Thursday, May 21, 2009
I'm concerned about the state's budget deficit. Some journalists (including Rich Miller) are reporting that Illinois has a $12 billion dollar deficit for the state budget in the upcoming fiscal year. Evidently there are some representatives in the Illinois General Assembly who aren't interested in solving this problem. Generally, such deficit problems can be solved by raising revenue (hard to do during a recession) and cutting spending (which tends to reduce stimulation of the economy, and is unpleasant to do in a recession). Budget cuts will most be unpopular, and raising additional revenue (raising taxes) will also be unpopular.
This got me to think about some other large states like Illinois and their budget problems. Here is a list of states, followed by their populations (estimated from summer of 2007), their likely state budget deficits in the upcoming fiscal year (taken from newspaper articles published in May of 2009 in the states reporting on state politics and budget problems), and an estimate of the total state budget deficit expressed as a per-capita estimate. Finally, I've included a taxation index, which is my estimate of the total property tax, sales tax, and income tax burden in the state experienced by median income households as a percent of the highest tax burden (California's, which is set to 100%).
California: 36.8 million residents, $21.3 billion deficit, $580 per person, and 100% tax burden.
Texas: 24.3 million residents, $0 deficit, $0 per person, and a 38% tax burden.
New York: 19.5 million residents, $6 billion deficit, $310 per person, and an 83% tax burden.
Florida: 18.3 million residents, $3.4 billion deficit, $186 per person, and a 27% tax burden.
Illinois: 12.9 million residents, $12 billion deficit, $930 per person, and a 61% tax burden.
Pennsylvania: 12.5 million residents, $3 billion deficit, $241 per person, and a 49% tax burden.
Ohio: 11.5 million residents, $3 billion deficit, $261 per person, and a 55% tax burden.
Michigan: 10 million residents, $1.7 billion deficit, $170 per person, and a 62% tax burden.
Georgia: 9.7 million residents, $800 million deficit, $83 per person, and a 62% tax burden.
A couple things grab my attention as I look at these nine largest states. First of all, Texas has a very small state tax burden, and it also has no deficit. So, I suppose Texas must spend far less per person than the other states on this list (although Florida has an even lower tax rate and might spend even less). Is Texas considerably worse in some ways than California and New York because of its low spending? That is, are hospitals, schools, police, roads, and state services far better in California and New York than they are in Texas and Florida? How do poor persons, the unemployed, the chronically mentally ill, and the disabled fare in New York and California compared to Texas and Florida? I'm interested in knowing how Texas keeps its budget balanced while its taxes are so low.
Secondly, I'm impressed that Illinois has the largest state budget deficit (expressed as a per-capita deficit) in the nation (comparing the large states). California is in the news because they have the largest deficit, nearly twice as big as the Illinois deficit, but California has nearly three times as many people as Illinois, so their deficit is actually smaller when expressed as a ratio to the number of people in the state.
Third, I'm interested in the variation in taxes. I calculated the tax burdens by estimating what a resident household would pay in state property taxes if they lived in a median value home, what they would pay in income taxes if they were a two-adult and two-children married-filing-jointly family earning $50,0000, and what they would pay in sales taxes if they spent 30% of the median state household income on things that were taxed at the state sales tax rate. Then, taking the sum of these raw dollar amounts, I converted them into percents of what the highest-taxed household (in California) would pay. I imagined that after combining sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes, all the states would be close to each other, with "low-tax" states perhaps taxing about a third less than the "high-tax" states. But, it seems Florida taxes at about a quarter what California taxes people. I also thought my state (Illinois is where I live, although I'm a native Californian) would be a "high tax" state, but I see we only tax at about the same as Georgia and Michigan, which is more than a third less than California.
Looking at my raw dollars of household taxes estimated and the per-capita state budget deficit, I am able to calculate how many dollars more my median household would have to pay to cover the budget deficit. My calculations were that my median Illinois household of four persons would be paying about $5,400 in taxes. (My four-person household paid about $5,500 in such taxes last year, and we make about the median Illinois household income, but that's about $20,000 less than the median Illinois four-person family income, so perhaps my estimates are off and I'm underestimating tax burdens in Illinois, but the source of the difference could be that in my taxes I'm looking at both state and local taxes, and for this exercise I'm trying to just look at state taxes and ignore the extra couple percents of household income that might go to local government). If the median four-person household is paying $5,400 in taxes to the state, and our deficit is about $900 per person, that means you would need to raise taxes on that four-person household by about $3,700, up to $9,100 in total for the household, to cover the state's $12 billion deficit.
If Illinois did have tax rates that high we would be at 111% of the current Californian tax burden. But, I guess California needs to raise its taxes as well (by about $2,000, up from $8,600 per four-person median income household to $10,600 per four-person median income household.
Median incomes for four-person family households in California are about $71,000, so is it fair for families like that to pay a total of about $10,000 to $11,000 in their taxes to support all the California state government services? The median four-person family incomes in Illinois are about $73,000 (over $20,000 more than my household earns in a year). Is it appropriate for families in that situation to pay over $9,000 to the state for Illinois state services?
A common argument (and it's supported by some research) is that if taxes are too high, businesses and hard-working, intelligent people will move to states (or countries) with lower taxes. I suppose that if I had a choice between two states that provided about equal quality and quantity of government services, and one was asking me to pay a total of $11,000 per year in taxes (combined income, sales, property, etc.) and the other was letting me pay $6,000 per year, I would seriously consider moving to the lower-taxing state. But, if the state charging me $11,000 had much better schools and universities, lower crime, no homelessness, low unemployment, excellent roads, fine libraries, and fantastic parks, etc., while the low tax state was generally inferior in every type of government service, then I might be satisifed to pay the extra $5,000 per year to live in the state that gave me value for my tax dollars. If the difference was only $1,000 per year in taxes, I don't think I'd notice and I don't think the taxation difference would have any influence on my decision about where to live. After all I have roots in states where I have lived and worked, and I have preferences in climate, politics, geographical region, and culture that determine where I want to live with greater influence than considerations about taxation.
