citizenship in 2011 – just four years ago.

“The 14th Amendment provides for birthright citizenship. I’ve looked at the legal arguments against it, and I will tell you as a Supreme Court litigator, those arguments are not very good,” he said. “As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, it’s in the U.S. Constitution. And I don’t like it when federal judges set aside the Constitution because their policy preferences are different.”

So, you, too, may have to prepare for the day when the Republicans abolish the 14th Amendment and attempt perhaps retroactively to rescind millions of Americans’ citizenship. With that amendment out of the way, it could arguably done without due process of law. The possibilities are endless in terms of making the US just a little less ethnic. This may soon be the real prepper movement – 1st and 2nd generation Americans born to non-citizens making arrangements for deportation.

Over the last few decades, the Republican Party has become not so much a big tent of conservative economic theories and values, but a para-fascist, predominately Southern strain of white identity politics. It might be time for thinking conservatives to find a new home and leave the GOP to history’s dustbin, or perhaps to purge the more reactionary element from its mainstream. Not my problem, though – it merely reinforces my decision to abandon it over a decade ago. If I was a reasonable Republican, I’d be looking at this Trump surge and I’d be not at all happy by what it represents. If I happened to be a 1st generation American and a Republican, I’d be running for the damn hills.

Hey, maybe Canada will take us in?

Trump the Lumpenrich

trump

Donald Trump is one of the best cartoon characters of recent times – even Scrooge McDuck seems like a reasonable guy by comparison. McDuck might dive into a pool of gold coins, but he’s known for his frugality. Donald Trump is the flashy caricature of the nouveau riche asshole who gold-plates everything and preens around like an Arab Sheikh.

As Trump does palpable harm to what’s left of his brand and the Republican Party’s Latino outreach efforts, let’s not forget that in 2013 it was our own Republicans here in western New York who pushed Trump to run for Governor against Cuomo.  That’s a terrifying threat to replace the wild, unchecked egotism of Andrew Cuomo with a wealthy walking id.

Trump’s especial brand of anti-Obama birtherism plays well for like-minded fellas like David DiPietro and his tea party “Mass Murder Dylann Roof had a point” cohorts.

Donald Trump will never be President. He is a construct of the media and he’s polling well with Republican primary voters, but wildly disliked overall. Trump’s rise in the poll is him being patted on the back by the same people who are angry about the Confederate Flag, same sex marriage, and the people still clamoring for Obama to be removed from office for being an Indonesian Kenyan Manchurian candidate usurper. He is the candidate of anti-intellectual America, and the defeatist white male upstate voter with a “repeal NY SAFE Act” lawnsign; Cuomo is the devil, and Obama isn’t even human. They aspire to be just like Donald Trump, and they love that he thinks like they do – and he has the money and name recognition to not care what anyone thinks. 

Donald Trump would accomplish nothing. He would do nothing for education, for the poor, for upstate’s economic malaise, for Buffalo, or for anyone except the tea party and the ultrarich. The headlines related to the upstate effort to recruit Trump for governor should have read, “Lawmakers to Massage Trump Ego, Trump Reacts Favorably”.

However, Trump has done irreperable damage to his brand (and that of his children). His outrageous and false defamation of Mexican immigrants have prompted numerous people and companies to completely abandon the tarnished “Trump” name. For once, Trump is learning that the 1st Amendment and $4 billion in the bank can’t protect you from the very real, public consequences of the false and outrageous things you say. Macy’s and other companies have a business to run, and they simply can’t afford to be associated with a bigot.

The Trump name used to stand for opulent, rococo luxury. For most people with some taste, it was always over the top; kitsch, but quality kitsch. He’s always been a colorful public figure, brash and opinionated. But with his political behavior, he has taken the Trump name and essentially thrown it in the toilet.

He has now supplanted Orly Taitz as American birther-in-chief. His anti-Obama public political pronouncements have been false, offensive and loaded with thinly veiled racial animus – claiming that the President is foreign, socialist, evil, doesn’t have America’s best interests at heart. Even many Obama detractors who think his policies are wrong would concede that he hasn’t led the country over the last four years like the Bolshevik some make him out to be.

