Friday, June 24, 2016

Aleksandr's Excellent Question

Culturegeist's Friday night DVD
Tonight was going to be a night off from blogging, director Christopher Nolan's 2014 scf-fi epic Interstellar was in my mailbox (from Netflix) when I got home from a long day's work and I was all set to make dinner, prop my feet up and watch it with my trusty cat Buster snoozing at my feet.

But I went to check my blog stats and saw that a reader named Aleksandr Petrov had posted an excellent comment in response to my previous blog in which I suggested that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's "Fairness Formula" isn't really fair.

Aleksandr asked:

"How about fairness to my children from (a) "rich" district? Why (should they) get nothing from state taxes I pay?"

Excellent question Aleksandr, and obviously a complex one, I'll postpone my interstellar adventure to try and answer it.

For those who haven't heard, on Tuesday Governor Christie announced an initiative he calls his "Fairness Formula", which would cap all state funding for New Jersey public schools students at $6,599 per pupil - regardless of the school.

Now Aleksandr's question echoes the feeling of many people in New Jersey, and I respect his concerns and felt compelled to offer an answer. I went to post my answer to to his comment but found I had exceeded the number of words allows in a reply comment; so I decided to just blog my answer.

From the context of Governor Christie's "Fairness Formula", I think a major part of the problem stems from the way that New Jersey's public schools are organized and funded. NJ school districts exist in silos broken up by individual districts, often a stones throw from one another, separated by communities where the tax base is more of a boundary than a physical barrier like a road, a fence or a river.

Inside the Supreme Court posted an excellent analysis online that explores the impact of how the steady decrease in federal funding of American public schools over the years has put more and more of the financial burden on states and local municipalities and districts to fund their public schools:

The opening of the article points out that a 1973 Supreme Court decision ruled that a formula of public school funding based on local property taxes does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The end result is the situation we currently have here in NJ, and in many other states.

As the Top Masters article observes:

"Such a system has created what many school districts view as an unequal distribution of wealth that amounts to wealth discrimination, as more affluent school districts with more business and higher residential property values have been more able to raise more money from local sources than poor districts for more than 40 years now."

So with all due respect Aleksandr, your children do not get "nothing" from the taxes you pay, by their living in a more affluent district than say, East Orange or Trenton, they are getting a lot more in terms of the quality of the public school education they receive by virtue of your ability to afford to live where you do.

East Orange High School
It's far easier for the public schools in your district to attract more qualified teachers and administrators who want to ply their skills in an educational environment where the schools are adequately funded, are better organized and better managed.

Are all communities the same?

Obviously not.

And no one, including me, is going to fault you or any other hard-working parent who wants the best for their children.

To me, the silos and little fiefdoms in NJ are a waste of both human and physical capital.

Let's look at Mercer County as an example.

I was fortunate enough to graduate from West Windsor-Plainsboro South HS, regarded as one of the top public high schools in the nation for years.

WWPSHS is no more than about 15 minutes from Trenton Central HS; but in terms of the disparities in the quality of education, the management and administration of the school systems and the school facilities; they might as well be on different sides of the moon.

Is that the fault of the students growing up in urban districts with under-performing schools?

President Harry S. Truman
I would argue that it's the responsibility of the administrators and school board members, and their inability to operate more efficiently is partly to blame; like Harry S. Truman I'm a "Buck Stops Here" kinda guy.

I actually agree with some of the arguments Governor Christie used in announcing his "Fairness Formula' initiative.

On average Trenton spends about the 3rd highest in the state per pupil, yet they have one of the lowest graduation rates and one of the worst attendance rates in New Jersey.

The Newark school system was so dysfunctional, the state took it over; not that they did any better, was the state's decision to eliminate attendance counselors and truant officers in 2013 really a smart thing to do?

The state-takeover doesn't mean every administrator and teacher in the Newark public school system was a self-serving individual with no concern for the welfare of students - but decades of poor leadership like that has consequences in terms of attracting additional funding.

Earlier this spring, Trenton laid of 164 public school teachers because they were unable to secure additional state funds to help alleviate a $5.9 million deficit.

