The Challenges Facing America’s Children

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the plight of America’s children. Prior to moving in to the current administrative gig I conducted extensive research on the subject of child abuse and the ineffective criminal punishment of those harming children. I presented several papers on the topic. In this and other ways many of America’s kids are being shortchanged.

Here are a few things I want you to think about:

  • A 19 year old gunman killed 17 high school students in Florida two weeks ago. This is, unfortunately, nothing new. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at least 1,300 American children under 17 years of age die from gunshot wounds and another 5,800 are injured each year. And yes, I know some of those are self-inflicted wounds. That doesn’t change the statistic.
  • At the end of last year there were approximately 437,500 children living in foster care in the United States. Parents’ drug abuse was the causal factor in more than 1/3 of the cases.
  • About 41% of American children live in low-income households and about 19% are poor. Even though children under the age of 18 comprise only 23% of the country’s population, 32% of Americans living in poverty are children. Children living in poverty have higher absenteeism rates at school, perform more poorly than their wealthier peers, and are seven times more likely to drop out of school altogether.
  • Similarly, research indicates that although we have gradually addressed the education gap between white and minority kids, the gap between poor and wealthier kids has grown. In other words, poor children who are often in families with poor and uneducated parents have less access to quality education and college, so their poor social status is part of a vicious cycle and rising above it is very difficult.
  • America’s juvenile justice system treats minority children much differently than it does white kids. Black kids are much more likely incarcerated than white kids. Black kids are more than twice as likely to be arrested.
  • I’ve previously written about our son who, as a teenager, overcame substance abuse problems and is now a substance abuse counselor. He has buried at least a dozen young friends who were unable to overcome their chemical dependency. Hundreds of teenagers die each year from drug overdose and tens of thousands begin experimenting with drugs that lead to addiction and eventual death.
  • The number of obese American children has tripled since the 1970’s; today 1/5 of our children are obese. This obviously affects the child’s health and life. It also has a future impact on America’s healthcare system. Research predicts that 57% of today’s kids will be obese by the time they reach 35 years of age.
  • Approximately 700,000 American children are abuse victims each year and in 2015, the last year for which data were available, 1,670 died from abuse and neglect.
  • More than 2,000,000 children are covered by Child Protection Services each year.
  • In the five years between 2010 and 2015 the number of teenagers suffering from depression jumped 33%, the number of teens attempting suicide increased 23%, and the number actually committing suicide jumped by 31%. Determining cause and effect is almost impossible, but researchers found a positive correlation between smart phone ownership and computer time and depression among children.

Then add to these sad statistics the other fears young people face in today’s world. A poll taken last year found that 82% of Americans between 15-21 years of age were afraid because of the increase in terrorism, 59% said they were worried about climate change, and about 40% said the world is becoming a worse place.

I have only a couple of points to make:

  1. I absolutely understand how people can oppose abortion and that is one topic I will never explore in my blog because it is too visceral and there is really no compromise on the topic. I understand those who oppose abortion and I support their right to protest it. However, I sincerely hope the people I see regularly protesting outside Planned Parenthood here in town also spend equal time  protesting in front of the offices of their local, state, and federal representatives who could actually improve the lives of those children who have been born.
  2. As I’ve argued previously, major changes in government policy are more likely to occur when a group is organized and has resources needed to lobby members of legislatures and bureaucrats. Children are obviously not organized and have no money to use for lobbying, so their interests are often forgotten.

I wish we could focus on solutions to these and countless other issues facing America’s children and society as a whole, but it seems that our governing officials are more interested in scoring political points than in helping those in need. Or they are caught up in so many scandals that governing is impossible.

Just once I’d like to read a headline about the decline of child poverty rather than about a governor who had an extra-marital affair, or a headline heralding the improved education levels of children living in poverty rather than one about a $20 billion wall, or one about increased funding for substance abuse treatment for teenagers instead of a headline about children being massacred in their school, or a headline championing extremely harsh penalties for child abusers rather than the latest news on Monica Lewinsky (is it just me or does it seem that there are there a lot of men in political power who cannot control their zippers?).