Trump throws shade at Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, but Romney used Trump as a surrogate; Trump is disloyal and has a constituency of one.

Over the past few years, Trump has polarized customers and voters, and ruined a formerly strong brand. Adopting crazy, fringe political viewpoints and broadcasting them in a way that is equal parts arrogance and ignorance won’t win him the Presidency, and will only deepen the already-extant boycott of his products. He’s also a hypocrite, bemoaning the very free trade deals that made it economically smart for him to exploit cheap labor and manufacture suits in Mexico and ties in China.

As for economic stewardship, Trump companies have gone bankrupt four times, avoiding legally binding debts.

Trump is one of about 15 Republican Presidential hopefuls, and he not only threatens the viability of his own brand, but the Republican brand in general. The more nonsense that comes out of his unfiltered mouth, and the more he beats up on the most vulnerable and powerless in our society, and the more he demeans his fellow candidates, you’d not be crazy to think that he might actually be a liberal plant setting up the GOP for self-immolation.

Enjoy the ride, Republicans, but remember that whatever Trump’s doing, he’s only in it for Trump.

New GOP Congress to Destroy Canadian Border

Google Maps 2015-01-28 06-30-07Need to make an IKEA run? How about a show on King Street, an exhibit at the A.G.O., or maybe just a really good pizza here, here, or here? You might want to knock things off your Ontario to-do list if Congressional Republicans get their way.

Although temporarily pulled for being too weak, the “Secure Our Borders First Act” (HR 399) would impose unprecedented restrictions on leaving the United States via our border with Canada.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, controls at the Canadian border were strengthened, and travelers were required to produce proof of citizenship in order to enter the US. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted to try and balance security and freedom to travel. A tattered birth certificate or simple driver’s license was no longer enough – now you need a Passport, NEXUS, or enhanced driver’s license. While arguably improving security, it added cost and time to crossing the border.

Congress’ latest idea is to require biometric testing – e.g., fingerprinting or iris scans – for people departing the United States via the northern border. Every person in every vehicle would be required to exit the vehicle and provide biometric information. As you might imagine, the impact that this would have on routine cross-border visits for business, tourism, or just shopping, would be catastrophic. It would quite literally shut the border down, and it would deal a devastating blow to the western New York economy, which relies heavily on Canadian shoppers and cross-border traffic for jobs and tax revenue.

The “Secure Our Borders First Act” is billed in national media as being a Republican bitch-slap at President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. But the affect on the Canadian border isn’t some inadvertent accident – it was a deliberate amendment brought forward by freshman Republican congressman from Syracuse John Katko. As the Finger Lakes Times reports,

Newly seated Rep. John Katko wants the nation’s northern border to get the same attention as the one down south. Katko, R-24 of Syracuse, introduced legislation last week to require the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a northern border threat analysis. The bill is Katko’s first since he took office earlier this month.

“As a former federal prosecutor on both the northern border in New York and the southern border in El Paso, Texas, I’ve seen first-hand the issues our nation faces countering drug trafficking and potential terrorist acts,” Katko said in a press release. “While great attention is justifiably given to the challenges of securing our southern border, ensuring the safety of our vast northern border is critical to our nation’s security.”

Katko’s district includes the Lake Ontario shoreline in Wayne, Cayuga and Oswego counties, which is part of the international border with Canada…Katko said he also added an amendment…to the Secure Our Borders First Act authoriz[ing] the deployment of the same type of technology and resources on the northern border as it does for the southern border.

The Secure Our Borders First Act also includes the language from Katko’s stand-alone bill. “I’m committed to enacting tough border security to ensure the safety of upstate New York and the sovereignty of our nation,” Katko said. “Requiring timely assessment of the threats posed by illegal entry on both the northern and southern border, and adequately responding to those threats, is crucial to making that happen.”

The Secure our Borders First Act would allocate $10 billion for border security. It has come under fire from both sides of the aisle, with some Democrats arguing that it does not offer real solutions and some Republicans arguing that it represents a prelude to amnesty.

