Ambidextrous Thoughts

This site is intended to offer research and commentary on current events covering a wide scope of topics. Over and over again, I see social media offering quick access to the latest news or trend, but often with very little thought or fact-checking put into it, which lends itself to misleading half-truths. The intent here is not to take a political side, but to discuss the differences expressed by many who use social media as their source of news and information. My aim is to look at both extremes of a topic, and try to find a way to come together. I welcome input and suggestions on subjects that you’d like to know more about. Some conversations may have a political theme, but I hope to discuss issues that affect our everyday life, whether it be what kind of education our children are really getting, why are medication prices spiraling out of control, are unions a help or a hindrance to our workers today, or what “entitlement” really means. Bookmark this spot and see how we do as we try to make a fair place to open discussions on the subjects that interest you most. By – JRBecker

NEWS – REAL OR FAKE?

Posted by on Jan 14, 2017 | 2 comments

NEWS – REAL OR FAKE?

NEWS – REAL OR FAKE?

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance – George Bernard Shaw

I heard a great line the other day. Jimmy Kimmel was talking about hearing someone say the people have a right to make up their own minds when hearing the facts of a news report. His question; “How is that possible? Facts are facts. No one can make up their own facts!” Exactly! No matter what one thinks, it doesn’t change the facts.

Freedom of the press is extremely important. Without it, our country could easily be taken over by a dictator or tyrant. We would have no way of knowing what was actually being done in our Capital, or even in the lower governments of state or city. We wouldn’t know the true statistics regarding such things as health, education, homelessness, gun deaths, or police actions. Property values could be devalued with no explanation, or increased on a whim. Taxes could be raised with no accounting for their expenditure. The state of the economy could be manipulated to give false feelings of security (or fear) to the public. [In many countries, the people have no idea what life is like outside their immediate community because they have no access to world news. They rely on the word of their heads of state, and any news comes from that source only.]

Although the throngs of reporters can be disruptive and irritating, and sometimes they go too far in aiming for the “big scoop,” – ignoring the privacy needs of grieving families, for instance – to banish them would be constitutionally illegal, and detrimental to the well-being of our society. The police, the president, and sometimes other public figures routinely give news conferences to keep the public informed. The freedom of the press protects our safety and allows us to remain free.

However, all news sources are not the same. By reporting only part of a story, the entire meaning can change. There’s a big difference between falsifying a story and giving a report as initial news is breaking, then going back later when updated facts come to light. Mistakes will be made from time to time when reporting a fast-evolving situation. A reputable media outlet will waste no time before making corrections as updates are received.

Somewhere between falsifying and true reporting, there is also “spinning” or twisting the wording to sound different than the reality of whatever was said, or happened, or is known. This can be considered a “slant.”

Some Newspapers, websites, or channels give a mix of real news and sensationalized gossip or rumor. These are the most dangerous ones, because when we read several real articles, we assume all articles from that source are real, when that isn’t necessarily the case. An example of that would be The Rightists, http://therightists.com/ an online news site that admits to writing half fact, half fiction.

We must also be cautious with “News and Opinion” media. In a standard newspaper, opinions are reserved for the Editorial Pages. This isn’t so clear-cut with news factions on television or the Internet. Many of the political television sites have anchors who work on special pieces, bringing “experts” and other guests to discuss a popular subject. These people are not reporting news, nor are they – for the most part – verifying any news. They are usually giving their opinions, based on their own experiences, or explaining how a certain outcome might be obtained. What they say is not necessarily false, but it’s best to remember that it is only an opinion!

Today, the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters are the two best known sources for network news and accredited newspapers. The AP and Reuters provide news from around the world, and are very good at verifying their sources. News from them also ends up on YouTube, news blogs, and social media such as AOL News, Yahoo News, etc., where bits and pieces are then used on Facebook or Twitter or some other form of internet communication. Local media will also carry much of this information on their own websites. Most Television/Cable companies also have their own investigative reporters stationed around the globe, especially in key cities like London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing and Baghdad. To know if the news you are reading is coming from the AP or Reuters, look just above the body of the news piece, generally on the left-hand side. There is often a name there, indicating who wrote the article, and will include the source if coming from AP or Reuters.

There are also several media outlets that produce “Tabloid News.” Tabloid News is mostly exaggerated, misleading or false headlines, often followed by rumors of the rich and famous. Occasionally, these outlets wander into the world of politics or current events, touting sensationalized happenings, complete with quotes from “unnamed sources.” These are, at best, a form of entertainment reading.

Why do we, as a people, tend to accept questionable information as true, simply because we hear it repeated over and over by the media – even when the media explains that the information has not been substantiated or cannot be proven at the time? That may be the question of the century. It is left up to us to determine if what we are hearing or reading is factual. The hardest part is probably to admit that our way is not the only way, and to pay attention to what other minds think. But the only way to tell fact from fiction is to look it up. To that end, there are several websites that can help:

www.Snopes.com will accommodate a series of key words and try to find your question and verify its truth.

www.Politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/ fact-checks claims and statements made by politicians and other public figures.

www.factcheck.org is another site that strives to verify ads or comments about political parties and people.

https://www.truthorfiction.com attempts to confirm e-rumors.

www.hoaxslayer.com follows and debunks email scams and hoaxes.

One other method that might be helpful: Have you come across an article that seems too good to be true, or maybe too bad to be true? Try typing the title of the article you’re questioning into a browser. If the only thing that comes up is the web location you found it on, it is probably not accurate. If it was, other news organizations would have reported on it.

And finally, I’ve researched several news sites, categorized them, and listed them in alphabetical order. This is, by no means, the full extent of news outlets available.

10 Inaccurate or Tabloid News Sites (Fake News)

Christwire Global Media: www.christwire.org/

Empire News: http://empirenews.net

Empire Sports: http://www.empiresports.co/

Globe: http://www.globemagazine.com

Huzlers: http://www.huzlers.com/

The Daily Currant: http://dailycurrant.com/

The National Inquirer: http://www.nationalinquirer.com

The News Nerd: http://www.thenewsnerd.com/

The NoChill: http://www.thenochill.com/

Wyoming Institute of Technology: http://witscience.org/

Satirical news sites (Obviously written in jest)

Ironic Times: http://ironictimes.com

The Onion: http://www.theonion.com

Current and (mostly) unbiased, trustworthy news sites

ABC:  http://abc.go.com/news

Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com

CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/

NBC: http://www.nbcnews.com/

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/

Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/

Time (magazine): http://time.com/

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/

U.S. News & World Reports: www.usnews.com/

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

10 LIBERAL leaning news sites and papers (usually honest news, but with a slant)

Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/

Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.com/

Politico: http://www.politico.com/

Slate: http://www.slate.com/

The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/

The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

The Nation: https://www.thenation.com/

The New Republic: https://newrepublic.com/

The Village Voice: http://www.villagevoice.com/

10 CONSERVATIVE leaning news sites and papers (usually honest news but with a slant)

Breitbart: http://www.breitbart.com/

FOX News: http://www.foxnews.com/

News With Views: http://www.newswithviews.com/

Newsmax: http://www.newsmax.com/

Real Clear Politics: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/

Right Wing News: http://rightwingnews.com/

The Drudge Report: http://www.drudgereport.com/

The New York Post: http://nypost.com/

The Weekly Standard: http://www.weeklystandard.com/

Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/

Update: This is another site you can check for fake news sites. http://fakenewswatch.com

****NOTE TO MY READERS:

I would love to see your comments on my Blog. Please be sure to leave a Name in the space for it. If you enter a link, it goes to spam. The name can be a screen name or handle, or just your first name. Once you do this, you won’t have to do it again for additional comments. If you want to share a link to something regarding the topic, there is a place to add that. I will remove any links that appear to be advertising for a business unrelated to the topics we’re discussing. Email addresses will never be shared. Thank you for your interest! – END

JRBecker

Read More

APATHY – What Causes It?

