Shall we blame Joe Biden?

A recent broadcast (11/10/22) on National Public Radio focused on data compiled by OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics. They determined that the 2022 election was the most expensive midterm election ever.

They estimated that candidates and political action committees spent nearly $17 Billion on state and federal campaigns https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/11/total-cost-of-2022-state-and-federal-elections-projected-to-exceed-16-7-billion/

One key reason they cite is the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court which reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds to influence election outcomes, at the federal, state and local level.

Although political spending likely is just a tiny component of inflation, please stop for a minute to think about how unlimited spending on political issues could be a major contributor to inflation.

Two of the biggest spenders in the 2022 election were men who rose to Billionaire status because of Crypto and the tech sector:  Sam Bankman-Fried (FTX) spent $38 Million, and Larry Ellison (Oracle) spent $ 31 Million.Hard left, hard right: It really doesn’t matter. The concept of ‘one man, one vote’ is completely at odds with ‘one man, big checkbook’.

Add to that the mystery and magic of speculative, irrational and unrealistic economic bubbles such as (a) Dot-com (2000); (b) Great Recession (2007) {which ended in June 2009, followed by 128 months of economic expansion}; (c) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (2017); which was then followed by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Both Sam and Larry became crazy rich as a result of irrational exuberance. The money they injected into U.S. political campaigns wasn’t ‘real money’ — it wasn’t money they earned honestly through hard work – whether physical or intellectual, or both. They fooled some of the people long enough to score a major win, no different from a Lottery winner.

Then, each of them used some of their Lottery winnings to create an artificial and unsustainable injection into the U.S. political arena.

Here we have a real and irrefutable example of why the Citizens United decision is in direct opposition to the essence of our Democratic Republic.

When it is convenient, some members of SCOTUS revert to the concept of “Originalism” to help solidify their decisions. The Citizens United decision has absolutely zero connection to Originalism; the founding fathers; or any other precedent I’ve been able to find.

The Tillman Act (1907) explicitly prohibited corporations and national banks from contributing money to federal campaigns for very good reasons. What has changed since then, I wonder?

Here is an interesting timeline on the evolution of our political contribution system which helps tell the story on how bad characters can be empowered by dark money and create unintended consequences which have huge negative impacts on ‘the rest of us’…..

https://www.opensecrets.org/resources/learn/timeline?fbclid=IwAR1Tv43-8Rr8z-u-6XYAB_Fd0OmRKvPHj8nXQWyoRyrd8vckoc-3ZWfYWMs

Dear Senator Cotton:

One of the most recent national events which amplified the chasm between political party affiliations in the U.S. was the August 24, 2022 announcement by President Biden of a plan to wipe out significant amounts of student loan debt for tens of millions of low- and moderate-income Americans.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R, Ark) was on the rapid response team to counter the Biden announcement, saying:

There is no such thing as student loan forgiveness—this is a bailout, paid for by the large majority of Americans who never went to college or who responsibly paid off their debts. President Biden’s plan ignores the true culprit: bloated, self-serving colleges. I’ll be introducing a bill to hold these colleges accountable for debt, lower tuition, support non-college career paths, and save the taxpayers billions.”


Cotton’s comments strike me as purely partisan, at best, and likely incendiary and divisive.

Meanwhile, some on the ultra-progressive side have dismissed this initiative as ‘too little, too late’’, while others on the far right have said, ‘It’s just not fair to those who sacrificed to pay off their student loans; and to those who are more deeply in debt”.

I must confess:  I’m not convinced that broad-based blanket cancellation of student loan debt is an optimum solution to the real problem at hand.  But, based on current conditions in the world of student loans, it’s probably a necessary step toward creating a new paradigm for educating the future workforce in America.

My personal preference is to look at a problem not just at the surface, but right down to root causes.
[i.e., ‘I don’t like this situation. How can it be fixed?’].

So:  What is the real problem, and where do the root causes lie?

I am sympathetic with Sen. Cotton’s sentiment: ‘this plan ignores the true culprit: bloated, self-serving colleges’.

