Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Many thanks to our “rescue rangers” JennQKW and Mom of Twins for filling in for me while I was on a much-needed vacation with extended family. After a few intense weeks of long days at work, it was wonderful to catch up with my four cousins from the east coast over leisurely dinners, plenty of beach time and sunshine, and baseball games in southern California.

While I had seen many of the spots that I had taken them to, it was my first time at the Anaheim baseball stadium and Pfeiffer Beach, which is in central California and known for its purple sand.

Thank you all! I also received much-needed respite from the news. My heart breaks for the four children and two adults shot dead in Texas, apparently by an estranged father, according to ABC News.

And ICYMI, the Box Tops Marketplace program will close at the end of the month. Box top seals from products purchased up to July 31, 2014 will be honored, the company stated in an e-mail.

Also, this Washington Post op-ed by a mom who happened to own a mercedes when she fell into poverty and required food stamps is a must-read. It is bizarre the value judgements people in the U.S. make on the poor — including what a poor person should look like and behave. It’s enough pressure to make anyone crack!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Myth-Peddling About “Welfare Queens”

There is an oft-repeated phrase among progressive circles that the conservative right likes to create class warfare between the middle class and lower classes in order to (further) raise the rich.

This couldn’t be more obvious than Ronald Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen” story. Does anyone remember that made-up b.s. about folks — ahem, women with babies — living it up on food stamps?

Unfortunately, some of this myth-peddling dotted this otherwise sad and serious article in about the “enormous spike” in business Wal-Mart is drumming up due to hungry families on food assistance.

At the stroke of midnight, a growing number of Americans are lining up at Walmart not to cash in on a holiday sale, but because they’re hungry.

The increasing number of Americans relying on food stamps to survive the sluggish economic recovery has changed the way the largest retailer in the United States does business.

Carol Johnston, Walmart’s senior vice president of store development, said that store managers have seen an “enormous spike” in the number of consumers shopping at midnight on the first of the month.  That’s typically when those receiving federal food assistance have their accounts refilled each month.

“We’ll bring in more staff to stock.  We’ll also make sure all of our registers…are open…Some people may think at 12:01, Walmart’s very quiet, but in a lot of our areas of the country, 12:01 is a big day or a big night for us, actually,” Johnston said.

I made the mistake of reading through the story — and yikes! — comments. I refuse to run the mean-spirited ones so here is the reasonable voice of descent:

TANF payments are small and finite. I think people believe “welfare” to be a thousand or more dollars a month and and an endless loop. You can collect cash assistance for a max of 5 years in most places and you’re required to seek employment if you are unemployed. I just looked this up and for a family of 3 making $900 a month, they’d get about $130 in assistance per month. Yeah, those lazy bums are really living it up on that welfare, aren’t they?

Bravo, Janie! In related news, the Boston Globe ran a sad “Globe Santa” letter by a Head Start teacher whose husband was laid off during the recession. To survive, they have depleted their savings, retirement and children’s college funds and now have no money for Christmas gifts. I have a feeling that newspapers across the country will have many of these letters to run. Sad.


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Get ready to take a shower. A story in Huffington Post Latino Voices about the high high school dropout rate among Latino students, garnered a lot of hateful comments, primarily against Latinos. Let’s see, the reason we have so many uneducated people in our community is because we don’t value education and don’t want to learn English. First, I want to give these commenters the middle finger. I also want to comment on the latter: I bet many of these students don’t speak or read Spanish well either. Heck, I’ve encountered many Americans who don’t speak English well — and that’s the only language they speak! Let’s have a serious conversation in this country about the root causes for these abhorrent statistics: poverty and illiteracy. It has nothing to do with the language spoken at home, which if I had to guess, the kids probably prefer English.

Don’t you love research that tries to justify prejudice? MSN Health covered some research out of Canada that voters prefer male voices — in other words, male politicians. Ick.

