License and Insure the Shooter, Tax the Firearms

License and Insure the Shooter, Tax the Firearms,

and Do It Through State and Local Governments.

© Allen D. Blume, 2017

During the 2016 political campaign season, virtually any discussion of ending endemic gun violence in the United States was tantamount to touching a subway “third rail;” with the promise of immediate political death to anyone seeking a solution to the problem. In the wake of the militant takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon; the rapidly escalating firearms attacks in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Madison Township, Ohio, and Glendale, Arizona; domestic terrorist assaults on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and county government workers in San Bernardino, California by “self-actualized” lone wolves, there were more demands to restrict Americans’ access to virtually all types of firearms. As with the slaughter of school children in Connecticut in 2012, Democrats in general, and to a lesser extent, the investment community, questioned the ready availability of such “weapons of mass destruction,” and, predictably called for restricting entire classes of firearms and limiting the availability of large capacity magazines. As expected, too, the Republican Party mouthed prayerful platitudes and offered nothing in the way of solutions to halt the rising body counts in every part of the United States.

Now, twelve months into 2017, following the particularly murderous assaults in Las Vegas, Nevada, with 59 dead and 441 injured; and Sutherland Springs, Texas, with 27 dead and 25 injured, the body counts continue to climb, the intensity of gun attacks are more savage, and the places of their occurrence appear even more randomly dispersed. The high-profile shootings that leave tens of people dead and hundreds more injured are signifiers of our increasing reliance on firearms to “settle scores” real or perceived. The data on places like Las Vegas or Sutherland or the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, obscure other shootings that should be high profile – but are now simply the background noises of a society in turmoil.

Date

Location Killed

Injured

Jan. 16, 2017

Miami, FL 0 8

Jan. 27

Brownsville, TN 0

10

Feb. 12

Caruthersville, MO 1

6

Mar. 26

Cleveland, OH 2

15

Apr. 16

Columbus, OH 0

9

Apr. 30

San Diego, CA 2

6

May 7

Chicago, IL 2

8

May 20

Philadelphia, PA 10

0

May 27

Washington, DC 1

7

May 28

Phenix City, AL 0

12

June 5

Orlando, FL 6

0

June 9

Fort Worth, TX 2 5

June 30

Little Rock, AR 0

25

June 30 The Bronx, NYC 2

6

July 9

Cincinnati, OH 1 8

Aug. 4

Lodge Grass, MT 3

2

Sep. 10 Plano, TX 9

1

Sep. 24

Antioch, TN 1 8
Oct. 22 Lanett, AL 2

7

Nov. 14 Corning, CA 6

12

(Source: Gun Violence Archive, Mass shootings, November 2017) [1]

The increasingly deep and wrathful divisions between those who favor an outright ban on firearms of any sort, and the barely checked threat of violence emanating from extremists in thrall to the National Rifle Association (NRA) guarantees deadlock and stalemate in addressing runaway gun violence in our society.

In the main, social justice liberals seek to address gun violence by mandating federal “one-size-fits-all” solutions that would create enormous and expensive databases on firearms, ammunition, magazines, and the piece-parts of firearms technology; while notably encroaching on the rights of individuals, states and/or communities to police themselves. Clearly, an increased emphasis on background checks is warranted, as evidenced in President Obama’s Executive Order, and increased attention from the Trump White House, requiring that individuals selling firearms at gun shows be licensed dealers and run background checks before selling a firearm to another person. However, the move is, at best, a tentative one and will certainly be tested by gun owner advocacy groups. Further, by seeking to reinstate semiautomatic weapons and magazine bans, Washington will again chase the minutiae of our violence problem to the exclusion of other and more effective solutions.

A careful reading of the Supreme Court decisions in Washington, DC v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) offers a more direct and manageable solution: Mandate licensure and liability insurance for shooters at state and/or local government levels, and levy appropriate taxes on firearms, magazines, ammunition, and other adjunctive technologies.

Just as states regulate driver’s licensing, they can as readily use their existing infrastructure to manage firearms, even to the extent of using the same departments of motor vehicles to provide for licensure and examination. Set by state statute and/or multi-state compacts, controls can be put in place to provide for categories of gun ownership and use that are comparable with existing automobile, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle licensing, and that do not violate constitutional standards for possession and use of firearms. While there would be some initial state and/or local government outlay to set up certified training and testing gun ranges or contract for their services, this approach would obviate the need for expanding the federal bureaucracy on a fool’s errand to track down and enumerate every Picatinny rail, large capacity magazine, or MilSpec round.

Much is made of the so-called abuse of the regulatory power of the state, but taken at its most fundamental, such actions are a legitimate exercise of the policing powers inherent in every social compact. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ often cited prohibition against crying “Fire” in a crowded theater is an example of the state asserting authority over the exercise of our First Amendment rights; and just as it is in the people’s and government’s interest to regulate explosives and hazardous materials, physicians and health care providers, pet and animal welfare, and restaurants and food vendors, state and local government licensure of shooters is well within the purview of that lawful exercise of regulatory authority.

