Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gun Control

I remember hearing a news story before the election about the huge increase in gun sales because of fears that Obama would reinstitute stricter controls on the purchase and sale of guns. Post-inauguration, it turns out he has much bigger and more pressing issues to worry about, but that hasn’t stopped a run on ammunition that is making many calibers completely unavailable around the country. I was privy to a conversation this week between two hunters frustrated about not being able to buy certain types of bullets for their weapons, and 60 Minutes
also mentioned this phenomena in a recent story about gun control, the gun show loop-hole and citizen fears about a collapsing economic system.

Apparently, there is a pretty good segment of the population that fears a complete collapse of the U.S. and world economies would force them to protect what they have at gunpoint, and they want to be prepared to do so. Others have always felt that the second amendment protected their ability to stand up to, and even overthrow the government in case it overstepped. Since I have recently started watching the HBO miniseries, John Adams, I am reminded of a time when exactly that scenario did play out in this country, and I actually understand, respect and even support this argument for our right to bear arms.

There are two arguments from the gun lobby that I just don’t get. The first is letting the assault weapons ban expire. Maybe it’s an extension of the above argument. After-all, fighting against our own government with today’s military technology, should it become necessary, would require more than a few handguns and hunting rifles. But if that is not the argument, I just can’t see why any law-abiding citizen would need a weapon that fires multiple rounds, rapid style. These are the weapons used by gangs and school shooters to mow down as many people as possible in a short period of time.

April marks the anniversaries of several prominent domestic terrorist attacks including Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech and Columbine – this year is the tenth anniversary of the school shooting in Colorado that killed twelve. The Columbine shooters used automatic weapons purchased at gun shows and illegally through friends. They were able to buy ammunition legally even as minors, including for a Tec-9 semi-automatic handgun that was fired a total of 55 times during the massacre.

The other argument that makes no sense to me is that the government wants to “take away” our guns. Sensible gun control that limits the type of weapons and monitors to whom they are sold, is not taking away anything from those who already have guns. Law-abiding hunters and those wishing to protect themselves should also not have any problem passing criminal background checks and other limitations before buying new weapons. The “pry it from my cold dead hands” rhetoric has always seemed extremist to me.

People have every right to protect themselves against violence, and if they feel that carrying a concealed weapon or having a loaded gun in their home is the best way to do so, they should have that right, but at some point, I think we need to examine exactly WHY we have more gun violence in this country than anywhere else in the world. The rate of firearm deaths among kids under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the U.S., and American kids are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun and nine times more likely to die from a firearm accident than children in than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

U.S. Department of Justice data (2000-2002) reveals that very few of the current gun laws in this country are even enforced. While eighty-five percent of cases prosecuted relate to street criminals, those who engage in illegal gun trafficking, firearm theft, circumventing background checks and other laws governing gun dealers are rarely investigated and prosecuted. Additionally, a small number of gun stores (1-percent) sell weapons traced to 57-percent of gun crimes.

Additionally, we have enacted some really ridiculous zero tolerance weapons policies in our schools that preclude students from bringing a butter knife for use at lunch, and recently led to the 10-day suspension of a Young Marines drill team member for having mock rifles used for competition in her car at school. The animosity is heightened by extremist views and rhetoric on both sides of the debate. Both the “pry it from my cold dead hands” faction and the zero tolerance crowd need to take a step back and find a way to meet in the middle. Open, honest and productive debate about sensible law and policy (as well as enforcement) in regard to gun control can only take place when we stop screaming our own position from the top of our lungs and take some time for calm discussion and listening.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Military Service

Service and sacrifice are code words for the brave men and women serving in our armed services. They signed up for the tough duty so we could enjoy the freedoms associated with being an American; so that we could rest easy and not worry about the dangers lurking out there in the world. No matter how you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who are serving in those foreign fronts far away from loved ones. Why not take Veterans Day - Tuesday November 10th - to educate yourself about veteran's issues, or even to thank someone for his or her service. Here are some ideas of things you can do:
  1. Watch this CBS Sunday Morning video about a grand thank you effort.
  2. Go to this or one of many other websites to send an e-card to an injured vet or active-duty military personnel. Here's another one.
  3. Check out a documentary in the works called Veterans' Affairs.
  4. Read Ben Stein's book The Real Stars, or watch this video interview about it with Fox News or read his commentary here.
  5. If you know someone who is serving, you can send them an Easter Seals e-card here.
  6. This Department of Defense site has stories, information about sending care packages, donating frequent flier miles and more.
  7. Consider a donation to or other support for Operation Homefront - helping military families here at home.
  8. Help provide a scholarship for a military child.
  9. Take it further by adopting a soldier, not just on Veteran's Day. This site provides lists of specific wants and needs of "any soldier" serving overseas.
  10. As the holidays are approaching, consider participating in a program that sends cards, gifts and letters from home to soldiers who won't "be home for Christmas." Here is one.
Have you thought about the war lately? Me either. Because we are fortunate enough not to have to. Show your appreciation to a soldier who wakes up thinking about it, eats meals on the run and goes to bed at night to the sound of fighting around him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Voter Fraud - Nobody Wins!

