Democracy Chronicles

Syndicate content
Worldwide Democracy News
Updated: 2 min 38 sec ago

The $1.5 Trillion Tax Con

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 12:43

The Republican Party once stood for fiscal conservatism, but those days are long gone when you look at the current tax reform bill that they are in the midst of passing.   Instead of muddling through the details, the takeaway is this:  Corporations win and the 99 percenters lose.  Without real spending cuts to offset the proposed tax cuts, their plan will add $1.5 trillion1 to the already existing $20 trillion deficit.2  It will slash taxes on the wealthy while raising taxes on those earning $10,000-$75,0003 and even raise taxes on graduate students.4  Why aren’t we all outraged at this?  Because we’re not paying attention.

The ruling party has not passed any real legislation since the election, and they need to accomplish something for their wealthy donors, or their campaign contributions will run dry.5  If they can con their voters into thinking that they are looking out for them while they’re trying to take away their healthcare, then they can certainly get away with increasing their taxes so that the wealthy can save a few extra bucks that they don’t even need.

This latest scam further proves a need to limit and provide public funding for election campaigns.  Get big money and special interest groups out of government once and for all.  Shorten and limit the amount of time and money candidates could spend campaigning, since, currently, elected officials are expected to devote four hours a day on fundraising activities alone,6 four hours they should be spending on governing.

You think that special interest groups don’t have any sort of negative impact on Americans?  “60 Minutes” recently aired a startlingly expose7 about how the pharmaceutical industry used its influence over Congress to contribute to the “worst drug epidemic in American history.”  Drug companies’ lust for profit has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and has been aided by our own government.  And how are they attempting to treat the opioid crisis?  With more drugs of course.  The NIH has proposed to allow drug companies to profit even further from a drug problem that they helped create by allowing federal funding to help improve and create new drugs that would treat opioid addiction.8  It isn’t as if pharma desperately needs funding from taxpayer money.

Historically, taxes have been an important issue when it comes to deciding on whom to vote for. Remember when President George H.W. Bush uttered “Read my lips:  no new taxes?”  With a Democratic-controlled Congress, he was forced to raise taxes anyway which resulted in his losing the ’92 election.  Today, we have fallen asleep at the wheel and our senators and representatives know it.  When the majority of Americans that voted for our current government are also the very people that would be hurt the most by the repeal of the ACA and the new tax plan proposal, it’s time to wake up and take our country back.

  1. http://www.crfb.org/blogs/tax-cut-and-jobs-act-will-cost-15-trillion
  2. http://www.usdebtclock.org/
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/16/senate-tax-bill-cuts-taxes-of-wealthy-and-hikes-taxes-of-families-earning-under-75000-over-a-decade/?utm_term=.afc0079d821c
  4. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/16/house-gop-tax-plan-could-increase-taxes-for-grad-students-by-400-percent.html
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/congress/house-tax-panel-adopts-gop-changes-after-day-of-bickering/2017/11/06/e2f88a9e-c35d-11e7-9922-4151f5ca6168_story.html?utm_term=.8def5506febc
  6. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/call-time-congressional-fundraising_n_2427291.html
  7. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-dea-agent-opioid-crisis-fueled-by-drug-industry-and-congress/
  8. http://www.chronicle.com/article/To-Counter-Opioid-Crisis-NIH/240219?cid=wcontentlist_hp_latest

Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case before Supreme Court Critical to Future of Gerrymandering

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 17:29

United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C, photo credit nhpr.org

Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court began to review the process of Gerrymandering in Wisconsin, after numerous complaints, mainly coming from Democrats that the Republican led legislature, unfairly re-drew the maps after the 2010 census.

The process of gerrymandering coincides with the census, which is required to be taken every ten years. However, the process of gerrymandering has become extremely political with politicians being able to draw those maps, and largely to the favor for the political party in the majority.

“When legislatures think about drawing these maps, they’re not only thinking about the next election, they’re thinking often, not always, but often about the election after that and the election after that, and that election after that,” Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan said in referencing re-redistricting. Like many cases that come before the highest court in the land, the judges are divided amongst ideological lines as liberal justices are mostly in favor of the plaintiffs, while conservative justices are skeptical of the plaintiffs.

The case before the supreme court was brought up by several Democrat voters who sued in 2015. In the suit, they claimed that their constitutional rights had been violated. Their argument was validated by a three-judge panel in Wisconsin who rule 2 to 1 in their favor that the new maps had violated their constitutional rights, thus paving the way for the Supreme Court to review the case.