Posted by on Dec 17, 2016 | 6 comments

APATHY – What Causes It?

APATHY – What Causes It?

Having found myself floundering in a quagmire of apathy recently, I decided to spend some time understanding it better.

  • Merriam-Webster defines APATHY as: lack of feeling or emotion; lack of concern. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. There is also a clinical definition related to depression and other disorders, but I’m looking at apathy from a sociological perspective.

Not that I had lost all caring or emotion, but I was feeling deadened to the aftermath of the elections in this modern era where we have so many advantages; instant news reports, multiple daily polls, daily (and sometimes hourly) briefings from every angle, and an opinion on everything from every pundit imaginable. I wanted to stay tuned in, to catch all the nuances of the various outcomes across our nation.

Before the November election, I heard that many voters were apathetic this year. Mostly, it was attributed to the lack of trust or faith in either major candidate. I, on the other hand, was extremely interested in the campaigns and platforms, or lack thereof, for both the Republicans and the Democrats. I tried to learn more about the Libertarian and Green party candidates as well, but there was precious little to be found. What I did find was than many voters planned on voting, but not necessarily for either major presidential candidate. They were interested in their local elections, and even state elections and federal congressional representatives, but many had developed apathy towards the presidential race. Several were going to vote for the Libertarian or Green candidates as a protest vote. Others planned to write in names. Some simply intended to leave the vote for president blank. And sadly, a great number of people simply decided not to vote at all. I couldn’t understand the apathy. In my research mode, I was learning more and more, and developing my own opinions as the months passed. I read about and wrote about the Electoral College. I was developing my own theories about that, as well. There were opportunities if we only used our heads.

I voted early but continued to watch with enthusiasm as tensions mounted and rhetoric flew between the parties. I kept waiting for revelations, for some kind of knock-out punch from either side. It never came. I expected a big change in both the Senate and House because polls showed that the voters were disgusted with the lack of representation by the “do nothing” congress. I wondered would the parties flip, or would the incumbents be replaced with upgraded models? With only a few exceptions, the incumbents were voted back in. What?! And so it followed in state and local races. For the most part, governors and state legislators retained their positions.

On the night before the election, the polls showed the democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton leading, but by only by 2% to 3% – well within the margin of error. Republican nominee, Donald Trump was holding his own, and it was anybody’s game. I was encouraged by the initial turnout reports. It looked like we might see a much better than projected voter response. In fact, it ended up being lower than expected at 58%. In the end, using the latest numbers I’ve been able to find at http://www.electproject.org/2016g although complete numbers for three states are not currently available, it seems some 15,000,000 citizens who cast ballots did not vote for either of the two major party nominees for president. What?! What?!

Donald Trump / Mike Pence ended up carrying the Electoral College numbers (306), with Hillary Clinton / Tim Kaine capturing the popular vote by over 2,800,000 votes. As of this writing, the Electoral College has not yet convened to cast the final votes for President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. That happens on December 19, 2016. Theoretically, they will vote as their states voted. They don’t have to, but penalties for changing their vote vary from fines and jail time, to rejection of their vote, to no consequence whatsoever. [UPDATE: On December 19, 2016 the Electoral College officially named Donald Trump the President-Elect, with 306 electoral votes.]

So here I sit, pondering the future, and wondering how we spent billions of dollars on campaigns (when you include all the state and local elections, the expenditure is staggering), and basically changed nothing that will fix a single problem for the average American citizen. In all probability, many people will end up losing much more than they gain. Health care may be gone entirely. Minimum wage may stay stagnant, and the elderly may see decreases, rather than cost of living increases. Veterans will still be ignored, and education will remain unattainable for the people who need it most to pull themselves together and become contributing members of society. On November 9th, I began to understand “apathy.” It starts with confusion. Sometimes frustration or anger steps in, but basically I felt myself becoming drained of enthusiasm, lost to reason, and unable to communicate with my empathy for humanity. Apathy comes from constant defeat, lack of progress – no matter how hard one works, and the slow knowledge that one’s voice is no longer heard.

My sense of apathy does not come from any one single person winning or losing, but rather from the lack of interest (apathy) I saw from the American citizens who did not take the time to do a little bit of research in order to find out how the government works, to fact-check what candidates said – or was said about them, or to consider what brought us to the place we are today, and what needs to be done to better our situations and the situations of millions of other people who are still struggling. They voted blindly for “their congressional representatives” because they were told that it was the other ones that were doing nothing. They voted carelessly for their presidential candidate because theirs wasn’t as bad as the other (?), but they did so without finding out more about the other, or considering different views. Worst of all, they chose to only listen to the rhetoric that shored up the opinions they had already formed, many based on memes from Face Book and tweets from friends and members of the parties they felt affiliated with. The answer for too many was “do nothing.”

Writing this commentary is my first step in escaping the grasp of apathy. I don’t like it here. I know there are people out there like me… still fighting, still knowing that we can change the path we are following right now if we find our courage, beliefs and passions again.

My second step will be a thorough research project and post about Fake News. Freedom of the Press is one of the basic elements of our United States Constitution and our democracy, but it has been egregiously undermined and abused. It’s all part of this frightening journey we’re on; road signs giving false directions, dragging us through apathetic darkness and leading us to unintended destinations. Look for my post in the coming days.

 

Read More

Electoral College – Stay or Go?

Posted by on Oct 23, 2016 | 0 comments

Electoral College – Stay or Go?

 

CONVERSATION: How does the Electoral College work, and do we still need it?

The president and vice president are selected through the Electoral College system which gives each state the same number of electoral votes as it has members of Congress. (One for each Senator and each House Representative.) The District of Columbia gets three electoral votes. Of the total 538 votes available, a candidate must receive 270 to win.

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3c/Electoral_College_2016.svg/1020px-Electoral_College_2016.svg.png

 

With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, all states assign a delegation of electors who pledge to honor the winner of the popular vote, or who follow that state’s regulation which binds the electors by law to vote according to popular vote for the whole. The pledges are not mandated by law, but the rule of popular vote is generally followed. In Maine (4) and Nebraska (5), the Electoral College gives two statewide votes to the winner of the popular vote, with the rest being decided by congressional district. No senator or representative can be named an elector nor can any other person holding an office of trust or profit for the United States. The 14th Amendment also disqualifies any state official found to have taken part in rebellion or insurrection towards the United States, or giving aid and comfort to its enemies, from being an Elector. The following states show the names of their Electors for the Electoral College on the ballot: Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota.

The 12th Amendment says that a separate vote must be given to the president, and then to the vice president. The same amendment states that in the event of a presidential tie, with no one having a majority, the House of Representatives will select the president, but will receive one vote from the delegation, not the actual state representative. Should there be a tie for vice president, the Senate will select the new vice president.

This method of electing the president and vice president was decided by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The question of the day was, should the president be elected by Congressional Representatives or by popular vote. Remember, there were no computers, no adding machines, no phones, no telegraph, and certainly no trains, planes or cars, so getting popular votes in and counted across the country wasn’t even feasible. Congressional vote for President was out, as many thought there was too much chance of corruption if the vote was decided by a group of men who knew each other from frequent inter-action during sessions of Congress. Another concern was the difference between the northern states and the southern states regarding slavery. The Electors method of voting prevented states that had free Negroes from using them to influence elections, as Negroes were not counted in the population census. So all in all, having Electors was the best solution of the times. (The first time the term “Electoral College” was used in law was in 1845, and comes from the Roman Empires’ use of the Latin phrase; collegium electorum.)

Many people today think the Electoral College should be eliminated, so let’s talk about that.

Currently, the Supreme Court holds the position that nothing in the constitution assures Electors of complete freedom to vote as they please, so some states require them to pledge along a party line.

How would choosing by popular vote alone change the system?

