Don’t rain on my parade

“Nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on my parade!” (Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl)

So Donald J. Trump wants a parade. He went to Paris last July to see the Bastille Day parade and decided that America needs a big ceremony like that. Trump the showman.

When you think about large military displays you might think autocratic; dictatorial; crazed military leader. Such events have been big in Europe. Hitler used to stage them regularly. So do the Russians, the Chinese and the North Koreans. That’s not too great as far as role models are concerned.

The United States has in years past conducted military parades, mostly as troops returned home from war. The parades did include tanks but we probably never included missile launchers, since our missiles are underground or on submarines. Our parades have mostly been about proud and happy returning war veterans, marching or riding in vehicles and waving to the crowds while confetti rained down.

Trump’s intentions are designed for two purposes: to satisfy his own incredibly huge ego; and to divert attention from other things that he doesn’t like. You can fill in the blanks about that.

Folks don’t seem to be jumping up and down, excited about the idea, although in fairness, we haven’t heard from Congressman Devin Nunes yet.

No one knows for sure when the parade will be held, but there is some speculation the event will occur on June 14, Flag Day. Which also happens to be Trump’s birthday. So henceforth June 14th will be known as …

Some are concerned about the costs. Trump’s budget director estimates that the parade Trump envisions might cost between $10 million and $30 million. The last big military parade that we had, following the successful 1991 Gulf War, cost $12 million, which translates into $21 million in 2018 funds. Think for a moment about what that amount of money would buy to provide better care for veterans, or to fight the opioid epidemic, or to assist in making schools safer places.

Dismissing the need for a parade, Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud.”

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden had a more concise commentary: “A military parade is third world bulls—-,” wrote Robert James O’Neill. “We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis noted: “I owe [Trump] some options. We’ll put together options, and we will work everything from size to participation to cost, and when I get clear options, we’ll send those over to the White House, and I’ll go over and talk with them.”

In the interest of helping Secretary Mattis develop those options, Politics and Other Stuff has a few suggestions. No pride of authorship here, General, so feel free to borrow these ideas.

Most of us, when we think of parades, think about certain basics such as a Grand Marshall, an Honor Guard, and politicians walking down the street, waving, shaking hands and passing out candy. You also need marching bands and floats – lots of floats.

Something like that, General, could considerably reduce the costs. You already have military bands. Maybe you can just add others from Washington area high schools.

Donald Trump probably won’t walk the parade route because he couldn’t make it that far. Maybe he could use a Trump © golf cart. The Secret Service would follow along, weaving in and out, like the Shriners do with those little cars in their parades. The Trump family (actually Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Jared – but only if they haven’t been indicted by the time of the parade) would follow. Melania might be in the reviewing stand if there hasn’t been another Trump sex scandal that week.

There’s no need for tanks and missile launchers. The world already knows that we are the strongest military power. No need to show off. This would also would save the costs of repairing the damage that the heavy equipment would do to Pennsylvania Avenue.

And then the floats. There’s all sorts of possibilities for floats.

Right up front there certainly should be several for veterans who are the real honorees of the event. Lots of these floats, for those who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, however, would likely be unavailable due to a prior commitment either involving another taxpayer-funded European vacation for himself and his wife, or perhaps due to the pressing need to answer congressional questions about his abuse of taxpayers’ money.

There could be a float celebrating the success of the criminal justice system in this country. Michael Flynn, George Papadoupolus, Rick Gates and Hungarian fugitive Sebastian Gorka could be on this one. The marching band behind them would be playing the Bobby Fuller Four classic hit from the sixties, “I fought the law (and the law won.)”

For the kids there could be a Disney-sponsored float, Pinocchio comes to Washington. It would feature White House spokespersons Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Raj Shah, Kellyanne Conway and Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci. Given the size of the nose extensions for those folks, this float would need to be extra-long.

That float would be preceded by some Republican elephants. The people on the spokespersons’ float, however, would need to do double duty, following the elephants and cleaning up after them. They, of course, have significant experience with that.

A “Family Values: Bringing Us Together” float might feature Trump friends Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham.

A float honoring the American financial industry would distribute $5 bills to parade attendees to “share the wealth.” The first hundred parade goers will get the money.

On a lighter note, third and current Communications Director Hope Hicks could appear on a float with Corey Lewandowski, singing “my boyfriend’s back.”

Another float would celebrate American industries such as airplane manufacturers and charter flight providers. To demonstrate the administration’s commitment to those industries, frequent flyers like former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry would be on board. And of course, the accompanying music would be “I’m leaving on a jet plane.”

