The images were shocking, sad, frustrating, and heartbreaking. Once again an American city and innocent civilians were the target of a lunatic, or a group of lunatics. Thus far, three have died, including an eight year old child, over 150 have been treated at local hospitals, with more than a dozen people still in critical condition, and at least a dozen more recovering from injuries that required limb amputation.
As usual in a scenario like this, the information was coming fast and furious, but not always accurate. The first bomb exploded at 2:50 pm eastern time and was located just yards from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. About 15 seconds later, a second device exploded less than a block from the first one. Reports of other devices found and detonated turned out to be incorrect, as did reports that cell phone service had been suspended due to fear of remote detonation.
Sequential explosions of this nature are usually carried out to inflict the most damage in this type of environment. The first bomb explodes, people begin to panic and run either left or right. As they run away from bomb number one, they run right into bomb number two. In this case, thankfully, the bomb went off too early and the massive crowd fleeing the first explosion hadn’t reached that location completely.
No terror organization has claimed responsibility or even made mention of it thus far, which would lead you to believe that while this perpetrator may be a sympathizer to terrorist factions, the action was more than likely not directly associated with a group like Al Qaeda.
The devices themselves appear to have been contained in six liter pressure cookers, then packed in black duffel bags, according to a source close to the investigation. The devices appear to have been loaded with things like nails, pellets, and other small pieces of metal designed to inflict serious damage upon detonation. These devices were not designed to bring a building down, they were designed to kill or seriously injure as many people as possible.
As always in a tragedy like this, heroes emerge. Runners who had just completed the marathon rushing to local hospitals to give blood, military personnel on site to celebrate the Marathon as part of the city’s Patriot Day celebration rushed in to remove debris and assist the wounded, and hospital and paramedical staff rushing to the scene with wheelchairs to try and get people to help as fast as possible.
And that brings us to what NBC’s Brian Williams referred to as “the silver lining” of this tragedy. The first bomb exploded right by the medical tent, set up to treat runners who completed the 26.2 mile run for dehydration or exhaustion. Instead it became a triage center, treating lesser wounds and routing more serious wounds to ambulances and staff waiting to transport them to the area hospitals, which had been notified and had begun their preparations for the mass casualty scenario that all major medical centers train and prepare for.
And it was in mentioning the hospitals that Williams brought up an interesting dichotomy. Williams indicated that the Boston area hospitals were some of the finest in the nation, attracting people from across the nation for specialized procedures and complicated surgical treatment. This is interesting because Massachusetts is the only state in the nation employing the Universal Health Care concept that was the original inspiration behind the original proposal that, after countless concessions and compromises, became the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.
But we have been told in countless speeches that universal healthcare means substandard care, care rationing, and a compromise of what we know now as the best healthcare in the world. How is it possible that in the only state in the nation that utilizes the concept of universal healthcare we would find the best hospitals in the nation?
Well, we first have to ask if Williams was accurate in his assessment.
Massachusetts General Hospital was the primary recipient of patients yesterday. According toU.S.News and World Report’s ranking of the top hospitals in the United States by category (such as cancer, orthopedics, pulmonary, etc), Massachusetts General is ranked in the top five of virtually every category. Brigham and Women’s Hospital was another one that received patients and they also ranked in the top 10 in many of the same categories.
So this ranks these hospitals with nationally recognized names like Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, Duke Medical Center in North Carolina, and UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. The difference is that all of these other hospitals reside in states that still cling to the profit first model of medical coverage.
As people who look to facts before rhetoric have argued all along, universal healthcare does not mean substandard healthcare, it simply means that everyone is covered and they don’t have to worry about an illness bankrupting them. So another “silver lining”, if you can find one, is that people injured who reside in Massachusetts can focus on getting well instead of worrying if they will go bankrupt from the medical bills handed to them at the hands of a madman.
We all knew this was coming. As 2014 nears, and the bulk of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is implemented, there will be story after story of how Obamacare is going to either take away your current insurance or drive your rates up.
The most recent example occurred was when it was announced that insurance premiums in some states could rise as much as 80% for many people. This story has been carried by pretty much every news outlet, and was backed up by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who indicated that insurance premiums could rise for younger, healthier people.
As expected, this was immediately blamed on Obamacare itself, with the implication that not only would this legislation increase the national debt, but now it was clear it would increase cost to the individuals as well. The minor detail they fail to point out is that the insurance companies are raising the rates because the Affordable Care Act prevents them from gouging the oldest and sickest of our population. If they can’t gouge them, the next best thing is to gouge the rest of us.
Insurance companies negotiated a trade off in the Affordable Care Act. They would agree to waive the pre-existing condition exclusion, would agree to allow dependents to stay on the coverage of their parents until the age of 26, would eliminate lifetime limits on coverage, would agree to spending 80% of all premium cost on care, agreed to cover, with no out of pocket cost, preventative care doctor visits and all routine screenings, and would agree not to gouge the oldest and sickest on premium cost.
In exchange for these concessions, they will reap the benefits of the individual mandate and the employer mandate, requiring that all citizens be covered in some way by one of the insurance companies.