But if Christie had his way and cut over 50% of the state funding from Trenton schools (who already lost 164 teachers) where does that leave the children?

Some are migrating to charter schools like the highly respected Foundation Academy, one of the best (if not THE best) school in Trenton, where students adhere to strict dress and behavioral codes and parents are required to play an active role on working with the school to play an essential role as liason between teacher and student. And students excel there.

Chris Christie: Sorry urban public schools
But that's another part of the problem with Christie's "Fairness Formula".

Christie is very much guided by a privatization mindset, so stripping under-performing public schools of resources also serves his goal of channeling more taxpayer funds to charter schools.

So yes, Foundation Academy students are excelling, and that's a good thing.

But remember, these are the same kids from the same communities who'd otherwise be attending more poorly run schools in Trenton that have been marginalized in), charter schools are siphoning off talent (talented teachers, students & administrators) and badly needed taxpayer funds from public schools.

Which brings me back to Mercer County, if Mercer County had a unified school system, more resources would be available to all schools. Just consider what superintendents are making in each of these individual school districts.

A unified Mercer County school system would have more power and influence too.

Instead we rely on a formula where individual districts drive the funding for their schools, creating in effect, public schools which are essentially separate and unequal. Even though they may be only a few miles from one another.

Don't get me wrong, I don't pine for some kind of socialist utopian fantasy, what bothers me is how Americans have sat back and allowed the federal government to absolve itself of responsibility for sufficiently funding public schools; even as We the People fund disastrous wars in the middle east to the tune of TRILLIONS of dollars. Why?

In part because of private conservative think tanks funded by people like the Koch brothers, people who literally have begun to endow chairs and departments at major universities to staff them with, and support people who view public education through the same anti-government privatization-mindset as Chris Christie does.

Remember Koch-puppet Gov Scott Walker (who didn't graduate from college...) cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the University of Wisconsin?

These think tanks have begun the process of placing like-minded "academics" on local school boards throughout the country, in fact the Camden superintendent is one such person; Christie's heavy involvement in the funding of new waterfront development in Camden is no coincidence.

So I hear your concern Aleksandr, and your children have a right to reap the rewards of the taxes you pay, but Christie is self-serving to his own political ambitions and willing to do what he can to allow New Jersey to function as some kind of "conservative socio-economic laboratory" where kooky ideologically-driven right-wing policies are proposed or enacted.

Kansas Gov Sam Brownback
Just take a look at what Republican Governor Sam Brownback has done to the state of Kansas (including it's once highly-regarded public schools) and the absolute disaster it's been for the state.

Christie is clever, and he knows he can use the lingering anger over the 1985 Abbott court decision as a wedge issue to garner support for a plan that would drastically slash state public school funding for urban schools in districts already facing a host of challenges, and magically increase state funding for wealthier districts - not in the interest of education.

But as a transparent Trojan Horse to gift the wealthiest districts in New Jersey with a property tax cut. Christie's proposal serves his own political ambitions, not the interests of public education in New Jersey.

And it reeks of coded racism.

The irony here is thick enough to cut with a knife, conservative think tanks and politicians have slowly and steadily reduced the federal share of public school funding, while allowing a district-funded formula to take root, creating even more inequities based on class and race in the educational system of the greatest nation in the world.

And now a guy like Christie points to those underperforming schools in cities that have seen their tax bases decimated by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and urban blight, and says, "these schools are getting too much state funding, it's time to strip all these Abbott schools of at least 50% of their state funding, and give it to schools in wealthier districts."

And he calls it a "Fairness Formula"?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Democrats Sit For Gun Control - Christie's "Fairness Formula" Isn't Fair

House Democrats sit in support of gun control laws
If Republican Congressional leaders thought public demands for stronger gun control laws were simply going to go away after Senate Republicans voted down two different Democratic proposals to strengthen background checks on Monday, they were wrong. 

Last week Senator Murray stood up for 15 hours on the Senate floor for gun control.

