Dignity At Work

July 6th, 2014

Among the more valuable perks of having a good education is the ability to pick and choose the kind of work you’d like to do while making your way through life.  My work experiences began at twelve, babysitting for the child of a divorcee for fifteen hours per week after school.   In later years, a Master of Arts degree opened portals that led me through many years as a speech pathologist in school settings and onward into university teaching and supervisory roles.  The sheer variety of activities was exhilarating over a twenty five year period until premature disability ended my career.  I’ve always sympathized with individuals suffering from repetitive motion injury. My sympathies were not limited to an understanding of their pain, but also for the nature of the work that called for the same set of motions to be used, again and again and again.  The mind becomes numb long before the muscles begin to tear.

A few months ago, I found myself in New York City, visiting a lawyer to talk about the potential for resuming the prosecution of my law suit.  Like the outlook for that possibility, it was also raining as I headed out for my rental car, parked on the other side of town.  No cabs in sight, I set off  to seek a bus stop when a young, Chinese male cycled up to me in what appeared to be a ‘rickshaw’, also known as a ‘pedicab’.  I’d never seen one before.

‘Pedi-cabs’ have turned the human-pulled, three-wheeled rickshaw of Asian fame into a pedal-powered cab rented from owners who don’t think twice about young men and women wrecking their joints, hauling weighty passengers about town.  Finding health care coverage ten years down the road to pay for knee replacements in these kids, might lead us to ask whether pedi-cab owners pay into state worker-compensation funds.  Occupational injuries aren’t billable to normal health insurance. On the other hand, why should people even think about losing body parts to this kind of labor?  My last glance at the calendar indicated this was 2014 and not 1914.  Our aspirations appear to be dropping while orthopedic surgeons may have to study in places far flung from New York City to learn about these problems.

A native New Yorker, I’d been following the end-of-life stages of the horse-drawn carriage industry. After years of debate as to whether this labor is humane to the animals who pull passengers and their baggage beyond the bucolic views of Central Park into busy streets, the carriages are about to be replaced by electric carts . The thought of having a human do what we’ve deemed to be unfair to animals was rather appalling.   Deep inhalations of particulate-laden air along with stress upon muscles and tendons evolved for other forms of labor are an awful price for a worker to pay for a few dollars.  Even in India, rickshaws are being replaced with electric models despite problems in finding places to recharge motors.  This can hardly be a problem in New York.

Immigration problems notwithstanding, we don’t need immigrants to occupy jobs that no person ought to be doing.  I politely refused the offer and walked to the bus stop as the young man looked after me in confusion.  Given the fact that he’d need a license to operate that pedi-cab, it may as well be a motorcycle license. That would offer him an additional ticket into a future as well as another way for New Yorkers to get from one place to another.  In fact, it might be a ticket for all of us to regard labor in a modern light.

Categories: Christian Science Monitor, commentary, NIH, WSJ

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GITMO Comes to North Carolina

June 9th, 2014

Obama faces some heavy charges of violating congressional process by trading Gitmo prisoners for an American held in Afghanistan for five years. While I won’t comment upon the politics of prisoner exchanges, I will applaud this action if it is the only way to close down Guantanamo Bay Prison. It is proof that we no longer reference the constitution when it comes to the justice system. Obama ran on a promise to close down Guantanamo Bay because WE do not torture prisoners. Studies show that anyone can be made to confess to anything in order to cease unspeakable practices like beatings and water-boarding. ‘Modern history’ is rife with tales of Russian, Chinese and Nazi prisons that were supposedly dismantled. In fact, stories of the Russian ‘conveyor belt’ of the Stalin era revealed that routine arrests were guarantees of execution. The only choice for a prisoner was to sign the pre-printed confession before torture or after it.

 

An article in The Times of Israel describes horrific and repeated incidents of torture in the North Carolina prison where Jonathan Pollard is serving a life sentence. He was convicted for giving information to Israel which, by treaty, they were allegedly entitled to have from the US government. Whether the conviction for treason stands up to scrutiny does not justify the descriptions of Pollard’s treatment as he described to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Outrages include the man being chained to an iron chair while hosed down with freezing water and being tortured with electric shocks.

 

When did we officially deteriorate into a fascist government that doesn’t consider incarceration for life in solitary confinement to be adequate punishment? Already convicted, what do they hope to learn during torture sessions or is it merely an urge to ‘break’ humans in half? In a war, we’d consider these reports to be worthy of a hearing before the Hague, just as Nazis were tried at Nuremburg for war crimes. If we are living in a time of ‘peace’, apparently that is with other nations and not an internal state.

