11 February 2014
Insurers Get A Free Ride
Some Questions, Thoughts and Observations for Today
What a charge to watch the women's ice hockey games! No body checking allowed! The game emphasizes skill rather than brute strength, although I would not like to cross any of the players. Another rules difference from professional hockey is that a goal during a power play does not erase the remaining time on a penalty. Today, the Japanese team was robbed of a goal and yet came on so strong in the first of the third period with a brilliant goal.
US versus Canada tomorrow. Must watch game!
Yesterday the House voted to prevent the EPA from enforcing its rules and regulations on federal lands. What arrogance! If the EPA cannot keep federal lands (meaning those that belong to all the people) then what agency will? The history of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is not exactly pristine in the trade offs between commercial interests and the people's interests. This is just another Republican attempt to emasculate the EPA, one of Nixon's primary achievements. It is also a Christian premise to be the stewards of God's Creation and I cannot see how this legislation furthers that objective. Talk about your cafeteria Christianity.
This weekend's tributes to the Beatles brought back so many good memories of the 1960s. Good memories are not numerous on my memory list for those years, and much of my discontent was fostered by the disconnect between what the "greatest generation" was doing to the country politically and in Indo-China. I wish the musical tribute had included "Imagine," a humanist charter of peace and community for the world. It seems we cannot achieve the ideals of this song, so I hope God will listen to our intentions to achieve John Lennon's words.
Are there still wars in Afghanistan? Syria? Egypt? Ukraine? South Sudan? Ethiopia and Somalia? One has to chance upon any television news concerning any conflict in the world as long as the Olympics are going on.
Of course, MSNBC continues to keep the world informed about Christie's bully politics in New Jersey. Seems ordinary to me. Remember Teddy Roosevelt? If you do, you're very old. The historians and biographers have shown us how this Bull Moose was admired for his aggressive personal style in politics and war.
Has no one realized a valid reason for listening to Chancellor Merkel's phone calls? We want to know what trade negotiation tactics and strategies the Germans are going to use when they negotiate trade agreements with the US and with other countries. Trade! The two significant, opaque trade agreements being negotiated today are the TPP in the Pacific Rim and an unnamed one with Europe both along the lines of NAFTA. Remember the promises of NAFTA for US commerce? See how NAFTA has ruined self-sufficient agriculture in the Americas. How many US jobs went south--because they went South. Now the US Trade Representative wants to fast-track these two new trade agreements through the Congress. There is more transparency in our Afghanistan plans. Watch the NSA continue to monitor trade issues through its new, mega-databases. The original intent for NSA was valid during the Cold War, but is industrial espionage worth the money spent in secret and the amount of un-monitored activity?
It appears another American citizen was killed by a drone (not sure if it was a CIA or DOD weapon) this week. When asked about the process for permitting this kind of murder, the official responded with an equally alarming statement.
First, there are several sources of information brought forward to identify an enemy combatant who is an American citizen. CIA, other informers, self-identification, and NSA-obtained phone data are analysed within the National Security Administration with conclusions forwarded with recommendation as to the accuracy of identity to the National Security Council members. The NSC, which included the Defense Department and CIA input, makes a recommendation "up the line" ultimately to the President for a decision.There is for me a serious omission in this vetting process: the NSA's stated database content. To allay privacy opponents within the US, the NSA has repeatedly said that it only records the telephone numbers of all conversations and never the content. How can a life-and-execution decision use such data without knowing the content of the phone call(s)? Suppose suspect X phones Pasha Pizza in downtown Tripoli. NSA considers Pasha Pizza to be an Al Qaeda front. The NSA, according to its stated protocol, identifies suspect X as contacting Al Qaeda and sets up suspect X's call as a probably enemy combatant communication. All they need is a pattern for pizza-loving X's calls to Pasha Pizza for X to be labeled an enemy, who happens to be a Brooklyn-born freelance reporter living in Libya.
Ignorant of the phone call content, NSA can be a party to this reporter's execution by drone, justified as his being an enemy combatant in contact with Al Qaeda.
Think this could never happen? How reliable a system do we have? Is the President forever immune from sanction or prosecution for ordering the assassination of an American citizen through this type of "due process?" Before answering "yes?" remember the Lettres de Cachet under the French kings that put people in the Bastille for indefinite periods of time without trial or recourse to appeals. Also, recall that the idea of appeals following an execution is rather moot.
This project is bad for the country. First, why do we need to risk our central plains watershed and aquifer so that Canadian oil companies can send their dirty, shale oil to Texan refineries? How many permanent jobs will remain after the pipeline is built? 50? No one states or estimates an exact answer. With the Texan refineries already operating at full capacity processing American Sweet Crude, where will this Keystone petroleum go? Onto the world market, that's where. Since this is Canadian product, the only income the US will gain are transport fees, distributor commissions, and shipping fees for the international trade. I wonder if the State Department asked if there would be a net increase in the risk of environmental damage due to the increased ship traffic for this exported Canadian oil. "No problem, we've all the protections in place," or words to that effect.
