Friday, May 12, 2006

So much to talk about

1. The Senate and House together have many to come up with a tax bill that is palatable to the Bush administration. Ergo, it must screw the poor and enrich the rich, yes? Yes. With the change in Roth IRA rules allowing those with incomes over $100,000 to convert their conventional IRAs to Roth IRAs, rich folks get to pay a little now and save a bundle later. It's the usual trickle down Republican blather: boost economic growth by giving rich people more money and poor people less.

Hillary says, "The average millionaire will receive an additional $42,000 tax cut while middle-income Americans will see an average of $20." There's a rather meaty discussion of why else this tax bill is bad for the US here, giving tidbits such as "(a)bout 87 percent of the benefits of the tax cuts in the final package would flow to households with incomes above $100,000, and 55% would flow to those with incomes above $200,000."


2. More about dying babies and our nation's priorities. Not only do we place a low priority on family-friendly governmental policies like paid family leave and maternity leave, but we apparently place a low priority on infant welfare. Like keeping them alive. The US has one of the highest death rates for newborns among developed nations. In the link about this, there's a lovely gem: "Researchers noted that the United States is more racially diverse and has a greater degree of economic disparity than many other developed countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally appropriate health care."

Excuse me. Does that sound like a copout to anyone else? Racial and cultural diversity makes it harder for us to provide the funds and programs necessary to produce healthy mothers and healthy babies? With all the brains in the US, we can't figure out how to promote breastfeeding and prenatal care to African-Americans and Hispanics? What, their cultures are so much different from the predominant white culture that they don't care about keeping their babies alive? How insulting.

3. Hey. Here's an idea. Let's solve our oil crisis by opening up the Arctic to oil drilling. It's perfectly safe and will leave our pristine wilderness intact. Really. Oh. Don't read this article, though. The one that talks about Shell oil spills being up 50% in 2005, and it's not all from Katrina, either.

4. Alligator Kills Jogger In Florida. Told you jogging was bad for you.

5. Two thirds of Americans surveyed think it's just fine and dandy that George Dubya and friends spy on our phone records. Are there stupid chemicals in our water supply or something? Barring that notion, Daily Kos gives us some helpful tips about how to bring those we rub elbows with back to reality, including remembering that data mining is inefficient and costly and possibly illegal. And can we trust the government to use this information as they claim they will, rather than to further invade our privacy, blackmail us, or sell the info to others so they can use it in some nefarious fashion, given that they keep lying to us?


Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Country Run by Liars

So, our favorite US security agency, the National Security Agency (the agency no one had ever heard of before last year) is at it again. And, wouldn't you know it? We were lied to about what they've been up to. Again. And it directly affects me and you and you and you. Except you, who buy your phone service from Qwest. You're fine, you lucky dog.

The news came this morning from USA Today, of call places. Not exactly the newspaper I look to for hard-hitting journalism. But they reported that the NSA has obtained the phone records of millions of people, covering millions of phone calls. AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South all ponied up their records. For big bucks and promises of future government contracts, natch.

The NSA's goal is to "create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders. What's the point? Data mining. Amassing information in hopes of determining patterns of behavior. Because, clearly, looking at the phone records of every person in South Dakota will elucidate the activities of Al-Queda.

Bush defended the practice saying, "The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." Mr. President, I hope and pray that we are just not that stupid anymore. In an article from a few days ago discussing General Hayden and his relationship to the wiretapping of international phone calls without a warrant, Ralph G. Neas from the People for the American Way (always sounds like a conservative group to me!) said, "There's no question they got a lot of mileage in 2002 and 2004 out of scaring the bejeebers out of people, but this time the public is too aware about what Rove and the president are trying to do."

What are they trying to do? Strip us of our civil rights through manipulation and lies. Perhaps this wouldn't be news in a different country. Cold War USSR, perhaps. But it's news here. This isn't the way America is supposed to operate, last time I checked in on my civil rights. Usually, a court has to approve before the government can worm its way into my phone records. But the Bush administration isn't terribly excited about my civil rights--or yours.

