Voting In America

The New York Times has started a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November.  I thought the first part of the series, originally published on 10 March 2018, was worth sharing with you.  It is a bit lengthier than my average post, but there are points here that I think we all need to consider as we head into the midterms.  Please take a few moments to read and think about these things.

Vote. That’s Just What They Don’t Want You to Do.

This is a fragile moment for the nation. The integrity of democratic institutions is under assault from without and within, and basic standards of honesty and decency in public life are corroding. If you are horrified at what is happening in Washington and in many states, you can march in the streets, you can go to town halls and demand more from your representatives, you can share the latest outrageous news on your social media feed — all worthwhile activities. But none of it matters if you don’t go out and vote.

It’s a perennial conundrum for the world’s oldest democracy: Why do so many Americans fail to go to the polls? Some abstainers think that they’re registering a protest against the awful choices. They’re fooling themselves. Nonvoters aren’t protesting anything; they’re just putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote. We’ve seen recently what can happen when people choose instead to take their protest to the ballot box. We saw it in Virginia in November. We saw it, to our astonishment, in Alabama in December. We may see it this week in western Pennsylvania. Voting matters.

Casting a ballot is the best opportunity most of us will ever get to have a say in who will represent us, what issues they will address and how they will spend our money. The right to vote is so basic, President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, that without it “all others are meaningless.”

And yet every election, tens of millions of Americans stay home. Studies of turnout among developed nations consistently rank the United States near the bottom. In the most recent midterms, in 2014, less than 37 percent of eligible voters went to the polls — the lowest turnout in more than 70 years. In 2016,

The problem isn’t just apathy, of course. Keeping people from voting has been an American tradition from the nation’s earliest days, when the franchise was restricted to white male landowners. It took a civil war, constitutional amendments, violently suppressed activism against discrimination and a federal act enforcing the guarantees of those amendments to extend this basic right to every adult. With each expansion of voting rights, the nation inched closer to being a truly representative democracy. Today, only one group of Americans may be legally barred from voting — those with felony records, a cruel and pointless restriction that disproportionately silences people of color.

In the months leading up to the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when the House, Senate and statehouses around the country are up for grabs, the editorial board will explore the complicated question of why Americans don’t vote, and what can be done to overcome the problem. The explanations fall into three broad categories.


A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before.

Stories like these are distressingly familiar, as more and more states pass laws that make voting harder for certain groups of voters, usually minorities, but also poor people, students and the elderly. They require forms of photo identification that minorities are much less likely to have or be able to get — purportedly to reduce fraud, of which there is virtually no evidence. They eliminate same-day registration, close polling stations in minority areas and cut back early-voting hours and Sunday voting.

These new laws may not be as explicitly discriminatory as the poll taxes or literacy tests of the 20th century, but they are part of the same long-term project to keep minorities from the ballot box. And because African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, the laws are nearly always passed by Republican-dominated legislatures.

In a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s strict new voter-ID law, a former staff member for a Republican lawmaker testified that Republicans were “politically frothing at the mouth” at the prospect that the law would drive down Democratic turnout. It worked: After the 2016 election, one survey found that the law prevented possibly more than 17,000 registered voters, disproportionately poor and minority, from voting. Donald Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.


The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes. And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter-registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hourslong lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process.

Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are. In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures. These include conducting regular threat assessments, using voting machines that create paper trails and conducting postelection audits. Yet President Trump, who sees any invocation of Russian interference as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election, consistently downplays or dismisses these threats. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s State Department has not spent a dime of the $120 million Congress allocated to it to fight disinformation campaigns by Russia and other countries.


Some people wouldn’t vote if you put a ballot box in their living room. Whether they believe there is no meaningful difference between the major parties or that the government doesn’t care what they think regardless of who is in power, they have detached themselves from the political process.

That attitude is encouraged by many in government, up to and including the current president, who cynically foster feelings of disillusionment by hawking fake tales of rigged systems and illegal voters, even as they raise millions of dollars from wealthy donors and draw legislative maps to entrench their power.

The disillusionment is understandable, and to some degree it’s justified. But it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When large numbers of people don’t vote, elections are indeed decided by narrow, unrepresentative groups and in the interests of wealth and power. The public can then say, See? We were right. They don’t care about us. But when more people vote, the winning candidates are more broadly representative and that improves government responsiveness to the public and enhances democratic legitimacy.

These obstacles to voting and political participation are very real, and we don’t discount their impact on turnout. The good news is there are fixes for all of them.

The most important and straightforward fix is to make it easier for people to register and vote. Automatic voter registration, which first passed in Oregon just three years ago, is now the law or practice in nine states, both red and blue, and the District of Columbia. Washington State is on the cusp of becoming the tenth, and New Jersey and Nevada may be close behind. More people also turn out when states increase voting opportunities, such as by providing mail-in ballots or by expanding voting hours and days.