The Boston Globe ran a sad story about parents of mentally ill kids having to call the police. It also highlighted the complexity of our mental health system that can incarcerate anyone a danger to himself or society, but not force him to take medication. Also in the Boston Globe: the brains of autistic children appear to be heavier due to more neurons that developed while the children were in the womb.  

In celebrity gossip: Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher have called it quits after six years of marriage, according to MSN Wonderwall.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Healthcare Rant

Update: Good news! My sister was approved for a transfer to a hospital in Massachusetts. This facility has the expertise to tend to someone with her condition, and it is something my dad has been fighting for. We are all so thrilled. -Elisa

I need to vent.

Going through my sister’s illness right now — my family is trying to get Medicaid for her, as she has no employer-backed health insurance — I am really angry about our country’s lack of public health insurance. A friend of mine from Spain asked me why the United States still has no health insurance for its citizens, and I told her about the ugliness of the “Obamacare” debacle, in which the industry and the Tea Party came up with all kinds of excuses like “socialism” and coverage for abortions and the undocumented.

“We cover everyone, including the undocumented,” she told me.

Exactly. They may be a smaller country with less taxpayers and GDP, but they manage to give everyone healthcare, including immigrants and tourists. As for us, we continue to come up with excuses on why we can’t give even our own citizens this basic human right.

With that in mind, this story in the Washington Post came of no surprise:

The total number of people living in poverty — defined in 2010 as at or below an income of $22,314 for a family of four — is now at the highest level in the 52 years the statistic has been collected….The Census Bureau also reported that 16.3 percent of Americans are without health coverage, a share that officials called statistically unchanged from 2009.

Wow. That’s more people without health insurance after healthcare reform. I recently learned that the “pre-existing condition” stipulation doesn’t kick in until 2014. A friend of mine, her husband and their daughter are in this ugly situation, in which they lost their jobs and health insurance, and are covered by COBRA, which they can’t afford anymore. OTOH, they can’t get on California’s public health insurance, unless they drop COBRA for six months. Yet they don’t qualify for an individual private insurance plan to hold them over because of pre-existing conditions. “We’re screwed,” is what she told me.



Education On My Mind

Lately, I have engaged with many people from my husband to Oakland public school parents on the state of education in our country. I can talk about this topic for hours — as I know many of you can! Here are a few things on my mind:

My husband and I, who both graduated from excellent suburban public high schools, got into a discussion on the disparities in public schools. My husband was convinced there was a correlation between disparities in schools and the growing income disparity in our country. After reading this article in the Texas Tribune, I couldn’t agree more.

Michael Marder, a professor in the University of Texas’ department of physics and co-director of the university’s UTeach program, which prepares university graduates to become secondary math and science teachers, prepared charts of every piece of data you’d ever want to know about student achievement, like, what effect teacher bargaining had on student test scores as well as how charter schools compare to regular public schools. Even better, you can check out all this data in your home state, which he also had. I had fun comparing the charts.

But one of the things that blew me away is that Marder has yet to find a single school that serves a majority of low-income students — think schools in which 80 percent of the students qualify for the free lunch program — that could churn out more than a handful of students who could pass tests like the SAT. “The schools that serve the wealthy kids are up here,” Marder signaled with his hand on a video. “And the schools that serve the poor kids are down here. There are no exceptions…Not one. I did not find one this year, I did not find one last year or the year before that.”

Marder thought it was imperative that we find a way to help out these students. My question to you all is…how? Sometimes I feel like we’ve dug a hole for ourselves in the way we have insisted on cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and both stigmatizing and cutting social safety nets that would help our most vulnerable families. How do we reverse this trend?

Also on my mind: I’ve received a lot of e-mails from Oakland Public School parents who just averted a crisis. Due to our state’s financial irresponsibility — how else could you explain $26 billion in debt when we have so many wealthy people and businesses in the state? — some of the schools in Oakland were in danger of shutting down this year. There were schools that expected to lay off all of their teachers!