What Sen. Cotton fails to mention is that – beginning in the late 1950’s, and codified by the passage of the federal Vocational Education Act of 1963 — our elected officials created and sustained an environment which enabled an acrimonious socio-economic division between:

  • those who go to college to earn a 4-year degree, intending to pursue a ‘white collar’ career;
  • those who pursue the training, experience and credentials needed to become a ‘blue-collar’ professional (electrician; plumber; carpenter; auto mechanic; machinist; etc.); and today
  • those who opt into a ‘new-collar’ career in a middle-skill job which requires some tech skills, but not a 4-year degree. Some examples include: I-T support; coding; cyber security; and developing web applications.

Passage of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 marked an expanded view of the value of ‘occupational education’ and the various pathways along career ladders in a wide variety of occupations which would likely lead participants to family wage jobs and careers. Missing from the 1996 legislation was a roadmap to help parents understand, encourage and support their children to pursue their dreams and passions within the framework of economic and financial reality.

Many parents continued to encourage their children to attend a 4-year college to pursue a college diploma in any major, including Art History; Religious Studies; Philosophy; Music Studies; Sociology; Archaeology; English Literature; Film; and myriad other fields, rather than pursue a potentially lucrative vocational education.

College degrees are important and admirable, yet they can result in credentials not valuable or important to employers.  From a potential income perspective, some majors are terrible for those who need to borrow – and subsequently repay — loans for tuition and ancillary college expenses.

Some simple interventions which might help transform our currently broken student loan system:

  1. Mandatory Financial and Economic Education: A critical and logical step to enhance Student Loan Debt Relief is to mandate successful completion of a comprehensive financial and economic education program prior to any student loan borrowings;
  2. Develop an income rating system informed by U.S. Department of Labor projections on salaries and future job openings which would limit the amount of eligible student debt based on major. (See addendum).
  3. Realistic oversight of private colleges and private lenders: The Financial Crisis of 2007 opened our eyes to private and unregulated ‘shadow bankers’ which originated predatory mortgage loans.  There is current evidence that our student loan crisis has been enabled by similar private, lightly regulated lenders which prey on uninformed borrowers, frequently those who are first generation college students and/or those who are enrolled in for-profit colleges.

Dear Senator Cotton: We have identified a few ideas which we think deserve deep and thorough investigation, hopefully leading to appropriate regulatory oversight: a truly honest and valuable use of your time and position.  Instead of offering partisan, incendiary and divisive commentary which serves no useful purpose at all, you are invited to use any and all of these ideas to embark on a positive and affirmative journey to make durable and favorable changes to our entire post-secondary system.

Political Malfeasance in Action

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) received nearly $1 Million in Wall Street contributions while killing a tax hike on certain Investment Bankers.

I grew up in the 1960’s in Buffalo, NY where it seemed that candidates for election to public office couldn’t get nominated until they could prove their ability to attract illegal political contributions. Over my professional career, I spent significant time in other northeast states, counties and cities where political corruption was often the norm.

Most of the corrupt elected officials I observed were guilty of getting their driveway paved; their house painted; maybe a new roof. Not good, not appropriate, and certainly, not acceptable.

The recent behavior of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) relative to the Carried Interest federal tax loophole puts the actions and behaviors of these historic elected officials in NY and CT into the category of ‘fixing parking tickets’.

The despicable and nefarious posturing by Sen. Sinema has blessed Carried Interest, sometimes known as ‘the cockroach of tax breaks, allowing it to survive another potential assault by Congress.

The proposal to increase the holding period requirement to qualify certain income paid to investment bankers for the lower Carried Interest tax rate was removed from the landmark ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ of 2022 (H.R. 5376) recently passed by both the Senate and the House and signed into law by President Joe Biden on August 16, 2022.

The “compromise” to remove Carried Interest was demanded by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) which she justified on a complex and convoluted set of criteria, and which potentially might be related to the $1 Million in campaign contributions she received over the past year from private equity professionals, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists whose taxes would have increased exponentially under the original plan.

The concept of Carried Interest dates back to the 16th century, when ocean-going ship captains would often take a 20 percent “interest” of whatever profits were realized from the cargos they carried. This approach is logical and defensible on the risks to life, property and personal capital undertaken by ship captains.