Why do we need this project? We have our own supply and let Canada pollute the rest of the world with its dirty crude. Why should we be complicit when the western Canadian provinces refuse to allow a pipeline across to the Pacific?
That's enough for today. Be sure to send your comments and to forward these snippets to your friends. Comments should be addressed to <firstname.lastname@example.org> or as listed below.
22 October 2013
The House of Tea Still Promulgates Hate
You had better be poor if you purchase subsidized health care insurance, or, or...well, you'd just better be poor. Like any of the public assistance programs intended to help more Americans be able to participate in our consumerist society's basic enjoyments such as eating well, staying healthy and remaining in housing during hard financial times, there is a means test for Obamacare.Republicans gained one small concession in the final package, as the bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure it is verifying the income of individuals purchasing subsidized health insurance on its marketplace exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. Under the 2010 law, exchanges opened for business on Oct. 1. Eighteen of the Senate’s most conservative Republican members voted against the measure.
How dare anyone think that as an American, I might feel entitled to have the best health care resources in my community and to have access to timely, appropriate care. Those dummies in the House, those 144 Republicans who voted against the compromise would let 40 million of their fellow citizens forgo access to a doctor when ill, to vaccines to prevent epidemics of diseases that can wipe out a race and to the medicines their taxes enabled.
If a woman who has raised a family, working hard managing the home and hearth reaches 66 years old and is living on the surviving spouse Social Security, her fixed monthly income might be $950. Out of that income she pays for her food, her rent and not much else. She and her kids had to sell their family home to pay off their father's debts, the outstanding mortgage and all that was left was the car her husband had paid cash for a couple of years back. Now, because of her financial squeeze, the woman applies for Medicaid so she can receive health care. She cannot afford a Medicare Advantage Plan due to the co-payments required for doctor's office visits and prescription medicines. Medicaid is her only hope for health insurance. Her application is denied. Shock! The reason given is that her automobile, her only personal property considered in applying, is worth more than $2,000 which is the upper limit of personal property value allowed. This is the evil of means testing by federal agencies. The VA does the same for veterans to access its health care system and that to me is equally galling.
Without the Affordable Care Act of 2010, this widow's plight is what the 144 Republicans in the House and 18 senators think is okay. That is un-American; it violates our national standards of caring for those in need. We did not ask Haitians if they had insurance or their own money when we sent medical supplies, physicians and nurses there to combat disease and to treat those who were injured in the earthquake. But 162 Congressional delegates decided that it was bad for the country to provide health care for citizens like this imaginary widow.
Restoring our sense of America is no longer a partisan issue. Shaming these politicians is the duty of every voter, of all leaders in the community and nation. They must not go unchallenged for the damage to our economy and to our sense of altruism toward each other.
And I still do not understand why they hate so much.
13 October 2013
Drips and Dribbles: How Congress Spends Money
13 August 2013
- Require OMB approval of any contract exceeding $50 million that is being sole-sourced or otherwise not subject to a competitive RFP process including a minimum of three proposals; This requirement must include the DOD, DOS, DOI, DHS, DHHS, DOE and most federal agencies such as the FAA, NOAA, NSA, CIA and NASA (with exceptions that Congress oversees with security requirements). OMB should report to Congress at least sem-annually on contracts reviewed and actions taken.
- Require full budget funding allocations for federal inspectors, auditors and other regulatory compliance functions; Enforcement of laws and regulations is pathetic. Congress passes a law to address a public need, yet the first victims of tight budget allocations usually eliminate the function whose job is to see whether the law is being followed.
- Require full funding of our Judicial System and the DOJ; For our system of justice to function as designed, to minimize lengthy trials, arbitrations or torts, we need more judges, more public defenders, more local prosecutors and better information systems to support them.
- Require public member appointments be filled for all Executive and Congressional Commissions before they are chartered. The absence of a public member enables the lobbyist-indebted Congressional or Executive department members to function irrespective of the opinions that a non-political appointee might offer.
Undermining a President-The Republican Party Agenda #1
See what the House is dealing with while the Senate is struggling with 554 amendments to to the Senate Bill on health care reform. According to Republicans and news media stars (who talk without breathing) President Obama should be held accountable for the following:
- ACORN irregularities that are alleged to involve importing young girls to be prostitutes, abusing its 501(c) 3 tax status to commit gross election violations such as same-day registrations;
- Irresponsibility with spending that have us with such a huge deficit, with such wasteful spending to bail out the economy that the dollar is in danger of losing its status as the world currency.
- Creating a health care system that will create generate such tax burdens that we will bankrupt the country.
- Anything else that people feel that is bad about our country since January 21, 2009.
Suddenly, the past eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration never existed. George Bush paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with money the Congress approved as supplemental funds outside of the official government budgets. Who gave Wall Street a trillion dollars to prevent a world-wide economic collapse, but did not have any accountability for how those federal funds should be used?President Obama brought those extra-budgetal items into the formal budget process. There is no mention of the huge budget surplus left to President Bush by President Clinton, especially with the Republicans having controlled Congress throughout the Clinton years and the White House for 12 of the prior two decades.
