Monday, December 31, 2012

In the Quiet, at Year's End

As we bring to a close this year of 2012, I would like to spend a moment or two considering what it may look like in our history books.
            The year began with the Republican Party staging its primaries to determine the next candidate for President.  With one or two notable exceptions the field was made up of aging white men, who showed almost immediately they were out of touch with the key groups that would become instrumental in deciding the election.  The party settled on a relatively moderate candidate who had to show he was a staunch conservative to fulfill party expectations.  With the assistance of Jimmy Carter’s nephew he fatally shot himself in the foot.  The astute political analysts at Fox News showed they too had no understanding of how Mr. Romney’s changing positions would play out in the general population.
            The President, on the other hand, had an easy ride into the nomination, but still spent most of his time campaigning on the class warfare issues he had begun in the first two years of his term.  He encouraged radical debate with the #OWS crowd, and reinforced the position that Tea Party conservatives were racially biased radicals bent on the destruction of the United States.  He was aided in this with media support on MSNBC, CNN, and the other main stream media, who claimed almost any criticism of the President was a racial attack.
            In the course of the campaign both sides raised, and I assume spent, more than a billion dollars to secure this great position of public service.  We saw the left attack the super PAC concept, made legal in the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that overturned sections of the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (AKA McCain-Feingold Act),  saying Super PAC involvement corrupted the political process.  Meanwhile labor unions contributed millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates without much fanfare, but that is a much more historical approach to buying political influence.
            When the Republican Governor of Wisconsin set into motion the overturning of the Teacher’s Union contracts and rights on collective bargaining there was a huge and ugly labor movement attempt to recall him, and reinstate the rights of the Union to force local governments to meet teacher demands before all else.  The recall election failed, and the state seems to be moving towards a more fiscally stable situation, although the Unions continue their protests at the state capital in Madison.
            As part of the last budget crisis, when we reached the debt ceiling, Congress implemented a Sword of Damocles approach to supposedly force them to take action on addressing the balance between Federal income versus expenditure.  They established a bipartisan commission to look at solutions.  The commission made its report and the Congress immediately rejected them.  We continue to spend more than we take in, and tomorrow I expect we will fall off this financial cliff, and for the Executive Branch we will experience sequestration, although no one has actually defined what that means.  Of historical note: during the second Presidential debate President Obama made the declarative statement that “sequestration would not happen.”  It is easy to make promises when no one expects you will actually have to keep them.
            Facebook had a big initial public offering (IPO) that made the initial investors in the company billionaires.  The stock immediately lost a goodly part of its value for those who just had to be part of the IPO.  The finger pointing continues on that one.
            Gay rights continue to expand, and more states are approving the right to marry.  While I am personally not a big fan of this, I view it as the appropriate course of action for our country.  This should be a States issue and the Federal Government should not interject itself in the rights of a state to govern its citizens in those areas not specifically granted to the Federal Government by the Constitution.
            In the military the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was, at the end of the day, a big yawn.  All the nay saying of the senior leaders proved to be unfounded.  Moral and discipline seems to be about the same place it was before the new approvals were implemented.  The military is predominately made up of young people, and they have accepted this change without the reservations and hostilities the older officers and civilian leaders showed.  Interestingly, one of the sticking points for fully implementing these new rules is the Defense of Marriage Act.
September 19th remains Talk Like a Pirate day.
            The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare).  As we enter into the New Year it will be interesting to see what kind of economic impact the new taxes have on our businesses, and their employees.
            Robotic surgery continues to quietly expand with devices like De Vinci and I think the time is not far off where our doctors are not even in the same hospital as the patient.
            We have a new rover on Mars, and man has broken the sound barrier, this time without a plane to protect him.
            The world didn’t end with the end of the Mayan calendar; apparently it was only the desk version and not the whole thing.
I hope everyone has a great 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Do More Laws Improve Citizen Safety?

