The Bills at the bye week

Well, wasn’t it fun for the first four weeks? And then came Cincinnati.

I was recently encouraged by an old friend who asked for some Trump relief and suggested a post about the Bills. I’m obliging, Tony, but I’m not sure if this qualifies as relief.

My pre-season prognosis suggested that the Bills might finish the season with 5 wins and 11 losses as part of a tanking season designed to help draft a franchise quarterback in 2018. The 5 wins for the season total may seem a little iffy, but it might not be that far off.

There have been too many seasons over the past 17 years which started out with excitement and hope but quickly came down to a regular mess. It’s too early to tell if 2017 will be another one of those years.

White#27I will, however, take back the tanking comment. The new coach, Sean McDermott, seems like the real thing. The defense has been super, returning to the form of the pre-Rex Ryan days. They are what you need to get into the playoffs.

So are the special team folks, highlighted by kicker Steven Hauschka. No need to hold your breath anymore when a field goal is needed.

Unfortunately, football teams are also required to put an offensive squad on the field for about half the game. Unfortunately, the Bills offense has been offensive.

Tyrod Taylor cannot throw from the pocket. I doubt he can even see over the rushing linemen. He can’t throw over the middle. He cannot check off receivers. He has trouble getting rid of the ball when he is about to be sacked. Other than those things, he is okay.

It is not all Tyrod’s fault, of course. The team does not have any quality receivers, having disposed of several of them over the past year or two. Charles Clay occasionally shows some talent, but even New England does not rely on just the often injured tight end Rob Gronkowski to carry the team. And the team now says that Clay will be out for several weeks following his injury in the Cincinnati game.

LeSean McCoy is still a quality running back but he has sure been struggling of late. Mike Tolbert, as the second string running back, is not even in the Mike Gillislee class. The Bills were intending on compensating for a lack of a quality quarterback by featuring the running game. That is not working.

So the team will tease us a bit for the remaining eleven games, but then probably will settle into somewhere around 7 and 9. That, plus the fact that currently undefeated Kansas City’s first round draft pick in 2018 isn’t going to be worth much as they move toward the playoffs, doesn’t say much for getting a franchise quarterback next year.

But for the moment, after five games and at the bye week, the Bills are tied on top of the AFC East with New England and the Jets. So pretend that means something and enjoy it for the moment – literally, for the moment. It is as good as it is going to get for 2017.

Meanwhile in Pegulaville, the Sabres are still waiting for their first win.

Here’s a little poll of how Politics and Other Stuff readers think the 2017 Bills season might wind up.

 

Grant projected as big winner in 2017 — updated

The 32-day pre-general election campaign financial reports were due on October 6th and they show Grant as a clear winner in 2017. No, not County Legislator and former mayoral candidate Betty Jean Grant. I’m referring to Chris Collins alumnus and current political consultant Chris Grant.

There are still four weeks to go in the 2017 election cycle. In many cases the elections are already effectively over, including the Mayor of Buffalo and all City of Buffalo, Erie County and State Supreme Court judicial offices. The races that are continuing include three Erie Countywide offices and just four of the eleven County Legislature seats. Despite the lack of public interest in any of the contested offices, the parties, meetings, League of Women Voters Forums, and get-out-the-vote efforts are continuing.

Most of all, however, there is the campaign spending – spending that in many cases is substantial. Spending that in many cases is of questionable value when it comes to actually affecting the results of the elections.

Chris Grant developed his brochure-writing and other political skills as a young aide to County Executive candidate Chris Collins ten years ago. Since then, following a period on Collins’ congressional payroll, Grant has earned his living through political consulting work. He has been doing work in other parts of the country, but his local ties have also proved lucrative.

So far in 2017 Grant’s Big Dog Strategies firm has collected some big money, including:

  • $84,890 from County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw’s re-election campaign
  • $40,500 from Hamburg Supervisor candidate Dennis Gaughan, a registered Democrat who lost the Democratic primary to Jim Shaw, but who, courtesy of a Republican Wilson-Pakula permission slip, remains on the ballot in November
  • $15,000 from County Surrogate Court candidate Acea Mosey
  • $3,500 from County Legislator Joseph Lorigo

There will likely be a lot more Grants (the President that is, who appears on the $50 bill) moving toward Chris Grant before the polls close in November. We’ll keep you up to date.

Short summaries of the latest campaign filings

Mayor Byron Brown. The Mayor is still technically a candidate and continues to file reports. His latest shows a balance of $135,126, with the largest recent expenditures for fundraising activities.