Whatever way the court rules will have a nationwide impact on how the political process is gone about throughout the country. “I think it’s huge,” said, Edward B. Foley, who is the director of the online Election Law project in Moritz College at Ohio State University.

The ruling also could affect upcoming Presidential races, as Wisconsin was a battleground state in 2016, and proved to be one of the deciding states. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin, 47.86 percent to 46.94 percent for challenger Hillary Clinton.

“The whole point is you’re taking these issues away from democracy and you’re throwing them to the courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts said regarding the case. Roberts expresses the view of many conservatives on the court who are skeptical of the complaints fearing court intervention would override the democratic process of overruling the elected lawmakers who drew the maps.

The process of gerrymandering goes all the way back to the 1800s, and future presidents during that period have been frustrated with the process as their congressional districts have been redrawn forcing them to retire early.

The issue of gerrymandering has brought strange alliances together as several moderate Republicans, one of which, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been the lead voice for Republicans against the process.

“A holding in their favor would politicize the courts and would go far beyond intervention in the political thicket, it would impale the judiciary on its thorns,” a statement by the Wisconsin Republican Party read.

The ruling will not only affect Wisconsin, but also several states that have had re-redistricting done. Some states include, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina just to name a few. The several states that are included which could be affected, are Republican majority states, with the exception of Maryland being the lone Democratic state.

Democrats have long been opposed to the measure saying that it interferes with people’s constitutional rights.

According to a Brown University study, an incumbent member of the House of Representatives has a 98 percent chance at re-election. Furthermore, since the 2004 elections, an incumbent member of the Congress were 97.9 percent more likely to be re-elected. Many have blamed gerrymandering for the increase.

The court has said a ruling is expected by the summer.

In conclusion, the U.S Supreme Court should hear a case in which people feels their constitutional rights are violated however, if it believes the process is legitimate the justices should put aside their ideology and rule what is right with the law instead of ruling in favor of their ideology.

Links to sources:

  1. New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/us/wisconsin-supreme-court-gerrymander.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=U.S.&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article
  2. Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2017/09/29/wisconsin-redistricting-case-u-s-supreme-courtcould-rewrite-rules-how-states-draw-their-election-map/701253001/
  3. ProPublica: https://www.propublica.org/article/partisan-gerrymandering-is-still-about-race
  4. Brown University Study: file:///C:/Users/Tmann/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/IE/B28RCSOB/incumbents.pdf

 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Questioning Testing Guidelines

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 00:52

image link

As scientific and medical advances have rapidly progressed over the past century, life-saving knowledge has been brought to humanity, but controversies have been brought on, too. Important questions addressing ethics and financial issues have arisen amidst attempts to provide often expensive and complicated diagnostic and therapeutic technology to people the world over. While we tend to think altruistically about the benefits to society from the development and availability of tests that will, for instance, help determine the risk of getting a certain cancer in the future or find a cancer in its early stages, there is money, big money, involved. And that is inherently intertwined in much of the “medical” decision-making that sets standards and guidelines the medical community abides by. Who makes the decisions that establish the standards of medical care and the guidelines for a variety of medical testing is a fascinating question. And, it’s complicated because human lives and millions of dollars are at stake.

One expensive and complicated medical technology that has emerged over the past 20 years is genetic sequencing and testing—the ability to sequence the human genome and detect now known deleterious mutations that put a cancer-affected individual at a risk for another cancer or an unaffected person at risk for a particular cancer in the future. Myriad, a molecular diagnostic company, focused this technology on the BRCA genes, which are DNA-repair genes.

Mutations in either of these genes puts a woman at a cumulative lifetime risk of ~40-85% of developing breast cancer, and 16-40% of developing ovarian cancer, compared with the 12.7% and 1.4% lifetime risk for the general population of developing breast or ovarian cancer, respectively. Myriad isolated and sequenced the genes, obtained patent applications for the sequencing technology, and gained sole control over the testing for these genetic mutations. Given Myriad’s control over testing for BRCA mutations, the question of how it would decided as to who should be genetically tested became a controversial issue. Should Myriad itself decide, given the extensive genetic information it had at its disposal? Should it be a consensus decision among various independent medical/public health organizations?

Historically, important public health decisions have been made by consensus of various large medical organizations. In the case of genetic testing, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the American Medical Association (AMA) convened to set guidelines for risk assessment and genetic testing. However, in this unique case where a private company had most of the information needed to set guidelines, it developed its own guidelines. But, did it make sense to leave the determination of such expensive testing in the hands of a company that stood to singularly gain financially from the testing?

