First Amendment Rights

June 26, 2022

Hey, SCOTUS!

You just imposed the religious will of a small group of Fundamentalist Christians onto our entire nation.

Did you not know the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all?

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?

George Orwell was right.

January 30, 2022

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.

The School Board in McMinn County, Tennessee recently announced a decision to ban author and creator Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from their eighth-grade curriculum.

McMinn County, TN may be a poster child for the current divisiveness in America.

This rural county is home to just 54,000 residents and until very recently, was over 90% white.

As a whole, the State of Tennessee has been, and remains, predominantly Christian. About 81% of the population identifies as Christian, and 52% of Tennessee residents identify as Evangelical Protestants.

Plagued by the legacy of a mediocre public education system, poverty is rampant in McMinn County: Over 17% of residents live below the poverty line, including 24% of children (under 18) and 12% of seniors (65 and over).

The McMinn County School Board recent action helps to reinforce the notion that adults who themselves are products of a mediocre public education system are often incapable of making sound and fully informed decisions based on solid facts.  Or, we might say that these folks have been deprived of critical thinking skills due to the inadequacy of their public school system.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed an alarming increase in public displays of frustration, rebellion and even violence among adults who are constrained by the toxic combination of extreme religious ideologies and vulnerability to unreliable or false sources for (mis)information.

George Orwell was correct, and only WE can prevent the vociferous minority from subsuming the will of the majority.

More On: Media Bashing

February 2, 2019

President Trump has helped to create a new and very dedicated genre of Americans – The Media Bashers.

The entry cost to become a Media Basher is quite low – just find a story you disagree with; invent some alternative facts; and share your opinions and manufactured reality loudly, vociferously and widely.

Meanwhile, our Mainstream Media is under assault from multiple directions.  Too many platforms; too many sources on each platform; extraordinary economic threats to the established and venerable sources; individual participants who use the label “journalist” very loosely; and, probably, an overall ‘dumbing down’ of those who consume information from media sources.

OK, you’ve got me.  I do have an agenda, and it’s not particularly favorable to those media sources I have come to rely on for information that helps make me an engaged and informed citizen.

The mainstream media has wasted the past several days covering a possible 35 year old transgression by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Why is our mainstream media laser-focused on a potential event on one day in a man’s life that — if true — occurred 35 years ago? What will the media say and/or do once the situation is fully investigated and the truth is revealed – whether guilty or innocent?

During this same time period, we’ve heard, read and watched – ad infinitum – about Roger Stone, and about U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

What we haven’t heard about is Congressman Will Hurd (R, TX), who represents much of far West Texas. Hurd’s congressional district encompasses the longest stretch of U.S. border — some 800 miles.

Hurd introduced a bill aimed at using technology in order to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and it is simply and concisely explained by Michelle Mark (https://www.businessinsider.com/fiber-optic-sensing-technology-vs-border-wall-2019-2)

Hurd introduced this legislation in 2017, and he has consistently championed it since then. Why has Congress taken no action on this?

With clear and undeniable evidence that fiber optic cable and other new technologies are the most effective and efficient ways to secure our border, why are so many U.S. elected officials squandering time and precious resources arguing about a physical border wall?

Why is our mainstream media essentially silent in covering this breakthrough opportunity to use technology to augment manpower and improve overall outcomes?

Concurrently, our mainstream media has given generous coverage to President Trump telling the world that our southern border is a primary threat to national security, that drugs are “pouring in” and that there are “people dying all over the country because of people like Nancy Pelosi who don’t want to give proper border security for political reasons” that Speaker Pelosi is engaging in “very bad politics” in hopes of scoring “a political point.”

I wish I had a magic solution to this dilemma – and I don’t.

I do believe that when more of my friends and neighbors are able to take a few minutes to reflect on this opportunity, magic solutions will miraculously appear.

I’m counting on you!

We Rely on Journalists

April 17, 2018

As a nation, we rely on Journalists to provide us with well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Until recently, I included Journalists in the same realm as Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, Nurses, Plumbers, Electricians, Welders, Financial Planners, etc. — assuming that Journalists were professionals who received appropriate training; passed standard professional exams; and subscribed to a high standard of ethics.

Now, I’ve learned that those who identify as Journalists are often self-certified.

Alex Jones is a self-identified Journalist.  He is the host of “The Alex Jones Show” (infowars.com) which is now syndicated on over 160 AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations across the United States.

Alex Jones rose to national prominence as a result of his position that the 2012 massacre in Sandy Hook which took the lives of 26 innocent children and educators was “a giant hoax”.

Jones used his self-identified position as a Journalist to discredit the parents of the dead children.  He fixated on his mission to convince the public of a giant hoax, a conspirancy staged by the federal government, which hired professional actors for the purposes of undermining Second Amendment rights.

Jones seems to be the father of a dangerous tribe of Conspiracy Theorists who continue to twist the truth and who cloud the continuing plague of mass murders in schools and public places across the U.S.