 

Violence in our prisons is nothing new and many movies demonstrate how prisoners torture one another with the knowledge of prison guards and wardens. Many years ago, I met a male nurse working in a NY prison and was horrified by tales of activities that he considered normal, such as beating prisoners who were deemed difficult to manage. Knowing you can simply restrain a prisoner until they cease to be violent makes the infliction of further bodily harm a senseless act.   How can civil servants be encouraged to become criminals in order to manage criminals?

 

In this post, I told of the mistreatment of a fictional character by the police in present day Spain.  In actuality, this event really did happened  when I was ‘mistakenly’ arrested for car theft in Madrid in 2013.  That contractual misunderstanding and my subsequent release the next day, left me with a horror of prisons for non-violent offenders. In a Franco-era building, officers are still acting out historically evil roles. I was told by the American consulate afterwards that I had been lucky in such minor mistreatments (really!) in comparison to reports by other American detainees. It was only when the police saw me writing down their early behaviors (spraying aerosol cans near me despite the fact they knew I was severely asthmatic), that they ceased to continue spraying. Further harm waited until after the prison doors clanged shut on me.

There is a reason people invented ‘fountain pens’. The flow of words revealing truths is the greatest form of preventive medicine.

Categories: Newspaper Commentary, NY Times, The TImes of Israel

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Is Night Driving Driving You Into Blindness?

May 28th, 2014

Those lights will cause more accidents than they prevent

Those lights will cause more accidents than they prevent

I drive quite a lot as I move about for my health in a seasonal manner. Rarely driving at night, the odd need to do so indicated just how problematic this is nowadays. Modern vehicles are now equipped or modified with forms of lighting that literally seem to burn out your eyes as they warm the cockles of your heart from behind you on the I-roads.

Looking up this eye fatigue and other serious implications for my health, I saw a website on macular degeneration that links that growing vision problem to these types of lights. Managing to get off a shot with my camera that delineates these abnormally bright lights from normal headlights, I sent this letter to the AAA, the Opthamologists of America and to the California Traffic Safety offices for remarks.

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing to you regarding a potential source of harm to vision in the driving public. A long time driver, I recall being taught that one’s ‘brights’ ought to only be used on dark roads when there are no other drivers ahead of you or approaching you from the opposite lane. Of late, most drivers appear to be employing their ‘high beams’ as if they were completely ignorant of the increased risk of driver accidents from temporary blindness.

Over time, frequent night drivers (e.g. truckers) might find themselves suffering from conditions of macular degeneration and retinal damage given these unnecessary exposures. The following source deems exposure to lights of this intense nature to contribute towards eye damage. Personally, I find this painful and include a picture of one such encounter I had that momentarily impaired my sight. Stopping for the safety of myself and other drivers, I grabbed my camera to capture this highly inappropriate source of glare. Why would this driver require high intensity beams while the rest of us have no difficulty with the existing lighting on a major California road in the city of Napa?

My suggestions in pursuing this problem is to first determine whether this high intensity lighting is typical of all car makes and models or restricted to particular cars and trucks. Next, are these intense settings under a driver’s control or a default setting when turning on lights after dark? Many years ago, it was not unusual for police in marked cars to stop a car on the streets of New York City and request a reason why a driver was using ‘high beams’ without necessity.

Given the existing lighting conditions on major roads and our knowledge of how hazardous even momentary interference with clarity of vision can be on heavily trafficked roads, might this be a suitable area for investigation? Inasmuch as macular degeneration is becoming more commonplace and nearly all Californians drive and are exposed to this intense source of bright light, is there a chance we can reduce this kind of damage through driver education?

Thank you for your attention.

Yours truly,

Barbara Rubin

Categories: Letters

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Dear EPA…

March 9th, 2014

This winter has been awful for record cold, snow falls and even Atlanta, Georgia has experienced two major ice storms this year. I was hoping to stay warm in the Hilton Head area of South Carolina, a great option for its environmentally friendly ways as home to sea turtles. In homage to those turtles, Hilton Head Island is free of those harsh lights familiar to all of us in the streets of our towns and cities. When I heard an ice storm was approaching a couple of weeks ago, I reserved a room at one of their Inns and left the campgrounds I often used in that area.

As an asthmatic, I wear a mask in lieu of taking medications offering heavy side effects. I was vastly grateful for those masks when this rather mild storm turned into a nightmare. The ice accumulation was almost nil as the temperatures hovered around the freezing mark and anything on the ground was destined to melt shortly. To my horror, I began wheezing inside my motel room and went to sit in my car. Having no idea what caustic fumes had led me outdoors, those same fumes began to accumulate all around the outer areas of the Inn. Driving into town, I found that the ice was not sticking to the surface, rain being uppermost in the messy downpour. However, the entire Island was encased in mist that tasted of salt. A dark area near an intersection was being crossed by a couple, although I was unable to make out their features. They were talking about ammonium salts being in use.