But in typical greed driven fashion, this winning negotiation wasn’t enough for the insurance companies. The loopholes left in the legislation have allowed the insurance companies to offset their “compromises” at the expense of the general population while they will continue to await the windfall of new customers driven to them by a law that has done lots of good things, but failed completely to address the true root of the continuous rise in healthcare costs, the fact that healthcare is a for profit business, not a for outcomes business.
The Society of Actuaries, who released the study that has prompted this latest round of attacks on the Affordable Care Act, also indicated that their study has indicated that insurance companies will have to pay up to 32% more in claims based on the “compromises” I indicated above.
But once again, they don’t note that insurance company profits increased yet again in 2012. In fact, when you look at the last two years, Humana has seen an increase in profits of over 29%, Coventry has seen an increase in profits of more than 23%, and Aetna has seen an increase of profits of more than 12%. The combined profit of these 3 companies in 2012 was nearly $4 billion. United Health Care saw profits of over $5 billion in 2012 alone, but it was a meager increase of 11% over that of 2010.
Four companies, $9 billion in profits in a business that only has one mechanism for profit, take in as much money as possible and pay out as little as possible. A 32% increase in claim costs would mean that these four companies would only see profits of approximately $6.12 billion without raising rates. But you can be 100% certain that’s not going to happen, since reduced profits means reduced dividends to shareholders, which ends up costing multimillionaire insurance company CEOs their posh jobs.
Somehow though, this is all the fault of legislation that on the surface was intended to try and cover people who were being left out, prevent the exploitation of those who just happened to have a chronic illness or heaven forbid are old. There are plenty of reasons to take issue with the Affordable Care Act, but to blame it for insurance companies shifting how they exploit and who they exploit is clearly not one of those reasons.
After months of grandstanding and posturing, the dreaded sequestration has arrived today with all the fanfare of a Suzanne Somers book signing.
For those who may not be specifically familiar with what the sequestration is, we have to rewind the calendar back to the summer of 2011. All of the focus was on the debt ceiling and whether or not we would approve raising the debt ceiling, which essentially would allow the nation to continue to pay its bills. Tea Party Republicans had prepared for this battle after they took control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 2010. The only way they would even consider allowing the debt ceiling to be raised was to have an equal amount of spending cuts.
In their primitive thinking, nothing bolsters economic growth like more people unemployed, which exactly what happens when you cut a billion dollars of government programs.
In an attempt to establish reasonable cuts, but not have them all put into place immediately, an alternative was suggested. A committee was formed to establish significant spending cuts across the board, with the exception of a handful of programs deemed too vital to cut, such as food stamps. These cuts would go into effect on January 1st, 2013 if the two sides could not come together before then with a comparable debt reduction plan.
The cuts were heavy in defense, which would theoretically prompt the war hawk GOP to want to come to the table. The cuts also impacted education, and welfare programs, which would theoretically push the Democrats to the table.
When it was clear that neither side was ready to negotiate like normal adults, the sequestration was given a two month extension, setting the new deadline at March 1st, 2013.
As with most plans with good intentions in Washington these days, sequestration fell on deaf ears in a Congress so polarized that there would be a filibuster if either party proposed a bill formally recognizing the sky is blue.
The White House proposed an alternative to the sequestration, a plan that still involved cuts, but also addressed increasing revenue through the closing of tax loopholes the allow the wealthiest Americans to avoid equitable responsibility in taxation.
Although the GOP used the closure of tax loopholes as their answer to the need for tax fairness in the last presidential campaign, they were now all too quick to indicate that any increase in revenue was simply off the table in a negotiation.
And so we get $85.4 billion in spending cuts this year. How do those cuts breakdown you ask?
- $42.7 billion in defense cuts
- $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts
- $9.9 billion in Medicare cuts
- $4 billion is misc. mandatory cuts
So that is the large scale breakdown. But where do those cuts come from specifically? Here’s the breakdown provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) via the Washington Post
- Aircraft purchases by the Air Force and Navy are cut by $3.5 billion.
- Military operations across the services are cut by about $13.5 billion.
- Military research is cut by $6.3 billion.
- The National Institutes of Health get cut by $1.6 billion.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are cut by about $323 million.
- Border security is cut by about $581 million.
- Immigration enforcement is cut by about $323 million.
- Airport security is cut by about $323 million.
- Head Start gets cut by $406 million, kicking 70,000 kids out of the program.
- FEMA’s disaster relief budget is cut by $375 million.
- Public housing support is cut by about $1.94 billion.
- The FDA is cut by $206 million.
- NASA gets cut by $970 million.
- Special education is cut by $840 million.
- The Energy Department’s program for securing our nukes is cut by $650 million.
- The National Science Foundation gets cut by about $388 million.
- The FBI gets cut by $480 million.
- The federal prison system gets cut by $355 million.
- State Department diplomatic functions are cut by $650 million.
- Global health programs are cut by $433 million; the Millenium Challenge Corp. sees a $46 million cut, and USAID a cut of about $291 million.
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is cut by $55 million.
- The SEC is cut by $75.6 million.
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is cut by $2.6 million.
- The Library of Congress is cut by $31 million.
- The Patent and Trademark office is cut by $156 million.
These represent $35.3 billion in cuts, or 41% of the total cuts. For a total breakdown by department and by type of cut, you can read the complete report by clicking here.
