LBJ’s ‘Great Society’ at 50: Ensuring a Nation’s Safety Net

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty,” no one can reasonably argue that the government’s massive effort didn’t help.

It’s more a question of how much it helped. And today, it’s a question of how to make these essential programs more effective and sustainable for a new generation.

In his watershed speech, coming just about six weeks after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, LBJ promised to “cure” poverty. By that measure, of course, he failed. Four in 10 children remain impoverished. And in the hill country of Appalachia, where the new president launched his effort in the spring of 1964, poverty remains stubbornly entrenched.

At the same time, Johnson’s policies widened the fault line between Americans over the role of government in their lives — between those who want limited government and those who look to government to solve problems. This widening of the Republican-Democrat split created by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is a legacy of Johnson’s vision.

In time, the Great Society would include an array of new initiatives: Medicare and Medicaid, the first direct federal aid to school districts, Head Start, food stamps, environmental legislation, the Job Corps to provide vocational education, urban renewal programs, national endowments for the arts and humanities, civil rights legislation and an expanded Social Security program.

The combined effect of these programs drove poverty down significantly from 1967 to 2012, according to a recent study by economists at Columbia University. Researchers found that if government transfers are included in the mix, poverty fell from 26 percent to 16 percent. As The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog pointed out last week, government intervention is the only reason there are fewer Americans living in poverty now than 45 years ago. In 2012, about 4 million people were spared from poverty by food stamps alone.

But persistent poverty in both urban and rural America remains a significant problem. So does income inequality, which is the widest it has been since the 1920s.

We favor raising the minimum wage on the federal level — not piecemeal at the local level. We favor any reasonable effort to encourage the creation of new businesses, which leads to jobs. The yawning gap in income has much to do with a lack of good-paying jobs.

The biggest of the entitlement programs must be set right for future deserving recipients. Medicare should be means tested so that wealthier recipients pay more of the bills. Social Security’s solvency could be ensured by either raising the age for drawing benefits or increasing the cap on the payroll tax. Democrats should be open to changes in entitlements to make them sustainable. Republicans should be open to increased taxes to shore them up.

It was notable that House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) didn’t go anywhere near entitlement reform during the recent budget agreement. That small-bore deal was an accomplishment after months of wrangling, but it also was a reminder of just how far the nation needs to go.

Finally, we believe something else is required of every American: a sense of responsibility for those in need. Poverty is different from the other “wars” fought on social battlefields in this country. Unlike the “wars” against drugs and crime, it is relatively easy for the comfortable to remain unaware of want in their own communities, easier sometimes to show compassion for those thousands of miles away when the real work is five minutes from our own backyards.

The anniversary of Johnson’s grand experiment is a good time for both parties to commit themselves to an honest debate over how best to preserve the American safety net and relieve income inequality. The answer is not shredding programs. The answer is fixing them.

Republished from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentine. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

So Damned Unfair: Income Inequality Threatens the American Dream

Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson

Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson

Some 3 weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave a speech calling income inequality “the defining challenge of our time.”

It’s been the defining issue in a lot of times. We imagine, this time of year, that a man who placed his pregnant wife on a donkey and took her on a 70-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem was probably part of the working poor.

To the extent any president can give a major speech in secret, Obama did so Dec. 4. The nearly hour-long address was delivered in the middle of a Wednesday at a social service agency campus across town from the White House.

It didn’t get a lot of hype from the White House Press Office. Reporters knew he was going to talk about the economy, but were left to guess about the specifics. Cable news networks quickly cut away — nobody told them it was important.

But it surely was. News reports in the following days analyzed it, with at least one conservative commentator mocking its “Che” policy.

The president was less Che Guevara than “Professor Obama,” laying out how, since the post-war era of widespread prosperity, America has become a place where one-tenth of Americans take in half of all of its income. Where productivity is up 90 percent over the past three decades and family income is up only 8 percent. Where social mobility has all but evaporated and tens of millions of people have become irrelevant.

