Monthly Archives: March, 2008

Carcieri: Head Start “Biggest Waste of Federal Money”

That’s the assessment from our Governor here in Rhode Island — that Head Start for preschoolers is “the biggest waste of federal money.” A bigger waste of money than, say, building a highway and not testing the concrete? A bigger waste of money than starting an unnecessary trillion dollar war? A bigger waste of money than giving more and bigger tax breaks to the richest 2% of the state’s population?

Speaking less rhetorically and more from experience, I have seen more than one child literally saved by their enrollment in Head Start. I am thinking specifically of a child with teeth rotting out of her head and no one would have done anything about it if the Head Start social worker hadn’t made sure that child got medical and dental care. This is just one rather extreme example — there are so many ways in which problems recognized and addressed in Head Start improve a child’s chances for a better future.

But let’s hear what the Governor has to say:

Show me empirical evidence that Head Start has done anything. I think it’s been the biggest waste of money, frankly. What Head Start needs to do is get into the early education business, which is teach kids vocabulary and things they need early on. Head Start, I think, is the biggest waste of federal money. What I’ve said, if you want to do early childhood education, particularly in urban areas, get Head Start integrated into what we’re trying to do with kids. If you want empirical evidence that a program has been a dismal failure, I’d put Head Start at the top of the list. That doesn’t say it can’t be changed or morphed into something that could be effective, but as it is I think it’s totally ineffective.

While Head Start, along with countless other programs, could doubtlessly be improved, calling the program the “biggest waste of federal money” is an incredible misrepresentation of reality. In a just world, there would need to be some recompense for these wrong words. If it were up to me, the Governor would now be required to spend the next 6 months working a full 40-hour week in a Head Start classroom. Then he could review his statement above and see if he would like to make any modifications.

They Should be Grateful

From Austin Cline at ‘Jesus’ General’ comes a post so fine I have to link to it here. It takes apart point by point the idea that anyone should be ‘grateful’ for being let in the servant’s door.

It’s not just that blacks should be grateful to whites for their ancestors being enslaved (because it means they grow up here rather than Africa). Women should be grateful to men for having been disenfranchised (because at least they don’t have to wear burqas, but those sluts really should cover up more). Atheists should be grateful to Christians for being despised (because that’s better than being beheaded, but they should learn to sit down and shut up). Immigrants should be grateful to whites that there is a country they can try to sneak into (even if it means risking their lives). The poor should be grateful to the rich that they have a chance at any jobs at all (even if it means living paycheck to paycheck, without health insurance).

I depend on ‘Jesus’ General’ for my daily dose of profane and inappropriate opinion but lately they’ve been getting all serious on me. Maybe when the General nods off in his recliner, Ofjoshua gets a turn at the computer. Anyway, someone is letting people like Austin Cline put up posts that are a history and philosophy lesson rolled into one and totally painless to read. And good graphics as well. Don’t tell the General. He gets mad when they use too many big words.

Soldiers Losing Hearing, Losing Silence

Two bad things about losing your hearing — the loss of sound and the loss of silence. A lot of us who are older, especially if we listened to Lou Miami and the Cosmetix at The Last Call, have tinnitus.

I noticed it bad on a vacation in the woods. No more silence, just a constant static that is much worse when the ambient noise level is down. I would give a lot to make it go away, but I’m lucky. It doesn’t interfere with my life, it doesn’t bring back bad memories, it hasn’t gotten worse and I’m old. At least it didn’t start in my 20′s.

AP SAN DIEGO – Large numbers of soldiers and Marines caught in roadside bombings and firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with permanent hearing loss and ringing in their ears, prompting the military to redouble its efforts to protect the troops from noise.

Hearing damage is the No. 1 disability in the war on terror, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and some experts say the true toll could take decades to become clear. Nearly 70,000 of the more than 1.3 million troops who have served in the two war zones are collecting disability for tinnitus, a potentially debilitating ringing in the ears, and more than 58,000 are on disability for hearing loss, the VA said.

