Increasing Hostility to the Media Should Concern Us All

Physical violence with reporters is becoming all too common

Greg Gianforte, Susan Gianforte

Greg Gianforte celebrates his win over Rob Quist for the open congressional seat in Bozeman, Montana. The Republican multimillionaire Gianforte won despite being charged a day earlier with assault after witnesses said he grabbed a reporter by the neck and threw him to the ground.

Anyone remember in 2010 when then-Republican candidate for New York governor Carl Paladino said to a New York Post columnist “I’ll take you out, buddy”?

It was a very hot moment during the heat of that campaign. The video of the encounter played on TV stations for weeks.

Though intense, and out of line, the confrontation didn’t turn physical, as many feared.

The same can’t be said for the incident we saw last week in Montana, when congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly grabbing Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and slamming him to the ground just one day before a special election. Just read the transcript of what was said, which was audio recorded.

 Jacobs: …the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out…

Gianforte: Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.

Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious—

Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.

 [loud scuffling noises, an even louder crash, repeated thumping]

Gianforte: [shouting] I’m sick and tired of you guys!

Jacobs: Jesus chri—!

Gianforte: The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!

Jacobs: Jesus!

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?

Jacobs: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.

Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.

Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.

Now, the candidate said the reporter was being aggressive and grabbed him by the wrist. Jacobs said he never touched Gianforte and a Fox News reporter who witnessed the incident said Jacobs was not physically aggressive.

As you can read above, the reporter was physically attacked — for asking a question.

I wish that was an isolated incident. But it wasn’t.

The free press has seen a lot of abuse lately. Donald Trump, both as a candidate and president, has made a habit of attacking the media, calling everything “fake news” and labeling it as the “enemy of the people.” And now, reports allege Trump suggested to former FBI Director James Comey that certain journalists should be thrown in prison.

As grotesque as that is, it’s, for the most part, verbal abuse. And journalists have thick skin. But over time, that verbal abuse has translated into physical altercations which have actually been quite frequent. Just in the last month, the editor of an Alaska newspaper said a state senator slapped one of his reporters when they asked for the politician’s opinion on a recent article. A reporter from CQ Roll Call said he was pinned against a wall by security guards and forced to leave the Federal Communications Commission headquarters when he tried to ask the commissioner a question. Another journalist was arrested after asking Health Secretary Tom Price questions about opioids.

We’re gotten to a point where beating journalists has become a solution for public officials who don’t want to deal with the press, which is downright frightening. Yes, the media can, at times, appear too intrusive, but they are doing their job. Simply walking away and not saying anything, or saying “no comment,” is just as effective and much less likely to end in a fine or jail time for assault.

But even more frightening is the slow, and even nonexistent, condemnation of actions like Gianforte’s from other public officials.

“We all make mistakes,” Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told NBC News. “From what I know of Greg Gianforte, this was totally out of character.”

“We all make mistakes” is something we say to our children the first time they forget to do a homework assignment or lose a library book. It is not an excuse for someone vying to serve the people of Montana in the United States Congress to body-slam a reporter.

More frightening still is that this repulsive behavior by elected officials or those who seek elected office is being channeled down to average people, who sometimes see it as almost heroic.

Indeed, the Gianforte campaign said they raised over $100,000 online in the 24 hours following the incident with Jacobs.

Last year, a photo went viral across the internet of a man at one Trump rally in a shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”

We’re passing the point of just a war on the media in general. Now it’s on those inside the media. We’re venturing further into an era where assaulting an individual and justifying it because he’s a “liberal journalist” isn’t only not frowned upon, but encouraged and rewarded.

Gianforte eventually apologized to Jacobs and called his actions “a mistake.” But it came only after he won the special election, and it came when just hours earlier he had denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

It seems like a long way from the days of Paladino threatening to take out a reporter. The only difference between him and Gianforte is Paladino lost.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Senate Stipend Scandal Another Reason Why We Don’t Like Albany

Lawmakers should not be getting paid for jobs they don’t have

John Flanagan

New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan addresses the Senate in the Capitol in Albany.