It was a speech that should have been given in prime time, before a joint session of Congress, with the attendant bells and whistles. Obama promised to spend the rest of his presidency on these issues. We hope people will listen, particularly those who blame Obamacare for their shrinking paychecks.

In the days since the speech, we’ve been struck by how often the news in our paper drives home his basic point: The capitalist system has been distorted to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

—Congress reached its budget deal without extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. The economy has fundamentally shifted, making it harder for everyone to find a job, but particularly those who have been out of work the longest. There was, of course, no talk at all of raising revenues, either by eliminating loopholes or (God forbid) raising taxes on the wealthy. Big political donors made sure of that.

—Obama issued pardons for eight federal prisoners serving long sentences for crack cocaine crimes. Crack is the cocaine of choice for the poor; powdered cocaine is the drug of choice for the affluent. Even after the 2010 sentencing reform, you can get 18 times stiffer sentences for crack than the same amount of powdered coke.

—The revenue-short state of Missouri offered the Boeing Co. up to $2.4 billion in incentives over 23 years to bring an aircraft plant here. Boeing would be allowed to keep its payroll taxes; its employees won’t. Union members here offered to give up overtime and build the new plant in 24-hour shifts. As Obama pointed out, unions helped build middle-class prosperity after World War II. Today union members in Missouri go up against those in Washington state in a sort of “Hunger Games” showdown to amuse Boeing’s executives and shareholders.

—Obama has supported a bill raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, an effort that dovetails with fast-food worker strikes here and elsewhere. Businesses warn of dire consequences, though studies suggest they aren’t likely. A mother with three kids who works full time at $10 an hour would make $20,800 a year and still be eligible for food stamps, though food stamp benefits are being cut because, you know, they have been become a hammock not a safety net.

—Because families are hungry, good people like Michael R. Akers, who used to work at the defunct Chrysler plant, volunteer to work for their church food pantries. Akers, 58, was killed Wednesday making a food pantry run when his truck skidded off a road. His son, Christopher, 19, was critically burned. It seems so damned unfair.

Fairness used to be America’s defining quality: All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That kind of thing.

An American could go as far as his drive and determination could take him. The country would help educate him. He would put in a good day’s work and be rewarded for his contributions. We would put a floor under him, care for him in his old age.

Now we have to decide if that’s still the deal.

We read a speech that David Simon gave last month in Sydney, Australia, at something called “The Festival of Dangerous Ideas.” Simon is a former Baltimore Sun police reporter gone successful, the man behind HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme.” Here’s part of what he told the Aussies:

“Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have ‘some’, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.

“And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.

“We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream. …”

Republished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

Our View: Engage and Challenge Objectionable Speech – Don’t Silence It

phil-robertson-duck-dynastyPhil Robertson is the star of a “reality” TV show, but he apparently got too real for the network that broadcasts it.

A&E Network this week suspended Robertson indefinitely from the hit series “Duck Dynasty” after the patriarch of the show’s family made remarks about his religious faith and homosexuality in a GQ magazine interview.

In the pantheon of anti-gay rhetoric, it was relatively tame stuff. Robertson wasn’t advocating violence or discrimination against homosexuals. He expressed a common biblical view of homosexual acts as part of a broader discussion of sin, which included bestiality and heterosexual adultery as well as greed and drunkenness. His, er, colorful comparison of copulations was even couched in self-awareness: “That’s just me.” In short, this wasn’t a Rev. Fred Phelps screed — or even an Alec Baldwin rant.

Nevertheless, it understandably offended many people. Perhaps Robertson should’ve been more mindful that his star shines in red and blue states and refrained from answering the question. But then, that wouldn’t be keeping it real.

To be clear, this is not a First Amendment issue. The government is not censoring Robertson for his speech. As a private employer, A&E is free to discipline an employee that the company believes has done harm to its image.

Whether that proves to be a smart business move remains to be seen.

“Duck Dynasty” appeals to many because of the Robertson clan’s professed Christian beliefs and traditional values. Phil Robertson wasn’t telling GQ anything that people didn’t already know, suspect or agree with — hence the immediate and outraged response on social media from those who disagreed with A&E’s suspension. The channel potentially stands to lose a lot of money if these folks stop watching the show and buying “Duck Dynasty” merchandise in protest — or if the Robertsons decide to take their show elsewhere.

