Taking responsibility back

In another all-too-familiar case of foster children horribly mistreated and child protective services apparently “asleep on the job” (see my post about little Zahra Baker, dated 11/7/10), one of two Florida foster twins (her name, for those following along after my post about names dated 10/12/10? Nubia) is dead, while her brother clings to life with severe burns after their foster “father” apparently doused both of them with a corrosive chemical, the last in an apparently-lengthy series of tortures that were inflicted upon them.  The “father” is in custody at this hour; the “mother” has yet to be charged, and three other children have reportedly been removed from the home.

If you’re wondering why such unfeeling people would want custody of foster children, sadly, it’s usually for the money that they can get from the state for the children’s support.  Now, if you’re wondering how apparent monsters like these could get, and keep, custody of foster children, I’m right there with you.  I can virtually guarantee you, if I or any similarly-trained and experienced forensic psychologist had examined this couple when they applied to be foster parents, we would’ve seen red flags.  If they somehow still got approved, I can also virtually guarantee you that if I, or you, had gone into these people’s home and visited these kids, we could’ve figured out that something was horribly wrong.  So why didn’t Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) figure it out?  It gets worse.  Someone from DCF visited the home just a few days before these little twins turned up dead and near-dead.

This certainly isn’t the first time in recent memory that Florida’s DCF has infamously “dropped the ball,” and hopefully my media friend and Florida’s new Attorney General Pam Bondi (she and I appeared together as talk-show panelists when she was a district attorney and typically concurred) can help bring some order to the DCF chaos down there, but the problem reaches far beyond Florida, encompassing virtually every state.  Child protective services across the country are typically underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed with cases.

Now, I’m going to digress, but please bear with me, because I promise to bring this full-circle.  We’re at a point in our nation’s history where our government simply cannot continue borrowing money at the rate that it has historically.  We’re broke, folks.  It’s not just a financial crisis.  It’s an existential crisis.  It’s not that different from a family that brings in $30,000 per year and owes $30,000 to Master Card, only our national debt is much larger, with a lot of it owed to “Master China.”  It’s simply unsustainable.  That means we’re going to have to stop spending money on things that aren’t essential to our nation’s survival (safety, security, structural integrity, etc.).

(By the way, my characterization of China as our nation’s “Master Card” — though probably less accommodating toward us than the actual Master Card would be toward that deeply-indebted family who keeps asking for credit-limit increases — has a double meaning.  Remember how we put the Soviets out of business as a superpower, not militarily but economically; our productivity, thanks to capitalism, was so much greater than theirs, due to communism, that they saw the writing on the wall; they’d never keep up with us militarily, and they ultimately folded up their proverbial tent, leaving us as the world’s sole superpower.  Don’t think that something similar can’t happen to us if there’s another nation that’s more productive, more capitalistic, and more fiscally-wise than we are.  I’m not suggesting that China’s there or that it’ll threaten us militarily if/when it gets there, but I’d certainly prefer not to find out.)

How do we do that?  Over our years of prosperity, our government has taken on many, many responsibilities that it should never have undertaken.  We must now dial that back, while keeping ill-advised promises we made to people who reasonably relied on them and now don’t have enough earning years left to adjust.  What do I mean?  Publicly-funded art?  Sure, that’s nonessential — sorry, Hollywood crowd, publicly-funded art is not essential to the nation’s survival — but no, that’s a very small part of the problem, so eliminating it from the budget, while necessary, won’t make a visible dent in the grand scheme of things.  I’m talking about reforming…gasp…so-called “entitlements” like Social Security.

Yes, I said it, Social Security.  It’s not, and never should’ve been, the government’s purpose nor its responsibility to make sure that we have enough money when we’re old, at least not for the vast majority of us who are able-bodied/minded and can work until we’re 65 or 70 years old or older (yes, we can debate what to do for the relatively small percentage of the population who are truly incapable, from day one, of earning and saving for their own retirements, but they’re again a small part of the problem; and yes, I know Social Security also pays disability income, but I’m focused on the big ticket here, the retirement payments).  Those of us who are capable of earning and saving for our own retirements should be, and always should’ve been, expected to do so, and if we choose not to, then we should have to rely on the charity of our fellow Americans rather than on our government redistributing wealth that it doesn’t have (I know, some of you think Social Security is just your own money coming back to you — it may have been intended to work that way, but your money has since been spent, i.e. it’s gone, spent, stolen, i.e. any money that you ever get when you retire will now come from younger people who are still working; sorry, but it’s true).

Like I said, we have to honor the promises we made to people who relied on those promises and no longer have time to adjust, but we also need to pick a cutoff age so we can finally project an end to the runaway spending.  If, for example, we at least offered to everyone my age and below, “You won’t ever have another dime taken out of your paycheck for Social Security, but you also won’t ever get a dime from the government when you’re old, so you’d better start saving those dimes on your own,” I’d take that deal in a heartbeat, and so, I’ll bet, would most of my generation.  Yes, the nation would still have to borrow for a while to keep our past promises, but at least there’d be an end in sight.

(And that’s just one “entitlement” — wait until you see my prescription for health care!  If you’re interested, you can find “Dr. Brian’s Rx for health care” dated 9/8/08, followed by posts on why mental-health “parity” was a bad idea, 9/25/08, the impending doctor shortage, 11/18/08, why socialism isn’t the answer, 4/28/09, the President’s slander of doctors, 7/23/09, the inefficiency of government-administered insurance, 7/25/09, the psychology of demand for health services, 7/28/09, why Medicare is a bad model, 7/30/09, the tenor of the health-care debate, 8/5/09, the importance of a free market for health services, 8/11/09, the “morality” of health care, 8/21/09, my general philosophy on health care, 2/4/10, and what health-care “reform” is doing to our economy, 11/4/10 — you can get to all of these by clicking on “December 2010” in the “archives” box on the right side of your screen and then scrolling back through time.)