A clean and simple count of ballots would ensure that a true majority of voters would determine the winner. This does not include registered voters who don’t make it to the polls or don’t mail in their ballots. It also gives no representation for unregistered citizens. 63.3% of eligible voters actually voted in 2008, and that percentage dipped to 57.5% in 2012. (Would elimination of the Electoral College encourage more people to register and vote?)

If we decided to keep the Electoral College, could it be improved upon?

Since all states have their own rules for selecting the Electors, it might be more even-handed if standard rules were applied for all state Electors. Aside from the one rule named in the Constitution; No senator or representative can be named an elector nor can any other person holding an office of trust or profit for the United States, possible rules to consider might be as follows:

  • All states must list their Electors on general election ballots
  • All states must list their Electors on primary and general election ballots
  • All Electors are bound to vote according to popular vote of their state (or district), and providing an enforced law for misuse of powers if not followed
  • All states must choose their Electors by district, as Nebraska and Maine do
  • Nebraska and Maine must abide by popular vote standards statewide
  • Electors must be announced before all elections, and their votes must be made public through news media at the time of the official count

Now that you’ve read this article, if you have any other suggestions or any comments, please post them in the comments section. I will follow up on them, and post as an article if you want to add to this conversation.

Other sources of information to round out this article were:

www.Wikipedia.com

https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html

Read More

SOCIAL SECURITY – ENTITLEMENT or PONZI SCHEME?

Posted by on Sep 30, 2016 | 4 comments

SOCIAL SECURITY – ENTITLEMENT or PONZI SCHEME?

CONVERSATION: Today, entitlement is almost a dirty word. It is still used to mean a right, as in, “you’re certainly entitled to your own opinion.” But it has also come to be used as a label for assistance programs provided by, or administered by the government.

Part of this is caused by our own language. We have many words in English that have more than one meaning, and some meanings are actually contradictory. One term for words used in a new or different way is semantic change, referring to a word definition that has changed over time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change. An example of semantic change is the word “hack.” It has meant everything from a taxi or taxi cab driver, a bad cough, to roughly chop, and a lazy person, or a quick and easy way of doing things. The most recent changes involve the Internet or computer technology. Most people don’t know that to be a computer hack started out meaning being able to find fixes, both temporary and permanent to various problems that cropped up as computer technology came to life. It has evolved over the last 20 years to mean a network or computer break-in for nefarious purposes, or the person who commits that break-in. And yet the Internet is filled with articles called ‘Closet Hacks’ or ‘Garage Hacks’ or ‘Patio Hacks’, explaining how to cut costs, or time, or do something in an entirely new way.

“Entitlement” is a victim of semantic change. Entitlement was originally something to strive for, as in: to become independent and wealthy so as to live a life of entitlement. Although that’s a little stuffy sounding for today’s society, I hope it makes the point.

So the question is, if not an entitlement, what do you call Social Security? It’s not a personal account. It’s not invested monies (thankfully – or it might be gone now) and it’s not a tax refund. It originally included assistance for the unemployed, but states have since taken over that portion of the original Social Security Act, that came into being under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 – although the government still sometimes helps the states. It is money that comes out of our paychecks as a tax, (FICA) – along with money that goes for Medicare – and is administered by the government based on how long we’ve worked and how much we’ve made. (But not how much we’ve paid in, other than the correlation with the formula used for disbursement.) It’s then redistributed to us, individually, when we reach retirement age or suffer a debilitating injury or illness. And our families – spouses and children – may benefit from our Social Security as well, not only while we’re alive, but continuing after, should we die before them or in the case of children, until they are no longer minors.

Officially, Social Security is defined as an entitlement. If you wish to read more about the concept of Social Security, the following is a good place to start:  http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/18/5-facts-about-social-security/  But there are actually many people who believe that this money is a form of government welfare. Even very wealthy people can qualify for Social Security and receive benefits as long as they have worked and paid into the FICA system for at least 10 years. They would then also qualify for Medicare. They are entitled to it – this is the distinction between an earned entitlement and generalized welfare programs.

The definition of welfare is: a government program for poor or unemployed people that helps pay for their food, housing, medical costs, etc. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/welfare. No one has to pay into a welfare program in order to receive it. Yes, I know, we all pay towards welfare with our taxes, but the recipient has no obligation to have worked, ever. They do have to be either United States citizens or legal residents in order to receive anything from most welfare programs. These funds are also called entitlements, but they fall under the definition of “funds provided by government for a special group”; indigents, mentally ill, children, etc.

It is important to note that refugees from other countries do not just get to jump onto Social Security or any of the welfare programs. They do, however, receive assistance from our government as provided under the Refugee Act of 1979. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/the-refugee-act. The aid is mostly in the form of helping refugees find work, learn English, and find housing until they become self-sustaining. Also note, refugees are not the same as immigrants. Refugees are people fleeing from persecution, war, or other unsustainable living conditions. Many of them will want to return home, in the event their homeland is again safe. Immigrants are people moving here for a variety of reasons, such as school or jobs, but mostly because they want to live here, and usually because they would like to become U.S. citizens. Both refugees and immigrants must be vetted by our government, and that process can take two years or more. Prior to being approved to enter the U.S., refugees are often held in temporary camps or other accommodations in countries that have agreements with America to help in relocation processing. In any account, monies used to help refugees and immigrants comes from our tax dollars, but not from our standard entitlement programs such as Social Security, unemployment, welfare, etc. (In some cases, refugees and immigrants have their own means of support, and do not need government assistance.) For more about the vetting process go to http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2015/12/how-the-refugee-vetting-process-works.

Another favorite criticism is that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme is where people receive an income from new investors who then receive their income from even newer investors, and so on. In a typical Ponzi scheme, each layer of investors receive a percentage of income from all of the layers that come after them.

What makes the Social Security system appear to be a Ponzi scheme is that each generation is paying into the retirement program for the previous generation. With a Ponzi scheme, investors eventually stop investing, leaving earlier investors with no income. Social Security will always have income, although it may need to be adjusted from time to time (and has been) because of fluctuations in the population. Sometimes the payouts of “returns” on a Ponzi scheme become so high that the investments coming in can’t cover the returns. Every year until 2009 more money came in through FICA than was disbursed in retirement and disability checks. (In 2009 the surplus faltered, due to the recession, but is now climbing again.)

In 1938, the Advisory Council on Social Security, (a new group comprised of economy experts) endorsed the purchase of U.S. Treasury Bonds with the annual surplus money from FICA taxes. Since then, the surplus has always been placed in a trust fund, but the government has borrowed money (T-Bonds) from the trust fund and replaced it with IOUs. Since that time, Congress and presidents from both political parties have borrowed the T-Bonds to finance projects, wars, tax cuts, and other budgetary needs. Although Social Security does not, and cannot by its nature, contribute to the National Debt, the money owed to it by our government is figured into the National Debt. That amount currently stands at about 15% of the total debt, or over half of the intragovernmental debt, according to http://www.justfacts.com/nationaldebt.asp. The government pays interest on the money it owes, but is not paying the actual debt off, at this time. In the event repayment of those bonds became an immediate necessity, the government would have to borrow the money from an outside source, or from some other existing program. Currently, there is no plan in place for the government to begin paying back the money it has borrowed. Might this be a logical matter for congressional and presidential candidates to consider on their platforms? Let’s talk about this. Tell me what you think in the comments section.

For more information on these topics, The Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) has a site that discusses this and other government functions and is found at http://www.accuracy.org/release/social-security-has-a-large-and-growing-surplus/

Read More

ENTITLEMENT – What Is It?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2016 | 4 comments

ENTITLEMENT – What Is It?

Full Definition of ENTITLEMENT – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1.a. The state or condition of being entitled
1.b. A right, especially by law or contract

2. A government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also funds supporting or distributed by such a program

3. Belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges

So let’s look at these different meanings.