John Boehner in a CNN interview referred all questions about a Republican health care plan to the party's web site: gop.org. I looked at it and I am embarrassed for Republicans seeking a cogent, coherent health care plan alternative to the Democratic Party's plan moving through Congress. The web site makes me sad while reading comments in their Forums. Comments therein are dominated by some people who believe in a literal Constitution as the only legitimate way to evaluate the federal government's actions since 1787. Most predominant in the health care forum is the argument that the 10th amendment prohibits the federal government from regulating insurance providers. The prohibition derives from their view that the insurance industry is by governed and controlled by State law so therefore the insurance industry is by definition not interstate commerce. The majority of comments refer to most federal government programs as unconstitutional.
In response to one post asking whether we should leave people to die in the streets, another post said that "if you don't have health insurance- get a job." Nothing of substance was evident in any of the Forums I read, except for one written by a marine in Afghanistan. Most of his comments were ignored or dismissed as unrealistic, too much government and not worth doing. George W. Bush did not get much mention except that he was a liberal and undisciplined in his spending.
I could not find anything like the information Republican House leader Boehner asserted was there to read nor was there anything else worth reading. I did find remarkable that they had a list of Republican Accomplishments and a list of Republican Heros. Most of the accomplishments occurred during Reconstruction after the Civil War or prior to World War I. Most predominant were those Republicans who were African-Americans, mostly during Reconstruction in the South, sponsors of anti-KKK legislation, Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights legislation. Weirdly slanted commentaries of these hallmark achievements as due to Republicans and were accompanied by biographical material about an African-American legislator elected during Reconstruction while Grant was President. One would conclude, according to this line of thinking, that the entire Civil Rights Movement following World War II was unnecessary. Who can swallow that?
Their propaganda is pathetic.
One reason for 'doctor bashing' is the process by which patients get access to a physician, however caring the physician may be. A patient has to establish his or her financial ability to pay for access, so financial stress can produce a negative reaction in the caller or at the registration desk. Second, the patient's financial resources, i.e. insurance coverage, must meet the requirements policed at the check-in window. Third, an empathetic, dedicated physician often cannot limit patient personal access to the time slot established by the practice or HMO, so patients may have to wait over 30 minutes-often more- for a 10-15 minute appointment. Patient waiting areas are not healthy places because no one knows what reasons for appointments the other occupants have. The lack of infectious disease controls in private practices and in most HMO registration, waiting and pharmacy facilities is appalling and unregulated by the UBC (Uniform Building Code) or accrediting agencies. Is it little wonder that the patient may not feel nurtured in the physician's office?
Dr. Rotering's supportive opinion piece most likely describes the best intentions of practicing physicians today. Of that I have no doubt. Patient-centered care, however, is less about the physician's expertise, attitude and empathy than it is about the environment within which the physician must practice. The members of the LinkedIn.com group are mostly health care professionals, not patients. Their perspective tends to focus on what to do for patients rather than to start from the patient's perspective of the patient expectations of them.
Patient-centered care is about nursing, about office staff and about financing of health care more than it is about the physician per se. Such a care model must include an awareness of the patient's time constraints, too. Working, single parents with an ill infant or child, a worker seeking access for a non-work related illness or injury, patients seeking psychological and other behavior/mood professionals and any patient without a working knowledge of English or with any cognitive impairment (such as with age) have not been the starting points for designing a patient-oriented care practice today.
The physician is the last person to encounter such patients and I believe that is a 180-degrees wrong design for health care. Imagine how differently our system might be if patients met first with the physician. The physician's ability to diagnose and to establish treatment modalities would determine the steps taken by the clinic or office staff on behalf of the patient as prescribed by the physician. Perhaps certain tests would be needed or medications prescribed for follow-up with the patient. If so, the tests might be chosen more specifically to the patient's state of health and initial medications might address symptoms while an underlying illness is being diagnosed. As I see it, the only reason physicians require testing results before seeing a patient is so that the physician can see more patients per shift. That is not patient-centered care. That is practice-centered care.
Physicians are bashed these days because the public sees the profession as having become greedy (remember, these are perceptions not reality); in charge of the entire health care system-other than the insurers-and, therefore, as able to make any changes physicians want in the delivery of health care. Yes, bashing for these reasons is not only unfair to individual physicians, it is also unfair to other patients' perceptions of their health care options. Patients requiring particularly expensive interventions often find themselves waiting for an insurance review of their physician's request for covering the procedure and patients may find themselves calling their insurer to speed up the approval process.
Certainly, insurers want to minimize patient care costs and insurers occasionally may prevent an unnecessary procedure. The role of private health care insurance providers, however, is to support the patient's ability to pay for services, not to function as a professional practice review board. Further, private insurers establish their reimbursement rules according to those promulgated by the public insurers. Public insurers like Medicare and Medicaid, though, seem to limit a physician's professional discretion through enforcement of the DCM-10 coding mechanism of reimbursement for services rendered. I think this effort to control health care costs by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) inhibits innovation in diagnosis and treatments and, rather, encourage physicians to find the best ways to help their patients get well and remain well.