By licensing the gunner instead of the gun, a more direct accountability can be established between the state and the individual, thereby requiring standards of competence and levels of certification that can be subject to periodic review and testing. An added advantage comes in requiring gunners of any level of competency to have insurance consistent with the same legal standard that requires a driver to have motor vehicle insurance. Again, there is no need to create an elaborate infrastructure, as it would be in the financial interests of insurance underwriters to offer policies for shooters that would include indemnification, risk management, and competency testing (i.e., mental health as well as weapons proficiency); and to avoid overlap and bureaucratization as noted earlier, state and local governments can make use of their existing agencies to manage the licensure process. Finally, and particularly for financially strapped governments, the taxes generated can be directed to mental health and violence reduction activities; or their general fund.

The upshot is that while there is a presumption, constitutionally derived, of an individual’s “natural right” to keep, carry, and use weapons in self-defense, it is not a right that comes without expressly stated costs. In short, for an individual to fail to exert prudent control over his or her firearms, the cost could range from insurance premium hikes to outright policy cancellation. An unlawful act by a licensed shooter could nullify the insurance policy and make the perpetrator subject to material and criminal damages, and failure to have insurance would be fundamental grounds to prohibit a gun sale. Further, an unlicensed person in possession of a firearm would be presumptively in violation of state or local law and subject to such fines and penalties as legislatures might impose. Finally, there will be an open policy consideration in whether a state or other jurisdiction can or will “grandfather” firearms owners or provide for incremental imposition of these proposed standards. Imperatively it is time to move the focus of the divisive gun rights/gun control debate off the center stage of national politics, and vest its solutions in the so-called “laboratory of the states.”

Such a process will not eliminate the role of the federal government to oversee regulation of fully automatic and/or exclusively military weapons and explosives, monitoring and enforcing laws against illegal trading in stolen firearms, and maintaining national registers of felons and others not permitted to own or possess guns.

This approach will not completely stop traffic in illegal firearms, nor will it absolutely keep firearms out of the hands of criminals or emotionally unstable individuals; but it will provide a matrix whereby law-abiding citizens are presumptively determined to be acting within the law in the exercise of their Second Amendment rights. An additional benefit can be realized by working through organizations such as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association (NGA), the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), et al, to develop model legislation that provides for the specifics of any given gun-owning state or community; and acts presumptively in favor of firearms owners who might otherwise be in violation of a federal law because they own a firearm or other item subject to national regulatory controls. By licensing and insuring the gunner, a singularly more powerful means of controlling and compelling lawful behavior can be accomplished at a level well below those federally-based laws that would have to be, in the main, confiscatory.

Predictably, more extreme gun owners will claim government overreach and intrusion into their Second Amendment and/or unstated rights of privacy. The immediate and most absurd comparisons will be made to Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin’s totalitarian gun laws, while conveniently overlooking that during the Vietnam War, virtually every person above a certain age in Communist North Vietnam was armed and instructed to shoot down American aircraft. Far more absurdly will be the argument that by making up lists of licensed shooters, the government will then easily be able to round up licensees. (In a nation of roughly 350 million people, a full third of the population are gun owners, and according to the Geneva, Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, the leading source of international public information about firearms, the United States has “the best armed civilian population in the world,” with an estimated 270 to 315 million total guns. That’s an average of 89 firearms for every 100 residents. Information courtesy of the Statistic Brain and the Gallup Poll, 2015; and The Blaze, and Cleveland State University, 2013.) The point, of course, is that the likelihood of any such “roundup” borders on the absurd.

Notwithstanding the absurdist attacks from extremists on the right and left of the American political spectrum, by indemnifying lawful gun owners at the closest appropriate level of governance, the effect will strengthen their fundamental rights while concurrently mandating standards of behavior, performance, and competency, and provide a significantly different means to attenuate the frequency and extremity of gun violence in the United States.

-/-

[1] Ed. Note: The table is not scientifically selected or weighted, save only to show relatively large incidents. NO state is missing from the data in the source cited.

Can We Nooksack the Inupiaq?

While celebrating Columbus (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-invention-of-christopher-columbus-american-hero/) is as ludicrous as basing jurisprudence on Story’s Commentaries (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/inventing-a-christian-america-9780190230975), jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire is perhaps just as silly. Pushing tribal politics until we all look like Nooksackis (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/magazine/who-decides-who-counts-as-native-american.html) is perhaps a quantum too far.

One has to ask, who exactly are Alaska’s second peoples? There is some discussion as to whether Inupiaq (and their cousins to the East) are Alaska’s second or third peoples coming as they did rather later – some 20000 years after the first descendants of the Altaians made it from Asia (see for a general discussion http://www.pnas.org./content/113/23/6380.full), and of course, as there was no Alaska at the time, a broadening of the target brings to mind that there is evidence that Europeans made it to North America at least by 1500 ya – why not before the Inupiaq? And, of course, the purported lack of archeological evidence of humans in the Americas prior to 30000 ya is NOT evidence that there were NOT peoples here at the time. Lions and tigers and bears – don’t tell me we may have to drop someone’s cap N!?!?!?!?!