Then there could be float glorifying the mountains, Great Plains and our waterways. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his horse would arrive by government helicopter to join the march. He and the horse he rode in on would be followed by a float that included dead trees and a tank of dirty water to show how much the Trump administration values the environment. The float would leak lots of oil on the pavement.

Finally, the last float could feature Vice President Michael Pence. Pence, with a halo affixed above his head, would offer thoughts and prayers for all those who came before him in the parade.

What a glorious day it will be!

Job opening – Erie County Water Authority

As noted in a previous post, there is job opening up at the Erie County Water Authority for the part-time position of Commissioner. It pays $22,500 per year for occasional political heavy lifting. If you’re interested you better hurry.

The winning job candidate has probably already been selected. Nonetheless the Erie County Legislature is soliciting resumes from those interested in the position. The deadline is 5 pm on Monday, February 26th. Interviews will follow.

Nothing to report on any additional job posting, but the word on the street is that there could also be a new public relations person coming on board at the Authority – someone who will in turn create another political vacancy.

Where have you gone, George Pataki?

The Erie County Republican Committee last Saturday sponsored a debate among the candidates for Governor of New York. The program ran smoothly and the attendance was very good. It gave local Republicans the opportunity to size up their options.

While attending that debate, though, the lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel’s sixties hit, Mrs. Robinson, kept rolling through my head – except that a few words needed to be changed:

                                Sitting on the sofa on Saturday morning

                                Going to the candidates’ debate

                                Laugh about it, shout about it

                                When you’ve got to choose

                                Every way you look at this you lose

                                Where have you gone, George Pataki

                                Our party turns its lonely eyes to you

For Republicans in New York State the twelve year run with George Pataki as Governor certainly was the last fine time for the party. Things have not gone well since then.

All the statewide elected officials are Democrats, as is the State Assembly. The State Senate is Republican pretty much in name only, and that could change this year. The party lost the county executive positions in Nassau and Westchester counties in 2017, along with control of the Erie County Legislature.

It is actually quite understandable that party leaders have some reason for hope this year. The trial of close Cuomo aide Joe Percoco is showing a pretty seamy side to state government. That follows repeated scandals involving statewide officeholders and members of the State Legislature. It’s not all one-sided, however, with the former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former State Senator George Maziarz also facing trial.

The candidates at the debate on Saturday highlighted a couple other issues that Cuomo will need to deal with, namely the less-than-inspiring state economic development activities and plans for the 2018-19 state budget, which include a billion dollars or so in new taxes and fees. You will see the “Buffalo Billion” besmirched from South Buffalo to Montauk.

The Republican Party in the state, however, has a couple problems. Problem number one is named Ed Cox, who happens to be the State Party Chairman.

Cox attended and spoke at the Saturday debate. I would diplomatically describe his presentation as underwhelming. His choo-choo-rah-rah speech felt flat. It was the first time I heard him speak. I would have thought that his late father-in-law, Richard Nixon, would have taught him a few things. His track record as chairman has been unsuccessful.

Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy was much more prepared for his speaking opportunities at the debate and handled housekeeping things like the identification of representatives attending from other counties well.

The second problem the Republicans face this year can be summed up very simply: you can’t beat somebody with nobody.   Three potential gubernatorial candidates – Harry Wilson, Marc Molinaro and Brian Kolb – have already dropped out of the race.

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra touted his record of financial management of the county. If Joel’s campaign takes off there will be a lot to say about that later, but for now we only need note that the bragging will not be supported by the facts.

Former Pataki Housing Commissioner Joe Holland was grasping for upstate identify at the event (he said he once passed on the opportunity to sign as a Buffalo Bills free agent), and he lacks name recognition, money, or organizational support. That being said I would not be surprised to see Holland, who is an attorney, on the statewide ticket this year for some office other than governor.

State Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse has emerged as the frontrunner for this field, having already picked up support from about 15 mostly small upstate counties, plus his home county of Onondaga. He has more than one million dollars in the bank from his Senate campaign account that he can transfer to the governor’s race.

DeFrancisco is a 26-year veteran of the State Senate and he is well versed on the issues. He was frank to admit some positions on issues that he voted on as a senator might not be perceived well. The main problem he has, however, is that he is a 26-year veteran of the State Senate. He is part and parcel of the swamp that a Republican candidate for governor would otherwise want to rail against.

Chairman Cox, in his speech, optimistically noted that one of the three men on the stage will be the candidate for governor, much like some game show host might say on a reality television show to pique interest. Unfortunately for Cox, that is not saying much.

