Saturday, July 31, 2010

Study looks at effect of first year full time maternal employment on children (argument for "stay-at-home moms?")

A study “First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years” conducted at Columbia University for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that, as a whole, full time employment for mothers within the first year of birth is not necessarily harmful to child development, although in some families mild developmental effects on infants might occur because of less intense and continual interaction with the mother. That could be offset by higher income and the ability to hire high quality outside help.

Daniel De Vise wrote a news story about the Washington Post on Saturday July 31 here.

The study was not yet available at the NIH site. But there is a similar study there now about the effect on children of combat deployment of parents, especially mothers, here.

There have been similar studies, such as this one in Tennessee (link)  or this NICHD study in 2007 looking at race and ethnic group comparisons, here.

When I was growing up, the “stay-at-home mom” was the social norm, as was mine. During my period of heterosexual dating in 1971, it seemed that women that I had met generally wanted to stay home. This may seem like an odd way to look at things to many (and this comment should not be taken personally), but it did not make sense to me that someone who would be that “dependent” would be “worthy of interest”. But I did not relate to the idea that a biological lineage would be “mine”.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Arizona should secede, according to some conservatives!

So, he we go “whee” with some playground silliness: on its Commentary Page today, July 30, the Washington Times offers an op-ed by Jeffrey Kuhner, “Sould Arizona secede? Choice between devolution and dissolution may be inevitable,” link here.

Kuhner recommends that “the people of Arizona should engage in peaceful civil disobedience” and claims that national government judicial activism is imposing unrelated items like abortion and a homosexual agenda on the majority. Therefore, “In the future, many states - including Arizona - may decide they have no other option but to break away from the union. The choice is becoming starkly apparent: devolution or dissolution.”

I thought that’s what the War Between the States, in the “East”, had been about. The Union won.

In the meantime, we hear the ridiculous calls to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Washington Nationals travel to war-torn Phoenix next week to play them, and the Nats are due for some more road wins soon.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Arizona Meteor Crater

Update: Aug. 2

Georgia congressman Nathan Deal wants to gut the 14th Amendment, according to a story on Alternet by David Ostendorf, title "Georgia Rep Wants to Gut the 14th Amendment: The bill rekindles the fervor for dismantling a cornerstone of rights won by African Americans in the post-Civil War eralink here", link here. The Govtrack link fro HR 1868 "The Birthrigh Citizenship Act of 2009" is here.

Anderson Cooper discussed this proposal on AC360 on CNN on Monday Aug. 2.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

DC area power companies debate underground utilities

After the extreme power outages in suburban Maryland and some of Washington DC after Sunday’s surprise thunderstorms with up to 90 mph straight line “outflow boundary” winds, public debate has surfaced on the desirability of putting all utilities underground, as in downtown areas.

Cities like Washington and Atlanta, in heavily forested areas, might benefit. When I lived in Dallas and Minneapolis, power outages, even in suburban areas, were infrequent and shortlived, except after very extreme events like tornadoes.

David Sherfiniski has a story on p 5 of the Washington Examiner today on the topic, here. The article title is "Underground power lines not cure-all for avoiding storms".

Surprisingly, underground lines have some disadvantages. They may suffer flood, animal damage, or more rapid insulation failure, and might fail in extreme heat (as happened in NE Washington earlier in July). Repairs take longer and outages affect more people.

I lived in downtown Minneapolis from 1997-2003 in the Churchill Apartments, and remember only one outage, in January 2003. Many violent thunderstorms and blizzards had no effect at all, with all utilities underground.

Washington DC experienced a major outage in August 2001, one month before 9/11, with a manhole fire in the Dupont Circle area.

New York City has experienced some major power failures, in 1965 and a 24 hour one in 1977 when I lived there, as well as 2003.

See my "BillBoushka" blog entry Feb. 5, 2010 for more discussion of power outages.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Immigration decision from federal court in AZ: The basics

Here is the text of the opinion by Susan Bolton, United States District Judge in Arizona, prohibiting the state of Arizona and governor Janet Brewer from enforcing the most controversial parts of the “state” immigration law, link.

The main provision that does not take effect is that which required police to check a suspect’s immigration status while checking other violations.

The judge wrote “Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,"

Less controversial provisions of the law go into effect at 12.01 AM PDT Thursday.

