Is it time yet?

October 2, 2015

Another massacre on a school campus, this time in Oregon. On average, more than 10,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence.

The solution to enacting some 21st century rules and regulations around firearms is really very simple; the barriers to attaining rational and appropriate rules and regulations which reflect the realities of life in our current world seem to be insurmountable; but they really are not.

The NRA is the elephant in the room. With a base of about 6 Million members (about 2% of the U.S. population) they are wearing a mighty big hat, but they really don’t have many cattle.

Yet, anytime there has been even a whisper regarding legislative restrictions on ammunition — even bulk sales of armor-piercing ammunition to casual civilian buyers — the NRA has mobilized their base to scream about 2nd Amendment rights!

The same is true about restrictions on the types of arms which are appropriate for people to own and use, for legitimate and reasonable purposes.

The ‘poster child’ for these 2 issues centers on the NYS SAFE Act, which was passed by the NYS Legislature in January 2013 following the unspeakable massacre in Sandy Hook (CT) in December 2012.

Where a majority of New Yorkers — rational and responsible firearm owners and users included — find no problems with the NYS SAFE Act (yes, there were some early glitches which were quickly fixed), there continues to be a vocal contingent of ideological zealots who cling to the thread of some inaccurate information they received about the 2nd Amendment.

The greatest obstacle we face in reforming gun laws in the U.S. is the NRA. They are well-funded by interested parties; they have developed an effective lobbying effort; and they know when and how to ‘juice the system’ to make their position both well-known and well-loved.

Where the NRA {closely aligned with Gun Owners of America} presents a loud and singular voice of renegades and gun rights advocates, the rest of the population has elected to form their own organizations — hundreds of groups with similar, but slightly different mission statements — thus wasting resources and diluting the message.

If only the silent majority could figure out where to invest some money and/or other resources to help enable the gun control movement to score a victory against the ‘2nd Amendment fantasizers’ I think most of us would write the check today.

Unfortunately, until the gun control people sit down and find common ground, and agree to speak with a singular voice, the NRA and their lobbyists will continue to dominate the national stage.

For those who are able to consider new or different perspectives, you may find this analysis helpful: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/9437187/obama-guns-terrorism-deaths

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I am not a Roman Catholic, although I know many who are.

I wasn’t prepared for what Pope Francis had to say, nor how he chose to convey his message.

I am quite pleased to have observed and listened to most of the things Pope Francis subscribes to. No doubt that the Roman Catholic Church in America has lost a great deal of its luster over the past couple of decades for a variety of reasons.

I think if the American R.C. church (and many other religious institutions) can find a way to embrace some of the values this Pope advocates for; our country could come closer to healing.

Related to this observation, the John Boehner thing came as a bit of a surprise, and for a few moments, I was pleased.

Now that some of the background has been exposed, it seems that Boehner has tried very hard to create an environment where civil discussion and debate was at least possible.

It also seems clear that there is a vociferous contingent of ultra-conservative elected officials in D.C. who share a common thread: ‘Take no prisoners: it’s our way or the highway. We don’t negotiate or compromise, ever.’

I guess I knew before the Boehner announcement on 9/25 that there were at least a few elected characters in our Congress who are mean, rigid, callous and intractable.

I just never would have guessed that there were enough of these bigots and curmudgeons to create an environment toxic enough to drive John Boehner back to Ohio, for good.

I guess the Koch Brothers (and some others) are gaining some real traction from their ‘investments’.

Goes to show: You don’t personally need to wear the white hood if you can write enough checks to mobilize an army of fringe fundamentalists who are willing to align with your doctrine.

There are dozens – hundreds – of examples throughout history which support this theory, perhaps the most frightening of which is the rise of Nazism under the leadership of Adolph Hitler.

Perhaps the spirit of Pope Francis will engage and mobilize enough folks who seem to perpetually sit on the sidelines hoping that – magically or mysteriously – the right things will happen.

History tells us that the right things will only happen when people of good will mobilize in a positive way to stop the fringe fundamentalists from taking control of our economy, government and society.

Jessica Bakeman reports on politics and education policy in Capital New York’s Albany bureau. In a recent article focused on MaryEllen Elia, our recently appointed New York State Education Commissioner, Ms. Bakeman reflects on what may be a new strategy to fix the persistent problem of failing schools in pockets around the State.

