** Original article written by Michael “Vass” Vasquez at Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com **
The best laid plans of mice and men, as the saying goes. In this case it applies to the Robin Hood proposal made by President Obama during the State of the Union. In specific, the portion that President Obama omitted from the public address to the nation. The part on where he planned to get the money for the “free” college.
As is the case with any entitlement or program from the Government, the “free” 2 years of community college that President Obama teased the nation with is to be paid for by taxes. In particular the plan was to target the 529 college savings plans (as we disclosed in the article When Robin Hood is actually just a hood), which were created to allow tax free savings to pay for a child’s college expenses. The Obama Administration saw that as easy money to redistribute.
The problem is that while the White House took great pains to paint the picture that the only people to be affected by the new tax would be families with incomes of $200,000 or more, it wasn’t accurate. While the majority of those using the 529 plans are wealthier Americans, some 30% of families with 529 savings plans have incomes on $100,000 or less. According to the College Savings Foundation some 70% of the 529 accounts are in households of $150,000 or less. Therefore the Obama Administration wasn’t isolating economic success, but instead attacking anyone who had such a plan since it is not used widely enough for the liking of the Administration.
It should be noted that Senator Obama, in 2006 a year before he decided to run for the office he currently holds, voted in favor of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. This was the Bill that ensured the tax-free status of the 529 savings plans. The Bill passed the Senate with a vote of 93-5 (51 Republicans, 41 Democrats, 1 Independent all in favor).
Given the lame duck status of the President, his waning political clout, and a Republican Congress that despises the Democrat mantra of tax-and-spend, many saw this Robin Hood tactic as little more than a grab for improved approval ratings and a platform for the 2016 Presidential candidates. Complicating the matter further was the fact that even Democrats, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Chris Van Hollen and the powerful Senator Charles Schumer, had petitioned the President to back down from the new tax plan. This led to the challenge from the Speaker,
“And so, for the sake of middle-class families, the president ought to withdraw this tax increase from his budget when he submits it soon.” – House Speaker John Boehner, 1/27/15
To head off an embarrassing bipartisan defeat the White House has chosen to remove the new tax from the budget to be released on February 2, 2015. Speaker John Boehner has already lauded plans to step into the vacuum created by the White House as Rep. Lynn Jenkins put forward a bi-partisan proposal to expand the 529 credit as opposed to taxing it. This alternative is expected to be on the floor of Congress at some point in February. The White House is making the best of the situation stating,
“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support…”
Currently, the plan to provide 2 years of “free” community college is still going forward. As stated by the White House, the proposed increase in capital gains taxes and estate taxes (also known as the death tax) will provide more than enough to cover the Robin Hood plan. Which leaves two questions to be asked:
- If the estate and capital gains tax increases will more than pay for 2 years of college, why did President Obama intend to still tax the 529 savings plans?
- Since the capital gains tax increase also directly affects millions of Americans, many in the middle class as well, does anyone think President Obama will have any better chance getting that passed through a Republican Congress?
**As originally created by Michael “Vass” Vasquez at Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com **
Several major media sources are reporting, as of January 15, 2015, that the completed October review into the possible desertion of Bowe Bergdahl will be released in the coming week. The determination of the investigation has been long delayed. Described by Retired Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, of the London Center for Policy Research, as due in part to the efforts of Ben Rhodes, Assistant Director of National Security Intelligence, on behalf of the Obama Administration.
The investigation has reportedly determined that Bergdahl deserted, leading to his capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 5 years. Private Bergdahl released in a prisoner swap for 5 high level Al Qaeda Guantanamo detainees in June 2015, and received promotions and back pay for the time in captivity. The prisoner swap was an act the White House has admitted was done without the consent or notification of Congress as required by law.
For most who have followed the Bergdahl case, the determination by the Army to charge Bergdahl with desertion is not new. In fact the only point that was in question was whether Bergdahl had voluntarily joined the Taliban forces in a act of treason, or was captured against his will, after his act of desertion. Under United Code of Military Justice Article 85 desertion is described as,
Any member of the armed forces who without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently.
The penalty for desertion, in war, is the death penalty. It is also possible, and under the Obama Administration most likely, that Bergdahl would receive the alternative punishments of “other punishment as a court-martial may direct.” It is reported that a court-martial would direct that Bergdal lose any promotion given since the desertion – reducing his rank to Private from Sergeant. In addition, the back pay provided to Bergdahl at the time of his release would also be forfeit.
This of course flies in the face of the initial Obama Administration declaration, on June 1, 2014, by National Security Adviser Susan Rice,
“He served the United States with honor and distinction. And we’ll have the opportunity eventually to learn what has transpired in the past years.”
The backlash created by the apparent misrepresentation of Bergdahl, the nature of the deal for his release, and the failure of the White House to lawfully notify Congress, resulted in almost immediate silence by the White House on the issue. Almost immediately after Bergdahl was reclaimed, investigation of possible desertion began, with the review by the Army completed in October 2014.