Chicago police confirm 'tragic number' of 500 homicides, on December 28th.   The Los Angeles Homicide Map shows 517 deaths by December 9th.    NYC murders reach record low in 2012 with 414 homicides.  The vast majority of these were committed by the deadly force involving a firearm.
Three major metropolitan areas, three separate states and significantly different gun control policies.  Which one offers the greatest protection to its citizens through the strict control of gun ownership, registration and use?  Hmmmm, lets see.
Starting in reverse order.  Frequently asked questions about NY State Gun Control Laws.   In summary, NYC requires all rifles, shotguns and pistols to be licensed and registered, and their owners must have a permit to carry them.  There is up to a six-month wait to acquire a permit to purchase a handgun. in its page, What are the gun laws in California? says California residents do not need to register or license rifles and shotguns, but do need to register handguns.  A concealed carry permit is required.  A 10-day waiting period before delivery of a firearm is required. Additionally there are a variety of laws in place dealing with minors and felons possession of firearms.
Finally, shows that Illinois has, by far, the most restrictive laws, especially when you are in Chicago.  A firearms owner identification (FOID) card is required to purchase and carry rifles, shotguns and pistols.  Chicago requires all firearms be registered with them.  Carrying a concealed weapon is prohibited entirely.  A 24-hour waiting period is required for a rifle or shotgun and a 72-hour wait is required for a pistol.  The seller of a firearm must retain a record of the transfer for 10 years.  You cannot possess either guns or ammunition without a FOID.  There are also laws dealing with the issues of juvenile possession, and child access, as well as by felons and those with mental defect.
So of the three areas in question, NYC’s laws seem the simplest, yet it has the lowest homicide rate?  On simple comparison there does not seem to be a direct correlation between the number of laws and restrictions associated with gun ownership and the safety of the population at large.  It appears that those using firearms don’t seem too interested in complying with the laws as currently written.  So can someone in favor of more laws and restrictions just explain to me how the new laws will improve safety, if the real issue seems to be one of criminal non-compliance with the existing ones?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Conspirator

The other day I watched The Conspirator, a 2010 movie directed by Robert Redford for the American Film Company.  A historical film dealing with the trial of Mary Surratt by a military tribunal, it goes to considerable length to show the abuse of power by the Secretary of War, Edward M. Stanton, in the name of protecting the nation, as the principle antagonist to the hero, a Union Army Veteran and lawyer.  The hero, Frederick Aiken, must confront the rigged system while attempting to prove his client’s innocence.  Needless to say he is thwarted at every turn.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this brief bit of history, Mrs. Surratt was accused of being one of the principle conspirators with John Wilkes Booth, in the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford’s theater.  She became the first woman executed for a crime in the United States.
In listening to Secretary Stanton’s reasoning, I was reminded of Joseph McCarthy and his pursuit of Communists from the 50’s.  I believe the similarities were intended by Mr. Redford, as he portrayed the abuse of power and the rationalization of it being done for a greater good.  How often do we hear that reasoning for abuses by government?
For me, the movie reinforced my belief that governmental power must be limited, for when it is not it will be abused.  But I am left confused by the willingness of so many to relinquish individual rights to the government, in the hopes of some greater good.  But I digress… I liked the movie and recommend it as a way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


The morning is still as the family sleeps, the machine brews a fresh pot of coffee, filling the kitchen with the warm smell of roasted coffee beans.  The snow covers the ground outside, creating a Christmas card scene.  Soon the house will become a home, alive with the sounds of excited children, and bleary eyed adults all looking for a place around the tree.
Too excited for breakfast the children will call to their Mom or Dad, begging to open the first present.  There will be calls for calm, and to wait, until Grandma can get her camera. 
We are blessed to be able to share what so many others in this world cannot even imagine.  We have our family, our health, and a future to look to.   The children know the love of their parents, and the safety of a warm home on a chilly night.  There are toys enough to amaze and delight, and a Christmas dinner to fill their tummies before settling down to sleep.
For those who are not as fortunate, I offer my prayers for a better life, where fear and hunger are replaced by hope and bounty.  I pray that our world can overcome itself, but until then we must do what we can for our families, our neighbors, and the community that we are such a part of.
To all who read these humble thoughts I wish you, and all your loved ones, a great and joyous Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Needs of the Many versus the Rights of the Individual

