End of Year Retrospectives

In this late 2013 post, I decided to choose some events and ongoing issues that had a special impact during the year past, and make a few, brief comments on them.

Given the global reach and sheer number of those who are at least nominal followers, Jesus Christ has to be the most influential person in history. It is therefore a big event when the office that a majority of those followers consider the seat of Jesus’s vicar on earth changes hands. In the case this year, itself notable for its rarity – Pope Benedict did not wait to die before leaving the Papacy – the new Pope Francis seems to be of a different mold than any of his predecessors. He certainly is less focused on the niceties of doctrine and pomp. In many respects, he seems libertarian, which is what the New Testament and other historical sources seem to indicate Jesus was. Whether some of Francis’s pronouncements are really anti-free market remains to be seen. Some of the left-leaning commentators who profess to be Roman Catholic like E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post seem to be pleased with the new Pope so far.

Events relating to the two earlier posts concerning the crisis in Ukraine bear out why geography matters. Ukraine shares a lengthy common border with Russia, was a constituent republic (theoretically) of the Soviet Union, and was previously part of the Czarist empire. Ukraine depends on natural gas, abundant in Russia, as its primary energy source. Russia is am important trading partner. That is why the wish of so many Ukrainians to establish ties with the European Union will probably be unrequited, at least for now. Further illustrating the force of geographical proximity, an essay on Poland in the current issue of Foreign Affairs points out that the post World War II shifting of the Polish borders westward caused that country to be oriented to Germany and Western Europe, rather than to Russia, once the Cold War ended. As now part of the European Union, though not in the Eurozone, Poland is prospering.

Nationally, the rollout of the (un)Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, looked like a train wreck, which its many opponents, including me, from the beginning thought the whole scheme would be. It will probably get worse. With a 2000 page statute and tens of thousands of pages of implementing regulations, how could it be anything else?

Even with the hysteria in wake of the lunatic who killed 20 plus students and teachers at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook school in December 2012, the anti-gun nuts failed to enact the oppressive laws they have long sought. Their efforts’ main effect was to drive up the price of firearms and “high-capacity” magazines, encourage hoarding of ammunition, and increase sale of posters proclaiming President Obama as the “gun salesman of the year” for display at gun shows and stores.

Advocates of homosexual marriage made progress in the courts this year. This is to some degree parallel to the failure of the gun control measures. Both issues concern individual rights. Rights of individuals to acquire and keep the means to protect themselves are much like the right to choose personal relationships. I do not see the Supreme Court making a sweeping ruling that states must allow homosexual marriages in the same way the Roe v. Wade forbade states from outlawing all non-therapeutic abortions. That ruling caused too much division because it took an issue over which many persons had deeply held conflicting positions out of the political arena. I see a ruling that requires federal benefits, and perhaps state benefits, be given to all couples that have the legal equivalent of a marriage. My compromise solution is to provide for legal civil unions for all couples regardless of sex. If they wish, they can call it marriage and have it solemnized by a church or other private organization that is willing to do so.

The tension between security and privacy continues. High tech surveillance cameras and cell-phone tracking identified the Boston marathon bombers and led to the killing of one and the capture of the other in short order. The collecting of telephone call records by the National Security Agency is still disturbing to many Americans. Edward Snowden’s disclosures have made him a villain and traitor, or a hero and patriot, and to some, both. Lower federal courts are now split over whether such data gathering is Constitutional, setting up an almost sure Supreme Court review.

Going forward, next year’s elections might see the Senate return to GOP control. The House could go to the Democrats, but probably won’t. Nationally, the President’s poll rating are seriously low, but Congress’s are in the toilet. The thing to remember in that regard is that the electorate does not vote for a Congress, but for Senators by state and Representatives by district. If Congress is gridlocked and doing nothing, that might sit well with the constituents of many individual members of Congress.

In the early 1970s, I was not alone in the belief that marijuana would be legal by the end of the decade. We missed by at least 40 years. With pot being legal for medicinal purposes in six states, and, as of this Wednesday, for recreational purposes in two, I believe this libertarian trend is clear. Marijuana may well be decriminalized in a majority of states by 2020. At some point, the so-called “hard” drugs will follow, as they should. The War on Drugs has been a perfect example of Albert Einstein’s insanity definition. (For what its worth, I personally have never used any controlled substance, except medicine prescribed by a physician, and never intend to.)

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