Monday, July 23, 2012

Sometimes it takes a Child to raise a Village

As have many many Americans, I've seen the news coverage of the horrific events in Aurora, Colorado. I think pretty most everyone are asking many of the same questions
  • How could it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What could be done differently to prevent it?
The very first question is clearly the easiest to answer of the three. We know someone walked into a theater, threw some smoke grenades and then opened fire, killing at least 12 people and injuring 59 others.

The second question does not have an answer right now. So far the authorities have said that the shooter was not crazed. He left no manifesto with reasons on his action. He did not have a vendetta against the theater chain. He did not personally know any of the victims. Had any of those been true, it would have been far easier to rationalize his irrational actions for general consumption.

One of the things they've said is he had been planning this for months. And if his actions at the movie theater weren't bad enough, he booby trapped his apartment so that anyone coming in would get a big, and fateful, surprise.

Hopefully, some explanation will eventually became known so we can get a better understanding on what, if anything, makes this different than any of the previous rampages by gunmen in the United States.

The third question is the most contentious of the three; and one of the most fiery issues in this country.
On one side is the pro-gun lobby which makes the basic argument that if we make owning a gun illegal, only criminals will own guns. On the other side you've got the anti-gun lobby which says we should make it a crime to own any type of fire arm because limiting their availability will cut down on crime.

I will agree with organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, that making gun ownership illegal for law abiding Americans won't do anything to take guns away from the criminals. Anyone arguing against that basic statement is misguided. With that said, that's about as far as I'm willing to publicly agree with their gun control stances.

The basic thorny issue is the meaning of Amendment II of the Constitution.
In 2008 the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in District of Columbia vs. Heller, that citizens CAN own guns regardless of whether they're in the National Guard (i.e.: militia), or not. Obviously, this was a very close decision, and one vote the other way would have changed gun laws in a major way.

if you want to really get a handle on what the original intent of the 2nd Amendment was, you need to look at what the Founding Fathers wrote.
There should be NO question what James Madison intended when you read his original wording:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person."
The placement of that semi-colon is important as it, grammatically, separates gun ownership from the militia membership. That semi-colon got changed to a comma along the way by a Congressional typesetter, NOT by Madison, or the Congress. When the Bills of Rights were ratified, the semi-colon was not returned.

Getting past the intent of ownership issue, the next subject is regulation. It would take a novel the size of War and Peace to summarize all the court cases on whether there should be any, what type.
With all that said, I ask you to consider something. When the Founding Fathers were around, the leading edge technology was the Flintlock Musket. It could be fired at an Earth shattering rate of four shots a minute if you were using premade cartridges! It would be around 100 years after the Revolutionary War before the first fully automatic rifle was developed by the Mexican military.
In the next 100 years we have seen semi and fully automatic rifle and pistol manufacturing made common.

Beyond the question of how fast a bullet can be delivered, there's also the advancement in quality of the projectile. During the Revolutionary War, mini balls were individually cast by hand. No two were alike, and by 1800 standards they were expensive. Today, bullets are stamped out by machines thousands at a time allowing people to access a virtually unlimited supply with a simple phone call.
In fact, the Aurora assailant purchased 6000 rounds over the past few months. What justification can there be for an individual to buy that many rounds during that short a period of time?

Anti-gun control proponents say there should be no limit on gun types or ammunition purchases. Do people really need to the ability to buy a 50 caliber rifle capable of blowing a hole through 2+ inches of bullet-proof glass just because they might want to go moose hunting?

A Facebook friend recently commented on how people should be allowed to openly carry guns wherever they want to, and about how it would be a deterrent to anyone that might want to go on a shooting spree.

Had that been the case I can only imagine many of those 59 others wounded would have ended up at the morgue instead of the hospital, due to crossfire amongst the clouds of smoke and darkness; and that doesn't even take into account it was a fully packed theater for a hugely popular film.

I'm not asking for an outright prohibition on gun ownership. I think people should have the right to have firearms if they wish to enjoy hunting, or for protection in certain circumstances. However, it's time for a more robust regulation on some types of weaponry, such as assault rifles; and some type of system to track ammunition.

To be most effective this control needs to start at the time of manufacturing, not the sales. Some guns just don't need to end up in the hands of the general public.
Additionally, registration should be considered for anything more than the basic rifle/pistol that uses something above the smallest of calibers. The argument is that this violates a person's right to privacy. But, I suggest your right to privacy is already abrogated when you filled out that form to buy that firearm. If you didn't, you've ALREADY violated the law.

* * *

Some will find the title I chose offensive, suggesting I was sensationalizing the death of a young girl just to attract more readers.

Quite the contrary. I used it to illustrate the need to do something to turn the growing violence, and the availability of far more dangerous weapons that are being mass manufactured.

As of when I'm writing this blog,  12 people have lost their lives in the Aurora theater shooting. Fifty-nine others have been injured, so that first number might go up.

With the exception of her family and friends, Veronica Moser-Sullivan may not be any more, or less, important than any of the other people cut down that day. To me, I look at a photo of a smiling six-year-old girl and I cry a bit inside. In the first decade of her life, she was enjoying life. In fact, she just learned how to swim.

I can think back to when I was six-years-old. My cares in life would have been watching baseball or going camping with my family. One of the first grade art projects I had that year in Mrs. McQueon's class, was to make a drawing of what I wanted to do when I grew up.

With the typical vision of a six-year old it didn't stay the same for long. At that point I wanted to grow up and be a park ranger. A few months later it would to be a police officer, which was followed a short time later by something else. Obviously, I didn't know what I wanted to be at that tender age, but I had a vision.

I wonder what Veronica wanted to grow up to be? It's a shame that she wasn't given that opportunity to fulfill whatever her dreams might have been.