At about 11:30am earlier today 36 House Democrats shouted down Republican floor leaders with chants of "No bill, no vote!" then promptly sat down before the podium to protest Republican's refusal to allow gun control measures to be debated or voted on.

The Democrats included Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis (pictured above), who endured severe beatings by Alabama State Troopers, hostile crowds and Klansmen on multiple occasions during marches and Freedom Rides during the 1960's in his role as one of the founding members and former chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

About 100 Democratic Congressional members eventually joined the sit-in, bringing the House to a halt as chickenshit House Republicans ordered the C-Span cameras and mics that usually cover the Congressional floor sessions shut down - but the sit-ins were carried live via video feeds taken by other Democratic members.

How long are tone-deaf Republicans going to stubbornly stand in opposition to the will of the vast majority of the American people? In a presidential election year no less!

Republicans are up to some legislative shenanigans on the local state level too.

Gov Christie introduces his "Fairness Formula"
Here in New Jersey the word of the week is "Fairness Formula."

That's the term that Republican Governor-Trump apostle Chris Christie has given to a bold new conservative initiative to introduce a draconian redistribution of state aid to New Jersey schools that caps all state aid at $6,599 per pupil regardless of where the schools are located.

Christie announced his proposed changes at Hillsborough High School on Tuesday, saying he plans to introduce it as an amendment to the state constitution.

He's calling it a "budget reallocation formula", but what it really represents is a rather transparent attempt to cut the property taxes of wealthy suburban New Jersey communities by exploiting long-simmering divisions in the Garden State on how public schools are funded.

Sadly the debate falls along socio-economic and racial and ethnic lines and stretches back to 1976 when the state Supreme court actually shut down schools until state legislators came up with tax revenue to adequately fund public schools in 31 low-income school districts in accordance with the state's constitution.

This debate stems from the historic state Superior Court court decision in Abbott v Burke, a case brought back in 1981 by the Education Law Center on behalf of 20 public school students from four of New Jersey's poorest districts; Camden, East Orange, Irvington and Jersey City.

Gaps in language arts proficiency in NJ 2005 - 2001
The case challenged the 1975 Public School Education Act in order to address rampant inequities in the quality of public school education in different districts in New Jersey.

The Abbot v Burke case according to the ELC "is recognized as the most important education litigation for poor and minority school children since Brown v Board of Education."

Through changes in public school funding, more state funds were channeled to NJ's "Abbott schools" to try and address the education gap; those changes were highly controversial, particularly among some residents of the state's wealthiest districts whose much higher tax base created inherent advantages for their district's students.

One of Christie's first initiatives when he was elected Governor was to try and use his office to chip away at the funding formula in an effort to dismantle the court-ordered mandates of the Abbott decisions; he even tried to mess with the make-up of the state Supreme Court.

Christie poses with Camden HS students
As a lame-duck Republican Governor with a record low approval rate, it's not hard to figure out Christie's goal in launching this salvo - he's conscious of his legacy and wants to be "the guy who cut taxes."

His "Fairness Formula" would drastically increase state school funding for 75% of New Jersey school districts, allowing those districts to proportionately lower their property taxes.

But conversely it would introduce draconian cuts to per-pupil state aid to the schools in New Jersey's poorest communities; Christie claims to want "fairness", but how is it fair to cut state aid by 78% in Camden?

State aid in 37 districts would be cut by more than 50% - guess where those districts are located?

"Despicable" is how New Jersey Education Association president Wendell Steinhauer described Christie's proposal, saying, "Governor Christie's proposal would result in a huge step backward to the days when poor families in economically challenged communities were left to fend for themselves."

To get a better sense of how Governor Christie's "Fairness Formula" would impact state funding to New Jersey schools, take a look at the numbers as posted in a chart on the Webpage.

Most experts agree Christie's initiative has little chance of passing a Legislature with a Democratic majority, but as an ideological attack, maybe it's a feather in the cap Christie hopes to wear in Washington one day.

From his flipping on issues like gun control and abortion over the course of the 2016 presidential race, to his embrace of Donald Trump, Christie has been steadily trying to remake himself as something far to the right of the man who was twice elected as governor of New Jersey.

