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Points to Ponder

Sedona Eye guest columnist, Mel Copen

Sedona AZ (December 12, 2011) – Every now and then, issues arise which I believe are important, but which can be dealt with in substantially less than a full column. When I accumulate a few, “points to ponder” is the result.

The First Amendment to the Constitution contains the wording: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…” Never, in the history of human language, have so few words been stretched to cover so much ground. They seem to form their own expanding universe, covering more and more concepts with the passage of time. I’m particularly sensitive to some of the odd items that show up in the news. Let’s look at a few from recent times, and an interesting anomaly.

The Federal and State Courts (including various State Supreme courts and the Supreme Court of the United States) have handed down decisions, based upon these 10 words which justify: politicians knowingly lying about their opponents; politicians lying about military decorations they never received; tattoo parlors being able to locate where they wish, violent computer games being able to be sold to children, and to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, finding that when it comes to corporations engaging in campaign advertising, spending “money is the equivalent of protected speech.” Note the direction all of these go – “protecting” political and corporate interests.

Now the odd one – A Federal judge ruled that graphic warnings that the FDA required to be placed on cigarette packs “constitutes advocacy” which violates rights of free speech. Figure that one out. Notice any sort of bias?

The Medium or the Message: I was recently intrigued by a home-improvement product that I saw advertised on TV in a frequent infomercial. It looked great. Then next time I was in a hardware store I asked about it and, surprisingly, was told that they neither had the product (or anything similar) nor knew about it, except that they had recently had a barrage of customers asking the same question I did. So I turned to the now-universal-source-of-information, the Internet. What I discovered also came as a bit of a surprise. The Internet was choked with people complaining about the product and the company. Charges included false advertising, false billing, numerous cases of legal problems and problems with Better Business Bureaus, and even a video, done by a consumer rights organization, which showed that the product did not perform as claimed. The infomercials are still running.

Question. What is the responsibility of the medium which conveys these messages to the public – particularly once the furor has reached the level where it is impossible to ignore the fact that it is possible that fraud is being committed? Does the medium have any responsibility? Clearly there is a broad spectrum of situations. At one end we have the product that does exactly what it claims. At the other, we have the total sham. Many promotional efforts fall in the middle. When is censorship justified and in what stage does it kick in? Whose responsibility is it to protect the public? Does the organization that is conveying the message (and making money from it) share in the responsibility – a form of aiding and abetting? Or do we want to establish “caveat emptor” as a firm rule of the society in which we live?

Rip-offs vs. Reasonability and Responsibility. In August the FDA approved a new scorpion anti-venom for use in the United States. It actually wasn’t a new product as it had been used in Mexico for many years. Three to five doses are required in those cases, particularly for children and the elderly, where severe reactions to scorpion bites occur.

In Mexico, where the drug is produced, the cost is approximately $100 per vial (a single dose). The situation is somewhat different in the US – largely blamed on the cost of clinical trials and other high expenditures required by the FDA in introducing new drugs. The Arizona Republic checked hospitals administering the drug and found a price range of $7,900-$15,000 per vile. No! That is not a typo. Something seems a bit awry – with the approval processes, pricing or hospital overheads – or perhaps all of the above. Bottom line – stay away from scorpions.

Congressional Perks – should members of Congress receive pensions, in addition to their participation in the Social Security System? On the one hand, the founding fathers never envisioned professional politicians. Citizen legislators would derive their primary livelihood from their farms or businesses. The business of government was a part-time activity. But now we do have “professionals” who build their careers around Capitol Hill. Should they, like corporate employees, have access to separate pension plans? If so, why should their plans be better than that of other government employees? No one expects a member of Congress to starve, but shouldn’t serving be a privilege, rather than a path to wealth?

The TV show “60 Minutes” recently did a segment on another element of Congressional privilege – in partial explanation why many members of Congress retire with much greater wealth than their salaries would provide. Unlike corporate executives, who can go to prison for trading on insider information, there is no such restriction on members of Congress. So a member of a key committee who learns of a new development (e.g. in a defense contract or a pharmaceutical product) is free to buy or sell stocks – well before the information becomes public. These are only two of the many areas where Congressional “perks” outpace those of the public. There is a growing movement to seek an amendment to the Constitution to limit such benefits. But unless a major grass-roots effort takes hold, it’s kinda like having the fox watch the chicken coop. It would be nice, for example, if the next elections to the House and Senate went to individuals who, among other things, vowed to restore some sense of equity.

The great Facebook/Twitter Society: I’m obviously a Neanderthal. I neither use Facebook nor do I Twitt. So perhaps you’ll write this off to my ignorance.

So much of the time of our young people is spent in what I would consider non-productive time on these latest miracles of our modern civilization. I wonder, as we backslide on basic mathematic, scientific and reading skills, how many of them truly understand the technologies they are captured by – no, I am not talking about how to use them – I’m talking about underlying scientific and engineering principles that will lead to new and creative efforts in the future. And I wonder what our nation would look like if all that time spent on “linking up” was instead devoted to studying math and science (history, geography, art and philosophy too) and improving reading abilities. Can’t help but think it would lead to a better future. But again, I sometimes find myself looking backwards rather than forwards.


Dr. Melvyn Copen lives in both Arizona and Georgia. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. His column appears every other week, more or less, and are copyrighted. Please share your comments below. Visit the SedonaEye.com daily! Follow the Sedona Eye for the best News and Views! Subscribe now.


Visit the SedonaEye.com daily! Follow the Sedona Eye for the best News and Views! Subscribe now.


  1. Blair Darby/James Hopson/Rick Hunt II says:

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  2. Glenn Shannon says:

    Truly the fox has free will to rob the hen house but by now is there much left to plunder. Can’t blame our forefathers as it would have been impossible for them to see how crooked our politicians would become. For that matter the public is highly to blame as instead of voting for what’s best for our country the voting depends on what’s in it for me.

  3. Republicannots says:

    the republican primary candidates are buffoons and brainless twits, an embarrassment to lincoln’s party, seems like the republicans are the republicannots

  4. Glenn Shannon says:

    I don’t think there is any question where we are headed. Forty seven percent pay no taxes so they don’t care. If you take away the welfare percentage it probably leaves about 25% paying any taxes. How could 25% vote overcome the other 75%. Another issue is the lowest intelligent people have been having the most kids for the last 40 years so do the math. There really is no oversee on congress so they can do as the please, so it is like stopping a charging bear with a BB gun

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