In a virtual vacuum of silence from the major media, the report was held back along with further action by the Army, as the mid-term elections approached and passed. There were few editorials such as in the Washington Post, commenting on an expected delay of a week – until after the mid-term elections of 2014,
Now there’s the possibility that Gen. Dahl concluded that Sgt. Bergdahl should be court-martialed, and this would further shine a bright light on President Obama’s incompetence and the ineptitude of his administration…. Sometimes surprises are worth the wait, but we won’t know about this one until after next week — unless a whistleblower leaks a copy.
Still, from October until January 27, 2015 the attention of the media has been tepid at best. Fox News has been virtually alone in continuing to report the situation, stating that “…the White House wants this to go away,” and that Ben Rhodes Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser is in charge of suppressing the release of the Bergdahl report. Ben Rhodes was also the person identified as putting a political spin on the Benghazi talking points.
Politically, the Bergdahl trade has been an embarrassment for the White House. From the start it was mired in an admitted violation of law, which in retrospect was a highpoint of the situation. With the help of a mostly absent news media, and an Administration pushing for a delayed release to accommodate a lessened political impact, the public has once again been denied the ability to voice its opinion of the Obama Administration’s action in the mid-term elections and beyond.
In the end the Obama Administration cannot escape the embarrassment, and criminality, of what it has done. All they can do is try to bury the issue at a convenient time where the political blowback will be diminished. Given the multitude of scandals and acts of incompetence, this White House has gotten all too familiar with the process it is using. Even so, the attempt to make a hero out of a likely deserter for the purpose of political gain is both an incredulous act of arrogance by the White House and an insult to the military.
In 2014, Rep. Richard Hanna stated that he was against abortion, as he voted as the sole Republican member of the House of Representatives against HR 7 – No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2014. The reason provided by Rep. Hanna at the time was that he felt the Bill went too far in restricting women’s access to abortion. He also admitted that his constituents disagreed with having Federal funds used to provide abortions. In 2015, after strong primary challenges in the mid-term elections, Rep. Hanna is having deja vue.
Once again, on January 22, 2015, Rep. Hanna has taken the road as the sole Republican to opposed the HR 42, Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 7) to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions, the 2015 version of the Bill presented in 2014. Out of 239 Republican and 3 Democrat votes in favor of the Bill, Rep Hanna joined 179 Democrats to against the Bill. His position was once again that the Bill, which would remove any Federal funding of abortion – which his constituents wanted in 2014 – was too restrictive. But that’s not the whole story.
The item that draws attention is in looking at the votes and discussion on the floor leading to the passage of HR 42. Prior to the final vote, as noted in the record, House Democrats tried to have a vote to recommit the Bill. Democrats sought to include language that would support the expanded view of abortion that they believe is a requirement for all women regardless of desire or religious belief and paid for by Federal taxpayer funds. A view the constituents of Rep. Hanna as a whole do not support. This led to a vote, that would do the following:
“Ms. MOORE. Madam Speaker, this is the final amendment to the bill, and it will not kill the bill or send it back to committee. If this amendment is adopted, the bill, as amended, will immediately proceed to final passage.”
The vote, that could not stop the Bill nor send it to committee and thus delay the result, as recorded by the Clerk of the House was #44. That vote was rejected by Republicans, including a vote against by Rep. Richard Hanna. This seems to indicate one of 2 things:
- Rep. Hanna was voting with the will of his constituents against the Democrat proposal. It would appear to mean that Rep. Hanna felt the Bill properly reflected his constituents views and he felt the obligation to stand with his constituents. Yet that commitment to his voters was not so strong as to let him stand by his personal views, as well as theirs, in the final vote.
- Rep. Hanna took the opportunity, knowing that he would be voting against the Bill and needing to maintain his percentage of votes in favor with his Party (a factor that came into question during his 2014 primary run), and voted along Party lines.
Both options reflect poorly on Rep. Hanna, but seem to be accurate descriptions of the situation. Which would lead to the question, what has Rep. Hanna done in the past? How has Rep. Hanna voted on other abortion Bills? This should indicate where he stands overall.
This would bring us to the June 2013 vote on late-term abortion. HR 1797, Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, sought to stop abortion of a child that had reached 5 months (equivalent to 20 weeks) in the womb – except in the case of endangering the life of the mother, incest, and/or rape. As Rep. Hanna would later state, the will of constituents fell against late-term abortions. Rep. Hanna himself was on record as being against abortion. Yet, Rep. Hanna was one of 6 Republicans that chose to join 190 Democrats in supporting late-term abortions beyond 5 months of pregnancy. The reason? Rep. Hanna felt the Bill was too restrictive for women, though he stated his opposition of late-term abortion at the same time.
