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.

Open Carry in 2014

June 2, 2014

Despite the overwhelming evidence that America has way too many folks walking around who just aren’t wrapped quite tight, we continue to have a small – but very vocal! – Minority who feel compelled to push the envelope on Open Carry.

I am really OK with Wayne LaPierre and his colleagues at the NRA conviction that America is better off when “…law abiding citizens like you and me” have the unfettered right to own and possess firearms “to protect themselves and their loved ones in the face of criminal violence.”

Where I must draw the line is:  How can we ensure that gun ownership and possession is vested only to those law-abiding citizens like you and me?

My personal theory is that anyone who wants to “open carry” in urban or suburban America might possibly have some serious mental health issues.

Subsequently, I believe there ought to be a law that requires a thorough psychological and critical thinking evaluation for individuals who wish to Open Carry, in addition to some sort of written and basic marksmanship competency exam.

We have an outstanding model:  The U.S. Army’s Basic Combat Training course which they use to qualify soldiers for Open Carry.

Once a non-military (a.k.a. ‘non militia’) individual has been certified through successful completion of this 10 week course, there ought to be a regular re-certification required – say every 6 months, or so.

The NRA and Open Carry supporters focus on our Second Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) to support their position(s).

Thus, it ought not be an issue for those who wish to keep and bear Arms to conform with our 21st Century societal mores and show the rest of us that they possess the mental and physical qualifications which the great majority of Americans seem to favor for those who possess deadly weapons.

A recent (informal) poll of Americans revealed that just 22% of respondents owned a gun.  White people came out on top, with 25% saying that they own a gun. Just 17% of African Americans and 10% of Hispanics answered that they personally own a firearm.

By income, the highest percentages of gun owners make more than $80,000 per year; 33% of Republicans, 22% of Independents, and 16% of Democrats self-report as gun owners.

Most telling:  56% of households reported no gun ownership.

Clearly, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate the concept of gun ownership in America, and to try and understand why there are so many weapons in the possession of criminals and gang-bangers despite the political pressure from the NRA on the rights of law-abiding citizens.  I am a law abiding citizen.  I don’t currently own a gun.  I would really prefer that none of the criminals or gang-bangers in my vicinity have a gun, either.

I had to pass a test to obtain a license to drive a car.  Then, they forced me to take another test to drive a motorcycle!  And, every year, I have to prove I have insurance, the vehicle has been inspected and then I get to pay a registration fee.

Meanwhile, I can walk into any Walmart, pay a few hundred dollars and walk out with a lethal weapon?

No test, no registration, no insurance required?  Doesn’t quite seem right to me….

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.

The very best base for Tea Party Patriots are those folks who never learned critical thinking skills. The reason Common Core Standards strikes absolute fear in the hearts of the architects of Tea Party is that it is centered on Critical Thinking Skills!

Mind you, we are 10 to 15 years distant from returning to a society where the majority will be capable of logical thinking and logical reasoning, but the Tea Party Patriots are wasting no time to appeal to their base, and to recruit as many vapid automatons as they can sink their teeth into.

Stay thirsty and vigilant, my friends!

Tea Party Thoughts

August 4, 2013

I’ve recently been called out as a bigoted liberal who is a ‘hater’.

I think the reason for that is that I take exception to some current Tea Party shenanigans. I try not to be a ‘hater’ but I am willing to call out when I see or hear commentary which seems to be non-productive.

Here are some Walrus thoughts:

A widely accepted view of Liberalism incorporates the political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality. It is generally acknowledged that Liberals support ideas such as: free and fair elections; civil rights for all people; freedom of the press; freedom of religion; free trade; and rights of people to own and protect their private property.

The 17th century philosopher John Locke is often credited with founding Liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition. Locke argued that each man has a natural right to life, liberty and property and according to the social contract, governments must not violate these rights.

The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights reflect that the very foundation of our country is based on Liberal principles.

The original ‘Tea Party’ – The Boston Tea Party (circa 1770) — was all about anger and resentment of British mandates on the Colonies – often summarized as an objection to “Taxation without Representation”.