Add to that criticism the fact that this is a fundamentally idiotic, pointless, and harmful piece of legislation. You picked a doozy, Syracuse. Requiring biometric testing upon departure from the US would require the construction of inspection booths on the outbound lanes.  Requiring every occupant of every vehicle to exit and provide biometric information would be time-consuming and accomplish absolutely nothing.  Every effort to better integrate the WNY economy into that of Southern Ontario would simply vanish. Erie County sales tax revenue from Canadian shoppers would plummet and put more pressure on WNY taxpayers.

The Peace Bridge’s Ron Reinas told the Buffalo News that this proposal would kill border crossings. Congressman Higgins reacted similarly:

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, predicted that people would simply stop crossing the border because of the biometric testing provision, which would require the government to take fingerprints from or do iris scans of everyone in every vehicle leaving the country. “This job-killing bill would effectively close the northern border and cripple key components of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing,” Higgins predicted.

When Rep. Higgins offered an amendment delaying biometric implementation until Homeland Security could determine whether it would impede border traffic, Republicans shot it down.

Republicans on the committee defended the measure, saying biometric tests at the border would go a long way toward securing it by giving the federal government a way of checking which foreign visitors had overstayed their visas. Currently, foreigners who travel to the U.S. from many countries must have a visa, but there is no system in place to discover when they have overstayed those visas. The biometric inspection system would create that system by giving the government a way of cross-referencing biometric exit data against the list of visas the government issued. Some 49 percent of the undocumented immigrants in America simply overstayed their visas, rather than entering the country illegally, said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. “This would give us a way to eliminate almost half the illegals that are in this country by knowing when they left and when they did not,” said Duncan, who noted that four of the hijackers who perpetrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had overstayed their visas.

There’s no exception made for citizens of Canada or the US, who don’t need visas to visit each other’s countries. Because a small percentage of visitors to the US on tourist visas stay longer than they’re allowed, we will effectively shut down the Canadian border. This is bad government, and it introduces exit controls rivalling what the Warsaw Pact countries concocted pre-1989.

It’s also a breach of contract with the Canadians, and completely unnecessary. The US and Canada share information on who is crossing the border. When you enter Canada and the agent takes your passport, that information is transmitted to the US, and vice-versa. We don’t need to construct a new infrastructure and biometric testing to secure the Canadian border. When did we abandon that careful balance between security and liberty?

…the provision appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the “Beyond the Border” agreement between the U.S. and Canada, which aims to make crossing the border easier, not harder. What’s more, the Beyond the Border agreement appears to offer the U.S. a way of knowing who is leaving the country without installing a new biometric inspection system. “The Beyond the Border Action Plan committed Canada and the U.S. governments to put in place entry-exit information systems at the common land border to exchange biographical information on the entry of travellers, including citizens, permanent residents and third-country nationals,” said Christine Constantin, spokesperson for the Canadian embassy in Washington. “The system would allow a record of entry into one country as a record of an exit from the other.” Currently the system exists for exchanging data on third-country nationals, permanent residents of Canada and lawful residents in the United States at all automated points of entry, Constantin said.

Our local Republican Congressman, Chris Collins has absolutely nothing definitive to say about any of this.

…while he thinks the nation needs tough legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, at the southern border, he has concerns about the biometric inspection requirement. “If implemented wrong, this could potentially create problems for the Western New York economy,” Collins said. “So, I will be working with my colleagues to protect Western New York from any negative economic impact.”

Potentially? This is a WNY killer. How could this be implemented “right“?

When the bill was pulled, the Buffalo News noted that Collins proposed an amendment not dissimilar from Higgins’ own.

Under Collins’ proposed amendment, the requirement for biometric tests would not move forward until after completion of a demonstration project aimed at testing whether the mandate would create traffic chaos. Collins’ measure would mean that the biometric requirement would move forward only if it “has not resulted in increased wait times at any border crossing that was participating in such pilot program.”

Calling himself a “doubting Thomas” on the proposal, Collins said: “What we want is just to make sure that anything we do, number one, works, and number two, doesn’t cause undue delays at our northern borders and for folks coming to Bills and Sabres games and going to the Galleria mall. We can’t have backups at the Peace Bridge or Rainbow Bridge or any of the others that would dissuade Canadians from coming into this country and also inconvenience Americans.”