1a. The state or condition of being entitled: Some simple entitlements might be the right to choose what we wear, or what we want to order from a menu. We are entitled to receive what we paid for, in the condition promised. We are entitled to an agreed amount of payment for an agreed amount of work. After meeting certain conditions, we would be able to claim the right or entitlement of driving cars.

1b. A right, especially by law or by contract: Each World Country sets the entitlements that pertain to their citizens. We will only be discussing the United States of America in this post.

Our constitution was written with the idea that every person is entitled to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Through a series of Amendments, additional rights and entitlements have become law over the years. Some of these are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to vote.

In law, there are certain entitlements that protect the rights of artists, writers, inventors, and so forth. Copyrights and Patents can be applied for by the original creator. This helps assure that no one else can profit from the work of the inventor, author, song writer, etc. That person can, however, sell their rights to other parties; usually producers, publishers, museums, to name a few.

2. A government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also funds supporting or distributed by such a program: An Entitlement would refer to such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, Medicaid, WIC, unemployment, workers compensation, certain grants, and many others. Even The Earned Income Credit at tax time is an entitlement program. Education and housing are other areas where entitlements can come into play.

There is a common thread of thought in today’s society that all financial entitlements are forms of charity, or freebies, or handouts. In fact, several are not. First, though, it’s important to know that the Federal Government does not control all forms of entitlement. Individual states are responsible for a large portion of social programs, so differences in benefits can be found across the country. Sometimes the federal government – generally congress – sets regulations for such programs, and in some cases, the states receive federal funds, (again set by congress) to help them meet their social expenditures. In other cases, the state may independently develop and control a program such as health care.

Welfare: There are categorical grants from the federal government to state and local governments, in which specific uses and spending plans are stated. There are also block grants, where the federal government gives states and local governments monetary assistance with little or no stipulation on how it is to be spent.

TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is a block grant. TANF replaced ADFC, or Aid to Dependent Families with Children, which was a categorical grant. Since TANF is a block grant, each state controls what the requirements are for receiving aid, and the length of time that aid can be received, up to five years in total per family (the federal standard). UPDATE: as of 2017, some states are reducing the amount of lifetime aid that can be received to as little as one year! The federal government also stipulates that work requirements must apply to TANF recipients. In other words, they have to find work within a certain amount of time (decided by the state) and report income accordingly. Besides cash, some ways that TANF is applied is for finishing high school or obtaining a GED, some vocational training, and child care.

Categorical grants are given by Congress and have the advantage of federal guidelines. Each recipient receives the same benefits and/or restrictions in all states, counties and cities. Head Start and Medicaid are examples of categorical grants. Food Stamps fall under a categorical grant, in that congress decides the benefits and rules and the federal government funds the direct expense of the stamps. In this case, though, the federal and state government split the expenses of running the service.

Food Stamp or SNAP criteria (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) is usually the same as the TANF requirements. For both SNAP and TANF, the recipients must be United States citizens, or have legal residence status. They must also have a Social Security card for each member of the household.

The forms of welfare mentioned above are all tax-payer funded. Whether financed by the federal government or a state or local government, our tax dollars are the source of their revenue. The federal government calls them “safety nets”, and that is what they are intended to be. There are, of course, people who abuse them by lying, or by using them beyond the point of need. For some, it’s easier to sit home and get a free check than to find a job and actually do it. Statistics show, however, that the majority of people receiving TANF have found work and gotten off of government assistance within a year. The following chart shows U.S. Census statistics for the years 2009 through 2012.

The states that provide educational assistance with a combination of other job oriented assistance – such as day care, have the highest rates of success in recipients leaving the TANF program within a year or two. Unfortunately, some states provide as little as 5% of TANF monies from the federal government on programs that actually lead to better employment. Some of these recipients are able to find part-time, or minimum entry work after getting a GED, but not work that pays enough to sustain a family without continuing TANF assistance. A larger group may be able to find employment that allows them to get off of TANF, but still require food stamps or housing assistance. The most successful stories come from people who have access to programs that lead them to job-related education, whether college or trade school.

Much of welfare is spent on the physically or mentally disabled:

Medicaid is health insurance provided for people in poverty or near poverty situations. People who are on Medicare may also be eligible for Medicaid if Medicare does not cover certain conditions or if the applicant receives a poverty level of overall income. Many people with mental health issues are eligible for Medicaid. The problem is that they may not know it, or be able to ask for help.

SSDI – Social Security Disability Insurance is a program for those who have been working, usually 5 out of the last 10 years or more, and become disabled due to injury or illness and can no longer continue working. Mental health issues may also be covered. The amount they receive is based on how much they have worked and paid into Social Security in the past, much like how Social Security payments are determined. SSDI comes out of a special part of the Social Security Trust Fund. Fifteen percent of what we pay into Social Security is placed in the disability trust fund. SSDI beneficiaries will be placed on Medicare after two years.

SSI – Supplemental Security Income is NOT an actual Social Security program although Social Security administers it. This is a federal program that was previously run by the individual states as part of their welfare program for people who are blind, elderly or disabled. It was moved to Social Security for administrative purposes, but is paid out of federal general funds that come from our taxes. People with disabilities who have never worked, or who did not work long enough to build up credits towards SSDI can apply for SSI.

Although I don’t want to start a discussion in the middle of this post about illegal immigration issues, it’s only fair to address the complaint that many people in the United States are here illegally, whether by visa over-stay, or illegal entry. One of the biggest complaints is that these people are taking benefits such as Social Security, especially the SSDI portion, away from citizens that need it. In an ideal world, there would be none of that, or at least very little. We simply do not have the manpower, or the funding for the latest technology to catch people willing to apply for assistance, even knowing they are breaking the law. This complaint also impacts other areas of assistance, including housing, education grants, and Medicaid. We don’t just give these benefits to anyone that asks, but departments that are underfunded and understaffed do make more mistakes. And there are cases where it becomes somewhat complicated, in that parents may come here illegally, but any of their children born here are automatically citizens, which entitles the child or children to certain benefits if they are living near or below the poverty level. In that case, the parents would receive the benefits in the child’s name. In actuality, the only entitlement illegal immigrants have in the United States by law is humanitarian emergency medical treatment, for instance, if someone had a heart attack or was struck by a car. Our government, whether federal or state, is not willfully giving away benefits meant for citizens and legal residents. In a future post, we will have a discussion about immigration in more depth.

At the end of this article, I will provide links where you can report suspected fraud of Social Security, unemployment, SSI, and other assistance programs.

Social Security – Social Security is perhaps the most well-know of all the entitlement programs. More than 60% of older Americans receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security. There are over 40 million retired workers in America today, as well as nearly 3 million spouses or children of retirees that are eligible for benefits.

Social Security taxes (FICA) are paid by working individuals at a current rate of 7.65% annually, on earnings up to $118,500 for the year 2016. Normally, these numbers rise slightly each year. FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act and also includes Medicare taxes at a rate of 1.45%. Employers also pay into Social Security taxes at a matching rate, so an additional 7.65% is being paid on the worker’s behalf. Self-employed persons pay at a rate of 15.3%.

There are many layers to Social Security, such as widows and dependents benefits and early retirement, but they basically work the same way. They are there to protect working people and their families when they are no longer able to work for an income.

This is not a form of welfare, as you can see, because we are all paying into it, and all are entitled to a return when we reach retirement age. There is a formula that is based on our earnings over time and the length of time we work, which determines how much we are due monthly when we file for Social Security. We can continue to work once we reach retirement age (currently 66, but will be 67 if born in or after 1960) and still collect Social Security, however our monthly checks will not increase once we begin to collect. If we decide we want to work longer, there is no penalty for delaying Social Security until the age of 70. In that case, our benefits continue to rise, and our monthly check will be increased at 8% annually, or approximately 32%.