In 21st century America, the meaning of Carried Interest has evolved to describe a tax loophole — an income tax avoidance scheme — which allows some private equity and hedge fund investment bankers to classify large amounts of their compensation related to performing services (i.e. managing and/or investing other people’s money) as investment gains, which substantially lowers the amount they are required to pay in taxes.

Today’s Carried Interestis essentially a payment (bonus or commission) for investment services that is taken out of the profits of the money managed for investors. Private equity firms use pooled money from large institutional investors (pension funds, college endowments, ultra-high net worth individuals, etc.) to acquire controlling interests in struggling, underperforming or undervalued companies. When the investment are made, these acquired entities agree to pay the private equity firms Carried Interestout of the investment profits on top of management and other fees.

Under our current tax law, when the carried interest income is paid out of the private equity firm to individual partners, directors, etc. it is taxed at the preferential (‘capital gains’) rates granted to investment income, even though the income represents compensation for services. In all other contexts, compensation income – salaries, bonus, commissions, etc. – is taxed everywhere else as ordinary income.

Investment professionals often are required to contribute capital if they are eligible to receive carry, although it varies by firm and by position in the hierarchy (from 23% of associates/senior associates to 71% of managing partners). Essentially, the Carried Interest tax loophole acts as a magic wand to turn ordinary compensation income into preferentially-taxed capital gains income for a few thousand specially entitled individuals each year.

Private Equity (“PE”) is a $4.5 Trillion industry which tends to follow a predictable model: Use very high levels of debt to take control of underperforming (or undervalued) companies and then extract as much value as possible over a short- to intermediate time frame.

One of my favorite movies, “Other People’s Money” (1991: Warner Brothers [directed by Norman Jewison]; starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck) almost perfectly illustrates the potentially powerful impact of leveraged debt strategically deployed against a weak management team. In the film, the end result is: (a) closure and liquidation of New England Wire & Cable Company, a boring multi-generational family manufacturing business; (b) the loss of hundreds of decent jobs in a small American city; and (c) millions of dollars of ‘pirated booty’ transferred to anonymous private equity investors, with a mighty fine Carried Interest reward paid to Danny DeVito (the investment banker).

Zero value added to the overall U.S. economy.

Devastating value lost to a small American city, its residents and the regional economy.

Sure, the investment banker (Danny DeVito) took home a fine bonus. He probably was able to buy a nice airplane and maybe a vacation home in the Hamptons.

Meanwhile, the wire and cable products formerly supplied by the now defunct domestic company now are being sourced from a foreign firm. The American city where the former Wire and Cable business was located lost tax revenue which had formerly been used to support local schools and public works. And, local families abruptly lost their incomes, and their homes potentially went into foreclosure.

Most alarming: U.S. taxpayers subsidized the whole mess because of this crazy, foolish and irrational tax break known as Carried Interest.

Some will say that the movie, “Other People’s Money” is a 1991 dinosaur which has no relevance in 2022.

Yet, the devastation continues. In our current environment, retailers are particularly vulnerable to leveraged buyouts, and they provide the most visible examples of companies which have been acquired, pillaged and wrecked by private equity firms.

In January 2020, the New York grocery chain Fairway filed for its second bankruptcy in less than four years and announced plans to sell off its stores, due to several efforts by PE firms to extract value from the franchise. The Fairway failure joins a long list of casualties that includes: Sears; Toys R Us; Payless ShoeSource; and Sports Authority, among many others.

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In theory, PE firms snap up underperforming companies using ‘patient capital’; they bring in professional managers to revamp current operations; and then sell the companies through a Public Offering to generate a healthy return.

In practice, the PE industry revolves around deals known as leveraged buyouts, where the PE investors put up a small amount of their own money to purchase a company and borrow the rest. The acquired business becomes responsible for repaying the debt, which puts an immediate strain on cash flows.

In their quest to generate cash and improve operational efficiency, PE firms often: lay off workers, and cut pay and benefits to remaining workers; they sell off owned real estate and lease back; they sell trademarks and other ‘off balance sheet assets’.

PE firms sometimes extract cash using “dividend recapitalizations” where they use the acquired company to borrow additional money which is then used to pay investors. Beyond that, they often charge the businesses they acquire millions in ‘management fees’.

