Is it time yet?

October 2, 2015

Another massacre on a school campus, this time in Oregon. On average, more than 10,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence.

The solution to enacting some 21st century rules and regulations around firearms is really very simple; the barriers to attaining rational and appropriate rules and regulations which reflect the realities of life in our current world seem to be insurmountable; but they really are not.

The NRA is the elephant in the room. With a base of about 6 Million members (about 2% of the U.S. population) they are wearing a mighty big hat, but they really don’t have many cattle.

Yet, anytime there has been even a whisper regarding legislative restrictions on ammunition — even bulk sales of armor-piercing ammunition to casual civilian buyers — the NRA has mobilized their base to scream about 2nd Amendment rights!

The same is true about restrictions on the types of arms which are appropriate for people to own and use, for legitimate and reasonable purposes.

The ‘poster child’ for these 2 issues centers on the NYS SAFE Act, which was passed by the NYS Legislature in January 2013 following the unspeakable massacre in Sandy Hook (CT) in December 2012.

Where a majority of New Yorkers — rational and responsible firearm owners and users included — find no problems with the NYS SAFE Act (yes, there were some early glitches which were quickly fixed), there continues to be a vocal contingent of ideological zealots who cling to the thread of some inaccurate information they received about the 2nd Amendment.

The greatest obstacle we face in reforming gun laws in the U.S. is the NRA. They are well-funded by interested parties; they have developed an effective lobbying effort; and they know when and how to ‘juice the system’ to make their position both well-known and well-loved.

Where the NRA {closely aligned with Gun Owners of America} presents a loud and singular voice of renegades and gun rights advocates, the rest of the population has elected to form their own organizations — hundreds of groups with similar, but slightly different mission statements — thus wasting resources and diluting the message.

If only the silent majority could figure out where to invest some money and/or other resources to help enable the gun control movement to score a victory against the ‘2nd Amendment fantasizers’ I think most of us would write the check today.

Unfortunately, until the gun control people sit down and find common ground, and agree to speak with a singular voice, the NRA and their lobbyists will continue to dominate the national stage.

For those who are able to consider new or different perspectives, you may find this analysis helpful: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/9437187/obama-guns-terrorism-deaths

Donald Trump: Update

July 13, 2015

Reliable sources have told The Walrus that Donald Trump may be behind the recent prison escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a notorious Mexican drug lord.

Although Mr. Trump has been extensively cited for some derogatory remarks about undocumented Mexicans who have entered the United States, it is believed that his remarks were just a cover for his extensive work with several Central American drug cartels which help to stabilize and enhance cash flow for the Trump Organization.

Rumors that El Chapo is temporarily staying at a Trump property in Chicago could not be confirmed or denied.

More to come….

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.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chris-christie-hillary-clinton-is-clueless-on-voter-fraud/

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.

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!

No surprise that the Koch Brothers and Koch Industries have gone on the defensive following the publication of Tim Dickinson’s lead story in the September 24 issue of Rolling Stone (“Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”).

The full text of the original article, the response, and various links to source documents is located here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/koch-industries-responds-to-rolling-stone-and-we-answer-back-20140929

Below is an excerpt from the Koch Industries response related to the original article:
10. North Pole refinery shutdown. Response:

“In February 2014, Flint Hills Resources (FHR) made the difficult decision to shut down its refining operations and convert its North Pole, Alaska refinery to a terminal. While some employees unfortunately were laid off, FHR retained approximately 40 employees at the site and offered to find the other employees roles in other Koch companies. This resulted in several of the former FHR Alaska employees receiving job opportunities at other Koch facilities in the US. Federal, state and local authorities acknowledged the regulatory and competitive issues that drove FHR’s difficult decision. For example, Senator Begich recognized the “competitive challenges” facing FHR in a letter to Alaska Governor Parnell. Senator Begich later noted the issues concerning the environmental contamination that existed long before FHR’s ownership and the appropriate regulatory standards concerning the remediation also needed to be resolved in order to encourage another owner to operate the refinery. The City of North Pole likewise expressed its frustration concerning the competitive and regulatory challenges that drove FHR’s decision.
There is no question that the off-site contamination existed long before FHR bought the refinery in 2004 – contamination that was not disclosed to FHR by the prior owner. No one had done anything about the situation until FHR discovered it and quickly and voluntarily began providing alternative water to the community. During the time since it discovered the issues, FHR has tried to work cooperatively with the state of Alaska and the prior owner to remediate these issues, while ensuring our neighbors were not adversely affected. As part of this process, FHR raised an administrative challenge to the cleanup level set by ADEC personnel. The Commissioner of ADEC agreed with FHR that the agency had not adequately supported the cleanup level and the agency is now studying the matter further. FHR remains committed to doing the right thing, while also ensuring that the prior owner lives up to its contractual obligations to FHR and its obligations to the community.”