As the tag line for my blog says, I am a dreamer.



I Have So Many Questions On Friday Morning

  • Why would an Olympic Curler feel it necessary to use performance enhancing drugs? Wouldn’t decaf coffee be ideal?
  • Why is British Broadcasting Company (BBC) the most reliable source of American news?
  • Why did the sheriff’s deputy on assignment to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School apparently stand silently for six minutes while a 19 year old gunman was slaughtering the kids he was assigned to protect? I know and am friends with a lot of folks in law enforcement and I’m pretty darned confident they would have rushed in.
  • Why aren’t beer, fried chicken, and chocolate health foods? This fact makes me question everything about life.
  • Why are Republicans, members of the party historically supporting law enforcement and others who protect us from internal and external threats, now the ones attacking and discrediting the law enforcement and intelligence communities that have done great work (overall) keeping us safe?
  • Why has the Democratic Party not introduced a strong platform on which to oppose the Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections when the Republicans are extremely vulnerable thanks to President Trump? (answer: Because it is easier to criticize than to lead)
  • Why does President Trump not openly criticize Putin and the Russians for manipulating America’s democratic processes? Their interference appears beyond doubt.
  • Why have I not yet seen Black Panther?
  • Why would anyone think the speech offered by Wayne LaPierre to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) yesterday is at all patriotic? And why has CPAC, an organization made significant by President Reagan, become such a fringe group that attacks the FBI?
  • Did Missouri’s governor really blackmail and intimidate his lover to keep her from speaking out of turn about their extramarital affair and was the indictment against him for “invasion of privacy” politically motivated?
  • Is the idea of giving guns to school teachers as dumb as it sounds? Teachers are responsible for helping prepare kids for the future, not defending kids using guns. Will we have to change college teacher education requirements and add marksmanship to the curriculum? Also, I remember teachers with paddles (I was paddled twice during my time at Verona Elementary, both times by a coach and both times for something I didn’t do) and am glad my testosterone driven coaches didn’t have guns!
  • Why have President Trump’s supporters given him a pass on the tax return issue (as well as just about every other issue)?
  • Why did The Police have to break up? The same for Pink Floyd.
  • The USA will probably finish the Olympics with the 4th or 5th highest medal count, so why are media calling this “disappointing”? I think it is pretty cool that a country the size of Norway can win the most medals. Can’t we just celebrate everyone’s victories (well, except for the Curlers).
  • Why do children have to grow up and move so far away?
  • Why have we not yet found “the cure” for cancer?
  • Why do I allow all these questions to interfere with a good night’s sleep?

Unrestricted Constitutional Rights Are a Myth

Almost everyone knows that our most fundamental rights are protected by the Bill of Rights, the Constitution’s first ten Amendments. The thing is, even though those amendments protect rights the Founders believed were granted by God or nature, the rights are not absolute. A few examples should suffice.

  • The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”. Does that mean we have absolute freedom of religion? Not at all. Polygamy, smoking marijuana, human sacrifice, refusing children medical treatment, adults “marrying” children, and countless other religious practices would be in violation of that phrase, so freedom of religion is not absolute.
  • The First Amendment also says: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press“, but libel and slander, child pornography, fighting words, false advertising, and other forms of expression have been ruled violations of free speech and press, so these are not absolute.
  • The First Amendment also says: “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the people’s right to assemble“, but you and I cannot gather in the middle of a street or highway any time we want and disrupt traffic. Nor can we assemble on private property or with the intent to destroy property.
  • The Fourth Amendment protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and states that our property may only be searched based on a warrant sworn on the basis of probable cause, but that right is not universally applied. A number of exceptions allow police officers to search our person or our property without securing a warrant.
  • The Sixth Amendment states that a citizen charged with a criminal offense may “have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense“. Prior to 1963 we had that right if we could afford an attorney. The Supreme Court decided, after 172 years, that this was a right the government had to guarantee by providing attorneys (today these are overworked attorneys, but that’s for another post). So this right was not unrestricted and today it still does not extend to most crimes (misdemeanors). 

You get the idea. The Supreme Court has made it clear time and time again that NO right is absolute, nor can it be.