This is patently inappropriate for protected wetlands and this low elevation. The run-off is a pollutant and the salts themselves are harmful to the plant life of this lush oasis of the southern coastline. Choking, I heeded their words and left the region. It was two days before the fumes cleared completely and a woman working at a store where I shopped mentioned how the salt left near her apartment complex had become a considerable annoyance.

It seemed likely an EPA complaint had already been made by concerned citizens of this area but I decided to file one myself after researching the health effects of ammonium salts (NH4 chemical base) on humans and animals. I sent the following report to that agency. Their website notes it is unlikely they will tell complainants of the outcome of an investigation but island dwellers might find it useful to read it. Below that report are some relevant webpages regarding these compounds.

To the EPA, re: Unknown Air Release

I was driving on the William Hilton Parkway into the center of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, prepared to rent a hotel room at a Quality Inn where I’ve previously rented rooms. Upon crossing the bridge onto the island, my asthmatic condition immediately became aggravated. There was a strong corrosive odor that appeared to be similar to the particulates encountered near salt water but this wasn’t near the ocean or familiar to me as a frequent visitor. After the recent ice storm, I know salt had been put down in some areas, which seemed rather odd because salt is not permitted at elevations so close to sea level. This is also an environmentally protected wetlands area. As I passed nearby Simmonsville road (?), I believe I heard two people talking and distinctly heard one person mention ammonium salts being a problem. It was very dark (few street lights on the island) so I cannot describe them and only know it was a male voice. The pollution was too much for my asthma and I abandoned any intention of remaining on the island and left feeling quite ill. This is being written on Sunday evening, 9:40 PM. I hope you will be able to take a particulate count on the island and determine if a hazard exists or further action is indicated. Thank you for your attention.

Ammonium salts are dangerous to plant growth.

Ammonium salts/ice melt can be hazardous to pets, plants and a source of water pollution due to chloride content.

Rules defining terms regarding chemicals.

Categories: EPA, Letters

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An Oath Out-Standing

March 1st, 2014

There are a variety of outstanding oaths taken by adults in the course of our lifetimes. Elected officials, from the President of the United States to the newest member of your local library board, asserts their intention of protecting and defending the Constitution. Witnesses before Congress or the judiciary pledge to stand before God or upon their honor, to tell the truth.

On the other hand, there are oaths left standing outside of any known context. People casually swear to reverse an evil without taking action (e.g. I swear I’m gonna ____!). Some of us signed contracts we were unable to keep such as a car or house payment after the loss of a job. In our classrooms, we have children agreeing to become followers of a rectangle of cloth known as our flag through the Pledge of Allegiance. Who benefits from that pledge? If it holds meaning for adults, why don’t we begin each workday for federal or state employees with it? Oklahoma has plans to make that recitation mandatory for schools to lead according to this news report. Allowances would be made for those children who do not wish to do so or whose parents forbid it.

Objections to the ‘Pledge’ generally refer to the mention of a deity as objectionable to secular nationalists. Some hold that an oath taken before God is of too solemn a nature than befits a morning classroom rite for seven year old children. A Supreme Court ruling of 1943 allowed parents the right to assert their beliefs by prohibiting their children to recite that pledge. Interestingly, I’ve never heard the simplest of all objections: children are too young to be responsible for the taking of an oath. Are we to hold children legally responsible for violating allegiance to that political/economic entity known as ‘Mother Country’? A pledge is a questionable undertaking for a minor who recites it while running some of the words together, as we did the letters, ‘LMNOP’ in the alphabet song.

Taking an oath in vain is assuredly a violation of religious sensibilities within the Judeo-Christian and Moslem faiths. The reference to religion in the pledge was inserted during the Eisenhower administration to assist our religiously oriented majority to have an additional layer of separation from communist sympathizers inside our borders. It allowed them to retain the primacy of religious scruples, should we ever mistakenly elect an individual willing to oversee our descent into a fascist dictatorship (e.g. as Germans did for Adolph Hitler). The US flag code even altered the original form of saluting the flag. The right hand used to be extended towards the flag in a gesture similar of a Nazi saluting the Fuhrer. The gesture was truncated to leave the little right hands of primary school attendees at the level of each child’s heart.

Every morning, children’s voices join together in the rote recital of words expressing a commitment they are incapable of grasping. It would be a far greater use of a teacher’s time to dispense with this one minute long recital and spend the first fifteen minutes of each day teaching their classes something about our governmental structure and functions. A review of the historical ideals expressed in the Constitution, and the events that gave birth to them, would have far greater impact in their lives, not to mention posing a challenge to the creativity of a teacher attempting to explain government to a first grader.