Medicare – Medicare is health insurance that becomes available to all U.S. citizens when they reach the age of 65. As stated under the paragraph about Social Security, Medicare funding comes from workers’ FICA withholdings. Again, this is not a welfare program since we pay into it while working. Everyone should file for Medicare part A – hospital insurance. Medicare part A is free, as long as you have worked and paid into it for at least 10 years. If you have company insurance, you can continue to use it and still receive Medicare. Depending on the circumstances, either Medicare or your employee insurance will become your primary insurance. Your coverage begins the first day of the month you turn 65.

You can file for part A up to 3 months before you turn 65, or wait up to 3 months after you turn 65. You cannot use the insurance from the Affordable Care Act and Medicare at the same time. Once you become eligible for Medicare you are no longer eligible for ACA insurance policies. You can delay signing up for part B – medical insurance – if you are fully covered under a plan through work. (Your policy needs to be verified to make sure the coverage is acceptable. If you delay, and don’t have creditable insurance, there is a penalty for every year (12 months) that you delay. That is, your Medicare coverage for doctors, tests, scans, etc. will be penalized. There is also Medicare part D, which covers prescription drugs. If you want to sign up for this, it should be done at the same time that you enroll in part B. A late penalty is charged for delay on this, as well. There are also small monthly fees for parts B and D. Part B can be taken out of your Social Security check automatically, and is recommended, but you can pay by check if you prefer. You can either send a check or have an auto-withdrawal set up for part D supplemental payments. Prices vary. There are a multitude of insurance advisors that will work with you for no charge if you’re interested in getting additional supplementary insurance, which would help pay for the difference between what Medicare covers and your responsibility beyond that.

Generally, you can’t get Medicare until age 65, but there are a few special exceptions for receiving Medicare early, including if you have ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) or a kidney transplant. A good website to check for more information about Medicare is https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/get-parts-a-and-b/when-coverage-starts/when-coverage-starts.html

Unemployment – Unemployment is not often thought of as an entitlement program, but it is. Claims are made to your own state, and the rules vary from state to state. Employers who have four or more employees pay FUTA taxes (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) to the IRS. This funds the cost of administering the Unemployment and Job service programs in all states and U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico. States can borrow from the federal government to pay the actual unemployment expense. The loans must be repaid with interest. As a rule, most benefits are only paid for 6 months, and require proof of job searches.

And finally, an obnoxious form of entitlement:

3. Belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges: This is when a person or group believe they don’t need to follow customs, rules, regulations, or laws. Examples – He feels that he is entitled to jump to the front of the line in the cafeteria because his work is important and he needs to get back to it quickly. Because her father owns the company, she feels she can be rude and obnoxious to the employees. Moreover, many young people now entering the work force believe that their schedules should be set around their specific preferences. One other example that I find particularly puzzling is the criminal defense of “Affluenza,” which is an example of egregious misuse of entitlement. For those who don’t know, affluenza refers to being so affected by wealth and privilege that one does not know the difference between right and wrong and is therefore not guilty of a named crime. At least two instances of this defense have been successful in recent years.

I have, by no means, covered all the various entitlements available in our society. There is housing, school lunch programs, educational grants, the Veteran’s Administration, public education, and on and on. I tried to touch on the ones that affect the largest amount of people, and the ones that are the subject of contention in the news at the present time. If there is something in particular that you would like to know about or discuss, please let me know in the comments section and I will do my best to offer up useful information.

***There are some people who say that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. I had intended to write about that here as a discussion point, but I think I will do a full second post addressing the arguments for and against that theory. If you have feelings or ideas about that, please go to the comments section and let me know what you want to see or contribute. Use this as a reference, or look up questions you have using the links I’ve provided, so that you can join in on the Ponzi scheme discussion. If you have information, I’d love to hear that, too. I hope to have the next post up before the end of September. [This blog format requires an email address when entering a comment. Your email address will not appear with your comment.]

****Report Fraud:

  • Before you report, remember that filing a false report is also a crime. You don’t need proof, but be prepared to advise the parties you contact of how you know, or why you suspect someone is committing fraud.

Social Security fraud: https://oig.ssa.gov/report

Medicare/Medicaid fraud: https://oig.hhs.gov or contact the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477

Unemployment fraud: https://www.dol.gov/general/maps/fraud This site gives numbers to call or websites for each individual state

Food Stamps or SNAP fraud: https://www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm or to your state Food Stamp Office

*Much of my information about Social Security and SSDI and SSI was gathered from https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/chartbooks/fast_facts/2016/fast_facts16.pdf and this link was provided by newspaper columnist Tom Margenau. Mr. Margenau was national director of Social Security’s public information office for several years. https://www.creators.com/author/tom-margenau

 

Read More

COMPROMISE

Posted by on Aug 12, 2016 | 2 comments

COMPROMISE

COMPROMISE – A BUILDING BLOCK

Sympathy, empathy or compassion; any of these can be useful tools when working on compromise. The definition of compromise, as stated in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1a. Settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.

1b. Something intermediate between or blending qualities of two different things.

2. A concession to something derogatory or prejudicial, as in: “He has compromised his principles by holding back pertinent information to protect his friend.”

For the purposes of this conversation about compromise and how to promote it, definitions 1a and 1b are the most applicable. Ideally, productive compromise should be obtained without having to compromise one’s principles.

If you care about any people at all outside your immediate circle; if you care about the man next door whose wife died in a car accident and is now trying to raise two teen-aged sons alone; if you care about the elderly couple down the street who have to walk 3 blocks to even reach a bus stop; if you care about your co-worker who was just diagnosed with cancer; if you care about the strangers you see on the 6:00 o’clock news that have lost their jobs today because the business they worked for has closed, or if you care about WHY the business had to close its doors… if you notice and care about these people and their situations, you will probably have some degree of sympathy, and even more importantly, empathy. Sympathetic, and particularly empathetic people are generally capable of compassion. Compassion is the ability to care about, feel or share another’s problems to the point of motivation, wherein you want to help them. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201505/empathy-vs-sympathy

In order to successfully work out a compromise, it’s important to have some compassion for the needs or desires of the other party, even if you don’t agree with their point of view or method of trying to obtain their goals. We all do this on a regular basis within our own circle of family and friends. We compromise when we set up a household budget. We learn to prioritize needs over wants, but we try to include wants whenever we can. We negotiate compromises with our children over privileges. “Yes, you can borrow the car Saturday, if you make sure the lawn is mowed before you go, and bring the car back with a full tank of gas.” We work out compromises on our jobs. “I need to take Wednesday off. Would it be okay if I take some material home on Monday and Tuesday evening to finish the project you need completed by Thursday?”

I asked someone to describe a simple compromise that might occur at any time, and hardly be realized as a compromise. It was late and he didn’t want to take the time to mull it over, so I suggested he get back to me the next day. He agreed, then said, “You wanted an answer about compromise right now. I didn’t want to take the time to give you one. We agreed to discuss it further tomorrow. That’s a compromise!”

See how easy it is! Compromise does not necessarily mean losing. In fact, it often leads to solutions that benefit both parties in ways they hadn’t foreseen. Take the example of compromising with your boss by taking work home in exchange for getting a needed day off. Your boss sees that you can achieve the same success without being present in the office every day. This could lead to more savings and efficiency in production for the company (less absenteeism) while allowing you and others the ability to work a four-day week.

We’ve also seen how the inability to compromise can create many problems, causing higher expenses and even bringing about hardships to our everyday lives. A perfect example of that is the gridlock we see in our government. When the Senate and/or the House of Representatives refuse to work on compromise, we who elected them feel cheated, and rightfully so. The economy stagnates, important projects don’t get funded – roads, bridges, electric grids, public waterworks, public health and education and much more – deteriorate and fall by the wayside. Even global respect for our country is diminished.