Myriad lost its exclusive patent in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that human genes could no longer be patented. The company, however, still continues to maintain dominance in the genetic sequencing business by being allowed to exclusively withhold 20 years worth of genetic data on the BRCA, and not have to share them with the scientific community. Myriad has not disclosed statistical information that might be helpful to other laboratories, such as data on mutational variants of unknown significance (VUS), whose impacts are still unclear, but are being worked on by other geneticists.

Furthermore, this withholding of information makes Myriad’s analyses of BRCA mutations closed to clinical peer review, and thus patients are expected to take Myriad’s conclusions on faith. Myriad’s test though should be looked by patients with a grain of salt—it does not always detect large-scale rearrangements of the genes, and sometimes produces indeterminate or false results that can be damaging to patients’ psyches, especially for those who tested negative and later develop breast cancer. The test should be reviewed by other groups to help develop more comprehensive tests that patients can better trust.

Contrary to the recent advent of genetic testing, there has been diagnostic screening tool around for 40 years that can detect breast cancer at its early stage—the mammogram. Similar to the question of who should be genetically tested, there is the central question of when a woman should be screened. The question of whether women under 50 should be screened has remained controversial since the 1970s.

Data from the only major widespread randomized trial on mammography screening, conducted by the Health Insurance Plan (HIP) of New York, in 1963, did not demonstrated a benefit for women aged 40-49 (or even women aged 60-69 for that matter). In this study, participants began having mammograms in their late 40s, continuing to have them after they turned 50; as a result, it has remained unclear as to whether those women that were diagnosed with breast cancer were younger or older than 50 at the time.

Nevertheless, even without scientific evidence of statistically significant benefits for women aged 40-49, the American College of Radiology (ACR) and American Cancer Society (ACS) have always staunchly recommended routine annual mammograms during these years, rather than waiting to begin at age 50. Conversely, groups like the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) seeing that screening was not proven effective for those 40-49, considered screening during those years as ineffective. They also noted that ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) diagnoses were highest in the 40-49 age group, and argued that over half of the time these cases are “harmless,” and if left alone, would not progress to advanced stage breast cancer.

However, because doctors cannot tell if the DCIS is harmful, it is treated like invasive breast cancer, usually with surgical excision by lumpectomy, with or without radiation therapy, or even a mastectomy, which can cause extreme, and perhaps unnecessary anxiety in patients. Among these groups, the ACR, ACS, NCI, and USPSTF, who should have the final word on setting the screening age guidelines? Unless a randomized study is conducted for women aged 40-49, I do not think any of these groups can make the ultimate decision. There is currently not enough statistical evidence on when breast cancer rates significantly increase, and without this information, guidelines on the threshold age of screening initiation cannot be set.

Both BRCA genetic testing and mammography have the ability to create unneeded anxiety, whether it be because of a false positive, or in the case of mammography, the detection of noninvasive cancer that could have may no impact on a woman’s life if left undetected. However, both tests also allow for early detection that can save countless numbers of lives.

Ideally, patients should engage in an open dialogue with their doctors over the benefits, risks, and limitations of these tests, as well as their individual risks of breast cancer so that they can decide on what is best for themselves. This is a decision that should not be left in the hands of potentially financially motivated medical companies.

Sources

 

Gold, E.R., and Julia Carbone. “Myriad Genetics: In the eye of the policy storm.” Genetics in

Medicine 12 (2010): S39-S69.

 

Levy, Sharon. “Our Shared Code: The Myriad Decision and the Future of Genetic Research.”

Environmental Health Perspectives (121): A250-A253.

 

Reynolds, Handel. The Big Squeeze, A Social and Political History of the Controversial

Mammogram. New York: Cornell University Press, 2012.

 

 

Kurds Vote Overwhelmingly for Independence in Iraq

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 02:03

Picture credit: CNN.com

Following through on a long-desired promise to have a country of their own Kurds in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Syria have finally been able to place votes for independence. The desire to have their own country has been an objective of Kurds since the end of world war one, and remain the only ethnic group to not have their own country.

There are approximately  30 million Kurds who have been spread across five countries. The first vote came from the semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq who voted over 92percent in favor for independence. The independence vote is a threat to the Iraqi government as the Kurd’s region is dominated by oil, a valuable natural resource.

The vote took place in the northern city of Erbil close to the Iranian border with Iraq. Approximately 3 million people live in the Northern region of Iraq which is officially seen as “semi-autonomous.”

“Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Kurdish President, Masoud Barnzani said following the results. Several countries including the United States, Iraq Syria, and Turkey have come out in strong opposition to the referendum.