And, part of this issue lies with each and every physician who tolerates sub-standard professional care by other physicians, who will not police their own ranks of bad actors, who subsume their medical ethics below financial support from third parties like pharmaceutical suppliers, and who refuse to criticize the judgment or actions of other physicians in formal arbitration and courts. If local and state medical boards were more pro-active in correcting unprofessional or inadequate performance by those they have licensed and granted membership to their medical societies, then I believe the public image of physicians would improve by a great amount. Physicians also need to know how their staff treat the patients.
The final part of patient-based health care models is the heretofore unrecognized fact that in health care, the primary stakeholder is the patient. Using a football analogy, the patient hires the team, the primary physician can be the general manager, head coach or quarterback. Consulting physicians or temporarily-designated attending physicians are the coaches. Nurses are the teams, often the special teams needed to make the quarterback successful and to make up for an embattled quarterback. I hope this concept is clearer using the analogy. The patient is the owner is patient centered care. QED
18 July 2013
What if No One Cares What You Think?
- President Bush broke at least one federal law [FISA 1978] several times.
- Vice President Cheney and other heads of federal departments ignore Congressional subpoenas.
- Senator Barak Obama votes amnesty for telecom companies who broke the 1978 FISA law.
- Nancy Pelosi takes impeachment "off the table."
- Congress gives Bush another $162 billion for continuing the Iraqi occupation.
- Four of the nine Associate Justices of the Supreme Court are against restoring Habeus corpus to Constitutional rights accorded to non-citizens within U. S. jurisdictional authority.
- Members of the Republican Party, in control of Congress from 1984 to 2006, chide every proposal to change spending priorities within the Federal Budget as deficit spending, as basis for new taxes.
- President Obama continues operating Guantanamo.
- President Obama continues and expands the super-secret NSA data gathering on all electronic activity without oversight.
- President Obama assumed the authority to kill two American citizens without due process, legislative permission or judicial oversight.
- President Obama has expanded the use of unmanned drones in warfare and for surveillance by intelligence agencies without sufficient Congressional or Judicial oversight and control.
I am feeling so alienated from the sources of power in this country that I wonder if part of my wanting to emigrate is a desire to remain ignorant of the actions of government, hypocritical politicians, speculations by public media due to unfamiliarity with the language and to having no personal role in its formation and perpetuation.
When I think about these things, my brain speaks like Noam Chomsky's disheartened ramblings about 'truth' and 'ignorance' of the American populace about our social and political environment. Here is an interesting example: http://http://www.fixmacs.net/appleblog/2008/07/do-people-matter.html
If popular opinion thinks that illegal aliens are a major problem or, as Chomsky notes, voting procedures are paramount Constitutional disorders, then Big Commerce has won. 'Big Commerce' is the avatar for Western civilization. Big Commerce controls the economy, the social norms, the politics and the ethics of the United States and of those nations who aspire to imitate it. Anyone who differs with Big Commerce is an alien legal or not, so the public opinion poles that differ from Big Commerce's motivations and actions, by result, form an alien-ation. Which cartoon character is Big Commerce? Which one is Lex Luther and who is Spiderman? Perspective matters when making your choice. Insurgent/terrorist/patriot/freedom fighter/force for Good/force for Evil/criminal/morally innocent. I could go on demonstrating how one's perspective and willingness to consider alternative descriptions of the linguistic dichotomy of opposites, one sanctioned by Authority and the other representing anarchy or instability.
Have we become today's Roman Empire, after the Roman Republic succumbed to tyranny of the Emperor? Are we the American Empire, having offered up Constitutional powers to the President? The emperors who tried to restore the Republic were assassinated by their equivalent of Big Commerce. Public opinion and support was bought then; today shows the same methods at work.
How many cities think new sports stadiums (coliseums) will keep popular support for Big Commerce? How long are the compliance deadlines written into law by Congress so not to offend Big Commerce? How many military operations protect existing and anticipated resources of Big Commerce?
Raise your hand if you have a plan to regenerate the republic.
The Approaching Perfect Storm in Agriculture and Energym
The Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Caribbean Sea would transport oil and natural gas from Canadian shale deposits. Ironically, the Canadian oil producers cannot build their pipeline from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia due to political opposition from First Nation groups and others reluctant to grant the easements needed for this pipeline. The pressure being applied in Washington and in the transit States is enormous; billions of US and Canadian dollars are at stake for the oil industry. What has not been demonstrated, however, is the refining capacity in Texas and Louisiana for this influx of product. Nevertheless, unrefined product could be shipped overseas to other refineries--adding cost and foreign governmental control risks for shipping the refined products back to the US--or risking our economic well-being should we become dependent on the income from selling natural gas and petroleum to foreign buyers.
To date, opposition to fracking in various communities focuses on the potential for polluting the underground water supplies from which we obtain potable water for drinking and cooking in addition to our rivers and lake supplies of fresh water. In the current newsletter ProPublica, Abraham Lustgarten reports that Mexico City is planning to access drinking water from an aquifer that is being polluted by US drilling companies. See http://www.propublica.org/series/injection-wells for extensive reporting on this subject. Lustgarten points out that the dumping of toxic liquids into very deep wells is intended to go deeper than any water resources we would ever use. Our state and federal regulators have not been inspecting these wells for several years, which I attribute to industry and Congressional resistance to funding sufficient inspectors and auditors within the environmental protection agencies.