Thus there appears to be a pattern. Rep. Hanna seemingly will say he believes what his political party believes in. He may indicate that he is on the side of his constituents (the NY 22nd Congressional District is strongly Republican). After all the talk, Rep. Hanna then votes exactly opposite everything he has said prior. Occasionally, Rep. Hanna will amend the pattern – voting for an Amendment and then reversing his vote on the actual Bill. This is consistent with other positions Rep. Hanna has taken, recently as well as in the past.
HR 240, on January 14, 2014, had the same pattern. Rep. Hanna voted with Republicans while at the same time voting against Republicans, on the issue of immigration and the power inherent in the use of Executive Orders. As we noted at the time,
“Effectively, Rep. Hanna has taken both sides of the issue. He has voted to protect the Constitution, while advocating (through his vote against the Blackburn Amendment) the violation of the Constitution. His words, and his actions, are at odds. The logic behind his justification is flawed.”
Perhaps this is not deja vue for Rep. Hanna. This could be an active and directed political plan. If so, the purpose being in maintaining his political position, as in the 2014 mid-term elections Democrats saw fit to let Rep. Hanna run unopposed. Even if this is not the case, Rep. Hanna is clearly experiencing a kind of political schizophrenia, unable to distinguish (or allow others to determine) what he actually believes and where he truly stands. Obviously, since Rep. Hanna is in his 3rd term in Congress, it also is an effected re-election tool.
** Note – As full disclosure, Michael “Vass” Vasquez, president of M V Consulting, Inc. was a candidate for the NY 22 Congressional District in 2014 and ran against Rep. Hanna for the Republican ticket. **
Considering the eloquence with which President Obama speaks it is amazing at how often he is misunderstood when discussing some of his economic proposals. Initially there was the confusion on the Stimulus, followed by Obamacare, and now (after the 2015 State of the Union Address) college education. The more cynical might even say that the image of Robin Hood the President likes to project is only to hide a more closer comparison to Prince John.
Back in 2009, there was an eagerness across the nation as people checked their mailbox for the check that was coming to them from the Government. It was part of the Obama Stimulus that the newly elected President Obama had promised as part of his economic plans to near immediately end the recession. $400 for singles people and $800 for those who were married. But the checks never came.
The reason for the confusion was that this was not “free money“. It wasn’t ever meant to be a lump sum payment. The Stimulus was a temporary reduction in taxes, amounting to an average of about $12 per paycheck for those with a job. As such, millions never noticed the increase, and felt that they had been lied to by the new President. Most also didn’t realize that the extra income was paid for by increasing the national debt some $275 billion (not including interest), and ultimate failing to stimulate the economy as promised.
A further addition to the Stimulus was the Cash for Clunkers plan. A means for people to get newer cars and eliminate the older less efficient and less environment friendly cars. The main goals was cited as a way to help the flagging auto industry, and the economy. Among the less politically adept it was seen as a “free” down payment on a newer car via the Obama Administration.
While Cash for Clunkers was far better explained, requiring the trade-in of an old car for a new car to get the Government subsidy, many still took the additional funds as “free”. The net result was that once again the economy and auto industry, though seeing a temporary spike in car sales, was not helped. Estimates vary, but roughly $1.4 billion was lost on the plan and according to Jacksonville State University economist Christopher Westley,
“…this program sticks it to those members of society least able to manage in hard times. In the end they will find maintaining economic autonomy all the harder, making it more likely they will become dependent on government in the future. The cynic in me wonders if this might be the actual intent.”
In 2010, talk of a healthcare reform was abundant. The promise, understood generally by the populace, was that everyone would get health care from then forward. The poor would get “free” healthcare, the middle class would save money, health care costs would drop, and even the deficit would be reduced, all because everyone in America would have healthcare.
Since that time Americans have learned a lot more about the law, and many aren’t happy. While the final verdict is yet to be determined the some things are clear. Everyone in the nation is required to be covered by a health care plan, it isn’t free for anyone. The young and healthy pay for the poor and unhealthy in a redistribution of wealth that has caused many in the middle class to have higher health care costs, and many of the poor have out of pocket costs higher than they can afford, so far. Health care costs have increased (before and since implementation of the law), and the net cost of the program has already been readjusted to reflect the increase in deficit costs. All of this while 41 million Americans remain without health care coverage, new taxes have added to the burden many Americans feel, and worst of all may be the 2013 lie of the year,
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”
But President Obama has maintained the image of Robin Hood in State of the Union Addresses with the latest addition in 2015. “Free” college. Or to be exact,
“That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college… to zero!” – President Obama, State of the Union Address Jan 20, 2015
It sounds fantastic. The part of the American public that listens only to sound bites (a large and growing portion some believe) have already fixated on the offer of “free” college. It is unlikely that most Americans who watched the State of the Union heard the caveat added by President Obama on January 8, 2015 (and unrepeated in the State of the Union),
“What I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it.”