The Kurdistan people make up approximately  30 million of the population between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Voting for the independence movement has united some unlikely allies against the Kurds as the split from Baghdad would mean a tremendous amount of oil lost for many of the countries that are neighboring the region.

Baghdad and Turkey have threatened to shut down air space, along with Turkey threatening to implement a trade embargo if the Kurds finalize their vote and go through with independence. The Kurds have been an invaluable asset in the fight against IS in Syria and Iraq and peshmerga forces have been one of the most loyal fighters the United States could rely upon in the struggle in the region.

“We don’t want a fight between Iraqi citizens,” Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi said in a response to the voting. Iraq sees the Kurds technically as citizens of their country even though they have long desired their own home.

In threatening the Kurds, Iraq has joined Turkey with being a country that has threatened to use or has use violence against the Kurds in a measure to suppress their goals for an autonomous state. Turkey started conducting military action against the PKK in March of 2017 in hopes of what it termed “not containing but completely destroying the group who is composed of Kurds and is seen as a threat to the Turkish government.

“We are living through the most successful period of our 35 year old struggle against the PKK,” Turkish defense minister Fikri Isik said regarding the military operations. Turkey and the PKK have been fighting since 1984 when the PKK started its struggle for independence inside of Turkey.

“In the period since July 23, 2015, more than 10,500 terrorists have been neutralized. This is a major success. The terror outfit has been rendered incapable of carrying out operations. We are going to break their spine and take all measures to make sure that they will never threaten this country again,” Isik continued in the response.

The PKK is a multi-country political party found in Turkey and Iraq, and is considered a rebel group in both countries.

According to the PKK’s website, they are technically listed as a terrorist organization under NATO, the EU, and the United States.

However, despite this, there are some in the U.S who have called on the world to respect the vote. “Monday’s historic vote in the Kurdistan Region should be recognized and respect in the world,” U.S Senator Chuck Schumer said about the vote.

The Iraqi parliament has also authorized the movement of Iraqi troops to the area. Several major oil pipelines travel through the region making it strategically important for the development and outsourcing of oil in the region and world oil markets.

PKK beliefs are rooted in Socialism; however, they have been a valuable ally in the fight against IS.

Ultimately, the United States should tread carefully in this situation even though the Peshmerga Kurds have been a tremendous ally in the fight against IS, we should be willing to acknowledge their independence but make sure their goals are legitimate and to make sure they aren’t setting up a state that will become dictatorial like that in Syria and or Turkey two of the very states they are fighting against.

Links to sources:

  1. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/27/over-92-of-iraqs-kurds-vote-for-independence
  2. Al-Monitor: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2017/06/turkey-army-new-rural-terrain-offensive-against-pkk.html
  3. The Kurdish Project.org: https://thekurdishproject.org/latest-news/us-senator-chuck-schumer-calls-independent-kurdish-state/
  4. Rubin Center.org: http://www.rubincenter.org/2013/08/the-main-kurdish-political-parties-in-iran-iraq-syria-and-turkey-a-research-guide/
  5. CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/26/a-small-region-in-iraq-just-became-one-of-the-oil-markets-biggest-concerns.html

 

 

 

The 95% Failure Rate of Foster Care in America

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 16:04

The broken-hearted stood up to give witness in Clinton, Iowa on October 8, 2016. After campaigning political candidates finished, families took the microphone. A soft-spoken, middle-aged woman went first (edited for clarity):

“Iowa Department of Human Services [DHS] took my three granddaughters that had been living with me – two biological and one non-biological granddaughter. DHS said I could adopt the non-biological granddaughter but not the biological sisters. I did adopt my daughter’s stepdaughter. 

But my 6 and 8 year-old granddaughters were sent into a stranger’s home where a charge had already been made that a teenage foster girl was abused. My granddaughters were fostered for a year then adopted by this family even though I tried to stop it in court. Last year the two girls ran away, six miles through the woods in their flip-flops to people they once knew. When police arrived, the sheriff took them back to the foster home.

I know they are being hurt. No one will investigate. Just as bad, they tell my girls that I don’t love them and that is just not true.”

Next a sweet-toned and sad-beyond-words young mother told how Iowa DHS took her twin baby boys:

“There had never been any abuse in our home. The babies were born prematurely. DHS took our twin baby boys without any paperwork, without court orders, and without any warrant for removal. DHS illegally terminated our parental rights and [when the boys were ten months old] ‘adopted them out’. When they finally gave me paperwork, the paper said ‘possible future abuse’ even when there was no abuse ever in our home.”