If there is going to be a real campaign for governor this year, it will be much more because of the failings, perceived or real, of Andrew Cuomo, rather than because of anything that one of the three remaining contestants for the party nomination brings to the table. It’s Cuomo’s campaign to win or lose. The Democratic Party wave that is showing all sorts of positive vibes in the state and elsewhere will certainly make a Democratic candidate’s possibilities much more likely than a Republican’s.

As the year moves forward the more intriguing political story in the state, at least for political junkies, might very well turn out to be what the state Conservative Party chooses to do. They have already ruled out supporting Joel Giambra, and it is likely that they will find the other two candidates, DeFrancisco and Holland, uninspiring.

So the decision for the Conservatives will drift back to 1990, when they bypassed the Republican candidate for governor, Pierre Rinfret, and instead nominated their own candidate, Herbert London. Mario Cuomo won big that year because of the division between the two normally close allies. London came within one percentage point of beating out Rinfret (22 percent to 21 percent). Had London come in second, all the state’s political laws and regulations that give jobs and political power to the two top finishers in the election for governor, including Boards of Elections, would have transferred to the Conservatives for at least four years.

Conservative leaders this year might view the poor state of the Republican ticket as an opportunity to grab a major political prize and send the Republicans a very big message. Stay tuned.

The 142nd Assembly District race

There will be a special election in the 142nd Assembly District on April 24th to select a successor to new County Clerk Mickey Kearns. The Democrats will go with County Legislator Pat Burke. The Republicans, Conservatives and Independent parties will support Buffalo school teacher Eric Bohen.

Both candidates have well established roots in the district, which includes South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Orchard Park and West Seneca. Both will have a measure of union support, which is still helpful in that district.

Bohen is a registered Democrat, so the Republicans will try to duplicate what they did by supporting Kearns when he first ran for the seat. But Kearns at that time already had an established political identity as the Councilmember from the South District as well as a former candidate for mayor. Bohen lacks that sort of recognition. Burke will be the clear favorite in April.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly

Some facts, heard-on-the-streets and rumors

Here is a variety of information about politics and other stuff:

  • The political control of the Erie County Water Authority will shift to the Democrats when the term of current Board member Robert Anderson runs out in April. Names in circulation for appointment include City of Tonawanda Democratic Committee Chair Gayle Syposs and attorney Mark Carney. Previous speculation included former Democratic County Chair Len Lenihan, but that seems less likely now.
  • A change in leadership at the Authority would give the organization the opportunity to slim down its bloated administrative staff and to review outside professional service contracts. Ratepayers would benefit.
  • Speaking of appointments, Bob McCarthy’s reporting for the Buffalo News noted the recent selection of Conservative County Chairman Ralph Lorigo and local accountant Philip Tantillo to the Statler Foundation by outgoing Erie County Surrogate Barbara Howe.   The Foundation provides scholarships for college students pursuing an education related to the hospitality industry. The Surrogate is responsible for the operations of the Foundation.
  • If you try to find out more about the Foundation, don’t bother trying to Google a Statler Foundation website. There doesn’t appear to be one.
  • What you can find out from the internet is available from the Foundation Center, which collects reports for not-for-profit organizations that are required to file annual IRS Form 990 tax returns.
  • The latest available tax return for the Statler Foundation, found on the Foundation Center website, is from 2015, so the information is a bit dated. It does provide some insight into the organization.
  • In 2015 the Foundation had an endowment of $30.1 million, with $1.3 million in distributed awards for scholarships and other activities.
  • The 2015 tax return lists a total of 14 members of the Foundation, one of whom has passed away. The remaining listed members from 2015 included:
    • Arthur F. Musarra
    • Donna Gioia
    • Peter J. Fiorella, Jr.
    • Marguerite Collesano
    • Elyse NeMoyer
    • Edward M. Flynn
    • Carlo M. Perfetto
    • Peter A. Vinolus
    • Herbert M. Siegel
    • Robert M. Bennett
    • Arthur V. Sabia
    • Ernestine R. Green
    • Bernard A. Tolbert
  • At one time there were only three trustees of the Foundation and they were each paid approximately $100,000 per year, making the positions the most lucrative political appointments in Western New York.
  • Because of the expanded membership, Trustees in 2015 “only” received an annual compensation of $21,245, with a handful listed that year for lesser amounts.
  • The Foundation has an office on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo and employs an office manager.
  • Scholarship funds distributed in 2015 by the Foundation included Erie Community College ($55,000); Buffalo State College ($25,000); Niagara County Community College ($18,000); Niagara University ($116,000); Trocaire College ($18,000); several other schools outside of Western New York; plus individual payments for 21 students at various schools.
  • Erie Community College received two grants in 2015 for a total of $85,378.
  • There’s a new sheriff, er, new County Surrogate in town, Acea Mosey. Perhaps now, at the beginning of Judge Mosey’s term, would be a good time to let a little sunlight into the activities of the Foundation.
  • The campaign committee financial reports that were posted on the New York State Board of Elections website in mid-January included some interesting tidbits, beyond just the total current available resources of the committee. One eagle-eyed reader of this blog pointed out that the July 2017 Friends of Crystal D. People committee’s report included a donation of $200,417 from the Voice of Teachers for Education. We can assume the amount was a typo.
  • Senator Pat Gallivan’s political committee, Gallivan for Senate, reported a balance of just $63,010 in January 2018, which is a small fraction of the campaign account totals of the other Western New York state senators. Gallivan’s report stated that just $25,005 had been raised in the past six months; Michael Ranzenhofer raised $184,250. The report included a fundraising expense of $23,614 to the Crag Burn Country Club. That amount also seems like a typo.
  • The Gallivan report included $82,662 in spending, including the Crag Burn item. It also included a total of $15,573 paid to the Hodgson Russ law firm, and another $10,932 paid to the firm Personius Melber.
  • There will be a vacant Erie County Court seat on the ballot this fall, following the retirement of Judge Michael Pietruszka. Unlike the elections for three other recent County Court positions, this year there could actually be a contest. Susan Barnes has been considered the favorite for Democratic nomination, but other names currently in the mix also include Buffalo City Court Judge Debra Givens and Amherst Town Justice Kara Buscaglia.
  • For the past several years Anthony Colucci III has served as the general counsel of the Erie County Medical Center. Business First recently noted that Colucci was paid $527,824 in 2016. Colucci is reportedly moving on to Kaleida Health. That would leave an incredibly lucrative vacancy at ECMC. Some new members have been appointed to the 15 person ECMC Board of Trustees by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, including Eugenio Russi and attorneys Jennifer Persico and Christopher O’Brien. The Board would make an appointment for the counsel position.
  • While we’re on the subject of ECMC, rumor has it that the system the hospital purchased and installed last spring to collect parking revenues is not functioning as intended; something about it not being designed for outdoor lots in cold climates. That would mean that the hospital spent thousands on the system that isn’t working properly while also losing thousands of dollars in revenues. Looks like the hospital will need to pay for all those high-priced salaries and expensive TV commercials some other way.
  • The Republican gubernatorial debate with candidates John DeFrancisco, Joel Giambra and Brian Kolb will be held at Daemen College this Saturday, February 10th, at 10:30 am.
  • The Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles have two starting-quality quarterbacks. The Minnesota Vikings have three. The Buffalo Bills have two picks in the first, second and third rounds of the April draft. Sounds like it is time to make a deal.

Issues to chew on for 2018

A post on this blog last week received comments disagreeing with me. I’m fine with that. The blog is intended to inform (lots of the posts are full of facts), and to encourage thought and discussion. I’ve never been shy about self-identification as a Democrat, but I’m always open to what others are thinking. Heck, I even tune in for small doses of Fox News just to see how they are spinning things.

One of the noted commentaries came from a loyal Trumpkin in the form of a Tweet criticizing my characterizations of Donald Trump and Trump staffer Stephen Miller. Whatever. Politics is like that sometimes.

The other commentary can be found in a couple notes attached to last week’s post, with permission of the author. He wasn’t happy, and he urged me to stop just attacking Trump and to talk about issues. I think I have done that from time-to-time, even while going after the destruction I see coming out of this administration. That being said, I agree that we should focus some time on the federal issues of 2018. Maybe there is some common ground.

I noted in a previous post that at the candidate forum that was held in Lancaster a couple weeks ago the five Democratic candidates interested in challenging Congressman Chris Collins mostly spoke about the issues, not Trump. Trump’s problems will take care of themselves for Democrats, but there are a lot of meaty issues to get into this year.

