Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun Control Can't Fix Everything - But It Can't Hurt

Twenty children, little children, first grade children, the same age of the children that I taught many years ago.  Killed.  Gone.  

Six adults whose life work was educating and caring for children, little children; work that I did a decade ago.  Killed.  Gone.

One young man, social problems most of his life, the same age as a young man in our extended family who committed a crime and took his own life several years ago.  Dead through suicide.  Gone.

One mother who undoubtedly loved her son, agonized over his problems, probably tried to figure out how she could help him, the same way that the parents of the young man in my family agonized for years and tried to help.  The mother of the young man in Connecticut was killed and is gone.  The parents of the young man in our family still live, still deal with depression, often anxiety;  even though several years have passed, they are still trying to understand what happened to their beloved son.

Newtown, Connecticut. 

Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Adam Lanza.   Two days ago these names were meaningless.  Now they are not.  We all know where these places are.  We all know who Adam Lanza is.  

We know the names of many of the victims, both the victims who lived and the victims who died.  We know of the first grade teacher, Kaitlin Roig, who herded her children into a bathroom and managed to keep them quiet.   They all lived.  We know of another first grade teacher, Vicki Soto, who herded her children into cupboards and cabinets, somehow keeping them safe but not herself.  We know of the principal, Dawn Hochsprung,  and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, who instinctively tried to run to the gunman to physically make him stop.... but he got them first.  We know of the teacher,  Ann Marie Murphy, who threw her body on her little ones.. but her body didn't stop the bullets.  She died as did her young charges.

We saw television news personalities tearing up, some actually cutting their schticks short due to imminent emotional breakdown.  We saw the President of the United States in tears as he talked about these little children, six and seven years old, who died.

The cacophony of minutiae

And now the cacophony of minutiae, opinions, accusations, counter-opinions,  and counter-accusations.  The noise has been too loud for me, and I have barely posted or written in the past 48 hours as I deal with the conflicting feelings and memories; too many of the details are too close to things I have lived through as a teacher and as a human being in my extended family.    

  • Lack of gun control is the problem, many cry out.
  • Carry and conceal in schools is the answer!, others claim.
  • Armed guards in every school!, say some.
  • This is what happens when you take God out of schools, shout a few.
  • The President is weak, say others.. He needs to seek some kind of gun ban!
  • More mental health help!, others yell.
  • What's with that mother?  Why did she have guns around if the kid was mentally ill?
  • The media got everything wrong!  And interviewing kids?  That was horrible!
  • Mental illness, personality disorder, autism spectrum, Aspberger's.  People throw these terms around as if they know what they mean.

Look, people, I know a young man who stole his father's guns and held up a convenience store and then shot himself when he was about to be apprehended.   I know the family;  I knew the young man since he was very tiny.   

Gun control would not have saved him.

More mental health resources would not have saved him.   

We do not have the details of what happened to Adam Lanza.  Was he violent?  Did he threaten his mother.. or anybody, for that matter?  Had he ever so much as hurt a fly before December 14th?  Was he getting mental health help?  Was he diagnosed with anything? 

We don't know the answer to any of these questions... yet.  And even when we do get the answers to these questions, they may not help us to understand what was in Adam Lanza's head Friday morning, and they may not help us to understand how to prevent another Newtown, Connecticut, massacre.        

The Mother's Obsession With Guns

The mother's obsession with guns was profiled here at the New York Times.

Here's a comment:  

I hate guns and I do not understand why people would buy them. 
Until now, I have always blamed the NRA and have been somewhat optimistic that we only need people to get a bit more organized in order to improve legislation. 
Today, the statistic cited in one of the other articles was a real eye opener. 
Apparently 60% of Americans are happy with the current gun laws and do not want any additional restrictions.  
I do not see how the tragic situation in Newton could have been prevented. Mrs. Lanza bought the guns legally and had even trained on how to use them. 
I haven't read anything about her son having demonstrated any violence earlier, so I have to assume that is the reason she did not take any additional precautions. 
Obviously, in this country we have serious violence issues, which get compounded by loose legislation on guns. We also have serious mental health issues, but apparently the killer's condition had not raised concern. 
Most people in the NYT forums are vociferous about the need for gun control. I am with you, but I am also realistic and very pessimistic about any possible changes.

I do not see any need for those multiple clips that allow people to shoot a hundred rounds in a few seconds or a minute.  I don't know why that kind of firepower should be protected.

As I mentioned above, I knew a young man, close to the age of the Lanza young man, who had a lot of issues but no history of physically aggressive or violent behavior, who broke into his father's locked gun cabinet at the family's vacation home.  He and a friend took those hunting rifles and held up a convenience store.  As the police closed in, he shot himself.  Nobody was hurt except the young man.