The judge is a Clinton appointee. As Toobin explained above, the political situation in Arizona could complicate a formal appeal.

In southern Arizona, some ranchers have faced lawsuits for detaining illegal immigrants on their property.

Steve Holland's story as to "winners and losers" for Reuters (on MSN) is here.

Wikipedia attribution link  of Arizona Capitol; I visited it in 2000.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NY Times op-eds hit "sustainability" real hard today

David Brooks has a valuable op-ed in the New York Times today (July 27), “The Long Strategy”, link here. To sum it up, he says about Obama’s accomplishments to date, “These accomplishments aren’t big government versus small government; they’re using government to help set a context for private sector risk-taking and community initiative.”

He then points out that it is not just the short term problems, like the prolonging of unemployment for so many Americans (and the difficulty in restarting extended benefits) that worries people;  it;s not even whether banks can pass stickypad stress tests (as they did in Europe now);  it’s the long term erosion of wealth; it’s the expiration of the good life; it’s lack of sustainability. (Although back in the mid 1970s, after the oil shocks, people were writing columns like “The End of Affluence” and “The New Poor” but we bounced back under Reagan.) Bob Herbert said the same thing today in a similar column called “Long Term Economic Pain”. Health care and eldercare costs skyrocket, partly because of demographics and partly because of the lack of an ethical framework for using life-saving technology.

Brooks mentions the importance of making tax policy more family friendly. Some people, like Allan Carlson, have suggested reducing social security taxes for married household heads who have more children. Jennifer Roback Morse talks about the unsustainability (in economic terms) of an “atomized” culture where extended families split into deadwired individuals.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Virginia Senator James Webb wants to narrow the focus of government "diversity" (aka "affirmative action") programs

Virginia Democratic Senator James Webb ruffled some liberal feathers with a July 22 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “Diversity and the myth of white privilege: America still owes a debt to its black citizens, but government programs to help all ‘people of color’ are unfair. They should end”, link here

Webb has generally been progressive. Back in the 1990s, he supported President Clinton in his desire to lift the ban on gays in the military.

Webb points out “Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts. “. He then writes “Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white.” In some ways, he is talking about reverse discrimination that at least one conservative tried (incorrectly and unethically) to tie to Shirley Sherrod.

Webb does discuss the specific history of African Americans relative to slavery, reconstruction, and segregation in this nation, and admits that some historical wrongs continue to persist. He does not mention reparations, which have sometimes been proposed.
I do recall at least one job interview in IT (back in the late 1980s) with a minority-owned company in Washington, and the interviewer described what sounded like preferences in contracting because of minority-owned status. I did not react or comment (even if I was surprised), and actually got an offer, although I went somewhere else.

Ben Pershing ran an article in the Washington Post Saturday July 24 “Va. Sen. Webb restates opposition to some affirmative action programs in op-ed”, link here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

DC Chancellor outright fires many teachers this time

Controversial Washington DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced Friday that she had fired 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor performance evaluations or whose kids had poor test scores, and 76 who were not properly certified. Over 700 will be allowed to work one more year without raises on probation, as they had been rated as minimally effective.

In October she had dismissed over 200 teachers in a layoff, but made layoff choices based in performance. But many of those teachers were reinstated.

This time, the dismissals are not layoffs, they are terminations for cause, which could hurt the teachers in getting other jobs. (But Rhee's earlier comments on personnel matters have led to concerns like this before.) Generally, it’s unusual for school districts to do this, even though outright layoffs have happened during the economic crisis, reversing a trend toward encouraging career switching into teaching.  Rhee will hire new teachers, emphasizing that there are real "firings". Terminations take effect in mid August.

The Washington Post has also pointed out that Rhee has used a numerically-scored "IMPACT" system to rate teachers, and it is much more objective than evaluataions in the past.  Student ratings (or Internet rating sites) definitely were not used.

The DC Teacher’s Unions complains that the Chancellor is targeting older African American teachers making higher salaries.

The story Saturday by Bill Turque in the Washington Post is here.

Rhee was quoted as saying “Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this City”.

But teaching in low income areas is in many ways much more challenging than in higher income districts with better home-prepared students and more conventional expectations of academic performance, including AP.

