Saturday, August 27, 2011

How dare California permit this disaster to continue?

This is an outrage blog entry.

I call your attention to what the article, below, and what it means for California.  We are a state with huge debt and deficit problems and huge unemployment problems.  We have seen a decline in our economic engine and a decline in a professionally skilled labor force.  The unemployment figures go up as the education levels go down. 

California ranks sixth on the list of states where children experience "food insecurity."  That does not mean they are actually starving at this moment.  It does mean that they live at or below the poverty level which threatens their nutritional well-being.  They are permanently "under-nourished."  (You can see the graph comparing all the states if you click on the URL for the article.) 

That, in turn, affects they lifetime health, their cognitive development, their potential school levels and performance, and, finally their productivity -- or lack thereof -- in the economy.  The least educated of our children end up in jail, either as youth or adults. The unwanted pregnancy rate is higher than among any other statistical group. 

As Charles Blow puts it "we have a growing crisis among the nation's children."  And that is certainly true in California, with nearly 2.6 million kids in a lifetime of trouble not of their own making.  We have the biggest state population, and so we have the largest number of kids below the poverty level. California has one million more kids below the poverty line than the next largest state, New York State.

"A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week found that “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009.” 

This article tells us that  “the U.S. spends almost two-and-a-half times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.” We know that California has been slashing education budgets from K through college. Our prisons are hugely overcrowded. Yes, it is a zero-sum game. Dollars spent on high-speed rail will not be available for the state's education budget.

And, the most important statement here, quoted from the World Bank,   “undernutrition” in young children has been linked to delayed growth and motor development, lower I.Q.’s, behavioral problems and decreased attention, deficient learning and lower educational achievement."

If you live in California and aren't angry about this, there's something wrong with you!!  

Governor Jerry Brown is determined to spend billions on the high-speed train project which will be a luxury ride for the affluent. (Their kids aren't hurting; many go to private schools and then college.)  

There will be an enormous "vaporization" of funds as they pass through this HSR development system of politicians, contractors, consultants, land speculators, and others. What a waste of precious resources. It's started already.  It must be said yet again; we do not need this train, despite all the myths selling us on the notion of how important it is.  

Meanwhile, as the rail authority approaches construction in the Central Valley, California's kids will get screwed, including those living in the Central Valley.  Isn't that clear?  What is wrong with us as we continue to support the development of this project while we watch the costs for it climb through the roof.  And, remember, construction is still over a year away.  

This project is guaranteed to be a money black-hole.  There will never be enough to complete it.  That means, all those funds that could be deployed to improve the lives of California's children will have been poured down the rat-hole of greed and corruption.

This is not merely a moral or ethical issue; it is an economic issue and our state government is blowing it.

Nice going, California!

August 26, 2011

Failing Forward

Sometimes I push back on my heels, look at this country and wonder aloud: “What on earth are we doing?”

We have a growing crisis among the nation’s children, yet our policies ignore that reality at best and exacerbate it at worst.

According to a report issued this week by the Guttmacher Institute, the unintended pregnancy rate has jumped 50 percent since 1994, yet a July report from the institute points out that politicians are setting records passing laws to restrict abortion. It said: “The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 — and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010.” Add to this the assault by conservatives on Planned Parenthood, and what are we saying?

This is what we’re saying: actions have consequences. If you didn’t want a child, you shouldn’t have had sex. You must be punished by becoming a parent even if you know that you are not willing or able to be one.
This is insane.

Even if you follow a primitive religious concept of punishment for sex, as many on the right seem to do, you must at some point acknowledge that it is the child, not the parent, who will be punished most by our current policies that increasingly advocate for “unborn children” but fall silent for those outside the womb.

This is not how a rational society operates.

Aside from the raft of negative outcomes associated with unintended pregnancies, there are a host of other indicators that suggest a perilous world for the nation’s children.

A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week found that “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of children facing food insecurity in 2009 soared to nearly one in four. And ABC News pointed out this week that a breathtaking 49 percent of all children born in this country are born to families who receive food supplements from the federal Women, Infants and Children assistance program.

As the World Bank points out, “undernutrition” in young children has been linked to delayed growth and motor development, lower I.Q.’s, behavioral problems and decreased attention, deficient learning and lower educational achievement.

Yet we wonder why our children’s educational outcomes are so low when compared with other wealthy nations. We even have the nerve to begrudge teachers for not being able to squeeze success out of children primed for failure.

It should come as no surprise that a C.D.C. report this month found a continued rise in the percentage of children being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or that the country has continued its course of mass incarceration. The prison population in the United States has nearly quadrupled over the last 25 years. In fact, we have the highest incarceration rate of any Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development country.

This isn’t only a moral outrage; it’s also budgetary lunacy. As a report released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund pointed out, “the U.S. spends almost two-and-a-half times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.”

We simply can’t keep turning to pills and prisons to solve issues of poverty and poor parenting. This is unhealthy, unsustainable and unwise.

We have to do a better, more focused job of teaching sex education and providing contraceptive options (kudos here to the administration for moving this month to require insurance companies to provide birth control services to women at no extra cost). We have to remove the stigma and judgment around sex. Sex isn’t bad or unnatural. It’s one of the most natural things that we do. It just needs to be safe and responsible.

We also have to preserve women’s birth options should they become pregnant, including the option not to give birth. And, finally, for all the children who are born, we must make a valiant effort to give each and every one of them a fighting chance, which includes food and medicine when their parents can’t provide it. We must do this not as a boon or crutch to the parent, but as a selfish investment in the future of this great society.

They need our help now more than ever because the current economic stress may take some time to overcome.

As an updated Budget and Economic Outlook report issued by the Congressional Budget Office this week points out, the unemployment rate is expected to stay above 8 percent until the middle of the decade.

Now is when we need government to step up and be smart.

This is exactly the wrong time to do what the Republicans would have us do. In their 2012 budget, they propose cutting nutrition programs as part of austerity measures so that we don’t leave our children saddled with debt. Meanwhile, they completely ignore the fact that those cuts could leave even more children saddled with physical or developmental problems.

They want to hold the line on tax breaks for the wealthy, not paying attention to the fact that our growing income inequality, which could be reversed, continues to foster developmental inequality, which is almost impossible to reverse.

We have to start this conversation from a different point. We must ask: “What kind of society do we want to build, and what kinds of workers, soldiers and citizens should populate that society?” If we want that society to be prosperous and safe and filled with healthy, well-educated and well-adjusted people, then the policy directions become clear.

They are almost the exact opposite of what we are doing.

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