Today’s Tea Party seems to claim a connection to the Boston Tea Party, though I don’t grasp their logic, or see any connection at all.

We have a governmental structure in the U.S. which allows and encourages everyone eligible to vote to get engaged in the political process and to vote. In 21st century America, there is no “Taxation without Representation”.

The basic tenets of the modern Tea Party – as I understand them – are to reduce government spending thus cutting taxes on U.S. citizens.

I’m all for that.

The only way I know of to reduce government spending is to re-engineer government.

The majority of my tax burden comes from a combination of taxes on: (1) Income (Federal and State); (2) Sales (State, County & City); and (3) Property (County, City and School District).

There are plenty of other taxes I pay which are buried in: my telephone bill(s); my utility bills(s); the gasoline I purchase; hotels I stay in; and airplanes I fly on.

Slashing spending without a plan to re-engineer government is a recipe for disaster.

Other than calls to “cut taxes, make government smaller and reduce spending” I haven’t heard or seen any sort of plan. Lots of noise, no plan? It wouldn’t fly where I work.

Fact is, the current Tea Party movement is quite similar to the Contract with America which was championed by Newt Gingrich in the 1990’s. It was all about shrinking the size of government, promoting lower taxes, and eviscerating safety net programs for disadvantaged people.

No plan, just a lot of noise.

Prior to that, we had The Moral Majority, which started in the mid 1970’s when Jerry Falwell created a national platform to raise awareness of social issues important to him and his followers.

The Moral Majority was launched and heavily supported by a coalition of conservative southern Christian right leaders, congregations and political action committees which campaigned on issues its personnel believed were important to maintaining its Christian conception of moral law, a conception they believed represented the opinions of the majority of Americans.

At its peak, the membership of the Moral Majority was in the 4 million range, with over 2 million donors. It was one of the largest conservative lobbing groups in the U.S. at its zenith. Their first key victory was the defeat of Jimmy Carter by Ronald Reagan in 1980, and they continued to have power and influence until the late ‘80’s.

Again, a lot of noise, but no plan to reduce the overall size of government.

Before that, many of our fellow Americans who identified with this ideology were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and some still are, apparently….

Second Amendment Rights

April 10, 2013

I found this in my SPAM folder today:
=============================================
Please find an important message from Senator Mitch McConnell below:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for joining me in defending our right to bear arms. Right now, President Obama’s allies in the anti-gun lobby are doing everything in their power to take away our Second Amendment rights.

The right to protect our family and ourselves from whatever threats we may encounter is precious, and we must defend it from Washington liberals.

They want to prevent law-abiding Americans from possessing a firearm while making it easier for criminals to use one against us.

As the Republican Leader in the Senate, I am working with fellow conservatives to fight back on the left’s attacks but I need your help to do so. If you believe that our Second Amendment rights are worth fighting for, will you please donate $5 to our cause?

The Second Amendment ended the “gun debate,” and it’s time for Democrats to understand that. Make no mistake about it; the far-left are using their allies in the Senate, the media, and White House to work to limit your ability to own a firearm.

Gun owners and Second Amendment supporters have been called “stupid” by Piers Morgan, and “heartless mother*****” by Jim Carrey. This vitriol from the left must be combated.

For Freedom,

Mitch McConnell
=================================================

Vitriol? How about Incendiary? The blatant lies about “… taking away Second Amendment rights” really need to stop. I haven’t seen any evidence of anyone messing with Second Amendment rights.

I’m an NRA member; I enjoy target shooting. But, until December 14, 2012, I didn’t know what an AR-15 rifle was. I assumed a rifle which looked like that was a military weapon. I was amazed to learn that this AR-15 was readily available in sporting goods stores, and had become popular among some residents in the Northeast, even across the U.S.

Curious, so I signed into YouTube, typed AR-15 into the search box, and it returned 7.6 Million hits!

I clicked onto a few of the video links, and it opened up a whole new world for me!

Can you imagine a young person who likes to play violent video games – say, Resident Evil 4 – clicking onto this YouTube video?