Perhaps A&E doesn’t understand its audience (it soon will, if hasn’t already — a Facebook page titled “Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson is Put Back on Duck Dynasty” already has more than 600,000 “likes”). Or maybe it’s making a decision based on principle and is willing to take a hit to its bottom line.

Regardless, you don’t have to agree with Robertson’s views to be troubled by A&E’s reaction to them. The proper responses to speech you find objectionable are to ignore it, or to engage and challenge it with more speech — not to silence or punish it. That goes for Southern backwoods duck hunters as well as Hollywood actors pontificating on politics and country music groups that criticize the president.

A&E should have stopped with the release of a statement that Robertson’s opinions were his own and not reflective of the channel or its advertisers. Instead, the network followed the path that much of American society has chosen these days — to abandon debate and tolerance of opposing views, and to provide more grist for the grievance industry in our ongoing culture wars.

The pledge to “disagree with what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it” has given way to, “Shut up or else!” If we associate only with those with which we agree, we will live in an insular world lacking in true diversity.

Republished from the Panama City News Herald. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

‘Tips for Jesus’ Should Remind Us to Be Kind

Photo courtesy of Manny Hernandez / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Manny Hernandez / Flickr

An anonymous tipster or tipsters, mostly at restaurants in Chicago and San Francisco, is leaving gigantic tips for service at restaurants. One tip, left for two bartenders at a University of Notre Dame campus restaurant, was for $10,000. Others have been for hundreds, dwarfing the size of the bill.

The tipster or tipsters take photos of the receipts and post them on an Instagram account with the username “tipsforjesus.” The only explanation given on the Instagram account is: “Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.”

We hope “tipsforjesus” sets an example for others who dine out during the holiday season and beyond. Oh, it’s not as if everyone should go around leaving tips worth hundreds or thousands of dollars for routine service, or even great service. Few could afford to do so, and one can think of other ways to give away money.

We only hope the news-making tips will get people to think about those who serve them. They are human beings, equal to all others in the eyes of God. They wait on customers, in most cases, because they have spouses, children and bills to pay.

During the season of Hanukkah, Christmas and the new year, diners are notorious for stiffing waiters, cab drivers, bellhops, barbers and others who serve them. It’s probably because consumers are burdened with high costs of the holidays and are looking for opportunities to save.

Cutting back on the tip only transfers financial burden from one person to the next. Usually, not always, the person waited on is of higher financial means than the person providing the service. Miserly tips often translate into disappointment for children and families service workers who already live below the middle class.

In the United States, waiters and bartenders earn shockingly modest wages. They are exempt from standard minimum wage protections precisely because tradition creates a valuable relationship between customer and server. Because of tipping, consumers are typically ensured a higher level of service. A customer who is neglected or mistreated has the rightful option of leaving a lower tip. If service is atrocious, one can make a case for no tip at all. If service is excellent, the customer should leave a generous tip.

We believe good service, especially during the holidays, should cause a tip worth no less than 20 percent of the total bill. For more detailed tipping guides, search “rules for tipping” on Google and look at guides published by the Emily Post Institute, Reader’s Digest, CNN/Money and TripAdvisor. Mostly, examine your own conscience and heart.

While on the topic, think of others who serve us throughout the year. Consider running a tip to the people who pick up trash at the curb.

As we celebrate the festival of lights, the birth of Jesus and the new year, remember that men and women who wait on us are trying to feed families and pay bills. If we don’t want to pay them, we should not have them wait on us.

Service isn’t free. Before signing the bill, think about “tipsforjesus” and leave a tip that’s fair — if not extraordinary. It can only help bright someone’s holiday season.

Republished from the Colorado Springs Gazette; distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

An Evolution Away From History and Toward Peace

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Secretary of State John Kerry in the Oval Office, Nov. 1, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Four years ago Dec. 10, President Barack Obama traveled to Oslo, Norway, to accept a Nobel Peace Prize he’d done very little to earn except for not being George W. Bush, which was good enough for the prize committee.