The courts should be a bulwark protecting voting rights, and many lower federal courts have been just that in recent years, blocking the most egregious attacks on voting in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin. But the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has made this task much harder, mainly by gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 case. Decisions like that one, which split 5 to 4, depend heavily on who is sitting in those nine seats — yet another reason people should care who gets elected.

In the end, the biggest obstacle to more Americans voting is their own sense of powerlessness. It’s true: Voting is a profound act of faith, a belief that even if your voice can’t change policy on its own, it makes a difference. Consider the attitude of Andrea Anthony, the Wisconsin woman who was deterred by the state’s harsh new voter-ID law after voting her whole adult life. “Voting is important to me because I know I have a little, teeny, tiny voice, but that is a way for it to be heard,” Ms. Anthony said. “Even though it’s one vote, I feel it needs to count.”

She’s right. The future of America is in your hands. More people voting would not only mean “different political parties with different platforms and different candidates,” the writer Rebecca Solnit said. “It would change the story. It would change who gets to tell the story.”

There are a lot of stories desperately needing to be told right now, but they won’t be as long as millions of Americans continue to sit out elections. Lament the state of the nation as much as you want. Then get out and vote.

They Have Killed My Country and Murdered My God

This post by my young friend, Anam, needs no introduction from me, for her words say it all.

Fade Into Oblivion

They have killed my country and murdered my God
and called it collateral damage.
They have buried my homeland
under their bombs and the cries of its residents.
The women of my country are their playthings
And the men are prisoners of war.
My house has collapsed in on itself
burying its inhabitants under six feet of rubble
like a grave.
Colonisation, The Occupation, Ceasefire.
I can’t hear my own thoughts
Maybe that’s what they want to do
Overwhelm you with external destruction and voice
So you have no idea who you are
They blaspheme my God and place of worship
call Him a liar
spit upon His shrine
challenge His authority
believe they are better off without Him.
My country has become their playground
Paradise on Earth, now even worse than Hell.
I think the dead are luckier
They can’t see their beautiful land littered
with bullet shells, bombs…

View original post 186 more words

Putin Controls The Light Switch???

I was so tired tonight that I could barely stay awake, and I was actually thinking the unthinkable – to go to bed without publishing a morning post.  And then, as I made one last scan of the headlines, I saw this:

Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says

And I was suddenly wide awake.

Russia interfered with our election in 2016.  That is no longer speculation … that is fact.  But guess what?  That isn’t all they are capable of doing.

“We now have evidence they’re sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage,” said Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm. “From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that’s missing is some political motivation.”

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued yesterday, 15 March 2018:

“Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors—hereafter referred to as “threat actors”—targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.”

To put it simply, if Russia so chose, they have the capability to shut down our power grids, water systems, air traffic controls and more.  U.S. Intelligence agencies have been aware for a year and a half that the Russians had this capability, and last June issued warnings to utility companies.  The latest information comes on the heels of Trump finally imposing the sanctions against Russia that were unanimously passed by Congress last year.  Could these sanctions be the ‘political motivation’ of which Mr. Chien speaks?

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times

The groups that conducted the energy attacks, which are linked to Russian intelligence agencies, appear to be different from the two hacking groups that were involved in the election interference. That would suggest that at least three separate Russian cyberoperations were underway simultaneously. One focused on stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee and other political groups. Another, by a St. Petersburg “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency, used social media to sow discord and division. A third effort sought to burrow into the infrastructure of American and European nations.

Russian cyberattacks surged last year, starting three months after Mr. Trump took office. American officials and private cybersecurity experts uncovered a series of Russian attacks aimed at the energy, water and aviation sectors and critical manufacturing, including nuclear plants, in the United States and Europe. In its urgent report in June, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. notified operators about the attacks but stopped short of identifying Russia as the culprit.

By then, Russian spies had compromised the business networks of several American energy, water and nuclear plants, mapping out their corporate structures and computer networks.  In an updated warning to utility companies on Thursday, Homeland Security officials included a screenshot taken by Russian operatives that proved they could now gain access to their victims’ critical controls.

Rather like the hacking of our 2016 elections, which the intelligence community informs us is ongoing and is expected to affect the mid-terms this November, our response to this situation seems rather tepid.  The sanctions Trump imposed yesterday fell short of those that had been passed by Congress last year.  Trump finally joined our allies in stating that Putin was in all likelihood responsible for the chemical attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK, but it took him two weeks.  Will he instruct our intelligence agencies to actively pursue these hackers?  Can the agencies act without his blessing?  If so, will they?  These are questions whose answers are beyond my field of knowledge, but I think they are important for us to ask.

If you haven’t read One Second After by William Forstchen, I highly recommend it.  I read it a few years ago, and while I did not write a review, I did write another post in January 2017 that summarized the book and touched on the “what-if” of an enemy effectively shutting down our power grid.  While I am not an alarmist, I do recognize there is potential for disaster here.  The potential has been there for a while, but I ask you this:  Do you actually trust Donald Trump to do everything in his power to stop Russia from interfering in our elections, or even worse, from causing infrastructure disruptions likely to cost millions of lives?  I don’t.  His promise to “keep America safe” is naught but hot air.  It is time he step up to the plate, or else step aside and let somebody else bat.