Last year, the New York Legislature made quite the effort to get a pay raise of 47 percent — from an annual $79,500 to $116,900 — which would’ve been their first raise since 1999. The state pay commission denied them that raise in the fall.

But as it turns out, some state senators have been getting a raise for years — one of their own making and one they do not deserve.

The New York Times revealed recently that at least four Republicans and three members of the Independent Democratic Conference have been receiving thousands of dollars in stipends for leadership positions when they actually do not hold leadership positions.

Two of them are central New York legislators — Sen. David Valesky, who represents the city of Syracuse and parts of Onondaga and Madison counties, and Sen. Patty Richie, who represents Oswego County and areas along Lake Ontario up to Massena.

Ritchie was authorized to receive a $15,000 bonus for serving as chair of the Health Committee, despite only serving as deputy vice-chair. Valesky is the current vice chairperson of the Health Committee. According to the Times, two documents in 2015 and 2016 identified Valesky as chairman of the committee, requesting two payments totaling $7,500. In total, Valesky received $30,000 in gross pay for the stipends in 2015 and 2016 for a job he doesn’t have.

Legislators make a base pay of $79,500, but most are paid additional dollars a year in stipends for leadership roles.

The actual chairs of the committees didn’t take the stipends because they accepted higher compensations for other leadership roles. State law mandates lawmakers who hold multiple leadership roles can only take a stipend from one. So if one legislator is chair of a committee, but is also a member of the Senate leadership, they naturally take the higher of the two stipends, apparently leaving the other for someone else to grab, instead of returning it to the state treasury, as one might think.

Oh and by the way, that’s taxpayer money. And both Valesky and Richie have said that they have no intention of giving back the paychecks, either.

So, do you get money for jobs that you don’t do?

I didn’t think so.

If there are seriously any politicians wondering why so many hardworking people think they feel they are above the law, look no further. This is exactly the kind of thing in Albany that people don’t like and the kind of thing we want to stop.

Incredibly, the Senate Republican leadership has defended the entire practice, citing a state law that allows unspecified pay for senators serving in a “special capacity,” though it does not specifically say whether chairman stipends can be transferred legally to other members.

“I think everything we’ve done in the past and right now is in full accordance with not only the constitution but the legislative law,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said to reporters on May 15.

Did you notice that he said “in the past”? Apparently, this is nothing new. The Senate’s top lawyer said previous Senate leaders had used the same tactic as far back as 2013, which would include Dean Skelos — the one now convicted of extortion.

It’s that never-ending excuse for wrongdoing in Albany: “it’s normal. It happens all the time.”

But good government groups like Reclaim New York and Common Cause New York have called the practice a fraud. And they have joined Democrats’ demands for a full investigation into what some define as filing a false instrument.

Whether the Republicans’ interpretation of this statue is legal or not, there is still this predicament: Just because something may be legally binding doesn’t mean it is right.

For New York taxpayers who tire of Albany scandals and desperately want a cleaner and more transparent government, finding out that some of their representatives are submitting false information on their payrolls isn’t exactly reassuring. And as an explanation, “we think it’s legal” just isn’t going to cut it.

The cases disclosed by the Times, as well as the overall practice of stipends, should be thoroughly investigated. More importantly, right or wrong, the practice of handing-off stipends should come to a halt. As the root of all evil, money has already infected Albany almost beyond repair as it is. The last thing we need is members of the Legislature raking in thousands of taxpayer dollars just because no one else is taking it.

Maybe if the Legislature fought as faithfully for New Yorkers and a cleaner government as they do for a pay raise, they might actually deserve to get one. This Senate stipends scandal is just another reason why they don’t.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

My First Year With Cable News

Today’s headline: What I found most annoying about it

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Nope. I never had it before.