Willing to work for it? What does that mean. How is that quantified? Who is eligible? All good questions, but the White House has moved on to a different aspect of the “free” community college – who is actually paying for it.
Leaving out the rest of the $320 billion in new taxes that President Obama requested in the State of the Union, there is the new proposal to eliminate the 529 college savings plan. The 529 plan was specifically designed to help families save and pay for higher education, and because the majority of those using the plan are not poor, President Obama wants to discontinue the savings plan.
Specifically, in simple terms, the White House has taken the position that since less than half of the 7 million families that currently use a 529 plan have average incomes under $150,000, then the 529 plan is ineffective. Therefore it should be taxed so that those taxes can be used by the Government to redistribute to others they find to be in more need. This also directly breaks the 2009 pledge by President Obama to not increase taxes on middle-class families making less than $250,000 (2/24/09) – but who can remember that far back.
It should be noted that Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman states the plan is, “ineffective in serving its goals of getting people to go to college who wouldn’t otherwise have gone.” From another point of view Ray Ellis, lead federal tax policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, calculates that 30% of those using the 529 plan currently, have incomes of $100,000 or less and the loss of the college savings plan would affect 3.5 million families.
Given the past history of miscommunication, and the net effect of the “free” things provided by the Obama Administration so far, middle class families would be wise to be leery of the results from the latest proposal. Even those most in need should ask how they would qualify as having earned the “work for it” caveat the President omitted less than a week ago.
The upshot is that if President Obama can get this Robin Hood “free” proposal passed through the Republican Congress – with the increased taxes attached (which is highly unlikely) – it would be the first time that the public understanding of ‘free stuff’ from the Government would be accurate to some degree. At the same time, this Robin Hood would also be the evil tax hungry antagonist of that fable – Prince John. Of course Prince John didn’t have the benefit of television and 30-second soundbites.
The just past midday temperature was approximately 9 degrees on January 21, 2015 in Binghamton, New York. But the cold temperatures did nothing to stop roughly 100 pro-fracking supporters from gathering in front of the State Building to protest the December 2014 decision to ban fracking in New York State. The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLC), along with union members and others, gathered to let their voices be heard that the issue has yet to reach a conclusion.
Speakers at the event touched upon the fact that fracking (also known as hydrofracking or horizontal fracking) in use in 35 States across the nation. They note that there has not been an aquifer negatively affected by fracking in 30 years. Environmental consultant Bob Williams noted that prior to the change in DEC Commissioner, the proposal for NY regulation of fracking was seen by some as not only adequate but a standard to be used in other states as well. Mr. Williams also stated that during his time on the NY advisory panel for fracking only 8 meetings were held with a 9th meeting postponed.
Most directly the JLC speakers at the event spoke about the financial impact of the decision to ban fracking on the Southern Tier. The Southern Tier received the news of the fracking ban at the same time that 2 area casinos were denied full casino licenses, leaving many with doubtful forecasts for the economic prospects of the region. Scott Kurkoski, legal counsel for the Joint Landowners Coalition noted that the economic impact does not stop at the New York border,
“We see that the President of the United States talking about we are an energy superpower… We did that because of American ingenuity… We are able to accomplish those opportunities and bring it to everywhere in the nation, except here [NY].”
Speaking with reporters at the rally Mr. Kurkoski added to his earlier statement in addressing the potential of future legal action or Federal involvement on the subject of fracking,
“Were proud that now Washinton [DC] is looking at these issues, paying attention to what is happening in New York, and understanding that not only are their consequences to the Southern Tier but consequences to the nation.”
The protest rally on Wednesday was the second in a series of planned protests since the December decision. The first protest reportedly garnered a crowd of 600 – 750 supporters. The next planned protest is expected to take place in Norwich, NY in the next few weeks.
**Written by Michael “Vass” Vasquez for the Binghamton Political Examiner on 1/22/15**
As news has swept New York State about the arrest of NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), reactions have been varied and explicit. The New York Times was the first to report the news in the early hours of January 22, 2015, followed by headlines in all the major and minor news agencies of New York. The repercussions of the arrest are still unclear.
What is know is that Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Moreland Commission in late 2013. The goal was to seek out politicians and political organizations within New York that were engaging in corrupt practices, violating campaign finance laws, and/or otherwise violating election rules. To that end subpoenas were issued to high profile figures in NY politics – Speaker Silver, Dean Kelos, and Jeffery D. Klein among others. The Moreland Commission was unofficially closed in 2014, mere months after starting. Yet as seen by executive director Regina Calcaterra who received continued payments of $13,400 a month at least until June 2014, no official Executive Order from the Governor exists to close the Commission.