And that includes the 2nd Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.

Why is it that a subset of the American population believes the 2nd Amendment allows no restrictions on the right to “bear arms” when every other right is restricted? Numerous restrictions on firearms have been imposed over time. Examples:

  • Licenses are required in every state for hunters using guns or other weapons.
  • We obviously cannot legally use a gun to commit a crime and the punishment is more severe if we do so.
  • States impose “concealed carry” restrictions that require owners to keep guns visible to the public and police.
  • States limit the types of guns we may possess, how we may purchase them, and impose other limits.
  • In 1934 Congress passed The National Firearms Act restricting access to machine guns, guns with barrels under a certain length, gun silencers, and more. The law also required owners to register certain weapons with the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Restricting firearms rights is not a new or novel idea.

SIDE NOTE: There have always been two broad interpretations of the 2nd Amendment. One focuses on the “well regulated militia” phrase thus giving government the power to regulate firearms unrelated to the “militia”. The other focuses on the individual right to self defense that goes back at least to American Colonial times resulting in individual gun rights. The proper understanding of the Founders’ meaning is somewhat irrelevant since, as I said, restrictions on firearms are not a new notion. 

So what happened to make some folks believe the 2nd Amendment was absolute and beyond restriction? Gun manufacturers and interest groups, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), carried out what conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public”.  These groups successfully convinced a portion of the public, a very vocal and passionate portion, that the 2nd Amendment gave individuals the unrestricted right to own guns.

Within a few decades of Burger declaring this interpretation a “fraud” presidents had succeeded in appointing a majority of justices to the Supreme Court who disagreed with him and who at least partially endorsed the “individual right” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. In a 2008  5-4 decision the Supreme Court  ruled that the Constitution does protect individual rights to gun ownership.   

However, what often gets lost is that the decision’s author, Antonin Scalia (one of the Court’s most conservative justices ever), also said that like all other rights the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. The Court said that “reasonable” restrictions on firearms were constitutional. In fact the Court stated that some restrictions are “presumptively lawful”. These include:

  • Conceal carry laws.
  • Keeping firearms out of the hands of felons or the mentally ill.
  • Determining that firearms are not allowed in schools, hospitals, or other public places.
  • Restricting the sale of firearms (age limits, etc.).
  • Restricting “dangerous and unusual weapons”.

The bottom line? The 2nd Amendment does guarantee the right to personal ownership of guns, but that right is no more unlimited than are religion, speech, press, or any other right. It is thus possible for government to:

  • Impose strict background checks on those purchasing firearms, and at least a couple of laws have done so making it more difficult for convicted felons and the mentally ill (and terrorists) to obtain firearms.
  • Restrict the number of bullets that can be held in a gun’s clip. When I was a kid hunting in the woods of Mississippi with my Dad we had to have a plug in the shogun when we hunted birds, and that plug would only allow me to put three shells at a time in the gun. That was fifty years ago.
  • Limit the online and gun show sale of firearms that make circumventing laws easier.
  • Ban the sales of any piece of equipment making the rapid fire of weapons possible (bump stocks).
  • Require gun safety classes for those legally purchasing firearms just as we do with driver’s licenses.
  • Even ban or limit possession of certain classes of firearms deemed “dangerous and unusual”.

Can we stop all acts of senseless violence by imposing such restrictions? No. But we might stop at least some such incidents and trying something beats trying nothing.

As I’ve said previously, I own guns and I enjoy shooting. However, I’m perfectly fine with legal restrictions on firearms possession that might save the lives of innocent children (and adults). I care much more about those lives than I do my unrestricted right to own guns, and I have trouble understanding how it could be otherwise.

And the Constitution allows such reasonable restrictions regardless of some Americans’ belief to the contrary.



I Need a New Truck

I’ve decided I can no longer drive my 1999 Ford truck. The 2018 Ford F-450 Platinum is only about $78,000, so that’s the one I want. My wife also wants a new SUV because her current car has clocked more than 100,000 miles, so she is ordering the Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($158,200). It is time to start living the good life!