Then Dillon Wyckoff walked to the front of a now very quiet room. About ten weeks earlier, Dillon’s 2 year-old-son Mason died from oxycodone given to him by his drug-addicted mother who died of an overdose shortly later.

“Despite my concerns about Mason being in his mother’s care, the fact that she had not followed through with her mental health treatment recommendations, my reporting over and over to law enforcement, DHS and the courts that she was a threat to herself and to Mason, all supported by documentation and audio recordings . . . my actions triggered the following result — DHS did nothing, nothing.”

Because they were not married, the court awarded full custody of Mason to his mother. Dillon fought for Mason his entire life. He believes if DHS had listened and investigated more closely, Mason would be alive. A year after his son’s murder, Dillon works to change Iowa family laws to support shared custody.

After a short break, a wiry and determined woman walked to the microphone:

“My three grandchildren lived with me their whole lives. They were taken by Iowa DHS on November 1, 2013 when they were 13, 12 and 7. The two oldest went through years of therapy for abuse from their father. The youngest had never met her father. DHS takes them from me and places them with their father. They went from a 5-bedroom house they called home to a 2-bedroom trailer with eight people.”

Foster care is a national scandal not just an Iowa problem. Billions of taxpayer dollars go to breaking up families and sustaining a system that produces abused, traumatized, trafficked and murdered children.

About 95% of the time when state agencies take children away from families, the accusations turn out to be false or unsubstantiated. Or social workers remove children for reasons confusing “neglect” and poverty, a combination brutally impacting families of color. Or state rules prevent grandparents trying to help in a family crisis gain custody of their own grandchildren.

Even worse, outcomes for children who spend any time at all in foster care are mostly terrible. Children placed in foster care are far too often abused, assaulted, over-medicated and sexually trafficked. More likely to be depressed, they often attempt suicide, become pregnant or land in jail at an early age.

Certainly, some children must be taken out of abusive homes. In 2014, about 1,580 children died from abuse and neglect. With an expanding opioid crisis in America, the number of at-risk children will only grow as will the need for quality foster care in loving homes.

Instead, foster care in America is an abusive, multi-billion dollar, for-profit failure. About 671,000 children are taken each year from biological families and placed in a stranger’s foster care with 428,000 children in state-ordered care on an average day. Taxpayer dollars to the states quickly add up:

The federal government pays states about $6,000 per child per month in foster care. Many thousands of dollars more per month go from federal accounts to states for family assessments and home studies that then require federally funded parenting classes, anger management or drug and alcohol treatment. More dollars flow to the states for “special needs” fostered children such as any child who requires any medication, bringing on a whole other set of abuses. A $4,000 or bonus goes to states for the termination of parental rights and “adopting out” of foster children.

The federal government sends between $4 and $12 billion to states for taking children and breaking up families; add to that multiple funding streams in state funds convinces some reform activists that foster care is a $50 billion industry. In turn, states hire large corporations and non-profit organizations to manage a state’s lucrative foster care system.

With billions of dollars driving local agency decisions, children are taken by the state often for lifestyle choices. A young married couple traveling America delivered their baby in Alabama. Without a warrant or court order, the Alabama Department of Human Services took their healthy son literally as the mom nursed her newborn. Alabama DHS justified what some call “medical-kidnapping” because the parents did not want to name their baby that day or assign their newborn a social security number. The baby was born on October 10, 2016. As of September 2017, Alabama still had the baby in foster care.

Activity that is legal in one state may mean termination of parental rights in another state. A Colorado couple, Raymond and Amelia Schwab, are fighting the Kansas Department of Children and Families who took five of their six happy and healthy children in April 2015. Kansas took the children in part based on allegations that Raymond used marijuana.

Discharged from the Navy in 1996 with a 50% disability rating, Raymond became dependent on painkillers prescribed by a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital that led to a heroin addiction. He overcame the addiction in faith-based rehabilitation and by switching to medical marijuana, legal in Colorado but not Kansas.

In 2013, Raymond moved to Kansas to work as a VA benefits counselor. In 2015, he decided to move back to Colorado to access medical marijuana for his chronic Gulf War pain and disability. In April 2015, literally as they were packing to move to Colorado, Amelia’s mother took the five children to a police station saying they had been abandoned. Cleared in court twice of all allegations of abuse, the children remained in state custody.

In March 2016, Raymond went on a hunger strike when notified by the Kansas Department for Children and Families that their five-year old daughter had been sexually molested and two of their sons had been physically abused in foster care; and their 13-year old son was about to be sent to a psychiatric facility and had already started psychotropic medication despite the parent’s objections.