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Shifting the treatment of so-called Carried Interest income from capital gains to ordinary compensation income could raise between $1.4 Billion and $18 Billion annually from income tax on a very small number of investment bankers.

Most informed Americans refer to the lower tax rate on Carried Interest as a loophole that allows already wealthy private equity, hedge fund and other investment managers to pay a lower tax rate than the majority of their employees and other American workers. Once they are fully informed, a significant majority of voters across the political spectrum support legislation that would close this loophole.

“It’s a real rich benefit for the wealthiest of Americans,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “Why should a private-equity manager be able to structure his or her compensation with low-taxed gains? That seems wrong.”

Sen. Sinema was elected to the U.S. Senate by voters in Arizona to represent their interests.  It’s hard to see how continuing this awful Carried Interest loophole is in the best interest of anyone in Arizona, other than to Sen Sinema herself because it seems to provide a rich and reliable source of political contributions to help ensure her continued reelection.

And that also seems wrong.

I don’t either.

Ryan, Trump and McConnell: These were our leaders on January 20, 2017: Inauguration Day

Just because you and I don’t remember the 2020 Recession, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

The official arbiter of recessions — the Bureau of Economic Research — says there was one.

When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he inherited an economy in its 91st month of economic expansion following the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. That expansion continued into 2020, becoming the longest on record, peaking at 128 months in February 2020.

The National Bureau of Economic Research officially recognized the Recession of 2020 as the shortest on record at just 2 months, with the trough of that recession occurring in April 2020.

One milestone which helps to mark the 2020 recession is the price of oil. During the month of April 2020, the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate was absolutely erratic, actually closing Negative at (Minus $37/bbl) on April 20, 2020. [Was gasoline free that day? I don’t recall.]

Back to January 20, 2017, Trump’s Presidential Inauguration Day.

Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, was serving as Speaker of the House.  Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, was the Senate Majority leader.

Ryan was first elected to the House in 1998 at age 28. He developed a reputation as a no-nonsense deficit-hawk fully focused on reducing entitlements and reducing taxes. Ryan had been serving as Speaker of the House since 2015.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was Paul Ryan’s swan song, eagerly supported by Trump and most congressional Republicans.

Unfortunately, it was exactly the wrong time to enact this complex piece of legislation, primarily because it relied on untested assumptions at a point in time when the U.S. was riding the tail end of the longest economic expansion in history. It created massive increases in our national debt; it favored investment increases in oil and related industries (which to some appeared to be a means to curtail pending increases in oil prices); and exuberant expectations that repatriation of corporate profits parked offshore would be used to create domestic jobs turned into a massive stock buyback across the market.

In early February 2018, Paul Ryan began to reflect on the true consequences of the TCJA. He tweeted, “Julia Ketchum, a secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week. She didn’t think her pay would go up at all, let alone this soon. That adds up to $78 a year, which she said will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.”

In April 2018, Ryan announced his intention to retire from Congress on January 3, 2019 — the end of his current term — thus ending a 20-year career representing his constituents in Wisconsin — so that he could spend more time with his family.

Left to its own devices, the 2017 TCJA may have created an unchecked economic calamity.

Then came the Covid-19 Pandemic which turned into an unforeseen international societal and economic tragedy – and clearly was the trigger which caused the 2020 recession. Yet, the impacts of Covid didn’t begin to surface until 1st quarter 2020, so there is a 24 month period following the January 2018 introduction of the TCJA which economists are now examining to help create real context around current (mid-2022) economic uncertainties.

Even a neophyte like me can add the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine to: (a) the long-term economic damage created by the TCJA; (b) the Covid wild card; and (c) the economic devastation of Trump’s tariffs, particularly on our agriculture sector. When we spread the numbers, we can begin to see an almost perfect recipe created under Trump’s watch sufficient to decimate any economy.

Despite the open hostility and recalcitrance of elected Republicans currently serving in Congress, I must give Joe Biden and the Democrats a 5-Star rating for refusing to capitulate, and for keeping the ball moving forward.

A Mitch McConnell scout on patrol

Mitch McConnell is no stranger to massacres involving semi-automatic assault weapons.