And on that note, I shall now go to bed and try to sleep.

And This Is Why …

It was the story I had not seen that raised my hackles late last night.  It was buried somewhere among stories of the PA18 election, Rex Tillerson’s firing, Stormy Daniels, Devin Nunes and of course, the ringleader Trump.  It was reported by NBC News and ABC News, but there were no ‘Breaking News’ alerts.  I found it on my friend Scottie’s blog post, then went in search of.  The story?

Gun-Trained Teacher Accidentally Discharges Firearm in Calif. Classroom, Injuring Student

Even that was wrong … THREE students were reportedly injured.  By a teacher.  A ‘gun-trained’ teacher.  A ‘reserve police officer’.  And as if there weren’t already enough irony there, the class in which this happened was “Administration of Justice”.  Still want to put guns in teacher’s hands, Wayne LaPierre, Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump?  Still think it’s the best way to ‘protect’ our children?  Think again!!!! Now, the facts of the matter …

Dennis Alexander

  • Dennis Alexander, a reserve police officer, was pointing the gun at the ceiling Tuesday to make sure it was not loaded when it discharged inside his classroom at Seaside High School in the coastal community of Seaside, California. Alexander was not authorized to have a gun on campus.
  • Alexander was teaching a gun safety lesson in an administration of justice class and was about to show the students how to disarm someone when the gun fired.
  • While none of the three children sustained serious injuries, one student did have bullet fragments in his neck, as authorities believe the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling.
  • The class proceeded until the bell rang signaling the end of class. Nobody called for a nurse or paramedics.

Fermin Gonzales, age 17, was one of the three injured students.  His parents were not notified of the incident by the school, but only found out when Fermin, at the end of class, left school and called his mother from a relative’s house.  His parents took him to the hospital where he was treated and released.

Details of the other two injured students are not available at this time … I’ve searched all over. Even now, 24 hours after the fact, there is very little in the media about this incident.  WHY? Police arrived at the school three hours later, and then only after Ms. Gonzales had contacted them.  The school, apparently, had no plans to launch an investigation.  Alexander was placed on administrative leave from his teaching job and he was also placed on administrative leave at the Sand City Police Department, according to both school and police officials.

The school district sent a letter to parents saying its human resources department, the high school administrators and the Seaside Police Department “immediately [emphasis added] began investigating the incident, including interviewing students in the class.” It said counseling was made available to students and that it could not release any other details “due to the nature of this personnel incident.”

It is fortunate that there were no serious injuries.  This time.  What about next time?  And the time after that?  And Alexander was trained in the use and safety of firearms!!!  What about Ms. Jones, who never in her life held a gun in her hand until the school district told her she must.  What about Mr. Peacock who has a terrible temper and now has a gun in his pocket?  Wake up, NRA!!!  Wake up America!!!  Teachers packing heat will eventually lead to student deaths.  There is no other possible outcome!

And it doesn’t stop there.**  There was another incident yesterday, even less reported than the one above, for I have found very few references to it.  In Alexandria, Virginia, a school resource officer — a five-year veteran of the Alexandria Police Department — accidentally discharged his weapon while inside George Washington Middle School. No one, including the officer, was injured.  Presumably the old media adage “if it bleeds, it leads” applies here, and since nobody bled, the media doesn’t find it that interesting.

Two days prior, Trump tweeted:

“Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law. Armed guards OK, deterrent!…….”

Both of the shooters above were “highly trained experts”, and look what happened. I really do not care about 2nd Amendment rights … I care about lives, especially the lives of our children.  If the U.S. Congress has a single shred of humanity, if they care one whit about our children, they will pass strict gun regulations, not take the coward’s way out and put the onus on the teachers.  Nope, Donald Trump and Congress … this monkey is on your backs.  Do something right for a change!

** Additional information

A Few Bad Teachers …

Is anybody convinced by the rhetoric from Trump and the NRA that teachers carrying guns in the classroom is a good idea?  Three stories in the news this week should convince us all that to arm teachers in schools is possibly the worst idea since the paper dress in the 1960s.

Poor Judgement???

Both of these stories took place in Florida, the first is David Swinyar, a math teacher at Kernan Middle School in Jacksonville, Florida.  Mr. Swinyar likes to use the ‘N-word’ in his class.  In October, he finally went too far …

“If your boyfriend says bad things to you and/or treats you wrong, that means he’s acting like a n—–. You all should not be dating all these different African American boys because they are not worth it.”

