Friday, June 29, 2007

Supreme Court allows manufacturers to set minimum prices for retailers (sometimes)


The Supreme Court yesterday (Thursday June 29) lifted a 95-year old ban on minimum retail pricing, that had supposedly been mandated by the Sherman Anit-Trust Act. That had prevented manufacturers or distributors from forbidding retails to charge less than a minimum, and had accounted for the concept of “suggested list price.”

The case is Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. DBA Kay’s Kloset … Kay’s Shoes. The Supreme Court opinion (on its site, in PDF format) is here.

High end retailers sometime resist discounting by retailers, because they want to focus on selling by using enhanced personal service and attention to customers. This blog has sometimes talked about “sales culture” before. Retailers also find that some customers refuse to shop in stores early after a product comes out, and wait until residuals or inevitable discounts occur online with resellers or eBay. The Court said that lower courts should apply anti-trust law on a case-by-case basis.

I can remember my early days of classical music record collection. Around 1961 or so, the normal list price for a record was $4.98, with discount stores selling from $3.69 to $3.99, and sometimes offering half price sales. (Stereo was a big deal then, with the range like $5.98 to $4.49). In time, low price clones of the major companies came into being. Some record shops (like the Disc Shop on Conn. Ave in Washington) did not offer discounts, but instead allowed customers (who might have been finicky about defective or noisy records) to sample records in stores. Other stores, like Record Sales downtown, were notorious for their Wal-Mart-like prices. There was actual some bitterness in the industry in those days over this. Friends would ask me, "When will you pay $4.98 for a record, like most people?"

Observers fear that in some cases consumers will be forced to pay higher prices. Already, in some areas (like Minnesota), gasoline stations have been forbidden to charge too low of price for gas (start gas wars) in these days of high oil prices. And in the book and music areas, residual sales by resellers have become very common on Amazon, and one wonders if publishers would try to stop these.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme Court to school districts: Do not discriminate on the basis of race at all!



The Supreme Court, in a close 5-4 opinion, today struck down public school voluntary assignment (by race) plans in Seattle, WA and Louisville, KY. The court ruled that “race cannot be a factor in the assignment of children to public schools.” Justice John Roberts wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discrimination on the basis of race.” The Court noted that before Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, students were told where to school on the basis of race, and in practical terms, school integration was slow and involved bitter fights, “with all deliberate speed.” Remember that Farmville, VA closed its public schools for a few years in the early 60s rather than integrate. (Picture above taken there.) In a long dissent, Justice Breyer noted that there is a difference between "exclusionary racial discrimination" and inclusive policies designed to bring members of different races together.

The CNN story is “Divided Court Rejects School Diversity Plans”, here.
Yesteday CNN had a story “Long journeys reflect the quest for knowledge, equality.”

The PDF file for the Supreme Court opinion is here.
Case is called “Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al.”

I can recall during an interview in 2004 for a substitute teaching job in Arlington being asked about working with “minorities.” Something that should be a non-issue (in the thinking of the Court) was an issue. In a few cases, with low income students who were largely non-white, I found that they did not respect me because, as a “privileged white male” I had never come close to sharing their experiences.

I was in seventh grade (Swanson Middle School) when our "general education" (English and social studies combined) teacher explained Brown v. Board of Education to US in 1955. Yet, when I graduated from Washington-Lee in Arlington VA in 1961, it was still almost completely segregated, and one of the top public schools in the nation (Yorktown had just opened). In Arlington, populations are much more mixed today (throughout the entire school district) than they were then, but still Wakefield in South Arlington faces more challenges with disadvantaged students than the other three Arlington high schools.

Another factor is that assignment of "race" is a very arbitrary notion. In many parts of the world, such as India and the Middle East, it is especially meaningless. The one scientific factor that determines skin color is how far away from the earth's Equator one's ancestors thousands of years ago were. The closer to the Equator, the more pigment one needed to protect one from ultraviolet radiation; the farther away, the lighter one's skin to make Vitamin D. That's about it.

The ABC Nightline coverage recalled the riots in Louisville in 1975 over court-ordered forced busing. I recall the controversy over busing in the DC area in the 1960s. The mother of one child in Louisville, who had filed suit, described the hardship of driving her child miles according to ordered racial balances, when she did not want her child alone on the school bus.