Now I understand that the crisis was averted until…next year. My question for you all is where are students supposed to go if their school shuts down? Have any of you experienced a school closing?

Finally, I went out this weekend to the movies with friends. We saw Water for Elephants, which strayed from the book, but was still quite good. I enjoyed it.

We saw an earlier showing to eat dinner afterwards. The topic of conversation? The movie and…schools. I have a couple friends in the Berkeley public school district, which thankfully is being funded by a couple of taxpayer-approved bond measures. We have weathered a lot of the crisis facing other school districts like our neighbor Oakland.

But my friends had a complaint. They weren’t satisfied with their teachers this year. I asked one of them what she considered to be a “good teacher.” My friend thought about it for a moment and said that the issue with public education today is that there is such a range in child ability that it is impossible for a teacher to address every single person’s needs in the classroom. In her case, her child was just coasting since the teacher had to tend to other student’s needs. We got a laugh at how he is constantly tooting his own horn at being the “smart kid” in class.

My other friend echoed her. My question to you all is: have you noticed these disparities in the classroom? What have you done, if anything, to address them? How do you support your child — and the school?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

New Hampshire was ranked the healthiest state for children, although the ranking did not include an increase in poverty rates due to the recession, according to a report covered by the Associated Press. Minnesota and Vermont ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the list.

On the other end of the spectrum, the same foundation that issued the report, found that Texas has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The New York office of the commissioner of investigation for city schools has recommended that high school history teacher Nathan Turner be banned from teaching in the public schools for taking students to Cuba in 2007, according to the New York Daily News. The students were detained in the Bahamas for the unauthorized trip, although their parents allowed them to go.

Struggling cities in the United States are offering free land to encourage people to settle there and pay taxes, according to MSN Money.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on how technology is cutting into teenagers’ precious sleep.

PBS Kids will air a science special that features the Cat in the Hat on Labor Day, September 6. The show will air at 8 a.m. You can view a clip at Facebook.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Want Mothers To Work? Provide Childcare

The New York Times ran an article on the “new poor.” They are working class mothers who are forced on the welfare rolls from paid work because the government has cut their childcare subsidies.

From the Times:

TUCSON — Able-bodied, outgoing and accustomed to working, Alexandria Wallace wants to earn a paycheck. But that requires someone to look after her 3-year-old daughter, and Ms. Wallace, a 22-year-old single mother, cannot afford child care.

Last month, she lost her job as a hair stylist after her improvised network of baby sitters frequently failed her, forcing her to miss shifts. She qualifies for a state-run subsidized child care program. But like many other states, Arizona has slashed that program over the last year, relegating Ms. Wallace’s daughter, Alaya, to a waiting list of nearly 11,000 eligible children.

Despite a substantial increase in federal support for subsidized child care, which has enabled some states to stave off cuts, others have trimmed support, and most have failed to keep pace with rising demand, according to poverty experts and federal officials.

That has left swelling numbers of low-income families struggling to reconcile the demands of work and parenting, just as they confront one of the toughest job markets in decades.

There is something we can do about it. MomsRising is circulating a petition to give millions of families across the country access to quality and affordable childcare.

For folks who feel like this idea does not benefit them, here is a pretty compelling reason:

Studies have shown that affordable child care is a key part of the economy and is responsible for generating nearly $580 billion in labor income and $69 billion in tax revenue while providing more than 15 million jobs.

Not to mention, we would have a labor force that would include the talents and skills of mothers, 80 percent of women 44 years and younger in this country.


Free Breakfast Program Tied to Student Focus

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had a pretty good feature article on the free breakfast program in some Texas schools.

The principals at those schools are finding that children are more likely to behave themselves and focus on their studies when they eat breakfast.

This year his school is one of four in the Fort Worth district participating in a free program that offers breakfast to each of his 450 students, most of whom are economically disadvantaged.