It was never introduced because the GOP pulled the bill, but while Collins gives himself credit, the real reason might have to do with ultra right-wing Congressmen from the deep South believing the whole thing is too milquetoast. If you tend to believe in conspiracies, it might be reasonable to suppose that this whole thing is designed deliberately by Republicans to do harm to blue border states like New York.

Asked about Collins’ alternative, Higgins said he was concerned that the results from any biometric demonstration project might not tell the story of what would happen at every border crossing. “This doesn’t take into account the fact that every single border crossing is different,” Higgins said. A spokesman for Collins said, though, that the legislation calls for three demonstration project sites rather than just one, meaning that problems could well surface somewhere during the testing. Higgins also noted that the biometric requirement appears to be redundant at the Canadian border, as the U.S. and Canadian governments have agreed to exchange exit and entry information about travelers as part of their “Beyond the Border” initiative to make border crossings easier. “Why isn’t that being taken into account?” Higgins asked. “Is it ignorance? Is it arrogance?”

Higgins hits the nail on the head. This proposal is completely pointless. It adds an unduly restrictive anti-immigrant act to our grand security theater.

As I argued in this article, we should be making our border with Canada work smarter and better. Restricting the market for labor, goods, and services is silly, and there are ways to free up cross-border traffic while addressing security issues.

Requiring every occupant of every IKEA-bound and Galleria-bound vehicle to provide fingerprints or an iris scan upon exit from the United States is pointless, redundant, theater, expensive, and would reverse and devastate WNY’s fragile and tentative economic recovery. I can understand how some throwback fascist southern xenophobe might decide that exit visas or fingerprinting might be a great idea for the Canadian border, but we’re talking here about New York congressmen who should know better than to destroy their own districts.

The text of the bill where Congressional Republicans seek to ruin the western New York economy is here. To call it a disgrace is a collossal understatement, and the only one who gets it is Congressman Brian Higgins. Your liberty and wallet are under Republican attack.

(Side note: the voters in NY-26 dodged a huge bullet last year).

Reactionarying the State of the Union

boehner

I confess – it was the first State of the Union I’d missed in years. Jet-lagged from a quick transatlantic trip to mourn the loss of a dear relative, I didn’t make it past 9:15.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I learned about the SOTU that which American major media think was important. Obama got in a zinger. Free community college. A focus on strengthening the middle class.

I also learned this about the SOTU, from my congressman, Chris “ObamaPelosi” Collins:

“Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas. Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another. The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

Know thyself, Collins.

“What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers. Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

Collins’ staff likely crafted that carefully and well in advance of its delivery or release. Let’s examine it, alongside what was discussed in the President’s speech.

Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas.

I’m a big fan of “ideas”, whether they be realistic or not. For instance, it was pretty unrealistic for President Kennedy to declare that by 1969, the US would land a man on the moon and safely bring him home. Indeed, the very notion of “America” as it was founded and constituted was pretty unrealistic for its time. “Unrealistic” is seldom the opposite of “good”, when modifying the word “ideas”. “Divisive political rhetoric” isn’t really something a politician “doubles down” on – it’s what they do. Mr. Collins’ statement is no different. Pot calling the kettle black, one might say.

Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another.

The big announcements from the 2015 SOTU were things like free community college for any American kid who needs it (with certain pre-requisities);  Congress should lift the failed Cuban trade embargo;  Congress should properly authorize and fund the fight against Daesh; Obama will veto Republican moves to restrict abortion rights, repeal Obamacare, hinder immigration reforms, or authorize the Keystone Pipeline; Congress should help the President overhaul business taxes, conclude trade deals, and fix crumbling infrastructure; we should combat climate change, reform our immigration system, and enhance competition for cable and internet service. Congress should raise the capital gains tax from 23.8 to 28% and eliminate a tax dodge that the wealthy exploit. pass paid leave for workers, as well as more generously fund education, child care and retirement savings for the middle class. These would be financed by tax increases on millionaires and fees paid by large banks and investment firms.

In other words, President Obama wants to incrementally raise taxes paid by the well-to-do to help the poor and not-so-well-to-do get educated, insured, and employed.