But by the time Super Tuesday came around, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Unique characters like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had made the 2016 presidential election just too damn interesting. Those who know me are aware of my extreme fascination with elections — particularly when it comes to the office of president.

Even though I spent eight hours a day scrolling through Associated Press stories at work and had unlimited access to Twitter and the internet, it still wasn’t enough for an enormous news consumer like myself.

So one day I bit the bullet and ordered a subscription that included CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

And just like that, for the first time in my life, I had entered the compelling world of cable news.

That was just over a year ago. I watched all of the networks and watched closely. I was able to see full up-to-the-minute coverage of all sorts of important events. But I also noticed so many of the elements — big and small — about cable news that makes it something people love to hate.

Did I Say ‘News?’

Now, I don’t subscribe to the whole notion of the “liberal media.” And I disapprove of President Trump or anyone else referring to cable news as “fake news.”

It’s not fake. But it’s also hard to call it news — which is something Fox doesn’t seem to have a problem with. Even though they are the most-watched network by far, they religiously insist they aren’t “mainstream media.”

There are perhaps more appropriate, though less flattering terms that better describe it. “Infotainment” is one used by many, meaning cable news provides informative material but comes with spicy characteristics and personalities to make it different.

The word “advertising” comes most to my mind. They are corporations, after all. They’re here to make a profit. They spend almost the same amount of time reminding you what channel you’re watching as they do actually talking about the day’s events. I’ve said before that you could make a drinking game out of the number of times anchors put the name of their network into their sentences. “This is a Fox News Alert” and “you can watch it all right here on CNN” — over and over again. Then there’s the network logo on reporters’ microphones, anchor’s coffee mugs, on their desks, flying on a graphic in the background and of course, at the corner of the screen.

The name is also said several times during promotions for documentary-style programs networks produce — which raises another point. Why is CNN called a 24-hour news channel if they have a documentary about the 1980s playing during nighttime hours? Why is Fox a 24-hour news channel when it simply repeats three hours of the exact same segments that had been playing during the evening hours, which sometimes include outdated story developments?

It’s also disappointing that those who do the news are as big as the news, or in the recent case of Bill O’Reilly, are the news. Reporters and anchors are further blurring the line between journalist and celebrity. Of everything that happened on April 19, the biggest story of the day was that the most popular cable news network had ousted its most popular employee.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

They Really Are In a Bubble

Immediately after they called Trump the president-elect on Nov. 9, there was a lot of humble questioning inside the mainstream media about why they predicted everything so incorrectly, from polls to turnout to the eventual victor. Many began overusing the phrase that they “live in a bubble” or “live inside the beltway” and don’t understand struggles of everyday Americans, and therefore, weren’t qualified to predict how they would vote.

And why should they? MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow makes $20 million annually, which is amusing since she harshly criticized Republican congressmen in 2013 for complaining that they were struggling to get by on their $172,000 annual paycheck. Not that Maddow has complained about her paycheck, but she’s hardly the one to call others out for it. Just like Fox’s Sean Hannity is hardly the one to complain about his “overpaid friends in the media” when he is actually the highest paid New York TV anchor, at $29 million, which includes a private jet.

I saw the bubble constantly on display. It annoyed me to no end to watch these people cite these numbers and statistics that the economy is growing and less people are unemployed, then ask why are people so angry? Why are older people angry and voting for Trump? Why are young people angry and voting for Sanders? Why isn’t everyone honky dory about life right now?

It may be genuine curiosity to some, but to others it may very well be plain obviousness.

And that’s why some of the most intelligent, respected and experienced media professionals and scholars predicted Hillary Clinton would win Florida by five points, something I, a 23-year-old SUNY-educated editor at a small newspaper who’s never even been to Florida, knew would not happen.

