Tag Archives: children

Time To Take A Stand

The news media and my Facebook feed are full of stories about the horrific mistreatment of families and small children at the border.

Children are dying of disease and neglect. One seven-year-old girl died of dehydration--she wasn’t given enough  water to drink! A four-month old was separated from his family. Hundreds of people are packed into shelters built to hold a fraction of the number crammed in…the horror stories go on and on.

From Lawyers for Good Government, we learn that

The Trump administration argued in court this week that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products (like soap and toothbrushes) to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Lawyers who recently interviewed detained children report that kids are living in “traumatic and dangerous” conditions – insufficient food and water, going weeks without bathing, kids as young as 7 years old being told to care for the babies and toddlers.

Our delusional and mentally-ill President has no intention of doing anything to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis he has created. In interviews, he insists Obama began the family separation policy (he didn’t–the only time his administration removed children from their families was when they were believed to be in danger) and simply denies what numerous reports have documented.

Meanwhile, rather than calling on Congress or all those self-proclaimed “Christians” to intervene, conservative apologists attack those who–like AOC–call these facilities what they clearly are: concentration camps.

There is no ambiguity about what is happening. The heartless people who are defending the documented abuse and inhumanity are telling the rest of us who–and what– they are. 

“Fox & Friends”co-host Brian Kilmeade showed his support for President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to border policy, adding that the migrant children who have been separated from their families“aren’t our kids.”

“Like it or not, these aren’t our kids,” said Kilmeade on Friday’s episode of the Fox News morning show. “Show them compassion, but it’s not like he’s doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country and now people are saying that they’re more important than people in our country who are paying taxes and who have needs as well.”

Is this really what America has come to?

Are we really prepared to defend unforgivable and inhumane treatment so long as the objects of that treatment aren’t “our” kids?  Are we content to be like the “good Germans” who wouldn’t personally have taken their Jewish neighbors to the camps, but who were quite willing to close their eyes and pretend not to see the atrocities around them?

This isn’t about immigration policy. Good people can disagree about border security, about the criteria for allowing migrants to cross the border, about the number of refugees America should resettle. Good people do not and cannot excuse callous, barbaric, inhumane treatment of children and families trying to escape desperate conditions–conditions that our country has some measure of responsibility for creating and that our ignoramus President has made worse by cutting off aid that would to some extent ameliorate the conditions they are fleeing.

This humanitarian travesty is being done in our name. And to add insult to injury, private prison companies are profiting from it. Big time.

For me, there is nothing worse than the feeling of powerlessness–the recognition of a great wrong that I feel helpless to address. Surely other people feel the same.

What would it take to organize a national strike? A day when only critically important workers (policing, hospitals, etc.) show up? Those of us for whom morality means caring for our fellow humans rather than fixating on other people’s genital activity need a way to tell our broken, pathetic excuse for a government–in Howard Beale’s famous words– that we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore. That we aren’t going to sit by while an American government perpetuates unforgivable behaviors in our name.

I’m open to other ideas, but we need some vehicle to express our collective outrage, and send a message. We can’t just avert our eyes.

 

Religion And Moral Authority

Americans face daily reports of truly outrageous (and often previously unimaginable) things this administration is doing. In our name. To our shame.

Nothing we have seen thus far, however–not the disregard for poor Americans, the efforts to ensure that healthcare will continue to be a privilege rather than a right, the dismantling of environmental protections, the attacks on public education and the rule of law– not even the greed and stupidity of the looters who currently rule us–has been as morally repugnant as the Trump Administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border.

The pictures of screaming children being torn from the arms of their parents are enough to rip your heart out.

In a column for the Guardian, Marilynne Robinson asks a reasonable question: in the face of this assault on decency and humanity, where the hell are all those “family values” Christians?

She begins by explaining what is happening

As a matter of recent policy, agents of the American government take children from their parents’ arms at our southern border. They are kept at separate facilities for indeterminate periods of time. The parents are jailed and the children are put in the care of non-governmental agencies, sometimes in other states. It is hard to imagine that the higher rate of incarceration and the new system of calculated injury to children would not soon overwhelm existing arrangements no matter how many shelters and beds are provided for a frightened, heartbroken population of the very young, whose miseries are intended as a disincentive to future potential border-crossers.