I didn’t see it, but a correspondent advises that Collins went on WGRZ and claimed that Americans pay the highest taxes in the world. If that’s really what he thinks, he’s ignorant. If it isn’t, he’s just lying. Our tax burden doesn’t remotely come close to being the highest in the world. Aruba is the highest, followed closely by the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Denmark. Just lies.

The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

This is one of those things that Collins’ base likes to hear – that socialist Kenyan Indonesian racist n0bummer is waging class warfare, because he expects the rich to contribute more to help fund America’s international wars and its domestic attempts to help the middle class. They loved the wars – they just don’t want to pay for it, so they throw around “class warfare” while advocating for policies that disproportionately help people with millions – like Chris Collins – and do palpable and real harm to the middle class. The real war has been the war waged by the rich against the poor and middle class, and if we’re going to demand an end to that war, we should at least be consistent.

Make no mistake – Chris Collins is accusing President Obama of waging “class warfare” because he wants to repeal things like the trust fund loophole, which helps the rich and does nothing for anyone else. He wants to block tax credits for average working families because employees don’t matter – only “job creators” do, and then we can continue to follow the false and discredited dream of supply side / “trickle down” economics.

What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers.

And the country spoke loud and clear when it re-elected President Obama and rejected Collins clone Mitt Romney. Since the tea partiers to whom Collins panders love to think themselves constitutionalists, let’s talk about divided government and the power of the veto.

But even worse, those sentences look like something Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy would have written – all horse race, all the time. For instance, the people in the 27th district had no legitimate choice in November, but in NY-26, they resoundingly rejected the craven hatemonger in favor of the thoughtful, intellectual incumbent. So, the “country” didn’t speak loud and clear about anything because Congress is divided into separate districts, and the people in those districts each voted a certain way.  But if Collins is suggesting a switch a party-dominated parliamentary system, let’s roll with that.

Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

There were tax reform initiatives in the President’s address. The unemployment rate in late 2014 outperforms what Mitt Romney promised would happen under him in 2016, and if we hadn’t cut the hell out of public payrolls, the rate would be lower still. In fact, private employment growth has been record-breaking. Seriously, the news in December was great – 2014 was the best year for creating jobs since 1999 – the drop in the unemployment rate from 2013 to 2014 was the most dramatic since 1984. Wages were up, and the construction and health care sector were outperforming others.

Wait – health care?! I was told that Obamacare was going to ruin our health care system. I do, however, applaud Representative Collins’ apparent change of heart and support for a Medicare for all – the only type that could truly be “patient centered”, as it would take private insurance out of the health care delivery equation.

I understand that Chris Collins’ job is to throw shade at President Obama and librulz, and that his base in an overwhelmingly Republican district is hungry for this sort of jejune red meat. He’s just doing what he was elected to do.

Lie, and protect the millionaires.

Diplomatic To-Do List: Cuba Libre

ad-1958-havana-hiltonThe biggest hypocrites in the world are Cuban exiles who oppose the normalization of our diplomatic relationship with the Cuban regime.

By way of background, the US normalized our diplomatic relationship with Stalin’s Russia in 1933. We maintained diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany all the way up to the declaration of war in 1941. By no means does having an embassy in a country signify approval or endorsement of the host nation and its system of government. It is, as the name implies, the normal way in which nation-states interact with each other.

It is through discussion and engagement that desired change can be made. The embargo and our attempts diplomatically to isolate Cuba since 1961 have objectively been a thorough failure. As in 1961, a communist Castro wears olive drab and heads a nominally socialist mafia that oppresses its people, stifles expression, and rejects the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas. The embargo has accomplished little. Keeping Americans and their money out of Cuba serves only to help the regime perpetuate the revolution, giving them an easy scapegoat to justify their oppressive behavior and economic backwardness.

Eastern Europe unshackled itself from Marxism-Leninism in the late 80s and early 90s, and the entire former Warsaw Pact, except the former Soviet Union, is now a free and democratic member of the European Union.

I posited that, on the question of changing our diplomatic relationship with Cuba, the opinions of Cuban dissidents matters to me. If they’re happy, I’m happy, I wrote. On Facebook, conservatives attacked this idea as folly. Examples:

U.S. public policy should be formed by foreign dissidents, not by duly elected American officials. Venceremos!