Many persons believe that natural gas is a "clean" substitute for gasoline, diesel and other refined petroleum products. Therefore, they reason, we should maximize our use of this abundant resource because we can become entirely reliant on domestic energy resources and no longer held hostage to the international petroleum market. Furthermore, they reason, allowing producing companies to use fracking for extracting natural gas from shale, is an acceptable method based on the extensive information and data provided by the petroleum industry over the years.
I do not support fracking or the energy strategy of considering Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) or natural gas in its gaseous state as an acceptable means of solving our dependence on oil and its products. It was no coincidence that T. Boon Pickens was seen on numerous television talk shows and testified to Congressional committees over the past three years. He owns or controls most of the natural gas reserves in the United States and probably in much of Canada. That fact alone does not disqualify natural gas as a substitute for petroleum energy products and use. His efforts have influenced public opinion and the attitudes of many in Congress. I cite Pickens merely as a source of favorable public opinion on using natural gas.
There are other reasons for opposing facking in particular. The method breaks up shale deposits several thousand feet below the Earth's surface allowing natural gas to go where nature had not intended it to be. The Earth's populations should be conserving and improving resources of potable water and fighting technology that threatens the future of water resources.
One underground resource vital to the survival of the human being is water in the aquifer. It is easy to forget how delicate human beings environmental boundaries are. For example, our body temperature limits survival within only seven (7) degrees Fahrenheit. We consider a normal, healthy temperature at approximately 98.6°F and we consider ourselves to be ill whenever our body temperature varies by more than a degree or two from that norm. Fevers in infants can rise to 104°F as a function of establishing its own immune system, yet a fever of that measure in an adult can cause serious injury or be a predictor of imminent death. Likewise, the human body cannot tolerate lowered body temperatures without risk of permanent damage to vital functions. Quite often, variations in body temperature are indicative of serious deficiencies of electrolytes, minerals and salts caused by dehydration, or serious imbalances in same that can manifest as extreme personality changes, inability to orient oneself where one is, and other effects on the functioning of vital organs.
As I have written in another post, there is a danger for human life and the food and water we consume should energy policy dictates cause contention among agriculture, human water consumption, and extraction methods such as fracking for our energy needs.
While this year's (2013) extreme heat waves over much of North America do not establish a trend, over time scientists see this year's weather patterns as part of a long-range warming trend, aka global warming. Winters are shorter and extreme weather patterns seem to be greater in winter; in the other seasons, the patterns of water replenishment of arable soil by melting ice and snow plus rain seem to be more localized with flooding and drought trending over several years. Severe storms seem more destructive and more frequent.
The complexity of variables entailed in setting local, state and federal policies for agriculture, energy and natural resources management should cause our centers of government to be less tied to a single lobby's or industry's interests and more open to the idea of the interdependent nature of our exploitation of and planning for using our water, petroleum and natural gas resources. At the moment, the public needs to ensure the policy makers and regulators understand this complexity.
28 March 2013
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.Then and now: Then, every citizen needed firearms not only to protect land, property and family, but also to protect one's community, township and state from violent intrusions from other states, other peoples, and other nations. Our colonial history taught the wisdom of these words and towns, settlements and traders relied on the right to own and carry weapons. Protection by governmental agencies did not exist as today. Private companies like Pinkerton's preceded local police departments and usually were hired by business owners, trading companies and the Post Office for guarding shipments of payrolls and other cash. Communities and townships had volunteer militias of the people. The concepts of having a national or state standing army were foreign as the stuff of European colonizers. Individuals needed to protect themselves against attacks on their homesteads, their families, their livestock, their churches and communities.
Thus, the Bill of Rights included this right second only to the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech and religion.
From 1787 to the 1930's, America was an agricultural nation first and an industrial country second. The vicissitudes of the Great Depression and World War II changed that. Emerging from the war, America was the predominant industrial nation in the world, most of its industrial rivals having been leveled. Our population has become more and more concentrated in urban and suburban communities. Much of rural, farming America is now corporate-owned and technological advances enable massive tracts of land to be cultivated efficiently. The family-owned farms so characteristic of pre-Depression years struggle to compete financially with the corporate farms.
What changed in the second half of the 20th Century to warrant such strong debates about gun control? In effect, weapons manufacturers, domestic and foreign, sell to the general public weapons they manufacture for military use, in combat, to impose incredible armaments against an enemy. Hand guns, automatic firing pistols, grenade launchers, other automatic and semi-automatic rifles are sold through large retail stores, small gun shops, online via the internet and at gun shows and exhibitions. Weapons designed and manufactured for military personnel are sold to practically anyone with the opportunity and the cash. Additionally, accessories and ammunition are readily available. Only machine guns, aka "tommy guns", are prohibited from being sold to and owned by civilians in the United States. A federal law passed in 1928 as a result of the well-publicized organized crime wars of that era forbade owning machine guns. To my knowledge, it is still in effect. I wonder, however, why only this one, archaic weapon technology falls under this law, since current semi-automatic and automatic pistols and rifles perform the same function as machine guns did.