The fact that the Moreland Commission had targeted high profile NY politicians, and was rumored to be investigating Gov. Cuomo and organizations with ties to the Governor, is cited by many as the reason that the Commission was suddenly closed. Even while it was in operation, reports state that there was a large input from the Governor on what could and could not be investigated, though the Commission was publicly announced as having autonomy in its work. At the time there was question on whom Gov. Cuomo was protecting from the corruption commission. The public outcry was so intense, that it garnered national attention and led to the intervention of Federal prosecutors to continue the investigations of the Moreland Commission.
As of today, the question of who was being protected seems to be in part answered. Assemblyman Silver, arrested on charges of taking payments of up to $3.8 million over 15 years, was a primary target of the Moreland Commission, but he was not the only figure investigated. In total some 38 members of the New York Legislature have been arrested since 2000. The atmosphere of corruption is pervasive and obviously widespread.
Still that has not stopped many NY politicians from siding with Assemblyman Silver, both in the past and now. In 2008 it was Hillary Clinton who praised Assemblyman Silver, but in 2015 it is now Mayor de Blasio who is praising Silver,
“Although the charges announced today certainly are very serious I want to note that I’ve always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out.”
Such a positive and supportive tone is not shared across the State. From scathing editorials, to commentary across social media, the apparent demise of a stranglehold of Democrat power is being met with cheers for justice. The movement for the immediate resignation from office can again be heard as was the case with Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, who led the charge to remove Silver on 2012 after charges he directed funds to pay-off victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, as stated in a press release we received from her office from today. That press release went on to state,
“Speaker Silver’s complete disregard for the ethics rules and hard-working taxpayers of New York is a disgrace. He should step down from his office immediately … The culture of corruption is pervasive as pay-offs, backroom deals, and cronyism are business as usual in Albany. This is unacceptable. Silver’s arrest is simply the latest indicator we need substantial reform in Albany.”
There are of course many Democrats that have taken a more wait-and-see approach. While not praising Assemblyman Silver as Mayor de Blasio did, Gov. Cuomo was quoted as stating,
“Obviously it’s bad for the speaker, but it’s also a bad reflection on government and it adds to the negativity… Obviously there’s a system and a justice system and I think everyone should respect the justice system. But I truly do not know enough.”
We will note that we asked Gov. Cuomo for comment on the issue. Specifically we requested comment on the fact that the arrest is a direct result of the continued investigations that were initiated by the Moreland Commission that Gov. Cuomo ended. As of the publication of this article, we have yet to hear a response, nor have we seen comment to answer that question elsewhere.
Akin to Gov. Cuomo, we asked Assemblywoman Lupardo for her opinion on the arrest, and the end of the Moreland Commission. Her office provided us the following comment,
“These are obviously serious allegations against the Speaker,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “We will have to let the criminal justice system run its course. We’ll know more when we hear directly from the Speaker on Monday. In the meantime, we have serious work that needs to be done and we can’t let this sidetrack us.”
Still as much as there is caution from some political circles, and cries for resignation from others, few are willing to predict the potential outcome from continued investigations into the revelations that the Moreland Commission was working on. Our requests for comment, from Assemblywoman Tenney, Assemblywoman Lupardo, State Senator Tom Libous (who did not respond), and Gov. Cuomo (who did not respond) all failed to gain substantive answers to the question of what will the failed Moreland Commission result in for the State. It is conceivable that Gov. Cuomo could equally find himself sharing the fate of Assemblyman Silver and former Governors Patterson and Spitzer.
The only thing that is acutely clear, and has been known among average New Yorkers for decades, is that corruption in the New York government is a mainstay of State politics. From the hidden homes and IRS gaffes of Rep. Charles Rangel, to the Twitter scandal of Anthony Weiner, through at least 2 Governors and 30 State Legislators, many New York politicians have done little to dissuade the public from being concrete in their belief that politics in the State are not so much Blue and Red, but green. Even if the Moreland Commission were still in force, it is unlikely that such invasive corruption could be weeded out. But we can collectively hope that the Federal prosecutors picking up where Moreland left off will be able to make a dent.
The following was the request, cited in our article, Moreland may have stopped, but Silver knows the corruption investigation is on, to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on 1/22/15. The motivation was the arrest, on corruption charges, of NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Previously, Silver was under investigation by the Moreland Commission, authorized by Gov. Cuomo – who subsequently disbanded the Commission, rumored due to the closeness the Commission was coming to allies of the Governor. As of this date, we continue to await a response, and will provide that response verbatim once received.
I am a writer for M V Consulting, Inc and the Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com. We are seeking comment about the arrest of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. In addition, we seek your comment on the fact that the arrest is a direct result of the continued investigations that were initiated by the Moreland Commission that you stopped.
We have a reputation for providing our readers with the complete verbatim response that you provide to us, in context. We look forward to your response.