In December 2016, the County judge ruled against termination of parental rights, ordering the children home. Reunification would wait on an interstate agreement and a Colorado home study. Visitations increased. As of mid-September 2017, the children remain in state custody. Just this one family means revenue to Kansas of at least $840,000 and likely closer to three million dollars since medication and counseling mean the Schwab children are now labeled “special needs,” bringing Kansas more federal dollars.

Foster Care’s 95% Failure Rate

Outcomes for children who spend any time in foster care are consistently terrible. Foster care in America is considered by many broken families child kidnapping funded by taxpayers. Except in cases of significant abuse and neglect, the mounting evidence says child services budgets should be spent keeping families together. The largest studies from 2006, 2007 and 2008 found that except for the most severe cases of abuse, even maltreated children who remained at home did better than maltreated children placed in foster care.

The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) reported that of every 100 children investigated as possible victims of abuse, three are ‘substantiated’ victims of physical abuse from the most minor to the most severe, and about two more are specifically victims of sexual abuse. Most of the rest are false allegations or cases in which poverty is confused with neglect.

Family advocate Jennifer Winn and prior spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Families and Children, Theresa Freed, agree: “Only 4% of the children they [Kansas state agencies] remove from homes are removed on grounds that are substantiated.”

True damage is inflicted on children seized by the state:

  • A Casey Family study showed adults who had been in foster care were twice as likely to be depressed, 22 times more likely to experience homelessness, and three times more likely to live at or under the poverty level than the general population.
  • The Casey study also found fostered adults had Post Traumatic Stress twice the rate of Iraqi war veterans. One out of three reported maltreatment in the foster home. By age 25, 81% of male foster care alumni had been arrested at least once and 35% incarcerated.
  • Children in foster care and those who age out are four times more likely to attempt suicide (even as young as 7 years old) and 12 times more likely to receive psychotropic medication.
  • A Colorado study found the resting heart rate is higher for children in foster care: they are always alert for danger and in “flight or fight” mode.

Most children used for sexual trafficking are foster children. In a 2013 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) nationwide raid to rescue child sex trafficking victims in 70 cities, 60% were children in foster care or group homes. The year before in Connecticut, 86 of 88 victims were from child welfare agencies. One in three foster care children later report sexual abuse in the foster home.

Whistle blowers face punishment or worse. Social workers in Kentucky were fired for refusing to place children in foster homes suspected of abuse or refusing to terminate parental rights despite pressure from supervisors who had already picked out influential adoptive families. The late Georgia state congresswoman Nancy Schaefer, who died under mysterious circumstances, spoke for every state in the union when she said: “I am convinced there is no responsibility and no accountability in Child Protective Services.”

The stress and emotional damage heaped on families with children seized by the state cannot be underestimated:

Once they have you in the system you cannot get out. There are evaluations and required classes and searches of homes without notice. There are demands to show up for meetings that mean lost pay and lost jobs. And if you lose your pay and can’t cover your car insurance they say you do not have a safe home and your child stays in foster care.”

The married parents of the newborn taken by Alabama Human Services wrote a powerful 25-page letter to Alabama officials listed thirteen federal laws and nine Constitutional amendments broken when their baby was seized:

“So stop trying to make up laws in your bureaucratic mind any longer and try to coerce us, oppress us, or place us under any more duress or any more threats of harm, like you have already done to us, or to our live, healthy baby, and just give him back to us now… You, one and all, have therefore violated our rights by constructing laws in your mind that do not even exist and have kidnapped our live, healthy child for not obeying these two imaginary laws that apparently exist only in your individual and collective brains.”

Foster Care, Poverty and Communities of Color

The traumas of foster care and the unethical and unconstitutional decisions of family courts fall disproportionately on poor families, families of color and especially African-American and Native American children. About 75% of the children taken by states are so-called “neglect” cases, a charge often difficult to distinguish from poverty. Children in families earning less than $15,000 are 22 times more likely to be removed than children in families making over $30,000.

This is what institutional racism looks like:  One out of three children in foster care are African-American, a statistically significant larger proportion than children of other races and ethnic backgrounds. The percentage of Native American children in foster care is nearly twice their proportion in the general population. This study concluded that “bias, cultural misunderstandings and distrust” contributes to decisions to take minority children from families and kinship groups.

California’s 9th Circuit Court: Social Workers Lose “Right to Lie”

 Historically, state caseworkers are immune from prosecution. In thirty-two states, government social workers hold absolute immunity from lawsuits related to child protective duties. Even if lying or misrepresenting family conditions, state workers cannot be sued. Family court judges need only listen to the state social worker. Parents, grandparents and the children taken by the state generally have no or very limited opportunity to give testimony in family court.