Four years on, Mr. Obama has burnished his peacemaker’s credentials in ways that might not be Nobel-worthy, but surely have made the world a safer place.

— In 2010, his administration negotiated a replacement for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Russia. Each nation agreed to limit its nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 over seven years, a 30 percent reduction. Each nation will reduce long-range missiles and launchers to 700.

— He finally extricated U.S. forces from Iraq and began the long — too long, in our view — process of bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. All except a residual force were scheduled be home a year from now, but Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai may want to accelerate the schedule.

— Taking advantage of Secretary of State John Kerry‘s slip of the tongue in September, Mr. Obama seized an opening from Russian President Vladimir Putin that has resulted in the ongoing destruction, under U.N. auspices, of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

— Mr. Obama saw another opening in March, created by the approach of Iran’s presidential election. The volatile Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was on his way out, and Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, was on his way in. A back-channel diplomatic effort was opened, followed by a public channel after the election in June. The efforts culminated Sunday with the signing of a six-month stand-down of Iran’s nuclear program.

Does Mr. Obama deserve all the credit for these initiatives? Of course not. But it’s clear that his willingness to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself was important to all of them.

The key to the Syria deal was Mr. Putin, who has long been the enabler of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The key to the Iranian deal was Mr. Rouhani, who had the tacit support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Both men’s hands were forced by ongoing international sanctions of Iran.

Mr. Obama appears to understand the adage that there’s no limit to what someone can accomplish if he doesn’t care who gets the credit. It was he who appointed Mr. Kerry as secretary of state, understanding that an iron will and a willingness to talk at great length sometimes are useful assets.

The agreement signed with Iran and other states last Sunday in Geneva will not halt the Iranian nuclear program. But it buys six months to reach a broader agreement even as it allows Iran access to assets and banking networks frozen by Western nations.

The deal introduced the world to a new term, “dash-time.” That’s defined as how long it would take a nation to extend the peaceful development of nuclear capabilities to military capabilities. Iran’s dash-time is now longer, and that can be nothing but good.

Naturally there were critics. We’ve noted before that Mr. Obama couldn’t announce a cure for cancer without someone whining, “What about heart disease?”

This time the prize for stupidest criticism went to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who tweeted”Amazing what WH (White House) will do to distract attention from O-care (Obamacare).”

Peace in the Middle East a distraction? Bringing what Mr. Bush called a “rogue state”back to reasonable discourse? Learning to talk with a nation whose fingerprints are all over Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq? This is a distraction? Republicans like Mr. Cornyn are bidding fair to make their entire party a distraction.

Then there was Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who for domestic political reasons felt compelled to suggest that further sanctions might be needed.

As always there was the redoubtable Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s hawkish prime minister, who called the Iran deal a “historic mistake.” Mr. Netanyahu, for obvious reasons, had been left out of the private discussions, being presented with a done deal that he felt obliged to hate.

In the light of history, Israel’s misgivings are understandable. But if the world is to get past its history, it must look forward.

“(W)e cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” Mr. Obama said Monday. In words that could have been directed at Mssrs. Cornyn, Schumer and Netanyahu, he added, “Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

It sounds odd, but among Mr. Obama’s other peace-keeping achievements has been his willingness to use or threaten force — in air-support over Libya, in arming and training Syrian rebels and in prosecuting the war on al-Qaida. We have reservations about tactics — the CIA’s too-broad targeting policies for drone warfare, the NSA’s too-broad electronic surveillance of American citizens — but they too have made America more secure.

In Oslo four years ago, Mr. Obama made the case for war in accepting his premature prize for peace. But he quoted President John F. Kennedy on the necessity of allowing for the possibility of change.

In his June 1963 address at American University in Washington, D.C., perhaps the most important but least-known of his speeches, Mr. Kennedy said, “Let us focus on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

Mr. Obama echoed that last line, “A gradual evolution in human institutions,” he said. This is evolution we can all believe in.