Monday, June 25, 2007

USA Today begins week long series on eldercare


On Monday June 25, 2007, USA Today (“The Nation’s Newspaper”) has started a five-day Cover Story: “Role Reversal: Your aging parents and you,” written or edited by Mandy Fetterman. Today, most of the material appears on pages 4A and 5A. There is a sidebar “Growing up meant becoming a caregiver,” and continuation headline “Becoming ‘parent of your parent’ is an emotionally wrenching process,” and another sidebar by Fetterman “Family is getting to know a live-in grandpa,” as well as another one, “Mother-in-law moved in, and sanity moved out.” And there is “Mom doesn’t want to talk about the future.” One can tell where this series is going, and it is hard to take. The cover page reports that 41% of American adults are involved in eldercare financially, personally or both.

The website reference is this. More of these stories will probably appear on that site over time.

At the bottom of page 5A, however, Fetterman has another article”Proposed legislation would help caregivers with financial, day care aid.”

There are a number of bills and proposals. A tax credit of up to $3000 for caregivers is likely to pass, but caregivers would have to prove and document their spending for relative. Many of the others are unlikely to get much traction. For example, if you quit a job to care for a blood or legally recognized relative (and guess what issue comes up here!! – Hello!! – gay marriage and civil unions), eligibility for Medicare could start as early as 55, and provisions would be made to allow better credit for “highest earning years” (or perhaps fewer than 40 qualifying quarters) for social security (and that is more likely to pass, since Social Security is already under heavy review). A touchy issue is whether you must live with the person you care for to get a tax credit (and that can go both ways, and potentially have IRS implications, as well as SSA benefits, sometimes). The AARP estimates that the value of “free care” of the elderly from relatives to be $350 billion a year.

This story runs on the heels of a Newsweek issue on Alzheimer’s last week. The demographics of this issue (of which Alzheimer’s disease is a major component with shocking implications) is forcing a crisis quickly. As conservative social critics note, with some clumsiness, the past few decades have emphasized personal autonomy in such a way as to contradict the family emotional ties necessary for this kind of caretaking, and we have hardly yet started a formal debate on filial responsibility laws, on the books in thirty states. Many people will experience this as a shocking threat to their own freedom and independence, and something that their personal choices and value judgments have no control over. It is not too much to say that the demands of eldercare can be transformative in the way we think about self-determination of adult lives, and those parts of family responsibility that we don't make conscious choices about. It is certainly a challenge to individualism.

ABC "World News Tonight" is also running a series this week called "Role Reversal" Your Aging Parents and You." On Monday the show depicted a nursing home that seemed like a real home (the Elmhurst Extended Care Center in Providence RI).

On Tuesday June 26 2007, USA Today had a story by Sharon Jayson, "Caregivers cope with stress: Helping an aging parent brings up mixed emotion" with the continuation page "As people live longer, care can stretch out for years", on pp D1 and D2.

ABC World News Tonight covered long term care insurance on Tuesday.

On Wednesday June 27 the story is by Cathy Lynn Grossman and is titled "Parent care can split siblings," on p D1. The length of time of care (because of life-extending medical treatment that does not extend ability to function normally) is discussed.

On Thursday, June 28 Section B had a long report by John Waggoner, "Long-term care insurance may not be for everyone: Customers report widely varying experiences." Also "Research is essential in selection of right policy." Usually it is not available after age 79. I will go into more detail on LTC in later blogs. On page 10D there is "Caregivers struggle with denial, disintegration: Watching a loved one sink into Alzheimer's can be harrowing."

Also on Thursday, ABC "World News Tonight" discussed elder mediation services, and interviewed Louise Phipps Senet of the Elder Mediation Center in Baltimore, MD. The story is "Love, Care and the Inevitable Arguments: Mediators Can Provide a Welcome Rational Approach to Realities of Elder Care", here.

On Friday, Mindy Fetterman, on p 3B, has an article about the expense of making a home elder-ready "Prepare yourself now to help care for parents later: Kids need 'way more money that they think."

Also, on that page, John Waggoner has, "When it's time to tap your assets, order is important." He does discuss the drawdown issue with respect to getting Medicaid to pick up nursing home expenses. "Be prepared to spend every bit of your parents' assets before Medicaid takes over." In some states, it appears to me that state Medicaid programs could go after the assets of adult children even after draw down, but this has not been reported as happening yet. But given the demographic explosion of the issue, I wonder if it is only a matter of time before this happens.

There is a correlated story about adding gay domestic partners to the Family & Medical Leave Act, here.