I suppose after all this consideration, I do hope Illinois increases its taxes, and I hope this covers our budget deficit. Governor Pat Quinn is suggesting a 50% increase in our income tax, from 3% of adjusted gross income remaining after deductions to 4.5% of the same income remainder after deductions. I know there might be a few dozens of millions of dollars the state could cut here and there, but we can't cut a billion dollars, let alone 12 billion dollars, from the state budget, and I'd be glad to pay 1.5% of my household income more than I do now to keep the state's roads, schools, mental health clinics, hospitals, parks, courts, jails, universities, and police & fire stations open and functioning well. I'm upset that representatives in the general assembly won't vote to increase our taxes and cover the budget deficit.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Here is a student's paper on incarceration.
The amount of people incarcerated in this country truly astounds me. In America we currently have more than 2 million people in jails and prisons. Countless inmates are serving time for minor drug offenses. I believe that instead of pursuing the “War on Drugs”, which has led to many of these lockups without a doubt, our country should be putting more time, effort, and focus into alternative incarceration programs. Diversion programs for first time, non-violent offenders have been proven to work well.
These types of programs not only cost less than jail and prison, but they also help create a job base for social workers. I believe that if we implemented more programs like these we could alleviate the growing problem of over populated jails and prisons in the U.S., and save taxpayers money as well. Alternative incarceration programs allow an offender to receive treatment, employment, and even education and training under the supervision of law enforcement officers. The offender can either be successful and become a reformed member of our society, or the offender can be unsuccessful, and a judge can simply send him back into the prison system.
Just to give an example of the amount of money that could be saved by creating programs like these, I looked up some statistics. In New York it costs about $62,595 to house an inmate yearly. The average cost to put that same inmate through an alternative program would be about $1,400 to $13,000 according to eHow.com. That’s a minimum savings of $49,595! In our current economic downturn taxpayers could really use a break like this. It’s not a dollar amount to be laughed at by most Americans. I don’t know a person who would say "no" if asked if they wanted to save $50,000.
Some other benefits of alternative incarceration can be seen within communities. Because offenders are trying to be a valued part of our society, foster care, shelter, welfare, and child support costs can be managed easier. Alternative programs also have a significant effect on felon’s illegal drug usage. It typically falls from 80% to 42% in those participating in the programs. This is because the social and financial burdens of rehab are now placed back onto the family and community. [see this 2.6 MB pdf file for more information]
To lend even more support to these programs is the fact that a study conducted by the New York Criminal Justice Agency found that offenders participating in programs like these were less likely to be arrested a second time than offenders who were put in a traditional jail or prison. This suggests that programs like these are producing results of less crime and fewer repeat offenders.
Overall, the benefits of alternative incarceration programs can clearly be seen. Not only do they save money, but they also help reduce crime and repeat offenders as well. If all states could follow New York’s example, America could regain control over our maxed out capacity jails and prisons, and at the same time fight crime and greatly reduce the enormous cost of housing inmates.
Here is a student editorial in support of Medicaid.
I am writing today in regards to our Medicaid program. People who are qualified to receive Medicaid include, but are not limited to: Mothers with children 18 or younger, children under the age of 18, foster children, and some non-U.S. citizens. The program was added to the Social Security Act in 1965, but is run through state governments. There are many requirements in order to become eligible for Medicaid.
The main requirement for eligibility is the family’s income. This varies based on the children’s age. For example, for children under the age of one, the family’s income must not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level. For children 18 and younger, the family’s income must not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level. For foster children, the child is automatically covered under the state until the child reaches the age of 18.
Medicaid not only provides health care for at-risk families, but also helps to provide food and assists mothers with collection of child support. This is a wonderful program that is designed to help our women and children in poverty. The program will not allow people to live their lives in luxury, but rather help to provide some basic necessities of life.
I am a full supporter of women and children who need to use this resource. I believe that not enough people take advantage of this program. Our society places a negative feeling regarding Medicaid. Our nation was designed to help out those who are less fortunate, but people do not respond well to others who are utilizing this resource. I think that our schools and media should educate people on what Medicaid is and what the qualifications are to receive benefits. I believe that if our society was more informed on this criteria, they would not cast judgment on the people who need to use the program.
Medicaid is an important part of the current national health care policy. It covers medical care for disabled persons such as the blind as well as non-disabled poor persons. Both of my sons were born under Medicaid coverage. Over 50 million Americans and residents of the USA are insured though Medicaid. Medicaid costs are scary. If you check out the Federal Budget (see table S-3 in this big pdf from the White House) you can marvel at the rising costs: $201 billion in 2008, $262 billion in 2009, and $290 billion in 2010.
One of our class assignments was to write a paper describing a policy to a government person, either an elected representative or executive, or else to an agency head or administrator. Many students wrote advocacy letters. This is an example of a student writing to the new governor asking him to support same-sex marriage in Illinois.
I am a social work major at University of Illinois at Springfield. I am writing to you today regarding an important matter that needs your attention. I am urging you to implement a policy regarding same-sex marriage. Currently, there are five states which have this policy already in place. I would propose to you that this is not a matter of personal belief, but rather a matter of a basic civil right.
In Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriages must be allowed. Today, we, as a society, would find it unbelievable that people, of different ethnic backgrounds, were unable to marry. However, we still do not allow people of the same sex to marry. Because gays are not allowed to marry, they are not subject to many of the amenities that heterosexual couples get to enjoy. Among these are the right to inherit property, tax benefits, medical benefits, and retirement benefits.
If this policy is implemented, there will be many people who oppose it. For example, many church organizations believe that being gay goes against God. They argue that it is in the Bible that man should not marry man, but man should marry woman. I would like to remind you that similar arguments were made by the church when Americans sought to create equal rights for African Americans. The Bible is frequently quoted when it comes to civil rights. Another argument presented by the Church is that legalizing same-sex marriage will ruin the institution of marriage. They propose that legalizing this type of marriage will eventually lead to legalizing marrying animals. This is a weak claim, and clearly they are grasping for straws.
I firmly believe that the proponents outweigh the opposition. If this policy is presented as a matter of civil rights, most Illinois residents will be in favor. Not only are most Illinois residents compassionate, but also reasonable. I do not believe that they would oppose this policy if presented in the correct manner. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Here is a student's suggestion for a policy related to SSDI.