This is hunting? Home protection? Target shooting?

Second Amendment rights?

Let’s be honest with each other if we ever expect to have a reasonable and rational resolution to this debate…..

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on a CNN appearance in mid-February that support for President Barack Obama’s drone program was “very scary and worrisome” and he feared it could open a “Pandora’s box” about government’s power. 

Today’s decision by Sen. Paul — who was elected in 2010 with support from the Tea Party – to orchestrate a genuine filibuster focused on the potential for the Obama administration to use drones to attack an American on U.S. soil is not a shock.

 Scanning various news sources today, I almost concluded that Barack Obama invented the drone, and that he has been the unilateral champion of its use.  Paul went so far to say that, “Obama will be the executioner-in-chief if he sees fit.”

What seems to be missing from the news reports is that the first U.S. use of an unmanned Predator drone in a targeted killing took place over eleven years ago (February 2002) in Afghanistan, near the city of Khost.  In that case, CIA sources revealed at the time that the intended target was Osama bin Laden.  Journalists on the ground in Afghanistan learned from local Afghans that the dead men were unarmed civilians gathering scrap metal.

 Then-CIA Director Donald Rumsfeld explained: “A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired.”  – This information was primarily sourced from an article John Sifton wrote which appeared in a February 2012 edition of The Nation.

A Reuters story which ran in the NY Daily News on March 3, 2013 tells us:

“Tens of thousands of domestic drones already are in use nationwide, with more to come. They hover over Hollywood film sets and professional sports events. They track wildfires in Colorado, survey Kansas farm crops and vineyards in California.  They inspect miles of industrial pipeline and monitor wildlife, river temperatures and volcanic activity.  They also locate marijuana fields, reconstruct crime scenes and spot illegal immigrants breaching U.S. borders.

Increase of use in drones by law enforcement, movie studios, environmental organizations and the news media, comes as the U.S. government prepares to issue commercial drone permits in 2015. Many of those already flying do so without the proper permits. Currently, just 327 FAA-issued permits are active.”

Prior to his decision to filibuster today, Sen. Paul had publicly pushed the Commander in Chief to declare his position on the use of drones.  On February 21, Sen. Paul had said, “The question which I and many others have asked is not whether the administration has or intends to carry out drone strikes inside the United States, but whether it believes it has the authority to do so. This is an important distinction.”

In a March 4 letter to Sen. Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder said that such domestic use of drones is “entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur and one we hope no President will ever have to confront.”  Holder also said he couldn’t rule it out under an “extraordinary circumstance.”

Paul’s assertion that the administration has failed to provide sufficient assurances on the issue of drone usage is not universally supported among Republican legislators.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mi), chairman of the House intelligence committee said, “Any suggestion that the United States would use drone strikes against U.S. citizens in the United States is irresponsible.  Suggesting that such a thing is being contemplated provokes needless fear and detracts attention from the real threats facing the country.”

Certainly, as this saga unfolds new information will emerge, meanwhile, it seems to be ‘much ado about nothing’.

More on: Gun Control

January 14, 2013

I’m a New York State resident, and I’ve been following the recent activities of our legislators in Albany.

I applaud the bi-partisan work of the members of our New York State Assembly; the members of our New York State Senate; and NYD Governor Andrew Cuomo, to act swiftly and deliberately to negotiate and pass comprehensive gun control legislation in January 2013.

Assault weapons have no place in civilian hands in a civilized society. High capacity magazines are a necessary evil for law-enforcement and military purposes; they have no place in any civilian application.

No different than ownership and/or operation of a motor vehicle; possession, ownership and/or operation of a firearm should be predicated by background and identity checks; testing; registration and licensing; plus proof of liability insurance.

The frequently heard argument that the Second Amendment guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is an emotionally charged and incomplete line of reasoning.

There is nothing stated or implied in the Second Amendment which tells us possession, ownership and or use of firearms should be unfettered and outside the purview of laws and regulations carefully designed to protect the interests of the greater public good.