Republished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

$5B Loss Says Postal Service Is Limping Along

Photo courtesy of Ron Doke / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Ron Doke / Flickr

Forgive us if we don’t think it cause for celebration that the U.S. Postal Service on Friday reported a $5 billion net loss for its 2013 fiscal year — “a significant improvement over last year,” as our friends at the New York Times generously characterized it.

No, a $5 billion net loss isn’t as horrific as the record $15.9 billion loss the USPS posted in 2012. But it’s still pretty darn terrible. And it marks the seventh straight fiscal year that the postal service has finished in the red.

“We’ve achieved some excellent results for the year in terms of innovations, revenue gains and cost reductions,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said, “but without major legislative changes we cannot overcome the limitations of our inflexible business model.”

We agree with Mr. Donahoe that Congress should scrap the postal service business model, which might have worked in the time of Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s first postmaster general, but is hopelessly out-of-date in the age of email correspondence, electronic bill paying, direct deposit, online tax payments and next-day package delivery.

These innovations, ably provided by the private sector, have proven category killers to the postal service.

Indeed, first-class mail volume has declined 30 percent since 2007. Mail-in bill payments are down an estimated 25 percent over the same span.

Nearly 90 percent of Social Security recipients get their monthly payments through direct deposit rather than by snail mail. Some 80 percent of tax returns are filed online. And more than 90 percent of large shippers use UPS or FedEx.

It’s because practically all of the postal service’s one-time profit centers have either been mostly overtaken by technology or mostly taken over by more efficient, cost-effective private-sector competitors that it has lost $45 billion since 2007.

Meanwhile, the postal service is staggering under the weight of its massive pension and health care obligations to past and present employees. So much so that, in August, it actually defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment into a health benefits fund for its future retirees, the third such default in as many years.

While Postal Service leadership over the years bears much responsibility for its financial woes, Congress bears at least partial responsibility for standing in the way of much-needed reform.

James Gattuso, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, points out that, even though the postal service is hemorrhaging red ink, lawmakers have not permitted such cost-cutting measures as consolidation of postal facilities and reduction of delivery days.

Indeed, the postal service estimates that the smallest 4,500 post offices each serve, on average, fewer than five customers per day, while taking in a daily average of $52. Meanwhile, Saturday delivery costs the postal service $2 billion a year.

Mr. Gattuso urges a batch of postal reforms with which we agree. They include lifting restrictions on closure of USPS processing centers and post offices, lifting restrictions on delivery times and schedules, and lifting service-level mandates (like door-to-door service).

Enactment of those reforms will hardly solve all of the postal service’s woes. But it’s a good place to start.

Republished from the Orange County Register. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

Our View: World Reaches out to Typhoon Victims

Photo courtesy of CAFOD Photo Library

Photo courtesy of CAFOD Photo Library

Americans are no stranger to disaster. We’ve seen our share of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. We’ve seen our neighbors lose loved ones or their homes, and we have witnessed the painful rebuilding process. But who among us was not aghast as images of flattened villages and homeless survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan began pouring into the 24/7 news cycle?

A U.S. military commander compared the scene to the aftermath of a 50-mile-wide tornado, leaving little untouched in its path. Even before the storm hit, there was no doubt as to the potential for catastrophic damage.

Weather forecasters say that Haiyan hit the Philippines with sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts to as high as 275 mph.

Initial reports seemed to accept the Philippine government’s estimates that advance preparation and evacuations would keep the death toll low. We now know those estimates were very, very wrong.

As many as 10,000 people — many of them drowned by storm surges that reached 20 feet or higher — could be counted among the dead by the time recovery efforts are over, some officials say. By Tuesday they had counted 1,774 bodies, according to CNN, and more were expected as rescuers gain access to more areas and begin digging out the rubble.

Some areas are still inaccessible to rescuers, leaving residents in those communities to fend for themselves as they search for food, potable water and medical supplies.

The United Nations estimates that 673,000 people have been displaced in a nation where more than 40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day or less. Photos leave no doubt as to the level of destruction in the hardest-hit areas.