You can ask Democrats or Republicans, and anyone who is paying attention will tell you there is room for cutting in most government programs. Duplication of services, redundancies in layers of management, ineffective purchasing, etc. etc.are all impacting government agencies the same way the have impacted every major corporation I have ever worked for.
The sequestration will cut over $1 trillion from the budget over the next decade if left alone. And if were as simple as saying that we found a trillion dollars that we could use to pay down the debt, that would be great, but these cuts, and the ones to follow in the next decade, will mean jobs lost, people added to the unemployment rolls, and more people dependent on government programs that are being cut.
How many jobs you ask? Another wonderful question. Estimates vary from 360,000 to over 2 million depending on which report you look at.
Lost jobs of this volume means a sharp decrease in consumer spending, which will result in economic contraction in the private sector as well, which will result in further job losses.
The good people at The Washington Post presented another great display showing specific job losses. You can sort by department, by state, or both. Just click here.
The OMB report for the 2013 sequestration indicates the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) will have to trim $87 million in salaries from the Food Safety and Inspection Department. A friend of mine asked me this afternoon if I had stocked up on some meat before we reduce the number of people making sure its safe for consumption. An interesting question actually.
The argument I have made throughout this debate was that while cuts could absolutely be made in government spending, significant cuts at that, it is only intelligent to stabilize the economy first. Make cuts that impact non salary related costs, but don’t add to the unemployment at a time when we are still teetering on chaos.
You could also review every government agency and cut any spending on goods and services not made in the United States. While some would argue this would increase costs, the impact on jobs and the overall economy would offset those increases, and the message it would send would be important.
The bottom line to all of this is that sequestration is the wrong move at the wrong time. Both sides agree, but both are also willing to allow it to gain what they hope will be political capital with the people of the nation.
The GOP can boast of a trillion in cuts with no more tax increase to those unfortunate wealthy while pointing the finger at the President for drastic defense cuts that “may leave us vulnerable” to some mystery attack by the next boogeyman.
Democrats can show how they presented a method to cut more from the deficit than sequestration, and reduced the cuts dramatically by wanting to do what the GOP suggested in the campaign, close tax loopholes so that the wealthy pay an appropriate percentage of the tax burden. This idea of proportionate taxation was simply unacceptable to the GOP, so instead we will lose at least an estimated 360,000 jobs.
Each side will once again be able to “save face” with their base while doing absolutely nothing to help the American people as a whole. Sounds like business as usual.
Gun control is one of those topics that brings out the most amusing debates, but not always the most relevant or the most accurate.
One of the big aspects of the plan laid out by President Obama is to “close the loophole” on gun show sales and background checks. If you take the argument at face value, you would be led to believe that all sales at gun shows happen without background checks.
I was one of those who believed that, and I was wrong.
Today I spoke with a the surviving spouse of a client our company provided care for over the period of more than a year before she passed away. Her husband comes by our office now and then to chat, or to bring us bags of citrus and juice that he picks and juices himself. In talking with him, he is a WWII veteran who was in Okinawa when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
He was raised with guns, competed in shooting competitions, obviously utilizing those skills in the military, and then as an NRA certified instructor in multiple levels of gun use and safety. As it turns out, he is also a regular vendor at a local gun show.
Today our conversation turned to gun control and the controversy it has created on a national level.
We are both registered Independent, but he clearly leans more to the right while I lean about as far left as you can. He was raised around guns, bought and sold guns and at one time said he probably owned 30 or more. I have never owned a gun, will never own a gun, and have told people I would rather be shot dead in my home than own a gun. We both agreed it is simply a matter of personal preference, and agreed that we both completely respected the other’s right and preference.
This makes us fairly representative of the debate as a whole.
I told him that I felt that argument that limiting the sale of assault rifles infringes the Second Amendment to the Constitution was baseless and was said to promote fear, which we both agreed has been a huge boon for those who sell guns. He mentioned the increase in price of the weapons such as the controversial AR-15 and comparable assault rifles as customers flocked to by them before our President shut down gun sales altogether (which, of course, will never happen).
He asked what happens to all the “assault rifles and high capacity clips” once they are deemed illegal? Do they get bought back from the public at market value, or are people stuck with something that they cannot use or sell? This is a great question, but you don’t hear it discussed in what is supposed to be a reasoned debate.
I told him that the argument is skewed by those who try to use gun violence or gun ownership statistics in the United States, as the vast majority of both statistics pertain to handguns, and handguns are not and will never be part of the discussion.
He asked how they planned to require and enforce background checks on gun sales via the internet, the newspaper, or a garage sale? Yet another good question that nobody is discussing.
Then we came to the matter of gun shows and background checks. I told him that I was in complete agreement with the idea of closing the loophole that allowed people to go to a gun show and bypass the background check process. As I was laying out my case, he was shaking his head. ”That’s simply not true” he replied. He went on to inform me that licensed gun dealers do background checks even at gun shows, because the current laws require it. He explained that the people who don’t do background checks at gun shows are private individuals and that those people make up a scant percentage of the total sales at any given show, a number he believed was 1-3%.