Michael “Vass” Vasquez
President – M V Consulting, Inc
Writer – Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com
** Article originally written BY Michael Vass at Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com **
When the President speaks to the nation at the State of the Union Address, there is a presumption that is made. Whether it is members of Congress or the average American at home, they expect the President to deal from the top of the deck. Given that a President may add some flourish to the way they see things, or cherry pick at the stats, or even ignore unflattering news. But the President is expected to speak directly without gimmicks or sleight of hand (at least not beyond the normal DC beltway polispeak). That trust with the American people has now been broken.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan introduced a guest during the State of the Union, Mr. Lenny Skutnik, who had save the life of a passenger from the Air Florida Flight 90 crash into the Potomac River. The reason for picking Mr. Skutnik wasn’t because he was then a Government worker, but because he dove into frigid water and saved a woman’s life. It just so happened that there were dozens of witnesses to his selfless act. Because it was heroic and selfless, President Reagan held him in honor. Since that time, virtually every President has had a guest that they have introduced at the State of the Union Address. Often 2 or more.
The point of the guest of the President is not a parlor game, but a reminder that each and every American is capable of greatness. That ordinary people, often in extraordinary circumstances, will rise up and be the kinds of heroes that we all dream of being. Politics being what it is, over time the guest of the President has equally become a point of political emphasis. Often guests represent either an ideal or a moment in America that whichever President seeks to emphasize as part of their agenda to help the American people. But in each case, there has been no question of the credibility of the person selected.
Even in 2015, some of the guests of First Lady Obama (who went unmentioned by the President) held true to this example. Ana Zamora, the child of illegal alien parents, was a guest to showcase the unmentioned potential of immigration reform under the Obama Executive Order. Protected by the DACA, Zamora was an example of someone who went to school, got a job, and actively works to get other illegal aliens and their children enrolled in the unilateral immigration regulation of President Obama. While some may not agree with the Executive Order, or how it was implemented, Ms. Zamora is an example of what it can result in.
But what is insulting, and a massive breach of trust, was the story of Ben and Rebekha Erler. It’s not that they struggled and ultimately gained success. It’s not that the President claimed they were able to gain success only due to his programs over the past years. It’s that President Obama told their story, and omitted the very large part about Sen. Patty Murray (D- WA), or even himself.
It has come to light that Rebekha Erler was a Democrat field organizer. She worked for Senator Murray. Which instantly makes her story questionable. But it gets worse. Because President Obama left out the part of the story where he went to Minneapolis, MN to spend a day with an “average American family.”
Perhaps those of us who grew up in New York City, or Binghamton, or Boise, or Austin, actually anywhere in the United States, just don’t realize what an “average” American is. It is doubtful that any American would say someone politically connected enough to be a field operative for a political party, and have the President spend a day with them as a result, could be considered “average.” Unless of course the description was for an average DC lobbyist.
So much like the infamous “you can keep your doctor,” President Obama once again has pulled a fast one. It is inconceivable that the President didn’t know, June 26, 2014, that the woman he spent a day with discussing their shared views for the nation had worked for the very same Party that he leads. Even if that were the case, President Obama cannot say that he could not remember Erler from June – as he directly reused the quote from meeting her as part of his State of the Union Address,
“You guys are the reason I ran. You’re who I’m thinking about every single day…” – President Obama, June 26, 2014 as reported by Reuters
But let’s assume the best case scenario. President Obama knew, at the very latest before the State of the Union, that Erler was a Democrat operative. Did that mean the struggles she strived through were because the Democrat Party and Sen. Patty Murray didn’t pay her a fair wage? Was her need for the Obama programs a direct result of the failure of the Democrat programs to initially allow her and her family to thrive?
Going a step further, did President Obama and the staff of the White House think that no one in the news media would check on the background of Erler and her family? Did he think that the staff of Reuters, the Associated Press, and others in the media would just let it pass? Or was the thought that the American people just don’t care enough for it to matter? Worse, that the American people are too dumb to know that a political operative is not just an “average” person?
Truly Democrats across the nation must be upset. If by nothing else then by the fact that the President, and all the Staff of the White House, were unable to pick a better spotlight example of the benefits of Democrat tax and spend ideology than a politically connected woman the President had already used as a prop just 6 months ago. The implication, true or not, is that after Obamacare; higher capital gains taxes; higher income taxes; $8 trillion dollars in national debt; and a failed Stimulus program, the very best that President could offer the nation was a Democrat shill.
Ben and Rebekha Erler cannot be blamed for this. Rebekha noted on her political clout in her LinkeIn profile. She had already been exposed in June, though the major media ignored the disconnect with reality the Obama Administration had offered. As a loyal Democrat, when asked by the leader of her Party and the President of the United States to sit humbly and revisit the very same conjured image of success that the Democrats needed to spread across the nation to sell their ideals, she said yes. That’s understandable, if more than morally questionable.