We, in America, will be deep into soul searching, at least until some other tragedy diverts the mainstream media from the massacre at Newtown.  As this debate unfolds and the issues of gun ownership, mental illness, and protection of school children are discussed -- there must, of necessity, be some discussion of how we balance the rights of our society to protect itself, against the rights of the individual to privacy, and freedom from government abuse.
Historically, we’ve striven to protect the rights of the individual, but with the ever-increasing outcry for action to protect our children the pendulum may be swinging the other way.  There is a CBS report here, on the attempt by Connecticut legislators to create an effective assisted outpatient treatment law earlier this year. reported the bill passed the Connecticut Joint Committee on Judiciary, but died a quiet death when the ACLU and opponents of involuntary treatment called it “outrageously discriminatory.”   To view the nature of that opposition I think this blog gives a good summary of one individual’s testimony against involuntary treatment.
So here we are, months later talking about the tragedy at Newtown.  At the end of the day I don’t know if there will ever be a clear understanding of this horrific event’s root cause, but the fact that in today’s communities, we expect all people with emotional problems to act rationally to seek and approve their own treatment strikes me as akin to suggesting we keep our doors unlocked trusting that people will know not to come in without our permission.
I expect there will be an increasingly loud drum beat for federal action, but I don’t think that would be the best course of action.  For the federal government would be bound to establish one set of conditions that might work in one location, but not in all the rest.  Should the people of North Dakota have the same expectations for evaluation as the people of New York City, where the pace of life, the daily social pressures, the support structures of family, community, and faith are so different?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On our Society, ... an Opinion

Today 20 children and eight adults are dead in another senseless act.  Once again a sick man has chosen to take the lives of innocents as he commits suicide.  There will be many who will use this as a time to call for the elimination of guns from American society, and there will be just as many who rush to argue for the opposite.  We’ve become a society of polar opposites where compromise and rational problem solving is no longer possible.
What will be lost in these posturing’s will be any real discussion on what are the basic causes of this insanity that seems to be growing in our society and what we as individuals, local governments, and state governments and the federal government might be able to do to address the root causes.  I saw an interesting posting from a nurse on Facebook.  It coincided with something I’ve been thinking about for some time, and I guess it is as good a time as any to voice it.
In the 1960’s, New York State had a large number of psychiatric hospitals holding tens of thousands of patients with a large variety of diagnosis, ranging from childhood autism up to geriatric dementia and criminal insanity.  From my most limited experiences working at one of those institutions it was obvious to me this hospital was really a large holding institution where the doctors prescribed Thorazine to keep many of those residents in a stupor so they were easy to maintain.
Since then, medial science and the social sciences have progressed and become enlightened.  You can say what you will about the patients civil rights, but the State closed most of those institutions for financial reasons when the costs became overwhelming.  Fortunately for New York, the drug companies have developed a whole world of new chemicals to supposedly restore balance to depressed, psychotic, neurotic, or manic minds, so these people can have apparently normal lives and become useful members of society and be returned to the streets and communities to live with us.
Not feeling quite right, there is a drug for that!  Not happy with the way your child is, give him or her some Adderall.  Anxious about the job interview, pop a Valium, can’t sleep at night, Ambien is just the thing.  There are amphetamines to stimulate, barbiturates to depress, psychotropic to treat schizophrenia, bipolar, attention deficit and the list goes on.
I wonder how many people live their lives in this medically approved drug culture where how they feel, and what they think each day depends on the color of the pill they took when they woke up?  Or more to the point, how many Psychiatrists actually stay on top of the medications they are prescribing to their patients so they know with certainty they are not creating the next mass murderer? 
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