So for every 1,000 guns sold at a gun show, 10-30 are being sold by private individuals without a background check? And this is what we are creating a national crying fit over?
He went on to tell me that private individuals at gun shows are only allowed to display and sell small amounts of actual guns before they are required to be a licensed dealer, which would then require them to do background checks.
I was caught off guard, as this was the first time I had been part of a discussion about gun control that dealt with truth, misconception and the actual issue at hand.
I told him that my frustration with the entire debate was that the actual concern was lost in the rhetoric. Legislation and Executive Order proposed are attempting to slow the seemingly growing trend of mass shootings. It is not about gun violence overall, but the mass shootings such as the one that took the precious lives of 20 grade school kids in Connecticut.
So if mass shootings are the target, then let’s look at the commonalities between recent mass shootings. When you do that, there is one issue that rises glaringly to the top, mental illness.
My friend reiterated the long held axiom of the gun rights people that if you lay a gun on a desk and leave it there, it will never kill anyone. He then added the comparison of blaming the car because a drunk driver drove into a crowd and killed 10 people.
And while these examples are a bit tired, it doesn’t diminish the fact that in the case of mass shootings, they are accurate.
The shooters at both Columbine and Sandy Hook used guns bought legally by responsible adults. No background check policies would have stopped these instances, and you could debate whether tying mental health issues to the background checks would have prevented the shooters in Aurora, Clackamas, Tucson, or Virginia Tech, so where does that leave us?
Mental health care and the access to it are where the real focus of this discussion should be.
All of these shooters had mental health issues, as evidenced by the fact that they took up arms and decided to kill innocent people, then themselves in all cases except Tucson and Aurora. Some had sought mental health help, while others had not, but the current system failed in all accounts. On this issue, we both agreed completely.
His frustration was that laws were being proposed while existing laws were not enforced strongly enough. He believed these new restrictions impacted honest citizens more than criminals. I argued we weren’t addressing criminals, as none of these shooters had criminal records. We were addressing people who suffered a mental break and decided to take many lives in their final moments.
I have stated before that I believe we need stronger enforcement of gun laws, including significantly stiffer penalties for anyone who commits any crime while in possession of a firearm. This debate is also not relevant to this situation, as the only surviving shooters, in Tucson and Aurora, will spend the rest of their lives in jail, if they are not sentenced to death. The penalty for their action is not even a remote thought process for these people, due to the mental illness that supersedes all rational though.
So while the nation has taken sides in a gun control debate that will prevent virtually nothing, the real cause behind the deaths of these innocent children will not be addressed.
Maybe when 100 or more kids are killed by someone who desperately needed mental health care we will stop talking about gun violence statistics and the Second Amendment and start looking for a way to prevent people from reaching a point where the slaughter of innocents before their suicide seems logical.
With President Obama and Vice president Biden set to hold an event Wednesday that is expected to involve their plan to address gun violence in the nation, at least 10 states have decided to pursue their own measures to try and reign in the problem.
New York, which already has the toughest gun control laws in the nation, is expected to pass a bill today that further tightens their laws on high capacity magazines, background checks and metal health reporting.
But are we really addressing the issue or just looking for a quick fix to score some political points?
At the heart of the issue for gun rights advocates and NRA members/supporters is the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which reads;
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.
So we can start our discussion right here if we want to. Mind you, it will be a bit of a diversion from the real issue, but since this is the number one defense of the gun rights advocates, I guess it makes sense.
The Second Amendment was adopted, as was the rest of the Bill of Rights, on December 15, 1791. Guns at that time, whether on the battlefield or on your private land, were single shot muzzle loaded rifles. In this environment, the only advantage the “State” could have would be in numbers of people, and I guess resources more more ammunition.
I have heard gun control advocates state that you don’t hunt deer with an AR-15. The AR-15 seems to be a popular semi-automatic assault weapon. This is a strange and irrelevant argument to make against people who are arguing their right to own an AR-15 rests in the Second Amendment, not in Field & Stream. Who cares what you would use to hunt deer?
I know the remake of the 1984 Patrick Swayze hit Red Dawn has people believing they could stand up as a resistance to a nation, ours or another, who decided to invade and control us, but let’s be honest, we can attack Baghdad from a Subway in Missouri with a laptop and an access code (forgive the slight exaggeration), so do we really believe that the Second Amendment truly protects a “Free State”?
Perhaps we should allow civilians to own laser guided missiles, F35 fighter planes, B2 Bombers and maybe even smaller, domestic versions of ICBMs in case a rogue President or Congress decides they want to take over our nation. In this event, we would have a “well regulated militia” to ensure that security.
Oh wait a minute, that said “well regulated militia”. But if the concern is a collapse of individual liberties and the very freedom we hold so dear, who could possibly be responsible for the regulating of this well regulated militia? The militia itself?
You see, we can beat up this Second Amendment debate forever and get nowhere. You could also argue that nowhere in that Amendment does it say that the right of the people to keep and bear any arms ever created or manufactured shall not be infringed. If we allowed every American to have their very own muzzle loading musket, we essentially would be holding true to the Amendment, would we not?
See how useless this debate is?
Sadly, however, this is the type of debate we are hearing on TV after recent mass shootings have put gun control back into the nation’s focus.
