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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America’s Teachers

April 12, 2018

America’s teachers have notoriously been underpaid relative to their peer group. The excuses include, (a) Flexibility; (b) Summers off; (c) a profession dominated by women (and we all know that women earn about 80% of what men earn for comparable experience in similar jobs).

If I were a young person approaching college graduation, I might look at starting salary, and projections for advancement over the course of my career.

If I did that, teaching would not likely be on my list of job choices.

According to a study published by US News and World Report looking at the best jobs for 2018 college graduates, there are dozens of opportunities which absolutely blow away starting salaries for teachers, which seem to be in the $38k range.

One random example is an entry level Financial Analyst in the area of investment banking, private banking and the securities industry. The highest paid in the financial analyst profession work in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, New York City, and San Luis Obispo, California. The Stamford /Bridgeport, CT area also pays well, as does the city of Salem, Oregon.

San Francisco      $141,840
New York City     $133,130
San Luis Obispo, CA  $120,750
Bridgeport (Stamford), CT   $120,520
Salem, Oregon            $120,150

These are median starting salaries for newly minted graduates.  What’s most egregious about this?

On a really good day, financial analysts provide zero economic value-added to our overall economy and society; on a bad day, they can cause catastrophic damage. Financial analysts produce no tangible outputs; they endeavor to discover and exploit financial opportunities to benefit their firm and its clients at the expense of other individuals.

Teachers bring value every day, yet they are generally under-respected and certainly, under-compensated. Teachers are the mechanism by which we build future intellectual capital to benefit future generations in and across the U.S.

Some may argue that this example attempts to pit Capitalism against Socialism:  Nice try on that one!

Pure capitalism relies on the premise that private capital, invested strategically, adds value to the overall economy and society, while providing a fair and reasonable profit to the capitalist(s).

Pure socialism requires a government controlled population of workers to both plan and operate the system; true socialism requires government control of all economic as well as political and public affairs.

By levying fair and reasonable income taxes on excess or suspicious profits, a nation is able to re-invest those taxes into strategic and forward-focused programs and initiatives, such things as: bridges; tunnels; airports; rail rapid transit; healthcare research and innovations; and public education – including teacher quality and teacher compensation.

Teachers need to re-focus their compensation and resource allocation argument toward pure economics.

It strikes me that the message needs to be:  “High quality, well-compensated teachers who are provided with appropriate and needed classroom resources help to shape and create the next generation of high-performance, highly motivated and productive citizens our nation will need to ensure future economic and political success.
There is no substitute for a ready and reliable supply of intellectual capital waiting in the wings to take charge in the coming decades.”

April, 11, 2018:  Paul Ryan announced his plan to retire from Congress in January 2019, at the end of his current term, and further stated that he will not run for re-election.

Ryan said that he is proud of the accomplishments which occurred during his 20 years of service in Congress, although he regrets that ‘they were unable to achieve Entitlement Reform’ during his tenure in office.  Despite his vocal regrets, he is planning to leave Washington in January 2019 with some of the most generous and egregious entitlements remaining in the U.S.

It has been said that Ryan’s remaining goal (‘Entitlement Reform’) is razor focused on cutting federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs as a way to temper extraordinary increases in the federal deficit.

These increases in the deficit were willfully enacted as a component of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as a result of rare, curious, wild and crazy tax cuts combined with wild and crazy spending increases, at a point in our economic cycle which begs for caution and restraint.

Paul Ryan said that he is extremely pleased to have played a significant role in the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which he considers to be a highlight of his service in Washington.

Background on Jobs:

Since 2010, the U.S. economy has supported the creation of almost 17.5 Million jobs, leading to a November 2017 unemployment rate of 4.1%, a 17-year low. (Perspective: Unemployment reached 15% toward the end of 2009; many economists agree that “full-employment” occurs when the unemployment rate is at 5% or lower.)

Hundreds of U.S companies have been looking to hire workers for skilled positions to help them meet growing demand for their products and services. These jobs are often called “family wage jobs” because they provide compensation and benefits sufficient to support a family in the local economy.

The number of job openings in the U.S. (October 2017) remained at the 6 Million level, marginally lower than at the end of 2016. (Perspective: When the Great Recession was at its worst in 2009, job openings fell to 2.2 million, an all-time low.)

Average hourly earnings had risen just 2.5% over the 12 month period ending in October 2017, helping to support the theory that a significant skills gap continues to impede hiring for family wage jobs which typically require advanced reading, math and computer skills.

In addition to the dilemma of finding skilled workers in shrinking regional labor market pools (“skills gap”), hiring managers and economic development experts also report obstacles cited by job seekers such as: transportation (including long commutes); day care/child care; and noncompetitive wage rates.