The Bush administration, and President Bush particularly, also isn't terribly excited about telling the truth. Last year, Bush said he'd authorized the NSA to eavesdrop without warrants on phone calls. But he very specifically said that these were only to be international calls. Bush said, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

Guess not. Instead, Bush has authorized spying on the phone records of over 200 million American citizens. Citizens who have done nothing wrong other than not choosing Qwest as their phone carrier. Are they listening in? Not yet. But it's a pretty simple process to do so, once they have the records. Particularly as they've shown no desire to bother with FISA courts and warrants.

And what about Qwest? Why didn't Qwest give in to the NSA's coercion tactics and bribes? They were concerned about THE LAW. Federal law makes it a crime to turn over phone records without a warrant. Qwest asked NSA to go to the FISA court and get a warrant. They refused, saying that FISA might not agree with the plan.

This is what our government has devolved to: lying, avoiding the court system, and spying on innocent people. Let's hope this latest round of abhorrent government behavior results in, what? Further point drops in Bush's popularity polls? Not enough punishment, folks. When is impeachment going to get some traction? Clinton lied about having sex. Bush lied about national security. Hello?

And how can we punish those corporations who are benefiting from selling our privacy out? Complain to your phone carriers. Really. Push (0) on your landline or 611 on your cell and let your phone company know how you feel about them selling you out.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Do you love your mother?

You never call, you never write . . . . Are you sure you love your mother? The United States doesn't. How can I tell? I look at the evidence, just like your mother does. And the evidence is plentiful right now, as the authors of the new book, "The Motherhood Manifesto" are busy letting us know just what US policy thinks of mothers.

The thesis of this book is that moms are in the workplace to stay, yet the workplace and our governmental policies regarding the workplace allow little flexibility in allow moms to adapt to the ever-changing needs of their families. Rather, the workplace actually penalizes moms simply for being moms. Employed moms already know this. Apparently we need a book to tell the rest of us.

It's called the family penalty. I call it the ghetto-ization of moms. We already know that women make less than men. Now, we learn that moms make less than women who aren't moms. Nonmoms make 90 cents to a man's dollar. Moms make 73 cents to the man's dollar. And single moms make as little as 56 cents to a man's dollar.

Is there any evidence that moms can't do the job or don't do the job? Nope. Businesses assume, wrongly, that it's good business sense to pay less to moms because they may need more. More insurance, more time off. In fact, there are many studies that show family-friendly business policies will help businesses, not harm them.

But wait. There's more. We all know kids get sick. Schools are pretty strict about keeping kids home if they have a fever. And who really wants to send a sick kid to school, anyway? Yet a sick six year old needs a parent home with them. But if mom (or dad) doesn't have any sick days to take, what happens to the sick munchkin and his parents? 70% of workers in the US will either lose income or lose their jobs if they take off to care for their sick children.

Then there's the lack of paid leave to care for newborns or address family emergencies. Everybody else has it. All over the world. OK. Not everybody. The countries of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States don't have it. Great company, eh? 84 other countries have at least 14 PAID weeks of leave available to mothers.

What kind of civilized nation are we, anyway, that can spend billions to bomb a country but can't figure out how to allow mothers to care for their newborn babies without falling into poverty, and can't find a way to allow sons to care for their dying mothers in their last days? Why is it that other nations have the resources to do this, but we don't?

Let's end with this quote. "The shame of the US is that for all our talk of valuing families, among nations the US workplace is almost uniquely hostile to motherhood." A great way to celebrate your mom this year might be to support progressive candidates and legislation throughout the US that are mom-friendly.

And, hey. A call and a card wouldn't hurt.


Friday, May 05, 2006


Had lunch with a friend today who teaches in the public schools. I have a lot of those, actually. Teacher friends. Anywho, we were talking about a classroom situation she has with a "screamer". Screamers, for those of you who haven't set foot in a public classroom lately, are special needs kids who are included in regular classrooms who, well, scream a lot. They scream for a reason, of course. I don't know this little guy's diagnosis nor why he screams. Not my business and would invade the child's privacy. Interestingly enough, though, neither does the teacher who sees him several times a week.