It was not just one or two students who reported Swinyar’s words, but a majority of the class.  An investigation was opened on October 6, 2017, after numerous student complaints were received.  Most of the accusations were deemed credible and substantiated:

“SUBSTANTIATED: There is credible evidence to support that Mr. Swinyar engaged in inappropriate communication in the presence of, and/or toward students, by using the “n” word in a conversation with students and/or when he referred to a student. He also made other inappropriate comments such as, calling students “dumb”. “You are in my class because you failed the FSA [Florida Standards Assessment].”  Additionally, he made comments like, “You all should not be dating all these different African American boys because they are not worth it.””

The school has 1,148 students — 22.6% of whom are African American.

One young man was so horrified by Swinyar’s racist remarks that he left the classroom to use the phone in the school office to call his mother.  “Mr. Swinyar yelled at the student and called the student a liar,” an office assistant told investigators. “He also snatched the phone away from the student.”

So what, you ask, has happened to Mr. Swinyar since the investigation concluded?  He received a 10-day suspension without pay.  Yes, 10 days.  Since Swinyar has filed an appeal, the school district was unable to provide much information, but they said it was found that Swinyar used ‘poor judgement’.  It was also indicated that at the end of Mr. Swinyar’s suspension, he will be re-assigned to a position where he has no contact with students for the remainder of the school year.


Dayanna Volitich is a middle school teacher in Citrus County School District, about 80 miles north of Tampa, Florida.  She teaches Social Studies. Last week, school district officials were made aware by the Huffington Post that Ms. Volitich is closely affiliated with a podcast and a Twitter account — which Ms. Volitich operated under the pseudonym “Tiana Dalichov” — that perpetuates racism and white supremacism.  On the podcast, called “Unapologetic”, she bragged of preaching white nationalism in her classroom — and hiding it from administrators.

In tweets, she makes reference to the “horrors of #Islam,” attacks the concept of white privilege, and says that it isn’t “hateful or supremacist to prefer your own people over others.”

In a recent podcast …

“This is — so many researchers have already looked into this, and that’s just the way it is. There are races that have higher IQs than others.”

On the same podcast, Volitich and her guest Lana Lokteff spent time bashing feminism, calling the concept a “devious plot to undermine white families”.  And when asked if she was able to promote her ideas in the classroom, Volitich/Dalichov replied that she plays by the rules when her supervisors are watching, but lets the children know that it’s all an act — a “dog-and-pony show,” as she called it — and asks them to “play along.”

In other episodes, she has said …

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be adverse [sic] to just annihilating the entire country of North Korea. Just get rid of it.”

“Islam does not belong here. It is an ideology built upon the premise of violence. A religion whose followers are taught in the Qu’ran itself to kill nonbelievers and follow the example of a hedonistic cult leader desperate for power and blood,” she wrote. “It clashes with everything this country stands for and puts Western civilization at risk. Speaking the truth about Islam is not bigotry. Being critical of Islam is not racist or Islamophobic.”

And she may just be related to Alex Jones, for she has determined that the shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th where 17 were killed was some sort of a conspiracy. She also exchanged messages with students at Dalton High School, criticizing their views:

“If you’re traumatized, why are you even on Twitter right now?”

 “Just because you are afraid doesn’t mean it wasn’t staged.”

 “That doesn’t negate the fact that it was probably a political stunt designed to advance an anti-gun agenda.”

Ms. Volitich has been removed from the classroom pending an investigation, but her employment has not been terminated at this time.  Ms. Volitich is arguing that her podcast was merely satire, despite the fact that she has praised such white supremacists as Arthur Jones, Patrick Casey and former KKK grand wizard David Duke.

All for the Love of a Mouse?

And finally, in Leesville, Louisiana, a high school math teacher, Randolph Perez, is under investigation for displaying the following message on the whiteboard in his classroom after a computer mouse went amiss:

“Welcome to Room 312. To the moronic, self obsessed ethnic who stole the mouse from the back computer: the fact that you do not know both your parents, and that the so called adults that are caring for you can not afford a five dollar part because they are too busy buying drugs and coring cigars at the Shop-Rite does not change the fact that you are nothing more than a two bit thief and a waste of carbon and oxygen.”

An investigation was opened last week, but no word on Perez’ fate.

This post made me physically ill to write.  As a parent, as a former school board advocate, as a human being, it is inconceivable to me that anybody would hold the narrow-minded, bigoted views of these individuals.  I have many, many friends who are in the teaching profession, many are special education teachers.  Teachers are not highly paid, and I typically believe that they do what they do out of love for children, out of a desire to help young people grow into well-rounded, compassionate adults, out of a desire to be a part of making our world a little bit better.  We must be careful not to judge the entire profession by the acts of these abominable creatures.  However, I cannot help wondering if this is the new ‘wave of the future’? If, as the dredges of society are coming out from under the rocks since Donald Trump declared that there is no more ‘political correctness’ (another term for civil discourse), they are infiltrating even our schools?  And I know that with people like these leading classrooms, it is insanity to consider arming teachers with loaded guns!

NRA Decides Constitutionality???