Not at all what I wrote, of course. When I pointed that out, here was the reply,

Yes, and perhaps Barry can bow deeply from the waist to Raúl, and apologize for Amerikkka’s fifty-year efforts to stop Fidel from imprisoning Cuban citizens.

So, trolling.

But then this came in:

As I sit in Miami preparing for a meeting with another Cuban American CEO – my third in two days – I can promise you Alan that the preponderance of opinion of Cuban exiles is against this Obama move. By far. So, what you’re saying here is: “I only care what [rare] Cuban dissidents like Yoani Sanchez [who agree with my world view] have to say about it.”

Well, I never discounted the opinions of domestic Cubans, but since that’s where we’re going, yes. I believe that the opinions of Cubans who live in Cuba and fight the regime from within are far more relevant than that of exiled CEOs in Miami. Or Marco Rubio. Or Ted Cruz. Or any other Cuban-American who knee-jerkedly demands an abolition of Communism before we open up a relationship with the Cuban dictatorship.

I have no idea if Yoani Sanchez “agrees with my worldview” or not, except insofar as she fights a dictatorship from within at considerable personal and professional risk. To my mind, rejection of dissident opinion is not something that, e.g., a Ronald Reagan would have done vis-a-vis the USSR in the 80s, so it’s shameful to do now when politically expedient. In fact, I think it’s shameful.

Absent any other rational explanation, I reckoned that weighing the opinion of exiles as more persuasive than that of in situ dissidents must be based on the fact that the latter aren’t awash with cash and supporting Republican candidates for office.

Respecting the informed opinions of both sides and devising your own is a more effective tack if you ask me. For example: I’m not for keeping the present US policy in place. I’m for requiring change in Cuba before changing US policy. We didn’t do that, which history proves is a serious mistake.

There has, of course, been some incremental change in Cuba. They ended the exit visa requirement for travel. The harassment continues, but they’ve laid off dissidents a bit, and freed – or promised to free – key political prisoners. They have liberalized the economy for small-scale family-run private enterprise, even allowing people to be hired and fired – something even Tito’s Yugoslavia didn’t allow. There are now almost 400,000 Cubans who are entrepreneurs, or working for one. The laws have been re-written to permit the private ownership of personal and real property.

All of that in just the last 5 years. If “change” is the pre-requisite, it’s happening. Slowly, for sure. Not enough? Definitely. But the same can be said of Burma, and we normalized relations with them. Vietnam, ditto. People’s Republic of China – did that in 1979, and the difference between now and then is breathtaking.

But politicians are still in thrall of the Cuban exile community, which has historically opposed any liberalization of ties with that country. Except.

Except they are the biggest hypocrites.

Cuban-Americans have free rein to travel to Cuba whenever they want, as often as they want. They likewise have free rein to send remittances to family members in US dollars, which get converted into (soon-to-be-abolishedconvertible pesos, and go to support the regime, (which they supposedly so oppose that they don’t even want to open up normal diplomatic relations with it). The convertible pesos can be spent in special dollar stores to buy imported items and goods that are in short supply in regular shops.

Then when Cuban-Americans travel to that country, the money that they spend also goes to prop up the regime they hate so much that Americans with no family ties to Cuba must receive a special Treasury license to go there.

When Cuban exiles are willing to shut down their own travel and dollar remittances, then I’ll listen to entreaties about how normalizing relations or lifting the embargo is a horrible, capitulatory mistake.

After all, it’s been 50 years and the embargo and cutting of diplomatic ties have done nothing to weaken or abolish the Castro regime. In reality, it’s only given the Castros an ongoing excuse to maintain revolution without end, and to oppress their people.

But because everyone cites opinion polls except when it’s inconvenient to do so (see, e.g.,  Obamacare), note that 2014 polls of Cuban-Americans shows that almost 70% support the normalization of diplomatic relations; 90% of younger respondents support the move. 70% of respondents support lifting the embargo, and a similar percentage believe that the embargo didn’t / doesn’t work.

As for Yoani Sanchez, whose opinion matters more than yours or mine, because she challenges that regime by her very existence, she has this to say:

Still, despite the absence of public commitments on the part of Cuba, today was a political defeat. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro we would have never even reached an outline of an agreement of this nature. Because the Cuban system is supported by – as one of its main pillars – the existence of a permanent rival. David can’t live without Goliath and the ideological apparatus has depended too long on this dispute.

