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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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!

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?

Public calls to action for our Congress to ban ‘semiautomatic assault weapons’ (a.k.a. ’semiautomatic military style weapons’) are nothing new.

Way back in 1989, a known criminal bearing a Chinese-made AK-47 rifle shot and killed five schoolchildren and wounded 32 others on the grounds of an elementary school in Stockton, CA.  Following this incident, President George H. W. Bush signed an executive order (the Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Ban) banning importation of assault weapons.

Several other massacres occurred in following years.  In October 1991, an unemployed drifter who had been discharged for cause from the U.S. Merchant Marine drove his pickup truck through the window at a cafeteria in Killeen, TX.  He jumped out with 2 semi-automatic pistols with high capacity magazines, opened fire, shot and killed 23 people, and wounded 27 others.  After several years of political posturing, the Texas State Rifle Association convinced legislators to follow the ‘good guy with a gun’ model, and in 1995, then Texas Governor George W. Bush signed a concealed carry law, opening Texas up to thousands of armed citizens walking the streets.

An incident on July 1, 1993 in San Francisco is often cited as the tipping point for introduction of legislation by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) intended to respond to public concerns about mass shootings by restricting firearms that met the criteria for what it defined as a “semiautomatic assault weapon”, as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device”.

In the San Francisco massacre, the shooter – wielding modified semiautomatic pistols equipped with high-capacity magazines — killed eight people and wounded six.

In November 1993, Feinstein’s proposed legislation passed the U.S. Senate. By the time it worked its way through the legislative process and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the NRA and other gun industry advocates managed to get the law watered down, and to include a sunset provision on the proposed ban on ‘assault weapons’ to expire after 10 years.

Titled the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (a.k.a. Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994)), it did ban semiautomatics that looked like assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The legislation passed in September 1994 with a sunset provision for the assault weapon ban section. The law expired on September 13, 2004.

That Act prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons” as defined by the Act.  Weapons banned were identified either by specific make or model (including copies or duplicates thereof, in any caliber), or by specific characteristics that slightly varied according to whether the weapon was a pistol, rifle, or shotgun.  The Act also prohibited the transfer and possession of “large capacity ammunition feeding devices”  — defined as “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after the date [of the act] that has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition”.

My theory is that if the 1994 law was not allowed to expire, most – if not all – of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. would never have occurred.  Best I can tell, each and every perpetrator involved in one of these massacres has had a seriously aberrant personality, mental illness or other anti-social or delusional characteristics.

Just imagine if there were no ‘Rambo-style’ weapons available for these folks to acquire – legally or on the black market.  Perhaps they would have taken out their frustrations and aggression through a different channel?

Let’s double down and demand that Congress update, strengthen and reauthorize the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, this time with no sunset provision.

Dianne Feinstein:  We are counting on you!

Bowing to extraordinary pressure from both the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish blocs, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo has put his weight behind an ‘education Tax Credit’ proposal that is just plain wrong.

No matter how you slice this, it is not just wrong, it is also unconstitutional.

Our federal and state constitutions mandate certain services be provided to all residents and citizens, services which include public education.

Sometimes, economists view the shifting a tax burden required to provide sufficient funding to ensure provision of adequate and acceptable services from one taxing entity to another in order to create the illusion of a tax cut or a public cost savings as a “Zero Sum Game.”

This proposed tax credit program is certainly NOT a zero sum game.

The sole beneficiaries of this proposed tax credit charade will be those families – and their allies and supporters – who elect to eschew the free and publicly supported education system which is intended and expected to provide all children in New York State the opportunity for a “sound basic education,” defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation .

When Rhode Island adopted an education tax credit program a few years back, it resulted in a windfall for the state’s two Jewish day schools. Between them, their students received some $400,000 in scholarship money in the program’s first year.

In Florida, tax credit legislation has resulted in nearly $10 million annually for scholarships for Jewish day schools and yeshiva students.

Now New York, which has some 150,000 Jewish day school and yeshiva students — more than all the other states combined — has a chance of getting an education tax credit program that could deliver millions of dollars annually to Jewish day school families.

Another primary beneficiary of this proposed tax credit program will be supporters of private Catholic schools which have been plagued with declining enrollment and decreased core funding from the Church for several decades.

Offering a small number of self-selecting individuals the option to designate (Read:  Divert) up to 75% of their NY State Tax Liability to fund private religious schools is just plain wrong.

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.

Walrus Feeling Guilty

October 4, 2013

With all of the attention on the shenanigans in Washington and the in-depth moment by moment reporting, I thought the Walrus might sit this one out, but various forces have caused guilt.

Congress certainly has the authority to challenge the Affordable Care Act. Why don’t they just challenge the ACA in Court? Why are they messing with the greatest economy in the World?

Oh, wait. They did challenge it in court. In the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land. On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the constitutionality of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” finding that the federal government can require people to purchase affordable health care insurance coverage or face an income tax penalty.

So, we have a law which was approved by the House of Representatives, approved by the U.S. Senate, approved by the President of the U.S. and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

But, wait! We also have a splinter group of dubiously elected officials (i.e. the Ayatollah John Boehner, Cruz Control, Private Ryan, Eric “T.P.” Cantor – and others who shall remain anonymous for now).

These creatures have determined (in September 2013) that the only appropriate way for the Congress to arrive at a Continuing Budget Resolution which would keep our federal government running is to open a debate on a law which was enacted in 2010?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many times I wish that I could just put all of the clocks and calendars around the world on pause. Just give me a few days to catch up on all of the loose ends, and then I would restart the clocks and calendars as though those few days I had to myself were invisible and inconsequential. Sort of like a short “working vacation” in the Twilight Zone.

Boehner and his Band of Merry Men apparently have gone beyond the Twilight Zone and have jumped all the way down the rabbit hole, desperately trying to drag the rest of the country with them.

I have to wonder – how does the Supreme Court feel about this behavior?

Somehow, Rob Astorino was elected to the position of Westchester County Executive in 2009. Since then, Mr. Astorino has accomplished nothing worth noting, other than a consistent and flagrant disreguard for the laws of New York State and the United States of America.

Now, Mr. Astorino is showing his true colors, attacking his Democratic Party endorsed opponent in the upcoming election for Westchester County Executive, and manufacturing reasons why his silly lawsuits against the federal government are a good idea, despite the fact that none of them have been successful.

Manufacturing his own facts, and drawing on his highly polished skills perfected during his long career as a radio broadcast journalist, Mr. Astorino and his Band of Merry Men are closely following the national model employed by Boehner, Ryan, Cruz and their ‘brothers’ using highly-charged emotional messages backed up by imaginary ‘facts’.

For some unfortunate reason, there seems to be a cohort of gullible — or perhaps dishonest? — New Rochelle residents who are willing to put their own character and reputation on the line to spread false facts.

Meanwhile, Noam Bramson, who has a solid track record of doing the right things to support and benefit the long-term success of all people in the County, is having to deal with the spillover effects of a divisive and dirty attack campaign from Mr. Astorino.

Some days, I wonder if America has been dragged down the rabbit hole by Alice and Astorino, and it’s all just a weird dream which will end with a nice cup of tea?