And while we are at it we’ve decided that we no longer enjoy living in our drafty 130 year old farmhouse. She found a house that she really likes that’s only $2.1 million in Columbia’s nicest neighborhood and owning it will really put us in the town’s inner circle socially.

And those vacations we take a couple of times each year? We’ve always shopped long hours to find nice vacations that were less expensive, but we deserve better so we will begin taking the most expensive vacations available. From now on its only private guided African safaris, three-week stays in Paris, Fiji, the Seychelles, Dubai! Private jets, of course!!

And my wife who has never really cared much for jewelry has found a love for diamonds. She really likes the larger ones. Several estate pieces have caught her eye and should only set us back about $1.5 million. Each.

I know you are wondering how we can afford such a lifestyle. We can’t. But we have very good credit and can pretty much borrow as much as we want.

Sure…there is no way we will get it all paid off before we die, but that’s why we have three children.  I’m sure they will be able to make the payments after we’ve kicked the bucket because we will only burden each of them with about $2 million of our debt (thanks, kids!!).

And yes, I know that when we accumulate too much debt the banks will eventually stop loaning us money or, more likely, will start charging very high interest rates when we decide to buy that new Porsche, but once again that’s a problem for the Roebuck kids.

Why should we live within our means when our favorite Uncle (Sam) refuses to do so? It is the American way. Right?

Our benevolent Uncle Sam has run up a debt that is currently almost $20.5 trillion. That’s about $63,000 for every American and our kids will eventually get to make the monthly payments. Of course that’s only federal debt and when we add in state and local government debt the total is more than $24 trillion, so maybe we all owe a little more than $63k.

Well heck, we can just write off that debt. Can’t we? If my wife and I get too far in debt and suddenly learn that we can’t afford that $70,000 sofa I’ve had my eye on we can just declare bankruptcy. Surely Uncle Sam can do the same! Well…no. He can’t. But he can continue to print more money, borrow it from himself, and borrow from foreign debtors (until they decide he is a risk for non-payment).

Yes..I did say “borrow it from himself”.  The largest portion of federal debt is to Social Security and other government agencies, and that ultimately endangers our retirement entitlement. About 30% of federal debt ($5.6 trillion) is what’s referred to as “intragovernmental holdings” (money government borrows from government agencies). And, by the way, most of the remaining portion of that 30% is money borrowed from other government retirement funds for the military or other future governmental retirees.

And what about the remaining $15+ trillion in debt? A little more than $6 trillion is held by foreign countries. The rest is held by banks, insurance companies, private pension funds, and a variety of other sources.

Unfortunately for my wife and me, we can only tap in to the resources from a few banks before they start catching on and don’t approve our loan request for that new yacht. Oh well. The Lake of the Ozarks isn’t big enough for that yacht anyway.

But thankfully for Uncle Sam the borrowing sources are not so picky. Not yet anyway. That’s a good thing since the Republican Party, the party of “fiscal responsibility”, has now put the country on track to accumulate $30 trillion in debt by 2030 because of its tax cuts and budget deficits. We will be borrowing like never before!!

Unfortunately that also means that by 2030 government debt will be in excess of 100% of our Gross Domestic Product and that indicates a pretty high probability the government will not be able to pay its debts. Creditors will then begin charging extremely high interest rates for our Uncle to continue his high-roller ways. But, as I said, our kids will figure it out.

Or they won’t because there will be no solution.

Oh well. I still have good credit so I’m off to order my truck.




A Story From My Dad

Let me tell you about my Dad, the greatest man who ever lived. Bear with me because I’ll get to the point shortly.

In the midst of the Great Depression my Dad contracted a disease called osteomyelitis, a bacterial infection of the bone. Today if someone contracts the disease they can usually be treated with antibiotics, but in the 1930’s my Dad had to suffer through a process referred to as “debridement” which has a surgeon opening access to the infected bone where it can be scraped and flushed. He had bones debrided in his leg, his head, his face, his arms, his hip…you get the idea.