One of the best examples of how compromise can and should work is something called The Great Compromise which took place during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. As our new government was being formed, debate broke out about how our individual states should be represented in the legislative branch. Originally, the plan was to have a single legislative chamber. Some argued that it should be an equal number of representatives for each state. Others thought that was unfair, because some states were larger and had more population and should have more representation. The smaller states worried that the larger states could easily take advantage with extra representation, keeping the needs and interests of the smaller states at bay. A few states began talking about leaving the newly formed union. Finally, a Connecticut delegate named Roger Sherman suggested a completely different option. How about forming two chambers of the legislature? One would have an equal number of representatives for each state, (the Senate at 2 per state) and the other would be comprised of a representative for every 30,000 residents, (the House of Representatives, where population determines the number of representatives, and is adjusted by census numbers every 10 years.) Thus the structure of our legislative government was laid out. http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/greatcomp.htm

The key to compromise (and sometimes the hardest part) is listening to the other side, especially when you completely disagree with them and think you cannot abide their position. This is where empathy and compassion come in.

  • First, try to recognize why the other party has an argument. Hear the words they say and break them down until you can visualize the situation from their viewpoint. You still may not agree, but you might start to understand what is driving their angst.
  • Try making a list of the pluses and minuses of the other side, and the same list for your position, then compare. Instead of pushing and repeating the same arguments over and over, reword your stance. Then try rewording the other side’s stance. Maybe you will find that some of the same words apply to you both. Rework your plus/minus lists with the new words.
  • Avoid using negative phrases. Try “if” questions instead; IF we agree that we should refinance, how would it affect our credit?
  • Never resort to insulting or rude statements and comparisons. That undermines the chances of any compromise. It puts the other party on the defensive and you will usually lose ground as they fight back. Name-calling and stereo-typing, while second nature to some, are counterproductive forces. Instead, walk away for a few minutes, if you must, but with a promise to return. When you come back, offer new suggestions or ask the other party to restate their position, and ask if they have come up with any new insights. If all else fails, bring in an arbiter – a third, unbiased party.
  • Finally, look at compromise as a series of steps. You may not get everything you want, but if you get some of it, you’re ahead of where you started. Each step can lead to another compromise. If you, in turn, give something, the recipient is more likely to work with you another time, and in a less combative manner.
Read More

Gun Rights and Regulations – Statistics

Posted by on Jul 12, 2016 | 0 comments

Gun Rights and Regulations – Statistics

 

A reader of my first post, Can we toughen gun regulations without threatening the 2nd Amendment rights of United States Citizens-, commented that it would be helpful to see more data relating to how gun-related violence has either increased with the population, or decreased over the past several years. That seemed like a pertinent question, and so I’ve done some research and come up with some numbers and charts that I found interesting – and also unexpected in many cases.

First, and perhaps most unexpectedly, it appears that individual gun ownership has gone down, even as gun sales have surged upwards. That is to say, although the United States boasts enough guns for every man, woman and child in the country, the number of households that actually have guns is at its lowest point in over 40 years.

Gun sales, on the other hand, have increased on a regular basis. The graph below from a Wonkblog article in the Washington Post indicates that, on average, there were more than 8 guns per gun-owning household in 2013.

That does not mean each household has eight guns. The majority of urban households may have only one or two guns, while in rural areas, it might be more common to see a greater number of firearms due to more opportunity to hunt, more family members living on the same property, and the need for better protection due to the solitary nature of rural life. Inner-cities might also contain a disproportionate number of guns per household, depending on the particular neighborhood. Gun collectors could also account for a higher than usual amount of weaponry. Statistics are hard to come by, because the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (see previous post) forbids the government from having a database, or national registry of gun ownership.

Nevertheless, The United States has a higher per-capita gun ratio than any European country, as well as other countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/small-arms-survey-countries-with-the-most-guns-1.3392204.

According to the United States Census Bureau, our population has been growing at a steady pace for the last century. The following chart shows the growth rate from 1980 to July of 2016.

In the next chart, with combined statistics from the CDC, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and www.gunviolencearchive.org, we see a peak in firearm deaths in the early 1990s and then a sharp decline in the late 1990s, where the level has remained. Although not proof of the effectiveness of these laws, the figures suggest The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which was enacted in 1993, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994 may have played a part in the reduction of gun violence.

This chart shows the number of mass shootings that have occurred during the same time period. Notice that prior to 2006 there were only 4 years out of 23 that had mass shootings 3 or more times. In the last 10 years, only 1 year (2010) had less than 3 mass shootings. Each segment is a singular shooting incident.

http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/images/2016/06/blogs/graphic-detail/20160618_woc931_0_4.png

This could indicate that easier access to high capacity firearms and ammunition, due to a loosening of gun regulations, has led to more fatalities. (This chart does not include the most recent shooting where Dallas police officers were targeted on July 7th, 2016. Five officers died and another 7 were injured, as well as 2 civilians, by sniper fire.) As shown in the Firearm Deaths graph, in 2004 a ban on assault weapons was not renewed by congress, and assault-type weapons seem to be the weapon of choice for most mass shooters.

This next chart gives a fairly recent look at the gun deaths by state. It also shows that both suicides and murders were on the decline as far back as the mid ‘90s. During that period there were stricter gun regulations. Of course, there are other factors to consider, too. The economy, for one thing, can play a big part in violence and suicide rates.

To round out the facts, this last chart shows the number of non-fatal gunshot injuries, as well as the related deaths in mass shootings over the 30 years between 1982 and 2012.

http://www.motherjones.com/files/fatalities3.png

If the totality of all this data is any indication, then one might have to say that although population growth has increased at a steady rate, singular homicides have dropped substantially while mass shootings have increased exponentially, even though overall gun ownership itself is down.

[Special note] There is no data to deny or support concern that the News Media or Social Media play any particular role in the amount of gun violence, but some people suggest that media attention could be a contributing factor, just as some suggest that violence on television or in movies, and the violent nature of modern video games could be a contributor. But these ideas are just speculation – and possibly food for thought in a future conversation.

Read More

CAN WE TOUGHEN GUN REGULATIONS…

Posted by on Jun 15, 2016 | 3 comments

CAN WE TOUGHEN GUN REGULATIONS…

CAN WE toughen gun regulations without threatening the 2nd Amendment rights of United States Citizens?

This article is dedicated to the 49 people who lost their lives to gun violence in Orlando, Florida in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, and to those who survived, but have received physical, mental and emotional scars, and to the families and friends of all these people.

For the sake of this article, the word “weapon” refers only to hand guns, shot guns and rifles, although weapons in general refers to a large range of items, such as knives, clubs, and bombs, to name only a few.

Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Is it possible to make Federal laws that will not infringe on the rights of legal gun owners?

Currently, machine guns cannot legally be purchased if manufactured after 1986. Felons are not allowed to own guns (with some state exceptions), and in many states, known victims of mental illness are not allowed to own guns. Therefore, it is possible to make common sense laws and regulations that still respect the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms. Most people think each state should make their own rules. As of now, we have a combination of state and federal regulations that cover gun usage and ownership. Some are on the fringes of irresponsible, while others are not seriously enforced.

A look at the Federal Regulations that have been enacted in the past 50 years.

1968 The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 is passed, which becomes the primary federal law regulating firearms. It prohibits all convicted felons, drug users and the mentally ill from buying guns; raises the age to purchase handguns from a federally licensed dealer to 21; and expands the licensing requirements to more gun dealers and requires more detailed record-keeping.

1986 Prompted by complaints that the federal government has been abusing its power to enforce gun laws, Congress passes the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. The law limits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from inspecting gun dealers more than once a year, with follow-up inspections allowed only if multiple violations are found. An amendment is also passed banning civilian ownership of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. Weapons made and registered before that date are not affected. The law specifically forbids the government from creating a national registry of gun ownership.

1993 The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Also called the Brady Bill) mandates background checks of gun buyers in order to prevent sales to people prohibited under the 1968 legislation. Checks would eventually occur through a new system, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), maintained by the FBI. But records of such checks cannot be preserved because federal law (1986) prohibits the creation of a national registry of gun ownership. Sales by unlicensed private sellers who are not engaged in gun dealing as a business are not subject to the checks under federal law, though checks are required by some states.