Ok, why this long digression on the nation’s budget?  Because keeping our people from being attacked, by foreign enemies from the Middle East or by domestic enemies from down the street, is at the forefront of the things that truly are essential functions and expenditures for our government, at the national and local levels respectively, and we’re not doing it as much or as well as we should be.  Instead, we’re spending trillions of dollars that we don’t have on less-essential things while kids, like this poor little girl in Florida, die because we didn’t protect her like we should have.  If our government can’t protect our kids from being violently attacked, what else could it possibly be doing that’s more important?  I say virtually nothing is.

So, bottom line, we’ve got to get our national priorities and financial house in order such that child protective services is up at the top, and abundantly funded, across this nation, along with other law-enforcement and national-security/defense functions, recognizing that as we go down our list of priorities, at some point on that list, the money will no longer be there to fund the remainder.  At that point, we Americans will have to take back the responsibility, for ourselves and for one another, that previous generations, unfortunately and unwisely, abdicated to the government, misleading us to believe that it could remain there forever.  It can’t.  We have to take the responsibility back.

There’s going to be some pain.  There’s going to be some loss.  There’s going to be some difficulty.  But the burden has to be borne, and it has to be borne fairly —  just because it may seem practical to force a successful American to bear a higher percentage of the burden than a less-successful American doesn’t make it right if neither did any more than the other to create the burden.  Wrong is wrong, even if it’s practical.  These are tough choices.  They’ll take some time (and a lot more serious effort than I’m seeing in Washington lately) to make.  But hopefully, we can all agree that as we determine our priorities and our sacrifices, our children’s safety clearly belongs among the very top priorities and should only benefit from the sacrifices.

Shifting gears now, I’ve been busy working behind the scenes over the past few days on a story that may break next week, so before I go, here’s a quick rundown of other Lawpsyc news that developed this week:

Remember the guy who drove into the canal in California a couple of weeks ago with his son in the car, apparently to spite his ex-girlfriend, the child’s mother?  Sadly, but just as I predicted on Nancy Grace, both his body and the child’s have now washed up downstream in the canal, closing that case.

If you’ve caught any international news in the past week, you know that Egypt’s president resigned, and the Egyptian military took control of that country pending promised democratic elections later this year.  To listen to some in the mainstream American media, you’d think that the throngs of Egyptian revolutionaries were reincarnations of our own Founding Fathers.  Well, while covering their revolution, an American female reporter was brutally sexually assaulted by an angry mob.  Yes, the attackers could’ve been loyalists of the ousted president rather than members of the “revolutionary” movement.  And yes, the actions of a few don’t necessarily characterize an entire population or movement.  All I’m saying is, don’t buy that it’s 1776 repeating itself in the Middle East these days.  As I recently wrote, what’s happening there, unfortunately, will likely prove to have been less of a struggle between tyranny and democracy and more of a struggle between different types of tyranny, resulting in regimes that bear no greater resemblance and are actually less friendly to the U.S. than their predecessors.

There’s a new study out on teenage drinking, and it’s a real shocker!  Turns out teens sometimes get access to liquor right in their own homes!  Can you believe it?  Teens sometimes pilfer their parents’ liquor!  (Prescription drugs, too!)  Thank goodness for this study!  Now that we’ve all learned this, might there even be some parental accountability if teens drink liquor that their parents leave openly accessible and then get in their parents’ cars and kill people?  Groundbreaking study here, folks, could be a real game-changer.  Watch those liquor cabinets this weekend now that you know.

If you watched coverage of this year’s Grammy Awards, you may have seen a female reporter have what looked like a stroke, appearing to become progressively disoriented and speaking gibberish on live television before collapsing off camera.  Well, the good news is that she’s ok now.  She apparently suffered from what’s known as a “complex migraine,” which is more than just a bad headache, although that’s part of it.  It’s sort of a neurological “crash” in which signals within the brain and between the brain and body are temporarily “short-circuited,” resulting in a combination of disorientation, headache, and seizure-like symptoms that can resemble a stroke.  Thankfully, in this woman’s case, it apparently wasn’t a stroke.  She apparently has a history of migraines but never had experienced anything like what happened this week.  It sounds like she experienced some warning signs of migraine onset, as many migraine sufferers do, but tried to power through them in the chaos of covering the Grammys, so hopefully if she just heeds any such warnings in the future, even in the midst of covering a big story, she can avoid a recurrence.

And finally, talk about a headache!  A Chinese man had a knife blade removed from his lower skull that reportedly had been there for…four years.  The guy apparently was stabbed in an upward motion just behind his the jaw during a robbery four years ago and thought that he had just been cut.  Turns out the knife blade apparently broke off and lodged inside his skull, which explains headaches and other problems he had been experiencing until cranial imagery revealed its presence.  Illustrating the brain’s ability to compensate for damage, this story gives additional reason to be hopeful about the rehabilitation efforts underway for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whose skull was penetrated by a bullet in an assassination attempt last month.  (By the way, venue for the shooter’s eventual trial has been moved from Arizona to California due to the potential impact of pre-trial publicity on the trial’s perceived fairness had it remained in Arizona.)

Have a good weekend!

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