Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials
Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 6
Guns and the elderly: An under-the-radar public health hazard
Personal responsibility, better policy needed to protect aging loved ones.
There’s still a sense of shock in Paul Schnell’s voice when he talks about two murders that happened in the suburban community of Maplewood, where he served as police chief.
Both involved an elderly parent shooting an adult child after arguments about what was on television — or what wasn’t. Kenneth Bowser, then 90, meant only to scare his son Larry on the night of Sept. 12, 2015, but prosecutors say he killed him instead with a pistol he’d kept under his pillow. Eighteen months before that, 84-year-old Pang Se Vang fatally wounded his 36-year-old son after the son refused to install cable television.
“The part that was really striking is that this wasn’t just a one-off,” said Schnell, now police chief in Inver Grove Heights, of the two elderly perpetrators. “As more and more people are trying to stay in their homes as long as they can, nobody is thinking about the presence of those guns and the extent to which that becomes a problem. This is going to become a very real issue as the population ages.”
Schnell’s assessment is astute. The coming collision of a graying demographic wave, the memory problems inherent in aging and the prevalence of gun ownership is a looming but under-the-radar public health hazard. That is why “Unlocked and Loaded: Families Confront Dementia and Guns,” a recent special report from a Kaiser Health News and PBS NewsHour partnership, has provided a valuable public service.
The debate over gun control sparked by the horrifying pace of school shootings has understandably focused on preventing the next attack in public places. But the Kaiser team’s deep reporting shows that harm can happen in private spaces as well. Acknowledging a major risk factor in that setting — age-related cognitive decline — and being pro-active on personal and policy fronts just makes sense. These alarming statistics underscore the urgency of taking action:
— A third of adults age 65 and older own firearms. An additional 12 percent live with a gun owner.
— About 9 percent of Americans 65 and older have dementia.
— About a third of people with dementia “exhibit combative behavior over the course of their illness.”
The four-month Kaiser team investigation found 15 homicides and at least 95 suicides since 2012 involving people with dementia and firearms. The reporters had to sift through public records and news reports to compile the numbers because dementia-related shooting deaths are apparently not tracked comprehensively by public health officials. Some critics in the report blamed this on political pressure “quashing” research into gun violence.
Schnell’s law enforcement experience illuminates the risk beyond the Kaiser team statistics. He recalled an elderly gardener in Maplewood who became upset when deer ate his hostas. The man shot at them in frustration, missing the hungry woodland creatures but hitting a neighbor’s garage instead.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and his family limited future gun use to hunting trips — a sensible step that illustrates caregivers’ responsibility to prevent gun injuries. When to take the car keys away from an aging loved one is a conversation that caregivers know they’ll need to have. Conversations around when to lock up guns or remove them from the home ought to become just as common.
From a policy standpoint, enacting a “red flag” law in Minnesota would help reduce the risk of dementia-related shootings. This would “allow law enforcement and family members to petition the court to keep guns away from those who pose a significant danger to themselves or other, or who have court-protection,” according to a February Star Tribune editorial that advocated for legislation to do exactly this during the 2018 session.
Regrettably, the bill, HF 1605, failed to gain traction even as other states passed these protections. But its lead author, Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, should press on. Keeping elders and their communities safe is a worthy goal Minnesotans ought to be able to agree on.
The Free Press of Mankato, July 7
Economy: Trump’s bump has been blip so far
Why it matters: President Donald Trump’s promises of economic gains have not yet panned out.
Many Americans who voted for Donald Trump generously overlooked his character flaws with the hope a businessman could bring the economy back and as Trump says, “make it great again.”
But so far, the evidence suggests there is not much greatness, and economic indicators are hovering decidedly around mediocre or worse. The people making those assessments are not exactly leftist Democrats.
The Federal Reserve Board of Governors said at its June meeting that some businesses were already pulling back investments in jobs and equipment because of the “uncertainty over U.S. trade policy.” The nation’s top bankers said the trade policy was already hurting the stock market and could hamper economic growth.
While U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2018 was 2 percent, the best since 2015, the Fed also expects growth rates to come back to more normal rates in 2019 as the deficit balloons from $665 billion to an estimated $1 trillion, an increase of nearly 50 percent.
Tax cuts, passed just before Christmas, which provided 14 percent to 20 percent reductions in corporate tax rates and large increases in business deductions for capital spending, so far haven’t spurred huge gains in wage growth or business investment.
Morgan Stanley’s index of business capital spending reported a drop in capital spending recently and said the U.S. was “past the peak” in capital spending by business, according to a report in The Washington Post. Spending on equipment by business is lower now than it was last year and overall business investment was growing at 6.3 percent annually, the same as the last quarter of 2017.
And while some companies appeared to pass on some of their corporate tax rate savings to employees in bonuses, average wage growth in the U.S. has been stagnant over the last year.
“Yes, we are at full employment, but we are still seeing wage stagnation,” said Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economics at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in the Post report.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various industry groups, and the Federal Reserve have all pointed to Trump’s threatened trade war for creating uncertainty among business who are increasingly using their tax cuts not to hire workers but to buy back their own stock and increase dividends to shareholders.
Stock buybacks have increased 40 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the last quarter of 2017 hitting $189 billion, beating the all-time high set in 2007, according to Howard Silverblatt of S&P Dow Jones Indices.
And farmers know all too well what’s happening to soybean prices as China imposes 25 percent tariffs. Soybean prices have dropped 18 percent since Trump initiated trade disputes with China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union.
And while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up as much as 7 percent this year in January, it has lost all of that since and is now down by about 3 percent.
Former Trump top economic adviser Gary Cohn defends the strategy of tax cuts, saying businesses put a lot of thought into making big purchases and it takes time, but he also concedes a trade war could wipe out all the gains provided by tax cuts.
Trump is good at saying everything’s fine when the facts say otherwise. There will come a time when he won’t be able to fool all of the people all of time.
The Journal of New Ulm, July 10
Military discharges without honor?
The Associated Press reported over the weekend that several legal immigrants who enlisted in the U.S. Army under a program that promises expedited naturalization for military service are being quietly discharged. The reasons for dismissal are often vague, if reasons are given at all, and usually involve something about their presence being detrimental to national security.
It seems to be part of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policy to weed these legal immigrants out of the military before they can earn their citizenship. If so, this policy can only serve to weaken the military. These immigrants enlist not just for a chance to earn their citizenship, but to serve and protect the country they hope to adopt as their homeland.
The U.S. military has a code of military honor. “Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do,” according to the U.S. Army’s website.
What kind of honor is there in going back on one’s word and pulling the rug out from underneath these soldiers who have pledged to serve?