With his "Fairness Formula"proposal, which is anything but to students in the states poorest districts, perhaps his political and ideological metamorphosis is complete.

I can't help but wonder, was the popular moderate conservative who was elected governor a Democratic-leaning state an illusion? Or is it the man we see now?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Which GOP Senators Have Received Cash From the N.R.A in 2016?

2016 N.R.A donations to GOP Senators
Despite political maneuvering to try and respond to public pressure for a Congressional response to gun violence, the Senate failed to reach consensus on four different gun control measures today.

Republicans blocked two Democratic-backed proposals that would have put into place mandatory universal background checks, and one that would prevent anyone on the terrorism watch list from purchasing a gun.

Democrats blocked two Republican-backed compromise measures that were considered "lip service" legislation without real teeth.

Of the last 100 different gun control measures introduced into Congress, none have passed.

Shocking considering that since the 911 attacks in 2001, more than 400,000 Americans have been killed by guns in the U.S. - more than all the American service men and women killed in World War II.

So why is it so hard to get Congress to pass sensible gun control legislation?

It's instructive to see a list (see above) of which Republican Senators have taken donations from the National Rifle Association in 2016 and how much they've received.

Now by no means is it illegal or necessarily wrong for a Senator to accept campaign contributions from the N.R.A, in fact there are some Democrats who've accepted money from the gun lobby too.

Take a look at this Google Docs spreadsheet that lists N.R.A contributions for the members of the Senate and House provided through the Website - just scan down and look at the big five-figure donations, all given to Republicans.

N.R.A-friendly - (R) Sen John McCain
But given the public pressure generated by Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy's recent filibuster (along with the help of New Jersey Senators Corey Booker and Robert Menendez and others) to call attention to the fact that until today Republican leaders wouldn't even allow a bill to the floor to even be discussed or voted on, understanding who is receiving money from the NRA offers valuable perspective and transparency on the political process.

Especially given that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of Congress enacting gun control measures.

As some of you may know, Republican Arizona Senator John McCain is currently facing one of the most difficult re-election campaigns of his political life, interesting to note that the N.R.A has donated $7.7 million to his campaign since January of this year.

No need to guess how he's going to vote when gun control measures come to the floor.

When it comes down to it, the N.R.A is basically paying Senators to block gun control legislation from being passed and signed into law.

Given the thousands of lives lost to gun violence in this nation this year alone, that's a pretty sad example of the Democratic process being usurped by cash.

It's a sad testament to the Republican party's ongoing effort to use their numerical majorities in the Senate and House to shackle the government's ability to work on behalf of the American people.

Sure there were Democratic senators who voted against some of the Democratic-backed measures today, as The reported, North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp was the lone Democrat to vote against Senator Diane Feinstein's proposal to block people on the terrorist watchlist from buying guns or explosives - think about that, how do you vote AGAINST a measure to keep guns and explosives out of the hands of suspected terrorists?

But it's Republicans who control the legislative branch of the American government.

Summer begins tomorrow, and as the latest statistics from show, there have been 24,472 incidents involving guns in America this year, including 145 mass shootings and 6,278 people killed and the response from Congress is the same it's been for years.

Do nothing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

How To Buy An AR-15 In Seven Minutes

Johnny Depp as "The Hatter"
Happy Father's Day to any of you dads who may be reading this.

For me it's more of a day of quiet reflection as my own father passed away from cancer on June 24, 1996, Father's Day makes me even more mindful that I miss him.

Since I worked Saturday and it's pretty hot out there today, I'm just taking it easy and watching movies.

In defiance of what I consider to be unfair criticism of actor Johnny Depp for the disappointing box office returns for the sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass (according to the June 17th Hollywood Reporter it's only made about $177 million), I decided to rent Black Mass to see Depp's portrayal of ruthless Boston mobster Whitey Bulger - and for some lighter-hearted fare I rented the animated film Inside Out.