The next one is the gun control advocate breaking out his chart of gun crimes or gun related deaths in the United States compared to other nations. Yep, we rank right at the top, as we do in the list of guns per 100 people, with 88 guns owned per 100 people.
The theory in this pointless argument is that our obsession with guns is creating nearly 30,000 deaths every year, between homicides and suicides. But a vast majority of those gun deaths, homicide or suicide, are committed using a handgun. Now I know that one of the issues in this recent round of debates is the use of high capacity bullet magazines for semi-automatic pistols, but I don’t think you could frame that as an attack on handguns, even if you work for the NRA.
Handguns have not been the target of this debate, period. And they never should be. Nor should shotguns or rifles such as the Remington 700 or the Kimber 84M Montana, two of the most popular rifles in the nation.
In my opinion, most anything else is debatable. There are requirements for what kind of vehicles can be licensed for use on the streets versus off road, etc. These rules are in place for public safety. They are not excessive, quirky as they may be at times. Rules about what kinds of firearms can be bought by civilians is fair game for regulation as well, it is absolutely not a Second Amendment issue.
You are not going to stop the staggering numbers of gun crime in this country via gun control, period, so using the statistics is a facade that serves only to confuse the issue.
People are not rallying behind this issue because of gun crime overall. They are doing so because in this most recent mass shooting, a young man walked onto the campus of an elementary school and gunned down 20 kids in the first grade because he had a full set of screws loose.
When you are forced to bury 20 first grade children, not to diminish the other innocent victims, it gets people just a bit riled up, with good cause.
The job of our elected officials should be to channel that frustration to the proper avenues, instead of at everything that may have contributed to this tragedy.
Even gun rights advocates don’t want guns in the hands of people like the young man in Connecticut, the lunatic in Aurora, or the disturbed individual in the Oregon mall.
These are the types of people that theoretically the Second Amendment allows us to protect ourselves against.
There are those who propose we arm the teachers, add military to schools, etc., but even in those arguments would a teacher need an AR-15 strapped over their shoulder to limit the damage of a potential attacker? It could be argued effectively that a person well trained with a Smith & Wesson model 351PD, a good old fashioned six shooter, could take down a would be assailant in rather quick fashion.
One last argument the gun rights advocates make is changing the laws to restrict gun ownership only restricts lawful owners. Criminals don’t buy their guns at Walmart or Cabela’s, so laws don’t impact them.
Again, this argument is valid, but off point. I was encouraged while I did some research for this article that you cannot just go onto Craigslist and buy a gun, but it also showed how consistent regulation and enforcement can make it much more challenging for one of the people I mentioned before to find a place to buy an AR-15 without going through a process no more complicated than we go through to be able to drive a car.
And this brings us to what should be the focus of any new legislation if we really want to address this issue with more than hollow gestures.
Mental health concerns should be communicated immediately and cross checked for firearm registration. I know that at some time in your life you may need to talk to someone about the stresses that life has dealt you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I also believe that while you are working through those issues, you probably shouldn’t have any firearms in your house.
This is not to protect just the next class of first graders, but to protect you as well.
I believe that there should be absolutely no legal way to purchase a firearm in this country without being subjected to a background check. I can perform one at my desk in less than 5 minutes for $10. I believe you should be licensed to carry a firearm, and that license should be renewed annually, which would involve another background check.
I believe the background check should be integrated with a mental health database, but that data should only be accessible for the purchase of a firearm, not for employers, creditors, etc.
Whether you have a 30 round magazine, or you have to reload after every 7 shots, as has been passed now in New York, the end result will be much the same, tragedy. What we need to do is everything we can to make sure these individuals aren’t able to buy firearms at all. I understand, of course, that in the case of the Connecticut shooting, all of the laws in the world wouldn’t have helped, as his mom owned the guns used in the shooting.
The truth is there is no one quick solution. But there are arguments and debates that simply cloud an already complicated issue even further, and we shouldn’t waste our time on those arguments, but instead work together to look for any effective solutions to the seeming rise in mass shootings as a form of suicide note for the mentally disturbed.
As for the recognition and treatment of mental illness, well we’ll have to save that for another article…………
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was sure relieved to start the new year knowing we hadn’t fallen off of the “Fiscal Cliff”. For months we heard about what a complete catastrophe it would be if all of the various expiring benefits truly ended, how it would send us into yet another recession.
But our elected officials, who spent most of the time leading up to the final vote preening in front of any camera that they could find, in a typical last minute rally, saved us from going over that cliff. Both sides were less than thrilled with the result, and the fiscal battles were far from over, but the economy was protected and, more importantly, the middle class didn’t see their taxes go up.
Excuse me? Did you honestly just say that middle class taxes didn’t go up?
As most of you are aware by now, one of the provisions that was allowed to expire was the temporary payroll tax cut that was originally passed in 2001, then extended in 2012. It took the Social Security tax rate from 6.2% down to 4.2%, and we were all assured it would have no impact on future benefits, a promise I’m sure we all take seriously.
Well, that cut was allowed to expire on January 1st.