In essence, Ms. Elia’s plan seems to rely on a “tough love” approach with district leaders and parents from the lowest performing NYS schools: ‘You have 2 years to fix these failing schools, or the state will do it for you’.  http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/07/8572658/elia-delivers-tough-message-leaders-struggling-schools

Unlike some observers, I strongly believe that the root cause of failing schools is not directly linked to teachers, administrators or common core.

The primary failure begins when we as a society allow virtually all of our lower-income children to be concentrated into just a few school districts — while continuing to operate dozens of boutique public school districts which serve children from predominantly upper income households.

Extensive research tells us that if we continue to follow this model, it will ensure that the achievement gap will continue to grow.

Whether accomplished through housing choice or school choice: economic, social and cultural integration at the K-12 level has been proven to be the best solution to close the achievement gap.

New York State allows and encourages public school districts to form around — and to exclusively serve — residents of villages, towns, neighborhoods and cities. The impact of this ‘home rule’ approach to public education has created de facto segregation which has produced more egregious and dangerous consequences than the issues debated in the Brown vs. Board of Education case which was decided in 1954 – 60+ years ago!

We can witness how “Separate and Unequal” has become the standard across New York State, very clearly corroborated by NYS Education Department statistics which prove that economic and racial segregation in housing translates directly to school inequality, which results in disparate student outcomes.

There really is no place for personal or private agendas on the part of our appointed and elected officials. Public officials are expected to set a positive example for all people, affirming that our elected leadership is fair, honest and forward thinking.

It may very well be that Commissioner Elia — appointed by the NYS Board of Regents — has been tasked with sweeping the truth under the rug, because she is not talking about the only viable solution, which is to reform NYS Education regulations, many of which date to the late 19th Century.

I can grasp the enlightened self-interest of homeowners in Pittsford, Scarsdale, Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville (or in dozens of other public school districts in NYS which serve students from upper income households) who want to fight for their autonomy to keep ‘those other children’ out of their schools.

These are the very same wealthy and politically active adults who wield undue influence over our elected officials in Albany.

With that said, I’m dubious that any meaningful reform can take place until the specter of political influence is removed from our public education system.

Wow! This headline caught my attention!

After some basic research, The Walrus is really disappointed – yet again – with some of the folks from the NRA.

Working through Rush Limbaugh – a true master of incendiary drama — Chris Cox from the NRA has just issued a ‘marginally correct’ announcement which seems to imply that our federal government is on track to deprive any and all older Americans from their ‘2nd amendment rights’ to keep and bear Arms.

The announcement states, “STOP OBAMA NOW! The Biggest Gun Grab in American History!

“… the Obama administration is moving to strip away the Second Amendment rights of over four million Americans who receive Social Security benefits through a ‘representative payee.’ Not only would this backdoor gun prohibition amount to the BIGGEST GUN GRAB in American history, but it’s happening without ANY vote in Congress or ANY due process for millions of law-abiding Americans.” http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2015/07/20/government_you_want_your_social_security_fine_then_give_us_your_guns

Yes, this is the very same Chris Cox who was paid – out of generous NRA member contributions from you and me – some $828,000+ in compensation and benefits in FYE 12/31/2013.

By way of background: at the close of 2014, there were 58 million people receiving traditional Social Security benefits, and an additional eight million US residents receiving SSI (SSDI) benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It was created to help provide a safety net to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and it provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

So, the over four million Americans who would be impacted by this action are people who have been identified through a court action during which it was determined that the person is incapable of managing their own affairs, and thus has somebody else receiving the monthly transfer benefit for them to manage on their behalf.

Some activists for cart-blanche gun rights; mental-health advocates; and supporters for the disabled have stepped forward to state that expanding the list of people prohibited from owning guns based on mental and/or financial competence is wrong.

A Yale psychiatrist, Dr. Marc Rosen, said “Someone can be incapable of managing their funds but not be dangerous, violent or unsafe.”

Yet, over half of the individuals identified by the VA who fall into the category where a third party has been appointed as a fiduciary are people 80 or older, often with dementia, seemingly reasonable criterion for discouraging gun ownership.

The Walrus is a citizen who hopes to die of natural causes, and he wants to believe that one role of government is to protect us from random violence.