The exercise of our vocal folds is best reserved for speaking truths understood by all. As Robert Frost reminded us, we all have “… promises to keep”. Do we really want the rote and highly ambiguous pledge made to an inanimate object to become a minor’s introduction to the government of the United States of America?

That’s for the grown-ups.

Categories: Articles, commentary

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The ‘Decline’ of Medical Care in the Empire State

February 20th, 2014

New York City and vicinity has the best of everything and the worst of everything, a fact to which all great cities can attest. In New York, I’ve been able to have rarely diagnosed conditions identified through the perseverance of someone born to the theme of “I can do this!” Expertise is all around us today. If you can define the problem before you, an answer can be found. This permitted me to learn I’d been poisoned (see previous posts) and had suffered a fungal infection from the overuse of antibiotics. I’d obtained a diagnosis of gluten intolerance without undergoing surgery because my doctor happened to have studied advanced diagnostic techniques in Japan.

When I say ‘decline’, as in the title of this post, I mean your right to refuse any service of dubious purpose and/or quality. Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to decline any suggestion someone makes to you for any purpose and ask for clarification. For instance, what do you say to a radiologist who tells you that you must permit her to take 21 mammography films of your breasts due to the presence of a palpable lump? How about, ‘No. Is there something wrong with the equipment that you need so many films?”

So, in June of 2011, when a radiology technician looked at her orders and saw how many films had been ordered for me, she appeared disturbed by the information. I asked her what had been ordered. When she replied that a large number of films had been ordered (my memory indicates it was around 21 films), I refused. In this case, I’d just been ordered to take as many as a dozen more films than was needful. Hindsight informs me I ought to have walked out of that office but I was in distress. A woman newly informed she has breast cancer isn’t in the greatest shape for assessing the recommendations of professionals. Sad to say, you must be prepared to do just that.

The technician admitted she’d never performed that many films on a single patient before at one time. “I’m not allowed to change the orders but I can talk to the radiologist about your concerns.”

I felt grateful for her understanding. “Thanks, please do. This is simply too much exposure for even a hard-to-test woman. And I just don’t have that much to photograph!”

When the tech returned, I was escorted into the august presence of the radiologist who was frankly angered by my questions. However, hard experience had taught me to refuse rather than become refuse. It took me a minute to get used to her German accent but she basically ordered me to take the films. Five minutes later, following my calm but firm rejection of her prescription, she finally agreed to reduce the numbers of films and sixteen were taken, all told. I now realize even that was excessive after reading an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), about one of the largest studies ever done on the efficacy of mammography in reducing mortality rates in invasive breast cancer cases.

Performed in Canada, where national health insurance permits large numbers of women to be ‘followed’ for various health conditions, more than 18,000 exams were recorded. This led to approximately seven percent of the women to be identified as having invasive breast cancers. The statistical aspects of this study were problematic since another common form of cancer wasn’t included and assignments of the women between the ‘study’ and ‘control’ arms (with mammograpny or with manual examination alone) turned out to be a tainted process.

Nonetheless, the aims of the study were admirable and the responses of experts in this field were highly educational in evaluating the article, instead of merely rubberstamping the findings. The Canadian study concluded that manual examinations weren’t more or less effective than mammography in identifying cancers as measured by the survival rates of women under the age of sixty. One respondent, Dr. Kopans of Harvard University , had even evaluated the machinery of that period in 1990 and identified the machinery as producing films. of inferior quality. That, along with other factors, influenced the mortality statistics. Belated identification would certainly increase mortality.

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Categories: Articles, British Med. Journal, Letters, Life Observations

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Contractual Slavery – An Illegal Concept

February 15th, 2014

Today’s New York Times describes how girls from poor countries can inadvertently be sold into “Indentured Servitude” by their families in the belief that they will obtain ‘positions’ as domestic servants. In most of today’s contracts, employers specify that the individuals they hire are employed on an ‘at will’ basis. This means workers can be dismissed without a specific cause being cited because an employer doesn’t ‘owe’ a person a job. Loyalty is desirable on both parts – therefore, the act of taking a job ought to involve workers ‘interviewing’ their employers just as employers ‘size up’ applicants for qualities of honesty, reliability and so forth. Many workers have few choices given the need to immediately pay bills for food and lodging. However, the term ‘job security’ is an oxymoron today. Anything might result in your dismissal without it even being a voluntary action on the part of the ‘boss’. When the money runs out or the business’s products and services are no longer in demand, the job is gone.