No one could effectively deny that the Kochs – and their legal and PR teams – possess great imaginations, and are blessed with amazing creativity. It’s almost as though Lewis Carroll has returned to write more poems for us to ponder!

John Boehner Sez

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.

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….

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.

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.

Zero Sum Game

January 12, 2014

Our elected officials love to make noise about ‘holding the line on taxes’ — whether at the federal, state, county or local level.

In the private sector, we know there are 2 ways to improve fiscal efficiency. One way is to increase revenues, either by selling more products or raising prices on existing products. Another is to reduce costs.

The public sector is much more complex, because of the layers of government which often overlap and have some redundancy.

One thing is clear: if the federal government cuts back on safety net services to reduce costs, the need for those services is still there. Provision of services (or some substitute) thus rolls down to the state, county or local level. In the jargon of economists, that’s known as the ‘Zero Sum Game’.

I live in the City of Mount Vernon in lower Westchester County NY.

Westchester has a very large share of residents who are among the wealthiest Americans. Some call their Westchester residence home, while others use their Westchester property as a secondary or tertiary residence. Because of these very wealthy families who own extraordinary properties, Westchester has one of the highest median property values in the United States, and is ranked 1st of the 3143 U.S. counties in order of median property taxes.

What they fail to mention is that most properties in Westchester County are taxed by 3 different entities: The County (18%); the municipality (22%); and the school district (60%).

For me and my Mount Vernon neighbors, the estates of the landed gentry might as well be on another planet.

Those of us who live in Mount Vernon are seeing the effects first hand of what happens when politics gets in the way of reality. We experienced a very contentious and hard-fought battle for the office of County Executive in the second half of 2013.

The incumbent, Rob Astorino, campaigned relentlessly on his Tea Party platform of No Tax Increases!

Despite the fact that county property taxes in Westchester typically represent less than 20% of the total property tax burden, the sound bite of No Tax Increases, combined with a consistent message that his opponent – in his role as Mayor of New Rochelle – had raised taxes on New Rochelle property owners, Mr. Astorino gained the support of a number of factions, including some elected officials, and he was re-elected.

Now, because the County has not increased taxes, it has cut funding for vital services, and guess where the vital services are most needed?

Cities like Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Peekskill are left holding the bag. No funding from the County for services? City taxpayers pick up the tab in their City budget, instead of spreading the tax burden across the broader County tax base and allowing property owners in all areas to share the cost of services which tend to impact most on lower-income areas.

A recent report ranked 4 Westchester towns — including Briarcliff, Lewisboro, Irvington and Pleasantville — as some of the safest areas in New York State to live. Those folks can well afford to pay for great schools, plenty of police, etc. in part because they don’t get burdened with covering the costs of services in less affluent communities.

Here in Mount Vernon, we have an elected City Council member who was a vehement supporter of Rob Astorino in his re-election campaign, loving the promise of no tax increases. Now, the City taxpayers are facing an 8% City tax increase in order to maintain some semblance of vital services which the County will no longer provide due to budget cuts.

Our City Council member is visiting somewhere in the Twilight Zone, creating her own illusions of reality, and she has supporters who believe in her?

Let me warn you folks: Don’t drink any of her Kool Aid! And, be very careful of the messages you hear on the election trail!