Every attempt at argument over who was there first ends up in finger-pointing and blood-letting and is, at its core, a version of “me, mine, and more”. We came down out of the trees just several hundred thousand years ago, and have been torturing each other since. We appear to have all come from what we now call Africa. The time that has passed since then is just the blink of an eye.

Opportunities for Inclusive Growth in Central Asia

Qamchiq Tunnel in Uzbekistan

Central Asia presents a unique set of challenges to ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. The region contains numerous disparate geographical features, authoritarian leaning regimes with restricted civil societies, and repressive policies governing individual economic and political participation. Central Asia is also fortuitously located in the center of large international trade routes both historical and current. Recent focus from China highlights the importance of the region in tying large economies together. This presents a unique opportunity to lift the region out of poverty and provide more egalitarian access to prosperity through the reestablishment of the region as a major trade route.

With the issues facing the region, it is important to effectively analyze the complex nexus of economic and security interests in the region in an effort to provide contextual understanding to strategies targeted at bettering the lives of individuals in the region. Analyzing and leveraging foreign investment in the region to benefit the populations of the countries of Central Asia rather than the leadership of these countries is a path to alleviating poverty in Central Asia. Security issues, while important and certainly influential, are not the primary obstacle to inclusive economic growth in Central Asia. The region is more stable than the rhetoric of international and regional leaders would suggest.

Instead, corruption and other institutional obstacles preventing individuals not connected to leadership from engaging with foreign investment sap growth that would potentially have a large impact on boosting shared prosperity in the region. The leaders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan use the specter of security issues such as Islamic extremism and potential instability to legitimize their abrogation of civil and economic rights for their populations. The absence of these rights preempts institutional options for individuals to seek greater economic opportunities presented through foreign investment. This absence removes a much-needed path for aggregating the interests of private individuals in society. Strategies targeted at opening civil space for individuals to participate in economic development initiatives is a direct route to inclusive economic growth in the region. Similarly, influencing the focus of larger projects to serve the long term needs of local business development would encourage small business growth that otherwise may be neglected by national leaders in their pursuit of maximizing personal profit.

The World Bank is uniquely positioned to engage in such strategies. Tying financial incentives to domestic policy changes to reduce corruption and increase transparency is a strong method to encourage inclusive economic growth and alleviate poverty. Increasing financial assistance for the development of smaller infrastructure projects to tie agricultural producers to better transportation and irrigation infrastructure would also foster greater productivity for the rural population. In addition to this, tying funding to focus on the local impact of infrastructure would strengthen long term inclusive economic growth by connecting local population centers with local businesses and international trade routes.

Specifically, supplementing Chinese investment under their Belt and Road Initiative has promising potential. Offering loan packages to supplement infrastructure projects with stipulations regarding primary and secondary routes to tie rural population centers to urban education and business centers is one method to influence negotiations for infrastructure development to achieve multiple goals. Such stipulations on additional funding would encourage national leaders in Central Asia to negotiate for infrastructure projects that would serve not only to transport goods through the region to increase commerce, but also develop transit corridors to serve as economic multipliers in business centers.

Tying rural areas to urban areas would also encourage the development of a more robust tourism industry in Central Asia. At this point, adequate and reliable transportation remains one of the largest barriers to the development of adventure tourism in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The impetus of Chinese investment in infrastructure in the region provides an opportunity to provide a foundation for the development of this industry that otherwise may go overlooked.

Taking advantage of foreign infrastructure development can also be channeled to further develop the education sector in Central Asia. The expansion of current academic facilities to focus on preparing the workforce for running and maintaining the transportation networks envisioned by foreign investors provides an avenue for long term inclusive economic growth in the region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been two of the top remittance receiving countries as a percentage of their GDP. Developing local jobs and preparing the workforce for the jobs created by infrastructure development in these countries would provide an avenue for repatriation of their workforces and locally focused, long term, inclusive economic growth.

In addition to the benefits of growth, taking advantage of the growing focus on infrastructure development in Central Asia would lay the foundation for more resilient societies in the region. Better infrastructure would make it easier for emergency services and aid to respond quickly and flexibly to migration, environmental disasters, and health crises caused by climate change. Seasonal flooding, mudslides, and earthquakes remain a constant threat in Central Asia, especially in the mountainous regions. Developing multiple transportation routes in these regions would make emergency response more efficient and reduce the economic disruption posed by these events.

The myriad challenges present in Central Asia require nuanced and contextual understanding to become the opportunities that they are. The potential impact of World Bank policy is boosted by the focus of international leaders to develop infrastructure in the region. With the right incentives, such investment can focus not only on large scale economic growth, but also on alleviating extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity sustainably through inclusive economic growth.