In the appalling situations reported by the Times, the error here is on the part of the placement firm that matches workers to employers, knowing contracts are being signed which prohibit the domestics (usually young women) to leave. It is slavery until such time as the girl pays off the tuition she is charged in order to learn how to become a ‘domestic’ and long enough for the employer to get their money’s worth for the agency fee charged to them. These women send most of their money home and cannot hope to save enough to cover travel (presuming they are allowed to hold on to their travel documents), to avoid serious abuse in some cases. In such an event, they are slaves to both their employers and to their families.

There is no justice to be found in either situation. Families are full of stories about how educational and job opportunities may be delayed through the need to work low-paying or extra jobs, in order to help family members through school or other essential ‘life passages’. This is not the same as ‘self-sacrifice’, where someone endures beatings, rape or forced labor for the benefit of other family members to escape such hardships. Of course, there are scenarios in which the bodies are never found but that process is more honestly referred to as human trafficking. Human trafficking involving signed contracts through employment agencies should not be given the respectable label of a ‘business deal’. Capitalism is not the same as capital punishment and slavery is much the same as a death sentence of the spirit, if not the body.

What is the responsibility of agencies in such matters? These companies require domestics to apply for jobs before they can profit from placing them in positions. This means there must be clauses added to the contracts ensuring that women placed in danger are released from their contracts immediately upon leaving the premises where abuse is ongoing. Let the employer sue the agency for breach of contract after the ‘domestic’ testifies as to the nature of their employment situation. Then employers can (1) be reimbursed and blacklisted from the rosters of agency clients, or (2) referred to authorities for criminal prosecution. To do otherwise is a state of collusion between abusive employers and the agency, with both profiting from unfair labor practices, to state it ‘gently’. A contract that doesn’t directly benefit a laborer is not a legal concept. But then we know that is true of all contract types – signatories must all enjoy a benefit or have any hazardous results well delineated.

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Categories: Letters

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TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES: The Power of Words

December 30th, 2013

This post isn’t intended to toot my own horn. It happened awhile ago but will hopefully address an issue I’ve run into numerous times in my travels. Meeting many along the way, there were some who felt afraid to converse about politics and educational freedoms for reasons they didn’t confide. So, here’s testimony to the power of the written word to change the minds of law-makers about the wisdom of their work product.

In the second half of the 1990s, I found myself working for a large non-profit company serving developmentally disabled individuals from ‘cradle to grave’. I was part of their administrative and therapeutic staff within their special needs, preschool division. Disabilities ranged along the moderate to severe spectrum and the program had a well-deserved reputation for excellence. Then came the day when I attended an administration meeting and was told the New York State Department of Education had circulated a new decision. The law stated we were no longer allowed to write our clinical evaluation reports with that all-important section that summarized our findings. That portion of every report informed parents and other professionals (including the funding courts) of our conclusions as to how a child functioned and what services were warranted to address identified problems. The new rules ordered us to list our raw test findings, which would then be interpreted by members of the school district as the sole determinants of what parents would hear. Therapists were no longer even allowed to tell parents verbally about test results. We were effectively bound and gagged as professionals and educators. I wanted to quit on the spot.

The issue was supposedly about saving money, as too many youngsters were qualifying for help and knowledgeable parents had the right to pursue legal avenues of help if they knew their rights. The increasingly sophisticated clinical skills of therapists and test formulators allowed us to better diagnose children who weren’t performing to potential due to subtle disorders. We knew if we didn’t recommend help before they fell too far behind their peer group, there would be even fewer children rendered capable of reaching higher educational and vocational opportunities. The rules for remedial services funded children who were more than two years behind their peers but our counseling also enabled parents to find private avenues for help if they didn’t qualify for public services. If they didn’t hear it from the therapists, kids who were having more mild problems were likely to suffer for a few more years until the disabilities had become severe. More importantly, better normed tests allowed us to find areas of skills that fell significantly behind other skills for a given child. It was possible they would qualify for help based upon a two year deficit in only one area of learning, such as reading. Averaging scores never adequately told the story of a person’s learning potential. Testing also effectively determined when language differences (home language background) were the reason for deficits and these were not funded for special education. Parents were directed instead to ESL (English as a Second Language) services. We didn’t confuse these issues.

I had no problem with school boards informing parents that there was insufficient funding for some children to have remedial help. I did have a problem with a parent being wrongly told their child simply didn’t require it by school board ‘standards’ or through averaging scores. A parent has to be the ultimate source of advocacy for a child. If they don’t know what to ask about the test results or when to seek private sources of aid, their child would be forever harmed.