The policy that I would like to be implemented would be to put regulations on SSDI recipients. This is especially important, as many SSDI people are going without their medications. In this policy, SSDI recipients would be assigned a social worker to help them manage their medications, money, etc. I feel that this is especially important because there are many people who receive SSDI that are homeless. This policy would help to ensure the mental health of these people. Many people who are currently receiving SSDI are doing so because of mental health reasons.
Through this policy, I believe that homelessness will decrease. It is essential for these people to be taken care of. They have been diagnosed by a doctor in order to receive SSDI, but are not closely monitored to make sure that they are staying current with doctor visits and medications.
In a couple classes we talked about labeling and how people might conform to expectations or roles. This is relevant in issues of crime and deviance, and also in the process of illness and mental illness. Here is a student’s reflection on her own family’s experience with labeling, and my comments follow the anecdote in this purple font.
For the second reaction paper, I’m going to write about the labeling theory. When we talked about this in class, I was very interested and wanted to know more. I have always thought that my brother was a product of labeling. He was always labeled as a problem child.
Growing up, my brother was always overweight. My father constantly made references to his weight problem. My parents would chastise him for eating too much at dinner and would compare him to me. I tended to be very small and I know it bothered him that he wasn’t thinner. Not only did he have a weight problem, but he also had problems in school. This led to yet another comparison between him and I because I always excelled in academics.
In school, my brother was always labeled as the slacker who ran with the wrong crowd. He never received good grades and felt that his teachers labeled him as someone who was never going to amount to anything. He claimed that his teachers knew about him before he was even their student. Because he felt this way, my parents took him out of Mt. Zion schools and paid out of area tuition to send him to Macon schools.
While attending Macon, my brother once again felt that his teachers singled him out and didn’t like him. He never felt that his grades were the ones that he deserved but rather, punishments for his teachers’ dislike. He was frequently absent and our parents stated that he was just not trying hard enough. They got into many fights over his lack of achievement which later led to him transferring to yet another school. He attended this school, but was kicked out for lack of attendance. Eventually, he received his GED on his first try without classes.
My brother got into drugs heavily and we later found out that it started when he was 13. My parents struggled to help him overcome his addiction and often wondered where they went wrong with their parenting. In fact, they bickered so much about him and his well-being that they eventually divorced.
I firmly believe that my brother became his label. Growing up, my parents made constant references to his weight. This did not encourage him to lose weight, but actually discouraged him. To this day, he remains overweight. He was also labeled a problem child early on. These labels became a stigma to him. He never felt like he was smart enough, thin enough, or good enough.
My brother and I are very different people. I would argue that I am also a product of labeling. I am several years younger than my brother. I saw the problems that labeling caused my brother, so I became everything opposite. I never had a weight problem, always excelled at school, and chose not to do drugs. I didn’t want my parents to be disappointed in me the way they were with my brother.
As a social worker, I believe that it is our duty to help end this cycle. We need to teach our youth self-confidence. It should also be taught that it is okay to make mistakes. We need not dwell on them, but find a way to make sure that we learn from them. High expectations from parents are a fact of life. However, there is a point when they are not expectations, but stigmas placed on them.
Your personal story brings to mind a few critical ideas I want to comment upon.
First, if we see something bad going on, it’s imported to describe it as a specific situation in a specific context, and help people see how the situation or context was involved with the problem behavior or failure. For example, a parent might say, “You ate a tremendous amount of food today, you must have been feeling really hungry today. I’ll try to serve you less food tomorrow so you won’t overeat, do you think that would help you?” This would be better than saying, “You always overeat, and you’re getting fat. A fat person like you shouldn’t eat so much.” In the first example, the parent is commenting on the overeating as a specific one-time event, and is also suggesting a solution, and is offering to be part of the solution (by serving less food). The parent is also asking the child to be engaged in the change in behavior by asking, “do you think that would help you?” It might be even better to just ask an open-ended question to let the child say something about their eating behavior on that specific day and what might help change behaviors at future meals.
Second, your story reminds me of the importance of holding high expectations of everyone while at the same time having a realistic understanding that people won’t reach your expectations. If teachers have low expectations and assume the worst of their students, the students will be “allowed” by the teacher’s expectations to perform at the level the teacher had signaled them to perform to. If a teacher holds all students to high expectations, students will attempt to achieve those higher expectations. Yet, when holding high expectations, I think it’s important to allow failure, and let students know that high expectations must be coupled with patience, support, and a high tolerance for people not achieving the highest marks. When we have high expectations and show too much disappointment or displeasure when people can’t achieve what we asked of them, then we will tend to encourage frustration and discouragement. The correct way to apply high expectations is to keep up an optimistic and accepting attitude. “Oh well, you didn’t quite reach the mark this time, but you came pretty far toward it and you tried hard. Let’s see what you can do next time, and what I can do to help you get closer to the mark we’re striving to reach. I’m confident you’ll eventually get it.”
When we’re disappointed with ourselves, or with our spouse or a child, we can communicate our disappointment, but we need to make the feeling related to a specific instance of behavior, and not raise issues of a person “always” doing something we don’t like, or “being” the wrong type of person. In the present instant of time we can’t do something about a problem that is “always” going on, can we? We can only modify what we are doing in the present instant. And, it’s hardly fair to blame us for being wrong. We can only control what we do, not what we are.
This is a student reaction paper. My comments are at the end in this red font.
I am a single parent who now works and goes to college, and has a young, precious daughter. But, life is not always and has not been so peachy these past few years. My daughter and I have been, and still are, involved in the system. When DCFS first came into my life, when my daughter was just a few months old, I hated them. I did not understand what was going on and why they were in my life. Since all of this has
happened and I have learned more about DCFS through experience, this class, and life in general, I realize that they are not all that bad.
Here goes my story. When my daughter was born, her dad and I lived in an apartment. She had everything that she needed. Her dad did not work, and he was gone all the time, doing whatever it was that he did. I worked, took care of the house, and our daughter. She was with his sisters, her aunts, a lot, because I had to work 40+ hours a week to be able to afford food, rent, necessities, child care, gas, and everything else for me, her and her dad.