Thankfully though, we were able to negotiate the top level impact from the original proposal of all income over $250,000 to all income over $400,000. So after all the posturing and boasting by each party about how their plan best protects the middle class, in the end it was simply a load of crap to allow them to pass along extended benefits to those whose money buys more influence.
In the end, the neoliberal policies continue to assure that the plutocrats basking in this new gilded age will continue to have their golden calf while the real economy continues to slug along with marginal growth offset by either speculator driven increases in the cost of basic commodities or by price fixing by the monopolistic capitalist corporations that dictate the real winners and losers.
Again I will argue that in this latest bait and switch, it is the liberals who most disappoint. Republicans make absolutely no apologies for their steadfast protection of the wealthiest among us, continuing to espouse the time proven false nonsense that their benefit benefits all. But Democrats, and especially liberals, stand in front of the cameras and preach how they are there to fight for the working class, those who have seen their “portfolios” crumble under the weight of the grifters who gambled away our economy only to come to us with their hands out so they could start gambling again.
But time and time again, they “negotiate” to sell us out as well, cowering to the almighty campaign dollar. And somehow they emerge from their pathetic failures telling us how they protected us from the other side. What other side?
Republicans have stated very clearly that they are willing to both default on our debt and shut the government down, which will delay social security checks, payments to veterans and active military members, and bring to a grinding halt funding that allows states to run programs for the poor and disenfranchised. They will do this unless the Democrats bow once again, and allow them to propose arcane spending cuts, which will cut Social Security benefits, reduce welfare and Medicaid programs that are one of the few thing propping up the working poor in this country.
Their proposals will create an even wider income inequality, which history has clearly shown is a precursor to financial collapse. But do you hear these facts illustrated each night on the news? Either our elected officials are to incompetent to read and comprehend the lessons in global history, or they simply don’t care, assuming they will be on a yacht sailing toward the next country with the resources to exploit for their gain.
The wealth of a nation is not measured by how many billionaires it has, but how the lowest among them live and the opportunity they have to obtain quality education and gainful employment. That standard continues to go down, and it is simply not because the working poor are lazy, shiftless burdens on the rest of us. It is because they have found themselves competing not just against each other, but against policy and those elected to protect them from predators and provide the possibility of opportunity.
The Fiscal Cliff may have been averted, but the working class was once again nudged closer to the edge for the sake of the wealthy.
As a parent, the morning routine is pretty similar. Wake the kids, wake them again, get something in them for breakfast, get them ready for school (when they are older it’s keeping them moving), then rushing them off to school before we have to get off to work ourselves.
Days like today, those routines, among the many other mundane aspects of parenting, seem simply priceless.
For 20 families in the rural town of Newtown, Connecticut, they would give anything to be able to have one more day of those routines. A lone gunman, the son of a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, walked onto the school campus, started shooting in the administrative offices, then went into his mother’s classroom and killed everyone in the room.
The suspect is also dead, although it is as of the time of this article unknown as to how he died.
President Obama fought back tears as he gave what has become a far too familiar speech expressing sorrow, frustration, and anger at this unspeakable tragedy. He mentioned that these kids are our kids, and that we all grieve with the families of those who were killed.
Even though we have clearly seen in the past 15 years, with shootings in places like Littleton, Colorado, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and West Paducah, Kentucky, that violence can occur anywhere at any time for any reason, we still feel when we send our kids to school each day that we will see them later and hear about what they learned or what they heard from their friends.
But in fact 142 people were killed in school shootings between 2000 and 2009, and 33 have been killed this year, with 26 in today’s tragedy.
Psychologists indicate that when a person is suffering from the initial stages of schizophrenia or bi-polar disease, it is common for their anger to be directed at common institutions, parents, schools, jobs, people who are perceived to have used authority to somehow slight them in some way.
In today’s case, the shooter may have indeed targeted both a school and a parent.
Teachers and administrators are trained in lockdown procedures, classrooms now have locks on the doors, parents of young children are asked to send a kit of comfort items in the event of a prolonged lockdown that may stir anxiety in the children.
These are procedures like the old bomb drills during the peak of the communist scare. These are drills to protect our kids from people in our own neighborhoods, from random acts of violence by mentally and/or emotionally unstable people who have decided that suicide isn’t enough.
Once again, the gun control argument will rise out of this. Some will argue tighter restriction on gun ownership might have saved the lives of 20 children. Others will argue that armed teachers and/or administrators might have saved them as well. Still others will say that you should not be able to walk onto a school campus with firearms, suggesting metal detectors or security personnel screening all who enter.
All will make valid arguments for their positions, and against the others.
But guns have always been accessible, but school campuses haven’t been under assault like this in our parents’ lifetime, so why now? We’ve never considered teachers being armed before, so why now? Metal detectors to enter schools before the early 90′s were simply unheard of, so why now?
Last week a 22 year old gunman opened fire in an Oregon mall, and now today’s shooter is identified as a 20 year old. What is poisoning the mind of people so young to carry out such brutality on the innocent?
We all are, to give a short answer.
It’s easy to say that violent TV shows, movies, music and video games are teaching our kids that if you have been wronged, arm up and exact some revenge. For many movies, games and shows, it’s an accurate statement.