But President Obama knew. As he uttered each word of the altered and amended story, he knew he was omitting facts that would change the way every American would think about the tale he was weaving. He knew that this would be found out by the media. He knew that there would be a backlash, because he is not a stupid man nor a clueless politician. Yet, he didn’t care.
How can America trust a President, that at the moment where he is supposed to lift the nation and kindle the American dream, instead drowns the dream in staged theatrics for partisan political benefit and the furthering of his own personal hopes of glory?
There is a lot of talk about the State of the Union Address and the Republican response for 2015. What is not in the discussions is what was not in the speech by President Obama. Immigration.
The State of the Union is one of the most carefully crafted documents made each year by our Government. It is read (unlike many Bills and laws) and reviewed and corrected multiple times before the final draft. There is no paragraph or sentence that is not approved beforehand.
Thus, the final speech is significant in what it does and does not include. If any subject important to the nation is omitted, it is a serious declaration by the President. As an example, the terrorist murder of French nationals in Paris was addressed – speaking to the international policy of America and our relations with allies. Therefore it must be asked why the President made no mention about immigration, or the actions he unilaterally took at the end of 2014, beyond the following paragraph,
“Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
President Obama has had his peaks and valleys with immigration. During the 2008 election campaign he was at a peak, as he promised reform of immigration laws in his first year in office if elected. From 2009 to 2011 he was in a valley. He peaked again in 2012 with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), coincidentally matching another election. Then came another valley until 2014, once again matching an election year (though this time for his Party and not himself – which may explain his taking action after the election rather than before it).
By the blatant and obvious omission of immigration, President Obama signaled that 2015 would be a year of a valley. A very significant one, as he did not even mention Ana Zamora. Ms. Zamora has benefited from the DACA passed by President Obama. This has caused her to go out and champion the program, getting other illegal immigrants to sign up for it. So impressive were her actions that she was invited to the State of the Union by First Lady Michelle Obama. But there was no mention of her, or the issues that caused her to be a guest.
It should be noted that Ana Zamora is not a citizen. She has family members (siblings) that are citizens, but she is apparently not interested in taking an oath to this nation. Yet she is more than happy to work and get an education, with the blessing of the President. That may be a reason for the snub to her, but the issue of immigration is another matter.
Even as the President issued veto threat after threat against any Republican idea that could alter any action undertaken during his presidency, the subject of the most recent outcry from Republicans went unmentioned. Lost was the dire warning of past State of the union Addresses that immigration reform was a critical requirement for the nation. Evaporated was the decree that those who had violated federal law must be welcomed with open arms. Unheard was the plea that these millions of active and determined criminals should be rewarded for their persistent dedication to evade the law. The only thing said was that it would be a shame to enforce the law that exists, and how bad we would feel if we were the criminal the law was being enforced upon.
This was a purposive act. The President, speaking for the first time to a Congress that he wielded no control over, avoided the incendiary comments made in November 2014 – just before he enacted unilateral Executive action. While adamant threat of veto for interference with negotiations with Iran was cleared for the speech, someone in the White House felt that throwing the overreach of the Branches of Government in the face of all 3 Branches was just going too far.
But if the President believes he is right, that he has done what the people have wanted, then shouldn’t he have been as brazen about immigration as anything else he dared Republicans not to do? Wouldn’t it be a vindication of his efforts, to stand before all the Government and defend his use of Executive Orders and present the nation with the benefit of his actions? Unless that is not what the immigration Executive Orders were about.
As President Obama stated at the end of his speech,
“My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol — to do what I believe is best for America.”
It’s a critical statement. A revealing one. President Obama apparently is out to do what he thinks needs to be done. Not uphold the laws as they stand. Not help create new law through Congress to better reflect the will of the people. Not even pander to the polls, or the election results from the 2014 mid-terms. President Obama apparently is going in his own direction, no matter the opinion of Congress and the will of the public.
What this means for illegal aliens is harder to determine. President Obama’s silence may indicate that he is once again placing immigration in a valley of no concern. It may mean that President Obama is confident that Republicans fear his threat of veto enough to not move forward and create legislation that would alter his unilateral decree. Yet, it could also mean that President Obama is aware of the tenuous status of the Executive Order, and the desire of Republicans to eliminate not only the November decree, but the DACA action in 2012. In that case, the President may have felt that any mention of immigration would further impel Republicans to take action and mar his place in history books to come.
Whatever the reason, the omission of immigration is both relevant and necessary to discuss. The issue is far from over, as President Obama duly noted. But illegal aliens should be most fearful, not of Republicans, but of a President unwilling to discuss their future when all of the Government and nation is watching.
Over the 3 day Martin Luther King holiday, on Sunday Jan 18, 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the next step in his plan to make New York State the “progressive capital” of the nation. While the news was muted, both by the timing and the release of the topics for President Obama’s State of the Union Address, it nonetheless caught the attention of many New Yorkers. The proposed action is an increase of the minimum wage to $10.50 for those in Upstate NY, and $11.50 for New York City.