Depp is an exceptionally talented actor who didn't deserve all the snarky media flack he caught for the 2013 box office flop The Lone Ranger, the film was awful but it was because of an absolutely horribly-written script, weak directing and choppy editing; Depp always delivers on-screen.

On the way back from picking up said DVD's from my local Redbox, I caught the tail end of a segment on NPR's On the Media discussing the actual meaning and wording of the 2nd Amendment, which is so often deified and misinterpreted by extremist gun rights advocates who seem to use it to oppose any meaningful measures to control access to firearms.

Like the semi-automatic AR-15 assault rife used in so many mass shootings of innocent people here in America.

Journalist Helen Ubinas
Speaking of which, did you hear about the journalist from Philadelphia who walked into a gun store last week and purchased an AR-15 in about seven minutes?

When I read about this story on this morning, it left me feeling numb; click the link and check it out if you haven't read it.

Listening to all the news reports of some of the 49 funerals of the victims from the Orlando massacre taking place, as well as memorials for the dead taking place in cities around the world, it's deeply disturbing to think that Philadelphia Daily News - columnist Helen Ubinas was able to walk into a gun store, present her ID, fill out some paperwork, pay $759.99, and walk out of the store with an assault rifle in under ten minutes.

Sometimes it takes me longer to get turkey at the deli counter.

What if she'd been unbalanced and heading for a public place in downtown Philly?

Unlike some members of the NRA, I can't speak for any of the Framers who wrote the text of the Constitution in the late 18th century, but I doubt it was their intent that someone could walk into a store and buy an AR-15 in under ten minutes.

Ubinas only bought the gun as an exercise in journalism to demonstrate how lax gun control laws in America are, and she turned it into the police almost immediately.

But given what just happened in Orlando, the scary thing is that people make purchases like that in this country everyday, and we have no idea what their motivation is, or like Omar Mateen, who they really are, or what their intent is.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Reporter Emily Austen Sacked By Fox For Racist Comments

Emily Austen
America is a country where we enjoy the privilege of freedom of speech, and that's a good thing.

But I think there's a line that separates something said in private in the company of friends that might be considered off-color, or not politically correct, and something that's clearly racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or offensive said in a public forum.

Fox sports reporter Emily Austen was doing an interview on a casual sports program broadcast on Facebook Live called Barstool Sports; it's basically a few guys sitting on a couch with microphones talking about sports.

So one of the guys was commenting about a story of a young woman named Mayte Lara, the valedictorian of Crocket High School with a 4.5 GPA who'd earned a full scholarship to the University of Texas - who happened to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

So, unprompted, Austen turns to the guy and says, "So do you think it's real? I didn't even know Mexicans were that smart!"

Realizing the inappropriateness of her comment, Austen remarkably began to try and justify racial stereotypes with even more racist comments by pointing out more stereotypes.

"I mean, you guys know that the Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class."

The whole thing just began to devolve from there as the whole group began talking condescendingly about the hard work ethic of Mexicans, one guy said, "I think illegals are good." and in response another reasoned, "You get cheap labor out of them."

Austen also chimed in about her experiences with Jewish people when she worked as a waitress in Boca Raton, Florida, saying, "The way I used to talk to the Jews in Boca...I just didn't care. They would complain and bitch about everything. I gave a guy, delivered his beer, and he was complaining to me that there was too much head. I knew that he was a stingy asshole and he wasn't going to give me a tip."

Given her attitude about Mexicans, Jews and Chinese, no wonder that dude in Boca stiffed her.

Now I don't watch or read Barstool Sports so I have no idea who any of these smarmy opinionated
ass-hats really are, I don't go to Facebook Live to watch four dudes nicknamed El Presidente, Big Cat, KFC and Kmarko hang out on a couch in someone's poorly-lit apartment to get news or opinion on sports.

If you do, and find them entertaining, that's cool, I support their fundamental right to say what they want even if the comments I heard them make on the segment where Austen appeared were offensive.

The Barstool Sports crew, CEO David Portnoy (Center)
"Barstool Sports", according to a January, 2016 article, have built up a popular online following among mostly white male millienials.