When he was eight years old my Dad was in bed for about a year fighting that disease and when he finally recovered his right hip was out of socket. It remained that way until he died at age 74, so his right leg was about four inches shorter than the left requiring a “lift” on all his right shoes.  During his life he had surgery at least 36 times and every step he took from the time he was eight years old until the day he died was painful. He still taught me to play baseball, to hunt and fish, multiplication tables, and how to curse at appropriate times (this was likely unintentional).

He was the toughest, and most gentle, human being I’ve ever known.

The other thing you need to know is that he worked. Hard. He worked in a plant that bottled milk, starting as custodian and machine operator and retiring after almost 40 years as plant superintendent although doctors had offered him disability twenty years earlier. He finally retired because he just couldn’t continue walking on the concrete floor ten hours per day, but even after retirement he went back to the plant on Saturday mornings to answer the phone and take orders because he loved working.

When I was young I remember him telling some of his buddies a story, and that story has influenced my attitudes and my life. One day he had some trucks that needed to be unloaded but he didn’t have enough crew to unload them. He drove up town to the courthouse where he knew unemployed guys hung out, and he offered to pay these guys to come help unload the trucks. They responded that they didn’t need to unload the trucks because their “government check” was due the next day.

So here you had my Dad who was in pain 66 of his 74 years (but who NEVER complained once) offering healthy young men work, but they didn’t want it. This anecdote has always made me question the impact excessive welfare has on society.

I absolutely favor using my taxes to help those who cannot help themselves.

  • People who are severely handicapped either physically or mentally are welcome to my tax dollars because I offer them willingly.
  • I’m more than willing to help fellow citizens who earn too little to pay for healthcare because I believe people should have that access regardless of their income.
  • And I understand the capitalist economy and know that at any given time there are some people who just cannot find jobs, and I want to help these folks through the rough stretches.
  • And I know that a very large number of American jobs pay so little that folks holding those jobs cannot support a family, so I’m more than happy to help them as well.
  • I’m also happy to provide free breakfasts and lunches to kids in schools just because some of those kids come from homes with too little food.

You get the idea. I’m more than willing to help my fellow Americans who need my help. I’m glad I am in a position to pay those taxes.

I’m less enthusiastic about supporting my fellow citizens who are capable of working but are unwilling to do so. People who are capable of working sometimes game the system and consequently give other Americans a negative impression of “welfare” programs.

To be clear, the number of folks abusing the system is almost certainly pretty low, but:

  • According to federal law, to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients must either work, seek work, engage in job training, or volunteer between 20 and 35 hours per week. In 2013, the last year for which data are available, only about 1/3 of adults receiving TANF actually met these standards. In that year more than half of TANF recipients were completely idle.
  • There is fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Some fraud exists in the Medicare program.
  • Fraud is a problem with the Earned Income Tax Credit that gives larger tax refunds to those with lower incomes.

It is estimated that more than 10% of welfare payments either result from fraud or other improper welfare payments. That is more than $70 billion per year.

But I think there is more to this issue than dollars lost. It is time to re-think our notion of welfare and who is eligible to receive it. I’ve known people who were able to get disability benefits while simultaneously working for cash under the table. I’ve had people try to sell me their food stamps for cash. I’ve known couples who avoided marriage because it would impact benefit checks.

Some of our policies result in a culture of dependency. Thankfully this culture is not pervasive, but I believe it is corrosive.

Before my liberal friends start deleting me from Facebook and unsubscribing to my blog, read this from former President Obama:

“I think we should acknowledge that some welfare programs in the past were not well designed and in some cases did encourage dependency.… As somebody who worked in low-income neighborhoods, I’ve seen it where people weren’t encouraged to work, weren’t encouraged to upgrade their skills, were just getting a check, and over time their motivation started to diminish. And I think even if you’re progressive you’ve got to acknowledge that some of these things have not been well designed.”

Our social benevolence has actually created a culture of dependency and entitlement rather than one promoting self-reliance and independence. Everyone in a society should contribute to that society according to their ability and some of our policies make it possible to avoid doing so.

I wish people gaming the system had the chance to meet my Dad.

And don’t get me started on my Mom who retired at age 74 and at 89 still volunteers more hours than many Americans work.