Maybe even stranger is their attempt to make up for it by suddenly flooding rural America with reporters to “investigate” why people feel so disenfranchised. I remember seeing one segment on CNN with the banner reading “TALKING TO TRUMP VOTERS IN TRUMP COUNTRY” — like they’re people from a foreign planet or something. And I laughed out loud when CNN’s Van Jones brought us into coal country to learn of people’s pain and Anderson Cooper said “It’s just so great to hear from people — not pundits — just hear from people what’s in their hearts and what’s in their heads.”

Man, who would’ve thunk?

Analyzing the Analysis

Speaking of pundits, perhaps what designates cable news so much is the significant use of commentary in daily programming. Panel conversations on important events like election night or momentous news events are actually usually quite interesting. But it should never dominate a medium. Why every single news development needs instant reaction from someone I don’t know from Adam is beyond me.

Why do the opinions of some of these “experts” have so much weight? They sit there and go “I don’t think the American people will like this” and “this is going to make people think that” and blablabla.

What makes them so sure they know what we think?

Who are these people anyway? Scottie Neil Hughes, a front-line Trump supporter, equated Trump’s “sacrifice” to his business to that of a soldier giving his life in battle. What is she doing on national TV?

And when you get enough of these people together, all they do is yell these outrageous comments at each other so you can’t hear anything they’re saying. It just makes them all look downright foolish.

It’s not just the people. It’s the context. It’s understandable that politics can create heat in conversation, but I watched these pundits spend half an hour arguing about whose speech should’ve been in what time slot at the national conventions and the fashions of the outfits of people at the inauguration.

They really know what’s important to us.

Changing the Channel?

So Luke, if you hate it so much, why do you still have it?

I get that question a lot.

I guess I do appreciate having it at my disposal. And I like variety, so it’s nice to see what all types of news sources are saying.

Perhaps the biggest reason I still have it is this: As important as media is at keeping government accountable, it is also just as important to keep the media accountable — both now more than ever.

After all, more people get their news from cable than from any other medium. And one year later, I can’t seem to stop watching it.

I don’t know which scares me more.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

No, Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Run For President Again

Former candidate has yet to understand why she lost the last election

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has spent the better part of the last decade-and-a-half running for president. It’s been just six months after her stunning loss, but there are already many speculating that after two failed attempts, the former first lady may believe that a third time’s the charm.

Matt Latimer, contributing editor at Politico, wrote an audacious column in February saying she would certainly run again. He listed several concrete arguments regarding her recent actions as signals, like scaling back the involvement of the controversial Clinton Foundation, denying rumors that she would run for mayor of New York City and a new book deal.

Normally, there would be many reasons to suspect she wouldn’t run, like her age. She would be 73 in 2020, but that’s still a year younger than Donald Trump, already the oldest president ever elected. It’s also rare in modern times for a candidate who once received a main party’s nomination, but lost a general election, to run again and win both. The last person to do that was Richard Nixon in 1968. But in the age of Trump, it’s hard to judge political standards on history alone. Clinton still remains a popular figure and retains incredible influence over the Democratic Party.

The ill-fated candidate has made several returns to the limelight in recent weeks, still answering questions about why she thought she was defeated.

And that’s why she shouldn’t run for president again. Because she still doesn’t know.

Clinton recently spoke at the Women in the World Summit and was asked by New York Times columnist Nicholas Krist about her loss. She admitted that she could’ve done some things differently and said outright she was the name on the ballot, but she primarily continued to put the most blame on Russia and the James Comey letter that announced the reopening of an investigation of her emails just days before the election, a conversation that continues with Comey’s recent ousting.

Now, she’s not wrong. There’s no doubt both those contributed significantly to Trump’s victory. But she seems set that the Comey letter on Oct. 28 was the only nail in the coffin. She brought it up again recently.

“If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your president,” she said at the Women for Women International Summit in New York, again echoing her subscription to Five Thirty Eight pollster Nate Silver’s interpretation that had the Comey letter not been released, she would’ve won.

Silver also said on Election Day that Clinton had a 70 percent chance of winning.