Horrible instances of mass murder within schools, college campuses, shopping centers, lawyers' offices and other tragic, multiple deaths have caused people to question why these assault weapons are so easily obtained by the perpetrators. Indeed, criminals, drug gangs and organized crime elements use these weapons and the fear of being defenseless against such criminals always dilutes arguments to impose regulatory controls on buying such weapons. Fear of criminals causes many to want to have such arms for protecting themselves, their families and their property. These arguments from many parts of the political spectrum generally lead to little if any legislative will to limit the Second Amendment's stated right to bear arms.
Public opinion polls report that a majority of Americans favor establishing controls on the public's access to those weapons designed for military combat, as cited above. Some people propose universal background checks by all persons desiring to buy any gun or rifle and ammunition. Even the carrying capacity of ammunition, the magazines, would be subject to background checks. Others believe that better enforcement of current laws would be more productive in reducing unregistered weapons in criminal hands. Additional proposals focus on the mental health of purchasers of weapons, ranging from including this in the background check prior to sale, to expanding community mental health resources for persons who may be thinking about using their weapons for attacking other people. One recent commentator maintains that this is not an either/or choice, but a need to address both the weapons for sale and the selling process as well as the mental health education and resources of the communities.
I have lived most of my life in suburban and urban environments. I owned no guns nor did I feel the need. I only used pistols, rifles, and assault weapons while in the Army. In civilian life, I wanted better police departments and sheriffs to protect me and mine. My religious practices turned toward non-violence and peaceful living. I also became fatalistic about becoming a victim of a random urban crime; the dangers of commuting were more pressing.
Since late 2007, however, I have lived on a horse ranch about ten miles from the nearest store. The roads were paved only a few years earlier and I remember when the entire region was open range with cattle grazing everywhere. This is horse country and laced with trails throughout. We own weapons. Awhile back, I spent a long hour trying to frighten off a small pack of large dogs that had invaded our main pasture. I used a 30-gauge, double barreled shotgun firing into the air as I approached the pack. They left and our horses were saved from their harassment. Nightly, we hear coyotes singing and yelping to each other, sometimes in packs, as they roam among the ranches and hills. We have had mountain lions attack sheep and llamas, too. Further, the more isolated houses are vulnerable to break-ins by armed thieves and many ranches have elaborate alarm and protection devices to guard against a criminal invasion. Most lock their doors when they are home, rather than when they are away. And, most people have outside dogs that help keep intruders away.
I would feel very exposed without having firearms available to me. I didn't understand when I lived in cities why personal firearms could be necessary. I now do.
Some people argue that we require training, testing and registration for a driver's license, yet similar requirements do not apply to owning firearms. This argument is a false comparison: a driver's license is a privilege controlled by each state. Owning a firearm is a right by dint of The Constitution.
Why might this right to bear arms have relevance today? There have been times in the past 12 years, especially after the passage of The Patriot Act and other anti-terrorist security legislation when it seemed quite possible for the President to establish a totalitarian government. That legislation is still in place, by the way. Habeas Corpus was suspended, secret courts issue warrants for domestic spying, citizens could and can be detained as suspected enemy combatants (a term that avoids the Geneva Convention). Such was the control of media and news information by the Bush-Cheney Administration during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike during Viet Nam, in the all-volunteer military, there are no mothers of draftees writing to Congress about the wars. Embedded press toed the official line or they would be sent home. No more war on the 6 O'Clock news.
Those circumstances were and remain apt for an individual's right to bear arms. On the other hand, it would be just as easy if not more appropriate to move abroad or over the borders to Canada or Mexico.
In the end, I have concluded that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is inviolate, with some caveats that do not diminish that right. First, the state and federal governments have the ability to enact controls on the types of firearms an individual can buy. Manufacturers could be prohibited from selling military grade weapons to civilians. Regarding magazines, ammunition and other accessories that transform pistols and rifles into military-like assault weapons, the local and state governments could impose weapon apparatus or accessory controls like they have for recreational drug users.
I believe that universal background checks for prior violence or felonious behavior, age and permanent residency are appropriate at all reseller locations, including gun fairs and manufacturer exhibitions. Creating a mental health criterion, however, is worrisome. The only circumstances for a behavioral or cognitive personality trait to be a recorded "mental health" criterion should be limited to those individuals who are identified in public records of courts that would restrict an individual's right to bear arms. Education and public health agencies and institutions should expand their services to enable proper safety for gun users, parents who own guns should be able to access instructional resources concerning weapon safety in storage and in use, indications of behavior that might indicate violent personality traits developing in their children, and a general community awareness of gun safety, violence as a public health issue as well as criminal issues, and the availability of help from community public and private resources.
