HOW quickly we forget. How quickly our memories could be jogged.
Gasoline prices are relatively low and were a nonissue in the presidential election. What could have been a major hurdle for Barack Obama wasn't, another election-year stroke of luck for Obama.
Yet 2012 set a record for the highest average gasoline price — $3.60 a gallon, or 9 cents higher than the previous record set the year before. Not so long ago, motorists were complaining about soaring gas prices and grumbling about Obama's connection to it. Truth is, presidents have little ability to do much about gas prices. Their energy policies can affect exploration and production of oil, but gas prices typically rise because of international conflicts, refinery problems and disruptions caused by weather.
Supply and demand also play a key role. The highest one-day price — $4.11 per gallon in July 2008 — was blamed on global demand. The subsequent recession deflated demand; prices began to fall. Last year, though, the price started edging up and stayed high enough to set a record for an average price for the year.
But that's a distant memory as 2013 begins. It may not be distant for long, but whether a record will be reached this year will relate to demand, weather and refinery issues, not to the supposed greed of Big Oil.
The new year brought new laws, and one deserving notice is a minor change at the Department of Human Services. Although voters approved major changes in the agency's administration in November, a law that took effect Jan. 1 modified how the agency investigates child abuse. In the past, DHS standards for investigating alleged abuse in foster homes or state-owned shelters weren't as stringent as in cases where parents or caretakers were accused of abusing children in private settings. That inconsistency was cited in a recent class-action lawsuit that ultimately led to last year's DHS reforms. Abuse should be thoroughly investigated wherever it occurs. If anything, standards for children in state custody should be higher, not lower, so this is welcome change. Too bad it took a lawsuit to make it happen.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis says he has important reasons to retire after this season — his sons. Lewis has been one of the NFL's biggest stars and greatest players during his 17-year career. He missed a large chunk of this season with an injury, and that allowed him to watch two of his boys play high school football. The eldest will be playing in college next season. “I knew I couldn't split my time anymore,” Lewis said this week. “When God calls, He calls. And He's calling. More importantly, He calls me to be a father.” That's an important message particularly for the black community, where too many children are raised in homes without their fathers. Lewis himself was raised that way, and “that damaged me a lot,” he said. “I didn't want my kids to relive that.” He could have returned next season for big money, but clearly Lewis has his priorities in order.
When it comes to technology, the private sector tends to be an early adapter of innovations that fuel greater efficiency, while government is often one of the last entities to adjust to change, at times clinging to outmoded practices years after it's become clear the costs exceed the benefits. So it's worth noting that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is now deactivating the old bulky plastic transponder units of Pikepass customers who haven't switched to the new windshield-sticker version. Deactivation occurs only after multiple notifications have been sent to Pikepass customers, giving them plenty of time to respond and swap out the old units for stickers. But even this minor change in governmental operations has been driven more by necessity than the desire to modernize practices: It seems the old transponder cases are no longer being produced.