Sixty percent of U.S. personnel exposed to blasts suffer from permanent hearing loss, and 49 percent also suffer from tinnitus, according to military audiology reports. The hearing damage ranges from mild, such as an inability to hear whispers or low pitches, to severe, including total deafness or a constant loud ringing that destroys the ability to concentrate. There is no known cure for tinnitus or hearing loss.

The number of servicemen and servicewomen on disability because of hearing damage is expected to grow 18 percent a year, with payments totaling $1.1 billion annually by 2011, according to an analysis of VA data by the American Tinnitus Association. Anyone with at least a 10 percent loss in hearing qualifies for disability. (the rest of the story)

It’s another cruel cost of this war. Our volunteer military represents only a small part of our population. Our political climate today rewards cuts in benefits to the most vulnerable. Partial deafness is a disability that doesn’t show. You have to feel it to know what it’s like. Veterans who have lost their hearing deserve help and support. It’s a real loss to never hear silence again.

The Long, Strange Saga of Lillian Rivera

Commenters on this blog have been wanting to know more about the pay-out to Lillian Rivera, a police officer on leave from the Cranston police department. Today, David Scharfenberg delivered a detailed account of her disability and injury claims against the city of Cranston. From the Projo:

CRANSTON  A disputed sexual-harassment charge is driving a mounting controversy over a police sergeant who has been out of work with pay for three years, a Providence Journal investigation has revealed.

Legal documents and interviews with current and former city officials point to a long-running feud over alleged verbal harassment, sexually explicit e-mails and Police Department politics.

And with election season approaching, partisans are trading charges about Mayor Michael T. Napolitano’s decision to settle with Lillian Rivera, the sergeant at the center of the furor, in June 2007.

The administration has declined to release the settlement, which is public record under state law. [full text]

I have to give credit to Geoff Schoos, who predicted to me in a conversation last week that this was the result of a larger problem within the police department. And it was Jesse here on Kmareka who seemed to know that the Laffey administration also had to handle this mess, though it doesn’t sound like his predictions about the former Mayor’s direct involvement are panning out. The hard-ball directions were apparently delivered by Grimes.

It’s disappointing (though not unexpected — it happens everywhere, in human services, too) to see how much sexual harassment is still a problem. If the Mayor’s settlement and publicizing of this case helps to bring about better understanding of what harassment is and why we need to stop it, then this may be a just cause indeed. But we need to know more. Silence should not be part of this settlement, not if it’s really about change. I hope we will learn more about this story. I hope Mayor Napolitano and Lillian Rivera (and maybe even Chalek and Brown) will help us all have a teachable moment over this.

The Violation of Britney Spears

Even grey-haired people like me can have a teachable moment.

Working as a nurse in elder homecare I am privy to confidential information. I am complicit in the leveling of acres of trees as my employers generate endless paperwork for HIPPA. I explain privacy rights to patients as their eyes glaze over and they sign forms that they will never read. Then they tell me about their gallbladder operations and their sons who will be coming up for parole next summer.

I know who is overdue to get her toenails cut, and who keeps four cats in an apartment that is ‘no pets allowed’. This is about as exciting as it gets for me. I am a well of secrets.

I’ve been very blase about it all, and this story didn’t really get my attention…

Hospital Workers Fired for Snooping on Spears

The University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center where singer Britney Spears was hospitalized earlier this year is firing at least 13 employees and suspending six others for peeking into the star’s confidential medical records, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The newspaper also says six doctors face disciplinary action for peeking at Ms. Spears’ computerized records related to her recent stay there for psychiatric evaluation.

I thought that the 13 who got fired broke the rules bigtime, and should have known better. I noticed that the doctors, who probably lead the raid on Ms. Spears’ personal records, got a slap on the wrist. No surprise.

If a famous person’s records were in one of my workplaces I wouldn’t touch them unless I had a legit reason. I don’t know what I would do if someone opened a chart in front of me. It’s the dark side of human nature that we will do things in a group that we would be ashamed or afraid to do alone. I picture someone crossing the line. Others follow, wanting to be part of the gang. Now they’re part of the unemployment line. Better luck next time guys, that was your teachable moment.