My baby daughter got sick with pneumonia when she was about four months old and had to go to the hospital. She didn't fully recover, and yet they sent us home. I had to take off work for four days to stay with her in the hospital. Within three weeks, three doctor's visits and two more hospital visits later, Brooke was back in the hospital with pneumonia again. Well, before her father, she, and I could leave the hospital that time, DCFS caseworkers met us at the hospital. They stated that someone called them and told them that her father and I were manufacturing crystal meth out of our apartment and that is why she was sick all of the time. We both knew that the allegation was ridiculous. So, the caseworkers followed us to the house and realized that there was no foul play going on.
But, they drug tested us, and since her father dropped dirty, they continued to stay in our lives ever since. To make a long story short, I dropped dirty for weed about six months later, after we went to court to keep custody of our daughter. They took her that day, which was four days before her first birthday. Ever since then, I have had to go through rehab, which I have completed successfully, outpatient rehab, which I have completed successfully, and also anger management classes, domestic violence classes, parenting classes, mental health assessments, counseling appointments, and many other various hoops, which I have also all completed successfully. This has been going on for about 3 years now, and I have finally just recently gotten to keep my daughter over nights, and weekends, until finally all the time.
One of the reasons that it has been going on so long is because before I became a mother, when I was younger, I went through a period where I went on a crime spree and ended up in jails and prison for almost a year. Anyway, my point is that at any time a DCFS caseworker can be called and snatch a child up over anything (in my case, a test showed I had used marijuana, and that was it). This is good in a sense, because one does not want a child to be put into a situation to where they will eventually experience harm. But, in another sense, child welfare rules make it so difficult for the parents to obtain custody and rights again for their children, that I understand why and how so many parents never get their kids back and they get stuck in the system.
I was lucky enough to have family (well, my daughter’s paternal aunt) to take care of my daughter so that she didn't have to be shuffled around from foster home to foster home. I mean, what is actually better for a child, to be at a somewhat unstable home with their parents, or to be shifted from foster home to foster home, never knowing who they are going to be with and what is going to happen to them at each of those houses? So, I’m glad in our case there was someone in our extended family who was ready to help, and DCFS worked with her.
I have heard many horror stories of things that go on at foster homes and centers where they keep the kids that no one wants. I think that if DCFS makes the parents go through drug drops, counseling, parenting classes, rehabs, and all of the other hoops that they have to go through, I believe that they should make the foster parents go through the same things. They should take the time to drug test foster parents and make them go to parenting classes and counseling.
I have seen many things in my life, and a lot of people do not deserve the beautiful children that they have. But, if there are no foster parents that can handle them, and nowhere to put them, what is actually better for the child? Because isn't that what it is all about? The safety and welfare of the children? Sometimes I think and have seen that the foster homes are worse for the children than their home life would have ever been.
So, for this reaction essay, I just wanted to write about how I think that the DCFS, or Department of Child and Family Services needs to be harder on the foster parents and give them the same hoops to jump over that they give to the actual birth parents, because who is there to say that one is better than the other, when they are actually just watching the every move of the birth parent?
I think your point is that parents who encounter the child protective services professionals are forced to experience quite a bit of intrusive meddling in their lives. You are concerned that the foster parents who care for the children may be not significantly better than the parent(s) who must give up the children. I have a few points to raise.
First, it seems to me that foster parents are screened, and they are supposed to submit to a certain degree of training and evaluation. You are correct that some foster parents are abusive. I seem to have read somewhere that rates of abuse in foster homes are quite low these days, although in the 1980s or early 1990s I believe foster parents had a much higher rate of child maltreatment than other families. Of course, the sort of children who are put in foster parent households may be the sort of children who elicit a bit more maltreatment, but still, I think there was a big problem with foster parents, and now the problem with them is not so big, relative to what it was.
Second, I understand there is some difficulty in finding and keeping quality foster parents. This is a problem that puts pressure on child welfare systems to reduce the degree of screening and training and background checking they do. That is, if you want to attract more foster parents, you need to make it easier and more comfortable for people to become foster parents.
Third, I understand that the alternatives to foster parenting can be difficult. Kinship care, where an aunt or cousin or grandparent is the foster family for a child removed from parental custody is generally the best type of alternative foster family arrangement. This is statistically true (and we know this partly because of research done at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign), and so its sensible for policies to give preference to kinship care. But, it may be that the extended kin can be just as troubled as the birth family, so there are of course anecdotal cases where grandparents or aunts or cousins are worse than the biological parents. Another alternative to foster care or kinship care is institutionalized care. However, children’s homes and residential child care centers are not very cost-effective. Also, some children in foster care who end up in institutions are too troubled to be safely placed in a foster family, and it seems a problem to put relatively well-adjusted or vulnerable children into a social milieu with the deeply disturbed or aggressive children with behavior-disorders.
Fourth, you describe the training and classes you were forced to take as “hoops” that you were forced to go through in order to win back custody of your daughter. Yes, I can see that in a sense these were “tricks” you were being forced to perform. However, you know the intention of the child welfare system is to provide parents with experiences and courses that will make them better parents. You do not say anything about these courses being of any value. You don’t mention learning anything in these courses. Since you don’t mention any good coming from these experiences, but you do mention them as hoops, it is odd that you should suggest that foster parents go through them. Why? If they were merely annoying time-wasting “hoops” you grudgingly attended, why inflict them on others? If they were valuable experience that made you a better parent, then yes, it would make sense for foster parents to take them, but then why have you omitted any mention of any good that you gain from the classes and so forth? I’m very curious whether the parent training and family preservation work done through classes and home visits and social worker mentoring of parents in your situation do any good for parents and their children. These are our society’s way of helping keep biological parents with their children, and your description of this process as “hoops” seems discouraging to me, as I was hoping these would be valued experiences that would make parents find new ways of taking care of their children in healthier ways.
Fifth, you describe having your daughter removed from your custody when you were tested for marijuana use. I am astonished that a parent could lose custody of a child when they tested positive for marijuana use. In your case there was a record of past involvement with the corrections system, but such a history is not uncommon among certain segments of the poorer or historically oppressed groups in our society. Had you tested positive for a narcotic, I would understand the removal of your daughter, but marijuana? It’s baffling. Perhaps your description of training sessions as “hoops” is a sign of resentment for the injustice of having your daughter removed for such a trivial problem.
