September 26, 2015
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.
June 8, 2015
As the calendar moves forward toward an expected announcement from current NJ Governor Chris Christie on his candidacy as the potential GOP nominee for president in the 2016 election, stories about – and soundbites from – Christie abound.
With the radio tuned to news in the background, I listened to some of these stories and soundbites today.
I’m left feeling that Chris Christie has no moral compass. Christie is apparently willing and able to lie about almost anything and everything.
Here’s a soundbite from Christie’s appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, June 7, responding to recent comments from Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who called out for significant expansion in voter access, calling out several prominent GOP leaders – including Christie – accusing them of purposefully limiting voter access in their states through policies such as voter identification requirements and limited early voting.
Said Christie: “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. In New Jersey, we have early voting available to people. I don’t want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud. Maybe that’s what Mrs. Clinton wants to do. I don’t know.”
Christie continued, “But the fact is: folks in New Jersey have plenty of an opportunity to vote. And maybe if she took some questions some places and learned some things, maybe she wouldn’t make such ridiculous statements,” he said.
What Christie failed to note in his response is that it is more common in New Jersey (and many other states) for elected and appointed public officials to commit fraud then it is for a voter to commit fraud.
And, more alarming: Just 31% of eligible voters in New Jersey exercised their voting rights in the 2014 election. [http://www.electproject.org/2014g]. Seems to me that the real opportunity here is to address and/or eliminate existing obstacles or impediments to help increase voter participation, not creating more obstacles which have the probability of discouraging potential voters.
Chris Christie: You are both a phony and an opportunist, and it’s very sad that you were elected to a position of trust (Governor of New Jersey) and as such, (a) you have tremendous power over the infrastructure and inner workings of our 11th largest state, and (b) you have tremendous influence over the functionality and decisions of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public authority which builds, operates, and maintains critical transportation and trade assets in the NY Metro area.
PANYNJ controls a network of aviation, rail, surface transportation and seaport facilities which annually move millions of people and transport cargo throughout the New York/New Jersey region.
We can only hope that the ongoing ‘Bridgegate’ investigation will soon expose your culpability in the ensuing mess that (at best) inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of bridge users on those days where access to the bridge was restricted; and (at worst) exacerbated economic losses well into the 100’s of millions of dollars through a ripple effect to commercial entities in the Tri-State region, and throughout the U.S.
I, for one, would be delighted to see you spend the next 8 years, or so, in the Big House, not any other house.
October 1, 2014
No surprise that the Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have gone on the defensive following the publication of Tim Dickinson’s lead story in the September 24 issue of Rolling Stone (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”).
The full text of the original article, the response, and various links to source documents is located here:
Below is an excerpt from the Koch Industries response related to the original article:
10. North Pole refinery shutdown. Response:
“In February 2014, Flint Hills Resources (FHR) made the difficult decision to shut down its refining operations and convert its North Pole, Alaska refinery to a terminal. While some employees unfortunately were laid off, FHR retained approximately 40 employees at the site and offered to find the other employees roles in other Koch companies. This resulted in several of the former FHR Alaska employees receiving job opportunities at other Koch facilities in the US. Federal, state and local authorities acknowledged the regulatory and competitive issues that drove FHR’s difficult decision. For example, Senator Begich recognized the “competitive challenges” facing FHR in a letter to Alaska Governor Parnell. Senator Begich later noted the issues concerning the environmental contamination that existed long before FHR’s ownership and the appropriate regulatory standards concerning the remediation also needed to be resolved in order to encourage another owner to operate the refinery. The City of North Pole likewise expressed its frustration concerning the competitive and regulatory challenges that drove FHR’s decision.
There is no question that the off-site contamination existed long before FHR bought the refinery in 2004 – contamination that was not disclosed to FHR by the prior owner. No one had done anything about the situation until FHR discovered it and quickly and voluntarily began providing alternative water to the community. During the time since it discovered the issues, FHR has tried to work cooperatively with the state of Alaska and the prior owner to remediate these issues, while ensuring our neighbors were not adversely affected. As part of this process, FHR raised an administrative challenge to the cleanup level set by ADEC personnel. The Commissioner of ADEC agreed with FHR that the agency had not adequately supported the cleanup level and the agency is now studying the matter further. FHR remains committed to doing the right thing, while also ensuring that the prior owner lives up to its contractual obligations to FHR and its obligations to the community.”