I'm sure people would say the same thing about him... Why did his father have hunting rifles?  But there was no reason for the father NOT to have hunting rifles in a locked closet.  The son was not aggressive or violent.  He hadn't threatened anybody; he was just snotty and rebellious.  He'd been in various kinds of therapies, various special schools, various treatments for various addictions for years.  

Would this young man still be alive with stronger gun control laws?  I can't imagine that.  These were registered hunting rifles in a locked closet in a vacation home.  I will say that the family felt a sense of relief that the young man didn't take anyone with him as he checked out, unlike Adam Lanza.

I do think we need stronger gun control laws, and I welcome efforts to introduce legislation to outlaw assault weapons.  And we certainly need to eliminate the gun show loophhole.  But not all of these tragedies are going to be prevented unless all guns are outlawed.. and that will never happen.

Other articles and comments: 

I am Adam Lanza's Mother:  A great article about what it is like to deal with a seriously mentally ill adolescent, but I don't think we can say that the problems of this mother and her son are equivalent to the problems of Adam Lanza.  But a must-read article nonetheless.  My comment:

I completely understand the author's pain and I empathize with her son.. and with her love for her son. 
But we don't really know that Adam Lanza was like her Michael. We haven't heard of any hospitalizations, any other episodes of violence, any diagnoses that might shed some light on his actions. 
Adam was in public or private schools for about 10 years. He was pulled out when he was a sophomore or junior in high school, but, while people who knew him talked about how "strange" he was; nobody has mentioned out of control or aggressive behaviors. 
I don't think we can read this very heartfelt, very moving article and assume that Adam Lanza had the same issues. 
Now.. I do know children who had similar problems to those described by Michael's mother. I agree that mental health understanding and treatment of these children is not very solid. I taught elementary school for many years and I can remember two children who exhibited these kinds of completely out of control behaviors. Both were placed into specialized settings for children with behavioral disorders. Both had siblings who were completely "normal".  
These children are being lost, and that is so, so sad. 
And, no, the solution is NOT a slap or a spank as some (comments) here have suggested.”

Friday, December 14, 2012

Don't We Have the Right To Earn and Keep Unlimited Wealth?

The Greatest Thing About America is the Right To Earn (and Keep)
Unlimited Wealth.  (Yes, sarcasm.)
From "Achieve Unlimited Wealth"

Posted by Facebook friend John L:

I read recently that the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans in the 1950's was 75%. Interesting. I didn't know that we were a Socialist country back then. In grade school at about that time they taught us we had the strongest and fastest growing economy in the world. Just won WWII, too. Hard to imagine we could do all that without any billionaires in our population.
Now any real patriot will tell you that the greatest thing about America is the right of any citizen to earn unlimited wealth. It's pretty obvious that if a person can earn a billion or so in this economy he, or she, really deserves to keep it. Imagine anyone thinking that such wealth should be shared. How unAmerican! Our best collective hope is that the billionaires have a good New Year so that some of the profits will finally start to trickle down to those of us relegated to the lower 99%. 
When you're doing that last minute shopping this Christmas, please don't forget the billionaires.

My reply, dripping with sarcasm at two in the morning: 

Of course, John! Those guys earned every dime! They "worked hard", "made good choices", and "planned ahead". And the rest of us are just low-life slackers. 

We could all be billionaires living off the slave labor of the workers who died in the fire of the garment building in Bangladesh. Oops.. sorry, my fingers went a little wild there... I meant to say that we all could have been billionaires if only we had "worked hard", "made good choices", and "planned ahead"...  like the Walmart kids .... Oops.. sorry again, well, those fingers.. It's just late at night and they just take off on their own... That's right, the Walmart executives and the Walmart kids claim they had nothing to do with that fire in Bangladesh! Somebody was scamming them! They only want their slaves to work in SAFE buildings... Oops, not slaves, actually; they make $38 a month. You can't be a slave if they PAY you $38 bucks a month.

And the Walmart kids say that if only those workers had just "worked hard", "made good choices", and "planned ahead", well, they started working for $38 bucks a month just like the Bangladeshi workers... Oops... I have to stop this; my fingers are just not getting things right. No, the Walmart kids did not start working for $38/month: The Walmart kids got their money from Daddy! Well, that's a different story then. DADDY was the one who "worked hard", "planned ahead", and "made good choices", so of course, it's perfectly O.K. for the kiddos to drive around drunk... Oh, sorry, it was only Alice who drove around drunk, not the other ones, and she has been such a wonderful philanthropist! I wonder how much she "donated" to the family of the woman she killed back in the early 90's.