Here's an account, by Samuel G. Freedman, Oct. 10, 2007, The New York Times, "Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates", of the "rubber room" where suspended but fully paid New York City teachers sit for the day, link.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some grass roots intelligence on the oil spill

Well, I like guerilla journalism, and today (Friday) I overheard a discussion on the DC Metro of the oil spill from someone who said he was an oil company executive – I don’t know what company. The hardest part of all this deep water robotics was drilling through steel, right at the very end of the exercise. But the executive sounded confident that the cap would hold, more or less, even through the tropical storm.

Here’s what CNN says about Bonnie:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Government cites cases of airline passengers with communicable diseases

A story on USA Today on Wednesday July 21 reports that the federal government and Centers for Disease Control have logged over 3000 instances where people with communicable infectious diseases traveled by air, with link here.

Some of the problem comes from parents who do not what their kids to have vaccines because of fears like mercury and autism association. There have been reported cases of people traveling with measles and whooping cough. This is an anti-libertarian situation: what may be best for one individual or family may not be best for public health as a whole.

662 of the reports involved tuberculosis, which is normally hard to transmit despite the public health implications as often enforced. The case of an Atlanta man with unusual drug-resistant tuberculosis but few symptoms attracted attention a few years ago; the man wound up being required to have lung surgery. But no other passengers have been infected.

One man with lassa fever, a viral hemorrhagic infection, traveled from Brussels to and then within the US. No other passengers were infected. Hemorrhagic fevers generally are spread by blood contact but not through the air, but are among the most virulent infectious diseases known.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shirley Sherrod, Agriculture official, dismissed for remarks taken out of context; plays sweet lemons with apology

The dismissal of Shirley Sherrod, a mid-level official at the Department of Agriculture, raised questions about how what kind of “due process” government political appointees should get when their public comments are taken out of context.

Back in March 2010, Sherrod spoke about an apparent incident of “reverse discrimination” in Georgia farm policy back in 1986, where she reversed her own position. But conservatives extracted her comments out of context as if to make her look like she was discriminating today (not 1986), and posted a partial excerpt of the speech with misleading intent on conservative blogs, picked up by Fox.

She was called by a DofA official and told to pull over by the side of the road and type her resignation on her Blackberry. The decision to fire came from Secretary of Agriculture Ted Vilsack but backed up by the president.

It’s interesting that the Department of Agriculture has a “pre-publication review” policy for employees, even off duty, here.

The website “Daily KOS” has a piece “reinstate Shirley Sherrod” here, by Ted Lewison.

The NAACP has issued a statement proposing that the Agriculture Secretary should reconsider, here.

Update: July 22

Here is the complete text and video of Sherrod's banquet speech in March 2010, link, as presented by a site named "American Rhetoric", an address at the NAACP 20th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet.

Sherrod appeared on ABC's "The View" on July 23 and gave the details of the phone calls and resignation demand while she was driving in Georgia. She discussed the apology and new offer, and is playing wait-and-see ("sour grapes" or "sweet lemons", perhaps).

CBS News reports that Sherrod told her she was considering legal actiona against Bretibart, link to CBS story here. It's not clear what the legal basis would be; it's not really defamation; it's a kind of "false light" but there's no real invasion of "privacy".  Breitbart said his piece was a reaction to NAACP attacks on the libertarianesque "Tea Party" movement.  Breitbart's site has a long list of references to Sherrod now, making the original hard to find; link.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

President Obama hits the renewal of extended unemployment benefits issue hard

I don’t embed the President’s addresses every day (they can look a bit Orwellian), but Saturday’s is critical. The President takes on Republican Senators who compare extended unemployment benefits to “welfare” and who claim that it discourages taking grunt work.  (The text link is here.)

The president also talks about public policy and small business.

I know that conservatives have complained about the appointment of Donald Berwick to head CMS, and the metaphors about end-of-life health care rationing, with allusions to the British National Health System.

Visitors should look at Michael Luo’s New York Times piece on p 13, “For long-term unemployed, a shaky safety net”, here.