No one could effectively deny that the Kochs – and their legal and PR teams – possess great imaginations, and are blessed with amazing creativity. It’s almost as though Lewis Carroll has returned to write more poems for us to ponder!
September 28, 2014
I’m trying to figure out: Is John Boehner an American patriot, or is he representling the enemy?
In his most recent (9/28/2014) appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Speaker Boehner seemed to step well over the line of a loyal American by second guessing the current U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
I believe Boehner is a despicable pawn of the Koch Brothers, and I don’t know anyone who could possibly compete with the Koch Brothers money.
Here in the U.S.A. we have a real problem — we are no longer a democracy where ‘One Person, One Vote’ is the defining factor.
We have slowly, quietly and powerfully morphed into an oligarchy where he who has the biggest treasure chest has the greatest influence on public policy. This is certainly not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
May 10, 2014
The news this week included a report from Institutional Investor which tells us that the top 25 Hedge Fund Managers took home a combined $21.2 Billion in 2013, a significant increase over 2012, when earnings totaled just $14.1 Billion, the lowest sum since the 2008 financial crisis.
If I did the math correctly, the average wage of these 25 individuals computes to $407,692.31 per hour, somewhat above our current $7.25 per hour minimum wage.
What is it that Hedge Fund Managers do that makes them the highest paid people in the world?
Do Hedge Fund Managers create economic value? Do they create jobs? Do they make products or deliver services which make our world a better place?
Unfortunately, they seem to do none of the above.
Hedge Fund Managers look for opportunities to exploit temporary weaknesses, gaps, flaws or aberrations in the operations of a specific company or in an economic sector overall.
They typically have billions of dollars of resources at their disposal, and by creating and taking well-crafted and strategic financial positions, they have the ability to move markets, generally to their own benefit.
The film “Other People’s Money”, starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck, was released in 1991. Danny DeVito plays the role of “Larry the Liquidator” providing us a crude but quite accurate roadmap of what Hedge Fund Managers do every day.
In the 19th century, we called this sort of activity “Piracy” and we labeled the perpetrators “Pirates”.
In the 20th century, we called this sort of activity “Organized Crime” and we labeled the perpetrators “Mafia” or “Gangsters”.
Here we are in 2014, clearly well into the 21st century.
Our Hedge Fund Managers are out in the open, creating outcomes which seem to have no potential for positive impact on the U.S. or world economy, and we are giving them not just permission to operate (no regulatory oversight), but also preferential tax treatment on their booty (known as ‘carried interest’).
Hedge Fund Managers typically receive their compensation in 2 ways – an overall management fee equal to 2% of assets under management, and a 20% share of any profits on the assets under management.
It is the tax treatment of that 20% fee — categorized as Carried Interest — which is currently taxed at 20% — versus the 39.6 percent rate which business owners must pay on their earned income — that has created somewhat of a firestorm in Washington.
None of this makes any sense to me: does it make sense to anyone?
April 10, 2014
I live in Westchester County, NY – the place they say has the highest property tax burden in the U.S.
Our Governor – Andrew Cuomo – also comes from Westchester County — and he has made it his mission to support effective ways to reduce and/or eliminate the government waste which necessitates the high property taxes we pay.
The incredible inefficiency of having 400+ independent government entities operating within Westchester County certainly is a primary culprit for the dubious honor of being named the highest taxed county in the U.S.
The largest portion of property taxes paid is attributable to funding public schools — 41 regular school districts in a county with less than 1 Million in total population.
Each of these districts is ‘self contained’ in that they have their own administration, buildings, and all of the fixed cost infrastructure which gets paid for whether there 275 students served (Pocantico Hills at an average per-pupil cost of $42,000) or 25,000 students (Yonkers at an average per-pupil cost of $19,600).