But that fire was in Bangladesh! If you have the misfortune of being born in Bangladesh, you are royally screwed.  The billionaires know that and they don't care.  This is the US!  If only people here in this wonderful land of opportunity would "plan ahead", "make good choices", and "work hard" for $38 a month right here in the good old US of A, then we wouldn't have all of these unemployed people and factories relocating overseas... and those Bangladesh workers would not have died in that fire! 
If only the governments and the workers themselves hadn't insisted on safer working conditions, fire and building codes, well, then those 112 garment workers could have been working... and could have died right here and not in Bangladesh... just the way they did back in 1911 in the Triangle factory fire.

Lower tax rates help the economy?

The rich guys and their Republican friends keep trying to tell us that lower tax rates, particularly lower tax rates paid by the richest among us are going to help the economy!  Yeah, just the way that such low tax rates helped the economy in 1928 and now, since the early 2000's.  We've all seen how many millions of jobs those tax cuts have created!  The only thing that correlates with low tax rates is the recessions that follow a few years of tax cuts for the rich.  It happened in the late 1920's and it happened just a few years ago.  

I don't know what that Grover Norquist character smokes, but his knowledge of basic economics and basic history is sadly lacking.

Low taxes lead to rampant income inequality, bubbles, and ultimate recessions... and not that many jobs.    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nobody Raided the Social Security Trust Fund

No, nobody, neither Republican nor Democrat, has "raided" the Social Security Trust Fund.  It is NOT full of worthless IOU's.

Photo found at CBS Money Watch.  Link in article.

When you put money in your bank or credit union, do you assume that the money you have deposited sits in a file somewhere with your name on it?  Is it somehow converted into gold or silver bars with your name impressed on them?  No, of course not.  You assume that the bank or credit union, while crediting your account with the amount of your deposit, has used your money by lending it out to other customers.  If you need it you can withdraw it.

So, in effect, do you have money sitting in a file somewhere?  No, you have an IOU.  The bank owes you whatever you have deposited into it on demand.  (Which is why checking accounts are traditionally called "demand deposit" accounts.)    

Likewise with Social Security.  

You don't have a file with a bunch of dollars (IOU's from the federal reserve, actually) sitting somewhere.  You never had.  Nobody ever had.

The value of the Social Security Trust Fund equals:

  1. The amount that workers and employers have put into the Trust Fund since it started.  PLUS:  
  2. Interest accrued since it started.  MINUS:  
  3. Funds paid out to beneficiaries.  (I do assume that the money to administer the fund comes out of the trust fund, but perhaps I am wrong about that.)  
But NO SOCIAL SECURITY MONEY HAS BEEN BORROWED OR STOLEN by the government, not when Republicans or Democrats have been in power, for anything else.  The value of the trust fund, now about 2.7 trillion dollars, is and always has been the full value of what has been put into the trust fund, PLUS interest, MINUS payments to people.

Worthless IOU's?

The IOU'S that make up the trust fund are only "worthless" if the whole economic system is worthless.  Likewise, the IOU's that make up your checking account are only "worthless" if the bank goes belly up and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation somehow ceases to exist.  If you think the "IOU's" in the social security trust fund are "worthless", then the cash "Federal Reserve Notes" that you might have in your wallet are also worthless.  For they are just pieces of paper that say they are worth something:  They are IOU's as well.

Our whole economy is run on trust, for that matter.  

You assume when you get paid that the automatic deposit into your checking account or the check you receive from your employer is worth something.  The retailers, landlords, utility companies, mortgage companies that take your money, whether via check, cash (those federal reserve IOU's), or electronic transfer, also assume that it is worth something.  Online banking and buying is nothing but the transfer of promises, the transfer of trust. NOTHING actually changes hands in terms of stacks of dollar bills, gold, silver, or any other precious commodity.

"Full Faith and Credit" of the United States Government

But all of these transactions, all of these IOU's, are backed by the "full faith and trust of the United States Government".  If these IOU's are worthless, whether dollar bills, funds in the Social Security Trust Fund, or money in banks and credit unions, then the United States is in really deep doo--- All of us, from the richest CEO with money deposited in the United States  to the poorest person receiving General Assistance (if that even still exists.) 

Social Security started to have (future) problems because the number of employed people paying into the Trust Fund started to go down relative to the number of beneficiaries.  This was supposed to have been fixed with the change to Social Security in the 1980's, but the main event that was unforeseen was the Great Recession of 2008.  Fewer and fewer people were working and contributing to the Trust Fund and more people were taking benefits early because they had no other income. 