Update: July 23

The Senate and House have passed the 99-week extended unemployment bill and the president signed it. Here is a story at "Associated Content" on "When Will the Unemployment Extension 2010 Money Be Available and What About Retro Pay?" by Roz Zurko, link.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mountaintop removal battle in W Va continues, as Obama admin threatens to curtail new mine; BP leak capped for now

Erik Eckholm has a story in the New York Times on Thursday July 15 about the Obama EPA’s “threat” to scale back the plans for mountaintop removal mining at a project named “Spruce 1” in southern West Virginia, above a little valley called Pigeonroost Hollow.

The government does not have specific data on the output of mountaintop mines, but it may account for 10% of the country’s coal output and 5% of its electricity. The role is much larger in Kentucky and West Virginia.

The coal industry still maintains that scaling back mountaintop removal will cause job losses. Spruce 1 would apparently be the largest mountaintop mine in the nation.

The link for the story is here.

Update: later Thursday

So on BP Deepwater Horizon we see the end of the beginning, as the blowout is capped, at least for a while, for the first time in 87 days. It's ironic to happen on the same days as the stripmining story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

MSN runs article on childless couples and the "selfishness" argument

MSN offered a balanced article on the “debate” over childlessness today, by Birana Mowrey, with with link here.  The title is blunt: “Is Being Childfree by Choice Selfish?” If refers to a subplot in the New Line film “Sex in the City 2” where one of the couples (Carrie and Big) chooses to remain childless.

The mentions a book by Laura Carroll “Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples without Children by Choice”, as well as a Redbook article “How many kids should you have?” that does not seem to appear online,

Wikipedia has an article on “Chilldfree” which it says can be termed “childless by choice” and has a section “the Selfish argument” that summarizes as follows: “The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity (childfree author Virginia Postrel calls it "the most important work most people will ever do"), and so not engaging in this activity must therefore mean living one's life in service to one's self.”

However, childless people generally don’t follow any particular ideology. There have been some groups in the past called “No Kidding” and “the Child Free Network”.

There is a lot of disagreement over the population issue. In the past, it was assumed that more people would use up world resources more rapidly, but the problem is partly that societies with higher living standards impact the planet a lot more per person. Having children generates “generativity” – an investment in one’s biological future. The “demographic winter” argument points out that fewer workers must support more people with long life spans in disability, but it’s possible to expand life spans in good health and pressure employers to keep people longer. “Any healthy culture is child-centric because the future rests with our children,’ said Allan Carlson of the Family Research Council. “These (No Kidding!) peop;le are copping out on the future, refusing to accept the standard obligation for responsible membership in our society. I would describe them as childish, immature and irresponsible.”

The other hooker in this whole subject is the role of gay and lesbian families, which must adopt (or use surrogates) to have children. Usually childlessness has been discussed in the context of heterosexual couples who could have children.

When I grew up in the 1950s, there were more childless couples and only children (and single adults) than one would expect, even then.

The main "opposing viewpoint" books on this issue still seem to be Eleanor Burkett's "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless" in 2000, vs. Phillip Longman "The Empty Cradle" (2004) and maybe Carlson-Mero's "manifesto" "The Natural Family" (2007).

Remember, some people don't really have a "choice" on this. Particularly in developing countries, older teens wind up raising their siblings, and movies have been made about having to raise a subling's or relative's children.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Will "The Third Depression" be a second "Long Depression"?

On June 27, 2010 New York Times columnist Paul Krugman created some controversy with his short essay, “The Long Depression” – oops, that’s “The Third Depression”, link here

Kurgman argues that we are entering a period like the prolonged “depression” that followed the Panic of 1873, and even the Great Depression gave us short-lived but unsustainable upturns. His lays the blame on “policy”. Too much emphasis on controlling deficit and debt, not enough on making sure people get back to work.

True, the backs of this situation seem to be on the ordinary worker, with official 9.7% unemployment and a Congress snubbing resuming extended unemployment benefits.

What’s worse for much of the workforce is that automation has gutted some steady jobs like in manufacturing, financial services and even information technology, whereas jobs paying less and previously offering less benefits, as in personal care, increase. That’s because of demographics. In general, people may not be able to sustain the “independence” of the last three decades or so.

Salon (in a “How the World Works” piece by Andrew Leonard) is referring us to “Big Picture” for an image of a New York Times 1911 article on “The Recovery from the Great Panic of 1873”, here. “The Long Depression is hot!” Loenard warns, link here.