Ask a parent or any adult about allowing children to play with or to have access to chain saws, miter saws, lawn mowers and other yard tools kept in a work place or garage. For that matter, access to a car can be a dangerous circumstance for a toddler or curious child, even if they only want to crawl underneath. Why should we be any less diligent and guarded about the guns we keep at home? Why wouldn't it be logical to teach children and others about gun safety, about preventing access to our guns, and about how to respond to a crisis or emergency should those efforts fail?
Our Second Amendment Rights bring responsibilities for all citizens to exercise those rights for the good of the community, for our own safety and for the safety of our families. Just as the other Constitutional rights have limits under our system of laws, so does the right to keep and to bear arms.
13 February 2013
Hands Off Social Security!
Caught in their own fiscal underpants, the Republican parties and some naive Democrats must find a way to save their favored federal programs while slashing away at those they deem unnecessary. Some Republicans of the Tea Party say, “Go ahead! Sequestration is the only way to rein in an out-of-control federal spending orgy of 20 years.” Or, words to that effect.
My view on the place to begin reforming our federal budget process for entitlement programs is with the compensation and benefits for elected officials. After all, by definition, these men and women are volunteers! They receive salaries in excess of $100,000 per year, they have franking privileges with their constituents, they have abundant support staffing, they can schedule when they will or will not be at work, i.e., in session, they and their families have excellent health care insurance, they may have exempted themselves from FICO, and after their volunteer positions terminate, they enjoy a defined benefit plan.
No one is forced to be a member of Congress, their jobs are not government jobs for which they apply, each one
decides to volunteer for a time as a representative of their constituencies, district or state. They are not eligible for unemployment insurance if they lose in the primaries or in the general elections. Like all volunteers, each serves
as long as they want to continue to stand for election.
Concerning sequestering federal spending, will their salaries and benefits be exempt? Perhaps they should not receive any salaries or benefits until they agree on a fiscally responsible, federal budget that will satisfy the Americans who elect them and those others who work, reside or visit here.
In its current newsletter, the CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE presents a convincing discussion and argument about the idea floating around Congress and the White House for changing the nature of the basis for
annual increases in Social Security payments to entitled beneficiaries. It is published by the Institute for America’s Future.org and its website is: http://institute.ourfuture.org/ I have edited the longer article, truly, I have, to highlight the essence of this political gamesmanship.
“Nonsense of the Chained CPI and Why Should We Oppose It?
. . . [T]he chained CPI is a political trick, not a technical fix. It is a hidden benefit cut that would shackle seniors with lower benefits and thus less security over time. With seniors in the bottom 40 percent of the income scale dependent on Social Security for almost 90 percent of their income, it would dramatically raise poverty levels among the retired, the disabled and the widowed.
. . .
Without a massive mobilization by an informed public, there is a clear and present danger that within the next few months the economic security of the elderly, disabled and surviving children will be needlessly compromised for decades to come by our country's political elites.
. . .
“What is a Chained CPI instead of the regular Consumer Price Index (CPI)?
A "chained CPI" differs from the standard consumer price index we're familiar with because it claims to take into account “substitutions” — the degree to which consumers will change what they buy in response to price increases . . . .
Now we all make substitutions – but many of the things seniors buy are things you just can’t substitute, like medicines, or doctors visits, or basic foods. But the chained CPI wasn’t designed with seniors’ buying habits in mind. (Emphasis added.)
1. It's a huge benefit cut that seniors, veterans and the disabled cannot afford. It
would cut benefits by $135 billion over 10 years and much more in ensuing decades as
its impact is compounded. It would also cut another $24 billion from veterans' and
federal retirement benefits. The Social Security recipient who retired at age 65 in 2012
would be receiving $658 a year less in benefits under the chained CPI calculation by the
time he or she is 75, an almost 4 percent cut; by 85, that person would be getting
$1,147 less a year, a 6.5 percent benefit cut. . . .
2. The chained CPI is patently inaccurate at measuring the cost of living of the
elderly and disabled. This is a political trick, not a technical fix. Since 1975, Social
Security benefits are adjusted annually based on what is now called the consumer price
index for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W). Ironically, its cost
calculations exclude people outside the workforce, and thus most Social Security
beneficiaries workforce, and thus most Social Security beneficiaries. (Emphasis added.)
3. The chained CPI violates Social Security's promise: that Social Security's cost-of-living adjustments should maintain the purchasing power of benefit levels over time. . . .The value of pensions or 401(k) balances that are not inflation-protected
typically decline by half over 20 years. Virtually no retirement savings vehicles available
in private markets offer inflation protection for life. Social Security does. (Emphasis
4. The chained CPI flagrantly flies in the face of public opinion . . . . The most recent polling by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum think Social Security benefits should be raised, not lowered – and are willing to pay more in taxes to protect those benefits. By far the most popular reform is to raise the cap on the payroll tax, so that the wealthier Americans pay at the same rate as low-wage workers.
5. The chained CPI will hurt more than just the elderly. The groups of Americans that
would also see their benefits cut if the chained CPI were implemented government-wide
include people with disabilities; widows and children who receive survivor's benefits; disabled veterans, particularly those who are totally disabled and therefore eligible for both veterans benefits and Social Security Disability; lifelong public servants who retire from the federal government, and anyone who retires from the military after serving our country for decades.