And there is part of the inefficiency and inepititude that is special education in public schools.
The background is this (in simplified form). Federal law requires that a child who has identifiable special needs (defined under federal and state law) must receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Often that "least restrictive environment" segment is satisfied by having a special needs child be included in a special ie gym, music or art.

Sounds good, right? How hard can it be to have a few kids who are "different" in your music or art or gym class? Harder than it sounds on first blush. Enter our screamer. Music teacher is attempting to teach her class about rhythms. They clap out the syllables to different words. Only problem is that no one can actually hear the teacher or the clapping due to the screamer.

The screamer has an aide. A good aide who cares about her screamer. She gives him a treat and he's quiet for a bit. But only a bit. Sometimes, she's able to help the screamer clap out the rhythms, holding his hands and helping him clap. Sometimes, by the end of the class, the screamer has stopped screaming.

Who is learning what here? It is difficult to tell, but our poor sweetie screamer doesn't appear to be taking in much of the class, beyond having the experience of being with normal students for 30 minutes. The other students? Unsurprisingly, they have a hard time paying attention and taking in the curriculum.

Why doesn't the teacher adapt her classroom activities to meet the screamer's needs? Well, let's see. As is often the case for specials teachers, she doesn't have a copy of his IEP (individual education plan) nor has anyone ever told her what his label is. So she doesn't actually KNOW what his special needs are. She has no training in how to work with screamers. No classes were offered on "Screamers in Music Education" at her university of choice. And there don't seem to be many continuing ed offerings on how to meet the special needs of special students within a regular music classroom and curriculum.

This situation is not exclusive to special classes like PE, music and art. Kids with special needs are, of course, included in regular classrooms, too. And those teachers face similar challenges, though a screamer will generally not be one of them. While they do see the IEP, and usually have a chance to help craft it, they often do not have the training necessary to work with children who have challenges. Yet they are legally required to do so, if the least restrictive environment is determined to be a regular classroom for a particular child.

Who suffers here? Everyone, pretty much. Kids with special needs are put into classrooms that aren't prepared to deal with their issues. The education they receive, despite the best efforts of many teachers, will be subpar. If they have aides, those aides will not be trained to deal with their issues, either. Some of these kids will be lucky. They will have aides and teachers who care deeply for these kids, who go the extra mile, read up on their diagnosis, come up with strategies to help them. My son, who has Asperger's Syndrome, was very fortunate and had many educators who did this. But they often do it on their own with little support from the school districts. And, frankly, many educators don't go the extra mile, with often disastrous results for the child.

Kids who don't have special needs who are in regular classrooms with those special needs kids? They suffer, too. Sometimes the special kids cause disruptions. Teachers' time will be taken up by those special needs. An aide will ameliorate that, but not completely.

Even the teachers suffer. It's frustrating to want to teach and reach every kid in your class, yet be overwhelmed by the varying needs in that class. It's frustrating to want to help a special needs kid, but not know exactly the best way to do so.

We parents suffer, too. It is terribly difficult to watch your child struggle in a challenging setting and have so little power to effect change over that struggle. And it is hard to know what role a parent is supposed to take on. The special education legal system really requires a parent to be an advocate for her child. Many parents are not ready to take on that role, and don't realize that if that role is not filled, that child's education is often imperiled.

Parents must also take on the role of educator. We are often the most knowledgeable people in the room at a meeting. Most knowledgeable not only about our child, but about their disability. I spent most of my years as parent of an autistic child educating his teachers on what autism looked like. Clearly, not every parent is able to take on this role, nor are they suited to it.

What would a better system look like? Teachers would be educated to level that the law requires them to teach. They would be provided with the aides and aids (meaning people and materials) necessary to teach these mixed classrooms. Aides would be chosen before the first day of school and would receive some basic training on the students with whom they will work. Inclusion would balance the needs of both "normal" and special ed kids, and not be merely for the sake of looks. And administrators would stop looking at this whole area as a place to manage so they spend the least amount of money possible and start figuring out how to maximize the education all of these children receive.


Thursday, May 04, 2006


I'm currently watching a very frightening video. I found it through Renee's blog on Street Prophets (Hi Renee, you old sislister). It's a PBS story on NOW called "God's Country?" It's about Republican political activities going on in Ohio churches, activities going on under the tax-free guise of religion. Makes me want to barf.