1994 The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 produces a 10-year federal ban on the manufacture of new semi-automatic assault weapons. The law specifies 19 weapons that have the features of assault rifles, including the AR-15, certain versions of the AK-47, the TEC-9, the MAC-10 and the Uzi, several of which had become the preferred weapon of violent drug gangs. The act also bans large-capacity ammunition magazines, limiting them to 10 rounds. The law does not apply to weapons that were already in legal possession, and there are easy ways to adapt new weapons to avoid the prohibitions.

2004 The 10-year sunset provision of the assault weapons ban runs its course, and the law is not renewed by Congress. Repeated efforts to renew the ban fail. – Washington Post, December 22, 2012

NOTE: Ref: Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, Amends the National Firearms Act to include within the definition of “machinegun” any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for use in converting a weapon to a machinegun. (Current law includes only a “combination of parts” within such definition.) https://www.congress.gov/bill/99th-congress/senate-bill/49

What is left of the Brady Bill?

Not much. In 2013, a plan to expand background checks failed. Fifty-four senators were for it, 46 were against — and it couldn’t pass without a 60-vote threshold. Only 56 senators voted yes on the Brady bill. The background checks bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), would have required checks on all commercial gun sales, [including gun shows,] and was a part of the big federal push on gun violence policy after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. –Washington Post, February 12, 2014

Now, for the purposes of this conversation, let’s compare buying and registering a vehicle to buying and registering a firearm.

  • We have to have a driver’s license to drive a car, a truck or even a motorcycle. If we want to drive a semi, we have to get a commercial license (CDL). We should have to have a license to be a gun owner (because like a car or truck, a gun used recklessly can be lethal.) NOTE: Some states do require a license to own a gun. Ex: Illinois.
  • If we own a car, it has to be registered and licensed. When we sell that car privately, we have to sign the back of the registration and put the name of the new owner on it, then send that into the MVD. Car dealers are required to provide the information on every vehicle they take in trade, and every vehicle they sell. When we buy a gun, we should have to register it. If we sell a gun, we should have to send in the paperwork for that gun, with the new purchaser’s name. Private sellers should be exempt from doing a background check.
  • If we get caught driving without a license, we have to pay a fine and get a license. If we don’t comply but continue to drive, we can end up in jail. We should be fined if found in possession of a firearm without a license to carry one, and be required to get a license within a limited time or relinquish the gun.
  • If we get caught driving an unregistered car we get fined and must license the vehicle. If we don’t, that vehicle can be taken away from us. If caught in possession of an unregistered firearm, we should have a limited time to get it registered. Once cited, if we don’t comply within the given time we should be compelled to surrender it.

 

Do these rules stop people from stealing a car? No, but they let the police know that it IS a stolen car, and the driver gets to go to jail for driving a stolen car. Then the car is returned to the owner. If they don’t want it back, it is either destroyed or sold properly. They also give us a better way to report that a car was stolen, and more hope of getting it back.

Does this stop people from driving negligently or driving under the influence, or breaking other rules of the road? No, but it helps the police find the people who don’t follow the rules. If the penalties are stiff enough it does make most people think a bit before doing something stupid. They learn to use a designated driver or call a cab, or slow down.

If an accident occurs, the licenses and registrations make it possible to hold the drivers responsible. Even though it is an “accident”, drivers are responsible and punished for injuring or taking another person’s life if their actions caused the accident. We can buy insurance to help with the expenses incurred if we’re in an accident. (Maybe an optional insurance should be available to gun owners?)

When we go to get a driver’s license, we have to pass a written test, and also a driving test. Shouldn’t a gun license require the licensee to know gun safety measures? (Written test) Safety tests could be given at certified gun ranges where there is an instructor who can issue a gun training certificate after training is completed, or verify that the person has sufficient training, (military, law enforcement, etc.) If this law was the standard throughout the United States, people who have a license in one state could transfer it if they move to a new state, just as they do with a vehicle.

The NRA offers good safety training for gun users of all ages. I am not a supporter of the NRA when it comes to politics, but do see the need for training. While looking at the NRA website, I read several comments from new gun owners who suggested that taking more than a beginner’s class should be considered before becoming a gun owner. Going to a range and being shown different types of guns and how they shoot would help a buyer decide which is best for him or her. There are also private gun ranges in most cities that offer a variety of classes in gun handling and safety instructions.

http://www.nrainstructors.org/?utm_source=bannerad&utm_medium=marketing&utm_campaign=firearms-training

Who should be allowed to have Military Weaponry? Common sense says; Military personnel, some law enforcement divisions, licensed gun ranges, licensed dealers and manufacturers and certain collectors. General citizenry should not have these kinds of equipment for personal use. They can’t be used for hunting, and they are overkill for self-defense. If a person is a gun collector, they should be licensed as such, and have every piece that they own licensed independently. One idea could be to form 2 levels of licensed collectors; Standard, or Level 1, which would include antiques, standard non-military pistols and rifles, and semi-automatic rifles used in hunting. (BB or pellet guns probably do not need to be included.) Level 2 would allow ownership of military style weapons.

What actually constitutes an “Assault” Weapon?

A true “assault” weapon refers to fully automatic. Fully automatic means when you pull the trigger, the gun fires until you release it or run out of ammunition. Examples would be Uzis or Machine guns. There are rifles with 2-shot and 3-shot (or more) trigger bursts, also considered automatic in some states. AK-47s can be either fully automatic or semi-automatic. When an uneducated mass-media says “assault rifle” one can generally assume they mean the AR-15 or the military M16, and similar weapons. The AR-15 is a fairly common hunting rifle and the preferred rifle for many coyote and small game hunters. Even with a 30 round clip, squeezing the trigger does not shoot 30 rounds. You can shoot just one shot per pull of the trigger as with any other hunting firearm. Semi-automatic means the shells are automatically ejected and the next round is chambered for firing. Most hunters fire only once or twice at any single target. In 2015, CNN announced that semi-automatic AK-47s will soon be manufactured in the U.S. as a way around the law that disallows the sale of the Kalashnikov AK-47 manufactured in Russia. More information regarding AK-47 rifles can be found at the following website, explaining California’s latest laws: https://www.revealnews.org/article/despite-ban-thousands-of-assault-weapons-remain-legal-in-california/

Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to make a few simple changes and turn a legal semi-automatic weapon into an assault-style weapon. There are Federal laws against certain configurations that would change any firearm into a fully automatic weapon, as noted at the beginning of this article, referencing the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

This is the Ruger10/22 with a traditional wood stock. This is actually a beginner’s rifle and is a great semi-auto rifle for training. It’s a very low power rifle.

 

 

 

 

The following picture shows the stock from a rifle similar to the first picture with all of the parts removed, the parts which were removed from the original rifle, the tools needed to take it down like this and put it back together, Instructions for changing the stock and the same rifle in a thumb-hole stock. Thumb-hole stocks are sometimes listed as something which would make a weapon an “assault rifle”. The stock has a hole in it for your thumb to go through which gives you a better grip and more control of the weapon. It has also had a scope added to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this next picture, the rifle has been modified to include an adjustable military style composite stock, and a larger capacity magazine has been added to the rifle. This is still exactly the same rifle. It just does not need to be reloaded as often. This stock is adjustable for length and has a pistol grip. Both of these are among the things which are used to classify a rifle as an “assault rifle”, however, this is not a fully automatic firearm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shotguns are not generally considered assault weapons. Modifications can change that status, however.

 

The most common shotgun is the 12ga (gauge), which has a considerable kick. With the right load (ammo) it can take any North American game, can be used for home defense and for target shooting. Shotguns are often used to shoot disks thrown through the air or rolled along the ground to simulate birds and small game. Common competitions include Skeet, Trap and Sporting Clays. Contrary to popular belief, (and the pictures I have here) all shotguns are not double-barreled.

