July 14, 2015
Back in the day, our Founding Fathers envisioned citizens who were leaders stepping forward to run for public office. These would be people who had made their mark, people who had accomplishments under their belt.
And, these citizens from our past were offering their wisdom and experience to help our nation and its people navigate through new issues, unforeseen problems and/or changes in the physical and/or philosophical landscape.
That concept – drawing on the experience and wisdom of our fellow citizens who had already made their mark – was nothing new. History reveals many societies around the globe – as well as the majority of Native American societies – which recognized the value of wisdom and patience gained through experience.
History also reveals what can occur when the focus shifts away from experience, wisdom and proven leadership to a model which values charisma, eloquence and oratory over substance.
It seems clear as I read and listen to commentary and responses from various elected officials on the attributes of the recent Iran Nuclear Accord, leadership is a missing ingredient.
While the main negotiations were between the United States and Iran, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France and Russia), are also parties to the deal, as is Germany.
This Accord is not a perfect solution. Very much like the U.S. Constitution, it was developed over a rather long period of time, and it represents a series of compromises which neither side of the discussion is fully pleased with.
Today (7/14/2015), a rather large number of US elected officials emerged from the shadows once an agreement had been reached. These elusive folks (Boehner, McConnell, Graham, Rubio and others) seemed to be conspicuously absent during the negotiations – where they may have contributed some positive ideas and energy to the discussions.
They waited in the bushes until the Accord was announced, and they then pounced on any and every facet of the agreement.
Leadership? Wisdom? Patience? Each attribute seems to be sadly missing from this attack group – individually and collectively.
These are folks who have made their entire careers in the political arena.
Other than Mitch McConnell who spent 5 weeks in the U.S. Army Reserve in the late 1960’s, and John Boehner who served 8 weeks in the U.S. Navy, I have been unable to find any examples of experience, wisdom or leadership among this group outside of appointed or elected political positions.
Yet, no one should or could question these fellows on their charisma, eloquence or oratory skills.
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.
March 12, 2015
The current U.S. Senate atrocity involves a letter released on Monday, March 9, 2015 from Senate Republicans to Iran’s government (the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”), saying that any agreement made by President Obama amounts to a “mere executive agreement” goes well beyond the arena of conduct which disregards the laws of our nation.
I believe a significant number of mostly Republican elected officials in Congress are guilty of depriving the people of the United States the intangible right of their honest services, for at least the past 5 consecutive years.
That is a domestic issue, and it is described in Federal Law as ‘Honest Services Fraud’ (see 18 U.S.C. § 1346).
It seems pretty clear that some of these boys elected to the U.S. Senate just can’t resist acting like 3rd graders let loose on the playground with no supervision.
These boys have now pushed into a new and dangerous place. Whether they are guilty of Treason, as some have suggested, is really not the point.
At minimum, they are guilty of acting like narcissistic brats, and their behavior casts a dark shadow over an institution with a proud 250 year history.
This act of cowardice and ignorance engaged in by 47 elected officials in the U.S. Senate ought to be a wake-up call to all Americans that we have a major problem in Washington, D.C. and that our problem is not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
This letter was signed by 47 of 54 Senate Republicans, and was authored by Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave it his approval and signed the letter. Among the Senators who also signed the letter are Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) all of whom are considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
In their letter, they wrote, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution – the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices – which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress…. Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
They also reminded Iran that “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
The letter – and the 47 Republican Senators – faced an immediate negative reaction from the White House; President Obama; Vice President Joe Biden; Senate Democratic leadership; Congressional and Senate Democrats; and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; as well as many more.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the letter finding it either (a) undermining the president’s authority; or (b) counterproductive.
Among other things, Zarif said, “This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States.”
Alabama freshmen Senator Tom Cotton has become a center of attention, facing both criticism and accolades, and he has been the key defender of the letter’s message. Many media sources have fixated on Cotton and the other Senators who signed the letter, led by the New York Daily News headline on March 10, “TRAITORS”.
Even Fox News (Megyn Kelly) was critical of this apparent publicity stunt: “What’s the point in writing to the Iranian mullahs? What are you going to do? They dismissed it already like ‘pfff, whatever’. And you’ve offended the Obama administration. And you may have offended some of the Democrats who would have come over with the Republicans, if depending on what happens with this deal, to have a stronger say in the Senate.”
Not to dismiss some incremental support from the Right: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry have expressed their support for the letter.
Among the seven Republican senators who did not sign the letter, several have commented that, ‘they did not find it appropriate, helpful or productive.’
While it seems likely that 46 of the 47 Republican elected officials are now questioning their decision to sign the letter, Tom Cotton himself is probably saying, “That worked out great!”
Overnight, Tom Cotton has risen from an unknown and obscure Alabama Senator to a household name!
Tom Cotton has demonstrated that a U.S. Senator who’s been in office just a few months can accomplish a great deal, with a little initiative and creativity.
Much like the boy who shouted “FIRE” in the crowded movie theater, Cotton may have caused a major panic. In this case, the resulting impact includes: irreparable damage to the reputation of the U.S. Senate; to the Republican Party; and to the security of the United States.
But, to the Tea Party base from which Cotton draws his support, he is now a hero. The more criticism he gets, the more convinced they become of his heroism.
The Koch Brothers must be mighty proud!
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.
June 6, 2014
Maricopa County Arizona has a population of about 4 Million, making it the 4th largest county in the U.S.
The Maricopa County seat is Phoenix, the state capital and the sixth-most populous city in the U.S.
The chief law enforcement official in Maricopa County is Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He has been elected Sheriff 6 times to consecutive 4-year terms as Sheriff.
As the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” and a perpetual darling of Fox News, Sheriff Arpaio has received plenty of coverage in national media for his somewhat controversial approaches to law enforcement.