Support is pouring in from governments around the globe and from individuals, Americans included, who want to do what they can to help. But already we are hearing stories of scams, looting and of medical supplies not reaching victims. For that reason, it’s best to give to a charity you know and trust. You may also research a charity’s record via, and other sources. There are also groups that got an early start providing assistance — well-known names such as the American Red Cross, UNICEF, CARE International andseveral well-known religiously affiliated groups. As always, relief groups ask that donations be in the form of money (preferably checks or credit card payments that can be accounted for) rather than clothing or other material items.

Disaster knows no national or ethnic boundaries. People in need are people in need, and the people of the Philippines need all the help they can get. Recovery will be a long, slow process, but every donation — no matter how small — will make a difference to someone.

Republished from the New Bern Sun Journal. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bullying no Longer has a Proper Place

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

Bullying always seems to be in the news — especially these days when those who would mercilessly taunt others have so many avenues to do so.

Usually, these stories start on school campuses or at parks or recreation centers — places where teenagers congregate in all our communities. Where teens gather, bullying often follows. It occurs in many forms, too. In fact, the most harmful bullying is often accomplished among teens hurling insults or racial and sexual epithets via social media. They sometimes have tragic endings — suicide is one horrifying outcome.

This week, though, brought a different twist on a national bullying story. It allegedly occurred among professional football players in a high-pressure workplace where taunting is seen as part of the larger game.

Jonathan Martin, a second-year offensive lineman, left the Miami Dolphins to deal with emotional issues apparently brought on by a tormentor who is also a teammate. Multiple sources have told media outlets that veteran offensive lineman Richie Incognito sent Martin text messages that were racist and threatening. Martin is biracial, and Incognito is white. Miami management suspended Incognito on Sunday night.

This sorry episode has called attention to the workplace culture of not just the Miami Dolphins locker room but of every team in professional football. A story posted online Wednesday by The Atlantic reported that Incognito was allegedly encouraged by the Miami coaching staff to “toughen up” his more timid teammate. Some contend that Incognito — whose checkered history includes charges of assault and being thrown off two college football teams — responded in the only way he knew how.

So, was bullying overlooked on the Miami team as something that’s historically a part of the sport and football team-building? Likely. Was it even encouraged? Perhaps. In the often brutal world of a violent team sport played by people earning millions of dollars, it’s easy to view it as far from a normal workplace situation. But does it make such actions right? No.

Once, bullying was considered a rite of passage for teens, too. Today, though, that’s hardly the case. States are enacting tougher penalties for acts considered to be bullying. That’s because the stakes have never been higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, think about suicide and actually attempt suicide.

One case has drawn national attention. Two Florida teens are facing felony aggravated stalking charges for bullying a 12-year-old classmate who committed suicide after receiving text or online messages telling her to kill herself or “drink bleach and die.” Investigators said the bullying crossed the line from teen meanness into criminal harassment.

Experts agree that to stem bullying, the social climate has to change. Bullying has to be under a microscope and seen as intolerable.

We believe all schools should take on this responsibility and pass it to their students. And the same should be true of workplaces — even in the fraternity known as the NFL.

Republished from the Jacksonville Daily News; distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

If the Mentally Ill Can Buy Guns, the Nation Is Crazy

Photo courtesy of Tony Bibbs / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Tony Bibbs / Flickr

This is a wholly subjective observation, but there appears to be far less shock and outrage over last week’s mass shooting at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard than in previous mass-shooting incidents.

This is where we are as a nation: Seeking a useful metric for horror that we refuse to deal with otherwise.

What is the proper standard? The number of victims? The FBI defines “mass murder” as the killing of four or more people, not including the perpetrator, in a single incident. Mother Jones magazine has compiled a database of 67 such incidents in the United States since 1982, including five this year. By this standard, the Navy Yard incident, with 12 victims, is the worst this year.

But it hardly stacks up to the April 2007 incident at Virginia Tech University, which saw 32 innocent people killed. Factor in age, innocence and total abject horror, the worst was last December’s Newtown, Conn., shooting of 20 small children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

A dozen people dead at a military facility? Bad, but by this grim calculus, not Newtown-bad.