In 1989, a workplace massacre in downtown Louisville took the lives of eight and wounded 12 using an AK-47, and it remains the deadliest mass shooting in Kentucky history.  McConnell, well into his first term as a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, said he was “deeply disturbed,” declaring, “We must take action to stop such vicious crimes.” And he added: “We need to be careful about legislating in the middle of a crisis.” And in the days and weeks after, he did not join others in calling for a ban on assault weapons like the AK-47 used by the shooter.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012, the Obama White House embarked on a robust policy response.  McConnell — then the Senate minority leader — vigorously downplayed that effort.

Fact is:  McConnell has never wavered on his absolute objection to any sort of gun control legislation.

On the day after the Uvalde elementary school massacre, Senate minority leader McConnell took to the Senate floor to declare himself and the nation “sickened and outraged by the senseless evil” that left at least 19 students and two teachers “innocent young lives murdered for no apparent reason at all.”

No mention of guns or any potential legislation, just the statement, ‘Words simply fail.’

After tasking Sen. John Cornyn (R, TX) to negotiate with Democrats on potential legislative actions to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America, McConnell went on the record stating, “Background checks and ‘red flags’ will probably lead the discussion — those are for sure two items that will be front and center.”

What?  No mention of high-velocity high-capacity semi-automatic military style weapons?  No mention of high-capacity magazines which allow the shooter to mimic a machine gun?  No discussion about military style ammunition which launches at 3,000 + feet per second, and has the likelihood to fragment and/or expand to create an exit wound the size of an orange?

What?  No mention of studies on human brain development which have proved that female brain development occurs at a more rapid pace than males of a similar age? The frontal cortex — the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act — develops later in males than in females.  The majority of research tells us that females tend to reach maturity toward the end of adolescence; where in males, the frontal cortex is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

We know that: (1) Over 85% of U.S. homicides are committed by males; (2) Male brain development is delayed to early adulthood; and (3) The vast majority of mass homicides in the U.S. over the past decade have been committed by American males under 25 using a military-style assault weapon with high-capacity magazine(s).

Yet, McConnell stays focused.  “We have a Second Amendment to the Constitution. We take it seriously. There’s the right to keep and bear arms in this country,” McConnell said.  “And so what I’ve done is encourage some bipartisan discussions that are going on. In fact, I just had a call with one of the members of it to see if we can find a way forward consistent with the Second Amendment that targets the problem.”

And another McConnell soundbite: “I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre. I’m going to keep in touch with them, and hopefully we can get an outcome that can actually pass and become law rather than just scoring points back and forth.”

Translation:  McConnell will encourage and support activities related to school security and mental health, but don’t expect him to ever say “gun”. Mitch may be the very best Silver Tongued Orator we will ever encounter live and in person.

The time for action on responsible gun control has long passed, yet the opportunity is front and center.

Wayne LaPierre carved out a very lucrative career for himself based on a concept that former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public.”

In 1996, under extraordinary pressure from the NRA and other pro-gun rights factions, Congress essentially shut down support for CDC-supported-research into the causes of gun violence.

Human Brain Development: Despite a paucity of research on gun violence, we can look to dozens of studies on human brain development which have provided a rich array of data strongly supporting the fact that female brain development occurs at a more rapid pace than males of a similar age.

Specifically, the frontal cortex — the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act — develops later in males than in females.  The majority of research tells us that females tend to reach maturity toward the end of adolescence; where in males, the frontal cortex is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

One research paper from an independent private college published in 2015 asserted that, “Men commit over 85% of all homicides, 91% of all same-sex homicides and 97% of all same-sex homicides in which the victim and killer aren’t related to each other.”

The vast majority of mass homicides in the U.S. over the past decade have been committed by American males under 25 using a military-style assault weapon with high-capacity magazine(s).

Although we lack irrefutable proof of causality, it seems reasonable to postulate that eliminating the availability of firearms, accessories and ammunition which are derived from and/or modelled on military grade assault weapons would likely reduce — and eventually eliminate — the opportunity for young American males to obtain and/or use these deadly weapons.

Silver tongued orators: While many of our elected officials in Congress have used their silver tongues to concurrently placate the people and please the NRA, our nation has been violated by domestic terrorists, generally armed with AR15-style weapons.