Sixth, your story brings up the issue of the father. I’ve had students with boyfriends who were struggling with substance addiction. More than one of my students has dropped out of college or graduate school to follow and care for guys with serious drug problems. And I know of one case where a male student left a good career to care for his drug-addicted girlfriend. In these cases, there is significant love there in the relationship, but the drugs or alcohol is damaging the brain and functioning of the addict. Now, what about the situation where a couple has a child, and one partner is a fair-to-good parent, but their parenting is compromised by their caregiving obligations for the addicted partner? I think it is fairly common for one parent to be addicted to alcohol or drugs, and generally be a fairly awful parent as a result. The healthier parent might have the potential or instincts to be a great parent, but they are so busy caring for their sick partner that their parenting is compromised. In these cases, the relatively healthy parent might sometimes self-medicate with prescription drugs, alcohol, or marijuana to deal with the emotional misery one goes through when one is in love with a substance-addicted person. In such situations what is to be done? I know sometimes child care workers want to get the child out of a home where one parent is using drugs, and the child welfare workers might demand that the “clean” parent reject the addicted parent in order to establish a drug-free home where the child will be safe. Is it better for a child to have two parents living together when one parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs, or is it better for that child to have only one parent at home, but get the benefit of a drug-free home?
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
This is an example of a lengthy opinion article written by a student. It has something to do with social welfare policies if you read through toward the end. I commented in purple font in some places.
Global warming is a theory - not fact. It is not even well-substantiated when you consider the research errors that form the weak foundation of this theory that warming of the earth is caused by man. The charts showing the history of climates have been proven false by scientists. A few key points were omitted such as a thousand years ago the warming period followed by the small ice age. Another misinformation is that the warmest year on the planet was 1998. While that sounds ominous, the truth is that the warmest year in history was 1934. Doesn't sound so scary now, does it? If the warmest year was 1934 then the planet is not heating up - in fact, it has cooled.
These are some important claims to make if you are arguing against global warming, but it would be helpful to offer citations or references to support the claims. Also, there is a logical flaw in the claim that if the hottest year on record was 1934 there is not presently a warming trend. A “trend” would depend upon on more than a single year’s temperature. So the 1998 or 1934 dates aren’t convincing unless they are shown to be part of a trend involving multiple years. There is also a logical flaw with the proposition that since in the past there have been warming periods followed by rapid cooling, the current warming trend is not in fact a warming trend. The two facts aren’t really connected. Warming and cooling trends are part of the planet’s climate history. Warming and cooling trends always follow each other, or else our planet would keep warming or cooling until it became a Venus-like furnace or a frigid ice ball.
So how can scientists be so wrong? Global warming is a controversial topic. Billions of dollars and political agenda hang in the balance if this is not true. Let's rephrase that - now we are looking at trillions of dollars with "green" everything from cars to soap. Scientists on both sides of the issue weigh in. For every article written by a scientist propagating the theory of global warming, there is an article by a scientist with facts disproving it. In the 1970s scientists said that we were headed for an ice age. If you take
the time to research it, the information is easily accessed on the internet. The scare was that falling temperatures could lead to another ice age and that snow would advance all the way to the equator. That obviously didn't happen either. Scientists need to receive grants for research. So now if the grant for millions of dollars is to promote global warming then that is the push. The fact is that the earth has heating and cooling trends. The hype and hysteria that the planet is going to burn up because of global warming is to push policies through more quickly.
It is not factually accurate to say that for every article published to provide evidence supporting a claim that we are now in a period of global warming there is an article with counter-evidence against that claim. Counts of published articles show that there is no quantitative approximation. You have made another factual error (mischaracterization) when you write that in the 1970s scientists claimed that we were in a cooling trend headed toward an ice age (although given the historical oscillation between thaws and ice ages, it is probably correct that we always assumed, and still assume, that an ice age will reoccur someday in the future.) In fact, researchers have gone back over articles published in the 1960s and 1970s and found no significant trend in articles claiming trends toward cooling among scientific articles. Please see http://climateprogress.org/2008/11/10/killing-the-myth-of-the-1970s-global-cooling-scientific-consensus/
You also claim that climate science is driven by an economic agenda of selling policies and products that will reduce the human contribution to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses. Could you support this claim with any evidence? As a scientist involved in the community of peer-reviewed scientific publishing and grant proposal writing I find a plausible half-truth in your claim. Yes, if referees and grant proposal reviewers are convinced of global warming, they will be biased against research that counters that consensus. But scientists who do climate research are not typically motivated by hope of making financial gains in the shift to an economy that produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
In a recent poll by Habitat Heroes, "one out of three children aged 6 to 11 fears that the earth will not exist when they grow up. More than half - 56 percent - worry that the planet will be a blasted heath, or at least a very unpleasant place to live. On this survey of 500 American preteens - 250 males and 250 females - minority kids have it worst; 75 percent of black children and 65 percent of Hispanic children believe that the planet will be irrevocably damaged by the time they reach adulthood." What are we doing to our children? They are vexing over the state of the planet, obsessing over recycling and conserving water and electricity. They fear that animals such as polar bears and penguins will become extinct. The poll states that girls worry more than boys. Children as young as 6 to 8 years old worry that the earth will not be a good place to live when they are adults. Is that giving our children hope? Children don't come from the womb worried about the planet. They are taught this erroneous theory in their schools, and their parents are bombarded with the propaganda on television news and programs, newspapers and magazines.
Sometimes it is important to face facts and deal with truth so that problems can be solved. Positive illusions and unrealistic hope can be toxic if they make a society ignore real problems that loom in the future.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research published a report on April 18, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. The report noted that the South Pole had shown significant cooling in recent decades. Dr. Allison, a scientist quoted in the report, states that "ice is actually expanding in a large portion of the continent. Ice core drilling by the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-Operative Research Centre shows that last year, the ice had a maximum thickness of 1.89m, its densest in 10 years. The average thickness of the ice
since the 1950s is 1.67m. A paper is soon to be published by the British Antarctic Survey in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that is expected to confirm that over the past 30 years, the area of sea ice around the continent has expanded." So what about these photo ops of polar bears floating on melting icebergs? Once again, it is political. If the polar bear can be listed as an endangered species we cannot drill for oil.