Writeup on earlier Newsweek story is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Employee Free Choice Act: op-ed faceoff in Washington Post today


Today, The Washington Post, on p A 19, showed how two different op-ed columnists can spin a bill before Congress so differently. The subject legislation is The Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, already passed the House, which is supposed to make it easier for unions to organize workers in certain circumstances. Conservative George F. Will (“Dues and Don’ts: For Unions, Coercion over Persuasion”) calls the bill Orwellian, claiming that it will deny workers a secret ballot on organizing, other sources (Americans Rights at Work) deny this. Will also claims that the “card check” system would allow unions to badger less enthusiastic workers. But Will appropriately criticizes earlier demands by the Washington Education Association to levy fees on non-union members who benefit from their bargaining, on the theory that the teacher’s union was forcing unwilling political speech. The state supreme court sided with the union, but the U.S. Supreme Court voted 9-0 that a union has no “entitlement” to OPM (“other people’s money) for its political purposes. Harold Meyerson has an article “A Union Beats a Fence: Making Scofflaw Employers Share the Wealth,” and argues that the new law is essential to prevent employers from penalizing or firing employees for organizing, a legally protected (essentially fundamental) right.

On Thursday June 22 Leon Sequeira, assistant secretary of labor for policy of the United States Department of Labor, provided an op-ed to the DC Examiner, p. 22, "Senate bill would harm employee choice on the job" and writes that a "card check" scheme forces all workers to accept union representation if union organizers persuade just 50 percent plus 1 of the colleagues to publicly sign a union card." He adds, "Although changing the rules may boost union membership, it would certainly come at a terrible cost to workers. Without secret ballot elections, workers would be confronted with a unionization system that fosters coercion and intimidation." Here is the link to the article. Organized labor, as noted above, disagrees with these allegations.

Philosophically, of course, this whole issue, for individual people, comes down to “hyperindividualism v. solidarity” as once discussed in Mother Jones (link to earlier discussion). Some people prefer the freedom of freelance and contract work (which far too many employers use today, according to the union world) without benefits, because the employer and union paternalism that could go with union solidarity stifles individual expression. On the other hand, in a real world with global economic forces, many families are more concerned about “survival” than expression.

The Wikipedia entry on this act is here. The AFL-CIO summary is here (PDF).

Because I couldn’t find an easily linkable PDF of the entire bill (Thomas links sometimes don’t work here), I included it (p.d.) inline here. But you can go to Thomas.loc.gov.