AR-15: The small-bore, high-velocity AR-15 rifle was originally designed for military use under the mandate: “high-velocity; full and semi auto fire; 20 shot magazine; 6lbs loaded; able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters.” When it entered Army service in the 1960s, it was renamed the M16.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994) outlawed the manufacture, transfer, or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons” for civilian use. Unfortunately, that Ban expired in 2004, and since then we have observed the NRA (and some other groups) spending millions of dollars annually on lobbyists to quash any attempts to even discuss rational and reasonable gun control measure.

Example:  An Assault Weapons Ban bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein with 37 co-sponsors (S.736 — 117th Congress) was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary in March 2021 where it has languished ever since.

NRA response to Feinstein’s bill:  ‘Outlawing commonly owned semi-automatic rifles every day Americans use for hunting, recreational shooting, and self-defense will not reduce gun crimes or firearm related homicides. The ban she’s currently offering is just one more attack on the rights of law-abiding gun owners that will have zero effect on crime.’

The NRA has long taken the position that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are used for “recreational target shooting, hunting, and home defense” and states that ‘law-abiding firearms owners shouldn’t be penalized because of homicidal loners who use semi-automatics like the AR-15 for criminal purposes.’

The vast majority of independent firearm experts don’t support this position.

Recreational target shooting?  Sure.  Who could refute the adrenaline rush of firing a weapon that is as close to a machine gun in operation as you can legally possess?

Hunting?  Not so much.  The best practice guideline for hunters incorporates a ‘quick clean kill’ which ideally is a one-shot kill, resulting in an immediate downing of the animal; minimizing suffering; reducing damage to the meat; and making the harvest and field dressing much easier.

The AR-15 variants are often effective due to their ability enable anyone to ‘Spray and Pray’ – not for conformance with the one-shot kill preferred by responsible sport hunters.

Home defense?  Not in my home, and hopefully not in my neighborhood. Although the AR-15 is a ‘relatively short’ long-gun, it can be tough to maneuver and aim in tight quarters. With a muzzle velocity in excess of 3,000 fps, it will over-penetrate, sending bullets through the walls of your house, endangering family members and possibly into the walls of your neighbor’s house.  When equipped with a quick-change 30 round magazine — and firing at a rate of 45 rounds per minute — it’s not hard to imagine how many rounds can be launched in a very short period of time.

The core solutions to put a halt to senseless massacres — primarily orchestrated by young domestic terrorists — are well-known.  Eliminating assault weapons is # 1.

Congressional Focus and Priorities:  Instead of working collaboratively to fix a myriad of strategic and critical domestic problems, a rather sizable number of our U.S. elected officials seem to prefer to focus their time and effort on banning books; legislating elementary school curriculum and content; and punishing those who don’t agree with them.

It’s time for our Congress to tell the NRA that they will support rational legislation on 2nd Amendment Rights, with the caveat that in a modern, polite and peaceful society, there is no place for civilian possession and /or use for firearms, accessories and ammunition which are derived from and/or modelled after military- grade assault weapons.

President Biden:  You are absolutely on the right track.

Members of Congress:  No more groveling; no more boot-licking; no more vacillating at or with the NRA.  You still have the time and ability to redeem yourselves as decent human beings. Please don’t squander this opportunity.  Support, fast-track and pass S. 736.

A timeless and highly polarized topic….

The AR-15 was designed by ArmaLite in 1957 in response to a request from the U.S. Army to develop a rifle with “high-velocity; full- and semi-auto fire; 20 shot magazine; 6-lbs loaded; able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters”.

When it entered Army service in the 1960s, it was named the “M16”. When the semi-automatic version of the rifle was later introduced by ArmaLite to the civilian market, it was known as the “AR-15”.

From 1994 to 2004, AR-15-style rifles were subject to (the now-expired) Federal Assault Weapons Ban which outlawed manufacture of these and other assault-style weapons for civilian use.

Following the expiration of the Ban, AR-15-style weapons attained great popularity in the U.S. They have been used in countless mass shootings across the U.S. (including: Buffalo; Sandy Hook; Aurora; Boulder; Parkland; Las Vegas; San Bernardino; Sutherland Springs; Nashville; Midland–Odessa; Poway; and the Tree of Life Synagogue.