As to the cooling trends, please examine the graphics of the data for yourself. They are available at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/. It is not political. The scientists who study polar bears are motivated by the scientific quest for accurate information. My sister (a biologist) works with some of these scientists at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, and I can assure you that she and her colleagues are not motivated in their scientific work by political desires to achieve some sort of alternative energy regime or political success for particular ideologies. At academic and research conferences she attends the scientists are presenting peer-reviewed studies showing significant threats to polar bear populations. There is a real possibility that polar bears face an imminent population crash as sea ice melts earlier or forms further from land.
Dr. Steven Hayward, a scientist with Pacific Research Institute, states in his documentary that the earth is warming, but his explanation exposes the fallacy of the global warming theory, and there will be no catastrophe. The computer tables are only estimated calculations, not scientific. This is a new phenomenon to be researched and to declare global warming as fact and "Case closed" is premature. Did your daddy ever tell you about hastily buying a car without checking under the hood? We know what we think of a salesman who says, "I looked under the hood for you. It's all good. Trust me. Hurry, just sign here." The theory of global warming is being shoved at us riddled with gaps and I'm not buying it.
Let's look logically at the perpetrator of global warming - Al Gore - and we will see many inconsistencies between his theory and how he lives his life. Jetting around the world pushing his theory of global warming so he has a legacy, he had to cancel several speeches because of the weather - not that it was too hot and everyone would be burning up as he spoke about global warming - no, he had to cancel because of record-breaking freezing temperatures. How do you give a speech on global warming when the city is having close to the coldest weather in history? This happened in Boston on October 22, 2008. The temperature in the Boston area was a low of 31 degrees. The record low
temperature in 1883 was 28 degrees - almost 125-year record-breaking low temperatures. And it's happening all over the world. Gore spoke in Italy during "rare" cold and snow. In November 2006, Gore flew to Australia. Cold and snow came with him, despite that the country was nearing its summer months. The British House of Commons held a marathon debate on global warming during London's first October snowfall since 1922. Bicyclists raising awareness of global warming had to bike through ice and snow in New York October 22, 2008. And the list goes on of global warming rallies in the snow.
We will see the language change from global warming to climate changes. As more data is substantiated, global warming is being revealed as the hoax it is. But who can deny that the theory has been lucrative for Al Gore? He's made millions off his movie An Inconvenient Truth, his lectures, his books, and his self-propagated legacy.
The politicians have their motives for pushing global warming. We will see more and more American factories closing and unemployment rise because this administration has a political agenda. During his campaign Barack Obama said we are 5% of the world's population and consume 25% of the world's energy, and he is going to do something about it. Well, he is.
Al Gore and Barack Obama have double standards. We the peons are to recycle, ride our bikes, turn our thermostats down in winter and up in summer. We are to conserve fuel. It's obvious they don't believe in the theory of global warming any more than I do. If they believed it their lifestyles would change. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research on June 17, 2008 revealed that "In the past year, Gore’s home burned through 213,210 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, enough to power 232 average American households for a month." After his extreme energy misuse was made public, he began renovations to go "green" with solar panels, geothermal installation, more efficient light bulbs, and he now consumes 10% more energy than before the renovations, according to public records at the Nashville Electric Service.
During a campaign event in Oregon in May, Barack Obama said we have to "lead by example." He said, "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all time." During the extremely cold winter of 2008-2009 where ice storms cut power to millions in the country, Obama's Oval Office thermostat was set so high his own Chief of Staff, David Axelrod, told the New York Times, "You could grow orchids in there." But I guess it doesn't matter to him since the American taxpayers pay his heating bill.
Business that could more easily be done at the White House he is jetting all over the country and the world, still campaigning. He flew to the White House a pizza maker from St. Louis he had met on the campaign trail to make pizza for 140 during the Somali pirate hostage incident. That's round trip, 860 miles each way. Mark Knoller, a CBS White House correspondent, reported that on Earth Day Barack Obama flew to and from Iowa using 9600 gallons of fuel, two flights on Air Force One and four on Marine One, not counting the presidential vehicles that drove him - all this to make a speech in front of a wind turbine calling for a “new era of energy exploration in America.” (AP, April 22, 2009). His carbon footprint is all over the globe. Instead of getting our own oil we are subservient to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Scaring everyone with the global warming theory, environmentalists have blocked us from drilling for our own oil. Nancy Pelosi and others who have invested financially in T. Boone Pickens' wind farms have an interest in seeing prices of oil go up so that Americans will be more open to other sources of energy - like wind. Thus the jetting of Barack Obama for a photo op in front of a wind turbine on Earth Day.
I am pragmatic and want to know the truth. We need to take care of the planet, but the truth is this planet was here long before any of us and will be here long after we are gone. One-third of American children are afraid the earth will not be here when they grow up, so in their naivete they will do whatever they are told to do to preserve the earth. Scaring children into thinking there is not a bright future for the sake of promoting a political agenda is unconscionable.
This is a student-written editorial, and I'm sharing it on the blog without my comments.
I am writing about our prison system and the need for reform.
Senator Jim Webb from Virginia is on a crusade to do just that. He cites that the United States, with only 5% of the world's population, is housing 25% of the world's reported criminals. The numbers of people incarcerated for drug related crimes have soared 1200% since 1980 when Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs. However, a significant number of people incarcerated for drug offenses have no history of violence or high-level drug activity. He also goes on to state that there are four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. Our prisons are overcrowded, but not with the people that should be in our penal system.
The United States spends about 68 billion dollars a year on corrections. It would be prudent for us to consider whether that money could be better spent on treatment for substance abuse and mental illness. Certainly the correctional facilities are not equipped to address the needs of those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol or those suffering with mental illness. We need to move these people out of the prisons and provide them with services that would allow them the opportunity to become productive members of society.
There was a time when we addressed substance abuse as a health issue. Now we decided these people are criminals and that they should be punished for "breaking the rules". Then what? They are released after serving their sentence and return to society with the same issues that landed them in the penal system in the first place. How is it that a person suffering with mental illness can find rehabilitation in the confines of a prison? While none of us approve of those that break the rules of society, our energy and resources would be better directed at reducing the number of people incarcerated for minor substance abuse violations and non-violent crimes in order to make room for the people that we built prisons for, those that we need protection from.
