Immigration discrimination


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus,” a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. It was later mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level.

“Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

Ken Cuccinelli, August 12, 2019, Donald Trump’s acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

For 133 years Emma Lazarus’ poem represented the United States of America’s welcome to the world. Then Donald Trump came along and appointed someone who suggests a re-write of Lazarus’ inspirational words.

Cuccinelli told the world that our evaluation of who is welcomed will revolve around the immigrant’s education, income and credit rating. They also have to promise not to ever use any public assistance. And oh yeah, according to Cuccinelli, the original poem was only directed toward Europeans.

He added that footnote about Europeans because it got to be uncomfortable for him to explain to reporters how his ancestors got into the United States from Italy.

Have we come to a point, two years and seven months into the Trump administration, when we might consider that the type of BS emanating from Trump and his appointees is not unusual; to let things like Cuccinelli’s re-write go without comment or condemnation? That would be a mistake.

Cuccinelli’s scurrilous words should make someone take a moment to think about what he said and reflect on how un-American his words were.

How nice for the decedent of an Italian immigrant to offer up after-the-fact qualifiers for immigrants from past generations. Cuccinelli’s ancestors evidently arrived in America with tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets, along with a gold American Express card and an 800 point credit rating.

Western New York, it is safe to say, is a community of immigrants and their descendants. There are some Native Americans among us. The rest of us can trace our lineage back to the “old country,” wherever that is. Many Americans’ ancestors came here involuntarily as slaves from Africa. Others came from Germany, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Greece, Russia, India or China, or dozens of other countries where political or religious persecution, violence, or simply the opportunity to pursue a dream made men, women and children take all sorts of risks to come here.

Many of us have heard the stories of how our ancestors made that journey. They came with ten dollars in their pockets, or maybe not that much. They may have had skills but their formal education was limited. They didn’t always have a job waiting for them. They lived in substandard housing. They came to find a better life. If you have forgotten the story of their struggles ask your parents or grandparents to tell you again.

Most of the previous waves of immigrants to this country experienced all sorts of discrimination and attacks about the clothes they wore, the food they cooked, or the way they spoke. But they pressed on.

No one suggests at this time that there should not be some controls over how immigration is handled. We all want to keep the country safe. But the same goes for dealing with domestic terrorists who have become emboldened to commit heinous acts because the country’s leadership winks and nods at words and deeds that harm or kill people who are targeted by “America First” folks.

Changes in immigration laws are not a simple proposition, but planting the flag of discrimination at the country’s doorstep is certainly not what America is all about. I’ll close with the lyrics of a Frank Sinatra song.

“The House I Live In, That’s America To Me”

What is America to me
A name, a map, or a flag I see
A certain word, democracy
What is America to me

The house I live in
A plot of earth, the street
The grocer and the butcher
Or the people that I meet
The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That’s America to me

The place I work in
The worker by my side
The little town the city
Where my people lived and died
The howdy and the handshake
The air a feeling free
And the right to speak your mind out
That’s America to me

The things I see about me
The big things and the small
That little corner newsstand
Or the house a mile tall
The wedding and the churchyard
The laughter and the tears
The dream that’s been a growing
For more than two hundred years

The town I live in
The street, the house, the room
The pavement of the city
Or a garden all in bloom
The church the school the clubhouse
The millions lights I see
Especially the people
That’s America to me

So let’s end the suspense. Mark Poloncarz will be re-elected

We are now less than 90 days until the November 5th election. Time to get serious. Time to assess.

The local campaigns are not creating much attention. In the City of Buffalo it is almost like some election czar cancelled the election. The marquee race is the one for Erie County Executive, pitting incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz versus Republican nominee Lynne Dixon.

Many folks, including some Republicans, would concede that Poloncarz is the odds on favorite. Dixon, however, has accumulated a decent amount of campaign funds to make her candidacy known.

This blog in April 2015 ran an assessment of the election for Erie County Executive that year and concluded that Poloncarz would be re-elected. You can read the full analysis here. The following is an edited version:

  1. Poloncarz presided over the preparation and management of three county budgets. The budgets have been balanced and have produced small surpluses. The fund balance is healthy. Taxes are down a little from where they were four years ago.
  2. The Bills. Poloncarz, with help from Albany, negotiated a new lease that pretty much keeps the team here for ten years. The Pegulas’ purchase of the team solidified that. Poloncarz also stood up to the NFL owners when they tried to tell Erie County that a new stadium is needed.
  3. Making sure the trains run on time. Okay, that expression is not exactly relevant for Erie County. The correct analogy is making sure the snow is plowed.
  4. There have been no scandals in Erie County Hall.
  5. Poloncarz will claim that he helped improve the economy around here. There is less unemployment and lots of construction going on. However no county executive can have any major impact on the economy. But the fact that employment is better and there are cranes in the sky creates a positive feeling in the community, and to some degree an incumbent officeholder benefits from that.
  6. Poloncarz is not a great political fundraiser, but he has a good amount in the bank.

