In this week’s headlines…
On Nov. 2, the Islamic State belatedly claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack by Sayfullo Saipov in Lower Manhattan on Oct. 31, which killed eight people and injured 12 more (The New York Times, “Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Lower Manhattan Terrorist Attack,” 11.02.2017). A day earlier, President Trump railed against the U.S. criminal justice system and tweeted that Saipov should receive the death penalty, ignoring conventional wisdom that presidents should not opine on pending criminal cases (The New York Times, “Trump Declares Suspect ‘Should Get Death Penalty,” 11.01.2017).
Republican House lawmakers on Nov. 2 revealed their proposal for a tax code overhaul, which would slash taxes for corporations and deliver mixed benefits for individuals and families, depending on location, income level and tax breaks claimed (The New York Times, “Republican Plan Delivers Permanent Corporate Tax Cut,” 11.02.2017). Trump reportedly wants to include a rollback of the individual mandate, which is a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act (The New York Times, “Lobbying Frenzy Begins on Tax Bill,” 11.03.2017).
On Nov. 5, Trump opened his 12-day, trade-focused travels through Asia with a speech to American troops in Japan, in which he touted his domestic accomplishments and emphasized the toughness of the U.S. Trump is likely to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week to discuss North Korea, which the White House has indicated may soon be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism (The New York Times, “Trump Opens Asia Trip Talking Tough in Campaign-Style Rally,” 11.05.2017).
On Nov. 7, former Interim Head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Donna Brazile released her book, which tells the inside story of the turbulent presidential campaign that led to Trump’s election. She writes that she considered working to replace Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on the ballot after Clinton’s fainting spell in New York City on Sept. 11, 2016 (The Washington Post, “Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee,” 11.04.2017). She also asserts unethical behavior within the DNC, describing a fundraising agreement that gave Clinton outsize control of the party long before obtaining the nomination (Politico Magazine, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” 11.02.2017).
Trump, on Nov. 2, nominated Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve. Powell is a centrist Republican who has worked as lawyer and investment banker, and he would be the first Fed chair in 40 years who does not have a degree in economics (The New York Times, “Trump Announces Jerome Powell as New Fed Chairman,” 11.02.2017).
The White House approved the release of a Nov. 3 scientific report by 13 federal agencies that implicates humans as the dominant cause of global warming and thus stands in opposition with the Trump administration’s position on climate change (The New York Times, “U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials,” 11.03.2017).
In our backyard…
Thanks to the efforts of a third-grade class at Joseph D’Aquanni West Road Intermediate School in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro signed a law on Nov. 3 banning the use of environmentally hazardous polystyrene foam cups and food containers in chain restaurants and county facilities. The class was introduced to the issue in May 2017 by their teacher, Barbara Kurdziel, during a persuasive writing unit. The students presented their research to other middle-school classes, wrote letters to Molinaro and Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and ultimately presented their concerns to Molinaro at a June 22 meeting and to the county legislature at the vote on Oct. 10, where the ban was approved 23-1 (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Third-grade class project leads to polystyrene foam ban for Dutchess,” 11.3.2017).
On Oct. 31, Molinaro released his 2018 county budget proposal. Citing the more than 4.75 million visitors to the county, who generate $568 million in annual visitor spending, Molinaro allocated $1.5 million for Dutchess Tourism Inc., including a 20 percent bump in arts funding. More than $3 million will go to continued domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, including tracking domestic violence incidents through a coordinated database for police agencies. Monetary support is also set aside for a World War I commemorative event and special recognition for Gold Star families (Hudson Valley Post, “Molinaro Releases $480M Dutchess County Budget Proposal,” 10.31.2017).
An October report by the non-profit Education Trust—New York revealed that statewide, the demographics of educators do not reflect those of students. In Dutchess County specifically, about 40 percent of Black, Latino and white students attended schools with no Black or Latino teachers in the 2015-16 school year. Moreover, although more than 25 percent of the county’s public school enrollment is Black and Latino, the same can be said of only 4 percent of its teachers. Poughkeepsie led the county in terms of its ratio of Black and Latino teachers, who still only made up 21 percent of the total. According to the Education Trust, having a Black or Latino teacher can help improve academic performance, reduce suspension and dropout rates and improve college prospects for Black and Latino students (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Dutchess teaching workforce lacks diversity: Report,” 11.02.2017).
Spotlight on 2020 hopefuls…
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Born and raised in San Francisco, Harris had a bicultural upbringing—her father is Jamaican and her mother Tamil Indian—that has inspired comparisons to President Barack Obama. After high school, she studied at historically Black Howard University and then returned to the Bay Area to earn her J.D. at Hastings College of the Law. Joining the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as deputy district attorney, she prosecuted child rape, robbery and murder cases until 1998, when she became managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and then headed the San Francisco City Attorney’s Division on Families and Children.
In 2003, she became San Francisco’s attorney general, making history as the first Black person and the first woman to fill that role (ThoughtCo., “Biography of California Attorney General Kamala Harris,” 07.19.2017). Her refusal to defend Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage in California, helped lead to its being overturned in 2013. In 2009, she published “Smart on Crime,” co-authored with Joan O’C. Hamilton, which addresses the problem of criminal recidivism (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Kamala Harris”). Harris is known for being tough on crime, working in her various roles to double trial conviction rates for gun felonies, raise the percentage of dangerous criminals sentenced to prison and prosecute the parents of truant children. Harris announced her U.S. Senate bid in January 2015 and defeated Loretta Sanchez to become the second Black woman to fill a Senate seat (ThoughtCo.). Key issues for her platform included immigration and criminal justice reforms, raising the minimum wage and protecting women’s reproductive rights (Britannica).
In June 2017, Harris drew media attention when she stood her ground after being cut off by her colleagues during two Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. Senator John McCain interrupted Harris during her questioning of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr told her in both instances to stand down and allow the interviewees to answer. Following the incidents, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D- MA), who had been similarly shut down in February by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), offered her encouragement to Harris (CNN, “Once again, senators cut off Harris as she rails on Sessions,” 06.14.2017). In response to September comments by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell about a possible 2020 presidential run, Harris laughed and replied, “Lawrence, I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner” (Washington Examiner, “Kamala Harris bursts into laughter over 2020 talk,” 09.06.2017).