A Very American Tradition

Perhaps the oldest and most time-honored American political tradition is the laying on of propaganda, a very catholic (spreading truth, as it were) endeavor (Harper) for a democratic republic with a “wall”. The term “propaganda”  was not employed to describe the practices of 18th century America, which saw the broad use (or more appropriately, abuse) of the  pamphlet and the newspaper (Parkinson), which between them likely moved more manure than any hundred colonial farmers.

While it is seen as “good fun” on the “Left” to ridicule the “Right”‘s delusional love affair with a past that never existed (from Washington’s fledgling theocratic state to the libertarian utopia captured by Norman Rockwell), those doing the fiercest poking seem also to hearken back to an halcyon era of gentle discourse, where rational discussion charted the future of a free people. But, such daydreams are as fatuous as the revisionist histories of America’s culture warriors.

Our very own “Declaration” of independence is little more than a propagandistic screed (Hansen; Armitage; Jefferson) while the great art of “Common Sense” (Paine) is the rhetoric that so skillfully manipulates the reader.  The truth is that nothing was too low for the political strategists of our past. At the turn of the 18th century dueling over reputation was still to be seen (though largely illegal) while, based on the perceived reception of English common law, truth was no defense in suit for libel or slander (Kluft). Tar the man and kill the policy was the order of the day. Weinberg, in reviewing Burns’ “Infamous Scribblers”, gives us pause to ponder the fact that modern media warfare is not far removed from the rough and tumble of our brutal beginnings.

The U.S. has always been the very embodiment of the Hobbesian dilemma: affluence and stability come with moderation of individual freedoms. Yet our media has been telling us we can have our cake and eat it too for so long that the very idea has percolated into our poor excuse for beer: “Tastes great, less filling” (Miller). The predominant science of the 20th century is not physics, medicine, chemistry, or economics; it’s social psychology, the key to effective “advertising”, advertising being the methods by which attitudes of any population can be manipulated.

Our most staid organic political repartee, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, were composed anonymously. But this was not your kid’s Anonymous. By employing the allusion that was inherent in the use of a pseudonym (taken, itself, from an almost universal educational canon) the propounding pops  placed the discourse about our second attempt at sovereignty in a larger context (Richard 39), offering a sense of gravitas, or not (Klarman).

It may have been this sense of erudition that eventually gave rise to the extension of the Jeffersonian educational ideal to the unwashed (Notes on the State of Virginia 268-275); train the hoi polloi in “the canon”, and they too could be responsible participants in the republic! Et voilá, the great divide between those capable of ruling and those in need of rule is closed.

Many, like myself, are still enamored of the prospects of “education”. Even the kid with his finger in the dyke made some contribution, after all. But it is a losing battle where, the lower the socio-economic class the greater the spawning, and teachers (nominally, let alone good teachers) can’t compete with family and media when it comes to drama, comedy, time allotted, impact, etc. Indeed, we have moved rather aggressively to the point where the academy has been purchased by ideologues (Mayer 172).

The other two great divides are: a) the epistemological application of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (there is either truth or process), and, b) the Gordian Knot of Sophism (Rhetoric and Dialectic deconstructed). The first, shorthand for the grand battle of the absolute versus the relative, Plato versus Aristotle, is what plays out all over our country between the religious right and everyone else (once the “truth” is grasped, very little persuasion is necessary). The latter is the essence of the interactions between the “inner chimp” and the Homo sapiens forebrain and likely should have been the real focus of this essay.

It belongs to Rhetoric to discover the real and apparent means of persuasion, just as it belongs to Dialectic to discover the real and apparent syllogism. For what makes the sophist is not the faculty but the moral purpose. But there is a difference: in Rhetoric, one who acts in accordance with sound argument, and one who acts in accordance with moral purpose, are both called rhetoricians; but in Dialectic it is the moral purpose that makes the sophist, the dialectician being one whose arguments rest, not on moral purpose but on the faculty (Aristotle). Your English teacher would have started off this essay with Aristotle’s remarks, but then, you didn’t listen to your English teacher back then either, did you?

Of course, any time one begins considering social upheaval (as in an attempted change in social structure via the rise of a lower caste or class) historically it is cotemporal with mob violence. Whether you wish to talk about Spartacus or Luther, the attack on authority results in general conflagration. We have moved, in an era of truthiness (Colbert) and alternative facts (Todd), to a place where all authority is “equal”, so all versions of “reality” are legitimate.  We no longer have a common frame of reference, nor a common sense of what is authoritative.

