Monday, October 29, 2007

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening of all small children for autism


The American Academy of Pediatrics, meeting today in San Francisco, has issued a report recommending that all children (boys and girls -- it is more common in boys) be screened at least twice for autism before age two years. The link is this.

The first major report (embargoed) component is by Chris Plauch and Aae Johnson, and is called “Identification and Evaluation of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” here (PDF format).

This report contains a link to an embargoed report in PDF format by Scott M. Myers, MD, “Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” here. Asperger’s syndrome is mentioned in the footnotes but not given a lot of separate attention.

All major media networks aired this report today. They showed interventions, special teaching at pre-school ages that may give autistic children a better chance of more “normal” social interactions.

With Asperger syndrome, it is difficult to determine how much intervention is morally appropriate is the child has unusual gifts that require him or her to be left somewhat alone to focus on the gifts.

There is a concern with this report that early diagnosis and treatment will overwhelm clinics and the special education facilities of schools, and that insurance companies will not be willing to pay for early treatment.

In rare cases, more than one child in a family has been autistic, as with triplets in Ohio, and another case presented on the Dr. Phil show where the mother found another man as a second husband who would take on the personal challenge of raising them.

Friday, October 26, 2007

DC Metro Transit fare could skyrocket: does it make any sense?


I lived in the DC area from 1988 to 1997, and then moved back in 2003. In the 1990s, there were few problems with Metro service. Since I have come back, there have been frequent delays (I get the automated emails on some lines), single tracking, and threats of pulling late night service, which would affect nightclub business.

Yesterday (Oct. 25) the Metro board suggested a 30 cent minimum fare increase, from 1.35 to 1.65. The story (by Lena H. Sum and Anne E. Marimow) in The Washington Post is “Subway Fares May Rise 30 cents: Metro’s Proposal on Increase Heads for Public Debate.” Indeed that is needed. The link is this.

Weekly fares for some commuters could raise by $15 or so. So many say that, even in today’s world of $92 oil, it is cheaper to drive.

Others argue that city or suburban dwellers should not be subsidized by tax-supported transit. But it seems that one way or another, long commutes are subsidized somehow. And we stay in Iraq. And we watch greenhouse gases go up.

When I left Minneapolis in 2003, the light rail Hiawatha line was just being completed. Here is their link.

I recall the battle over "saving" the 35-cent NYC transit fare in 1973, and then it went up anyway to 50 cents in September 1975. (Sundays had half fare then). Look where it is now.

Could all the transit systems get together and use the same Smart Cards in any city? You can use the Metro smart card to get all the way to BWI airport in Baltimore (from the Green Line).

Metro parking rates may also rise over $1 a day, and they already require Smart Cards to exit.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

EEOC: More employees with caregiving issues complain of family responsibility discrimination


The Money Section, page 3B in print, of USA Today, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007 has an important story by Stephanie Armour, “More employers face caregiver-related lawsuits: Laywer: Issue ‘on empoyers’ radar screens’. The article does not yet appear on line so the hardcopy may need to be purchased today.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports an upsurge in complaints and litigation. The case experience seems to be a mixture of more common reported care-related issues, such as pregnancy and paternity, and increasing concerns about eldercare. The generic term for this problem is "family responsibility discrimination."

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates that employers over a certain size give employees with enough time in service up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for such situations. Most other countries mandate paid leave, and some larger employers (such as Bloomberg, reported in the story) give long-standing associates paid leave in some circumstances. Short-term disability insurance programs generally cover most of income for associates but not for caregiving.

Complaints include passover for promotion, and cultural indifference. Many people with caregiving responsibilities don’t “tell” at work.

Caregiving may be more stressful for people who did not have their own children and who are not used to “going to bat” for other family members because they did not set up their own social or marital relationships that give them experience in doing so.

Workplace culture is a factor. Salaried, exempt professional or management employment in practice requires uncompensated overtime (particularly when being on-call or on "nightcall"). If one person is absent or does less because of family responsibility, other associates may have to do their work on their own time and expense without compensation. This often happens in practice and can cause resentment, especially among people with different family structures and widely varying levels of responsibility. On the other hand, intelligent use of telecommuting and working from home with computer terminals can alleviate this problem, although that raises security issues, as indicated in widespread media reports about corporate personal data losses.

Sometimes conservatives will argue that tightening up on employers to help employees with burdens will drive more jobs overseas.

It’s also important to note that many jobs in information technology are short term contracts with W-2 compensation only, and no benefits, although corp-to-corp is becoming more common and some personnel service companies are recognizing the importance of benefits in attracting the most qualified professionals. Even some “at home” call center companies (like Alpine) are starting to offer benefits to attract better people, even though health insurance and caregiving represent big issues.