Erie County Comptroller. Stefan Mychajliw’s treasury at the moment shows a balance of just $20,825 after the payment of $84,890 to Grant for TV ads. Additional fundraising is underway. The Democratic candidate for Comptroller, Vanessa Glushefski, has $49,979. One of the highlights of the campaign thus far seems to be Mychajliw’s reporting on the bed bug issue in the Rath Building. The accountants you employ, Stefan, are supposed to be bean-counters, not bug-counters. Glushefski has criticized the incumbent for failing to detect the overbilling of county phone charges.

Erie County Clerk. The race to fill the final year of former Clerk Chris Jacobs’ term has State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, a registered Democrat running as a Republican, challenging Democrat Steve Cichon. Since there are only so many ways that you can talk about DMV registrations, the campaign at the moment is featuring competing comments about abortion. Heading into the final four weeks of the election, Kearns has $62,797 available to spend. Cichon has $27,710.

Erie County Sheriff. The contest between Republican incumbent Tim Howard and Democrat Bernie Tolbert has been getting rough, with Howard aggressively challenging Tolbert’s professional and personal history and Tolbert strongly questioning Howard’s ability to manage the county’s Holding Center and Correctional Facility in light of more than twenty deaths in those locations over the past several years. (Editor’s note:  Sheriff Howard has commented on this observation. See his comment above.) Look for the campaigns to get even tougher as the charges fly.

Howard is already on TV with his spots, costing $80,000, and reported an account balance of $84,467 as of last week. Tolbert had $62,965 but he has not yet begun his media effort.

Erie County Legislature. Here is quick summary of campaign account balances for the four elections where there are both Democratic and Republican candidates:

  • 5th District. Incumbent Democrat Tom Loughran has $3,907 in his account. Republican Guy Marlette’s report shows a balance of $28,341.
  • 8th District. Incumbent Republican Ted Morton has $18,069 available; Democrat John Bruso $19,269.
  • 9th District. Incumbent Lynn Dixon has a balance of $44,497, while Democrat Michael Quinn reported $20,664. Rumors are circulating that Dixon might want an appointment in the County Clerk’s Office if Kearns is elected.
  • 10th District. Incumbent Joe Lorigo’s report shows a balance of $124,944. He loaned his Committee $20,000 on September 30th and gave $25,000 to the Erie County Republican Committee.  Democrat Michelle Schoeneman has $38,391, normally a pretty good tally for a non-incumbent County Legislature candidate. Lorigo, however, will still greatly outspend her.

Erie County Surrogate Court Judge. Acea Mosey had this election wrapped up a long time ago but nonetheless she raised a huge campaign treasury to help keep other potential candidates out of the race. With her name on all party lines, Mosey has already taken care of a requirement of state law, the refunding of donations not needed by the judicial campaign.

Mosey appears to have refunded 82.56 percent of what she raised, returning a total of $355,000 to donors. A like amount was used to repay a portion of the loans she provided to her campaign, leaving a loan balance of $95,000. Her campaign account has a balance of $18,093, which means that most of her remaining outstanding loan to the campaign will wind up as an in-kind contribution to the effort.

Speaking of Chris Grant

As noted, Chris Grant’s political work extends beyond Western New York. Recently the New York Times reported that Grant is teaming up with political operative Michael Caputo and political bad boy Steve Bannon to promote the candidacy of ex-con Michael Grimm, who will challenge current Congressman and former District Attorney Daniel Donovan for a seat in New York City next year. This is part of Bannon’s effort to destroy the Republican Party establishment.

Grimm formerly held the congressional seat but left Congress after a federal court conviction; he served seven months in prison. Among Grimm’s major achievements in Congress was his threat to throw a reporter over a balcony.

Grimm’s federal conviction concerned felony tax fraud, so I assume that he probably would not get a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee (which handles tax issues) if he were to be elected, but then again, we are talking about something under the control of Paul Ryan. Yuck.

The Trump-Republican tax plan and that famous swamp

After nine months of promising to unveil their long-sought tax “reform” plan, Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress are finally, sort of, revealing what they propose to do. Actually, they only released nine pages of talking points, which is an expansion of the one page of talking points that they presented last summer. There is no actual bill language or fiscal analysis attached to the latest talking points.

The general approach to the tax plan seems to mimic the Republican view of “reforming” health care – I’ve got mine, good luck getting yours. It’s once again Robin Hood in reverse. The Graham-Cassidy repeal and replace ploy that was shot down last week calls to mind the observation that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The Republican tax plan includes:

  • A large income tax rate cut for the superrich, reducing the top bracket from 39.6 percent to 35 percent
  • A large income tax increase for the those at the bottom of the income scale, raising the lowest tax rate from 10 to 12 percent
  • A gigantic cut in the corporate tax rate
  • The end of the estate tax, which only benefits people with estates of more than $5.49 million
  • The elimination of the alternative minimum tax, which is designed to guarantee that upper income people pay some income tax
  • The end of the deductibility of state and local taxes, which is aimed particularly at people living in “blue” (Democratic) states like New York and California

The plan proposes eliminating or changing certain deductions contained in the tax code. So what makes eliminating one deduction more important than eliminating another deduction? It depends on who has the most influence over Trump and congressional Republicans. Democrats have been excluded from the conversation by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan.