But the problem is that those things should never be a bigger influence on how our children think than we are. As parents of this generation, we have all heard our parents or grandparents talk about how soft we are on our kids, with sayings like “spare the rod, spoil the child”.
While that is an oversimplification, it’s not entirely untrue. It is as much our responsibility to raise a child who has a deep understanding of right and wrong, of rules and consequence as anything else we do. In fact, you could make an argument that without a fundamental understanding of these things, nothing else we teach them matters much in the long run.
Children need to be told “no”. They need to have responsibility to the household, to their education. They need to understand that rules are in place to maintain order, and when you break the rules, a loss of freedom is the result.
On a day like today, the prevailing sentiment is to grab your kids and hug them, telling them how much you love them, and that is awesome and completely the right response. But if we really want to express the depth of that love, we need to impress upon them the importance of right and wrong, of being a force for good and how the images and words they may hear in life express a different idea, that those are simply means of entertainment, thoughts expressed by an entertainer, not a mantra to live by.
If we continue to defer our influence to the fools on TLC and MTV, we should not be surprised when our kids hit the age of 20 and need antidepressants and therapy to handle issues we should have addressed as they grew up.
To those parents in Connecticut, there are no words I could write to ease the pain they feeling today. But I can vow to them that I will do everything in my power to make sure I raise positive humans that will help influence people around them in an attempt to help our society value life above all else.
We wake up and begin preparations to be with friends and family, to watch football and eat entirely too much food. It is Thanksgiving Day, a day when we take a moment to recognize all that we have to be thankful for at a time when we spend so much time lamenting what we don’t have.
But this Thanksgiving day also gives us reason to pause and remember one of the darkest days in the nation’s history, November 22nd, 1963. The day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
In 1963, the nation was being conditioned to fear the latest boogie man that threatened to rob each of their very freedom, Communism. We had conquered fascism and Adolf Hitler in World War II, the war to end all wars, and had experienced years of relative calm and peace.
But this new threat, Communism, brought with it new enemies abroad, namely the Soviet Union and Cuba, and domestic, a group which became anyone who questioned anything the government did in the name of protecting our nation against this new, growing threat.
In the nearly three years since his election in November 1960, President Kennedy was fighting off legislators, military personnel and media outlets who believed he was everything from soft on Communism to complicit with communists.
At every turn, the President resisted the calls to attack, to be the aggressor against this unholy foe.
There are countless theories on what actually happened on November 22, 1963. Whether you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or that a conspiracy was carried out across multiple organizations and government departments, the fact is that the President was killed either by a lone gunman who consorted with Communists or a group of conspirators who believe that the President was too soft or even cooperative with Communists, the fact is that the atmosphere of fear about Communism was in large part to blame.
It’s one thing to have people in a nation aware and informed, it’s another thing entirely to feed them misinformation in such a way that they fear something they literally know nothing about.
With Hitler, it was Fascism, with Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev, it was Communism, and with Osama Bin Laden, it was Terrorism. We have always found some oppressive force that the American people should fear above all. It helps shape policy, and before we started outsourcing most of our military hardware, it also shaped commerce.
But creating that level of fear, the type of fear that former Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded toward what he felt were communist infiltrators in the United States government and in society at large. During this time, if you dared to speak out publicly against anything the government was doing, you were labeled a “Communist Sympathizer”.
This type of fear based rhetoric makes people who are already a bit unstable, do incredibly unstable things. In fact, it is exactly this type of fear based rhetoric that actual terrorist organizations use to recruit the vulnerable to become extremists, people who are willing to strap a bomb to their chest and die for some mythological cause created by a madman lusting for power that doesn’t truly exist.
If Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, it is likely he did so because of the rhetoric regarding Communism that permeated society at that time. If one of the conspiracy theories is true, there is no question the assassination was carried out, in large part, because of the perceived threat that President Kennedy presented by not taking a militaristic, shoot first and ask questions later approach to Communism, both in Cuba and in Vietnam.
This Thanksgiving, 49 years after that horrible day, let’s remember that too often the result of irrational fear is tragedy. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, nobody wants to relive that week. This Thanksgiving, let’s agree to dial down the propaganda of fear and hatred and replace it with understanding and knowledge.
Be careful what you wish for.
This is a message that should be clearly given to residents in 40 states who have filed petitions on the White House website to secede from the union and form their own government.
The White House website has a page entitled We the People that allows citizens to create or sign on to petitions that cover a vast array of items. Once a petition garners 25,000 votes, it can be reviewed for consideration.
The petition filings comes in the wake of President Barack Obama defeating GOP nominee Mitt Romney in last week’s Presidential election to gain a second term. Many in the far right of the new version of the Republican Party see this election as the kiss of doom on the United States.
If they were allowed to secede, they would see first hand what the kiss of doom really looked like.
Even GOP governors of states like Texas, Alabama and Tennessee have indicated they have no plans to pursue secession, recognizing the economic catastrophe that would ensue. Like the nation as a whole, most states are struggling financially with a reduction in the tax base due to the current unemployment situation. They are able to stay afloat in great part due to federal assistance.
If Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has hinted at secession in the past, is indicating they want no part of this movement, it should be a clear sign what a horrible idea it would be.