In fact, Business 24/7, offered in complimentary copies in Bank of America lobbies now, has, in the Fall 2007 issue, on p 29, an article by Chris Freeburn: “Health Insurance: Examining Options, controlling the costs.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Finding CFL's; wartime economics


Filmmakers depicting global warming are constantly telling us how much we can do with little things, like buying only compact fluorescent lightbulbs. For a long time, many drug stores around here didn't carry them. This morning, I found just a small selection at CVS next to a larger display of conventional lightbulbs.

Of course, the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases right now could be countries trying to "catch up" to our standard of living, especially China. So it is a tremendous political problem, as the first segment of Anderson Cooper's "Planet in Peril" brought out last night.

On another item, USA Today (Oct. 24, 2007) has a story by Ken Dilanian, "War costs may total $2.4 trillion," or $8000 per individual by the end of the decade. Imagine deducting that from every person's net worth (often negative already) and making everyone pay that individually. No, we wouldn't do that. Soak the rich. Here is the link.

And, they say, the War is about Big Oil. Fossil fuels and greenhouse gases.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Arlington VA tentatively approves commercial real estate tax increase, schedules public hearings; no effect expected on home entrepreneurs now


Kristin Downey has a story “Arlington Endorses Business Tax Hike: Transportation Projects Would Be Funded by Revenue,” on page B1, Metro, of the Tuesday Oct. 23, 2007 The Washington Post, here.

On Monday night, Oct. 22, the County Board held a meeting and tentatively approved a tax hike on commercial property that potentially could amount to $250 per $100000 assessed valuation, up from the residential maxium of $818, potentially in increase of 30.57%. The County scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday Nov. 13, one week after the election.

The story talks about some transportation projects, such as a Columbia Pike trolley.

The story claims that apartment buildings (condos) and private residences will not be affected. There seems to be no indication that the carrying on of a home based business would affect the tax, although politically that sounds like a worrisome idea, given what has happened in other states. The video of this section of the Board meeting last night can be accessed here:

(Oct. 24). I had a discussion about a matter at the bank today, things like auto-debit and letters of credit, and the undertone of the discussion suggested that bankers are aware of the potential "dangers" of this issue, even if the board and politicians play them down.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Government comes up with order for pandemic flu vaccine


A government working group has come up with a preference order for vaccination if a pandemic influenza breaks out. The story is by Anita Manning "Scarce pandemic vaccine to be given in order: Group comes up with guidelines for innoculation," page 7D, Life Section, USA Today, Monday Oct. 22, link here.

The order prefers military personnel and health care workers first, then emergency workers, the pregnant women and babies. The elderly and healthy would wait.

The order would refer to any pandemic for which vaccine is scarce. The scariest is probably H5N1 avian influenza, although this would apply to any infection. Some pandemic flus (1957, 1968, and the "threat" in 1976) are milder. The Spanish flu of 1918, thought to resemble H5N1, tended to kill the young and healthy quickly by causing overdrive immune reaction.

Various scenarios for bird flu had suggested a sudden beginning of a human-human transmissible strain (with an "index case"), but that's unlikely. Spanish flu actually appeared in several locations in the world at the same time in 1918, before there was widespread air travel. Media reports from Indonesia have suggested some human transmission chains but they seem to die out. Media reports also indicate that Indonesia has a vaccine, and it is not clear why it is taking so long to develop an effective vaccine that could be manufactured and used worldwide.

It is noteworthy that aggressive vaccination for regular influenza may help protect the public in the sense that if there are fewer cases of people infected with regular influenza strains, then there is less chance that H5N1 could swap genes with them and mutate. This year the vaccine supply for regular flu came early; I got a flu shot at a Safeway in early October when there was no line (but it costs $30).

I had major discussions of public health policy for pandemics of several kinds in on August 30, 2007 on this blog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Free trade protest in Washington



The International Monetary Fund meets this weekend and next week in Washington DC, and the free trade protests are taking place. Last night, a woman, not part of the demonstrations, in Georgetown was injured when a brick thrown struck her. Last night, demonstrators chanted slogans against unearned "wealth and privilege", the old-fashioned indignant moral rhetoric of the Left common in the 60s and 70s, early in my adulthood.

I visited today a demonstration at 14th and I streets, near the McPherson Square Metro stop.