Walking away from that meeting, I began an intensive review of the implications. The therapists working under me felt their colleagues around town had agreed it would be okay to break the law and at least verbally counsel parents but I refused that option. The school would be at risk for such a breach and I felt the law was immoral. Why should we feel at alll ‘guilty’ for breaking a law that was a violation of higher laws themselves? This affected all professionals severely so I attacked the problem in two ways. First, how might we deal with this rule as it was currently written? The answer was to tell the exact truth.

After clearing this idea with my worried bosses, I instituted a format for ending all of our reports in the clinical services department. It went something like this:

“Public Law #_____ states that this clinician is prohibited from informing the parent about their child’s overall functioning and eligibility/need for services. We recommend the parent ask permission from the schoolboard to obtain this counseling directly from the clinician.

Barbara Rubin, M.A.
Speech-Language Pathologist”

We all began writing this and faxed samples to other schools in the region. It became a popular format for reports and a source of embarrassment to the powers which wrote this legislation. Parents rightly felt deprived of medical and educational data about their children.

The second avenue of attack was instituted through notifying professional associations that they might have to begin decertifying their members for complying with this law. The codes of ethics were all posted on-line for our various professions. The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association alone had thirteen articles of their code of ethics that were breached by these rules. They explained to me that it was only the NYS Association that had reuctantly agreed to them when presented with the draft rulings. I requested they call the state association and Department of Education to inform them that the national licenses most therapists had (in addition to state licensure) might be revoked. There was a specific obligation for every therapist to fully inform parents about the findings of all testing along with all remedial options. They agreed as did many other professional bodies that it should not be a crime for any of us to perform our jobs.

Within two months or so, we were informed the law had been revoked and we were free to resume adhering to our code of ethics as professionals. The written word, along with the strength of ethical practices long held by our national associations, won that battle. I am most grateful to all the clinicians who refused to accept the possibility of punitive consequences for doing their jobs and confronting the problem directly. The parental voices that also rose in protest must have helped greatly although I wasn’t privy to that part of the battle.

Silence is imposed upon people in every walk of life, sometimes without individuals even being aware of it. If we hadn’t written about that law in our reports, parents would never have known they hadn’t been given all the information due them. When I think of the many journalists in the world today who are sitting in jail cells, I am forced to wonder just what it is that I’ve not learned because they were gagged.

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The Sure Heart – Reflections Upon the Medicare System

October 28th, 2013

The USA has a very important system of support for Americans who have long believed that we must live beyond our sixty-plus hour work-weeks in order to actually enjoy retirement. It is truly at the heart of any discussion of our work habits. While US citizens are among the hardest working individuals in the western hemisphere, we still applaud those sitting in easy chairs on that front stoop ‘after hours’, so to speak. Most retirees remain active and contribute heavily to the economy in tourism, child care, mentoring new businesses and even engaging in their own new career start-ups.

Social Security leaves those options open. It wasn’t meant to be the only retirement income available to a retiree, but it prevents most from becoming totally dependent upon others. When I was recently in England, the talk was all about starting such a system as the one we’ve had since 1935. The Brits also think a great deal of their older residents, or those who came ‘before’. In Latin, we might call them ‘A-priori’ individuals (for brevity’s sake, I’ll call them the ‘A’s).

Our A’s built upon the foundations dug by their parents and are still continuing to furnish that ‘house’, floor by floor. Social Security allows that to happen with equal regard for workers and employers who act as a team. This tax is a trust representing that valued employer-employee relationship. It goes beyond the basic contract of a work environment, into the realm of a social contract. We want a land that values its elders and relieves the young of fears of destitution in old age. In 1965, Americans chose to add another safety valve to this ‘pipe-dream’ of security in old age, by inventing Medicare Insurance. It is funded out of the benefit checks received by Social Security recipients and also by the interest earned from the trust fund holding the taxes collected by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Insurance companies are real businesses meant to make a profit. Medicare cannot operate as a typical insurance agency because it doesn’t consider profits and losses as the reason for its existence. Insurance companies exist to earn profit by gambling that more people will pay into a system than collect from it (e.g. flood insurance). So why are people like Senator Sanders of Vermont hoping that ‘universal health care’ might be conjoined to Medicare?

He is correct in citing that Medicare is a very efficient single payer system. However, any insurance fund could use Medicare as a model for its administrative operations. Let’s imagine that the children and grandchildren of today’s workers, (we can call them ‘B’s and ‘C’s), add millions of increasingly ill Americans to our present system of elder care. That would rifle the trust fund of monies solely meant for the A’s support, outside of the ‘A’s own medical needs. We know that nearly half of all Americans will battle cancer; that asthma is responsible for the greatest number of lost school days in children; and that nearly half of all deaths in the USA are attributed to cardiovascular problems. These conditions alone will do more than rock the Medicare boat. They will shoot holes through it faster than an AK47 can churn out its rounds.