If you simply looked at the fact that people from 40 states have created such petitions, it would seem that an overwhelming number of people want this to happen. But when you look at some of the states represented, such as New York, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Washington, you realize this is simply a small group of bitter conservatives trying to get some attention. These states would never secede from the Union, regardless of who was President. If they didn’t make serious attempts at it during the debacle that was the previous Administration, they’ll never do it.
Alabama and Tennessee, however, have already crossed the 25,000 signature threshold, which is why their Governors have specifically spoken up before consideration could even begin. Perhaps these residents will now attempt to secede from their states and become individually sovereign entities.
The narrow minded fools working on this pointless process are probably people who believe that we are headed toward a Socialistic Regime where they will be taxed at unreasonable levels to support those who refuse to work. What they fail to realize is that without the federal funding of numerous programs, individual states would have to raise their tax rates to maintain services to a level that would make them beg for readmission to the very Union they were so eager to get away from.
On the positive side, if the petitions that cross the signature threshold were considered, the money saved by the federal government would be an excellent step toward solving the debt crisis, and the consolidation of services on states not stupid enough to try and make it on their own would improve those services for everyone still participating.
Ultimately, this is just the latest “I don’t like you guys, so I’m taking my ball and going home” tantrum by a segment of the population that the election shows is shrinking, and, frankly, it can’t shrink fast enough.
It’s worth noting that counter petitions have been filed to have those who petitioned for secession stripped of their citizenship and exiled. While amusing, these petitions are equally as pointless, although they raise an interesting point.
Someone should remind these people that the same freedom that allows them to go on the White House website and create a petition to secede from the United States also allows them to pack up and move the hell out of this country. And if they’re not that committed to their belief that we’re all doomed, they should try to be part of an effective solution instead of an unnecessary, unrealistic nuisance at a time when we have more than enough of those.
“Character means doing the right thing when nobody is watching.”
This was the admonition of the head of the U.S. Central Command in Afghanistan to his troops on a regular basis. usually accompanied by the reminder that “Somebody’s always watching”.
It’s advice that CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus apparently was unable to follow himself.
Petraeus resigned as Director on Friday, citing an extramarital affair and “extremely poor judgment” in a letter to President Barack Obama. The scandal has taken on a life of its own since then, diverting much of the media attention and a fair amount of congressional attention away from the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.
Now, the scandal has expanded to Gen. John Allen, the man who succeeded Petraeus when he agreed to accept the nomination as CIA Director. The Pentagon has launched an investigation into a large quantity of e-mails between Allen and the Florida woman whose contact with the FBI launched the Petraeus case into the public eye.
Indeed it is e-mails that were the initiating factor in the unraveling scandal.
A family friend of Petraeus and his wife, Holly, contacted the FBI after receiving what she called “harassing and aggressive” e-mails from an anonymous source. Jill Kelly, 37, of Tampa, Florida, and her husband have known the general and his wife for years, and is a volunteer who organizes social events for military families in the Tampa area.
While the e-mails were not deemed to be threatening, the investigation resulted in finding e-mails between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, described as “intimate and sexually explicit”. Petraeus was approached about the matter, and tendered his resignation.
Then came Gen. Allen’s connection. Apparently Broadwell wasn’t the only person sending e-mails to Kelly. Unlike the “back off my man” nature of Broadwell’s e-mails, Allen’s were described as “flirtatious” and allegedly include shirtless photos of himself.
All of the parties involved are married, all interconnected, and now all under the microscope of the FBI, the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and worst of all, the media.
Adultery while in the military is a punishable offense, with a maximum sentence including dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for one year.
Petraeus contends the affair began and ended after his appointment as CIA Director, but at this point his word seems to have lost a bit of its credibility.
This has been touchy ground for the FBI, as they have essentially tapped into personal e-mail accounts, and, in such a public case, have to be careful to maintain the appearance of holding to some privacy guidelines. When the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell was uncovered, there were concerns of an intelligence compromise regarding military operations or information, which gave the agency a broader opening to look into e-mail accounts and other documents.
The FBI conducted a “consensual search” of Broadwell’s home last night, in which they emerged with boxes of files and other information.
A defense official has told NBC News that “there was no affair” in regards to Gen. Allen, adding that “the investigation will absolutely prove his innocence.”
Questions have also been raised as to who knew what about the affair and when they knew it. These questions have been raised in relation to last week’s Presidential election, won by President Obama. Was information intentionally withheld until after the election for fear of a negative impact on the vote? How long had the FBI suspected an inappropriate relationship between Petraeus and Broadwell? If investigations were ongoing, why was Congress not notified?
This provides nice fodder for the Anti-Obama conservatives, who already believe the President spends most of his free time looking for ways to directly subvert the Constitution.
Gen. Petraeus was expected to testify before Congress regarding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya as part of the investigation as to what we knew, when we knew it, and what we could have done better to prevent and/or protect our people from such an attack. It’s uncertain when that hearing will take place and if Gen. Petraeus will still testify.
What had been a simply brilliant career for Gen. Petraeus is all but gone now, and in a strange bit of irony, as the head of an agency specializing in incredibly covert operations across the globe is brought down by his inability to keep his personal infidelity covert.
In this case, it is easy to say the intelligence was most certainly flawed.