Also, though not directly related to free trade issues, I thought I'd pass on a comment from former a Republican candidate that I heard repeated on CNN this afternoon. He said something like, if abortion weren't legal because of Roe v. Wade, we wouldn't need immigrants to do our dirty work for us. Incredible!!! Unbelievable!!! A presidential candidate actually said this? What,we breed in order to have "proles"??? There was a Washington Post story 'Mo. Panel's Report Links Immigration to Abortion" by David Lieb, AP, on Nov. 2006, p A09, link here.

I suppose that comments like this relate to the "wealth and privilege" anger of the IMF protesters.

video

Monday, October 15, 2007

Solar Decathlon on Washington DC Mall




From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20 2007 the Department of Energy has been hosting its Solar Decathlon exhibit and competition on the Mall in Washington DC, immediately present to visitors exiting the Smithsonian Metro stop.

There are various posters explaining the rules of the contest. Most of the houses were small, and were not open yet when I visited this morning. Much of the hardware was on display to see. Most of the houses were built by engineering departments of various universities. One of the most interesting was the "leaf house."

Purchasing a solar heated and powered home, or adding to an existing home, requires a major effort and investment from homeowners, which not everyone is prepared to make yet.

Update: Nov. 3, 2007

US News and World Report has an issue (Nov. 5, 2007) with an optimistic cover story "The New Age of Energy: Breakthrough technology that could change the future: super solar power, Hot geothermal turbines, Hyperefficient cars, story on p 46 by Marianne Levell. The cover has a picture of the Solucar tower, and the story talks about Google's use of solar power.

Update: Nov. 27, 2007

There was a story on ABC World News Tonight on Google's investment in solar power. Here is the cnn "Green Wombat" story from Fortune, "Google's Green Power Play," here.

video

Friday, October 12, 2007

Restore Act getting attention


On October 10, 2007 the House of Representatives Intelligence and Judiciary committees both passed the Restore Act, which is supposed to restore ordinary citizens with some protections against warrantless wiretapping, after the "Protect America" Act passed in August. However, the Bush administration steadfastly refuses to provide retroactive protection to Americans whose privacy might have been compromised by telecommunications carriers by the PA Act. All carriers would still have immunity for any disclosures they made.

It's unclear how much intrusion has really occurred, but a few times ordinary Americans (immigrants) have been falsely accused of supporting illegal "charities."

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article today, "Congress Stand Firm: America Deserves A Legal Decision on Warrantless Wiretapping," here. EFF also has a major article "EFF's Class-Action Lawsuit Against AT&T for Collaboration with Illegal Domestic Spying Program" about it's class-action lawsuit against AT&T for collaborating with the NSA in wiretapping, link here. The tone is that of "Michael Clayton" perhaps.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Supreme Court leaves special education alone; New York must pay for private special ed cases


Today the Supreme Court voted in a 4-4 tie (with Justice Anthony Kennedy recusing himself) not to hear Board of Education of the City of New York v. Tom F. (06-637). The end result is that New York City will have to pay for special education placements in private schools when parents do not believe that a public school can provide the specific services a particular student needs. This could invite similar claims in many other states. Public school systems often have difficulty providing the staff and expertise necessary to teach the individualized education plans needed by special education students, given the tremendous variety of medical and clinical diagnoses and spectrums of learning disabilities. School systems allowing substitute teachers to work without licenses often find that almost a third of the assignments are for special ed.

The ruling goes along with libertarian think tank suggestions of encouraging private vouchers and home schooling.

The story in The Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2007, p. A08 print, is by Robert Barnes, and it is here.

Linda Perlstein has an op-ed "A 'No Child' Law for All Children There's a Better Way To Handle Special Needs" on p A19, link here. She argues that the intransigence of politicians on insisting that every child meet grade level, or pretend to meet grade level, causes a lot of waste of teaching time and resources.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Jersey, other states may sue feds over children's health insurance (SCHIP)


There is a showdown coming over the resistance of the Bush administration to keeping SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) viable for middle class families.

On Sept. 27, the Senate had passed a $35 billion expansion of SCHIP. The administration has threatened to veto it as a welfare-like “entitlement” for middle class families. Washington Post writers Christopher Lee and Jonathan Weisman have a story (page A1) Sept. 28, “Showdown looms as Child Health Bill Passes: Many GOP Senators Back Measure Bush Vows to Veto,” here.

Furthermore, the administration has implemented a rule to make it harder for middle class parents to enroll their children in SCHIP.