And I ask shouldn't society do SOMETHING to make sure other Veronicas (…and Tommys and Glens and Patricias, etc.),  have every opportunity to live a long life and find out if they reached their dreams?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Your Government at Work II (DC version)

Rep. Al Green (R-TX) compares the Obamacare Act with the alternative being offered by opponents (in his right hand) during Congressional debate.  - CSPN

* * *

Over the past couple of days I've had the opportunity to watch the House of Representatives in action, courtesy of CSPN, the cable network which televises the United States Congress, as well as other governmental and historical programming. If you have cable, but have never availed yourself of this source, you really need to. And I hope that high school political science classes use this tool that's available to them. It's one thing to crack open a dusty text book, but another thing to watch them in action.

However, perhaps I should have said "House of Representatives in INACTION" in the previous paragraph. It's not a well kept secret that we have one of the most gridlocked federal government ever, but the last two days makes me shudder. It seems the word compromise is a four letter word as of late.

To be fair, both sides of the aisle seem to have issues, though the more conservative side seems to have an extra hard edge to grind. What they seem to forget is that while extra sharp steel may cut quickly, it also gets ground down a whole lot faster and needs more maintenance.

I'm sure by now you've figured out I was watching the debate and voting on HR 6079, a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act 2010. (Though it's usually used as a derogatory term, I'm going to refer to it as Obamacare for the rest of this blog out of expediency).

Obamacare was passed in March 2010, after nearly two years of discussion in the House and Senate. Almost immediately, efforts were brought forth by Tea Party members Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for repeal. None of those bills made it out of committee.

You would think that after dying in committee they might get the message. NOPE! That was during the 111th Congress. During the current 112th Congress, there have been THIRTY-ONE bills introduced for repeal, including the one voted on today. What was not introduced was a reform alternative at the same time.

And there were several Republican Congressmen who were only too happy to exclaim that if they did nothing other than repeal Obamacare, they'd be very satisfied. If my Congressman said he'd be happy with only accomplishing one thing during his two year term, I'd be looking for someone else to vote for.

I think the most perfect illustration of this was from Rep. Al Green (D-TX) who compared a five inch thick copy of Obamacare with an invisible copy of the proposed alternative.

While today's House vote was for repeal, it was a hollow victory because it will never pass muster in the U.S. Senate, nor is President Obama likely to sign it, should it actually reach his desk.

Both sides of the aisle say that healthcare reform is necessary. Obamacare was passed, and has been ruled Constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. People are certainly within their rights to try and repeal it. However, a more rational effort would be to propose alternatives to parts of the Act, rather than simply going back to the status quo; and doing it over and over and over when it's obvious their efforts will not succeed.

What is fascinating is there ARE common traits between Obamacare and Massachusetts healthcare, which was passed under Mitt Romney. I'm not going to say they're carbon copies, but there are things that both sides of the aisle can agree on, if they can get past the partisan bickering.

Massachusetts has a penalty if you don't buy insurance. So does Obamacare. Massachusetts requires companies with 11 or more full-time employees to provide insurance. That requirement doesn't kick in until 50 full-time employees with Obamacare. Both plans prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Both plans prohibit insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling coverage.

The biggest issue that needs to be worked on is exactly how to pay for it. This is not as easy to answer as comparing a state insurance program vs. a federal one.

Obamacare is basically being paid with new taxes. The sooner proponents admit that, the sooner they can move on to other discussions. Some of the taxes are minimal at best, and won't be noticed. Some are definitely going to hit people more the closer we get to 2018. This is where discussion would be helpful, rather than just sticking their heads in the sand, hoping it will go away.

On the surface Obamacare opponents exclaim they can't be made to buy health insurance. That was my initial reaction. But, then I have to ask how the states can require drivers to buy automobile insurance? You will certainly face a penalty if you're caught driving without it!!

Opponents say people won't be able to keep their current insurance. That's not true. The only way they don't have that option, is if their employer decides to cancel their employee's coverage.

* * *

One of the more egregious things mentioned today were stories of children that had life threatening illnesses before they were born, or immediately after, and had to get treatment just to survive birth. After receiving that treatment they were told they were uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions. How rational is that?

While I'm not personally familiar with those cases I can speak from personal experience.

Many years ago, I was covered by a national HMO under my parent's plan. After graduation, I was able to enroll in the same HMO through my first job after graduating college.

Like millions of other Americans I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and was prescribed medication. Unfortunately, after the company went bankrupt I was laid off. I chose to use COBRA to continue my plan, and paid out of pocket.  When I first started paying it was $187/MTh. Over the next four years, there was a steady increase EVERY year until it was $488/MTh, which I couldn't afford so let it lapse.

What's somewhat ironic is my HMO claimed to be a non-profit, yet every year they finished in the black financially, and every year they constantly built new facilities around the Bay Area to the point of being one of the area's larger real estate owners.

As bad as that price increase looks on paper, it wasn't the most incredible part of the whole thing. My new employer happened to offer the exact same HMO for their coverage. I filled out the paperwork to apply. However, I was denied due to a pre-existing condition. They denied me for being treated for high blood pressure.

It would have been interesting to have had a blood pressure cuff on when I heard the reason. I explained to the person on the phone how ridiculous that was since it was their HMO which had diagnosed my situation and had prescribed the medication. There was silence and then a bit of telling me that's the way it was.

After multiple phone calls to multiple departments and mangers they finally woke up and gave me health care. I shouldn't have had to jump through all those hoops and loops to get care; and under Obamacare I wouldn't have.

* * *

It's a shame we have came to a point where we're basically required to get government regulated health insurance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on profit vs. society and legalistic treatment of individuals has driven us to it.