I wonder if the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S. could be directly correlated to the extreme popularity of this weapon?

Meanwhile, most independent firearm experts don’t consider the AR-15 (or its clones) to be a good choice for either hunting or home-defense uses.

One reason is that its standard .223 caliber ammunition doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game. It is a very high velocity cartridge (muzzle velocity > 3,000 fps). When combined with the capacity to fire up to 45 rounds per minute, the AR becomes extremely dangerous to bystanders in home defense situations due to over-penetration and random ‘spray’.

Many hunters find the rifle controversial, arguing that AR-15-style rifles encourage a “spray and pray” technique which is contrary to best practices.

One way to reduce over-penetration and improve stopping power is to use hollow point or soft point ammunition; some opt for the more controversial ‘green tip’ rounds vs. the standard full metal jacket rounds.

One hunter, a former soldier himself, said it well, “I served in the military and the M-16 was the weapon I used. It was designed as an assault weapon, plain and simple. A hunter doesn’t need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt. If he says he does, he sucks as a marksman, and should go play video games. During hunting season, you can see more men running around the bush all cammo’d up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR’s. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors.”

The folks in Ukraine are fighting for their very existence against an outside enemy that wants to destroy them and their entire country. Here at home, we experienced another mass shooting at an elementary school, this time in Texas (5/24/22). The solutions to put a halt to these senseless massacres — primarily orchestrated by young domestic terrorists — are well-known.

But, instead of fixing critical domestic problems, a rather sizable number of our U.S. elected officials prefer to focus their time and effort on banning books; legislating elementary school curriculum and content; and punishing those who don’t agree with them.

It’s very sad, indeed.

When I was growing up in Buffalo, we learned about current events from regulated media sources, including radio and television broadcasts.  These entities were regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an entity which was created by the federal Communications Act of 1934 which combined and organized federal regulation of telephone, telegraph, and radio communications.

One of the critical purposes of the Communications Act pertained to national security, law enforcement, and intelligence activities.

In my household, we also subscribed to morning and evening print newspapers which were privately owned, independently distributed by subscription only, yet still subject to some limited oversight and regulation by the FCC.

The Telecommunications Act of 1966 updated much of the Communications Act of 1934 to encompass technology changes to include broadcast television and cable stations which had not been subject to laws governing the public airwaves.

Today, the FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

The FCC is an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress which serves as the primary authority for U.S. communications law, regulation and technological innovation, and it continues to serve as a primary resource for national security, law enforcement, and intelligence activities.

No one could argue that technology has evolved exponentially since 1966, with digital technology transforming the business of news, including profound implications for information dissemination, publishing and operations.

The most dramatic impacts on operating models have been in production and distribution, transforming from a single product to a multi-products array of channels and formats, such as:

  • Desktop, tablet, mobile and watch sites/apps;
  • Channels, including on-platform owned products; and off-platform (email, Facebook, text); and
  • Third party, off-platform (Snapchat, Apple news, Yahoo) formats: Video, interactive graphics, messaging, podcasts, and many more.

This shift in distribution flows through to production, including the shift from a process geared around the “daily miracle” of a print newspaper to a 24/7 digital news cycle and the use of data & analytics to assess performance and make decisions on both content and delivery.

How can it be that the FCC has been unable to adapt to these rapidly evolving technology changes?  The FCC failed us by not identifying, encompassing and including new and emerging means of mass communication delivered on the internet, including such social media platforms as Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Virtually all of the dangers the FCC was intended to protect us from have been incubated and nurtured on the internet, including: (a) promotion and amplification of conspiracy theories; (b) empowerment of fringe groups; (c) foreign influences into American politics; (d) infusion of false narratives into current events; and (f) cyber-attacks on electric-grid and other crucial infrastructure which have been confirmed in the US, the Middle East, Germany, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Our national well-being depends not just on our confidence in our government but also on the integrity and reliability of private companies through which we lead our digital lives.

Recently, hundreds of armed, self-proclaimed militiamen converged on Gettysburg after a single Facebook page promoted the fake story that Antifa protesters planned to burn American flags there. Prior to the 2020 Presidential election, e-mails and videos which eventually were attributed to the Iranian government were sent to voters in Arizona, Florida, and Alaska, purporting to be from the Proud Boys urging recipients to “Vote for Trump or we will come after you.”