So here, in no particular order, is my take on some of the issues. Some Democrats might agree, others may not. Same for independents and maybe even for a few Republicans. Here are some things to think about:

  • Taxes. So Trump and the Republicans in Congress got one big legislative achievement. Paychecks will be a bit fatter; hopefully the IRS, in their rush to please Trump, didn’t jimmy the tax tables, something we really won’t know until April 2019. Moody’s Investor Services says that the tax bill will only make a minor impact on the economy at-large. We’ll see about that too. In the meantime there are some adjustments to the legislation that are in order. The state and local taxes deduction should be restored in full, given that states like New York are major positive contributors to the national treasury. The child care credit should be increased along with the related earned income tax credit, which puts money in the pockets of people who will spend it, boosting the economy. Pay for the changes by increasing the highest tax brackets back to where they previously were.
  • Community Health Centers. The health facilities provide critical services to people who have difficulty in obtaining health care. Given the dismantling of some of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions, Congress needs to fund these health centers now.
  • The Affordable Care Act. Nobody, including Barack Obama, ever claimed that the law was perfect. It did need revisions, but in a comprehensive way. Consistent funding for the law’s insurance subsidies should be provided. And given that the individual mandate is no more, something needs to be done to prevent insurance rates from soaring as younger and healthier folks decide not to buy insurance. Many of them at one time or another will wind up being treated in emergency rooms, subsidized by those of us who do have insurance.
  • Off-shore drilling. Okay, so we know that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has determined that only the shoreline surrounding Florida needs to be protected by not allowing off-shore drilling there. As someone who visits Florida from time-to-time, I say thank you. But thank you only if they drop the dangerous idea of drilling along the coasts of other states too. And while they are at it, prevent federal regulators from weakening the rules governing existing off-shore drilling that were put in place following the Deepwater Horizon disaster off of Louisiana in 2010.
  • Air regulations. Prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from giving in to airlines and weakening pilot training requirements put in place following the Flight 3407 air tragedy in Clarence nine years ago.
  • Higher education – student loans; favorable treatment of for-profit colleges. Drop student loan interest rates considerably; the federal government should not make a profit on this. Protect students from the excesses of for-profit colleges, which by far exceed other institutions in incomplete programs and loan defaults.
  • DACA. It is ironic that Trump wants to absolve Michael Flynn (and probably others) from their transgressions but seems fine with deporting boys and girls brought into the country when they were young and have lived here most of their lives. Maybe someday the Trumps will hold that long-promised news conference to explain the immigration status of Melania Trump.
  • Social Security. House Speaker Paul Ryan remains obsessed with the idea of cutting back on Social Security. Instead, find a way to improve the program’s finances by raising the income limit for Social Security payroll deductions. Slightly increase the full-benefit retirement age, but do so by figuring out a way to protect those Americans whose very physically challenging life’s work makes it much harder to work until they’re 67.
  • Tariffs; NAFTA. For those who remember their elementary and high school history classes, raising tariffs and setting off trade wars usually lead to no good end. NAFTA isn’t perfect, but many American businesses from Western New York to the heartlands have greatly benefited from that agreement. Leave it alone.
  • Gun laws. Simple things like enhanced background checks and outlawing bump stocks for assault weapons get bottled up in Congress. At one time these bills had some bi-partisan support, but then the NRA stepped in. Pass these laws.
  • America First. Aside from the anti-Semitic connotations associated with the term from the days of Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh and others, Trump’s America First strategy is destructive of many good things that have come out of America’s efforts to work with and assist other nations throughout the world. There was a time when our country could bury its head in the sand, protected by two oceans. It doesn’t work that way anymore. America, the richest and most open society in the world (you can look it up in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) should maintain its role as the leader in promoting world freedom and democracy.
  • Infrastructure. Everyone agrees that there are tons of roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, airports and other public facilities greatly in need of improvement and replacement. The bill would be in the trillions, and it will take years to address even if there is the will to do so. Looking for ways to add toll roads and other charges to public facilities will not get the job done. It will take lots of tax money and a major federal commitment to addressing these matters, not the band aid that Trump is proposing.
  • Russian interference in American elections. Credible investigators have determined all sorts of ways that the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. What will be done to prevent that from happening again in 2018 and beyond?

This is not an exhaustive list, and it is certainly open to debate and refinement. As we watch the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation result in political drama (and attempts by Trump supporters to discredit the investigation), we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there’s a country to run and that no one has a lock on the truth. Ronald Reagan once noted that “my 80-percent friend is not my 20-percent enemy.” Truer words were never spoken. Debate and compromise.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly

Connecting the Donald’s Dots

The following limerick was penned by my blog editor and longtime friend, Paul Fisk. The opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of the publisher of the blog (but the publisher agrees with 99.8 percent of them). Ken Kruly

Connecting the Donald’s dots

By Paul Fisk

Once mocked by Prez forty-four

Trump now does things we abhor

If Obama once did it

Of the world he must rid it

He’s trying to settle a score Continue reading