My teachable moment came while doing a shift in a women’s clinic. Young patients in and out of exam rooms, stacks of charts everywhere. The half hour that the patient spends with her practitioner may be the only time she can speak in confidence, with the assurance that her care providers will respect her privacy. This is not only ethics, it is the law. HIPPA may be a paperwork-generating pain in the butt, but it is morally right. We will go through many variations of law as society changes. The principle of confidentiality is worth taking a stand for. It is unclear whether the Constitution grants a right to privacy, so we may need an amendment as the 21st Century provides more and more ways to get into one another’s business.

I worked in the clinic and I thought about Britney Spears. She’s a young mother who is having emotional problems. Where is her safe space?

Yeah, she’s famous, tabloid fodder. She was asking for it, she gets off on it, fame and notoriety. But she was sick in a hospital. Doctors, nurses, paramedical workers were all paid and entrusted to give her the same care they would give anyone. And they didn’t.

Seeing unfamous young mothers going through mundane life problems that nobody will sell to the tabs, I felt sorry for Britney. Our secrets are precious. Our trust is precious. Rich or poor we are human beings and each of us has worth and dignity.

Shouldn’t there be a safe space? Where the patients, famous or unknown, will be given simple human respect? If a hospital is not safe and private there is not much else left.

If Britney Spears follows the American sex-symbol script she will be dead before she is old. The tabs will cannibalize her death the way they do her life and her innocent children’s. She will be the target of the envy and the admiration and the hidden, unfocused class rage that is building like a volcano under American life. Her relics will be sold on e-Bay.

I hope she beats the odds and finds a better way. I hope that (pagan as I am) we Americans will reclaim our civic pride and self-respect. Part of the social contract is that we support the institutions that we rely on. Each of us depends on the discretion of those we trust with our health.

Britney Spears was violated. She is a human being and she had a right to expect basic honesty and respect from the professionals who cared for her. They forgot to be professional and treated her medical record like a supermarket tabloid. We should all back off, and look at our own lives. That might cut into the audience for Britney and all the other crash and burn performers, but they’ll get by.

Budget Crisis Meetings for Cranston Schools

This message comes from our school committee chairman, Michael A. Traficante, and the school committee clerk, Andrea Iannazzi. Some have probably already received it from their PTO listserv, but in case you missed it:

Due to the school department’s budget crisis, the members of the Cranston School Committee and school administration have set aside two dates to brief all PTO and individual parents on the proposed school budget for 2008-2009 prior to presenting it to the Cranston City Council on Tuesday, April 22, 2008, at 6:30 p.m. at Cranston East.

The purpose of the budget briefings is not only to educate your membership and individual parents on the proposed budget but also, of equal importance, to hopefully gain your support and encourage your presence on April 22nd when the budget is discussed before the Cranston City Council.

The first budget briefing will take place in the Cranston High School East Auditorium on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. for the following schools:

Arlington
Edgewood Highland
Waterman
Charter School
Barrows
Gladstone
Bain
Adult Education Program
Dutemple
Rhodes
Park View
Sanders Academy Program
Eden Park
Stadium
Cranston East

The second budget briefing will take place in the Cranston High School West Auditorium on Monday, April 21, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. for the following schools:

Garden City
Oak Lawn
Stone Hill
Glen Hills
Orchard Farms
Woodridge
Hope Highlands
Peters
Western Hills
Cranston West

Your presence at these budget briefings is extremely important, and your support on April 22, 2008 is critical.

Please make every effort to attend. Your child’s quality education is at risk.

If your membership cannot be present at the assigned date and time, you are more than welcome to attend the other scheduled session.

Thank you.