Yesterday, New Jersey file suit in federal district court, claimed that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS – truly an instrumentality of bureaucracy) violated the law by not going through proper procedures before announcing the new regs. Seven other states, including Maryland, could follow. The Oct. 2 Christopher Lee story on page A3 of The Washington Post is “N.J. Wants Rules for Health Plan Blocked: Lawsuit Says Children Would Suffer,” here: NBC4 reported Oct 2 that Maryland would indeed sue, claiming that the federal government was failing to follow the procedures set forth in the Social Security Act.

There have been proposals for universal health care for children. There is a good ideological question: why should the government provide an “entitlement” for upper middle class elderly (Medicare, etc.), many of whom could afford to take care of themselves, and not middle class children? Shouldn’t the next generation “get its chance”? A major practical answer seems to be political expediency. Seniors are powerful as a voting block. (In fairness, it must be said that Medicare FICA taxes do help pay for it.) Reducing benefits for seniors to pay for children’s benefits would also raise another issue: filial responsibility laws, on the books but rarely enforced in at least 28 states. (The lengthened (to six years) “lookback” provisions for Medicaid pre-nursing home give backs are enforced, however.)

Update: President Bush vetoed the law Wed Oct. 3. Story by Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman, p A01 Oct. 4 The Washington Post, link.

Monday, October 01, 2007

NCLB: Should federal government administer national tests? I hope not.


Jay Matthews has a story in the Monday October 1, 2001 Washington Post, “Superintendents Suggest Fixes for ‘No Child’” Some Support National Testing Standards.” The link is here.

The story title, of course, refers to the controversial "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) law. Rather than let states make up the tests and have the federal government make up rules for “adequate yearly progress” (actually, an a bit paradoxical with a conservative administration, demanding progress for each racial or ethnic group), administrators are suggesting that federal tests could be made up and administered. Probably they would be made up by contracting organizations (like the Educational Testing Service or maybe even for-profit certification testing companies like Brainbench). Administrators express consternation over the way special educations students are tested, saying that the concept of IEP (individualized education plan) contradicts making them pass the same tests as others (it’s not necessarily true that they always have to).

I read this with a recollection of my own high school education, graduation in 1961 (Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA, then one of the top public schools in the country). In those days, teachers had complete responsibility for tests and grades. Kids worried about getting a “hard” teacher (a “hard math teacher” was particularly dreaded). The pattern persisted in college, where professors generally had complete control of the way they tested and graded. (At least this was so at William and Mary, George Washington, and the University of Kansas, where I had personal experience as discussed elsewhere on these blogs.) The pattern of individual teacher control started to change in the 60s, however, with concerns like the civil rights movement and draft deferments, and over time there has been more emphasis on standardizing tests.

Frankly, I would be concerned about turning over test content to the federal government. With a state system, there is at least some competition among points of view on what should be tested. An interesting anomaly comes to mind: in history classes, most states emphasize their own state history in combination with US History (that’s particularly true of Virginia, with its pivotal role in colonial and revolutionary times).

Michael Alison Chandler has the story on today’s Washington Post page B2, “Hand-Held Calculator’s Milestone Number: On 40th Birthday, Classroom Role Still Questioned.”

When I was in high school (late 50s to 1961), slide rules were the rage, particularly on physics and chemistry tests. Educators remain skittish on the tendency of kids to depend on calculators. But one can develop tremendous skill with them, working all kinds of common math problems, even more so when linked to a PC. They may accelerate learning of concepts in algebra, trigonometry, calculus. Still, I remember memorizing multiplication tables in the second grade, and the multiplication and long division problems in grade school. And calculators don’t help too much with “word problems” where the student has to translate a situation described in words into equations to solve.

Here is a recent link on my own substitute teaching experience. I am struck by the incredible range of students and needs in public schools, even in better-off systems like in northern Virginia or Montgomery County MD. Schools are faced with demands for political correctness and “one size fits all” (even with AP), and so much of the potential teaching talent is driven away by the political climate.

Shortage of Male teachers:

Tonight (2007/10/01) NBC Nightly News had a story ("A Few Good Men") about the shortage of male teachers. One reason is low pay, another is the fear of "accusations" and false witch-hunts. Male teachers report that they are especially wary of ever touching students in any way. Menteach.org has a major presentation (with some candor about GLBT and other sensitive issues) about the problem here. About 25% of public school teachers are male; only 9% of elementary school teachers are male, as compared to the early 1980s when it was 18%.

In Minneapolis, in 2003, I did meet an actor who, in his twenties, was teaching fourth grade. (This was not the same person shown in the NBC broadcast; the news story was developed in the Minneapolis area).

Please look at the Aug. 27, 2007 entry on this blog for discussion of a long disturbing Associated Press story (published around Oct 20 2007) about teacher misconduct around the country.