Such reliance on the Comey letter is curious, given that at the time of its release, Clinton said everyone had already made up their mind about where they stood on the subject of her emails.

And that collaborates with a CNN exit poll that found 62 percent of people decided who they were going to vote for by September, long before the first debate, let alone the Comey letter. Only 7 percent decided in the campaign’s final days.

Even if the Comey letter decided the presidency, it doesn’t explain why the Democrats made little gains in the House of Representatives. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why the Democrats didn’t win back the Senate and why they lost Senate races in Democratic stronghold states like the one in Wisconsin. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Democrats gained only 6,000 new registered voters between 2014 and 2016, where the Republicans gained 145,000 in the same period of time. The Comey letter doesn’t explain why Democrats have lost nearly 1,000 legislative seats and many governorships over the last eight years. And it doesn’t explain why millions of Americans who voted for Barack Obama four years ago voted for Trump.

Clinton lost because she was part of a Washington establishment that one too many people across the country had felt had abandoned them — many of them poor, rural and white. And that couldn’t compete with the populist outsider appeal to Trump, who she spent too much time talking about and too little time talking about what she stood for, all the while representing a party that, to many, looked like it didn’t represent the average American worker anymore.

Clinton’s problems went way beyond the campaign’s final days.

That is common knowledge now. We’ve been over this. It’s no secret to anyone — except maybe Clinton.

 Joe Biden understands it. At a crowd at the University of Pennsylvania in March, he said that “this is the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for, and that is how to maintain a burgeoning middle class.”

Bernie Sanders understands it. He did all along, yet many even find him at fault because his base, young people, didn’t turn out to the polls for Clinton like they had for Obama. When asked how much blame Clinton put her loss on Sanders and the media, she said “well, how much time do you have?”

Voters are the last people that need blame. You have to earn their votes, not expect them.

You might ask why bring this up at all? The election is over. Clinton lost. Let’s move forward. While that is true, the Democratic Party is going to make the same mistakes in future elections if they don’t learn from the major ones they made in 2016. And for whatever reason, they don’t seem to be doing that.

And Clinton’s the one still leading the charge. She said at the women’s summit that she is now “part of the resistance” to the Trump administration.

Well, she was once the face of the resistance to Trump. That didn’t work out so well. So, it is undoubtedly not in the Democrats’ best interest to try that again.

Trump once told us that when he became president, we would win so much that we would get tired of winning. If the Democrats continue forward with the Clintons still at the helm, they won’t have to worry about that, because they won’t be winning at all.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Cuomo Is an Ethics Reform False Prophet

After running to clean up Albany,
governor keeps going about it the wrong way

Cuomo-holds-up-book-900x0-c-default

“King Cuomo” is a popular derogatory on-the-street nickname used by those who are harsh critics of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referencing their feelings of his overreach in state policy.

Take that as you will. But when it comes to the throne of concrete ethics reform, this king has abdicated.

“If we didn’t get it done in the budget, it means you didn’t have the political will to get it done,” the governor recently told reporters at an Easter eve reception. “Ethics reform, for example, I don’t see that happening with this Legislature.”

Wow. That’s a vastly different tone than the one we heard just five months ago.

In laying out his proposal for an ethics package in January, Cuomo said “we have been doing historic work at the state level — the government is doing more than ever before — but imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people. If we had that confidence, there is nothing we couldn’t do — and I am not going to stop until I get there.”

Well, he hasn’t gotten there. So why is he stopping?

We see this charade every single year. The governor comes out and makes a lot of noise about the need for ethics reform and how it’s going to happen this year. Then when budget time comes around, and especially after, he shrugs his shoulders with the “I’ve done all I can do” look and shakes his finger at the Legislature.

Never mind that 40 state officials have been accused or convicted of corruption since 2000. Never mind that the two leaders of the Legislature — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — were both sentenced last year on corruption charges. Never mind that nine of Cuomo’s own aides are preparing for trial on charges of bribery and bid-rigging in connection with the governor’s economic development projects. And never mind that a November poll found 97 percent of New Yorkers considered combating public corruption a top priority.