We are, in a  real sense, faced with the thr”E” alternatives to the Existing Quandary Underlying Angst Tortured Existentialists: Education (Where do you want to go today), Exclusion (Just Us), or Exhortation (MadAve).  We have seen that Education is not up to the challenge…   Exclusion (the tribal primal directive) works just fine until all the oligarchs become bombastic bullies (it’s what happens when the elite defining “philosopher kings” are disparu, as can be seen in the current Administration).  What we are left with, and what many on “the left” are now arguing, is the adoption of the sound bite magical libertarian mystery show; time to sell the “progressive” brand using the same kind of MadAve tools that the Scaifs and Kochs successfully used in the past, and were employed most recently to make the Maroon Tide believe that Donald Trump is Their Savior.

To put that in blunter terms, the question is put, “Shall we murder to stem the flow of murderers?” Perhaps the first and maybe least fortunate response to such a poser would be that in as much as 997 of any 1000 people likely would not be worth saving one way or the other,  if you are not going to put them down at birth, don’t waste the money to feed them. But let’s delicately back away from that moment of honesty and search for an historical example of a successful upstart taking on hegemony without becoming same. Stickier and stickier…

Nor is, “They will seize what’s yours”, a real barn-burner because the truth is, nothing I have is really mine. Yeah, we do a great deal of pretending about PROPERTY in this country, but is there really anyone who does not realize that it is largely a delusion (well, THEY are included in that 997). Thank you, for thinking of US, but no thanks. Yes, let the Maroon Tide dissolve my bones on the wretched strand, but playing the Devil’s fiddle, as Faust well knew, comes at a price I am not interested in paying.

No, without a common frame of reference, the task is to simply make noise, as no real communication will take place…  The message, as it were, is the rumble… and rumble we must for a better world, because until the fundie right decamps their separate universe, or education turns a corner it has yet to even espy, the best we can do is let people know we are alive and well.


Armitage, David. “The Declaration of Independence and International Law.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 1, 2002, pp. 39–64. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/3491637.

Burns, Eric. Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. PublicAffairs, 2007.

Colbert, Stephen. The Word – Truthiness. 2005. www.cc.com, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word—truthiness.

Hansen, Ali. “The Declaration as Propaganda.” Digication, 12 Mar. 2017, https://bu.digication.com/ahansen/The_Declaration_as_Propaganda.

Harper, Douglas. “Propaganda.” Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=propaganda. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. University of Virginia Library, Virgo, 710304, http://search.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:710304. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.

—. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. 1776.

Klarman, Michael J. The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Kluft, David. “The Death Of Alexander Hamilton And The Birth Of The American Free Press.” Trademark and Copyright Law, 1 July 2016, http://www.trademarkandcopyrightlawblog.com/2016/07/the-death-of-alexander-hamilton-and-the-birth-of-the-american-free-press/.

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017.

Miller, Carl. “Beer and Television: Perfectly Tuned In.” Beer History, 2002, http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/beer_commercials.shtml.

Nizkor. “Fallacy: Appeal to Authority.” Nizkor Project, 2012, http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html.

Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Project Gutenberg, 14 Feb. 1776, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/147/147-h/147-h.htm.

Parkinson, Robert G. Print, the Press, and the American Revolution. Aug. 2015. americanhistory.oxfordre.com, http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-9.

Richard, Carl J. The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment. Harvard University Press, 1995.

Todd, Chuck. “Conway: Press Secretary Gave ‘Alternative Facts.’” Meet The Press, NBC News, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/conway-press-secretary-gave-alternative-facts-860142147643.

Weinberg, Steve. “Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns.” Houston Chronicle, 19 Mar. 2006, http://www.chron.com/entertainment/books/article/Infamous-Scribblers-by-Eric-Burns-1870445.php.

 

When is Insurance for Dependents a Bad Idea?

In a recent social media discussion about the adoption of Alaska HB23, “Creating a fund in the Department of Public Safety; providing for payment of certain medical insurance premiums for surviving dependents of certain peace officers or firefighters who die in the line of duty; relating to contributions from permanent fund dividends to the peace officer and firefighter survivors’ fund; and providing for an effective date”, Andy Holman (past Anchorage Education Association President and presently Anchorage School Board Member) stated, “Way too long coming.” While I am typically a fan of Representative Andrew Josephson (the bill’s primary sponsor), this bill was and will continue to prove to be, a mistake.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries” tells us that there are as many job related teacher deaths as there are job related fire department deaths [OK, I will come clean about the appropriate consideration of the BLS data below]. Does that mean that Andrew will soon be fast-tracking a similar bill for teachers? Somehow I think not.

One can dramatize the situation as much as one wishes, but where there are as many occupational fatalities among teachers as among firefighters, the actuarial impact on their families is THE SAME. In fact, in many schools teachers DO walk towards the fire, as it were, but I don’t think we should be ensuring health care coverage because of the nature of the job someone is doing (even if we misperceive the dangers inherent in that job because we are emotionally involved), but because it is the right thing to do.