Despite these documented facts, Paul Ryan, many members of Congress and President Trump actively and enthusiastically supported “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” of 2017, telling us – among other things, “Our legislation is focused entirely on growing our economy, bringing jobs back to our local communities, increasing paychecks for our workers…”

At a point in time when we had apparently reached full employment; when some 6 Million higher-skilled, family wage jobs were unfilled, at least 2 questions remained unanswered:

– Other than engaging in war, or the innovative programs launched in the 1930’s (CCC, WPA, etc.), has the federal government ever succeeded in an effort to create sustainable private sector employment?

– If new family wage jobs are created, who would be available to fill them?

Background on the tax side:

When George W. Bush (POTUS 43) took office in January 2001, he inherited a federal budget from his predecessor.

Fiscal Year Ending (FYE) 9/30/2001 resulted in revenues of $2.39 Trillion and expenditures of $2.23 Trillion, resulting in a budget surplus of $0.15 Trillion. FYE 2001 federal debt held by the public was $3.34 Trillion, representing 31.7% of GDP.

Fast forward to his final full year in office (FYE 9/30/08), Bush watched over a federal budget which included revenues of $2.52 Trillion and expenditures of $2.98 Trillion.

That left a FYE deficit of $458.6 Billion, which (combined with prior deficit spending) resulted in total federal debt of $9.99 Trillion at FYE (9/30/08), representing 67.7% of GDP.

The federal budget for FY 2009 was developed by then-president Bush, submitted to Congress, and inherited by Obama (POTUS 44). The actual federal revenues for FY 2009 were $2.10 Trillion; expenditures were $3.52 Trillion. That left a 2009 FYE deficit of $1.41 Trillion, which (combined with prior deficit spending) resulted in total federal debt of $11.88 Trillion at FYE (9/30/09), representing 82.4% of GDP.

Most reasonable people will agree that a newly elected President who inherits a spending plan from his predecessor should not be given credit for its success or failure.

POTUS 44 (Obama) presided over 7 years of steady economic growth in the U.S., and under his watch, the close of FY 2017 budget reflects an increase of total federal debt to $14.67 Trillion, which was a numerical increase, but which represented a relative decrease to 76.3% of GDP.

Not great, but a clear improvement over what Obama inherited from Bush.

Some economists have suggested a 60% ceiling for publicly held debt vs. GDP which seems to make sense.

Although policies enacted during the Obama administration did reduce the ratio for 82% to 76%, we have a long way to go.

The correct way to address this situation is through tax policy reform designed to create balanced federal budgets, focused on reducing federal deficits.

That is not what our Congress has approved, and what President Trump signed into law just prior to Christmas 2017.

Most recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (4/10/2018) estimates that the combined effect of the 2017 tax cuts and the March 2018 budget-busting spending bill is sending the annual federal deficit toward the $1 Trillion mark in 2019.

The CBO report says our nation’s current $21 Trillion debt would spike to more than $33 Trillion in 10 years, with debt held by investors spiking to levels that would come close to equaling the size of the economy, reaching levels that many economists fear could spark a debt crisis.

CBO says economic growth from the tax cuts will add 0.7 percent on average to the nation’s economic output over the coming decade. Those effects will only partially offset the deficit cost of the tax cuts.

The administration had promised the cuts would pay for themselves.

Best I can see, only Robert Reich has focused on the Real Facts, and who would listen to a guy like Reich, who has degrees from Yale, Oxford, Dartmouth — clearly a left-wing Liberal Snowflake….

As interim Pres. Trump tweeted today, “We are with you, Paul!”

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!

How true, yet how trite.

People kill people, whether with their hands, a blunt object, a knife or a gun.

That said, a person armed with a .22 caliber bolt action rifle and a 10 round magazine is much less likely to engage in a mass shooting than, say, a person armed with an AR-15 rifle with a 30 round magazine.

The difference in circumference between the .22 cal and the .223 cal is negligible. The design differences are substantial.

The .22 is a rimfire cartridge, and its design goes back over 100 years.  The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is the most commonly used ammunition in the world today.

The .223 is a centerfire cartridge, designed in the early 1960’s specifically for military purposes as ammunition for the M-16 rifle (the military version of the AR-15).

To the uninformed, there is not much difference between the .22 bolt action rifle commonly used for target shooting and hunting, and the .223 semi-automatic rifle which was designed for military use.

To the Rambo Wanna-Be who is planning his domestic massacre, the differences are extraordinary.

After all, how many civilians can you take out with a .22 LR equipped with a 10 round magazine, even if you are shooting copper-plated hollow point bullets? [We don’t have an answer to this question because there is no record of a shooting rampage involving .22 rifles.]