It seems to be widely accepted that people who: (a) suffer from extreme depression; (b) lack mental capacity; (c) are no longer able to function independently; or (d) have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairment(s) which is severe, i.e. it significantly limits the physical or mental ability to do basic work activities — are those people who might be unstable some or all of the time, and thus ought to discouraged from ‘uninfringed’ gun possession and usage.

While The Walrus completely understands and appreciates the need for Chris Cox and his colleagues to raise huge sums of money to help fund their very generous salaries and benefits, The Walrus also values the real truth, the whole truth and the complete truth.

Somehow, The Walrus is feeling as though Chris Cox and Rush Limbaugh haven’t told us very much of the real truth, and that is why The Walrus is feeling both very sad and quite disappointed.

Not a surprise that Speaker John Boehner has taken a very aggressive and harsh stand against the recent Iran Accord.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/boehner-responds-to-obamas-remarks-on-iran-deal-485446211824

Boehner could be correct, although it would be a first for him.

Boehner has led the charge to spend untold fortunes — and has further wasted even more precious intellectual resources — fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), all to no avail.

Each and every one of Boehner’s arguments on why the ACA would destroy the US economy has been refuted by facts — clear economic proof — which validate that we – as a nation – are on the right path. As recently as June, 19, 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that repealing the ACA law would COST some $353 Billion over the next decade.

Now, he wants to waste more of our precious resources on another foolish boondoggle?

It seems that Speaker Boehner has modeled himself after the storied “Chicken Little” — focused entirely on those possible events which might cause the sky to fall, rather than on the inevitability of change, and how to best embrace the future.

It is no wonder the Republican Party is in such a state of confusion and disarray.

As far as we know, The Donald is a U.S. citizen, and thus protected by our Constitution, Bill of Rights and subsequent constitutional amendments.

So, The Walrus has no contest to his freedom to say what is on his mind, however…

As a public figure, The Donald ought to realize that what he says may be interpreted literally or figuratively.

Some of his recent comments directed toward Mexicans seem to have energized a group of fellows who are no longer able to fly their Confederate Flags as openly as before, and had been seeking some new causes to help rally the troops.

Mr. Trump has recently been quoted making alleged negative comments directed toward migrants from Mexico (and Central / South America) as a primary contributing cause and source for America’s multiple issues with drugs.

I’m not quite sure what The Donald was trying to tell us, but it is pretty clear that the propensity for U.S. citizens to use “recreational substances” – alcohol, marijuana, peyote and others – predates Mr. Trump.

Prior to 1913, about 40% of federal revenue was generated by taxes and fees on alcohol.

Passage of the 16th amendment in 1913 (which created the federal income tax) addressed the ‘tax issue’ dependency relative to alcohol, and thus paved the way toward Prohibition.

Subsequent to the 16th amendment, income taxes far surpassed liquor taxes, providing solid support for passage of the 18th Amendment – a.k.a. “Prohibition” – in 1919. It banned the ‘manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors’.

The 18th Amendment didn’t stop the manufacture, transportation or sale of booze — it just shifted the activities out of the mainstream economy to the underground economy, where there were plenty of domestic cartels (families, gangs, mobsters, etc.) ready, willing and able to step in and ensure that the supply chain wasn’t interrupted due to some foolish Constitutional Amendment.

At the time, most of these cartels were populated by first or second generation immigrants from Ireland and/or Italy.

As Al Capone is quoted from back in the day, “All I do is to supply a public demand … somebody had to throw some liquor on that thirst. Why not me?”

Since those peaceful days, direct descendants of the Hatfield and McCoy families have joined forces to make and distribute what some consider to be one of the finest of American products, “The Drink of The Devil” — carefully made in small batches in West Virginia, and fully taxed.

For decades, our elected officials have pushed marijuana (and some other goods and substances) out of the mainstream economy and into an off-the-grid cash economy where no taxes or fees are collected, and thus any and all costs associated with oversight, enforcement, etc. are fully borne by those of us who obey the law and do pay taxes. All of this, Despite the lessons we learned from prohibition!

I never thought I would find near 100% agreement with the Cato Institute on any subject, yet this paper pretty much says it all: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-157.html

Today, many corporations have taken their manufacturing, packaging and more menial tasks “off shore”. Why wouldn’t the domestic marijuana and narcotic distribution cartels follow suit?