Contrast this to Montgomery County, Maryland — about the same physical size as Westchester, and with a very diverse population of just under 1 Million, demographically quite similar.
Montgomery County has just one school district which educates all of the 150,000 public school students in the county at an average per-pupil cost of $15,421.
Just about every year, Maryland Public Schools are ranked at the top in the nation. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-schools-insider/post/maryland-schools-ranked-number-one–again/2012/01/11/gIQA7NEqrP_blog.html
While Montgomery County — perhaps due to its ethnic, racial and economic diversity — is not number one in the state, it seems to consistently score in the top 10, and compares very favorably against the composite Westchester score.
It’s really time for the taxpayers in NYS to put aside the political rhetoric and to find a way to reduce overall costs, whether through actual mergers and consolidations, or through consolidation of services which are not directly related to the classroom.
We can do better, and we must!
March 29, 2014
There seems to be little argument that one primary outcome from the Citizens United decision was the opening of our campaign finance system to a deluge of anonymous money.
It’s been reported that special interest groups spent more than $1 Billion in elections across the country in the last election cycle, and there is virtually no transparency or accountability.
The very essence of “one man, one vote” is on the chopping block.
Throughout recorded history, we can see multiple examples of societies which inadvertently allowed a very small group of people to slowly and carefully seize extraordinary power from the masses.
Looking back to late 19th century America, we can observe the activities of a very elite group of industrialist-capitalists known commonly as the “Robber Barons.”
Some of the 19th century names include: Andrew Carnegie; Jay Gould; Andrew Mellon; J.P. Morgan; John Rockefeller; and a dozen more.
None of these folks were ever indicted or found guilty of illegal activities, and history tells us that they produced some positive outcomes over the long term. They built steel mills; they built and operated railroads; they made oil and gasoline widely available.
Yet, our elected representatives at the time were so concerned about the potential for future abuse should large sectors of our economy get consolidated into monopolies or oligarchies, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act almost unanimously in 1890, and it remains the core of U.S. antitrust policy.
The Act makes it illegal to try to restrain trade or to form a monopoly. It takes its name from Senator John Sherman who said, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life”.
We can learn from history and halt the ability of a very small group of people to seize political and economic power from the American people, and we need to start right now.
Many of us who watch this issue (myself included) focus in on the Koch Brothers and their well-documented, ultra-conservative positions – including the activities of their Super PAC, Americans for Prosperity.
We should continue to carefully watch what AFP is up to – they have very deep pockets and a singular agenda which seems to be very self-serving.
Super PACs and anonymous money strategically use private economic power to create ‘reasonable doubt’ across a group of voters regarding an issue or a candidate.
In the past 5 years, we’ve witnessed a number of successful multi-media campaigns fueled by anonymous deep-pocket donors which were based on dubious ‘facts’ and which may not be in the best, long-term interests of the majority of our citizens.
One recent example which reflects the incredible power of anonymous money is that of Ted Cruz, a relatively unknown lawyer from Houston, Texas who leaped into the national spotlight after winning a landslide upset election to U.S. Senate in the 2012 election cycle. Cruz and his campaign committee spent some $14 Million, raised in a relatively short time, making it one of the top-performing Senate campaign committees for candidates running for open seats.
In contrast, Paul Sadler who opposed Cruz on the Democratic line raised about $700 K, just 5% of the Cruz total.
However, that $14 Million was just direct spending by the Cruz campaign.
The extra power of unlimited Super PAC spending on behalf of political position advertising favoring Ted Cruz (and/or opposing his opponent) enables behind the scene power brokers the opportunity to influence with impunity.
Does the Citizens United decision violate our U.S. Antitrust regulations?
Not in fact, because the framers of antitrust regulations had no way to imagine the potential abusive power of a Super PAC on our free enterprise system.
I argue that the Citizens United decision infringes on the intent of several prior Supreme Court decisions supporting the “one man, one vote” doctrine, and further is in violation of the intent of our Constitution and of our antitrust regulations.