As a 2017 Harvard Law Journal article points out:

Today, an individual whose federal rights have been violated by a state has relatively limited options. Thus, it is fair to say that state sovereign immunity has never been more impenetrable.

 While families damaged by child welfare decisions rarely win lawsuits in state court, federal rulings can charge state and national policies. Foster care class action lawsuits cite the 14th Amendment that declares American citizens are guaranteed due process and equal protection under the law. States cannot restrict these rights.

A major 2017 lawsuit challenging state social worker immunity, generally called the California 9th Circuit’s “Right to Lie” case, represents the foster child’s point of view. The state of California took sisters Kendall and Preslie, then 6 and 9 years old, from their mother in 2000 and held them in foster care for 6½ years. The original reason for taking the sisters was “impending harm and abuse” with no evidence of current abuse or neglect. The state prevented contact between mother and daughters. The sisters were upset every time a caseworker visited them and in counseling sessions always asked to go home.

When she aged out of foster care and reunited with her biological mother, Preslie Hardwick sued Orange County, California and individual state caseworkers for maliciously lying in court to remove her from her mother’s home. Her lawyers argued that such state abuse of power violated Preslie’s constitutional rights to her mother’s care and family relationship. The social workers who took the sisters committed perjury in court by saying the girls were happy in their foster home and by withholding evidence that would have cleared the mother of all charges. The social workers claimed state immunity laws meant they were immune from prosecution for anything they said or did.

In December 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in the daughter’s favor with Judge Stephen Trott confronting caseworkers:

”You mean due process is somehow consistent with a government worker presenting perjured testimony and false evidence? I can’t even believe for a microsecond that a caseworker wouldn’t understand you can’t lie and put in false evidence.”                                                                                                                                                                                                   This case surfaces issues voiced by parents and grandparents of taken children all around America:

  • State agencies and individual social workers lie about family conditions to maintain an income stream based on removing children from families.
  • Child agencies take children from biological families based on unclear guidelines especially the widely used “suspected future neglect.”
  • Social workers and caseworkers drive wedges between taken children and biological families with mean-spirited threats.
  • Parents and grandparents never give up trying to bring their children home and battle exhausting, traumatizing and expensive legal manipulations.

On its way to the Supreme Court, the California 9th Circuit ruling prompted some immediate changes. The Director of Iowa Human Services retired. Retirements and resignations in early 2017 included the South Carolina Director of Human Services, Oregon Director of Child Welfare, Illinois Director of Human Services and county Directors of Human Services in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Transforming Foster Care and Family Court

The purpose of the Million Parent March on September 18, 2017 is to raise awareness about all the different ways family courts and foster care damage and destroy children and families. The event brings together parents and grandparents of taken children, father’s rights groups battling biases in divorce court, parents and lawyers seeking shared custody after divorces, mothers and fathers of children kidnapped by custodial or non-custodial parents, children who have aged out of foster care, children of divorce, and advocates pushing for America to dramatically and deeply re-think foster care and family court.

Millions of families and children remain torn apart and psychologically devastated by the profit-driven abuses of foster care and the win-lose culture of family court. Whether the Million Parent March succeeds in raising awareness and achieving legislative and agency changes at all levels of government remains to be seen. Without a doubt, social media once again powerfully links millions of voices demanding we restore the civil and constitutional rights of parents and children.

A follow up article focused on solutions will be published after the Million Parent March.

A Resurgent Russia Causing EU Countries to Increase Military Spending for Foreseeable Future

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 11:23

Photo Credit: Business Insider

In response to a growing threat from Russia and numerous threats, including an ongoing one from ISIS, Sweden and other EU countries are proposing (and some have passed) an increase in military budgets to help combat the threats.

Sweden will increase its military spending,  to $1.13 billion which will be spread out from 2016 until 2020. “We have seen a deterioration of the security situation over time, so it is important to respond to that with different measures, and this is part of that strategy,” Swedish Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvist said recently.

Sweden and Europe (most notably Eastern Europe), have faced increased threats from an ambitious Russia, and the threat of the Islamic state and lone wolf attacks. Just these past couple of weeks, there have been numerous instances of stabbings, and of cars plowing into people (incidents in Spain and France in the same week.). The violence has also come from migrants who have flooded the EU in response to the “Arab Spring,” and the ongoing Syrian Civil war.