In the annals of lawsuits, this one has to rank right up there with the old woman who sued McDonalds (and won) for making the coffee too hot and she was burned when she foolishly spilled it between her legs.  Who’s suing who, you ask?  The plaintiff in the case, the sue-er, is none other than the infamous National Rifle Association, the NRA.  The defendant, the sue-ee, is the State of Florida.  And why, you ask, is the NRA suing Florida?  Because the State of Florida had the cojones to stand up and do something about the foolish free-for-all with guns that led to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, on February 14th.  The State of Florida took the bull by the horns, listened to the grief stricken voices of the Parkland survivors last month, and said, “ENOUGH!!!!!”  My hat is off, and my thumbs are up to the Florida State Legislature and Governor Rick Scott.

First, let us look at the bill that was passed by the Florida State legislature, and then signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday.  The new law raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and extends the waiting period to three days for the purchase of all firearms. It also gives law enforcement more power to seize weapons, prohibits the sale of “bump stocks” — devices that can be put on semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire. The measure also allows some school personnel to be armed.  The bill is too little; it is, perhaps, merely an effort to pay lip service to the young people who have made a valiant and determined effort to stop the madness, but still, it is a start. A small step.  Small steps are better than no steps.  A journey of a thousand miles, as the saying goes, begins with a single step.

The NRA had been on a long leash, obviously, waiting and knowing the moment was coming, for they filed their suit only one hour after Governor Scott signed the bill into law.  Since when does a lobbyist group have the right to write the laws in this nation?  Since when does the NRA decide constitutionality???  Since when is the NRA the Supreme Law of the Land?

The NRA claims “We filed a lawsuit against the state for violating the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds.”  Seriously???  18-21-year-olds have a constitutional right to murder?  To buy and carry, concealed, a weapon that can cause mass destruction and take as many as 400 lives in a single 60-second minute?  That’s right, people … the gun the shooter in Parkland, Florida, used on 14 February was an AR-15, which can fire up to 400 rounds per minute.  And we believe that the founding fathers intended children age 18 to be in control of one of these weapons???

No, the NRA filed that suit because they were told by the people controlling their purse-strings to get rid of that law at all costs, for it might cost a few thousand sales to the gun industry.  Might also save a few thousand lives, but hey … no big deal, right?

Personally, I would have liked to see the law go even further, to include universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles.  And I would, again, have preferred not to call for armed personnel within the school.  However, I still must applaud especially Governor Scott, for it took courage for him to stand against the NRA.  Scott has previously had an A+ rating with the NRA, yet he ignored their threats and signed the bill.  For once, perhaps, he put the safety and the wishes of his constituency above the corrupt gun lobby.  And I also applaud the Florida Legislature, where 67 republicans with A ratings from the NRA also voted for the bill.

If Florida could do it, so can the rest of the states.  Come on Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota … get off your collective patooties, grow some cojones, and follow suit.  Don’t let the NRA lawsuit worry you.  The public, the citizens, the voters stand behind stricter gun laws, and the lawmakers damn well better put a higher value on We The People than they do the NRA.  Most gun owners do not belong to the NRA.  The NRA actually represents a very small group of ordinary people.  Their bigger concern is the manufacturers and sellers of guns.  Just think, if every state in the nation passed even the watered-down law that Florida passed, the NRA would bankrupt itself filing lawsuits against every single state!

I wonder if I can file a lawsuit against the NRA, for here I sit at 5:00 a.m., seething as I write this story, drinking my umpteenth cup of coffee and eating pretzels with peanut-butter, as my fingers literally beat the printed letters off my laptop keyboard.  A rather unhealthy lifestyle caused by the angst of reading of the hypocrisy of the NRA.  I should think that at the very least I could sue for a new laptop, as I no longer have an “N” printed on the key between ‘B’ and ‘M’.

This nation has lost its way if we place more value on giving guns to 18-year-olds than we place on human life.  We have lost our way when lawmakers are actually unwilling to do their job for fear of reprisals from an unsavory organization like the NRA.  Wayne LaPierre is not one of our lawmakers.   We The People did not vote him into office, nor has he been, to the best of my knowledge, appointed to a judicial position.  There was a time I would have predicted that the suit by the NRA would have no teeth, no chance of winning.  Today, I am less sure.  I think the answer is for every state to pass similar, or even tougher gun laws.  Make the NRA spread themselves thin trying to keep up with all their lawsuits.  I know of no other answer, for the members of Congress have already shown us that our wishes, our very lives, have less value to them than their NRA funding.  This nation needs to stand up to the bullies in the gun industry … NOW!

Mr. Trump, Here’s a Teenage Hero; It’s Your Turn!

Long an admirer of Nicholas Kristof’s work, I try to catch his column as often as possible.  His latest column touched a chord and I realized that his thoughts echoed mine, but his were much more eloquently stated than mine could ever be.  With that said, I am sharing Mr. Kristof’s column of 07 March 2018.When a gunman rampaged through a high school in Parkland, Fla., three weeks ago, a 15-year-old soccer player named Anthony Borges showed undaunted courage.