The White House has published a paper that includes a table listing 167 different special interest deductions (known as “tax expenditures”) that presently exist in the tax code.  The expenditures are mostly exclusive to select businesses and professions. Nearly every one of them is not included in the Republican tax “reform” plan.

The plan sponsors claim that it will not help rich people, just mostly middle class folks. Paul Ryan told CBS “the purpose of this is to get a middle-class tax cut.” Ryan was pressed on whether that was a guarantee that every middle-class person would get a tax cut under the president’s plan. “Well, I don’t know every single person’s little, small problem or issue,” he said.

Here’s an analysis prepared by the Tax Policy Center (TPC), based on what is known thus far of the Trump plan:

Every income group, on average, would see a reduction in their tax bill in the first year under the plan, according to the TPC, but the nation’s wealthiest would get the lion’s share of savings. The bottom 95 percent of earners would see on average an increase in their after-tax income of 1.2 percent or less. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, would see an 8.5 percent increase, TPC said.

In the plan’s first year … [a]bout 12 percent of taxpayers would see their taxes go up … including more than one-third of people making between about $150,000 to $300,000, largely due to the repeal of many itemized deductions …

About 80 percent of the total benefit would accrue to taxpayers in the top 1 percent, whose after-tax income would increase 8.7 percent by 2027, the report said. By that point, about 25 percent of taxpayers would see their taxes go up, particularly among the middle and upper-middle class. Almost 30 percent of earners with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see their tax bill go up, as would 60 percent of those making between $150,000 and $300,000 …

So maybe you might get a tax cut or maybe not. It depends on whether or not your “little, small problem or issue” prevents that from happening. It also depends on which lobbyists carry the most influence at the White House and on Capitol Hill.  The tax swamp is not being drained, just re-arranged.

And then, of course, there is the matter of how one special taxpayer, Donald J. Trump, stands to benefit from the plan he and his Republican congressional leadership are pushing. Trump says he won’t benefit, telling us “believe me.” Never trust anyone who repeatedly tells you “believe me.”

A New York Times analysis, based on the little that is known about Trump tax returns, indicates that he and his heirs stand to gain more than one billion dollars from the plan. Since he refuses to release his tax returns, we can safely assume his hidden returns would show that the potential savings are much higher. This is all consistent with the efforts of Trump and his family to gain financially from his presidency.

The joke about draining the swamp

If there is one thing that Trumpkins like yelling at his rallies, other than “build the wall” and “lock her up,” it is “drain the swamp.” The drainage in question concerns changing the culture in Washington to end the coddling of certain segments of the population. It is also supposed to concern the end of laws and regulations that allow residents of the Washington Beltway to live the good life at the expense of the rest of us.

The manner in which the Republicans are operating in the Trump administration shows their contempt for the taxpaying public. As that famous Watergate criminal and former Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell once said, “watch what we do, not what we say.”

Despite the rhetoric, it has come to pass that many luminaries in the Trump administration have already, in just a short period of time, come to enjoy the perks of their offices very much. The list includes:

  • Recently departed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a deficit hawk when he served in Congress, who had more recently been busily trying to cut various Obama-era health programs. But when it came to taking care of himself he was not much concerned about saving money. How nice of him to offer to reimburse the government $51,000 for the one million dollars in charter and military-provided private transportation that he used this year.
  • The multi-millionaire Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin apparently likes government air service so much that he wanted to take a military jet on his honeymoon to Europe. And there was also the government provided trip that he and his bride took to Fort Knox, Kentucky to see the government’s gold and to watch the total eclipse of the sun.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took a $12,000 charter flight from Nevada to his home in Montana.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (rapidly becoming a misnomer) Director Scott Pruitt has frequently taken government paid travel back to his home in Oklahoma, where he is reportedly considering a run for governor next year. Maybe he needs that $25,000 sound-proof telephone booth constructed in his office for political calls.
  • And then there was the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, who managed to travel to Europe with his wife on the government’s dime, interspersing work sessions with touristy visits in London and elsewhere.

And finally, most of these travel stories also note that the Cabinet members travel with an entourage of security and departmental staff.

Don’t listen to what they say. Watch what they do.

Guns kill people

Given the latest mass tragedy related to gun violence, I have reposted an article that Steve Banko and I wrote last year.   You can find it here.