But of course it is. One death is as bad as 12 is as bad as 32. Stalin’s rule does not apply: “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.”

Perhaps the Navy Yard killings don’t resonate widely because the incident does not fall into neat “I told you so” categories for either the right or the left. Outlawing handguns or assault weapons wouldn’t have helped; the shooter, Aaron Alexis, 34, used a Remington 870 — “America’s shotgun,” according to Buckmasters magazine. He may also have picked up a handgun from one of his victims.

Nor does the NRA‘s “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” platitude apply. There were lots of good guys with guns around the Navy Yard, but they could not get to Alexis before he took his shotgun out of his bag, assembled it and began shooting.

So the reaction to the Navy Yard shootings has focused on two issues: One, the security failures that allowed someone with a history of mental illness to obtain a “secret” clearance to work as a contractor in a military installation, and two, how was someone with that kind of mental health history able to pass a federal background check when he bought his shotgun in Virginia?

These will be useful questions to answer, but make no mistake: Answering them will be fighting the last war. The profile of the next mass shooter — and there will be one — almost surely will not match Alexis’ profile, except for this: He will be out of his mind. One way or the other, mass murderers are always crazy.

The nation will never be able to keep all of its crazy people from acquiring weapons. They can steal them from their mothers, if necessary, as did Adam Peter Lanza, the Newtown shooter. But the nation ought to be able to come together around the proposition that people with a history of mental illness shouldn’t be able to buy weapons without a background check.

Federal law and some states have such laws, but most require a recent history of commitment for mental illness. There is now talk in Congress that the Navy Yard shootings create common ground not only for more stringent mental health background checks, but for more training in recognizing problems.

No laws will work if dots aren’t connected, as they were not connected in the Alexis case. And both sides of the gun control debate are wary. One side thinks it might foreclose the opportunity for broader background checks. The other worries that it would open the doors for broader background checks.

But it’s a debate worth having. If the nation can’t come together on the simple proposition that it should do everything possible to keep mentally ill people from acquiring or possessing weapons, then sanity has fled us all.

Republished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta

Our View: A Dose of Prevention…

Our View: A Dose of Prevention...Runny noses. Scratchy throats. Upset stomachs.

Every parent knows the symptoms of childhood illness. They come — and they go.

But when a child has a hacking, dry cough accompanied by fever, vomiting and fatigue, it could be serious, even deadly.

It could be whooping cough.

The time for action is now, before any symptoms occur. You can help prevent this dangerous disease for your children and yourself.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine for whooping cough. It’s available from your doctor or at the health department — and it is a good idea to make sure you and children in your care are vaccinated.

Local and state health officials announced last week they are concerned about a whooping cough outbreak.

If you’re like most folks, you received your whooping cough vaccine early in life. It’s required for students entering kindergarten and sixth grade.

The disease strikes children most often, spread from one to another in the familiar ways kids always seem to pass germs back and forth.

Adults can catch whooping cough, too. Public health officials say it’s a good idea to have a booster every decade to guard against contracting the disease.

Not all illnesses can be prevented, but doing all you can to stay healthy is simply being responsible.

Regular exercising, eating right and controlling your weight — those are the lifestyle factors that can help you enjoy good health. When there is a preventative vaccine available, it just makes sense to take advantage of that additional insurance policy on staying healthy.

We are fortunate to live in an age when deadly diseases of the past can remain exactly there — in the past.

Please consider doing all you can to prevent an outbreak of whooping cough by consulting with your doctor and following his or her advice about the whooping cough vaccine for yourself and for your family.

Editor’s note: Whooping cough has hit epidemic levels in Texas this year, with almost 2,000 reported cases and two deaths. “If we continue to have cases in Texas at the rate we’ve had them so far this year, we’ll have more cases than has been reported for the last 50 years,” Dr. Carol J. Baker, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and executive director of the Center for Vaccine Awareness in Research at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told CNN.

Republished from the New Bern Sun Journal. Distributed by

Enhanced by Zemanta