Anthony, who is of Venezuelan descent, apparently was the last of a group of students rushing into a classroom to seek refuge. He shut the door behind him and frantically tried to lock it, but in an instant the gunman appeared on the other side. Instead of running for cover, Anthony blocked the door to keep the shooter out. He held his ground even as the attacker opened fire.

“I asked him why he would do that,” his lawyer, Alex Arreaza, told me. “He said, ‘What’s so hard to understand about what I did?’ He had no issue with risking his life.”

Shot five times in the legs and torso, Anthony phoned his father to say that he had been wounded. He was rushed to a hospital and survived: Photos show him with wires and tubes snaking from him. He still can’t walk — it’s unclear if that is just temporary — but fellow students say he saved their lives. No one else in that classroom was shot.

The world turned upside down: Armed law enforcement officers dawdled outside during the shooting, but a 15-year-old kid without any weapon at all used himself as a human shield to protect his classmates. More broadly, the Florida high school students have argued maturely for sensible gun laws, while Florida state legislators have acted like frightened toddlers, first passing a two-year moratorium on sales of AR-15 rifles and then undoing it 15 minutes later.

And now it seems that the grown-up world is again going to fail Anthony and other young Americans. Congress and President Trump have stalled on a push to pass meaningful gun legislation that has overwhelming public support. The grown-ups are once more loitering in a crisis, leaving kids to be shot.

President Trump said that if he had been on the scene, he would have rushed into the building to confront the shooter. “I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” he said.

Really? Even though when he is armed with the power of the White House he still doesn’t have the guts to confront the N.R.A. in a sustained way?

Given that gun owners largely trust Trump, he could hammer out a bipartisan deal for universal background checks — the single step that would make the most difference, one supported overwhelmingly even by gun owners — but the White House is AWOL on the issue.

Congress may pass “Fix NICS” legislation to improve the F.B.I. database used to screen gun buyers, and maybe the federal government will ban “bump stocks.” But those are baby steps that probably won’t have a measurable impact on American mortality (right now, one American dies every 15 minutes from a gun, including murders, accidents and suicides).

Incredibly, Congress seems as likely to ease gun laws as to tighten them. One measure backed by Donald Trump Jr. would legalize silencers, which have been rigorously controlled since the 1930s. Advocates had the gall to call it the Hearing Protection Act.

“It’s about safety,” Trump Jr. explains in video“It’s about hearing protection. It’s a health issue, frankly, for me. Getting little kids in the game.” In fact, the unmuffled crack of a gunshot is a warning of danger and draws the police; silencers would be a gift to criminals.

Even worse, the N.R.A. is pushing concealed-carry reciprocity, allowing people to carry concealed guns with them from places that permit them, like Alaska or Wyoming, to any other part of the country, regardless of local prohibitions.

This measure has already passed the House of Representatives, but attorneys general are fighting it. They warn that it would let a stalker, domestic abuser or suspected terrorist from a low-regulation state tote concealed weapons at will around the country.

All this is infuriating. But even if the federal government won’t pass meaningful new gun laws, states are doing so. Polls show that voters overwhelmingly favor universal background checks, a 21-year-old age restriction on buying firearms and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. has engaged unintentionally in an international experiment, relaxing gun laws as the rest of the world has tightened access. Gun advocates argued that more guns would make us safer, but instead the U.S. now has 25 times the gun murder rate of other advanced countries.

Indeed, since 1970, more Americans have died of gun violence, including murders, suicides and accidents (1.4 million), than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million).

Whenever there is a mass shooting, there are inspiring individual stories like Anthony’s. But the larger picture is disgraceful: the president and congressional leaders dillydallying on the sidelines, sending “thoughts and prayers” and nothing else.

This will change only when politicians are more afraid of voters than of the N.R.A.

A Big Week

As I have said many, many times, I am not an economist. I did well in the few economics courses I took in college, but have long since forgotten most of what I learned. My knowledge of economics is miniscule, though I have a basic understanding of what drives the market. However, fellow-blogger Erik Hare is an economist and has a comprehensive understanding of things that most of us only vaguely even consider. His post today gives us some insight into upcoming events in the next week and how they are likely to affect the market, so I am sharing his wisdom and expertise, in lieu of my own, which is fairly non-existent. Please take a few minutes to absorb Erik’s timely post. Thank you, Erik, for permission to share!

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

We have in front of us a big week. This may determine the course of the next year or so in the stock market, the economy, and in politics.

A lot is about to happen. Let’s run it down, day by day.

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Make Of It What You Will

quizzical confused emojiI’m working on some number of projects at the moment … I say ‘some number’, for I have no idea what that number even is, nor do I have a clue how many will reach fruition.  (Mind bounce in the rabbit hole can be a chancy thing) But for today, I had a bunch of snippets, bits ‘n pieces that I came across this weekend, most of which leave me shrugging my shoulders, saying, “make of that what you will”.  Hence the title of this post.