So she fundamentally disagrees with the notion that this was an American defeat; quite the opposite. She goes on,

In the central market of Carlos III, customers were surprised midday that the big TVs were not broadcasting football or videoclips, but a speech by Raúl Castro and later one by Obama through the Telesur network. The first allocution caused a certain astonishment, but the second was accompanied by kisses launched toward the face of the US president, particularly when he mentioned relaxations in the sending of remittances to Cuba and the delicate topic of telecommunications. Now and again the cry of “I LOVE…” (in English!) could be heard from around the corner.

It is important to also say that the news had fierce competition, like the arrival of fish to the rationed market, after years of disappearance. However, by mid-afternoon almost everyone was aware and the shared feelings were of joy, relief, hope.

This, however, is just the beginning. Lacking is a public timeline by which commits the Cuban government to a series of gestures in support of democratization and respect for differences. We must take advantage of the synergy of both announcements to extract a public promise, which must include, at a minimum, four consensus points that civil society has been developing in recent months.

The consensus points demanded by Cuban civil society (a euphemism for dissident activists) are:

  • The release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience;
  • the end of political repression;
  • the ratification of the United Nations covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the consequent adjustment of domestic laws;
  • and the recognition of Cuban civil society within and outside the island.

Extracting these commitments would begin the dismantling of totalitarianism.

As long as steps of this magnitude are not taken, many of us will continue to think that the day we have longed for is not close. So, we will keep the flags tucked away, keep the corks in the bottles, and continue to press for the final coming of D-Day.

In the New York Times, she writes,

The tension between the two governments lasted so long that now some people don’t know what to do with their slogans, their fists raised against imperialism and their sick tendency to justify everything, from droughts to repression, on the grounds of being so close to “the most powerful country in the world.” The worst off are the most recalcitrant members of the Communist Party, those who would die before chewing a stick of gum, drinking a Coke or setting foot in Disney World. The first secretary of their organization just betrayed them. He made a pact with the adversary, behind the scenes and over 18 long months.

The thaw in relations with the US and concomitant pledges from the Castro regime give the activists some room to demand follow-through. After 50+ years, the Castros lose a bogeyman and gain some responsibility. It’s not everything, but how’s that for a start?

Republican Infighting Over the Erie County Legislature’s Leaked Email

Logo_ErieCo_tpThe Erie County Legislature has one elected member of the Conservative fusion Party – Joe Lorigo, whose father happens to be the chairman of the county committee. This particular fusion party is very influential in New York politics because it helps both Democratic and Republican candidates burnish whatever “conservative” bona fides they think might be necessary to win a general election. In conservative towns like Clarence, Democrats have a tough (read: almost impossible) time getting elected without the Conservative Fusion Line.

Lorigo caucuses with the Republican majority coalition, which also includes Independence Fusion Party member Lynne Dixon, and they hold their majority by one vote. John Mills is the chairman, and Lorigo is majority leader.

A few articles appeared recently (Buffalo News; Bob McCarthy column; Daily Public) concerning an incident whereby an email was leaked from someone likely associated with the Republican caucus. The email, written by the Republican chief of staff, was critical of the Democratic minority and its staff, and was over the seemingly minor issue of flexible time – employees seeking the option to work 8 – 4 instead of 9 – 5. Here’s the email thread:

The GOP Leg Leak

It’s sort of funny. How is 8 – 4 lazier than 9 – 5? I think you could argue the opposite. The, “news…writing stories” about all this was somewhat prescient, albeit for different reasons.  Nice of the legislature to hand out 2% raises and I’m pleased to see that even Republican hacks think that “phenomenal health care” [sic] is a good thing.

Nevertheless, whoever leaked it was smart in one specific way – if you’re going to leak an email, do it by US Mail, because it’s going to be impossible to trace back to the source. If you were to just forward it – even a few times, via your personal email address – there would be a way for savvy IT people to trace the computer from which it came.