But we should back up a bit and ask first why this was necessary, or more importantly, whether there was some way to avoid the unforeseen consequences presented by the bill, while still providing health care for the families of deceased firefighters and cops. And that means answering the question, “Why is it that legislators supposed that firefighters could not provide for medical insurance premiums for an eligible surviving spouse or dependent child through an IRA, life insurance, or related instrument?” And if such options were available (and they were), instead of carving exceptions into state law, wouldn’t it have made more sense to transition state medical care to health trusts, and allow the health trust to provide such services until the covered parties are otherwise eligible?

All persons covered under this bill would already be entitled to COBRA  (which, at a cost no more than 105% of the existing premium, provides for continuation of coverage on the occurrence of a qualifying event, like death of the policyholder).  All employees through whom coverage would be realized through this bill are also provided or offered life insurance. The longest that COBRA (or alternative program) would have to be paid for would be 18 years, the time it would take an infant to reach majority (26 if we want to look at current insurance “standards” for parental coverage). A rational response to this situation might well be to provide adequate life insurance or similar instrument that would cover COBRA (technically COBRA today only runs 18 or 36 months) or alternative.  The cost for such insurance would be about $50/month. Yes, I said $50/mo.

The demonstration above gives rise to the possibility that some are seeking to “double-dip” based on milking an emotive response. How is it “double-dipping”? The covered employee class already negotiates for a salary and benefits based on their “heroic” status (walking towards the fire, as it is argued). Stripped bear of the chest beating, we are really talking about a way to avoid asking the employer for an additional $50/month, or more to the point, moving part of the employment cost away from the employer directly (but as we might expect, this will have an indirect effect on dollars available for other purposes, and the current situation, where the Senate Majority is unwilling to adequately fund education in the State, is just one example). So the fireman gets paid on the basis of his heroism, and then we also provide additional remuneration (off the books, as it were, on the same basis), while denying that benefit to every other public employee.

The fact of the matter is that whatever the reason for the loss of the employee’s life, it will result in the loss of medical benefits for their dependents, and that will present a family crisis to a family already in crisis. No responsible family member would leave his or her family in such a precarious position, so we really have to assume that all such persons are already implementing a solution such as described above. The issue, then, is not really providing the tools for coverage, but providing additional benefits to one occupation, not provided to another occupation on the basis of something other than risk of occupational fatality for that occupation. That, to be blunt, is an emotional response that carves exceptions with unforeseen consequences and promotes making non-data driven decisions.

An emotive response should have nothing to do with the need to make sure that the families of anyone who dies on the job retain their health insurance until otherwise covered. By emotive response I am referencing the perception that someone deserves something “extra” because of the perceived nature of the risk, despite whatever the stats might reveal about the actual risk, the actual risk being determine actuarially. As noted, public safety personnel negotiate compensation on the basis of the risk they experience (one of the reasons people argue about the fact that the job is less risky than people like you believe) – and we should not promote this “double dipping”  while the employee could provide for family coverage on the employee’s death.

But teachers? Look, if you want to reward public safety personnel for being “heroes”  that is fine (though remember, you are also doing that when they negotiate for pay), but I (and thousands of others) think that teachers are heroes too. If you really want to extend benefits based on heroism, your policy should be based on actual risk, and the actual risk is far from your perceptions of the risk.

When comparing US schools to Finnish, the difference, again and again, comes back to Disrespect that the population holds for teachers, and the ramification of that disrespect eventually “blossoms”. In addressing teacher victimization, the American Psychological Association states:

According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 2011-12 , approximately:

  • 20% of public school teachers reported being verbally abused.
  • 10% reported being physically threatened.
  • 5% reported being physically attacked in schools.

From 1997-2001 1.3 million nonfatal crimes (including 473,000 violent crimes) were committed against America’s teachers.

Yes,  the fatal injury rate is actually some 5 times greater for firefighters than for teachers (the rate for firefighters is 4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers) but the rate for firefighters is still a third of that for bus drivers! The point I am trying to make is that actuarially the fatal injury rate for firemen is actually lower than many other possible public employee sectors, so to single out a sector with a lower rate for extra benefits is emotional and not data driven, and as such would also arguably inappropriate public policy.  It would make more sense, I suppose, to use the occupational fatality rate as a multiplier to address public subsidy for COBRA or some such.

I think instead of this law, which is a mistake, the families should have clearly identified the cost of life insurance necessary for COBRA for 18 (or 26) years and negotiated for that. In the alternative, the legislature should have made the coverage available to everyone, which is to say, instead of me, me, we should be talking about us us 😉 And, of course, instead of trying to kill the health trusts functioning so well in this State, the State should be promoting the expansion and networking of such trusts. At that point we have coherent policy that meets the long range needs of Alaska residents. What we have now is a poor knee-jerk emotional response to what is really a non-problem, and legislation that really does need to be adopted as been sidelined instead.