Enough so that media magnate Peter Chernin bought a 51% stake in the company in January for between $10 and $15 million and moved the operation from Boston to New York.

Where their unique brand of satirical sports-mens lifestyle commentary is now broadcast from the media capital of the world.

That kind of unfiltered intentionally non-PC "frat-boy" commentary is their schtick and if that works for their (alleged) millions of followers, more power to them - personally, I agree with the opinion expressed on today asking why the four hosts of the Barstool show aren't being rebuked or held accountable for the numerous racist comments they made.

Barstool Sports took the video down, but you can watch it here if you want to.

But their comments about Mexicans, Jews and Chinese were inappropriate for a live public broadcast in my opinion; and as a professional sports reporter working for Fox, Austen should have known better.

Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman
The last time I blogged about a blond-haired blue-eyed female sports anchor getting flack for saying something offensive during a live broadcast was back in 2008 after Kelly Tilghman jokingly suggested to co-anchor Nick Faldo that the only way young golfers could beat Tiger Woods was to "lynch him in a back alley."

Now I don't know a whole lot about Emily Austen, but as someone who used to work as television reporter, I know she worked hard to get to where she was.

Despite some of the more unsavory stereotypes that some people have of TV reporters, it takes brains and guts to stand in front of a camera and speak intelligently on a subject or interview someone.

Austen grew up in west Texas, now I don't know a lot about the specific town where she was raised, but my guess is that as an attractive blue-eyed blond girl, she was wasn't exactly marginalized by society.

Let's be honest, the proximity of the state of Texas to Mexico has created a social-cultural environment in which there has historically been some pretty deep-seated prejudice and bigotry towards Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and Hispanics from central and south America who've immigrated up through Mexico.

High School Valedictorian Mayte Lara
When Emily Austen was sitting on that couch and remarked that "I never know Mexicans were that smart!", my guess is that she was revealing some of the ingrained prejudices about Mexican people that she grew up with in west Texas.

But given the widespread media coverage of Donald Trump's demeaning comments about Mexicans, and the nature of the tone of the way-beyond-politically-correct commentary of Barstool Sports, perhaps she was trying to make some kind of off-color joke that she thought would play well to the audience; which is now global.

Unfortunately it wasn't funny.

Especially given that they were talking about a gifted high school student Mayte Lara (pictured above) who defies Trump's denigrating stereotypes about Mexican immigrants by being her class valedictorian who earned a scholarship to college.

Given the racial tensions that have dominated American media headlines and the highly public nature of her (former) job, it's remarkable that she'd even consider saying the things she did knowing she was in front of a camera, but now that Fox has fired her, she's got plenty of time to reflect on the repercussion of her actions.

No doubt she has a newfound respect for the power of the spoken word.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Democrats & Doctors Launch Attack On Gun Violence

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy filibusters
It's about time.

With Connecticut Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy's filibuster procedure taking over the floor of the U.S Senate to call attention to Senate Republicans refusing to act on gun control legislation or initiatives, we're finally seeing a Senator voice the will of the majority of the American people on gun violence.

The list of horrific mass shootings by demented AMERICANS reads like a bloody road map of unimaginable terror. Columbine High School and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

The Emanuelle African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the worst of them all recently at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (To name a few.)

It's not enough to agree that the majority of American people have had enough, to me the question to consider is this:

A pastor comforts two people in Orlando
After all the latest memorials, remembrances and funerals are done, and the media packs up and leaves Orlando and begins to allow the community to begin to heal and try and return to a sense of normalcy, can the current public outrage over the epidemic of mass shootings of innocent people be sustained to the degree that it can be translated into a long-term, organized grass roots movement by American citizens to demand that politicians begin to regulate the availability and sale of firearms in this nation?

Senate Democrats like the above-mentioned Christopher Murphy and New Jersey Senator Corey Booker stepping forward to call out Republicans for doing everything possible to appease the NRA by doing nothing about enacting sensible gun control legislation is a positive first step.