Pastor Russell Johnson is a pastor whose bully pulpit is one of those conservative megachurches where everyone sways to bad contemporary Christian music with their eyes closed and arms raised (ok, clearly that's not MY thang). He is co-currently running a quasi religious organization, the Ohio Restoration Project, that not so covertly backs a very conservative Ohio candidate for Governor, Ken Blackwell. The quasi religious organization is, of course, operating tax-free, per all religious groups. It is a "mission" of Pastor Johnson's church.

Thank God 31 pastors of more liberal Ohio churchs (led by a UCC pastor, thank you very much) brought this to the attention of the IRS. Their complaints include the fact that the Project has sponsored a number of events where the only candidate that appeared was Ken Blackwell. You can read more about the issues involved here. The IRS appears to be dragging its feet enforcing the law. Shocking. Simply shocking.

Johnson's rhetoric is typical pro-family (sic) conservative rhetoric, heavy on how all those nasty things like gay marriage are ruining the fabric of American culture. The most offensive schtick I heard was his cockeyed comparison of those liberals who would like to stop him from breaking the tax laws on separating churches from elections to the Germans who sang while Jewish Holocaust victims past their churches in trains on their way to Auschwitz.

I'm all for people of faith expressing that faith through their vote. Don't we all express our beliefs, our values, and our morality through our votes? We vote based on what we believe. And that's peachy. But don't you DARE use my tax dollars (or shelter your tax dollars) to promote hateful conservative quasi-Christian rhetoric (let alone laws) and the candidates who espouse them.

And don't you dare use God's name as though you, conservative quasi-Christian, have a patent on it. You don't. Last time I checked in with Her, God wasn't any too excited about spending billions on bombing people in the name of democracy while cutting education (and running stupidass programs like NCLB), allowing genocide in Darfur, allowing children to starve in India, and lining the pockets of corporate CEOs. If you actually READ the Bible, you'll note that it spends piddling amounts of time talking about sex and lots of time talking about how to care for the sick and needy.

Maybe Pastor Johnson needs to spend less time campaigning for Blackwell and more time reading his Bible. He might be surprised by what he finds there.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I have a confession to make. I am not nearly the good liberal I make myself out to be. Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I do not watch "The Colbert Report." I have never watched "The Colbert Report." Why? I dunno. I'm usually busy at 7:30pm. Doing what? I dunno.

If we're home, I'm often reading in the kitchen papasan while Annie's at the computer. And Carl's watching "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." Sometimes I watch it with him. My darling son is usually in the den, watching tv and playing war games. I didn't realize, though, that at 7:30pm, my darling son is usually watching "The Colbert Report." He's cooler than I am, that Jonathan.

So, anyways. The reason that I make this confession is that last night I watched the video of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Oh. My. God. You can watch it yourself at the Countdown website. It was an amazingly edgy, barely funny because it was so accurate slam after slam of Bush and the Bush administration. The liberal blogosphere has been talking about it quite a bit, and talking about that fact that no one else is talking about it.

Well, someone else has finally talked about it. Not really, but Daily Kos is using it as an excuse to talk about it more. House Minority Whip Democrat Steny Hoyer defended Bush after Colbert was done with his deadpan, dead-on hits on Bush. Says Steny, "I thought some of it was funny, but I think it got a little rough. He is the president of the United States, and he deserves some respect. I'm certainly not a defender of the administration, but (Colbert) crossed the line with . . . bad taste."

Huh? In my book, Colbert showed the best possible taste. He got up and told the truth in a funny way at an entertainment venue designed for humorous slash and grabs. He told the truth. Unlike so much of our mainstream media who are, for the most part, absolutely incapable of straightforwardly calling a spade a spade, he told the assembled group--including the President--just what he thought of him and them. In the guise of humor. Not.

Ray Nagin was at the Dinner. Did you know that New Orleans is not exactly up and running yet? Remember New Orleans? Katrina? Much of the city turned to wasteland? Guess what? A lot of it is still wasteland. If you're tired of hearing about NOLA and Katrina, tough. Go read Peter King's short column about his visit down there at, of all places. It should embarrass and shame all of us for allowing our government to "forget" to finish the job down there.