By some estimates, Arpaio has cost citizens of Maricopa County more than $44 million because of alleged illegal, vindictive, unethical and unnecessary lawsuits and other actions that he has leveled against his enemies — or people he believed were enemies – ostensibly because those folks objected to the Sheriff’s approach to finding justice.
It seems the majority of those targeted in lawsuits have been politicians; journalists; activists; and others who did not agree with his actions and/or positions.
This approach does not seem to be favorable to the residents, taxpayers and voters in Maricopa County because — rather than hire teachers and police, open libraries, maintain parks or staff hospitals – money is being paid out in settlements to those who have apparently been wronged by Sheriff Arpaio.
Thus it seems that Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be the poster child for a serious failure in our U.S. political system.
Back when Wyatt Earp was appointed Deputy Sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, Arizona, it was the Wild West. That was almost 150 years ago, and things have changed just a bit.
How is it that we continue to elect the chief law enforcement officer in so many places across the U.S.?
How do we know that the candidates have the best experience and credentials to do the job we expect from them?
In his defense, Arpaio does have some experience in law enforcement.
But, he has no documented successful experience managing people; managing a budget; or managing anything other than his own affairs.
Yes, he apparently graduated from High School, and he served in the U.S. Armed services.
How that qualifies him to be the chief law enforcement officer in the 4th largest county in the United States is baffling, at the least.
It was all good in 1776, and much of it is still good today. But, we really need to update some of our basic rules to adapt them to the realities of the 21st Century.
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?
May 4, 2014
What, another Congressional Witch Hunt?
Why not just send the elected officials home from D.C, then drag a huge bag of money out onto the National Mall, and burn it?
That solution would accomplish much more, and cost much less, than this current circus John Boehner wants to convene.
Please: let’s not forget that John Boehner is a Congressman who was elected in 1990 to represent an obscure rural district in SW Ohio, having taken the seat from an incumbent child molester….
There really is something wrong with a governance model that has allowed Boehner to subsequently acquire so much power over the people of the United States — despite the reality that his Congressional District – the 8th District in Ohio – is comprised of just 725,000 people, roughly 0.0023% of the U.S. population. And, this Congressional District looks nothing like the rest of the U.S.
It is 90% White, very blue collar, predominantly Republican, and quite conservative (not that there is anything wrong with that).
His district is not at all representative of the demographics of our citizenry, yet Mr. Boehner has somehow achieved the status of Chief Rocket Scientist (aka Speaker of the House), so he now has the power to pull the strings which may ultimately destroy our economy and take our country down.
We have a huge weakness in our governance model, and it is certainly not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as some ultra-conservative characters might like us to believe.
April 24, 2014
I learned today from an article published in The Journal News that Westchester County has again refused to come into compliance with federal anti-discrimination law and sign a statement to affirmatively further fair housing throughout the county.
The official statement looks something like this: “… (Westchester) county is not going to turn over control of the local zoning of its six cities, 19 towns and 20 villages to bureaucrats in Washington for $5 million in grants.”
This is pure incendiary nonsense, really not different than shouting Fire in a crowded movie theater.
Recalcitrance on the part of the executive branch of Westchester County government will cost villages and towns $5.2 million in community development grants, which had been awarded in 2012 but have been withheld along with all the other rounds of funding since 2011. More than $7 million in grants from 2011 were lost in a similar fashion in 2013.
We elect our public sector leaders to make balanced decisions which are in the best interests of all current and future residents. There really is no place in the American governance process for elected officials to pursue their own personal agenda(s) at the expense of the public good.
Through his continued defiance of the terms of a 2009 agreement between Westchester County and HUD, Mr. Astorino has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that he is unable and/or unwilling to pursue the actions which are in the best long-term interests of the people of Westchester County.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great OZ Has Spoken!”
It’s time, Mr. Astorino. Time for you to resign from your current elected position to pursue your private agenda on your own time and on your own dime.
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!’
March 1, 2014
The Walrus recently learned that former Town of Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy was appointed as executive director of the Westchester County Tax Commission by County Executive Rob Astorino, a fellow Republican. The job, which enjoys a six-year term, pays $132,155 a year.
Ms. Murphy told a local media outlet that she was “…very grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of Westchester, I was supervisor for 16 years, and I certainly dealt with tax issues during my tenure there. It brought exposure to multiple levels of government. “
The Westchester County Tax Commission ostensibly serves as the repository for the assessment rolls from the county’s multiple taxing jurisdictions; is tasked to provide advisory services to municipalities concerning assessments and assessment procedures; and produces an annual report to the county Board of Legislators.
Off hand, I’m thinking this person is absolutely unqualified and not fit to serve in this position. But, that is the nature of a system where officials are often elected to office based on a ‘beauty contest’ enhanced by a campaign war chest of dubious origin; then those ‘elected officials’ are free to appoint political hacks into positions which can have dramatic impact on society.
This pretty much says it all, another quote attributed to Ms. Murphy from her tenure as Supervisor in the Town of Somers: “We have a good way of reporting our tax bills, and did not see a desire for it by the constituency. The town has a very good reputation for its tax rate.”
According to what source? And on what standing?
The old “Home Rule” defense rears it’s head again. And, it was a great idea in pre-revolutionary war days. Sometime after the Civil War, Home Rule became obsolete, yet we still follow that logic in 21st century New York State?
Wondering why Westchester County has won the prize to become the highest property tax location in the U.S.? It’s entirely due to Home Rule and the incredible waste and duplication of services which result.
Most egregious? The folks in the wealthy white suburbs who are willing to pay through the nose to fund their quasi-private public schools, town and village police, etc. but who balk at the idea of providing any support at all to County taxes which in turn support social safety net services for their less fortunate neighbors.