This entry was originally posted a week ago and today some very disturbing news was reported about 50,000 registered voters being purged from the rolls in Georgia. With all the fuss about ACORN, those phony voters registered are minor and will not be able to vote come election day, but there are lawsuits in Colorado, and many other concerns about voters being secretly and possibly illegally purged from voter rolls in many states just DAYS before the election.

Here is one thing we can ALL agree on: Democracy means nothing if our elections are not free and fair, and open to all. Every citizen has the right to vote, and that right should be fiercely guarded by all of us, or soon we may find that it is our rights being trampled.

America has been a watchdog for free and fair elections around the world, and a huge proponent of democracy, and yet our own elections have been suspect over the past several years. Voter suppression, intimidation tactics, suspect voting machines without a paper trail, long lines caused by not enough or non-functional voting machines in certain precincts, random voter purges from election rolls, intentional misinformation campaigns and other nefarious tactics have been used to disenfranchise voters.

This website details voter suppression tactics being carried out RIGHT NOW in different parts of the country, such as misinformation campaigns targeted at college students in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado – curiously, all swing states in the upcoming election, poll location changes without voter notification, and problems with registrations and absentee ballot applications in several states. One of the most disappointing reports concerns the possible denial of voting rights to those who have had their homes foreclosed in Michigan because they can’t prove their current address. Talk about insult to injury.

When we no longer have government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in the Gettysburg Address, this nation is headed for a fall. The Declaration of the Independence declares, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” What are the chances that black voters in Cleveland will show up to vote this time after standing in the rain for 8-9 hours in 2004 – many giving up and leaving. How likely are those who have lost their homes to foreclosure to show up at the polls to be further humiliated and possibly turned away? How many Colorado voters will show up on Nov. 4th after having waited in impossibly long lines in 2004?

Rolling Stone recently published a lengthy story asking if the 2004 election was stolen. It cites numerous sources, and was written by Robert Kennedy, Jr. and BBC Reporter Greg Palist. Wikipedia also dedicates a fair amount of information on this subject with well-documented sources.

However, whatever bitterness still remains about the 2000 and 2004 elections is NOT the point. The point is that we cannot allow our electoral system to be compromised in the future. Who really wins if the results of an election are tainted? Not “we the people,” not democracy.

Some sources for information about voter suppression and fraud:

Free For All - trailer

Free For All - full movie

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How This Works

Ok, so it's taken me a long time to really get this going because I wasn't quite sure how to make it work. I want it to be a dialogue about the political and social issues that divide us. I want us to be able to eschew labels such as liberal, conservative, Democrat and Republican, and talk as people about what concerns us, ignites our passions and fires us up enough to fight for. It is easy to be against something. It is easy to use a scare tactic to ignite fear and make people angry. I want to know what you're for, what you need, what you believe in and how we can begin to work together to fix the problems in this country and global society we now live in.

I strongly believe that being divided, making the other side out to be evil, and standing so firmly on the mantle of our beliefs without a willingness to listen to and try to understand someone else's view-point will be our downfall as a nation. I have posted my views about healthcare, and I welcome comments in the attitude of seeking first to understand. It is so easy in today's society to surround yourself with only those who agree with you, and real discussion is difficult if not impossible when the hard-core rhetoric is trotted out. Given that, the rules for this discussion will be as follows:

- No name-calling, labels, or political party rhetoric has a place here. If that is what you are seeking, there are plenty of other places on the web to post your comments and find others who will agree with you. You will be blocked if you don't respect the rules.
- Full names are required in order to post. That is why you will be required to log-in in order to comment. I honestly think the anonymity of most internet commenting is what gives people license to be insulting and demeaning. If you aren't willing to include your full name in relation to a comment, then you probably shouldn't be making it publicly.
- The goal is to find common ground, not stand your ground or defend your point of view. "Seek First to Understand and then to be understood." Please ask questions, seek clarification, and be willing to be open and honest about why you believe what you believe. Yes, share opposing viewpoints when necessary, but do so respectfully.
- Please don't quote others. Let this be about your voice. If you want to share a link that reinforces your POV or cite an article or resource, feel free, but this dialogue will be best when it is about what YOU believe, not the NYT or Fox News or your Uncle Fred.