This is a student-written editorial, and my comments follow it in this purple font face.
According to Dayna K. Shah, there are 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Since the United States government doesn’t allow lesbian and gay couples to marry, lesbian and gay couples are excluded from the benefits and advantages provided by these laws. Recent data shows that at least 1 million children are being raised by same-sex couples in the United States. These children are being disadvantaged because their parents don’t qualify for the same tax benefits as heterosexual couples.
First of all, eligibility for the earned income tax credit (EITC) is based in part upon the number of “qualifying” children in the taxpayer’s household. The definition of qualifying child under this provision includes only a child who is the taxpayer’s (a) biological child or descendent; (b) stepchild of the taxpayer; or (c) adopted child. Certain children of lesbian and gay couples are disadvantaged by this provision. For example, a gay or lesbian couple are jointly raising one partner’s biological child. The taxpayer works full-time and the child’s legal parent stays home to care for the child. The state in which the taxpayer resides does not permit them to adopt through second-parent adoption or to marry the partner and become the child’s step-parent. This working family is therefore ineligible for an adjustment of the EITC, and therefore has decreased the resources to devote to the child’s care. The EITC covers single parents with children, but since with this couple the biological parent isn’t earning the household income, she can’t get any EITC.
Secondly, heads of household are eligible for an increased standard deduction that, among other things, provides taxpayers with increased funds to care for their dependents. The “limitations” section of this provision explicitly denies the benefit of head-of-household status to taxpayers supporting non-biological, non-adopted children. Therefore, a gay or lesbian taxpayer who supports his or her partner’s child (and who is ineligible to adopt the child) has fewer post-tax dollars to support the child. This same exclusion also denies help to kin or close family friends who have informally adopted children by caring for them without any specific legal arrangement while the biological parents are absent or incapable.
Lastly, taxpayers meeting income eligibility requirements are entitled to a child tax credit for qualifying children in their households. This provision limits the child tax credit to children who meet the relationship test set fourth in the earned income tax provisions. As set forth above, this does not include children of a taxpayer’s domestic partner if the children are not related to the taxpayer biologically or through adoption.
All three of these inequities have the effect of penalizing families who choose to have one parent in the work force and the other caring for the children full-time. In addition, they disadvantage such couples and their children by limiting the choice of which parent will be a full-time caregiver. Although similarly situated married couples may choose which parent will fulfill that role without consequence, lesbian and gay couples, as well as other unmarried couples, face negative tax consequences for the same decision.
I’m all for continuing to restrict benefits to parents who are in some way officially “married” (in the sense that they have a legal commitment to each other). The public have an interest in encouraging couples to enter into legal agreements of mutual support, as this reduces their dependence on public support and replaces public obligations with private mutual care. But this editorial makes a good case that same-sex couples deserve the same incentives to establish long-term legal relationships, or at least receive the same benefits that different-sex couples enjoy. I notice that opposition to the "gay lifestyle" is usually mixed in with perceptions that persons in homosexual relationships tend to have more difficulty sustaining long-term committed relationships. Until same-sex couples are allowed to aspire to marriage and try marriage, it's difficult to know if this perception has any basis in fact. Even such heterosexual biases against homosexual couples have any grounding in statistical facts, this would still be a weak reason for denying people the same benefits and legal protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. Equal protection under the law and no establishment of a state religion, you know.
This is a student's editorial, and I'm providing it here without my comments.
Recently the CHIPRA became law again. CHIPRA is the children’s health insurance protection reauthorization act. This act gives insurance to many children. The child’s parents can make up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Many say that this is a waste of tax dollars. Also, some believe that since we are in a financial bind we should not be supporting more expenses. The bill has a twist; this program will be funded by a $0.62 cent federal tax on tobacco. This is a great idea; I’m sure that if you asked citizens whether they would be willing to pay 62 cents more on anything so long as it helped give more children medical benefits most would be more than willing. The health of our children should be our top priority.
This policy according to Families USA’s webpage will give 4 million more children health insurance. That means that there will be 4 million more children with the resources to obtain medicine when they are sick. This in turn means they will be less likely to spread their illness to other children.
This bill will also provide them with dental and mental health insurance. Now legal immigrant children and pregnant women will no longer have to wait on a list to receive this coverage. Also, this will reduce individual medical bills that before may not have been paid. This will relieve some stress off the parents, and they will no longer have to choose between buying groceries that week and taking their child to the doctor. For an extra 62 cents I think this policy is definitely worth it. If you would like to learn more about this policy visit the Families USA website at http://www.familiesusa.org/.
This is a student's editorial, and I'm offering it here without my comments.
I would like to argue for Barack Obama's child advocacy plan, and in particular I’m writing to support the aspects of this plan that are related to health. It is astonishing to me that politicians could have such a sensible and useful plan. It was my impression that politicians usually just kissed babies or shook hands with children, and did very little else to help them, since babies and children don’t vote. And yet, here is this child advocacy plan, and it is in the best interest of children throughout America.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden are devoted promoters for children advocacy. At the www.barackobama.com website you can read:
"They will make sure that every child has health insurance, expand educational opportunities for low-income children, extend resources for low-income families, support and supplement our struggling foster care system, and protect children from violence and neglect."
The health part of their plan is awe-inspiring. It is my favorite part of the plan because children are my passion and providing decent healthcare for children is a very imperative cause. Obama and Biden make it a goal to protect every child with health insurance and health care. At the www.barackobama.com website we are reminded that, "as a state senator, Obama sponsored and helped pass legislation that expands Illinois’ KidCare program, which provided coverage to 150,000 parents and their children." The president and vice president are asking Congress to enlarge Medicaid and SCHIP benefits to more children.
I think that it is extraordinary that Obama and Biden are in favor of supporting healthy lifestyles. This is something that we really need in our society today; fast food restaurants are on every corner in America, and this is not good in a society that is obese. Their website explains:
"nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks, and less than half of our country’s children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. This lack of a safe place to walk and play is a major contributor to the growing numbers of overweight children."
Obama makes a great point here, and I believe that if he carries out all of the expectations shown in his health part of the child advocacy plan, America's children will be by far more healthy, which will lead to healthier generations to come.