6. Social Security benefits are modest and should be increased, not cut. Social
Security retirement benefits average just $14,900 a year, and nearly 5 million retirees live below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. . . .The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has estimated that more than half of the nation's households would be unable to maintain their standards of living during their retirement years, given the damage the 2008 financial crash did to housing values, stock portfolios and worker earnings.
7. The advocates of the chained CPI implicitly admit that it is not an accurate
measure of inflation faced by seniors. . . .For example, even with the most commonly
proposed compensatory measure – a bump-up in benefits after 20 years, starting at age 82 – an 85-year-old would still lose more than $12,000 in benefits over a 20-year period. . . . For the average worker retiring at age 65 in 2012, the chained CPI would cut benefits by more than $1,000 a month by the time that worker is 85. The cumulative effect of the cut gets worse over time.
8. Social Security has not and cannot by law contribute to the federal debt. And the program is too important to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations about deficits that Social Security has not contributed to.
9. [Social Security’s financial future is fairly solid.] In fact, Social Security is in goodNote: if the Treasury were prohibited from further borrowings from the Social Security Fund, as it has under Presidents Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, to pay for (off-budget) unfunded items, the Fund would be able to sustain Social Security as it was designed to do in 1936.
shape, with current assets covering benefits for the next 22 years.”
Learn More» National Academy of Social Insurance brief on Chained CPIThere are sufficient, additional agenda items and opinions for the Administration and the Congress that I shall share in future posts. As always, I appreciate your comments.
» OurFuture.org Chained CPI blog page
» The New York Times: "Misguided Social Security ‘Reform'" (Editorial)
» Economic Policy Institute's Retirement research page
» Center for Economic and Policy Research's Social Security and retirement issue page
» Smart Talk on Protecting Social Security.
08 February 2013
Oil and Water Do Mix!
To date, opposition to fracking in various communities focuses on the potential for polluting the underground water supplies, in addition to our rivers and lake resources, from which we obtain potable water for drinking and cooking. In the current newsletter ProPublica, Abraham Lustgarten reports that Mexico City is planning to access drinking water from an aquifer that is being polluted by US drilling companies. See http://www.propublica.org/series/injection-wells for extensive reporting on this subject. Lustgarten points out that the dumping of toxic liquids into very deep wells was intended to go deeper than any water resources we would ever use. Our state and federal regulators have not been inspecting these wells for several years, which I attribute to industry and Congressional resistance to funding sufficient inspectors and auditors within the environmental protection agencies.
While the fracking process has raised local concerns about polluting local water supplies, no one seems to focus on the importance of water to the petroleum industry. When policy discussions about our energy needs fill the halls of state and federal governments each party emphasizes the petroleum part of the oil production process.
Consider how much the current, extensive drought is affecting our nation's agriculture. Even the oil industry has been asked by the federal government to use less corn in refining gasoline products. Demands on corn production by the oil industry cause price increases in food products that use corn syrup, corn flour, plus feed for animals upon which we depend for our meat and dairy supplies. In a large part of the central US, the current drought is forcing farmers to selling off their animal stock because they cannot afford to feed them and grazing animals cannot find sufficient nutrients in their dry pastures.
California has to address these issues of oil production and refining, water for agriculture and for its 36 million residents' drinking and residential use. In the mid-1970's, the City Manager of Torrance, California, said that the three refineries within city limits consumed one-third of Torrance's water supplies each year. Water rights political battles between northern and southern parts of the state have existed as long as the state has developed. The agricultural interests in the central San Joaquin Valley, King County and the Salinas Valley that generate such a large part of our nation's food supply need water for crops. The state's population and industrial growth, especially in Southern California, adds to already stretched demands on the state's water resources. Without better, coordinated regulation mitigating market pricing and supply, the oil companies will to consume more water for drilling and refining, farmers will pay more for their water and crop prices will rise making commercial feed and consumer agricultural products more expensive across the nation.
Water wars have been part of California's history forever, affecting population settlement and relocation since before the Spanish arrived. Unlike other, primarily desert or water-scarce regions of the world, the only government capital initiatives in California, Nevada and Arizona involved water distribution and natural resource exploitation without any resources devoted to water resource creation from the Pacific Ocean. Only recently has the City of San Diego begun a desalinization development to produce potable water from sea water, but much more will be needed throughout the region.
Three groups of vested commercial interests: 1) the oil industry, 2) the agriculture industry, and 3) the commercial and residential developers will vie for tying up water rights throughout California.
If the oil industry extraction and refining practices pollute the aquifer, it ill cause devastating effects on drinking water and other residential water uses, on agriculture's dependence on water for growing its three crops per year, and on developers' ability to build new residences and commercial buildings necessary for job growth and retention of the labor force.
Old adages die hard, but saying that water and oil do not mix masks an imminent threat of smoke stack policy dynamics within our state and federal government policy offices. Without using a comprehensive model of our water, petroleum and natural gas resources from discovery to waste, we will fail to provide the infrastructure and output needed for our anticipated standards of living beyond the next generation coming of age in 2050,