Sorry, everyone. Cuomo has apparently moved on.

That’s disappointing for a governor who claimed he’d be the champion to clean up Albany in his first campaign in 2010.

But it’s not surprising either, because he keeps going about it the wrong way.

Cuomo can’t seem to understand that in order for a cleaner government in this state to exist, he must lead the charge. And to do so, he needs to know when it’s best to be involved and when it’s best to step back. Incredibly, he has been successful at neither.

While he gives us the impression that his proposals can’t get through the Legislature, we know he can actually flex his political muscles and get them to follow along if he wants something bad enough. He was able to push the controversial SAFE Act through using a late-night “message of necessity” with no hearings, no testimony and no time for opponents to make a case against it. Many people thought Cuomo’s plan for a $15 minimum wage could never get past Senate Republicans or that no one could all agree on a paid family leave program.

This year he got his prized free tuition plan through, the go-ahead for Uber upstate and approval to raise the age of those who can be tried in adult court from 16 to 18, just as he asked. And despite a heavy outcry from the Legislature about Cuomo’s budget giving the executive too much power, they still approved a lot of it, including giving Cuomo more authority on the state budgeting process itself.

Yes, it’s the Legislature that must pass ethics reform in the end, but that hardly means Cuomo is merely a bench warmer until then. And it’s not that Cuomo shouldn’t be given credit for trying. His proposals provide sound remedies, like putting restrictions on outside income for lawmakers, initiating term limits and closing the LLC loophole.

But each year he makes clear where his priorities lie. After saying ethics will be his main concern, it instead becomes Uber or the Raise the Age initiative and ethics get kicked down the road once again.

If Cuomo really wanted reform, he would actually make it a priority. If he really wanted it as bad as he says, he’d make use of his leverage over the Legislature to make it happen. Sadly, this never seems to be the case.

Where the governor is involved in cleaning up Albany is just as troubling and ineffective. He created the “independent” Joint Commission on Public Ethics in 2011 to oversee government. Yet all of its members are decided by leaders in the Legislature and the governor himself. The current executive director, Seth H. Agata, is the third person to hold that position, and the third person in that position who was previously a top aide to — guess who — Gov. Cuomo.

Though not legally wrong, on its face, the appointment of government insiders by government insiders makes the commission by no means “independent” and makes its efficiency almost laughable.

Then there’s the infamous Moreland Commission, another “independent” group created by Cuomo in 2013 that would investigate possible corruption in Albany. That commission existed for only a few months because Cuomo had it shut down when his office discovered the commission was investigating him. His reasoning? It was “his.”

“It’s my commission. My subpoena power, my Moreland Commission,” he told Crain’s New York Business. “I can appoint it, I can disband it. I appoint you, I can un-appoint you tomorrow. So, interference? It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.”

Boy, nothing wrong with that.

Now Cuomo opposes legislation that would let the state comptroller examine state contracts before his administration can approve them. But Cuomo wants to use his proposal, which creates new inspectors general and special prosecutors.

But guess who would appoint those prosecutors? Him.

For whatever reason, Cuomo cannot comprehend the meaning of “independence” or that actual independent committees or individuals would fare better at fighting corruption.

If Cuomo re-strategized how he approached the ethics reform roadblock — using a heavy hand but also knowing when to keep his hands off — he might actually get passed needed legislation and be the champion to clean up Albany he keeps promising he will be.

But it looks like he’s no longer interested. He “doesn’t see that happening.” He’s essentially given up, which means that he is satisfied with the status quo of watered down proposals that have already been passed that will do little, while it’s only a matter of time before another state official’s arrest makes headlines.