The change at his school has been remarkable, (Principal Marion) Mouton said. “Discipline problems are down, and student focus is up,” he said….

The Child Nutrition Act, which mandates the federal school breakfast and lunch programs, is set to go before Congress in the spring for reauthorization. The School Nutrition Association is pushing for increased funding for the breakfast program, spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner said.

Pratt-Heavner said research has shown that students who have breakfast regularly have fewer discipline problems, score better on tests and visit the school nurse less.

Those who skip breakfast have trouble concentrating and memorizing work, she said.

“Breakfast is important to academic performance,” she said. “So many schools try to bring in breakfast on high-stakes testing days. We certainly think it’s important for them to get breakfast every day.”

The one part in the article that made me sad was that many families in Texas choose not to participate in the program because of the stigma that they are poor. That is why policy experts prefer programs, in which every student can receive a free breakfast.

This week, the Food Research and Action Center reported that about 8.8 million low-income students ate breakfast at school on an average day, more than in years past. But the number is still less than half of the 18.9 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

In Texas, 54.7 percent of such low-income students had breakfast at school, the 10th-highest in the nation, according to the report. The center said that many students do not participate in the breakfast program when it is not free for everyone because of the stigma of being labeled poor. It estimated that in 2008, nearly 1 in 4 children in the nation lived in a household struggling with hunger.

Does your child’s school have a free breakfast program? How is it implemented?

For more stories on the politics of school food, check out this post.


lice – updated

Update:  It’s gotten worse – my oldest daughter and I both have them now as well.  I’ve been doing laundry and picking nits non-stop for two days.  I’m not sure how I’ll get them out of my own hair, as it isn’t something you can easily do for yourself and my husband can barely see the nits when I point them out to him.

I guess it was inevitable.  My son’s school has been hit hard by lice, and his classroom has been the epicenter.  Our luck has finally run out.  My plans for the day include nitpicking, a really short haircut for my son, tons and tons of laundry, and crossing my fingers that the rest of the family doesn’t have them too.  My head is itchy, but I’m not sure whether that is due to lice, or just thinking about li

It is easy to see why lice are so hard to get rid of.  The commercial treatments are not cheap, and they require a great deal of diligence to successfully remove all the eggs.  The treatment has to be repeated a second time a week later to ensure no new lice have hatched.  (While it is possible to get rid of lice without using the commercially available treatments, it requires an even greater level of diligence.)  All the bedding, coats, linens etc need to be washed and dried at a high temp.   If you didn’t have easy access to a washer and dryer, it would be tempting to take your chances.  My son’s school is a high poverty school – many families are really struggling to keep food on the table.  For a lot of families, there just isn’t an extra $20 per person for the lice treatment, or an extra $15 or more for an unplanned trip to the laundromat to wash everything you own.  I hadn’t thought about the economics of head lice before, but I’m sure that poverty is part of the problem at my son’s school.  When there is barely enough money for food and shelter, lice eradication isn’t going to be anyone’s first priority.  


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

Vaccines for AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, genital herpes and other diseases are five years away, according to the Associated Press.

I know some of you mentioned this in Gloria’s open thread this morning, but due to flooding at one of its bakeries, Kellogg’s is facing a Leggo waffle shortage that will last until the middle of 2010, according to MSN Money. The latest Washington Post e-mail newsletter reported that some people were attempting to profit from the shortage by auctioning off a box of Leggo waffles for $65. Also in MSN Money: Costco will no longer carry Coca Cola products because of a pricing dispute.

Texas is No. 2 in impoverished people with inadequate food, according to the Dallas Morning News. The state is also experiencing a backlog in the food stamps program, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

From the Washington Post: a University of Pennsylvania professor put to rest the American notion that owning a home is always better than renting.

Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, just gave birth to a baby girl, Sarah Lynne Cheney, according to Salon. This would be the second child for Cheney and her partner of more than 17 years, Heather Poe.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?