So let’s update the four-year-old bullet points:

  1. Poloncarz has now presided over seven budget cycles. The budgets have been balanced and have produced surpluses. The fund balance is still healthy. The total county tax levy is up $57.4 million (24 percent) since 2012, but the county’s equalized full market value of property that the levy is based upon is up $10.86 billion (23 percent) over the same period. The hypothetical county tax rate, which no one’s actual tax is based on, is 17 cents lower than it was seven years ago. Republican legislators have occasionally voted to approve several of the past seven budgets. They will note their failed attempt to cut property taxes by about ten million dollars last November, which would have reduced the levy by about 3 percent.
  2. We are getting closer to the end of the Bills lease term. Poloncarz has written a book about the last negotiations, which the County Comptroller has objected to. The Pegulas have a study of stadium options underway. No one knows, or at least no one is talking about, what will come next, but sometime in the next four years there will be some serious decisions to be made by the county executive and the county legislature about whether to build a new stadium or to once again renovate the existing stadium. The team’s owners will try to drive that discussion to a large degree, but the potentially astronomical cost of new facilities will certainly give any county executive or legislator pause.
  3. The snow still gets plowed. Maybe this year’s slogan should be “it’s the roads, stupid.” Lots of roads still need work, and many people are talking about it. “Polocarz, fix this road,” the signs read. [The following is a public service announcement: Maple Road, please!] The fact is when you have 1200 lane miles of county roads and 278 bridges there will always be many that need attention. So the question is how much spending is enough when it comes to the county-owned roads? The record shows that over the past seven years of the Poloncarz administration the county has spent, through annual operating budgets and bonding a total of $413.2 million on the county highway system. That’s more, on annual average, than Chris Collins spent ($58.4 million versus $54.9 million). The last budget prepared by Joel Giambra (2008) had total highway spending of $39.8 million. Poloncarz’s highway spending in 2019 is just under $73 million. So the question is, how much more should be spent on roads?
  4. County parks are another matter. There is some substantial work that needs to be done, as Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw has pointed out. Poloncarz basically agrees with that and the work is underway.
  5. There was a scandal during the past four years, involving the county’s former Social Services Commissioner, who was convicted of raping a county employee in his department. The question is, how did Poloncarz handle the matter after he learned about it? The response was quick and firm, once some basic information was determined.
  6. The local economy continues to do well. The unemployment rate is lower than it has been in decades. Those in government who want to claim credit, and can point to specific actions, can proceed to do so.
  7. Poloncarz has substantially more in his campaign account that Lynne Dixon, as of reports filed on July 15th; $637,609 compared with $216,494. An unfortunate consequence of the changes in state election procedures this year is that we will now wait until October 4th for the next filings. A blog reader has correctly suggested that the Election Law should be changed to add some additional reporting requirements, perhaps with a deadline in early September so that those interested can get a better handle on what candidates have available, where they are raising their money, and where it is being spent.

So the question is, given the above information, does Lynne Dixon pose a serious threat to the re-election of Mark Poloncarz in 2019? The answer is that it is very unlikely.

Dixon is a good candidate. She has a decent amount of money available and will undoubtedly raise more, as will Poloncarz. But at the end of the day, what is her basic argument for being the next county executive? What will stir voters to change the leadership in County Hall?

Nationalizing the campaign, as in the issue about drivers’ licenses for undocumented aliens, isn’t going to get her too far, and frankly the potential pushback on national issues by questioning her allegiance to Donald Trump’s politics could certainly be troublesome.

Dixon has been a member of the County Legislature for nearly ten years now, but there is nothing in her legislative record that particularly raises her visibility or electability, or demonstrates any effort to lead on a county issue.

So the bottom line is, Mark Poloncarz has considerable advantages in this campaign that make his re-election a pretty solid bet. Take it to the bank.

The Biden base

We have gone through the second round of debates among 20 Democrats running for president. The most recent sessions might be described as the elimination round of a game show.

It is hard to get an assessment of any candidate when they are talking, in a two-plus hour period, for just nine or ten minutes – with nine other people are also trying to make an impression on the voting public. It is not a great way to sort things out, but there aren’t a lot of appropriate alternatives.