Gun control advocacy groups that gather data on gun violence (23,763 incidents of gun violence in 2016), provide news updates about shootings and information on legislative efforts to oppose or support gun control legislation  like The Trace and Every Town For Gun Safety serve as invaluable resources to educate the public and keep citizens informed.

In the wake of Orlando both groups are stepping up efforts to circulate petitions and rallying members of the public to pressure Republican politicians to introduce legislation to address the gun violence epidemic in America.

In defiance of the jaw-dropping ongoing efforts by Republicans to block the use of taxpayer funds from being used by scientists and researchers to study the impact of gun violence on the health of the nation's citizens, American physicians are stepping up to the plate too.

On Tuesday the American Medical Association, one of the nation's leading associations of health professionals, adopted a new policy position that labels gun violence in America a public health crisis.

As AMA President Steven J. Stack said in a press release on Tuesday:

"With approximately 30,000 men, women and children dying at the barrel of a gun in elementary schools, movie theaters, houses of worship and on live television, the United States faces a public health crisis of gun violence."

The AMA also pledged to begin to pressure Republican Congressman to allow the Centers for Disease Control to use taxpayer funds to conduct research on gun violence.

The AMA also voted to call for mandatory background checks on all firearm purchases and pledged to step up their efforts to begin actively lobbying Congress to enact gun control legislation.

It just boggles the mind that Republicans can be so brain-dead on this issue, and so beholden to the whims of the NRA even though a majority of NRA members (and fire arms owners) support things like mandatory background checks.

As I write these words at 11:07pm, I'm watching and listening to a live video stream of Democratic Senators on the floor of the U.S. Senate as they filibuster in support of gun control legislation; it's inspiring, this is what politics should be about.

Democratic Hawaii Sen Brian Schatz
Right now, various Democratic Senators are using their procedural right to be recognized by Senator Murphy to ask him a question, to make meaningful and lengthy commentary on why they support gun control legislation before they ask the actual question - in part to give Senator Murphy time to rest his voice.

Right now Hawaii's Democratic Senator Brian Schatz is at the podium "asking a question", he just said more and more people are filling up the galley to listen to the filibuster.

A few minutes ago he read a message he just received via email a few minutes before he took the floor from a resident of his home state thanking the senators for what they're doing with the filibuster.

This fellow citizen expressed alarm that after taking their child to the movies recently, in light of the Orlando shootings, they were thinking of where to sit in the theater in case of a shooter - and how to protect their child.

We shouldn't have to think about things like that in this country.

And if you agree, be one of the thousands of people around the nation who are calling or contacting Chris Murphy's office to express their support for his filibuster.

You can reach Senator Murphy's office in Washington D.C. at 202-224-4041; I just called and told the young woman who answered on the 2nd ring that I back his filibuster 110% and that he's speaking for the REAL silent majority in this country.

I doubt any Republicans are in the chamber tonight, but I hope they would take the time to stop and read the heartbreaking open letter that Nelba Marquez-Greene, one of the mothers who lost her child in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, wrote to the families of the victims of the Orlando shooting.

I just don't see how anyone can read that, or think about the victims of gun violence, and not be compelled to use the power of their political office for something meaningful.

Something beyond Democrat, or Republican, or the lobbyists who wine and dine them and fill their coffers - something that's simply human.

And the right thing to do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Romney Speaks Truth To Republican Power

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."
If not for the almost continuous (and obviously understandable) press coverage following the senseless mass shooting in Orlando early Sunday morning, my guess is that Mitt Romney's comments about Donald Trump, delivered during a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer last Friday, would've gotten a lot more media traction than they did.

Comments which are like manna from Heaven for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Now admittedly I've leveled a fair share of criticism at Romney for his lackluster 2012 presidential campaign, which was virtually tone-deaf to the everyday struggles of the ranks of poor, working-class and middle-class Americans who were decimated by the Great Recession and the housing collapse.

But watching him double-down on his steadfast refusal to follow the lead of other spineless Republican leaders and call Trump out for who and what he represents, I must admit, Mitt almost seemed presidential in staking out a position that suggests a moderate voice still exists in the GOP.