We know that the AR-15 rifle (and variants) have been the weapon of choice in the majority of firearm massacres in the U.S. over the past decade.

There have been more than 30 school shootings in the U.S. since the December 2012 execution of 20 elementary school students and 6 adults at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT.

If we were to outlaw the production, sale or possession of AR-15 style weapons in the U.S. tomorrow, would we immediately change this paradigm?  Immediately:  No.

Over the longer term (say, 3, 5, 7 years)?  Almost certainly.

The AR-15 (and similar weapons) have no place in a civil society, except perhaps for military and limited law enforcement use.

Please don’t stand by and wait for someone to go hunting with an AR-15 at the school which your children or grandchildren attend.  Step up and demand common sense gun regulations.  Now.

Common Sense Legislation?

March 12, 2018

This Old Walrus just doesn’t get it.  We don’t rely on the Mattachine Society to write legislation on sodomy with young boys.  We don’t (usually) weigh in with the Russian Mafia to write our laws on money laundering. So, why is it that the NRA has become the singular expert – the ‘Go-to People’ – for all issues concerning firearms?

Over the past decade, or so, we’ve had enough mass murders in the U.S. to spot some common ingredients:  (a) Perpetrator is an under-25 white male; (b) He is angry, isolated and/or socially challenged (often described in retrospect as ‘mentally disturbed’); and (c) The weapon of choice is an AR-15 (or equal), accompanied by high-capacity magazines.

Young men mature physically much faster than they mature mentally and emotionally.  A typical 18 to 20 Y.O. male physically looks like an adult, but just hasn’t attained the emotional and mental maturity that post-25 year old adults generally possess.

There is a ton of research which supports the notion that changes in cognitive abilities occurring in males between ages 18 and 25 are essentially a continued process of brain development that start during puberty.  At age 18, a young man is roughly halfway through the entire stage of development. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at age 25.

It is unfortunate that Congress passed legislation in 1996 which effectively precludes the CDC from conducting research on the causes of gun violence (the Dickey Amendment).

There is some colloquial evidence that people who act out their Rambo fantasies are angry, isolated and/or socially challenged, and there may be a preventable linkage between male brain development and assault weapons, but until qualitative research is conducted, we really won’t know.

Meanwhile, there seem to be a couple of simple interventions which we could enact tomorrow that would put this issue on ‘pause’ until some qualitative research can be conducted:

  • Ban the manufacture, sale or possession of semi-automatic military-style assault weapons in the U.S.;
  • Ban the manufacture, sale or possession of magazines that can contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and outlaw devices like bump stocks that make weapons more deadly;
  • Institute universal background checks and close loopholes that let too many people slip through the cracks and purchase firearms despite being a threat to themselves or others;
  • No weapons for suspected terrorists, domestic abusers, or individuals convicted of hate crimes;
  • Impose a three-day waiting period for the purchase of all firearms, and raise the minimum age for buying those weapons to 21;
  • Institute a Gun Violence Restraining Order that allows law enforcement to confiscate weapons from individuals who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

These are common-sense solutions to help reduce gun violence in all communities across the U.S. – including accidents, suicides, domestic violence, mass shootings, and acts of terrorism. Most of these reforms are supported by a majority of Americans – not just Democrats or Republicans, but ALL Americans.

And, once we have obtained high-quality qualitative research on the causes of gun violence, our elected officials will be in a much better position to adapt and/or modify these interim interventions to reflect data-driven conclusions on the causes of gun violence in the U.S.

What are we waiting for?

Dear Governor Rick Scott

February 21, 2018

I’ve been calling Florida my second home for 40 years, and I was finally able to move here permanently in January 2017. Florida has some fabulous positive attributes. Firearm regulations are not on that list. It is my belief that Florida currently has some very weak controls over gun acquisition, gun possession, gun ownership and the sale of ammunition and accessories.

Florida’s gun control regulations absolutely made sense in 1960 when the total population was about 5 Million, and the state was highly rural and agrarian.

Today, we have some 21 Million residents, highly concentrated in high density urban MSAs, with an economy highly dependent on tourism.

A number of academic studies have forecast a very high correlation between tourism and perceived public safety risks.  Areas with a reputation for a high risk of crime or violence against residents and visitors are shunned by visitors.

I’m a dues paying member of the NRA and a gun owner; I think the 2nd Amendment is a good thing, and I’ve read it dozens of times. I’m not sure exactly what the folks who wrote it were trying to say, and they are all now deceased so we can’t ask them in person.

Florida has been the location of several recent massacres involving young people wielding AR-15 weapons.