Perhaps a mention of ammunition might be in order. Putting the wrong ammunition in a firearm can lead to devastating injury, or even death, to the user. Certain types of ammunition are more lethal than others. Hollow-points, for instance, cause great internal damage and would probably be unsatisfactory for hunting, as they can render the meat useless, however as a self-defense tool, they might stop someone faster.

Below is a helpful chart showing what type of ammunition is best used for the type of game being hunted, and therefore might help to determine which kind of gun would be best for the new buyer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It might be a reasonable plan to require gun owners to obtain a “gun training” certificate or card, as mentioned earlier, which would also be required to purchase ammunition. That could thwart attempts to obtain ammo for stolen guns.

Pistols are not usually considered assault weapons or hunting weapons. (Again, modifications can alter that status.) There are hundreds of styles of handguns, some of the most common being .22 wheel (or cylinder) pistols, Glock 9mm semi-automatics, and Derringers. They can be used for hunting squirrels, rabbits, and other small game, but generally hunters prefer a rifle for better accuracy. Most handguns are used for personal protection or sporting/target practice. There are several types of ammunition that can be adapted to handguns, and even the guns themselves can be modified to some degree, but with too much enrichment, they become unwieldy and awkward to carry. There are different kinds of permits in different states. Some states allow concealed-carry, where others only allow open-carry. For open-carry, handguns can be holstered as long as the holster and gun are visible.

One of the biggest problems we see today are toy guns that look almost identical to a real handgun. Children are – by nature – inquisitive, impulsive, and immature. When they see something that looks like a toy, their first response is to pick it up and play with it. It DOES NOT MATTER how often they have been told not to touch a gun. Children accidentally shoot themselves, other people, or are accidentally shot by others, with far too much frequency. Publicly reported incidents involving children 14 and under killed in an unintentional shootings in the twelve months following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School were used in one study. Reports of unintentional shooting deaths were obtained from subscription-based news databases and publicly available news reports. Over half involved a loaded handgun that was unsecured. 24% involved loaded, unsecured rifles. 19% were unidentified.

‘Parents underestimate the extent to which their children know where their household guns are stored and the frequency with which children handle household guns unsupervised. A Harvard survey of children in gun-owning households found that more than 70 percent of children under age 10 knew where their parents stored their guns — even when they were hidden — and 36 percent of the children reported handling the weapons. Thirty-nine percent of parents who thought their child was unaware of the location of the household’s gun were contradicted by their children, and one of every five parents who believed their child had not handled the gun was mistaken.’ See the following website to read the entire article: http://everytownresearch.org/reports/innocents_lost/#foot_note_anchor_10

This information goes to the point that gun safety classes should be mandatory before a gun purchase can be completed. Safety classes teach the importance of keeping guns unloaded and locked away, especially if there are other people in the household. They also teach safe handling of weapons, and how to maintain them so that they work efficiently, with less chance of malfunction. Firearm safety is often taught with non-working firearms, and never with loaded firearms.

Argument: Government wants registration so they can take guns away.

Have guns ever been illegally seized by law enforcement in the United States? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes,” though it has been infrequent and under extreme circumstances for the most part. Looking back over the last 30 years or so, here are a few examples.

Chicago Not strictly an incident of gun confiscation abuse – in 2015, confiscation of illegal guns brought in 3,470 firearms in 6 months. Although Illinois has strict gun laws, surrounding states don’t require background checks or registration, and many guns show up in Chicago from out of state. Guns will be confiscated when found to be unregistered. http://www.thetrace.org/2015/07/chicago-police-have-been-seizing-an-illegal-gun-every-75-minutes-this-year/ .

California didn’t originally include the SKS (a Soviet semi-automatic carbine) in a registration law of 1989, then deciding after the registration period was closed that they needed to be registered, declared a second ‘grace period’ for registration. Several years later, they decided that the SKSs registered during the grace period were illegal because the grace period was illegal. Some cities and counties sent law enforcement to the listed addresses demanding surrender of the firearm. Because there was the legal option of removing the gun from the state of CA, and these officers had no warrants, smart gun owners turned them away with the claim ‘I gave it to a relative in Oregon (or whatever)’ but many were seized with no compensation. Cities and counties later on offered compensation for anyone who had a receipt, but the police weren’t giving out receipts, only a few people who demanded them had them.
At the time, the SKS was the most common weapon in the hands of Korean Shop Owners who used them to defend themselves and their businesses when the LA riots happened. https://oag.ca.gov/firearms/zastava

Also in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005: Police went house-to-house, confiscating any gun they could find, supposedly to lower the risk for rescuers, and to keep desperate people from robbing each other. http://reason.com/archives/2005/09/10/defenseless-on-the-bayou

These and other examples warn us that wording must be very clear in any new legislation. If we’re to ask gun manufacturers, gun enthusiasts and the NRA to accept a more aligned version of gun regulations, then it’s going to be necessary to include complete protection from any violation of the rights provided to all citizens by the Second Amendment.

One step in that direction would be to require that a receipt be given for any licensed gun that is confiscated for any reason, (excluding caches of guns recovered from gun runners or drug houses,) and add that requirement to any new bill written regarding gun regulations.

 

To return to the analogy of motorized vehicle licensing and registration; the first automobile license plate was issued in 1903 in Massachusetts. By the 1920s, all states had some form of vehicle registration. Driver’s licenses took a bit longer. It wasn’t until 1959 that the last state (N. Dakota) begin requiring a Driver’s License. Speed limits are set by states and municipalities, with one exception. From 1987 through December 8, 1995, a federal law banned speed limits above 65 MPH nationwide.

From Wikipedia:

The safety standards for motorized vehicles are set by federal regulations as determined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. In 1966, passage of the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act authorized the federal government to set and regulate standards for motor vehicles and highways, a mechanism necessary for effective prevention [of injuries and deaths.]. The Highway Safety Act resulted in the national adoption of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, while the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act led to the national adoption of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Many changes in both vehicle and highway design followed this mandate. Vehicles (agent of injury) were built with new safety features, including head rests, energy-absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields, and safety belts. Roads (environment) were improved by better delineation of curves (edge and center line stripes and reflectors), use of breakaway sign and utility poles, improved illumination, addition of barriers separating oncoming traffic lanes, and guardrails. The results were rapid. By 1970, motor-vehicle-related death rates were decreasing by both the public health measure (deaths per 100,000 population) and the traffic safety indicator (deaths per VMT – Vehicle miles traveled).

Changes in driver and passenger (host) behavior also have reduced motor-vehicle crashes and injuries. Enactment and enforcement of traffic safety laws, reinforced by public education, have led to safer behavior choices. Examples include enforcement of laws against driving while intoxicated (DWI) and underage drinking, and enforcement of seat belt, child safety seat, and motorcycle helmet use laws. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Traffic_and_Motor_Vehicle_Safety_Act

Despite registration of motor vehicles, there are no known cases of government confiscation of legally registered vehicles, except in felony actions such as the arrest of drug dealers, human smugglers, etc., where all possessions are held, and upon conviction, are sold at public auctions.

GunViolence.org reports that 53 people have died in mass shooting incidents in the first 100 days of 2016. In addition, ABC reported that 17 police officers have been shot and killed nationally during the same time period. These numbers do not reflect accidental shootings, domestic violence killings, suicides, or shootings involving less than 4 people. 33,000 people in the United States are killed annually by guns. Another 100,000+ a year sustain gunshot wounds. These often lead to life-altering injuries. It’s time to start looking at a realistic solution to shut down the violence, while still protecting our constitutional rights.

If the Federal Government, through Congress, would set fair and reasonable regulations as guidelines for the states, thousands of lives could be saved every year, just as fair and reasonable laws set for motor vehicles, highways, and implementation of those laws have done.

 

 

 

 

Read More