110th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 800

AN ACT
To amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Employee Free Choice Act of 2007'.
SEC. 2. STREAMLINING UNION CERTIFICATION.
(a) In General- Section 9(c) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 159(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(6) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, whenever a petition shall have been filed by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging that a majority of employees in a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining wish to be represented by an individual or labor organization for such purposes, the Board shall investigate the petition. If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a).
`(7) The Board shall develop guidelines and procedures for the designation by employees of a bargaining representative in the manner described in paragraph (6). Such guidelines and procedures shall include--
`(A) model collective bargaining authorization language that may be used for purposes of making the designations described in paragraph (6); and
`(B) procedures to be used by the Board to establish the validity of signed authorizations designating bargaining representatives.'.
(b) Conforming Amendments-
(1) NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD- Section 3(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 153(b)) is amended, in the second sentence--
(A) by striking `and to' and inserting `to'; and
(B) by striking `and certify the results thereof,' and inserting `, and to issue certifications as provided for in that section,'.
(2) UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES- Section 8(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 158(b)) is amended--
(A) in paragraph (7)(B) by striking `, or' and inserting `or a petition has been filed under section 9(c)(6), or'; and
(B) in paragraph (7)(C) by striking `when such a petition has been filed' and inserting `when such a petition other than a petition under section 9(c)(6) has been filed'.
SEC. 3. FACILITATING INITIAL COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS.
Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 158) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(h) Whenever collective bargaining is for the purpose of establishing an initial agreement following certification or recognition, the provisions of subsection (d) shall be modified as follows:
`(1) Not later than 10 days after receiving a written request for collective bargaining from an individual or labor organization that has been newly organized or certified as a representative as defined in section 9(a), or within such further period as the parties agree upon, the parties shall meet and commence to bargain collectively and shall make every reasonable effort to conclude and sign a collective bargaining agreement.
`(2) If after the expiration of the 90-day period beginning on the date on which bargaining is commenced, or such additional period as the parties may agree upon, the parties have failed to reach an agreement, either party may notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service of the existence of a dispute and request mediation. Whenever such a request is received, it shall be the duty of the Service promptly to put itself in communication with the parties and to use its best efforts, by mediation and conciliation, to bring them to agreement.
`(3) If after the expiration of the 30-day period beginning on the date on which the request for mediation is made under paragraph (2), or such additional period as the parties may agree upon, the Service is not able to bring the parties to agreement by conciliation, the Service shall refer the dispute to an arbitration board established in accordance with such regulations as may be prescribed by the Service. The arbitration panel shall render a decision settling the dispute and such decision shall be binding upon the parties for a period of 2 years, unless amended during such period by written consent of the parties.'.
SEC. 4. STRENGTHENING ENFORCEMENT.
(a) Injunctions Against Unfair Labor Practices During Organizing Drives-
(1) IN GENERAL- Section 10(l) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 160(l)) is amended--
(A) in the second sentence, by striking `If, after such' and inserting the following:
`(2) If, after such'; and
(B) by striking the first sentence and inserting the following:
`(1) Whenever it is charged--
`(A) that any employer--
`(i) discharged or otherwise discriminated against an employee in violation of subsection (a)(3) of section 8;
`(ii) threatened to discharge or to otherwise discriminate against an employee in violation of subsection (a)(1) of section 8; or
`(iii) engaged in any other unfair labor practice within the meaning of subsection (a)(1) that significantly interferes with, restrains, or coerces employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7;
while employees of that employer were seeking representation by a labor organization or during the period after a labor organization was recognized as a representative defined in section 9(a) until the first collective bargaining contract is entered into between the employer and the representative; or
`(B) that any person has engaged in an unfair labor practice within the meaning of subparagraph (A), (B) or (C) of section 8(b)(4), section 8(e), or section 8(b)(7);
the preliminary investigation of such charge shall be made forthwith and given priority over all other cases except cases of like character in the office where it is filed or to which it is referred.'.
(2) CONFORMING AMENDMENT- Section 10(m) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 160(m)) is amended by inserting `under circumstances not subject to section 10(l)' after `section 8'.
(b) Remedies for Violations-
(1) BACKPAY- Section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 160(c)) is amended by striking `And provided further,' and inserting `Provided further, That if the Board finds that an employer has discriminated against an employee in violation of subsection (a)(3) of section 8 while employees of the employer were seeking representation by a labor organization, or during the period after a labor organization was recognized as a representative defined in subsection (a) of section 9 until the first collective bargaining contract was entered into between the employer and the representative, the Board in such order shall award the employee back pay and, in addition, 2 times that amount as liquidated damages: Provided further,'.
(2) CIVIL PENALTIES- Section 12 of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 162) is amended--
(A) by striking `Any' and inserting `(a) Any'; and
(B) by adding at the end the following:
`(b) Any employer who willfully or repeatedly commits any unfair labor practice within the meaning of subsections (a)(1) or (a)(3) of section 8 while employees of the employer are seeking representation by a labor organization or during the period after a labor organization has been recognized as a representative defined in subsection (a) of section 9 until the first collective bargaining contract is entered into between the employer and the representative shall, in addition to any make-whole remedy ordered, be subject to a civil penalty of not to exceed $20,000 for each violation. In determining the amount of any penalty under this section, the Board shall consider the gravity of the unfair labor practice and the impact of the unfair labor practice on the charging party, on other persons seeking to exercise rights guaranteed by this Act, or on the public interest.'.
Passed the House of Representatives March 1, 2007.
Attest:
Clerk.
110th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 800
AN ACT
To amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Michael Moore's appearances generative conservative editorials on health care debate




Michael Moore has appeared on television several times, promoting his film “Sicko,” which apparently made a smash at Cannes. He certain is crusading for single payer, in his appearances on Oprah and The View. He argues that the profit motive no more belongs in medicine than it does in police and fire protection. Others, such as Tim Johnson MD on ABC News, have been suggesting that it is time for the US to consider single payer.

I’ll have a review on the film as soon as I can see it myself. But comments, at least some of those on the conservative side, by some reviewers are already telling. For example, the June 19 DC Examiner featured an op-ed an article by Michael Tanner, "Michael Moore goes Sicko on health care reform".