It is incumbent upon our elected officials to reform existing U.S. antitrust policy and regulations to encompass political activities in such a way that clearly and unequivocally prohibit unlimited and/or anonymous donations to enable spending on political and/or ideological positions.
I hope others will join me in helping us return to a ‘one man, one vote republic’, in fact and in practice.
March 17, 2014
The majority of us know Saint Patrick as the Patron Saint of Ireland, and each year, many of us celebrate his Day — March 17.
Saint Patrick was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century — and each year which passes makes his legacy a wee bit more fascinating and powerful!
The Walrus — descended from primarily Irish heritage — has heard many stories of great and grand Irish heroes.
One individual we generally don’t talk about is Sir Charles Trevelyan, a 19th century British bureaucrat who worked as a colonial administrator. Trevelyan is remembered in the annals of history as the individual who was charged with administering relief to the many thousands of Irish peasants who were left starving due to the impact of The Great Famine.
About one million lives were lost to the Famine. At it’s peak, Trevelyan described the Famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” and “the judgment of God”.
“Dependence on charity,” Trevelyan said, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”
Fast forward to the 21st century: the year 2014 to be exact.
Paul Ryan, a fifth generation Irish American, is a congressman from Wisconsin. In a speech during the summer of 2012, Paul Ryan said, “You know, back in the 1850s, the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland, so our great-great-grandfather, with the shirt on his back, made his way to Boston, worked his way on the railroad to get enough money to buy a farm.”
Today, Saint Patrick’s Day 2014, is a heavy day because Paul Ryan has besmirched the Irish people with his arrogant and dismissive talk about school lunch programs, suggesting that supporting programs to feed hungry children might create a setting which could result in ‘a full stomach and an empty soul’ in the very children it was expected to benefit. And, he has gone on to chastise “inner city men” who he claims are not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.
It is disappointing — that in losing sight of his past — Paul Ryan has distanced himself from the very realities of human behavior gone awry.
This is not a new or unique situation.
History reveals plenty of examples of bad human behavior which began with a glib and facile individual who possessed that magical ability to convince and influence others.
Very early in his presidency (1969), Richard Nixon appealed to the ‘Silent Majority’ — the mainstream citizens who he believed generally stood on the sidelines rather than take a position on issues.
In the late 1970’s, Jerry Falwell was credited with founding the “Moral Majority” — a euphemism for the Christian Right. There are dozens – hundreds – of current and historical examples of religious and/or ideological cults, often led by a charismatic individual who cultivated extraordinary public speaking skills.
The saga of Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” which culminated in the death of 900+ followers has been memorialized forever with the phrase, “Don’t drink the Kool Aid.”
The current Tea Party movement is slightly different because the message, direction and money comes from behind the curtain — the Koch Brothers and a few others. They have found several eloquent spokespersons — Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are some — and somehow, they’ve managed to create a message powerful enough to steal the hearts and minds of a small but vocal group of people who: (a) desperately want the outcome of the Civil War to be different; (b) believe that hedge funds, investment bankers and other ‘pirates in suits’ create value in the economy (and create jobs?); and (c) believe that Mitt Romney gives to charity.
I fear the probability of coaxing the truth to the surface is bleak, unless we can mobilize enough critical thinkers to say, “Enough of this crap!”
Let’s stop paying attention to marginal mindless fools.
Let’s live up to our legacy as ‘The land of the free, and the home of the brave!’
February 9, 2014
We have some 700 public school districts across New York State, and as Governor Cuomo pointed out recently in an interview, “It’s not about more money gets us more results. Because if that was the case, our students would be doing better than any students in the country, because we are spending more than anyone else.”
No one could successfully argue that the K-12 public education system in New York State is either (a) effective, or (b) efficient.
Designed and governed under assumptions which were likely correct in the 19th century, we continue to operate our schools as though we live in a world where the horse is the primary means of transportation; where oil lamps and candles are used for illumination after dusk; and where young people are needed early and late each day to do chores on the farm.