A student wrote this editorial on the topic of mental illness and prisons. I'm sharing it here without comments:
I recently caught the last half hour of a documentary on PBS (The Released, by Karen O’Connor and Miri Navasky), which followed mentally ill prison inmates after they were released back into the community. The program caught my interest especially because of our recent class discussions about Criminal Justice and Mental Health in relation to Social Work. We learned the most common institutionalized settings in which mentally ill individuals live are jails and prisons. According to NAMI, at least 16 percent of the prison population can be classified as severely mentally ill. The particular program I watched examined the high rates of recidivism among mentally ill offenders.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 81 percent of mentally ill inmates currently in state prison have prior convictions. Sixty percent of released prisoners are likely to be rearrested within 18 months, but mentally ill offenders are likely to be rearrested at even higher rates. The program I watched allowed me to realize the reasons for this are the lack of community services available to mentally ill offenders as well as the general attitude of the American public. There are individuals who don’t see this issue as a priority because they feel like mentally ill offenders are just a drain on society. Alphonse Gerhardstein, president of the Prison Reform Advocacy Center, believes we should care about what happens to these people because “As long as their heart’s beating, they have a right to life and liberty.”
It is extremely difficult for mentally ill ex-offenders to obtain public housing because most housing subsidies are only available to applicants who have federal income tax forms (the working poor). Public housing authorities and Section 8 providers are also allowed to deny housing to individuals with criminal histories. To make the situation even more troublesome, most ex-offenders who are mentally ill are released from prison with little money. Even if they do find housing, lack of support services makes it difficult for them to sustain their housing.
The Council of States Governments has created the Consensus Project in order to address the recidivism rates of mentally ill offenders. They recently (in 2002) released a report which recommends planning for post-release services from the very first day mentally ill offenders arrive in the justice system. They suggest community-based agencies need to join together to access housing funding for mentally ill offenders. The report also states treatment for substance abuse and mental illness should be integrated and individuals with mental illness should be able to access all government entitlements they are eligible for such as Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplementary Security Income.
I think this report has valuable suggestions which community leaders need to be aware of. Especially considering our current economic situation, it is necessary for everyday citizens to weigh the costs of keep mentally ill offenders incarcerated rather than working to help them successfully re-enter the community.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The student's words are in black font, and my responses are in this purple font face:
In the 2010 budget proposal, the plan is to limit the tax rate at which high-income taxpayers can take itemized deductions to 28%. America, probably more than any other country in the world, is distinguished in philanthropy and charitable giving. Americans are givers – it is a core value of our nation. In 2007, over $306 billion dollars were given to help the poor, the needy, the mentally ill, the homeless. Salaries of non-for-profit workers were paid so that they could help those less fortunate. Those dollars represent the services provided by soup kitchens, schools, medical clinics here and abroad, and countless other organizations. But more than figures on paper, charitable giving represents changed lives for the better – people living their lives 365 days a year in small communities and cities across the nation, finding help and hope as they are going through physical, emotional, and financial trials. Now there will be a tax if you want to help others – a tax on giving to the needy - a tax on helping charities so that money can be funneled to the Treasury. The core value of our government is becoming greed. In an attempt to punish the benevolent wealthy, the needy and poor will suffer. It seems that the only winner will be the government. I sincerely hope this proposal is reconsidered.
It is clear that this administration is about increasing taxes. We can propagandize and rationalize, but the bottom line is as Joe Biden said, "It's patriotic to pay taxes." (Unless you're the head of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, so brilliant and so needed in these economic times that we'll overlook his being a tax cheat and let him handle the money.) "It's patriotic to pay taxes." Let the brainwashing begin. Actually, many years ago patriots didn't like excessive taxation and fought the Revolutionary War to get free of the whole mess.
The issue as I understand it was not “excessive” taxes. It was the principle of the matter, because English common law, established in the aftermath of the English Civil War, established that taxes could only be leveled on subjects with the consent of those subjects, consent given by their elected representatives (in the House of Commons). But, the British Crown had usurped that power and imposed taxes without the consent of the American colonial governments, or had used colonial governments on which no elected representatives were present to vote for or against the taxes. Had America been represented by elected representatives who determined whether or not taxes were imposed to pay for the defense of the frontier against Indian attacks or French or Spanish aggression, those representatives might very well have voted for the same sort of taxes. But without such representation, the British Crown had no right to impose any taxes. That is, the taxes imposed upon America were not legal, and represented a tyranny (an unlawful exercise of power or a false claim to powers that are not legitimate). If you have authoritative historical information that shows my understanding of this aspect of American history is incorrect I would appreciate being educated.
The benevolent will probably continue to give, but as a brief synopsis of what I've read, if this goes into effect if a person gives $100,000 to charity, only $93,000 will get to the charity and the government will get $7000. Those missed dollars are crucial to non-for-profits. While this administration presents an image of caring for the poor and needy in society, the bottom line is they value the government more than suffering people. Why else would there be a tax on helping others?
Is your understanding of the policy that a person can only reduce their taxes down to 28% using itemized deductions? If so, this means that persons in high income brackets would only have an incentive to give to charities until their taxes had been reduced to the lowest allowed floor of 28%, and any giving beyond that level would not yield to them any further reduction in taxes. So, for example, if a person earned $600,000 in a year, and then gave away $549,000 so they only kept $51,000 for their own expenses, rather than being able to deduct all this charitable giving and pay the same sort of income taxes I do (less than 5% to the federal income tax, with my gross income close to $51,000), those “wealthy” philanthropists would still be forced to pay 28%? That is indeed a stupid policy, if that is in fact what is being proposed.
I think the solution to this might be to say that all itemized deductions rather than charitable giving to non-profits can bring persons in certain income brackets down to a level where they are paying 28% of their income in federal income taxes, and any additional reduction in federal income taxes below 28% can only come from itemized deductions on gifts to non-profit charities. That solves the problem you describe and still keeps the spirit of reducing the amount of tax reduction the wealthy get through deductions. (By the way, the very wealthy tend to pay about 20% to 24% in income taxes after all their deductions, so this is a rule that will raise their income taxes by 15%-20% or so, up to 28% of their income from the 20%-24% where they are paying now, on average, according to the IRS reports I’ve studied.)