Michael A. Traficante, Chairman
Andrea M. Iannazzi, Clerk
Cranston School Committee

New Englanders Go into Survival Mode

Boston.com has an interesting article today talking about the ways that New Englanders are hunkering down and getting ready for a long, cool economy. It’s been particularly difficult for regular families to handle steep increases in oil and gas bills, not to mention increases in everything else from house insurance (how is our value going down but our insurance going up?) to food ($4.95 for a gallon of milk) to electricity.

But my mother, who is in her 80′s, likes to remind me that we really don’t need a lot of the stuff we buy these days. And, as noted by Margaret Isham, 52, an artist in Providence interviewed for the article, scarcity can have the positive effect of breeding respect for what you do have, particularly the simple gifts in life such as good friends, a fun hobby (my current kick is making bread), or relatively good health. Scarcity also breeds innovation, as we discover newer and healthier ways of doing things. A great example of this is the planned re-use of a brownfield in Coventry to make a solar energy field.

From Boston.com:

When a recession hit in the 1970s, Kathleen Carter barely noticed it. She was young, single, working as a bar manager in a restaurant, and on the verge of buying a home. Economic gloom registered only as a distant echo.

Now she is 55, and the current slowdown is impossible to ignore. Its effects bear down on her every day. She has had to put every household expense under a microscope, and she is cutting back wherever she can.

“I’ve gone into survival mode,” said Carter, a married mother of two who works part-time as a singer and lives in Kennebunk, Maine. “I’m asking: How much do we need, really need?” [full text]

Christian Brotherhood

I attended a white, Southern, fundamentalist church during the Vietnam War years. Having heard preachers who poured out enough fire and brimstone to get the whole church moaning, I was not impressed with all the fuss about Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In my church I heard the minister say things that were bellicose, callous and misogynistic. By that church’s interpretation of Revelations, the Holy Land was destined to end up as a glass-bottom parking lot. Or maybe a nice, flat landing strip for the Second Coming. If you went trolling through the sermons preached in those years you would have found plenty of sensational statements, especially when they got speaking in tongues. But in all fairness, they spent most of their time telling their congregation to live right and follow the Bible. I left that church not because of what the minister said, but for spiritual differences. I’m just a natural pagan is all.

Contrary to the shocked, shocked impression some commentators have, church members don’t jump up and leave every time the minister says something they disagree with. It’s not a huge aberration for a minister to use strong, or even shocking language. They are preachers, not politicians. It’s not fair to pull some words from sermons and present them without any context of the whole sermon or the whole ministry of the church.

It is disappointing that Senator Clinton seems to want to pull attention back to the Reverend Wright controversy. She’s made it fair to take a look at her own history. Talking Points Memo has posted an opinion by the minister of a church that Senator Clinton attended, Foundry United Methodist. The minister, Rev. Dean J. Snyder, defends Rev. Wright. By the way, Foundry looks like a church where Sen. Obama would feel right at home.

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an outstanding church leader whom I have heard speak a number of times. He has served for decades as a profound voice for justice and inclusion in our society. He has been a vocal critic of the racism, sexism and homophobia which still tarnish the American dream. To evaluate his dynamic ministry on the basis of two or three sound bites does a grave injustice to Dr. Wright, the members of his congregation, and the African-American church which has been the spiritual refuge of a people that has suffered from discrimination, disadvantage, and
violence. Dr. Wright, a member of an integrated denomination, has
been an agent of racial reconciliation while proclaiming perceptions
and truths uncomfortable for some white people to hear…

Check out the website of Foundry United Methodist Church for the whole text, and Talking Points Memo for commentary. Even though I’m just a pagan I have to admire this show of Christian brotherhood.

Testify for Building Schools on Safe Land

There will be a hearing this Wednesday, March 26, from 4:00 to 5:00 pm in Room 135 of the State House, on a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land in Rhode Island. The bill is controversial (as evidenced in this post by Alex Moore on RIFuture.org and the ensuing discussion) in that Woonsocket is currently in the process of building a new middle school on a remediated site, and members of the community there want to maintain control over their project and move forward. It is unclear how this issue will be dealt with — some have suggested that strategically, it might make sense to make an exception to the bill for Woonsocket’s project. Others have questioned whether this would be allowing another school to be built on a site which has contamination issues with long-term health hazards.