Well, we’re not satisfied. So neither should he.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Time For Congress to Look In the Mirror

Events surrounding health care bill showed why people are
fed up with the government

Health Care Politics

A screenshot of House television shows the U.S. House of Representatives as their version of the revised GOP health care bill is passed last Thursday in Washington.

If there is one moment we can point to where the federal government gave us a reason to be disappointed in and embarrassed by — and there are many — look no further than last Thursday in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

On one side of the aisle, Republicans had just narrowly pushed through their version of a health care bill meant to replace the Affordable Care Act, legislation of which we know little about in terms of its ramifications and legislation that we know many congressmen didn’t even read before approving it.

On the other side, Democrats, upon its passage, began waving and chanting in unison the words “Na na na na na na hey hey-ey, goodbye!” obviously signaling their belief that Republicans’ move to overhaul Obamacare would cost many of them their seats in the next election in 2018.

Now, we voted for these people. They represent us. These are our elected officials. They’re supposed to be the adults in the room. They control our money, our economy, our education and our very livelihood. We should hold them to the highest of standards.

Instead, on Thursday they looked like a group of foolish high school students who were turning in their English homework without having done the required reading and who were at a rowdy sporting event shouting the words of the 1969 pop hit at their rivals.

It was a brief moment, but that kind of ridiculousness from both political parties said all there is to say about why people don’t like politics and why so many people are frustrated with the way Washington operates.

Sadly, those in Congress can never seem to figure that out. They can’t take the hint that they are the ones Americans are tired of. It’s not the president. Those come and go. It’s Congress that has Washington insiders who stay in the halls of power for decades at a time and who really have the handle on formulating national policy.

In case they haven’t noticed, a significant part of the last several presidential elections has been the promise by candidates to turn Washington on its head and change how business is done there. Americans elected Barack Obama because he was different. He was a fresh face; he had only been a member of Congress for four years and looked like someone who could unify both parties.

But too many people didn’t feel like he changed the system enough, or at all. Enter Donald Trump, a bombastic billionaire who has never held any political office who didn’t talk pretty and yelled about politicians just as much as a hard-working American probably does with their friends at their local bar on Friday nights. Sure, Trump’s emergence in part came about because of the very presence of Obama and his policies, but if Congress is feeling flustered working with the current administration, they only have themselves to blame. They created him. For the last several years, people have been clearly voting as a means to change Washington from the top down.

Indeed, a January Gallup poll found Congress’ approval rating at a whopping 19 percent. It has been consistently below 25 percent since 2010. And even though Republicans control both chambers currently, registered Republicans disapprove of Congress almost as much as Democrats. Even when Obama came into office with Democratic majorities in 2009, their approval rating was only 31 percent. In hindsight, it was 84 percent in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

And as unpopular as Trump may be, he is still far more popular than those in the Capitol. Again, why can’t they take the hint?

Some might get it. In a humorous display of self reflection, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado made a chart in 2011 showing all the things that were statistically more popular than Congress at the time. They included the IRS, Richard Nixon during Watergate, Hugo Chavez and the BP oil spill.

But others undoubtedly sit there, scratch their heads and wonder why their constituents hate them so.

Maybe it’s because Nancy Pelosi said members of Congress, many of whom are millionaires, couldn’t live without having their paycheck on time during the 2013 government shutdown. Maybe it’s because Ted Cruz read “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor purely to waste time. Maybe it’s because a Democratic lawmaker made a sex joke about Kellyann Conway or because a Republican brought a snowball into committee to show that climate change isn’t real.

Maybe it’s because lawmakers pass bills that impact one-sixth of the economy without reading them while others mock them and take the opportunity to rub their hands and dream of regaining power.

Maybe it’s time for some self evaluation. Maybe it’s time to try a little harder, end the gridlock and clown show, and show some real progress. They can badmouth the other side and tout their own agendas as the one better for us all they want. But they’re not fooling us. They’re still a group of squabbling high-schoolers. And we’re still here waiting for the day when they all grow up.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

Lawmakers Should Legislate Disclosure of Trump’s Tax Returns

Those in Albany should support bill to make
president’s tax information public

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin all but confirmed to all of us last week that President Donald Trump would never be publicly releasing his tax returns, which every president and most presidential candidates have done for more than 40 years.