Tanner points out that in Britain, with fully socialized medicine, 850000 Britons wait for admission to NHS hospitals. In Canada, part of the universal care law was struck down in 2005 because it could not deliver adequate care, and there are claims that up to 800,000 Canadians have sufficient waiting list delays that their health and work productivity are impaired. News stories have often reported that Canada sends some patients to hospitals in Detroit and Buffalo for care, to the point that health care for Canadians is a major economic boost to northern US cities otherwise suffering from economic woes.

Another good article is in the San Jose Mercury News (of course!), June 19, "Moore's indictment of health care an entertaining but flawed film",
By Daniel Weintraub., link here.

Here is a master reference on the Canadian health care system.


In 1998, I had a severe acetabular hip fracture in a convenience store and, within 48 hours, had a six-hour operation (at the University of Minnesota) with an experimental titanium fastening device repairing my pelvis, to the point that I went back to work in three weeks (along the Minneapolis Skyway from the Churchill Apartments, to be sure) and never missed a day again for medical reasons. I wonder if in Britain or Canada I would have been left in traction for three months. There never was a charge on my bill for the device or operation itself, and once all managed care referrals from Health Partners (the non-profit insurance carrier arranged by my employer) were cleared, the total cost of the incident was about $14000, which seems reasonable given the severity of the injury). In my case, a private system with managed care and deep discounts when referrals are obtained, finally worked properly, finally (although there were some problems documenting the referrals for a while).

Our Medicare system, which is single payer for those over 65 (although there are many issues with Part B and with Part D prescription drugs), is able to deliver coronary bypass surgery as late as age 85. I’m told anecdotally by doctors that this cannot happen in Canada, although I am not sure.

I talked about health care with a family at a train station in France in 2001, and they said, it worked for them. But, that is the problem. For them. Even single payer doesn’t seem to work all the time. You can try to soften or do away with the sometimes cruel concept if individual moral hazard, but you still have to set priorities, and this gets very politicized.

Remember, too, that neither the British nor Canadian systems themselves automatically cover custodial nursing home care. Individuals and families still have to deal with this, as in the last posting.

It’s actually pretty hard to research this. So called “Beltway Bandits,” working on contracts with various clients and lobbying groups, earn their profits preparing detailed reports on health care financing. They do a good job, but they are constrained by the proprietary political paradigm within which they must work. In these days of search engines, the public is entitled to cleaner information on just what is really going on in all of these different health care systems. We need clearer numbers on waiting lists in other countries, and just how good a job they do.

That’s not to say that the breakdowns in our privatized systems aren’t real to those affected. For one thing, it’s inexcusable that a cat scan costs five times as much to someone with no insurance as it does (even when meeting a deductible) under any managed care plan. Yes, debt collectors are hounding poor people into medical bankruptcies. And insurance company rescission for phony “pre-existing conditions” is a horrible practice. And, yet, health insurance executives have a fiduciary responsibility to hound patients. There are real problems, and serious ethical conflicts of interest in our system.

In principle, I personally like the idea of pre-tax health savings accounts and pre-tax insurance plans, maybe making them mandatory, and making sure that all comers can get the usual insurance discounts. In health care, there is an element of being your brother’s keeper. Moore is right about that, and I look forward to his film. (And The Weinstein Company and Lions Gate are among my favorite studios.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Newsweek features coercive issue on Alzheimer's


The June 15 Newsweek has, as part of its “Health: The Boomer Files” series, a hard-hitting series of articles on Alzheimer’s Disease. The cover reads “Caregiving & Alzheimer’s: In a wrenching role reversal, adult children are struggling to help their ailing parents. The toll on families—and how to cope.” Page 55 article is “Confronting Alzheimer’s: Millions of boomers are caring for parents afflicted with a disease that steals minds and memories, What life is like when your mother doesn’t know you, or her own name.” That story is by Barbara Kantrowitz and Karen Springen. It is followed by an article by Joan Raymond, “A Guide for Caregivers: It’s a big, complicated job, and somebody’s got to do it. What you need to know to provide for your loved one.” Jane Bryant Quinn follows with an article on long term care insurance, “Insuring Your Future Care.”

The tone of the issue is certainly coercive, and it gets into the likelihood of sibling fights over shared responsibility, especially when some siblings live closer. As there are more single people and GLBT people, and as typically many such people do not have their own children, there will be fights over whether they should share the biggest part of the sacrifice. (The pieces don’t get that far, but it’s obvious.) This is the pancake bottom of the family values argument.