An article published on February 7, 2014 in The Journal News (http://www.lohud.com/article/20140207/NEWS/302070065/City-rural-schools-say-they-re-underfunded) helps to illustrate some of the complexities in state funding formulas which seem to have disparate negative impact on small city and rural school districts which are more likely to be both ‘high need’ and ‘low resource’.
Digging further into the mystery of school funding in New York State led me to the NYS Association of Small City School Districts, and the December 2013 newsletter, http://scsd.neric.org/newsletters/2013/2013%20SCSD%20Newsletter%20december%202013%20FINAL.pdf.
One of the outcomes of ‘The Campaign for Fiscal Equity’ was a promise made in 2007 by our elected officials in Albany that state funding would be adjusted to take into account both the availability of local resources and the relative “need” of students in each district.
As Governor Cuomo pointed out, we are already spending the most of any state on education, and our overall results are mediocre.
Indeed, it is not how much we are spending, but how the money gets spent. If our elected officials want to constrain education spending, they need to pass legislation which removes costs from the system. One way to accomplish that would be through school district consolidation to remove redundancies and spread fixed costs over a broader base.
Another way to accomplish holding the line on spending would be to divert aid from wealthy, high-performing districts and re-direct that aid to low-resource, under-performing districts.
When it comes to educating our young people, there really doesn’t seem to be any “starve the beast” solution on the horizon.
Let’s pay attention to this issue now, because if we don’t fix it now, it will only continue to fester and act as a drag on the economic and fiscal viability of New York State.
September 4, 2013
Back when the Walrus was just a pup, the great George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Another version is printed as “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
However we weave the words, the concept is that we can look back at history, and use the outcomes from various actions to inform what might happen in the present should we repeat an action from the past.
It could be a military action: The outcomes from the Vietnam War could have provided a lesson to the U.S. in 2001 that invading foreign countries over ideological and/or religious principles is an absolute exercise in futility. Instead, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and now is contemplating military sanctions against Syria.
It could be an industrial action: The outcomes from the Love Canal saga in Niagara Falls, NY where the NYS Health Department proclaimed this as a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations” could have provided a lesson to the U.S. in 2005 when the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was substantially amended.
Instead of using the mistakes of the past to inform us in the present, the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains a provision that has come to be known as the “Halliburton Loophole” — an exemption that excludes gas drilling and extraction activities (popularly known as ‘fracking’) from requirements in the SDWA by making the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” – thus exempting them from any regulatory oversight.
It could be a social action:. Prohibition – implemented in 1920 as a result of the 18th Amendment – came about from presumably well-intentioned activity championed by The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). They believed that banning alcohol would reduce domestic violence, child abuse, and crime.
By the time Prohibition was repealed (1933) by ratification of the 21st Amendment, it should have been clear that even an amendment to the U.S. Constitution wasn’t going to change human propensity toward relaxation and enjoyment.
Prohibition didn’t work at the basic human level, and it helped to create an off-the-grid economy which brought all of the activities of manufacture, distribution and retailing of alcoholic beverages out of the legitimate economy where it was regulated and taxed, into a shadow economy which ostensibly was controlled by organized crime and bootleggers.
Before Prohibition, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was regulated and taxed, providing a net positive benefit to government operations; after, the enforcement costs spiraled while revenue disappeared.
Prohibition of alcohol was repealed in 1933, yet 80 years later, we continue to make growing, distribution and consumption of marijuana a criminal activity.
As a nation, we are spending somewhere near $6 Billion annually to attempt to enforce archaic regulations pertaining to marijuana related activities.
We receive no income taxes, no sales taxes and no revenue taxes related to marijuana production, distribution or sales. There is plenty of legitimate research which shows that marijuana is less harmful. – In fact, more salubrious – than alcohol.
As a taxpayer, I say, “stop wasting my tax dollars on pointless enforcement; legalize, regulate and tax marijuana; and reduce my property and income tax burden attributable to archaic and foolish laws and regulations!”