Don't believe everything you read in one of those mass emails: 

I wrote this post as part of a reply to the following comment which apparently has been spreading via emails all over the Internet:
My Social Security payments, and those of millions of other Americans, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero ambition losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a Ponzi scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff proud.
My reply to this comment:
The Social Security Trust Fund is INTACT.  Your payments are STILL tucked away in that interest bearing account which is called the Social Security Trust Fund.  No, you don't have a specific account with your specific payments in it, but you never did and neither did anybody else. 

Now, when you deposit your money into a bank account, do you think the bank keeps your dollars sitting in a drawer somewhere? No, of course not. It loans them out to people and corporations. If everybody came in and tried to claim their deposits at one time and wanted currency, the bank would not be able to do it. THEY DON'T HAVE CURRENCY SITTING IN A DRAWER.

Likewise, when you pay your FICA tax, it doesn't sit in a drawer, and it never has. The government does not put a stack of currency in some kind of drawer for you. That money goes into the government's accounts, and the trust fund is credited the amount of whatever you put in.  

Right now there are 2.7 trillion bucks in the Social Security Trust Fund and it is earning about 3.9% interest. That 2.7 trillion includes ALL of the money ever deposited to the trust fund, ALL of the interest ever credited to the trust fund, MINUS all benefits ever paid out. NOTHING has been stolen or "raided".  Check out the value of the Social Security Trust Fund yourself HERE. 

It is unclear who the "zero ambition losers" are that you refer to:  People receiving other benefits? Defense contractors? I would assume, from the context, that whoever wrote this thinks that his/her social security funds are going to pay for "welfare queens". Anyone else want to take a guess?
Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.


Ponzi schemes are fraudulent schemes in which investors think they are getting an increase in their investments, but the money is actually coming from newer investors.  Eventually the whole thing blows up, as it requires a constant influx of new investors.

Social Security is NOT fraudulent.

Everybody KNOWS that we need new workers to help to pay for the benefits of older retirees.  With all of the Baby Boomers retiring, we can certainly use those DREAM workers, working legally, paying money into Social Security legally, can't we?      

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Raising the Medicare Age: Who Benefits? Follow the Money!

Just published on Think Progress:  

Obama suggests raising the Medicare eligibility age is NOT off the table.

Obama was quoted saying:

When you look at the evidence, it’s not clear that it actually saves a lot of money,” he said. “But what I’ve said is let’s look at every avenue, because what is true is we need to strengthen Social Security, we need to strengthen Medicare for future generations, the current path is not sustainable because we’ve got an aging population and health care costs are shooting up so quickly.

There are so many good reasons to NOT raise the age for Medicare eligibility; check THIS LINK with many reasons why we should NOT raise the age for Medicare eligibility.  

Not only will it not save the government that much money, but it will hurt Medicare long term, as the youngest and healthiest Medicare beneficiaries will no longer be in the program.  For any kind of insurance program to be successful, you need people who are going to be paying in and not using the service.. or not using the service very much.

Who might benefit if the eligibility age for Medicare is raised?

Hmmm.....   Private insurers.  

Could this be the biggest reason why the Republicans are pushing for this?  How much are the private insurers lobbying the Democrats as well on this one?

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Entitlements" Debunked

Social Security and Medicare are "Entitlements"?

I worked for them!   

(Note: This article was written in 2012, but the principles are the same.)

I wince whenever I hear the word "entitlements" used to describe Social Security and Medicare.  I started putting money into those funds when I was 14!  

We also were all enlightened when we heard former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney talk about the irresponsible 47% who felt that they were "entitled" to food, shelter, and medicine. (No way should we give any of those low-life veterans, seniors, disabled people, working poor, and students "food"!  Let them starve!)

Sarcasm aside, I found this great explanation of the use and the misuse of the word "entitlements".  No matter, I still wish the Democrats didn't go along with the Republicans in the defined use of this word.  It's still infuriating, and the Republicans and other conservatives have managed to get the upper hand in rhetoric, as they managed to do with the phrase "pro-life".  


Entitlements debunked:
Entitlement is actually a technical accounting term that refers to fixed payments that must be honored. Republicans and their spinmeisters have taken this accounting term and used it in a vernacular form which suggests that an entitlement is, "something you feel you are entitled to." 
It's a linguistics trick which has worked well in influencing the minds of conservatives that our society is full of 'takers' who are getting something for nothing.

Posted HERE at Huffington Post by Jazzman in reply to this article on Obama's response to the Fiscal Cliff entitled "Better Late Than Never" by Robert Kuttner. 

Other readings on those mind-numbing, government-dependency-producing "entitlements":

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