I’ve now learned there is no standard professional exam for Journalists. And, apparently, no standards exist in the public sector regarding ethical behavior by Journalists — perhaps driven by those who rely on the 1st Amendment guaranty of the right of free speech?

I try to be a discerning consumer of information I receive from various media sources, and I admire those Journalists who consistently provide well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Question is: Given the importance of Real Facts, why is there no official credential (“license”) which can be earned by Real Journalists to help separate the Real Journalists from the Pretenders?

No threat to Free Speech:  just a ‘check and balance’ which separates those commentators who have their own agenda from true journalists who seek the truth.

Although I don’t approve of Alex Jones and his behaviors, I acknowledge his right to free speech.  However, I don’t acknowledge his right to self-identify as a Journalist.

A half century ago, the Baby Boomer generation entered adulthood with plenty of energy and commitment to help make our world safer and better.  As they set forth to establish families of their own, careers and all of the rest, they faced some unexpected head winds.  The rapidity of technological change combined with growing economic and social divides put extraordinary pressure on these young families, and they became self-absorbed.

The direct socioeconomic impacts of American suburbanization didn’t really begin to take hold until the 1970’s.  The resulting economic and racial segregation shielded the next generation(s) of middle class young people growing up in suburbia, away from their less affluent peers who were left behind in urban neighborhoods. They lost touch with each other, not able to see common ground.

Somehow, things have begun to change for the positive.

Maybe Trump’s legacy will be as the unconscious ‘uniter’ of the people of good will — Americans who reject corruption, self-dealing and bullying — who regardless of hair color, height, weight, economics, gender, race, skin tone, religion, sexual orientation, learning and/or mobility differences, and many more… — refuse to participate in the Trump Swamp.

This emerging generation, evidenced by the Parkland students, are showing signs of unity under a new paradigm of The American Dream, where the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are honestly and equitably recognized and applied.

To date, Trump has certainly distinguished himself as the polar opposite of genuine American values.

While it’s still too early to celebrate any victories, I am betting on the young people who have taken an active role in the March For Our Lives movement — and the millions of their supporters (average age 48!) — to continue to energize and inspire the vast majority of U.S. citizens and residents who want to see common sense prevail.

High on the Hogg

April 1, 2018

David Hogg, the Parkland student who has become one of the most vocal leaders in the March For Our Lives movement, has explained their position and their mission,

“I want people to understand, we’re not trying to take your guns, we’re not against the second amendment; we don’t want to repeal the second amendment. We simply want gun legislation in this country that allows law-abiding citizens to still own guns but prevents people with a history of mental illness or a history of a criminal background from owning a firearm. It’s as simple as that.”

I think the last real, sustained and almost universal call to action by America’s youth occurred in the late ’60’s – early ’70’s when large-scale opposition to U.S. military involvement in SE Asia was the focal point.

Sure, there have been many other issues, causes, protests, rallies, etc. in the ensuing years, but I am not aware of anything quite as promising as the current March for our Lives movement.

One of the great outcomes thus far is contained within the Laura Ingraham debacle.

On her broadcast television show, Laura Ingraham personally attacked David Hogg regarding his academics.

Within 2 days after Ingraham attacked him personally, Hogg organized a successful boycott of her advertisers.

Nothing personal, he remarked. We are just following the money. Take away the money, and the show will disappear.

Brilliant!

Several recent studies by independent researchers confirm that nonprofits are significant positive contributors to the American economy.

When we observe aggregate national statistics relative to not-for-profit organizations we find that NFPs contribute significantly to regional economies – estimated overall at 12.5% –through wages paid, retail and wholesale purchases, and professional service contracts.

Measured by total employment and jobs created, NFP organizations punch well above their weight class, primarily due to the trade-off employees in the NFP sector make between the expected job-security in the NFP sector vs. the higher risks inherent in private-sector employment.  Several sources estimate that jobs in the NFP sector pay about 75% of comparable jobs in the for-profit sector.

Public service, whether (1) in government as an elected official, or as a civil service employee, or (2) in the not-for-profit sector, is heavily supported and subsidized by the American people.  As such, we have a right to expect that the people who are employed within the public service sector are working for the greater good of society, and that they have made a conscious decision to accept a reasonable and customary package of salary and benefits in exchange for the low-risk profile of working in the public sector.

According to a study by Charity Navigator, America’s go-to charity evaluator, the median CEO compensation among not-for-profit organizations in 2015 was $123,462.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a not-for-profit corporation primarily supported by membership fees of public-minded citizens and clubs. Its primary stated purpose is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, especially the political, civil and inalienable rights of the American people to keep and bear arms as a common law and Constitutional right of the individual citizen.

Wayne LaPierre, EVP and CEO of the National Rifle Association is one of 10 highly compensated executives of the not-for-profit NRA who receives in excess of $400,000 in annual compensation.

LaPierre’s total reported compensation in 2016 was $1,422,339.

It really is not clear if or how Wayne LaPierre or the NRA is working for the greater good of society.