“The president has no intention,” Mnuchin said at a press conference, of releasing his returns. “The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else.”

What?

So, Mr. Mnuchin is going to stand there and tell us that Trump isn’t going to follow one of the norms of presidential transparency, one that Trump promised on multiple occasions he would comply with during the campaign, and then say the administration has given more information than anybody else?

Clearly, the fact that Trump hasn’t released his returns disqualifies him from coming even close to that claim.

But it’s not just about a campaign promise anymore. Without Trump’s tax returns, we have absolutely no idea just how much he makes, how much he pays in taxes, whether he has foreign bank accounts or pays taxes to governments abroad, or most importantly, if his proposed sweeping tax reform legislation would financially benefit him or his business empire, and if so, by how much.

It’s clear by now he’s never going to release them willingly. And there is no statute requiring him to do so.

That needs to change. And there are those who want to make that change.

Several downstate Democrats in the New York state Legislature introduced a bill last week that would require the Department of Taxation and Finance to release five years of state tax returns of major elected officials who file in New York. That would include not only Trump, as it is his home state, but of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and New York’s two U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Minus Trump, all of them have made their 2016 returns public in recent weeks — voluntarily.

Under this bill, the Department of Taxation and Finance would have 30 days to post state returns from anyone holding either of those high offices. We would only be provided with state returns, as federal returns are protected for privacy by law. We would know more with Trump’s federal returns, but the state ones would still give us a lot of specifics we don’t know, like salary, dividends, capital gains and rental real estate income.

The bill wouldn’t apply to state lawmakers, but the four Democrats who introduced it all said they would be willing to release theirs if they had to. And that may not be so bad an idea either.

It is sad that we have to come to this. After the embarrassment of the Watergate scandal and numerous reminders of a hyper-secretive federal government since then, high-ranking public officials releasing their tax information has gone without saying. We haven’t needed to require it because lawmakers know releasing them is the right thing to do — both morally and politically.

Trump has changed that. And his continued battle to keep his returns secret is all the more reason they need to be seen.

Sadly, this legislation is unlikely to make it through Albany. State Senate Republicans have already voiced their opposition, with Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif suggesting the bill “sounds like a P.R. stunt.”

And yes, in many ways it is. But Republicans would more than likely feel the same way right now if a Democratic president or governor wasn’t making their returns public.

Which after Trump, is a distinct possibility. Once a precedent is broken with no consequences, it’s difficult to continue it. So there’s absolutely no reason for Republicans to oppose such a measure.

It’s clearly what constituents want. A Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll found 53 percent of voters say Trump should be forced to release his tax returns, 51 percent say Trump’s taxes are either very or somewhat important to them and 45 percent say Trump’s taxes are relevant to his job in the White House.

Of course, not all future presidents will come from New York. Trump is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to do so. Luckily, other states are introducing similar legislation of their own. Bills in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico and 15 other states would require anyone running for president to release the previous five years of returns in order to appear on the ballot. However, the success of most of those becoming law is a longshot at best.

And that is greatly disappointing. We would hope that our representatives in Albany would not only require transparency from any president from any party, but demand it. We have the right to know if our commander-in-chief has conflicts of interest with foreign nations that may put our national security at risk. We have the right to know if our president is using the most powerful office in the world as merely a way to further fill his already deep pockets.

And we shouldn’t assume Trump is, either. But until we see his tax returns, we don’t have a reason to assume he isn’t. That uncertainty will surely plague Trump as long as he holds the office. Our state legislators in Albany have the ability, and arguably, the responsibility to put that uncertainty to rest for the entire nation. They should take advantage of the opportunity.

Luke Parsnow is the Monday Editor and daily copy editor/page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88