“We will now analyse and continue the discussions and get back to how we handle this,” Hultqvist continued referring to the increase in military spending for the upcoming years.

The threat has also come from a resurgent Russia who is being accused of backing and supplying Pro-Russian separatist in Ukraine after a civil war broke out a couple of years ago.

Sweden isn’t the only country who is increasing its military spending as Poland, will increase its military budget by two percent in 2018. Russia has been accused of helping pro-Moscow militias in Ukraine and annexing Crimea in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, and causing the civil war which is ongoing to this day.

“This level of defense spending must be sustained because it holds our strength, but also strengthens our reputation,” Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said regarding the increase in spending.

The increase in spending will bring the total spent on defense to, 27.6 billion in EU terms or 30.1 billion in U.S dollars.

Russia has also been accused of interfering in the U.S and French elections, with emphasis on spreading false news.

Along with Sweden and Poland increasing their military spending, the EU as a whole, will also be increasing their military budget for the foreseeable future. “The fact the commission together with member states are ready to move forward to have real money and real resources is very positive,” former Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet (who is also a member of parliament.).

The EU has proposed a 25 million (in EU terms), for military equipment and readiness, which is set to take effect by the end of 2017. The budget also provides funds for future research missions for new weapons and technology.

“The real test is going to be on defense and not on the Euro,” an EU diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy have contributed the most to the military in terms of people. However, Britain’s exit from the EU may mess that up once Brexit becomes final.

In conclusion, it should be remembered throughout history, even though Russia was on the Allied side during World War two, they committed thousands of atrocities under the former Soviet Union and subjugated millions of peoples, and restricted freedom for those people until the end of the 1990s. and they should be a threat that is taken seriously.

Links to sources:

  1. Politico: http://www.politico.eu/article/after-years-of-talk-eu-plans-defense-spending-spree/
  2. The News. Pl: http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/304138,Poland-to-increase-defence-spending
  3. Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/sweden-boosts-2017-military-spending-55m-170313164719600.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China Communist Party Expanding Internet Crackdown

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 21:57

link

China, the biggest communist country in the world and one of the countries with the worst record when it comes to personal freedom, is cracking down again this time when it comes to internet freedom. The response by the communist government is in part due to scheduled meetings in Beijing for the Communist Party, the largest political party in China.

“China’s internet connections service market has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance,” a statement released by the Ministry which oversees the internet read. The response is also another way of tightening the grips on who is allowed to offer VPNs, also known as Virtual Private Networks, which are used in the creation of new websites.

China’s government already has in place one of the greatest restrictions on internet freedom in countries where internet is available. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, and GOOGLE are blocked and websites that have any reference to the Tiananmen Square Massacre or any critical articles in references to the Communist Party are blocked as well.

China leads the leads the lists of countries who have the worst internet freedom. Following China are Iran, Syria, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan are the counties who make up the top five for worst internet freedom. On the opposite side, Estonia, Iceland, Canada, the United States, and Germany make the top five countries who have the best internet freedom.

Known as the “Great Firewall,” the reference has been used to describe the tough nature of the restrictions placed upon internet servers in China.  China only has three internet service providers that are allowed to authorize the creation of internet websites, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. All three companies are under the control of the Chinese Government.

“This is a significantly escalated form of internet control and shows there is unprecedented urgency and desperation at the top of the government,” said Xiao Qiang, a professor at the University of Berkley who teaches internet censorship.

The response from the communist regime could be due to the fact that China saw its greatest increase in internet users in 2016, with 731 million people using the web. The growth in new technology also has played a role as smart phone and tablets challenge the government to broaden their technology for restricting websites.

The next national congressional meeting in Beijing will take place in the fall of this year. At the congress, the party will lay out its plans for the future.  This will be the 19th Party meeting.

“Our restrictions target service providers without licenses or operating illegally,” said, Ministry of Industry and Information, spokesman Zhang Feng at a recent press conference. Over 3,000 sites have been blocked in China. Search apps have also bowed to the pressure, and have removed apps that help internet users outside of China who are traveling to China to get around the firewall.

In conclusion, people should remember that even though the Chinese Communist Party has been modernizing with the times, the party still represents a heavy restriction on personal freedoms and a restriction on everyday life and should (even though it won’t happen) adapt a platform of personal freedom and liberty.

Links to Sources:

  1. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/11/china-moves-to-block-internet-vpns-from-2018
  2.  GreatFire.org: https://en.greatfire.org/
  3. CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/24/china-cracks-down-on-vpn-that-help-people-getting-around-its-great-firewall.html
  4. CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/25/technology/china-vpn-censorship/index.html