A physical wall along our southern border with Mexico is a great soundbite, but the 21st Century threats to our national security have little to do with migration of aggrieved and oppressed people who are clawing for survival and self-sufficiency.

The real threats to our national security are from conspiracy theorists; fringe groups; foreign influencers; religious extremists; the infusion of false narratives into current events; and cyber-attacks on infrastructure similar to those which have been confirmed in the US, the Middle East, Germany, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Our Congress needs to shift its primary priorities toward critical strategic issues (i.e. regulatory oversight of national security issues), and to put less critical – but still important – issues into a secondary status.

Twitter currently has almost 400 Million users, about half of whom use the platform on a daily basis.

The announcement that Elon Musk will acquire Twitter is a wakeup call to our Congress.

This is no reflection on Elon Musk:  No doubt his intentions are honest and pure.  But:  What if the next entity which steps in to acquire a virtually independent and unregulated key strategic asset in our emerging 21st century communications infrastructure is a foreign entity, perhaps a foreign oligarch?

When will our elected officials draw a line between focusing on false narratives and trivia, and focusing in on critical national security issues?

“The legacy of Mitch McConnell’s obdurate and unwavering positions will haunt us for many decades.”

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the federal mask mandate for airplanes and other modes of public transportation on April 18, 2022, writing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority and failed to follow proper rulemaking procedures.

Her decision led to U.S. airlines and other transportation hubs to promptly drop their mask mandates.

Judge Mizelle sits on the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida. She was nominated by former President Donald Trump in September 2020 at age 33, and confirmed by a 49-to-41 Senate vote later that year.

She graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2012; worked at the U.S. Department of Justice and in private practice, and served as a law clerk for several federal judges as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  She belongs to the conservative Federalist Society, which advocates for an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Following her nomination as a Federal Judge, the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary said that a majority of the group had deemed that Mizelle did not meet the requisite minimum standard of experience necessary to perform the responsibilities required by the high office of a federal trial judge.”

Despite the ABA’s recommendation to McConnell and the Senate to reject Mizelle’s nomination, the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination in November 2020 along partisan lines.

Republican Leadership 2022

The lock-step renouncement today of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson by all 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee shows us that Dixiecrats still are a major factor in American politics.

Back in the day, they were called “Dixiecrats” – a tribute to their roots as southern Democrats elected to represent the lingering base of southern confederate-centric white voters, still visibly angry that the North had claimed victory in the Civil War.

Whatever political party they associated with, Dixiecrats were White Segregationists, pure and simple.

The term “Dixiecrat” dates to the 1948 States’ Rights Democratic Party, when a breakaway group of Southern Democrats objected to a civil rights agenda in the Democratic platform at the party’s national convention.

Immediately following the national Democratic convention in 1948, the Dixiecrats organized and held their own convention. They garnered significant support from 13 Southern states, hell-bent on gaining control over 127 electoral votes, thus potentially throwing the election to the House where they could use their power to force the major parties to abandon any civil rights intentions.

Back then, Dixiecrats were powerful men — frequently featured in prominent media stories and widely quoted.  Most of them ruthlessly used their offices and esteemed titles to spread racial fear and thwart the aspirations of black Americans.

Strom Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was the leader of the 1948 Dixiecrats. Thurmond was elected to the Senate in 1954, and he became a Republican in 1964 reflecting a metamorphosis in political party platforms across the U.S.

Today in 2022, the party affiliation of current Dixiecrats remains consistent with Strom Thurmond’s conversion almost 60 years ago. Each of them identifies and runs as a Republican.

Although they are no longer called ‘Dixiecrats’, their staunch commitment to Confederate values, particularly focused on White Supremacy, has never been stronger.

History does repeat itself, and not necessarily verbatim. One time, it may be blue, another time red, or maybe green.

The most important lesson we can learn from history centers on the theme, “Those who are unable or unwilling to study and learn from history are most likely to become victims of a new iteration of horrible outcomes orchestrated by bad actors who adapt and/or emulate bad behaviors from the past.”