What comes next will be different. The criteria for making the September debates require a somewhat higher (but still pretty low) standing in several polls plus at least 130,000 unique donors spread out among a number of states. If Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson make the next round then the DNC needs to find a way to get them off the stage. The other names will be predictable: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg. There might be two or three more.

As the debates occur and national and battleground states polling is published, I believe that there is an interesting situation developing in this primary. Call it the Biden base.

We all know, of course, about the Trump base. It is an interesting phenomenon. It represents 35 to 40 percent of the electorate that is okay with Donald Trump if he shoots someone on 5th Avenue. It is okay with those folks that he is a racist and a misogynist. It is okay with those folks that the Trump tax cuts were mostly for rich people and that the tariff war that he started is hurting many American businesses while raising costs for consumers. It is okay that his important appointees often come with shady backgrounds. It is okay with those folks that Trump follows Vladimir Putin more faithfully than he follows the United States Constitution he is sworn to uphold.

That base, in the view of many, is prepared to accept pretty much anything because Trump is a “disrupter” who gives voice to their views, regardless of what he says or does.

The Democratic primary for president is slowly coming into focus, and the frontrunner thus far, former Vice President Joe Biden, has a big target painted on his back. He’s too old. He is too laid back. He has a long legislative history with some questionable votes on criminal justice. He took a stand on school busing in the 1970’s. He did not give Anita Hill a fair hearing in the Clarence Thomas confirmation sessions. He is not a progressive like some of the other candidates.

And yet, to paraphrase Moscow Mitch McConnell at a Senate session when Elizabeth Warren was giving him a hard time during the confirmation debate about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “nonetheless he persisted.” Biden persists.

His performance (which is what the debates really are so far) last week was much more aggressive than the first debate in June. The other candidates attacked his legislative history. But Biden persisted. A national poll after the debates showed Biden maintaining a comfortable lead over the rest of the field. (Such polls are often cited in political punditry, but at this point in the campaign they are still relatively unimportant, particularly on a national scale. Nonetheless they are one measure of where things stand at a particular moment).

The attacks on Biden have frequently been paired with negative comments about President Obama’s administration. Why some Democratic candidates on the presidential debate stage find it useful to attack the Obama presidency is hard to fathom, and in the long run it is likely to backfire. A recent poll showed 97 percent support of Obama among Democrats.

Those same progressive Democratic presidential candidates are also pretty much following the strategy of attacking international trade deals. “America First” might be their slogan.

Attacking Obama and pushing isolationist policies is straight out of the Trump play book. What was that about using “Republican talking points,” Senator Warren?

Bernie Sanders‘strident performances are not selling too well, and it is easy to see why. In 2016 Bernie, for the most part, was the only opponent for Hillary Clinton. In 2019 he has several opponents with views similar to his.

Pretty much no one expected Bernie to win in 2016, so the media never really got too deep into his record or proposals. Most of us did not realize or were not prepared to admit how much baggage Clinton brought with her, so any Clinton opponent was going to attract lots of votes. We should have known better.

Sanders’ pie-in-the-sky policy proposals have forced many of the 2020 candidates to go along, whether the issue is Medicare for all, or free college tuition, or looser borders. Those are not winning strategies.

Warren and Sanders at their debate berated their fellow candidates for not chasing big ideas. Warren said “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” Senator Sanders added, “I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas.” The Washington Post editorial writers had an answer for those comments: Why go to the trouble of running for president to promote ideas that can’t work?”

Bernie’s implementation plan is to be the pied piper for a “revolution” of millions of young people. Gene McCarthy’s presidential campaign, circa 1968. Warren’s plan is to go after the big banks and corporations. Last time I checked, however, laws get passed by two houses of Congress with the cooperation and acceptance and leadership of the president, so how a revolution or an attack on big business will get things done is hard to understand.

It is still too early to see how this will all play out, but the bottom line that may be developing is that warts and all, many Democrats see Joe Biden as having the best chance of defeating Trump – even after the debates.

Biden aside, the majority of Democrats are prepared to set aside personal policy preferences, or to accept the baggage that all candidates carry, because Democrats more than anything want Trump out of the White House. A lot of things can be overlooked, at least until November 2020.

So welcome to the Biden base. Accepting and focused, and prepared to go along with things that in a normal political atmosphere might not fly. In the words of football legend Al Davis, “just win, baby!”

The questions are, will that base grow? Is it big enough to win the Democratic primary and a general election? Stay tuned for the next exciting episodes.