You all remember last September when Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, reported that hackers had gained access to the data of some 143 million Americans, including social security and driver’s license numbers?  Well, two news stories this week about the Equifax breach are of concern.

About six weeks after the initial announcement by Equifax, they raised the number of people whose data may have been compromised from 143 million to 145.5 million, an additional 2.5 million people.  Then on Thursday, they added yet another 2.4 million to their estimate, bringing the total up to 147.9 million.  That is 147,900,000 people whose social security numbers, as well as other sensitive information may be in the wrong hands.

At the time, Richard Cordray was director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and he immediately authorized an investigation into the Equifax data breach.  But Cordray resigned in November and was replaced by Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as acting director of the CFPB.  As acting, or interim director, Mulvaney did not have to pass muster by a senate confirmation.

Although there has been no official announcement, every appearance indicates that the investigation into the Equifax breach has been halted.  CFPB has shelved plans for on-the-ground tests of how Equifax protects data. No subpoenas have been issued. The CFPB also recently rebuffed bank regulators at the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency when they offered to help with on-site exams of credit bureaus.

Prior to becoming director of the OMB, Mulvaney was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina, and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, the farthest-right group within the GOP.

Make of that what you will.

Trump praises Xi Jinping, and then …

“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great.  And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday,” Trump said to cheers and applause from supporters.

Make of that what you will.

Roy Moore needs your help …

You remember ol’ Roy, right?  Last December he lost the election for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by current Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.  Roy, a former judge and a bigot, had been de-throned from the judiciary not once, but twice, for failure to uphold the very law he had sworn to uphold.  But that wasn’t likely what cost him the election, though it should have.  What cost him the election were the numerous (9 to date) credible accusations of pedophilia and other sexual abuses.

Well, ol’ Roy is now b-r-o-k-e, if he is to be believed. He is asking for help to pay his legal bills as he fights Leigh Corfman in court, a woman who claims she was molested by Moore when she was 14.

“Please help me fight this battle for the heart and soul of this Nation. Your financial contribution to my legal defense fund is crucial…My resources have been depleted and I have struggled to make ends meet.”

Moore is asking for $250,000, and has thus far received $32,000 in donations.

Make of that what you will.

Because Trump hasn’t said to do it …

Admiral Mike Rogers is a busy man … you can see it in his eyes, can’t you?  Mike is the director of the National Security Administration (NSA) and also heads up the Pentagon’s Cyber Command.  Nearly every single expert in cyber security has agreed that not only did Russia play a role in our 2016 elections in multiple ways, including cyber-hacking, but that they continue to do so and will no doubt do so in November when the mid-term congressional elections take place.

What are we doing to counter the Russian cyber-hacking?  Nothing.  That’s right … nothing.  Why?  Because Trump hasn’t said to do it.  Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday, Admiral Rogers said …

“Clearly, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough. I need a policy decision that indicates there is specific direction to do that. The president ultimately would make this decision in accordance with a recommendation from the secretary of defense.”

Rogers also expressed frustration that Trump failed to implement the sanctions against Russia passed by Congress last year, saying the Russians “haven’t paid a price, at least, that has significantly changed their behavior”.

Trump has denied that there was any interference by Russia, and even when he admits it, he is lukewarm.  And he also insists that he has been ‘tougher’ on Russia than President Obama (he hasn’t).

Make of that what you will.

Bye-Bye FedEx …

Dozens of companies have severed their ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the two+ weeks since the tragic shooting that killed 17 in Parkland Florida last month.  All of the major car rental companies, which had previously offered discounts to NRA members, have stopped doing so, and Delta Airlines severed ties, in spite of the threat from Georgia lawmakers to revoke tax breaks that benefitted Delta to the tune of about $40 million.  But one company stands out … FedEx.

FedEx refused to discontinue discounts to NRA corporate members, offering some b.s. excuse that it would be ‘discriminatory’.  The truth is that FedEx gives some special consideration to gun manufacturers shipping weapons around the nation.  The rules are that all guns must be shipped using FedEx’ Priority Overnight service, and that they will not ship handguns via FedEx ground.  But … if you are Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock, SIG Sauer, or the NRA itself … well, the rules can be bent to let you use 2-day shipping and save a bundle! And of course, FedEx gets some percentage of that bundle.

Fred Smith, President & CEO of FedEx

The good news, however, is that companies that use FedEx have said that if FedEx won’t distance itself from the NRA, then they will distance themselves from FedEx. So far it is just a handful of companies, but if the momentum grows, FedEx may live to regret their unholy alliances.

Make of that what you will.

And now, friends, I have given you enough to ponder on for the rest of the day.  Hasta mañana.

R.I.P. Civil Discourse

It once was considered good form to engage one’s brain before engaging one’s mouth.  This procedure was known as ‘civility’, or ‘civil discourse’, and was once quite popular.  It was the thing, perhaps, that kept us from killing each other.  It was the thing that kept marriages together, even in times of trouble.  Until one day somebody, and I know not who, gave the process a name:  political correctness.  For some reason, giving it a name made it a process to be shunned, made it unpopular.