Medical care for young and middle-aged workers should be handled through private insurers because these entities are invested in learning why they might sacrifice profits on an abnormal level of sickness. The government should regard the increase in illness among Americans as an incursion upon life, as with any other form of ‘attack’ upon our populace. If we reveal those answers before we are forced to ration heath care to the ‘A’s, then we can avoid our states being overburdened by a deluge of applications for medicaid and other assists (generally available to children now). If workers are ‘the soul of a nation, the ‘A’s are its heart. The security of our ‘A’s has to be guarded through sound judgement in how we ensure all obtain the care they need to remain healthy throughout their lifetimes.

Categories: Letters

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Home School for Home Rule

October 1st, 2013

Along the scale of political viewpoints, I firmly believe in taking things issue by issue, using the constitution as the ‘midline’ point. After all, you can’t get too far to the left or right without falling afoul of the Supreme Court. True, the context of a legislative question or life decision may change from one decade to the next. This drives the Court to look at the events surrounding legislation from the original intent of the law under review. In effect, they need to ‘read the minds’ of the ‘framers’. My current interest in compulsory education stems from my recent visit to Europe and the Middle East. There, I was able to have a fresh look at issues of increasing income disparity harming the children of working parents frequently losing their residences as it affected education. Furthermore, even for stable families, the UK offered stories that clearly outlined the terrible effects of bullying in the schools by those ‘on top’ of the classroom hierarchy depriving those ‘at bottom’ of educational benefits. Back here at home, I am again looking at local issues of property taxes which are insufficient to cover education for huge numbers of children.

Compulsory education in the USA was a remarkable step which not only guaranteed that children could not become a full-time source of labor, but would aquire the basic skills necessary to step out into the wider world and improve their place within it. Public schools served us particularly well during the years following the turbulent years of integration during the 1960s. However, with the increased diversity of students today with regard to both culture and aptitude, our overcrowded classrooms have a price tag which is unacceptably high for their quite mediocre results. At the time of this writing, the government statistical data was unavailable due to the partial shutdown of the government. However, the wikipedia citation comes from that data pool as well and tells us primary and secondary education comes to some 500 billion dollars annually and that home schooling is done by only 1.7 percent of families in this nation.

As a former educator, it is important to recall that I chose to work within the private sector because it did the best job of serving developmentally disabled individuals. There were (and are) a number of outstanding programs in the public sector, but their funding and staffing are in constant flux. In the private sector, we received tuition for children who were not able to be accommodated successfully in public schools and were expected to ‘do better’ by them. Education is a complex equation and we appear to lack the flexibility to examine all of the ‘integers’ involved in our public school systems today.

After twenty-five years of experience in New York City, I am well acquainted with the arguments reverberating in the communities about how to afford the price tag of local schools based upon revenues from property taxes from an ever-changing landscape of population shifts. No one would argue the benefits of living in an educated society whether or not residents even have children in the educational system. Still, how can property owners continue bearing such a tax burden throughout the entire tenure of their land ownership, even into old age and infirmity? With the elderly often forced to sell their homes due to maintenance costs plus tax burdens that can’t be met on a retirement income, the stability of residential neighborhoods in which children and grandchildren are raised, suffers greatly.

One example of the taxation problem is the institution of something called a ‘view tax‘ in New England states. Many people sought out property in scenic areas and bore the added costs and time involved in commuting during their working lives. Many of these properties are small and difficult to maintain in the harsh climate of the Northeastern portion of the USA. I lived there for four years of icy winters and wet springs, called ‘mud season’. Home maintenance was extremely challenging and costly, as were heating costs. The lush ‘views’ didn’t pay for themselves so the additional costs for property ownership in these outer regions is a ridiculous notion, bitterly resented in those areas. In addition to the fairness issue of arbitrarily adding a tax for the presumed desirability of an area, we have to ask how many generations of children a single home-owner is required to fund in one lifetime. With a constant influx of new residents and their children into urban areas, the overcrowding of our schools continues to degrade the quality of education, while costs increase for longer term occupants. Smaller classes (such as 35 children!) can only be maintained by pairing increased funding with cuts in the areas of education being funded, such as important subjects like art, music, languages and sports.

The quality of education is also threatened around the world by bullying and stratification between the upper and lower portions of classroom power hierarchies (yes, children have them too!). This is extremely hard to deal with and leads to the graduation of damaged children heading away from one battle-field into another, i.e. whatever employment settings they are qualified to seek.