And speaking of jobs. I've got one, even though no one pays me for it. In fact, I have a number of jobs. And a study released by says I ought to be paid about $134,121 for doing it. My job is being a stay at home mom. Now, my particular flavor of this job is different. One of my kids is out of the house all day at school. But the other is here at home, where I'm teaching him. Seems like that probably adds a bit to the above figure. OTOH, I have someone clean my house every other week. So subtract a bit.

It's a shame to all who benefit from stay at home parents that there is no economic benefit for those who do so. No social security. No job security (know a lot of women getting alimony after divorce?) No leg up when they reenter the job market. Don't think YOU benefit? Who volunteers at your kids' schools? Who picks them up when they're sick and you can't get away? Who has them over for extra play dates in the summer during break? Who notices trouble in the neighborhood and gives you a call about it? Who runs over and lets your dog out when you forget before you leave for work in the AM?

Parents. We're more important than we're paid for.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Various and Assorted

This should be the most important thing in the world right now. And the fact that it's not, that I only found a report about it in the BBC, is stomach-dropping. But the fact is that we don't much care about poor starving children, as much as we might enjoy invoking them during the dinner hour with our picky children.

And it's obvious that we don't much care about them. If we did, they wouldn't be starving to death. What I'm talking about is the latest UNICEF report, which tells us that "the number of children under five who are underweight has remained virtually unchanged since 1990" despite efforts to the contrary. Sometimes numbers are just numbers--dull. But sometimes numbers illuminate issues. Here are some:
  • Poor nutrition contributes to 5.6 million child deaths each year
  • 27% of children in developing nations do not have enough to eat--that's 146 million kids
  • Almost half the children under five in India are under weight--57 million children
  • A lack of iodine in diets leaves 37 million newborns vulnerable to learning disabilities each year
An accompanying article focuses on the situation in India. The story is heartbreaking, particularly knowing that many of the babies involved could be fed easily through breastfeeding, thus avoiding the problem of mothers who are illiterate and do not know how to properly prepare formula. And UNICEF says that main reason for the malnutrition is not a lack of food. It's a combination of social problems, like the lack of status of women, children bearing children, and bearing them with little space between births.

You could help UNICEF tonight instead of heading out to Applebees. UNICEF.

The other most vulnerable inhabitants of the world are our animals. And their vulnerability increases year by year, as more and more animals are affected by our wanton ways of living. This year's list of animals that are joining the endangered or near endangered list include polar bears (loss of ice--think global warming isn't affecting anyone?), hippos, and several types of sharks.

Since I'm enamored of numbers today (that's probably because I successfully helped my daughter with her algebra homework last night--major freaking miracle, that!), here's another. 56% of the species of fish that reside in the Mediterranean are on the list. Geez. We really just don't give a rip about how our actions affect the world around us, do we? It's all about us and our convenience. God forbid we experience the lack thereof.

Yet it looks as though we ARE going to have to experience some inconvenience. At least in our pocketbooks. To no one's surprise, the Republicans have quietly dropped the notion of taxing big oil. Read all about it here.

Unlike the Republicans, recent immigrants most certainly were NOT quiet yesterday, marching one million strong across the nation to claim their rights. I'm still with them, mostly. No, for crying out loud, don't make those illegals into felons. What a ridiculous solution to the issue. And the guest worker program seems like thinly-veiled slavery to me.

Funny. I've spent ten minutes trying to pound out my problem with this, but none of my reasons for not being 100% on this are making sense. Can't afford to take so many on (but working illegal immigrants are paying their way, taxes and all). Don't like the sense of entitlement just because they're here and paying their way (oh, but they ARE here and paying their way, contributing to our society so why aren't they entitled?).

Never mind. Legalize the current immigrants. Make sure they learn English (too bad we can't set the same standard for current citizens, getting tired of hearing my childrens' friends who seem incapable of decent grammar). Set high quotas in the future to allow more in legally. And forget the damn fence.