Imagine, too, with all the talk of employer family leave (in the US the law requires only unpaid leave – the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 – for larger employers with permanent associates with enough time – and it does not work with contract W-2 employees – following common employment practices in IT today). In theory the FMLA applies to when parents need care, but psychologically it is much harder for someone without his own kids to fight for a parent than for someone who has continued the family infrastructure with a “normal” heterosexual family and lineage.

This is partly a matter of demographics. People can be kept alive longer, so more people may live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s. People have fewer children and there are more childless households. In earlier generations, “singletons” stayed home to look after parents, who typically lived a natural lifespan and nothing more.

We’ve had other lessons in demographics. AIDS in the US was partly a result of changes in social behavior and the concentration of certain behaviors in circumscribed populations, when suddenly exposed to a novel virus with bizarre properties. Remember the mid 1980s when the number of cases doubled every six months, and threatened exponential destruction? I remember being a buddy then, and people did not live long. Over the years, AIDS has become perceived as a manageable disease, as its victims often can live more or less indefinitely and productively with medications. Alzheimer’s, as an increase, results also from demographics, and presents emotional challenges of its own. Research describes certain physiological changes (plaques) that could eventually be more amendable to medication, and could eventually be shown to be related to toxins or environmental hazards that could be avoided. But, as it stands now, Alzheimer’s (and other diseases associated with aging – some forms of mental deterioration result from heart disease or various other disorders, too) can force people who have lived productively in a manner of their own choosing and without real responsibility for others, back into patterns where they must accept the need to develop emotional responsiveness to other family members. This seems to go to the heart of the family values issues. It can restart a debate on filial responsibility laws. Family responsibility doesn’t just start with procreating children.

Caretaking and caregiving, whether of some elderly or of small children, are very labor intensive. For eldercare, the recent (since about 2004) and growing availability of long distance home monitoring through cameras and the Internet may help, but essentially it takes committed time from someone. Immigrant women often do these jobs, particularly Home Health Aides (even live-in). Immigration reform could have an effect on eldercare, for the availability of nursing home workers and home health aides, and illegal aliens have certainly done these jobs, freeing other family members, in the past, but since 9/11 this has become a more sensitive problem.

On Dec 30, 2006 I summarized a similar New York Times story about caregiving, that was not limited to Alzheimer’s. Look at the archives.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Single men are adopting foster kids


Wendy Koch has an important story in USA Today, Friday, June 15, 2007, “Number of single men adopting foster kids doubles: ‘Historic shift’ from when kids went only to married couples.” The story relates that almost 1500 foster children were adopted by unmarried men in 2005, a doubling since 1998. Single men are more likely to be welcomed by the foster care system, than by individual mothers giving up kids for adoption. Kids from the foster care system are more likely to be older and of a minority race. Many kids age out of the foster care system without ever being placed, as in this article: "Record number of foster kids leave program as adults", May 23, 2007, also by Wendy Koch.

The story today does deal with the "suspicion" that many of the adopting men are gay. At the present time, only Nebraska restricts both foster care and adoption to legally married couples. Florida bars gays from adoption but not from foster care (there was a famous case of a gay couple in Florida caring for HIV infected children not being able to adopt them); Utah bars unmarried couples and Mississippi bans same-sex couples, but not gay singles, from adoption. Rosie O’Donnell has been active in the fight to get Florida to change its hostile adoption laws.

Public policy would need to deal with the question as to whether a larger percentage of heterosexually married couples could be persuaded to adopt children. Certainly this fits into the debates about abortion and health care. In some states, single people are recruited as potential adoptive parents. In Minnesota (Minneapolis), when I left in 2003, there were plenty of bus stop signs advertising for singles to become both foster and adoptive parents. Public policy on gay adoption might depend on the availability of heterosexual couples for adoption (“a mother and a father is a birthright for every child” is the argument).

The news story points out that some conservatives consider heterosexual single men more suitable for adoption than gay men, because the heterosexual single man could marry and provide a step mother. But the “anti-gay” argument here would actually apply to asexual men, also (confounding Vatican theories supporting abstinence as OK).

Related post on anti-gay attitudes here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lawsuits related to autism and vaccines


Today there have been widepread media reports about lawsuits by parents against the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that autism in their kids resulted from vaccines licensed by the FDA. Some of the issues involve thimerosal autism and claims of gradual mercury poisoning.