Now granted, thanks in part to his stashing millions of dollars of his personal fortune in tax-free off shore tax havens, Mittens is as rich as Midas, and he's not running for public office; so he can afford to say whatever he wants.

Speaker Paul Ryan & Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
But my sense is that what he said about Trump on Friday had merit and substance from a conservative standpoint and were aimed right smack at the Republican leadership who've taken a wobbly "hold your nose and back Trump" attitude that speaks volumes about the character and principles of the GOP as a political party.

As Romney observed:

"Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle-down racism, trickle-down bigotry, trickle-down misogyny, all these things are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America."

Romney's comments were well-timed, not just because they came on the heel of Trump defending himself for his cringe-worthy "My African-American" comment last week, uttered as he theatrically pointed to Gregory Cheadle, a black Republican who is running for the Congressional seat in California's 1st district who later said that he was in fact, not a Trump supporter.

Romney's comments were strategically delivered on Friday so they could intentionally circulate through the weekend news cycle. The fact that he used a take on Ronald Reagan's infamous "Trickle-down" economic theory (which didn't work and caused the federal deficit to skyrocket) says a lot about the advisers and media consultants Romney is surrounding himself with these days.

Boxing promoter Don King
Trumps's juvenile reaction delivered via his toxic Twitter account was a mix of his typical high-school-ish bluster, and yet another flat out lie.

First he chided Romney for choking "like a dog" in his failed 2012 presidential race against Obama, then claimed he wasn't a racist and offered as "proof" the endorsement of boxing promoter Don King.

The only problem is Don King had not endorsed Trump.

When a reporter asked King about the endorsement at the funeral for Muhammad Ali, King flatly said "no".

But to borrow an adjective from the highly-quotable and ring-obsessed Gollum, Don King is "tricksy".

Now if you heard any of Rabbi Michael Lerner's incredible progressive speech at Muhammad Ali's funeral, you'd know that was not the place to endorse Trump.

But King is a slippery character and supposedly later did endorse Trump; one can only wonder what kind of favor or financial transaction passed hands to make that happen, but you can bet it benefitted King.

Don't let the hair fool you, King is a highly intelligent and calculating business man.

I had a friend named Rob who graduated form Drexel University in Philadelphia in the 90's. Rob's older brother was a Penn grad who worked for a pretty prestigious Philly law firm.

Philadelphia levies some pretty heavy taxes on paychecks earned while working in the city, as a former NFL player, I can tell you that it was necessary to consult with a tax guy if you played an away game in Philadelphia. Really.

So Rob's brother's firm was representing a venue or organization against Don King over taxes and revenues related to a boxing match that had taken place in Philly; this was back in 80's I believe.

Rob told me his brother and like four other top-flight Philly lawyers show up in this conference room to meet with King, and King is sitting there by himself at the table. He said King proceeded to school these guys, Rob said King had every single figure from the contracts committed to memory, didn't refer to a note or a piece of paper and talked circles around all these lawyers - as he often does, came out on top of the negotiations.

Manager Cus D'Amato & Mike Tyson
Years ago I read "Fire and Fear" Jose Torres' amazing biography of boxer Mike Tyson.

After Tyson's beloved manager Cus D'Amato passed away, promoters and managers were tripping over each other to sign Tyson.

So Tyson flew out to Las Vegas to meet with one of the big promoters who wanted to represent him, and sent a stretch limo to pick him up at the airport and bring him to the meeting.

Torres says Don King found out about it, called the limo company and persuaded them to cancel the limo pickup and King himself drove to the airport and waited in his own limo for Tyson.

King sees Tyson waiting to be picked up and pulls up, rolls down the window of his limo and offers him a ride; during the trip King supposedly bad-mouthed the other promoter, telling Tyson his inability to arrange for Tyson to be picked up was a poor reflection of the other promoter's professionalism.

King would eventually promote Tyson and manipulate him out of millions from fight proceeds - Tyson eventually declared bankruptcy.

So while I'm not sure an endorsement from Don King is representative of how black Americans feel about Trump, King and Trump definitely deserve one another - from one Don to another I guess.