The hot button issue of minimum wage has been actively on the tongues of Democrat and Liberal politicians since Sen. Elizabeth Warren first made the rally cry for a national minimum wage of $22. Since that time it has been a popular issue to refer to whenever the economy is addressed, or social justice is cited. Not as well celebrated across the nation was the news that the Democrat controlled NY Assembly proposed an increase in the minimum wage in 2012.
Part of the reason that Gov. Cuomo has taken action is the political turmoil created by New York City Mayor DeBlasio. The Mayor suggested in 2014 that the minimum wage in the city be increased even more than that of the State. At the time Gov. Cuomo rejected the idea. But in a new year, Gov. Cuomo now has reversed his position, somewhat, stating that the State should set the price while conceding that New York City has a cost of living in excess of the rest of the State.
Still there is great debate, in New York and across the nation, as to the impact of increases of the minimum wage. Beyond the feel good sound of the increase, the real world effect of such an increase is still not clearly understood. What is known is that some 2%-5% of workers are paid minimum wage. Over 88% of those on minimum wage are over the age of 20. Minorities and women are key figures affected by the minimum wage.
What is not known is affect on these individuals, and is the subject of intense research. According to a CBO study on the impact of a raise of minimum wage to $10.10 across the nation, a range of between almost no impact to a loss of 1 million jobs. Research by Politifact on the subject determined that there is no clear answer as results from national minimum wage increases since 1978 show equally employment growth and reduction. Yet, in a study of the impact to job growth (as opposed to employment levels in other studies) from raising the wage, Johnathan Meer and Jeremy West of Texas A&M found,
” Our findings are consistent across all three data sets, indicating that job growth declines significantly in response to increases in the minimum wage. However, we do not find a corresponding reduction in the level of employment, particularly in specifications that include state-specific time trends.”
And then there is the impact of the minimum wage on poverty. It is ultimately the driving argument to increase the wage. According to David Neumark, of University of California,
“Most studies of the effects of the minimum wage on the income distribution in the United States suggest that a higher minimum wage does little to reduce poverty… some low-skilled workers lose their jobs and others fail to find work because of the higher wage floor.”
Perhaps most pertinent to New York and the proposal by Gov. Cuomo were the thoughts of James Schrager of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business,
“It depends on your definition of ‘small business.’ If it is a neighborhood restaurant or hardware store, then yes, it could have quite an impact. But if your small business is a technology startup, then probably less so as you are not likely to employ as many entry-level employees.”
In much the same way that researchers and industry leaders are without definitive agreement, the consensus of politicians across the Southern Tier of NY are similarly mixed. We sought out the responses from several elected officials. We reached out to Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, State Senator Tom Libous, and Binghamton Mayor Rich David (who did not respond), asking each of them the same 2 questions:
- We are seeking an official response about Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to increase the minimum wage in NY State and NYC
- We would ask what is your expectation of the impact on the Southern Tier
From the office of Senator Libous, a more cautious tone was called for. The response mirrors in some ways the research from Politifact. It also highlights the concern noted by Gov. Cuomo in 2014 about the potential for competing minimum wages from city to city within the State.
“In the past, I’ve supported raising New York’s minimum wage in stages – but we must be sensitive to the impact drastic minimum wage increases can have on small business owners,” said Senator Tom Libous. “Overall, minimum wage should be handled at the federal level, to prevent states from competing against each other.”
From the office of Assemblywoman Lupardo, a more enthusiastic response. Assemblywoman Lupardo is more aligned with Senator Warren in a hopeful outlook that constituents will be better enabled by the change.
“I support the Governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) “Studies show that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend extra earnings immediately on basic needs and services that they could previously not afford. This type of increased activity would certainly be beneficial to the Southern Tier.”
From the office of Assemblywoman Tenney, a more small business focused response was provided. Assemblywoman Tenney sees an outcome that matches the data found in the Meer-West research on overall job growth, and like State Senator Libous is concerned about small business owners.
“Why is the Government intervening in what should be a competitive free market. It causes inflation and hurts small business. As an example there is the small independent coffee shop trying to compete with Dunkin Donuts. Smaller independent companies cannot absorb the change like giant chains.”
Ultimately, the result of an increase in the minimum wage within a year, if Gov. Cuomo is able to get his proposal passed, is unclear. A small portion of New Yorkers will be paid more. Some people will be without work as companies try to comply or leave the State. Costs for goods may increase effectively eliminating any gains made by those receiving the minimum wage and negatively impacting others, keeping New York at the 2nd worst real minimum wage in the nation . Most companies will endure, and the majority of New Yorkers will see no difference in their paychecks. A real fear will be how many companies will exit the least business friendly State once minimum wage increases, and as a result how many New Yorkers will leave to get jobs – at whatever pay scale – that are no longer available here.