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.

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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.

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….