Media reports claim that these lawsuits are now filed against the federal government because vaccine manufacturers are supposed to be immune.

Nevertheless, the lack of legal protection for pharmaceutical companies has been mentioned as a major hindrance in manufacture of sufficient quantities of influenza vaccines, and particularly the ability to develop an avian influenza vaccine and manufacture it quickly in sufficient quantities if there is a pandemic. A relevant story by Jeffrey Birnbaum “Vaccine Funding Tied to Liability: Trial Lawyers Save Move Would Hurt Consumers” appeared in The Washington Post, Nov. 17, 2005, here. However, it appears that the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (S 2291) was passed in early 2006 to provide government compensation to victims of vaccine deficiencies and some indemnification of manufactures, at least in situations involving public emergencies. This legislation was controversial and has been called a threat to consumers. Here is another A-champ “Update on Pharmaceutical Community Immunity Legislation” by the Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning, link here.

Because autism occurs more often in males than females, and has sometimes clustered with multiple births, there definitely appears to be an inherited susceptibility to it, including vulnerability to certain toxins. Milder and now widespread pervasive developmental disorders include Asperger syndrome, which may be so mild as often to fall within the range of what is normal in a modern pluralistic society, as simply “different”. Even this may have a genetic and biochemical basis.

Other stories: Mercola thimerosal

Quick Note: Release of Georgia honors student Genralow Wilson blocked by appeal of federal district court order, CNN story.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

VA woman sentenced for serving alcohol at son's 16th birthday


A woman (Elisa Kelly) in or near Charlottesville, VA was sentenced to 27 months in prison for providing alcohol to minors invited to her son's 16th birthday party. She had taken the car keys from all of the kids so they couldn't drive home. She claims she thought this was safer than allowing kids to go out on their own. But police found out after some parents came and picked their kids up. Prosecutors called this one of the worst cases of contributing to underage drinking they had ever seen, although the defendant claims that the tough sentence (which was to be even longer) seems to be politically motivated.

The story is by Daniela Deane, "Party Host Mom Set for Va. Jail Term: Alcohol at Son's 16th Gets 27-Month Sentence," p A1, The Washington Post, June 9, 2007, here.

In the District of Columbia, police and officials have been concerned about night clubs that admit underage patrons, even though they wear bands that do not allow them to drink. There is anecdotal evidence that high school kids are getting fake id's and getting into clubs to drink.

Employers have been especially concerned when teenager post pictures of themselves engaging in underage drinking on social networking site profiles.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Economist has a piece on W. VA. strip mining


Check page 32 of the May 26-June 1 2007 The Economist, "Battle of the Mountain Tops: Charleston: Why coal is West Virginia's blessing and its curse." The story reports that now it is common to shave as much as 1000 feet of a ridge to get to deeper seams of coal. Actually, in most regions of West Virginia, it is very difficult to see this kind of scenic mutilation (doing to the mountains what the movie "Hostel" does to people) from public state or county paved roads. Bryce "Mountain" in southern W Va, often shown in aerial photos as a badlands, can only be seen by driving up a private road, and even then the view is blocked off. Still, it seems like the western parts of Appalachia would, after "reclamation" have the surface topography of much of the midwest. It would be like a skin graft for a burn.

Demand for coal will go both ways: the crimp on oil supplies (as predicted by some alarmist films like "The Crude Awakening" and CNN's "We Were Warned") obviously increases the demand for coal, with the possibility of gasification. But global warming reminds us that burning coal leaves a huge carbon footprint.

I had an earlier story about this on Jan. 2, 2007, here.

Picture: Strip mind highwall at Barton, near Cumberland MD

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Immigration Rally on Capitol West Lawn, 2007


There have been some immigration rallies on the Mall in Washington before, and today, in June heat, there was a law protesting both sides of new proposals for immigration reform, which would allow immigrants to stay if they paid enough money, make citizenship application more expensive, and which might make marital or family ties less relevant, in comparison to job skills, for visa and eventually citizenship applications. The family issue is an emotional one, since GLBT couples cannot benefit from practices that would favor immigration of other family members. New policies could make these considerations a moot point.

There was plenty of music, and plenty of shouting today, en espagnol, without subtitles. There were plenty of non-Latino "Europeans" in the crowd, many with camcorders, probably some of them filmmakers.

For a quick, if grainy, 10-second video (MPG) of the event, go here.