Somewhere at the top of any of these current distribution networks is a domestic descendent of one of the original “Capos” – carefully managing his supply chain, and working very hard to ensure that his lifestyle is such that he is above suspicion.

Dig a little deeper, my friends.

This story really has nothing to do with people from Latin America who grow, manufacture, package and/or ship ‘illegal substances’ to the U.S.

The real story is right here, and hiding in plain sight: Which of our neighbors has been blocking legalization and domestic control over the distribution and sale of marijuana?

These are the people who have the most to lose once marijuana becomes part of the regulated, taxed and mainstream economy.

Back in the day, our Founding Fathers envisioned citizens who were leaders stepping forward to run for public office. These would be people who had made their mark, people who had accomplishments under their belt.

And, these citizens from our past were offering their wisdom and experience to help our nation and its people navigate through new issues, unforeseen problems and/or changes in the physical and/or philosophical landscape.

That concept – drawing on the experience and wisdom of our fellow citizens who had already made their mark – was nothing new. History reveals many societies around the globe – as well as the majority of Native American societies – which recognized the value of wisdom and patience gained through experience.

History also reveals what can occur when the focus shifts away from experience, wisdom and proven leadership to a model which values charisma, eloquence and oratory over substance.

It seems clear as I read and listen to commentary and responses from various elected officials on the attributes of the recent Iran Nuclear Accord, leadership is a missing ingredient.

While the main negotiations were between the United States and Iran, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France and Russia), are also parties to the deal, as is Germany.

This Accord is not a perfect solution. Very much like the U.S. Constitution, it was developed over a rather long period of time, and it represents a series of compromises which neither side of the discussion is fully pleased with.

Today (7/14/2015), a rather large number of US elected officials emerged from the shadows once an agreement had been reached. These elusive folks (Boehner, McConnell, Graham, Rubio and others) seemed to be conspicuously absent during the negotiations – where they may have contributed some positive ideas and energy to the discussions.

They waited in the bushes until the Accord was announced, and they then pounced on any and every facet of the agreement.

Leadership? Wisdom? Patience? Each attribute seems to be sadly missing from this attack group – individually and collectively.

These are folks who have made their entire careers in the political arena.

Other than Mitch McConnell who spent 5 weeks in the U.S. Army Reserve in the late 1960’s, and John Boehner who served 8 weeks in the U.S. Navy, I have been unable to find any examples of experience, wisdom or leadership among this group outside of appointed or elected political positions.

Yet, no one should or could question these fellows on their charisma, eloquence or oratory skills.

Donald Trump: Update

July 13, 2015

Reliable sources have told The Walrus that Donald Trump may be behind the recent prison escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a notorious Mexican drug lord.

Although Mr. Trump has been extensively cited for some derogatory remarks about undocumented Mexicans who have entered the United States, it is believed that his remarks were just a cover for his extensive work with several Central American drug cartels which help to stabilize and enhance cash flow for the Trump Organization.

Rumors that El Chapo is temporarily staying at a Trump property in Chicago could not be confirmed or denied.

More to come….

Donald Trump. ‘The Donald’. ‘You’re Fired!’

The list goes on and on.

Yet, the questions remain: (1) Who is The Real Donald Trump? And, (2) Where is he hiding?

I don’t have enough information to delve into Q1 (at this time).

I thought for sure I had the answer to Q2! It seemed to be a ‘gimme’ – he’s likely hiding somewhere in Donald J. Trump State Park! Summertime. Great weather. What a great place to ‘hide in plain sight!’

Driving north out of NYC on the Taconic State Parkway, you will see the sign announcing the DJT State Park just before mile-marker 16. The sign was erected in 2006 at the twilight of George Pataki’s final term as NYS Governor after The Donald donated some 436 acres of vacant land in the towns of Yorktown and Putnam Valley to the state of New York to be used as a park.

trump_state_park

Turns out that the Park never quite got started (or finished), quite similar to several other projects The Donald announced with great fanfare and plenty of publicity.

Unfortunately, the park didn’t exist in 2006, and it doesn’t exist now — unless you view 436 acres of inaccessible wildland inhabited by deer, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, coyotes and other brethren of the forest – as a park. (It has been said that The Donald is particularly fond of snakes.)