There are many, many factors that play a role in shaping our beliefs and making us who we are. I urge you to explore your own ideology and make sure that it is yours. Sure, we were raised by our parents in a certain way, taught values perhaps by a religious tradition, and we are impacted every day by what we listen to, watch and read in the media. When it comes down to it, what is it that YOU believe? What is important to you? Please approach this discussion with a mind toward answering those questions for yourself, and finding common ground with your neighbors, co-workers, family members and fellow citizens.

Please submit your own essay of 1000 words or less to some possible topics include:

Global Warming/Climate Change
Our place in the global community
The Economy
Free Markets
Gay Rights
Family Values
Sex Education
Research Funding

Of course there are many, many more. Choose an issue that informs your vote and share your thoughts with us.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Healthcare as a Basic Human Right

We have heard it for years - the United States has the best health care system in the world. Turns out it's not true. We are actually ranked 37th - (citation) mostly because while we spend more than any other country on healthcare, we don't provide access to a huge segment of our population. Nearly 50 million of us don't have health insurance (citation), and 18,000 people die each year simply because of that fact (citation).

The truth is, I trust my care to doctors in this country wholeheartedly, but I am one of the lucky ones that has good health insurance. So when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago, I didn't have to worry about receiving high quality care for my disease, or excellent follow-up afterward. Many Americans aren't so lucky. A recent 60 Minutes report really brought that message home to me. Watch it here. Imagine a program started to help those in the third world gain access to health care and dentistry, now turning away hundreds of people it can't serve right here on American soil!

It doesn't matter how good our quality of care is if only the wealthy can afford it. During the October 8th, 2008 Presidential Debate, the candidates were asked if healthcare should be sold as a commodity. Neither one of them really answered the question. I strongly believe that healthcare as a for-profit enterprise is failing in this country. It's serving shareholders of pharmaceutical and insurance companies to be sure, but what about the rest of us? Even my oncologist was commenting during my visit the other day about how little he actually gets for the services he provides - the insurance companies get most of it - and how he considered leaving his practice as a result. I have to say, I was shocked!

We all assume that physicians in this country are among the wealthiest citizens, but that is not as true now as it was two or three decades ago. Average salaries for family practice doctors in the U.S. are around $150,000. Some specialists, especially those in oncology or cardiology can make $250-500K a year. While that may sound like a lot to you and me, when you factor in the specialized knowledge required for their work, and the amount of the loans to train them for their jobs OR compare these salaries to those of most Fortune 500 CEOs, it really isn't that much. Throw in the number of hours many physicians work, and the amount of stress they deal with, not to mention the high cost of malpractice insurance, and you begin to get a clearer understanding of the picture.

Consider that CEOs of some of the nations biggest health insurance companies receive compensation in the multiple millions with stock options and bonuses. Michael B. McAllister earned $3.33 million as CEO of Humana according to Forbes 2006 Executive Pay list; John W. Rowe, who has since left Aetna, earned $22.2 million according to the 2004 Forbes list; and the SEC investigated United Healthcare's stock option practices when Bill McGuire had options worth over $1.6 billion at the end of 2005 ("SEC Investigates UnitedHealth over Stock-Options Practices," Bloomberg News, December 2007; MichaelRegan, "Business 2006: Who Won, Who Lost," Associated Press, December 26, 2006).

Small business is also being hurt by the rising costs of health insurance, and entrepreneurs are in dire straights because they often can't afford to insure themselves. It is a sad commentary when health insurance becomes such a prominent factor in American's career paths. We should be basing career decisions on finding work that is fulfilling, or allows us to spend time with family or that pays us well - not on whether and what kind of health insurance is offered! Many, many people are staying in jobs that they don't like, or for which they are no longer productive because they can't afford to lose their healthcare. How is that good for our economy?
We have to take charge of educating ourselves, of taking care of ourselves and of standing up for ourselves. The healthcare industry has no incentive to keep you healthy - not when they make so much money treating the multitude of illnesses we have created in our modern society. My cancer treatment cost in excess of $150,000, and my treatment was minimal compared to most cancer patients. When chemo is billable at $11,000 a pop, what incentive is there to prevent or cure cancer? It's a cynical view, I know, but it's time we woke up, and started demanding the most basic human right - the pursuit of health.