It is unfortunate that the immediate reaction to any talk of ‘gun control’ emanates from (often overzealous) Second Amendment advocates.

The basis of our Second Amendment — which was adopted in 1791 — likely had very clear and relevant context to the 18th century, and to the events which preceded the Revolutionary War.

Now, more than 2 centuries later, it would seem to be helpful to have a rational, detached and thoughtful public discourse to include all facets of a 21st century centric debate on firearms and what makes the most sense for the majority of our fellow citizens today.

I have not met or communicated with any balanced and rational individuals who want to deprive any responsible American adult of their right to own and use firearms.

Nor, have I met or communicated with any balanced and rational individuals who want to deprive any responsible American adult of their right to own and operate motor vehicles.

It seems that through careful analysis and regulation, we have been relatively successful keeping unqualified and/or irresponsible individuals from operating motor vehicles.

I wonder: Why would any responsible and/or qualified American adult believe that we couldn’t accomplish the same outcomes with firearms?

Most gun crimes in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley involve weapons illegally brought into our state. Do we want to continue the illegal trafficking of guns into New York?

History tells us that — in 1791 — gang violence, assault weapons and drug trafficking had not yet been invented. Multi-shot hand guns did not appear until the early 19th century, and did not become commercially viable until 1856 when Smith and Wesson produced the first cartridge revolver.

Laws and regulations developed and designed around the technology, society and economy of the 18th century no doubt have some validity for our current society, yet may need to be carefully examined to see how and where some ‘tweaks’ might make them more relevant for today.

Thank you to Governor Cuomo and our New York State Legislators for taking some bold first steps to bring our state gun laws into compliance with the Information Age. There is more to be done, but you have accomplished some solid reform in January 2013.

Bravo!

It seems to be time for honest and productive discussion about firearms in New York State and across the U.S.

Although I do not currently own a firearm, I have in the past, and may do so in the future. 

I occasionally enjoy shooting at targets and at clay birds.  I know I don’t need an assault weapon, high capacity magazines or semi-automatic handguns to enjoy the sport of shooting.  In fact, these seem to be the weapons of choice for the military and law enforcement, and unfortunately, for criminals and ‘gang bangers’, not for any hunters or sport shooters I’ve talked with recently.

I was recently in a conversation with some Alaskans who regularly hunt for meat. 

Their reaction to using a handgun for hunting?  “You’d have to be crazy or really stupid.”

Semi-automatic long guns with high-capacity magazines?  “If you can’t hit the target with a couple of shots, you have no business being out in the field with a gun.”

Gun control doesn’t have to mean no guns.  I’m not suggesting we take guns away from those who wish to own them and use them responsibly.  

There just seem to be way too many gaps and loopholes in our current controls on acquiring and owning weapons, accessories and ammunition.

Gun show loopholes make no sense at all.  Selling ammunition online seems to be a very controversial issue worthy of serious examination.

When we allow special interest groups to use emotional arguments which have dubious merit to enrage and inflame their ‘base’, we end up with non-productive and potentially destructive dialogue.

Driving an automobile is considered an American right, yet there are a number of steps required before a driver license is issued to an individual, along with regular oversight and renewal requirements.  We require proof of insurance before we allow a motor vehicle to be registered.  Why should firearms be any different?

It makes sense to me that possession and/or ownership of a weapon – particularly in densely populated urban areas – ought to come with a license requirement that includes mandatory background checks; psychological and medical evaluations; character references; and some sort of proof of insurance.  Training and testing should be mandatory, and a license renewal process ought to be defined which ensures periodic re-evaluation of key variables.

If we want to preserve the right to responsible American citizens to own, possess and use firearms, a critical issue seems to be creating an environment which closes out the proliferation of possession and/or ownership by criminals and those others who don’t meet mutually acceptable criteria.

It would seem that if gun owners and non-gun owners could come together and agree on regulations that protect the right for responsible adults to own firearms while keeping them out of the hands of criminals and those who may be mentally unstable, we would end up with a much better, stronger and responsible outcome than we have today.