Now, please understand – The Walrus is all in favor of open space. In fact, if The Donald had donated this property to NYS as Open Space, I might have a somewhat more favorable impression of him and his character.

Trump had assembled this land in the early 1990’s with the expectation he would create one or more private golf clubs. His cost of acquisition was somewhere in the $2 Million range. After being rebuffed by several government entities on the potential negative environmental impacts of shoe-horning private golf facilities into wetlands, wildlands and woodlands, in 2002 Trump – with great fanfare – declared that he was “fed up with” governmental delays and overreach. He stopped the application process for the golf course; and began marketing the property as a potential site for luxury housing.

By 2006, it was apparently clear that the property was: (a) over-priced, or (b) not suitable for development, or (c) all of the above.

So, instead of selling the property, which he valued at $100 million, Trump decided to donate it to the state of New York to be used as a park.

The bad news: the cost of converting these 400+ acres of wilderness into a state park, maintaining it and staffing it was beyond the realm of comprehension.

In 2010, the state announced that it would close this and 57 other park and historic sites due to budget constraints. As they said from Albany, “Mr. Trump did not give an endowment to improve the park.”

Trump’s reaction was fast and furious: “If they’re going to close it, I’ll take the land back. This was very valuable property. I gave it away at the height of the market for the purposes of a park, and I always believed that once a park is there, it would always be a park.”

Meanwhile, we’ve determined that The Donald isn’t hiding in Donald J. Trump State Park, because there really is no such place which is accessible by motor vehicle, only on foot or by helicopter.

And, we’ve been able to determine that The Donald is not hiding at his daughter Ivanka’s estate.

Apparently The Donald’s quip on national television a few years back left some people feeling a bit squeamish: “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Yikes!

We’ll keep searching for The Real Donald and where he is hiding, so please feel welcome to send any tips or leads to The Walrus!

Second Amendment Rights

June 19, 2015

2015. What a year! And, it’s not even half over!

It’s bad enough that we’ve had a recent series of dreadful outcomes which have involved black men and white cops; now, we have the case of a deranged young white male who has easy access to a firearm, and kills 9 people in a Church.

The NRA is all stoked up about “2nd Amendment Rights” and “watch out for Obama, he is coming to take away your home protection.”

I’ve read – and re-read – the Second Amendment, looking for a reference to modern, semi-automatic firearms; high-capacity magazines; armor-piercing rounds; concealed carry; open carry; background checks; etc.

I keep getting stuck on the phrase, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms…”

I keep wondering what were those folks thinking, back in the day? Why did they omit the phrase, “when serving in the Militia”?

Maybe they thought the concept was so obvious that to state such would be redundant?

In several decisions relating to the 2nd Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that, ‘Prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons, or on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, and laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings or imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms are specifically identified as permissible regulations’.

Not long after he retired from his service as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1969-1986), Warren Burger appeared on “The MacNeil / Lehrer News Hour,” (1991) and stated — relative to the Second Amendment — that it “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

All across Upstate New York State are lawn signs urging repeal of the NY SAFE Act.
Why? If anything, the NY SAFE Act didn’t go far enough.

I just can’t imagine any logical reason why gun ownership across the U.S. shouldn’t be coupled to (1) training and certification, and (2) physical and psychological testing and accreditation.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre in late 2012, there were a number of groups — led by parents of young victims — who promised that they would work collaboratively to promote a national dialogue on gun violence, mental health and school safety — with a promise of “real change.”

The parents and their supporters have been out-spent and “out-gunned” by special interests, most notably the NRA.

Where some of us thought, ‘the Sandy Hook massacre will be the turning point toward sweeping gun control reform’ — it clearly wasn’t.

Yet, soon — very soon — one of these recurring tragedies will become the turning point, the moment when the 146 Million registered voters in the U.S. say to the +/- 4 Million members of the NRA: Enough is enough.

Let’s stop this silly 2nd Amendment charade, and enact real, national 21st Century rules which create a good balance between responsible gun ownership and the senseless tragedies we’ve witnessed over the past several decades.

It’s time to act. Enough is enough.

Let’s pull the curtain back on Wayne LaPierre and his evil charade.