 

MOC’d ACCOMODATIONS

In our post-abusive all-inclusive society, it appears that we may have neglected to address the needs of a specific demographic that is now crying out in need.  Yes, I am talking about the MOC’d, the Morbidly Obese Challenged. You see these people every day. They are the ones who have no trouble sitting in chairs, manage to walk through doors (even two at a time in some cases), and have clothes not covered with crumbs. Yes, you may have stopped your snickering, and you may have ceased talking about these people behind their backs, but do you really know how they suffer.

It is high time we had a frank discussion of some of the typical accommodations that are necessary to make the MOC’d feel part of the group, and to get the ball rolling I am going to talk about the three “ph”s: Food, Fat, and Physicality.

Go to any corporate training program anywhere in the country and you will find, of course, a table laden with the carbohydrates most of us need to stay bulked up (let’s face it, it’s not easy to keep yourself morbidly obese if you have to manage that without the help of biological assistance).  While we are accustomed to the constant movement of our compatriots back and forth to the table, and to the constant chomping, crunching, grinding and general snorfling that accompany this tide of bodies, the MOC’s are seriously disturbed by the sound and fury of our social mandate.  What to do? I really think this can be addressed through technology! Assistive devices can provide audio filtering, as well as narrow visual focus and directional cues for when the MOC person is tempted to look away from the presenter.

We all know, of course, that fat (we call it blubber in our marine cousins) provides an effective thermal barrier to environmental temperatures, and that we require constant cooling to address the insulating layers we proudly bear. Unfortunately, our MOC’d colleagues become agitated when asked to deal with a 5 knot breeze in the conference room, or with 55F temperatures.  Here again, I see no great challenge as the problem is quickly solved with a few extra articles of clothing, and as a side benefit, the parka offers lots of pockets! I almost wish I could wear one!

More problematic is that MOC’d persons take offense at the perceived intrusions into their “personal space” they claim by the rest of us. They get all purple in the face if our butts bump them, go pale if our boobs hit them, and start screaming if their materials are nudged on to the floor because they were not adequately anchored. Many would simply argue that the best thing to do is find the little snowflakes a “safe place” at the back of the class where they can stay. We know, however, that such arrangements are inappropriate – separate but equal is no longer the law! But I believe there IS a solution.  Some of you may have heard about Bubble Football!

That’s the key! All we need to do is provide the MOC with a bubble suit! In fact, we could laminate the bubble with solar panel material and use that to power the audio and video accommodations. Additional, the bubble would also likely alleviate the need for additional clothing, so it would become an all-in-one wholly self-contained accommodation.

Yes, this IS a Brave New World, and thankfully, we are really well equipped to deal with it.

Lachrymose Limericks – Melancholy in Five Lines and Two Rhymes

Prompted by my friend Mary’s limwrick’d thoughts on Siegfried’s fragility (like Achille’s heel, absurd in and of itself), I thought of Adam’s Marvin and Milne’s Eeyore sitting at the fire, under the stars, opining in verse lachrymose on their fate…  It is not a pretty sight, risible as it might be.

Lachrymose isn’t a sweet,
Nor does it come from a teat,
It comes of a blight,
Which results in a plight,
As can be seen in my life’s receipt.

Doomed said the witch to the pot,
Doomed said the king to the sot,
What’s in a name,
Is ever the same,
It’s why Abe, John and Martin got shot.

Sisyphus murdered his guests,
He saw them as no more than pests,
While Camus saw his fate,
As absurdly first rate,
No one came to the fellow’s inquest.

Sad though you think I may be,
I am sure that you don’t really see,
That your salty tears,
And implacable fears,
Are the thinnest reflection of me.

 

– so it begins –

John Henry Will Not Save Me

The premise I found most disturbing in reading Whitehead’s “John Henry Days” was the List, the super-secret roll of press junketeers who are called on to crank out media fill.  It still haunts me. And every time I read some crap by some little wet behind the ears twit I have to take a moment and breathe, and ponder how that kid came to that juncture in their life. I want to find fault, lots and lots of fault, in someone, anyone, for filling our bitstreams with arrant juvenile nonsense, but the entire enterprise sometimes appears as Kabuki, a media dance, richly stylized, engaged in for the purpose of exploring the cultural themes on which the dance is constructed. If only.
 
Perhaps we should not blame those who are giving the kids a chance, nor chastise them for leaving it to their consumers to differentiate content (which we consumers so often are wholly unable to do, which doesn’t not offer much in the way of counter-pressure, does it?) Maybe I am just suffering, as so many antique cranks do, from a surfeit of papers graded – I suppose it is possible that when you wield a red pen, all the world looks like a hackneyed essay.
 
And why blame the kids, when we have “senior correspondents” and “seasoned experts” who are incorrigible in their myopic provincialism, grotesque in their wild posturing, and intemperate in their broken prose.

Mysteries Are Meant to Be Worshipped

A friend recently argued that mysteries are meant to be solved, not worshiped,

Fritz Kropfreiter Protozoans move along gradients, the most pervasive of which is food. The rational, self-aware mind also moves along a gradient (call it truth, understanding, knowledge or meaning) not with some metaphysical goal in mind but simply to chase the (currently) unattainable why. Mysteries are not meant to be worshiped but solved.

