The State Of Our Union

Every day it becomes clearer that the Americans have many important national issues that need attention. Here, I want to bring attention to some of these and make only a few comments about each. There will still be much to amplify on later. However, it is necessary to say at the outset that while we have many problems we still have much to be thankful for. While that may be so, it stuck me the other day that the hornets nest I ran into and just barely avoided was an apt metaphor for the current condition of the country.

1. Health Care: The state of our health, both mental and physical, is not good and it is not all due to the ever-widening disparity in our economic wealth. Arguably we do this to ourselves. We eat too much and exercise too little. Many adults and children are overweight, some extremely so. As a percentage of the population, obesity is on the upswing. The obese and moderately overweight eat too much, don’t exercise enough and in general cost our health care system considerably more than the average normal weight citizen. Many who are obese or overweight and do not or cannot exercise will gradually incur many problems which will affect the viability of the country.

Many won’t work or cannot work and are added to the many receiving worker’s compensation.  Many are prone to chronic medical problems such as type II diabetes and heart or cardiovascular disease any of which will not necessarily lead to early death but will cause one to be an ever increasing burden on the health care system. This is more than a matter of financial burden, but also includes increased effort and time devoted by physicians who are increasingly pressed by ever-increasing levels of chronic illness. As more and more patients recover rather than die from conditions that used to be fatal, medicine is forced to deal with the aftermath in the form of longer term care to the chronically ill.

There is much more to be said about the state of the nation’s physical and mental health and I will go into some of that in later posts.

2. Social and Political Issues: The remainder of what I have to say in this post will, at the very least, list some of our nagging social and political issues and sketch the sense in which they are issues. These include voting rights, equal rights in education, abortion, rational concepts and laws on immigration, marriage, and laws controlling the ownership and use of guns. Let me touch briefly on each of these. I will come back to each in later posts.

a. Voting Rights: Increasingly efforts are being made by some states to disenfranchise specific groups of voters. Sometimes this is overt and obvious, but usually is less cunning. In the 2012 election the backlash from voters led to counterproductive results against the plotters. These means and other strategies such as gerrymandering and attempts to split state Electoral College votes in presidential and congressional elections can be expected to continue.

b. Equal Rights in Education: This issue was tacitly settled by the the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. However, many communities have returned to a kind of tacit segregated school system wherein poor communities are able to educate their students far less well than are communities in which there is great wealth. This is a socioeconomic issue that has many sides to it including the separate and unequal status of students of color that, in effect, was not completely settled by the Supreme Court in 1954. The Court may have done the right thing, but arguably we are now back to where the Court did not want us to be. There are many additional issues to be considered here as well.

c. Abortion Rights: This is an issue that the Supreme Court clearly did not completely settle in it’s well-known Rowe v. Wade case. Partly this is a matter of the still incompletely resolved issue of a definition for when life begins. Some argue that life begins at the time of fertilization from which an identifiable embryo will emerge, while others say the life begins at the earliest detectable heart beat in the fetus. Both of these definitions signal a time, when a woman who may carry a child, may have no objective evidence that she is even pregnant. Nevertheless, based on these ideas a number of states have written and passed anti-abortion laws. These laws may yet be tested in the courts. More to come.

d. Marriage: Because of the commitments that gays and lesbians wish to make this issue has evolved rather quickly and the earliest test cases are only now in the Supreme Court. It is not clear how the Court will act, but it seems likely the Court will not try to find sweeping and immediate judgements. Interestingly, gays and lesbians are seeking both the legal and emotional caring and commitment that comes with marriage while heterosexuals seek marriage and commitment less and less. Redefining marriage is also clearly an issue that marks a major divide between older and younger generations. The country will likely chart a far more rapid course than will occur through action from the Court.

e. Immigration: The presence of over 12 million so-called illegal immigrants in the country and the politically ill-advised position taken by Republicans taken during the 2012 election is driving efforts in the Congress to try to deal fairly with immigration policy. Ordinarily, given the aging American population, both political parties should be working hard to advance immigration of young talented immigrants with skills. They can, in theory, help pay the costs of an aging demographic. However, this has been mixed up with many other issues with which immigration policy will need to be disentangled before the matter is settled. We’ll come back to this in later posts.

f. Guns: America has been a gun culture for a long time. Indeed, there are so many guns and so much ammunition held by a populace that is largely law abiding, that it is hard to reconcile such numbers with the actual deaths of innocents. The Second Amendment to the Constitution is clear and many, particularly in rural America, insist on the “right to bear arms.” At the very least, however, it’s possible we’ve gotten carried away with this idea, at least at the edges. While recently a number of high profile mass shootings have occurred and led to a reexamination of national policy which would test those edges, it seems unlikely that significant changes in existing policy will happen anytime soon. The gun manufacturers and their lobbyists in America are incredibly strong. Assault guns with repeater magazines will stay in circulation. It appears there will be no provision for assuring that they remain out of the hands of the mentally ill, as well as off the streets of our cities. More to come on this issue as well.

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