So, that’s what the leaker did – sent the email by regular mail to Democratic legislators’ field offices. The News and Public reported that an aide to Republican legislator Kevin Hardwick was implicated as the source of the leak, and suspended without pay. The aide – Susan Gregg – is a longtime friend of Hardwick’s, and her anxiety over the whole thing has adversely affected her health.

Hardwick reacted angrily to the suspension, and expressed to people that he thought it was untrue at least, and unproven at best.

There has been speculation that this is Lorigo’s payback against Hardwick over the shutting down of Amigone Funeral Home’s crematorium in Hardwick’s district over pollution concerns. In a telephone interview with me last week, Lorigo denied this, citing the Amigone issue as just a routine legislative defeat, unworthy of revenge.

Earlier in December, the legislature considered the 2015 county budget. Lorigo and the Republicans had a package of about 60 amendments that they intended to present and have the legislature consider, but refused to let the Democrats see any of the amendments they’d be asked to vote up or down.

As each amendment came to the floor, Democratic legislator Pat Burke would immediately move for a recess to have a chance to review each one. The first time, he asked for an hour. Hardwick crossed party lines and voted with the Democrats for the recess.

This continued on for a few amendments – each one would come up, Burke would ask for a recess (he requested 15 minutes for subsequent ones), and Hardwick would vote with the Democrats to give the minority a chance to read and consider each one. In the end, a deal was struck giving Democrats a half-hour to review all remaining amendments. Some of them were important – for instance, the Republicans mistook a merger of two part-time library positions for the creation of a new full-time position and intended to eliminate it, until the Democrats advised them otherwise. In one instance, the Republicans almost eliminated a measure put in to settle a pending employee grievance.

Democratic sources at the legislature, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, characterize the Republican caucus as “hating each other”, and point the blame squarely at Lorigo. Some at the legislature have begun to refer to Lorigo using fictional or historical pejoratives. Despite this, his behavior is excused by people who covet his father’s club’s endorsement. The word “enablers” was uttered by more than one person with whom I spoke.

In the end, the legislature passed the budget unanimously, and Hardwick thwarted Lorigo’s efforts to jam the amendments through without review or debate. As one Democratic source said, “[Lorigo needlessly] violated his own rules to fuck the Democrats in the budget process.”

When I specifically asked several people at the legislature whether Joe Lorigo is given wide berth so as to not piss Ralph off and lose a future Lorigo party endorsement, the answer was strongly and uniformly affirmative.

News reports have focused on Lorigo’s efforts to find out the source of the leak, going so far as to demand the email passwords of Republican staffers. Susan Gregg has retained the services of attorney Jim Ostrowski, who told me that he had served the County with a “notice of claim”; a statutory prerequisite to filing suit over this personnel matter. Lorigo refused to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Republican sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, counter that Gregg has been a “disciplinary problem” and a “shit-stirrer” in the past, so they argue that it’s not far-fetched to suspect her as the leak. Lorigo interviewed everyone in the email string and asked for their login and password to see what was sent and received, and rumor has it that there was an agreement among Republicans at the leg to terminate whomever was determined to be the leak, but that Hardwick balked when Gregg was accused; hence, the suspension.

Hardwick was extremely angry, and claimed that there was no proof whatsoever of Gregg’s guilt – there was no way of knowing when or from where the emails were copied or printed, but Gregg had allegedly forwarded that email to her personal email address. When the letter hit Democrats’ mailboxes, Betty Jean Grant and Barbara Miller-Williams were upset, and Republicans were embarrassed.

Hardwick asserts that he doesn’t know who sent the letter, but he’s convinced it’s not Gregg, who denies having done so.

It takes special skill to mess up an historic majority, but it would seem that infighting isn’t a disease that affects only Erie County Democrats. It can, however, have the same deleterious effects.

Dan Ward: Republican Honorable?

Amherst Democrat Dan Ward received an interesting invitation from the local Republican committee.

Not only did it misspell the surnames of a longtime Amherst Republican pol, and a sitting Supreme Court Justice, but it also mistook Dan Ward for his brother, Dennis. (The Republican Party cross-endorsed Dennis Ward for Supreme Court back last month.)

Dan decided to have some fun with this.

Dan Ward: Republican Honorable?

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