I have to disagree (on a basis other than the fact that this is way too “meta” for me).

No, it’s specifically not that I think that worship of anything is a good idea, nor do I think the mumbo-jumbo that passes for 21st Century spiritualism is any better. I am talking about why we create “mythos”, as opposed to simply seeing what we don’t understand as something we don’t understand. Yes, I think this was what was on Fritz’s mind, but the fly in the ointment is our initial perspective, our frame of reference. We create a “limbic universe”, and then fashion tools (mythos) to address it.

Karen Armstrong, in The Case for God, spends a good deal of time arguing mythos (here is a precis), and dozens of bloggers wrestle with the concept on a regular basis (here is just one example). But no matter which way one looks at the “battle” over mythos, it is, at its core, a duel over the fictive, an argument over whether we can effectively populate the universe with ghosts of our own emotional and juvenile angst.

Understanding the delusional nature of mythos does not mean that one seeks to undermine every ecstatic experience, every transcendental moment; it only means that one understands that the source of that moment is not part and parcel of some arcane knowledge-infused alien. Indeed, the “wow factor” increases dramatically when we cease and desist from writing ourselves into some magical yarn from which the universe is woven. We don’t need 20th Century revivals of medieval; mystery plays to grasp our place in the world (at least some few of us don’t, the rest, well I suppose the rest go to church).

So, mystery, the invented fluid in which Homo sapiens comes to understand the numinous, is specifically fashioned to be the focus of ritual.  It is the life-blood of every religious action, from the killing of the bull, to the taking of communion.


Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.

Work: Serious and Absurd

**Below is the first in a two part series of essays about work and life. The second installment, much less serious and NSFW (not safe for work),  is also available on this site.

Such is the screwed up nature of our society that most of us spend more time with people we work with than then we do with our loved ones and friends. Sadly the nature of modern employment is that much of what we do, be it at the office, the store, or on the road is largely pointless.

As the anthropologist David Graeber correctly points out, most of us are employed in “bullshit jobs.” There are many reasons for this, but the two principle causes are technological determinism and the moral and political failure of governments and societies to sensibly integrate and offset gains and losses caused by technological advances for the well-being of society.

Japan is one of the few countries to have attempted a balanced approach to technological changes. Prior to their amalgamation in 2001 into the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, state agencies such as the Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau were influential in seeking sensible solutions to problems caused by technology. The ISTP worked in concert with many private and public agencies to identify prevailing economic trends and developments in manufacturing and science. With this knowledge the Japanese gradually wound down industries that were becoming obsolete and provided retraining to displaced workers in order that they could find jobs in new areas of employment.

Consequently, many socioeconomic problems caused by technology were mitigated against or ameliorated. Combined with extensive funding for research and development, Japan’s cohesive approach to science enabled the Japanese to overtake most world powers in the economic sphere during the post-World War II period.

Critics will argue that Japanese socioeconomic policies aren’t without their faults and in many cases they are correct. However, it can also be pointed out to those same critics that most western societies in the same period endured considerably more social unrest, higher unemployment and slower economic growth. This occurred because western societies allowed technological advances to be implemented without consideration for wider consequences.

Worse, these sweeping technological changes have been brutally aggravated by political attitudes. A historic case in point is the Thatcher government’s treatment of coal workers during the 1980’s. In fact since the 1970’s concerning technology and economic changes, most western governments have out of lazy ideological convictions outsourced these problems to the marketplace with disastrous consequences. The free-market reforms implemented by the IMF and World Bank in the former Soviet Eastern Bloc resulted in enormous hardship to those populations.

Richard Nixon’s destruction of the Bretton Woods Agreement contributed to massive world-wide inflation. The collapse of the US/Canada Auto Pact – the bedrock of Canada’s postwar industrial growth – and its replacement by NAFTA has led to high unemployment, inferior and costly telecommunications, reduced public transport and an increase in illegal drug imports across North America. Many Mexican farmers, forced to compete with subsidized US counterparts have turned from corn production to the cultivation of cash crops like marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

Protest groups such as Occupy Wall Street and far right populist movements are as much a response to political problems as to socioeconomic changes caused by technology. Writing in 1995, the philosopher Jeremy Rifkin accurately predicted the rise of such protest movements in his book The End of Work.

There isn’t a blanket solution to these problems but sensible points made by Rifkin and John Maynard Keynes are worth discussing. To start Keynes predicted that technology would reduce the work-week to fifteen hours by the beginning of the 21st century and as David Graeber correctly notes Keynes was right.

Rifkin suggests that a twenty hour work week where employees are paid for forty hours would sensibly reduce unemployment, stimulate demand for consumer goods, increase workplace productivity, reduce poverty and unburden overstretched health care systems. The result would be a happier, more socially engaged citizenry and a wealthier society.

Something