The answer that satisfies all of these issues, while also allowing for a reduction in property taxes, is the old-fashioned one of ‘home schooling’. Many debates have been held about voucher systems which drain funds from public classrooms. This refers to the funding of attendance at charter schools, which is not the same as home schooling arrangements. Charter schools are state approved with a set curriculum and prescribed teacher qualifications. Vouchers for the costs set aside for every publicly educated child go to these extrinsic programs and may require parents to add additional monies to meet the tuition costs of such enrichment. Some are religious schools that may offer scholarships as well from private funding sources.

Home schooling leaves curriculum, teaching staff, materials and location entirely up to small groups of like-minded parents. It costs little in terms of public funding. Basically, a public school principal advises parents on the minimum requirements needed to prove their child has met the public standard for graduation year by year. Periodic meetings may involve the administration of tests and/or reviews of portfolios containing the work products of students such as reports and projects completed by the home-schooled child. This kind of arrangement actually leaves school boards with more funding per child still being served in the public sector. Another option is to reduce taxes when school attendance declines. If home schooling decreases the burden on the public and charter school sectors, it serves as a safety valve improving the quality of education for all children.

In addition to permitting reduced class size within the public sector, children with behavioral or learning challenges may be also be better served within publicly funded programs. They can then offer special therapists and classroom teachers who are currently overburdened by children falling behind as they get older in the system. During my own tenure as a special educator, the mandate to provide special assistance only kicked in after a child fell two years behind his peer group in achievements. The state and, in particular, some of their charter school programs, may best serve particular groups of children in need of remediation services. Reduced overall educational costs may eventually allow the more timely offering of interventions to cover special needs children.

The investment of time and planning for home-schooled children is far from minimal, a factor to be considered carefully by participants. The freedom of determining curriculum content, determining the best sources of information, desirable teacher credentials for consultation services and specific teaching strategies for each child takes a significant amount of time and attention. Organizing physical space for tuition and finding parties for supervision during periods of unstructured learning hours is equally challenging. The benefits for communities are undeniable. Many parent groups offer their own expertise in many fields of interest. Other specialists can be located by parents to develop or approve course content and recommend assignments for students to pursue privately. Many extremely well-qualified teachers choose to enter other career paths or are on sabbaticals/maternity leaves etc. These people can be interviewed by parent groups and hired one or two days per week to offer instruction in new concepts that are hard to acquire independently (e.g. math). Parents can then supervise the children in expanding upon those days of instruction in self-tuition exercises while the teacher moves on to other home study groups. It may lead to an entirely new category of teaching specialties, particularly when addressing multi-lingual groups of students.

Students with particular aptitudes and talents will likely be identified early in this model so that a larger concentration upon those talents might be offered on a child by child basis. Another benefit is that school textbooks are largely selected by central boards of educators and prepared by a very few companies in the USA. This restrictiveness is relieved by the wider array of information that can be selected or solicited from experts for each home grouping. Eventually, home instruction manuals may proliferate and ease the burden of inner city parents hoping to obtain specialized curriculum materials for their home school enterprises.

Imagine the market for educators able to work with world experts in various fields and condense their information into volumes suitable for understanding by children at different ages. This seems to be a win-win scenario for the public and private sectors. It does not encroach upon the charter schools with their approved content, which may seem too narrowly focused for some families.

One area which must be considered in home-schooling is the planning of activities to allow students to interact with the children educated in public and private school sectors. These are the individuals with whom they will socialize as adults. This can be done through registering for specific classes which are hard to offer ‘in-home’ such as those requiring science laboratories or orchestral groups in music studies. Sports is another obvious area as are religious studies. School trips are standard for most institutions and home schooled children might be able to pay fees to go along on some of these highly educational excursions.

The educational environment of a home schooling program can address, with increased flexibility, family groupings with diverse work schedules. Children of medical specialists or employees of 24-hour factory operations may have unusual working hours. This can require after school care which under-employed parents can offer more economically than standard day-care providers. Even sleep-overs for variable shift workers might be possible.

Diet and exercise is another area of concern with parents best supplying meals for children and breaks being offered daily. Younger children may need naps. Locations may change in the course of a week where parents job-share, leaving one home open half a week and another in the remaining days. Parents are reminded however, to ensure the health status of all children in a home-study group. Some homes may provide separate quarters for children who are unwell or recently vaccinated and ‘shedding’ virus. Standards of educational staffing and environmental needs should be agreed upon at the outset by all participants in writing. Building codes must not be violated in terms of the numbers of occupants in a room.

The sky is the limit in the realm of education. It should not require a ‘view tax’ since we all share the same sky in every part of the globe. The more options available to parents, the greater the pride in outcome for all concerned. The fairer the tax structure supporting education, the better for our communities. Tax breaks for home-schoolers might also be of some small assistance to communities in which overcrowding of classes requires encouragement for this option to be offered.

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