In this post, Alex fleshes out the history of environmental justice and the way in which this bill will help move us toward better environmental safety for our schools:

Some legislators at the State House have thankfully decided to put environmental justice on this year’s agenda by putting in a bi-partisan bill to stop building schools on contaminated land (H-7577). Please take one minute to thank these legislators and ask other decision makers to support this important bill by clicking here.

Why do schools, especially in low-income districts & communities of color, continue to get built on contaminated land?

–They are in desperate need of new schools.
–They are stuck with a lot of contaminated land – usually due to factories shutting down – that developers won’t touch.
–They think it’s cost effective because they can foot most clean up and construction costs to the state.
–They don’t take expensive monitoring and long-term maintenance costs into account; schools built on contaminated land in Providence are already exhibiting expensive problems (faulty air quality equipment, broken foundations, etc.) shortly after being constructed – not only are these problems costly in financial terms, but they put kids and teachers at risk of health problems.
–They don’t take into account that scientific standards for “safe” levels of toxins are changing fast; today’s standards may no longer be applicable in a few years.
–They sell communities on the idea of a wonderful new school, but usually keep parents and kids in the dark about potential hazards and use unfair, expedited review processes to rush jobs through. When the community learns the truth, it’s usually too late.
–More lucrative & desirable land is sold to developers who tend to build condos or offices on it; kids get stuck going to schools on former dumps and toxic waste sites.

This is nothing new – it has been going on for over 3 decades in cities and states across the country.

The question is, how much longer are we knowingly going to allow this shameful practice to keep happening?

As Dr. King said:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.�

If you can’t attend the hearing but still want to encourage your legislators to support this bill, you can participate by clicking here.

Naturally Grey

I started to go grey in my thirties when I was still kind of buff. It was a statement then. But when the middle-age spread started I pulled back and made a drastic transition from grey to whatever shade of brown was on sale at the discount store. Not that I don’t love my hairdresser. Claudia Curl rules, I see her at least twice a year. (You can see how cheap I am.)

A few years later I hit a minor life crisis. Have you ever had a really bad job? I felt so disrespected that I decided to let my hair go back to its natural grey. People might still condescend, but at least I had come out as an old person. Also, a couple of women who were doing better in that job than me were natural grey, and they looked kind of cool.

I told Claudia that I wanted to lose the dye but keep the hair. It takes a long time to grow past shoulder length. Step by step she stripped color and added streaks, and about six months later it was all natural color. Grey. With white highlights. I like it. Now if I could only get buff again I would be totally self-satisfied.

Going grey helped me get in touch with my ethnicity.

It was St. Patrick’s Day at Patrick’s Pub on Smith Hill. Irish-American ground zero. I walked in and there was wall-to-wall people who looked like they could have been my cousins. Lots of them had the same grey hair. It wasn’t until then that I really understood that there is an Irish look and I have a visible ancestry.

I think it’s a generational thing as well. I see a lot of women in their forties and fifties letting their hair go grey. We let our hair grow straight when we were teenagers and our mothers were still doing curlers and perms. Or else we didn’t straighten our hair, and let it be afro or kinky curls. It seems logical that we would let our natural color, or lack of it, be what it is. We are the boomers, after all, and when we get old we do it our way.

So the grey thing was a little bit of a transition, but no big deal. I was surprised to find out it’s a Trend. Not only is there a website, Going Gray, but a book. I regret that I didn’t write it, but it really never occurred to me. Darn.

Just to show that everything that goes around comes around, here’s an excerpt from ‘Barbara Frietchie’ by John Greenleaf Whittier. Interestingly, it has a pounding rhythm that would work very well as a rap. Say these lines out loud if you don’t believe me…

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

“Halt!” – the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!” – out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word;

“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

Best of all, Barbara Frietchie made her brave stand for the flag of the Union. Which we are always trying to make more perfect.

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