A massacre in Orlando in June 2016 involving a demented 29 year-old man wielding an AR-15 resulted in the death of 50 people (including the shooter) and physical and mental wounding of many others.

Nothing was done at the state or federal level following that atrocity because, as some said, “the Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody.”

On February 14, 2018 a young man named “Cruz” stormed a high school in Parkland, FL with an AR-15 rifle. He killed 17 and wounded many more.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the Parkland massacre, you said, “Everything’s on the table, all right? I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”

Some political operatives have focused their diversions on mental health issues, yet Federal law already bars people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to institutions from buying firearms.

Until the State of Florida takes action to update our gun control regulations to recognize we are no longer a rural and agrarian state, and that we are now economically focused on tourism – both domestically and internationally – we as residents are at physical risk from demented individuals wielding assault weapons, and we as taxpayers are at economic risk for dramatic revenue losses from tourists who make decisions to avoid Florida due to perceived public safety risks.

It is incumbent on you and the elected members of the Florida legislature to enact legislation which will make sure that powerful assault weapons, high capacity magazines, bump stocks, suppressors, armor piercing bullets and other military grade accessories can’t be sold, owned or used by any civilians – including teenagers – who wish to live in our 21st Century Florida civil society.

Florida, the Gunshine State

February 17, 2018

I’ve been calling Florida my second home for 40 years, and I was finally able to move here permanently in January 2017.  Florida has some fabulous positive attributes.  Firearm regulations are not on that list.

I’m a dues paying member of the NRA and a gun owner.  I think the 2nd Amendment is a good thing, and I’ve read it dozens of times.  I’m not sure exactly what the folks who wrote it were trying to say, and they are all now deceased so we can’t ask them in person.

Florida has been the location of several recent massacres involving young people wielding AR-15 weapons.  On February 14, 2018 a young man named “Cruz” stormed a high school in Parkland, FL with an AR-15 rifle.  He killed 17 and wounded many more.

Florida seems to have some ‘fast and loose’ controls over gun acquisition, gun possession, gun ownership and the sale of ammunition and accessories.

Florida State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican who wrote the Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in 2005 and is a major gun-rights backer, doubts any proposals aimed to restrict or control guns will gain traction. “I don’t see any interest here on that,” said Mr. Baxley, who represents parts of Sumter, Marion and Lake Counties. “We’re pretty comfortable that freedom works.”

The FBI confirmed that someone close to Cruz called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 with information about Cruz’s desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

On February 16, 2018, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed that the Broward Sheriff’s Office received “20 calls for service over the last few years” regarding Cruz.

After the Orlando massacre in June 2016, Florida Governor Rick Scott— where the killer also used a military-style semiautomatic rifle — said that “the Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody.”

Following the February 2018 Parkland school massacre, Mr. Scott told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer,  “Everything’s on the table, all right? I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”

Concurrently with his ‘everything on the table’ remark, Scott released a detailed statement essentially blaming the FBI for the Parkland school shooting, concluding with, “… the FBI failed to act… The FBI Director needs to resign.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also slammed the FBI, saying the agency “utterly failed the families of 17 innocent souls.  The fact that the FBI is investigating this failure is not enough,” Rubio said in a statement. “Both the House and Senate need to immediately initiate their own investigations into the FBI’s protocols for ensuring tips from the public about potential killers are followed through.”

This Scott/Rubio circus closely follows the Republican playbook which resulted in the firing of former FBI Director Comey in May 2017; and the continuing barrage of criticisms, innuendo and distractions which attempt to cast doubts on the reliability and/or veracity of the FBI and its current director, Christopher Wray.

Some political operatives have focused their diversions on mental health issues, yet Federal law already bars people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to institutions from buying firearms.

In February 2017, at the request of a Republican Congress, President Trump signed an order to repeal restrictions on gun sales to an estimated 75,000 individuals who have been determined to be mentally deficient by certain Federal agencies.

And, despite their rhetoric, Florida state Republican leaders have not proposed expanding mental-health restrictions inside Florida.

Deflection is a powerful political tool because it can mask attention from other issues, such as making sure powerful assault weapons, high capacity magazines, bump stocks and armor piercing bullets can’t be bought by teenagers – or any civilians – who wish to live in a civil 21st Century society.

Walrus is back

February 17, 2018

Wow!  It’s been almost 3 years since I posted on WordPress, and ironically, that post (October 2015) was to encourage our Elected Officials to get tough on gun control and to pass meaningful gun control legislation in the wake of another school shooting.

My comments then got no results, other than to provide me with an opportunity to take out my frustrations in a civilized manner.

More to come on this and some other topics.