What then follows is social instability, an outgrowth of what I have called “quantum ethics” (my BillBoushka blog yesterday).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Banks ditch courtesy overdrafts, but consider what to do about low-balance checking account customers

Liz Pulliam Weston has a provocative article on MSN Money, “Is your bank about to fire you?”, link here

She explains how the disingenuous “courtesy overdrafts” work at many banks (not including Bank of America) that dupes poorer consumers into spending more than they have. Since the new financial reform laws crack down on this practice, there have been rumors that regular customers will be charged large monthly fees, because checking accounts generally are not profitable until there are large balances or many overdrafts. There is also a concern that low-balance customers will be dropped from many banks.

The FDIC wants banks to adopt a more efficient model for low balance checking accounts, including the use of debit cards rather than paper checks (which seem to incur a lot of labor costs for banks), very low fees, and regular FDIC insurance.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A BP bankruptcy gets thinkable, would make foreign oil dependence and unemployment much worse; AC360 airs White House Letter

Today Anderson Cooper tweeted a letter from Tom Foreman to Barack Obama, White House letter #532, “When is a recovery not a recovery?” Try it here on AC360’s blog.  (In my first book, I talked about my own 1993 White House Letter before "don't ask don't tell".)

He says, with some indignation, that no one in the administration will suffer or walk in the shoes of the Biblical poor.

Suddenly the Democrats are made to look like the cronies of Wall Street and corporate America. We all knew that, ever since Bush appointed Hank Paulson.

But Congress is still stalled on extending unemployment benefits, some saying that it makes workers too picky about what they will take. As if going out and peddling the latest financial fraud was a dignified way to go back to work.

I covet Anderson Cooper’s job. It would be fun to spend your life videotaping every crisis. (On Sept. 15, 2008, he was wading in Texas hurricane waters, taping, unaware that a financial crisis would erupt in New York City the next day, a Sunday no less.) And I have to admit, Anderson paid his dues early in his career. So did Sebastian Junger. Sebastian has made a movie (“Restrepo”), and it’s time for Anderson to go from CNN reports (Planet in Peril) to Landmark Theater or AFI Silver documentary movies. Join forces with Di Caprio.

The Fifth of July (the name of a famous Vietnam-era play) gives Wall Street a break today, but the week ahead does not look good. Read Mark Riddix, “3 Reasons to Root Against a BP Bankruptcy”, here.  They’re already starting to talk about it. Is any oil giant one “mistake” away from catastrophe now?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Supreme Court upholds Sarbanes-Oxley (sort of); but administrative agencies may need more watching as to ideological behavior

The Supreme Court upheld most of the core mechanics of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in a decision Monday June 28, in a case named “Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Accounting Oversight Board”, with slip opinion here.

David S. Hilzenrath has a story about the opinion on p A7 of the June 29 Washington Post, “Sarbanes-Oxley Act upheld by Justices; Only SEC has power to remove board members, ruling says”, link here.

The text of the Act at the GPO site is here.

In 2005, I pre-interviewed for the possibility of becoming an agent for New York Life, and was told that according to Sarbanes-Oxley, agents receiving a training bonus could not have any outside income. For example, that could not be paid for advertising on their blogs, and it was questionable if they could continue receiving royalties on books. I asked some employment people about this, and they were surprised, but I never heard anything more definitive.

The Free Enterprise Fund may be right in questioning whether agencies with administrative powers to regulate individuals and businesses should themselves have more specific oversight; otherwise citizens could be left at the whims of the ideologies of oversight boards.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Economy is sputtering again as stimuli run out; a misuse of the concept of "personal sovereignty"

Congress goes hooky for a week while leaving extended unemployment benefits alone, leaving a lot of people out to scavenge, while the signs of economic recovery are staggering. That’s because of a lot of the stimulus earlier this year has run out and Congress is disinclined to continue it, given the enormous deficits. We’re back in that same question we’ve had before.

Here’s the MSNBC video today July 1 on the stalled recovery, based on an AP story today.

Today, ABC World News Tonight portrayed a frightening story of the “sovereign citizen” movement, where citizens claim they are like sovereign countries and above the law, with a particularly galling incident in West Memphis AK (a place I stayed one night in Dec. 1992), link here. This certainly sounds like a perversion of the notion of "individual sovereignty" as I have often discusse it on these blogs.