The only nod to shared humanity in this policy is an obvious understanding that a child’s grief is a particularly wrenching experience for a parent, powerful enough – so the designers of the policy clearly believe – to weigh against the threats to that same child’s safety and health and prospects for a better life that bring parents and children to the American border. This effect would be much heightened by any parent’s knowing that the one sufficient comfort for any child in almost all circumstances, and especially one like this, is to be taken into his mother’s or his father’s arms.

Robinson notes the hardening of American partisanship and the not irrelevant fact that what is left of the GOP is mostly an amalgam of gun owners, people “who claim to be religious,” and people who resent immigration. (What she doesn’t say, but should have acknowledged, is that “resentment of immigration” is more often than not a euphemism for deep-seated and virulent racism.) As she does acknowledge, there are profound differences of worldview between those who fall into those categories and the rest of America–these are fearful people, and Trump has continually stoked their fears of the “other” with his anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric.

Behind much of this is a spurious Christianity that has spread through the culture on the strength of the old American habit of church-going, and which propounds a stark vision, the embattled faction of “the saved” surrounded by continuous threats to their souls – otherwise known as the American population at large.

Obama was impolitic, but not wrong, when he suggested that frightened people cling to their guns and their bibles. Robinson points to the irony of self-described “patriots” who hate the country, and self-identified “Christians” who insult and deprive the poor and the stranger.

Those “Christians” (note quotes) are Trump’s base and enablers. Their overwhelming hypocrisy is the reason  so many Americans, especially young Americans, are rejecting religion. After all, the only justification for organized religion–at least, the only justification that makes sense to reasonable people–is that it is capable of prompting moral behavior.

Of course, history teaches us that religion is also quite capable of excusing atrocities.

When clear-eyed people see religious dogma being used to support adherents’ delusions of superiority, when they see it used to justify and excuse behaviors that all good people condemn as immoral, is it any wonder they see it as a cynical prop to tribalism rather than an appeal to the “better angels” of our humanity?

“Religious” folks who are conspicuously silent when children are ripped from the arms of parents who are seeking sanctuary–who show no compassion for people fleeing intolerable situations in an effort to give those children a better life–aren’t worshipping any God worthy of the name.

 

 

Double Whammy

A friend from Wisconsin often shares news reported in that state’s media. Most recently, he sent me an article reporting on the troubling results of research into poverty and public health.

Malia Jones is an assistant scientist and social epidemiologist working in Wisconsin. As she notes, her conclusions about increases in poverty despite the economic recovery are consistent with those reached by other scholars.

We didn’t look at explanations for that but other people have, and I think what’s happening is that people at the low end of the economic spectrum are not benefiting from recovery. They’re really being left behind. So inequality is increasing in the face of an expanding economy.

Jones’ work is one more confirmation that, as she says, low-income Americans are being left behind. But her analysis didn’t stop there, and her discussion of both the immediate and long-term implications requires attention.

In short, poor children in America are getting a “double whammy.”

Jones notes that the number of children living in poverty has increased since the Great Recession, and that the existence of children living in poverty is not only a humanitarian issue, but also a critical public health issue. As she points out, exposure to the myriad problems that accompany an impoverished childhood can lead to a lifetime of disability.

It’s those kinds of stressors like housing insecurity, not being sure if there’s going to be food for dinner, living in a crummy neighborhood with violence, those stressors can impair normal brain development.

Impaired brain development often leads to behavioral outcomes; as anyone who has taught in a low-income area can attest, it affects school performance in a variety of ways. Children of poverty often lack the opportunity or means to develop the sorts of skill sets common among middle and higher income students. That, in turn, affects later access to jobs, trapping such children in a cycle of poverty.

Living in poverty also increases the likelihood of poor health. Living in poverty is a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and even premature death.