The latest evidence of the reversal of civil discourse is a comment I read this morning by republican Senator Orrin Hatch when speaking to a group at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday:

[We] finally did away with the individual mandate tax that was established under that wonderful bill called Obamacare. Now, if you didn’t catch on, I was being very sarcastic. That was the stupidest, dumbass bill that I’ve ever seen. Some of you may have loved it. If you do, you are one of the stupidest, dumbass people I’ve ever met. [emphasis added] There are a lot of them up there on Capitol Hill from time to time.”

Hatch later apologized, sort of, for his remarks saying they were ‘flippant’ and ‘off-the-cuff’, though it appeared he was reading from a prepared speech. ‘A poorly-worded joke’, he said. Not to let Senator Hatch off the hook, for he deserves to be called on the carpet for his remarks, but he is only one of many who, seemingly energized by the populist movement in general, and by Donald Trump specifically, have relaxed both their brains and their mouths, and allow whatever thoughts they have to tumble out unfettered.

There are many definitions for ‘civil discourse’:

  • “Engagement in discourse intended to enhance understanding …”
  • “The language of dispassionate objectivity”

A June editorial in the Los Angeles Times suggests “Trump didn’t birth American intolerance. He’s the manifestation of our long-disturbed national dialogue.”  In response, a reader of the Times wrote …

“When personal computers and the Internet became ubiquitous, civility was dealt a final blow. It’s so easy to be nasty and cruel sitting at a keyboard, never seeing what impact the nastiness and vulgarity are having on the recipients of such missives.”

We could debate … with civility … for days and still not likely pin down an answer about when, how and why we have lost the art of true communication sans rancor, or civil discourse.  But the debate is rather pointless, rather like worrying about how the dog got rabies, instead of taking the dog to the vet to be treated for the condition.

We in the U.S. are living in the most divisive, polarized environment since the Civil War era, and the thing that is most lacking is understanding of the other side.  Understanding is not going to come to any of us in a nightly dream, nor is it going to suddenly strike us like a streak of lightening.   The only path to understanding is going to come through conversation.  By conversation, I do not mean the type of communication we see daily on CNN or Fox News, where people are constantly deriding one side or the other, name-calling and using phrases that are designed not to communicate, but to stir anger and resentment.  The only thing this type of communication accomplishes is to push the two sides further apart.

Not long ago, I wrote a piece titled Thoughts on Integrity in which I opined that integrity is basically dead in many areas including government, medicine and religion.  I would say the same for civility, only I would add that the loss of civility has extended to many other areas, including families, friendships and neighbors.

If we are to make a start at narrowing what I have referred to as The Great Divide in this nation, we are going to have to have a return to civil discourse, a return to kindness, compassion, a return to listening to what another person says rather than listening only with the intention of providing a response.  We need to listen to each other … truly listen.  Then, before responding, we must think … process what was said, and respond with calmness, not rancor, not vitriol.  This is not easy, but I think that the longer we wait to make a start, the harder it gets.  I too am guilty of this.  Words can hurt, words can anger … we need to choose our words much more carefully.  We must learn, once again, to be kind.

I’m not advocating that we have to agree with everything we hear, for we are not lemmings.  But there are ways of disagreeing without offending.  Our words need not be a personal affront, or target the other person.  We can, as one of my friends is fond of saying, respectfully agree to disagree and move on.

But I think the example needs to come from the top.  Church leaders need to remove the politics of intolerance and hate from their speech.  Politicians, our elected representatives, need to treat us and also each other with respect.  For a senator to refer to the people he has been tasked to represent as ‘stupid’ or ‘dumbass’ is simply unacceptable.  Every one of his constituents should be writing letters respectfully protesting and reminding him that he faces re-election in a few short months.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of speech, and yes, hate speech is protected as long as it does not incite violence.  Whether that should be the case or not is a discussion beyond the scope of this post, but it is up to us to show some common sense, to treat others with respect, to learn to keep our mouths shut sometimes.  Just because you can say something, just because the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to say something cruel and senseless, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  It doesn’t necessarily mean it is helpful or will solve any problems.

The leaders of this nation, both in Congress and in the White House, need to first set the tone, need to learn to speak without raised voices, without shaking fists, without name calling.  But first, they need to learn to listen.  How can they possibly manage the government that is ‘by the people, for the people, and of the people’ if they do not listen to the people, if they do not know the needs of the people, and if they view We the People as ‘stupid dumbasses’?

Is civil discourse dead?  Perhaps so.  Can it be revived?  Surely it can, but it requires the effort of each and every one of us.  It requires a commitment to respect the opinions of others, even those we disagree with.  And it requires that sometimes we be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, we were wrong.  The ability to say, “I’m sorry”.  Think about it.