At the end of 2012, the Associated Press conducted its annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors, asking them to rate what they considered to be the top news stories of the year. The top three turned out to be 1. the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, 2. the U.S. election, and 3. Superstorm Sandy.
What's significant about these three events is that their impact has extended far beyond the confines of last year's news. These three are now at the center of a lively ongoing conversation about what kind of nation we want to have, and whether its brokenness can be fixed.
Almost every day we can come across references in our newspapers to the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The chief discussion about matters of gun violence and gun control at the present time, however, seems to be led by the National Rifle Association. The NRA wants no outside control over its gun ownership. Instead, it argues for an increase in gun possession, holding that teachers and other school officials need to be equipped to eliminate any potential attacker. Many teachers, however, have expressed opposition to this kind of responsibility. At the same time, many gun owners have expressed a willingness to accept more stringent control over military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, especially in the hands of neo-Confederate or neo-Nazi militia-type people.
In a previous column, we referred to the Second Amendment's lack of clarity regarding the subject of militias and gun ownership. George Mason, who drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, did a much clearer job of it. In his listing of sixteen rights that pertain to the people of Virginia and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of Government, he states "That a well-regulated Militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free State; that Standing Armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
It is clear from this that the National Guard would be today's equivalent to the militias of the 1700s, and that gun ownership, in such a case, is a collective rather than an individual right. There are several other nations, such as Switzerland and Israel, that have armed militia. However, the military arms are not kept at home, but kept in official storage places, and used only for times of training or practice.
Somehow we need to find a way to provide more effective protection for our nation's greatest resources and treasures, our children.
The "U.S. Election" was Number 2 on the Associated Press' annual poll of top news stories. Obama's re-election was a great disappointment to those who had vowed to make him a failure and a one-term president. The outcome revealed a new national majority of youth, women, people of color and of varied ethnic backgrounds. Many states, however, helped by gerrymandering and local Tea Party political strength, came out of the election with Republican control of the three branches of state government. The prospect is that this kind of stark division between the states and the national government will decrease the chances for compromise. Already the Tea Party is campaigning on behalf of nullification and the defeat of Obamacare.
It is apparent that the legislative and executive branches of our national government haven't been able to work together smoothly for some time now. Funding and running the government should have been a routine task, but the political solution has been for last-minute back-to-the-wall mini-compromises and a series of temporary patches. One huge problem is that our society has not been able to break the stranglehold that the wealthiest sector in our society has over the nation's tax structure, and its ability to protect its wealth from any significant sharing with the rest of society.
"Superstorm Sandy" was Number 3 in the national poll. This storm slammed into more than 800 miles of the eastern U.S. coast and caused damage at a cost of over $60 billion—the second costliest storm in U.S. history after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Several hundred thousand homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
How does a nation go about repairing or replacing such damage? Especially when half of its national budget is spent overseas destroying property and lives in the Middle East? And especially when it hasn't yet replaced or restored what was lost in 2005?
Climatologists warn us that we can expect more of this kind of weather as the arctic ice cap melts and the oceans grow warmer.
These are all questions that the top three news stories in 2012 raise for us. What will be their outcome in 2013?