It seems unconscionable that the United States would ignore the lifetime health effects of poverty on poor children who are already living in sub-optimal and stressful conditions.  Even the self-satisfied and clueless scolds who insist that poor people just need to work harder can’t hold children responsible for their impoverished situations.  Surely, even the adamant opponents of Obamacare, Medicaid and other efforts to make health care affordable can’t believe that it is either moral or economically reasonable to deprive children of adequate medical attention.

And surely, even self-described fiscal conservatives must realize that the long-term costs of neglecting the most basic needs of poor children are far higher than the costs of timely intervention.

Why is it that American public policy choices so often make me think of the adage: penny wise, pound foolish?

If There is a Hell….

Yesterday, I wondered just how venal and despicable our politicians and plutocrats will be allowed to get  before they trigger an inevitable revolt.

Rick Scott, the obscenely rich and demonstrably corrupt Governor of Florida, is evidently trying to push those limits.

The Miami Herald obtained thousands of pages of health department documents under the state’s public records law, including nearly 800 emails and hundreds of memos and reports that detailed the state’s plan to “restructure” CMS. They show that the elimination of children from CMS was the result of a plan to slash spending on sick kids at a time when Florida had a $635.4 million surplus. For the legislative session that begins next month, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed $1 billion in new tax cuts. The spending plan would eliminate an additional 718 health department positions. […]

The parents of one Palm Beach County infant learned on the eve of a critical craniofacial surgery that their 6-month-old son had been “screened out” of CMS. The little boy is profoundly disabled, records show, having been born deaf, without eyes, and with a disfiguring cleft palate. The child’s mother called CMS in preparation for the surgery, only to be told “the screening is showing ‘NO,’ so they would not do anything.”

A post at DailyKos explained the program and summed up the situation:

This program—for Medicaid-qualified children and for those whose parents make too much for Medicaid coverage but not enough for private insurance—provides more intervention with specialists and care devised for kids with special medical needs. Some of the activities of the CMS, like “providing care coordinators to help parents access therapy and medication, and organizing one-stop clinics for kids with sickle cell disease, HIV or cleft palates,” just doesn’t happen with Medicaid.

But there was too much need in the state for the program. It was getting too many enrollees and it became too expensive to treat these kids, so the state had some options. Not having $1 billion in new tax cuts was not among the options. Dropping 9,000 kids was what they settled on.

Rick Scott’s priorities. Excuse me while I take a long shower….

Another Reason to Raise the Minimum Wage

This research is really troubling.

A 2015 study from Harvard and MIT performed brain imaging on a group of 12- and 13-year-olds, and found those from lower-income families had thinner brain cortex around key intellectual areas. Further, a 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience, “Family Income, Parental Education and Brain Structure in Children and Adolescents,” analyzed brain surface area — a measure different than cortical thickness — of 1,099 persons from ages 3 to 20 and correlated that with socioeconomic status, representing the largest study of its kind to date. More than two dozen researchers, led by Kimberly G. Noble of Columbia University, performed brain imaging and looked at relationships with household income levels, as well as education levels of the subjects’ parents.

The study found that family income was associated with greater brain surface area, and that the relationship was especially substantial for lower-income children:

 

“For every dollar in increased income, the increase in children’s brain surface area was proportionally greater at the lower end of the family-income spec­trum.”
The researchers could only speculate about the precise reasons for the link between income status and brain structure; they suggested it might stem from “family stress, cognitive stimulation, environmental toxins or nutrition, or from corresponding differences in the prenatal environment.”

 

The researchers concluded that “policies targeting families at the low end of the income distribution may be most likely to lead to observable differences in children’s brain and cognitive development.” The researchers were careful to note that these differences in the brains of poor children were not “immutable,” and that there were variations within all income categories.

 Still, the correlation is profoundly consequential, not just for the children themselves, but for an American future that will require the participation and talent of all of our citizens.

There are all kinds of arguments for a living wage–fundamental fairness, the amelioration of social unrest, the fact that economic growth requires growing the number of consumers with disposable income, the fact that taxpayers end up subsidizing the bottom lines of major companies paying poverty wages. But this research provides another compelling reason to increase the incomes of poor working families.

As a country, we give a lot of lip service to children’s wellbeing. We need to put our money where our mouths are.