In the April 2018 issue of The American Rifleman, Mr. LaPierre had this to say,

American freedom faces no greater threat than from our academic institutions, where the most basic fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded are aggressively attacked by extreme socialists posing as honest professors.”

LaPierre goes on to explain,

“The socialist takeover of our college campuses is part of a massive wave of socialism that, if left unchecked, threatens all of our firearms freedom and all of the American liberty that we cherish and have fought hard to defend.”

LaPierre’s goal seems to be protecting the impressionable minds of our young people from the legions of ‘liberal college professors’ whom he believes have infiltrated colleges and universities across the U.S. to promote their ‘lust for a nation of socialism’.

His call to action seems to be woven into this concluding remark,

“… and then they’ll come for us… for our freedom and for our guns. That is the tsunami of socialism that threatens every law-abiding gun owner and freedom-loving American in this country.”

If it is true that the core NRA membership (as has been reported from various sources) is white, male, rural and relatively less educated, then this approach may be on target to energize that base.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to correlate with the broader wants and needs of our 21st century society.

Before I go further, I should explain my background.  I grew up on University Avenue in Buffalo, NY, just down the street from the University of Buffalo, so I was exposed to college professors from a young age.  In fact, my mother was one of them.

When I was a young lad, I learned that ‘liberal’ was a method of gathering, analyzing and digesting information from a variety of sources, and then using that information to help guide the individual to an informed and independent conclusion.

I also learned at a young age that people who self-identify as liberal tend to value liberty and equality; and they generally support ideas and concepts such as: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, gender equality and international cooperation.

Today, as a mature adult, I value the critical thinking skills which were introduced to me by a rather broad array of teachers and adult role models, from elementary school through graduate school.

I am an NRA member and a gun owner.  I don’t want to take away anyone’s legal firearm, nor do I want to impede the rights of my fellow Americans to own and responsibly use those firearms which are generally acceptable in a civil society.

That said:  I also believe that we can proudly bear our arms and have responsible and common sense firearm laws. The safety of our children and citizens doesn’t need to be at odds with gun ownership.

A legitimate and responsible debate over 21st Century common sense gun regulations will never take place if we demonize and vilify one group against another, one political position against the other.

When we have individuals and organizations which are supported and subsidized by American taxpayers conjuring up and promoting controversial and potentially incendiary commentary — aren’t we creating a deck stacked against a common sense discussion?

How is it that we – all of us taxpayers in the U.S. – are required to subsidize and support Wayne LaPierre in his partisan and razor-focused quest to support the gun industry, when some of us would prefer a more mainstream, middle-of-the-road approach?

A fair and equitable approach to ensuring that each of us – as Americans – continue to enjoy those unalienable rights with which we have been endowed, among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness should never be linked to the brand, caliber or style of the Arms which are the right of the people to keep and bear.

The NRA began in 1871 as a public benefit organization — just after the Civil War — by organizing classes designed to teach gun safety and marksmanship to those individuals who wished to follow their 2nd amendment right to gun ownership.

Over the ensuing 147 years, the NRA mission has evolved such that its public service component – gun safety – is no longer a priority when measured in fiscal terms.  Fact:  with 2016 total reported expenses of $413 Million, the NRA reported spending (1) $77 Million on Legislative programs; and (2) $48 Million on firearm training.

The NRA states in its financial statements, “Firearms safety is the cornerstone of everything the NRA does for its members.”

I hope to leave my readers with several questions to ponder:

  1. If ‘firearms safety is the cornerstone’ why does the NRA spend more on legislative programs than on firearm training?
  2. For 2016, the NRA disclosed a total annual payroll of $68.3 Million, with $7.8 Million paid to just 10 executives. This is an organization which is tax-exempt.  Does that seem reasonable to you?
  3. If ‘firearms safety is the cornerstone’ why does the NRA continue to fight common-sense gun legislation aimed to create a safer environment for both gun owners and bystanders?

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.

The vast majority of police and other public safety officers in the U.S. are on the job for the right reasons, and they are indispensable components of why our society is as strong and safe as it is.

Take a deep look at an organization like NYPD which has some 35,000 active officers.

If 99.5% of the uniformed force consistently are doing the right things, that implies that the 0.5% who may be off track amounts to 175 individuals — similar to the size of many small town or small city forces in total!

I think Commissioner Bratton summed it up very nicely this week when he said that the majority of uniformed police officers at the funeral of slain officer Wenjian Liu behaved professionally and appropriately.

He further said that ‘he was disappointed in the (small number of) officers who did not honor his request to refrain from protesting at Liu’s funeral on Sunday.’

This small contingent of “Men in Blue” who seem to be unwilling or unable to control their emotions and do the right thing continue to wear the Uniform and carry a lethal weapon.

They blatantly and publically disrespect the chain of command in the organization they are part of — very similar to watching unsupervised 3rd grade boys who are let loose on the playground.

Those individuals who are not willing or not able to deal with their frustrations in a rational adult manner represent a potential danger to society, and they should go on unpaid leave and surrender their weapons until they have successfully completed some intensive psychological evaluation(s) prior to returning to active duty.