Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Side-gig: Watchdog

February 17, 2018 @ 9:43 am | Filed under: Current Affairs

Pulling a few more things over from Facebook.

Wednesday:

Oh my goodness what a day. First visit to Oregon State Capitol, first time (ever!) talking to state representatives and a policy aide to the governor in my role as advocate for intellectual and developmental disability supports. Having a voice in government: amazing experience.

Friday:

Oregon’s State Legislature is getting some big stuff right this week. Like this:

HB 4101 would stop insurance companies from treating hearing aids as cosmetic or bilateral cochlear implants as experimental. The legislation would benefit Oregon children with hearing loss and their families by:

• Ongoing evaluations, fittings & equipment: Expanding the scope of what private insurers are required to cover for hearing services and technology.

• Help navigating complex insurance system: Requiring insurance companies to assign a case manager to each family when their child is diagnosed with permanent hearing loss to help them navigate the insurance system.

• Expand access to care with more doctors: To alleviate a shortage of pediatric audiologists, the bill would also require companies to contract with a specific number of pediatric audiologists to ensure kids have quick access to services.

This week, HB 4104 passed the House unanimously. It will now move to the Senate.

(source: Disability Rights Oregon)

But also:

So let’s chat a bit about HR 620, which passed in the US House of Representatives yesterday. Quoting Celeste Pewter: this bill “upends a key provision of the ADA by preventing people with disabilities from immediately going to court to enforce their right and to press for timely removal of the barrier that impedes access. It also removes any incentive for businesses to comply proactively with the ADA.”

And there’s the thing. Proponents of the bill paint a picture of people filing greedy or frivolous lawsuits. It’s really important to understand that ***the only thing that can be collected in ADA lawsuits are attorneys’ fees.*** You can’t win damages. If you win the lawsuit, the business or institution has to comply with federal law regarding accessibility.

The bill that passed yesterday makes it a lot harder to pursue the basic accessibility that is already required by federal law. It’s an ugly piece of work. I hope you’ll join me in imploring the Senate to vote no when their turn comes. You can reach your Senator via the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

I’m sitting here dumbfounded at the irony of a bill that introduces access barriers to a process intended to REMOVE ACCESS BARRIERS.

Infrastructure

February 16, 2018 @ 5:28 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs

I wrote this on Facebook today and wanted to share it here too.

I know there’s way too much to focus on right now. Today alone there’s about a year’s worth of news to process. But I want to focus some attention on Trump’s infrastructure plan that was released earlier this week (i.e. a lifetime ago). There’s a lot to be troubled by in this plan, but what made me choke was the part about match funding for infrastructure projects.

Okay, this can be a dry topic. Five years ago, I would have skimmed right past. But then I spent a few years writing grant applications for infrastructure projects in small California and Texas towns. Oof, talk about a learning curve. Really worthy projects, though: funding for sidewalks in a residential neighborhood so kids wouldn’t have to walk to school in the street. Funding for a farmer’s market in an area with a serious food desert. Funding for wetland restoration projects in an urban area to help filter urban runoff (teeming with bacteria) from contaminating beaches and residential neighborhoods. A “universal playground” accessible to kids and adults who use wheelchairs. The kind of stuff that makes daily life for ordinary people better in a tangible, practical way.

Those grant applications were doozies. The entire reason I was asked on board to write them is because a big part of grantwriting is narrative: how to tell the story of why this community should get federal or state funding for this project. Every grant I wrote was competing against hundreds of other applications.

These projects were scored on their merits: what benefits they would bring to the community. Improved health, carbon emissions reductions, removal of access barriers, and so forth.

Most scoring rubrics included a small number of points awarded to projects that had additional funding sources–the “match.” This might mean, say, that the town seeking funding for sidewalks would say: the town can pay X amount and we need Y amount in federal (or state, depending on the program) funding to complete the project.

Usually, the points awarded for a match were a small percentage of the total points. A match might give your project an extra 5 points out of a hundred, say. And the reason for this is that typically, the communities most in need of infrastructure projects are those least able to afford them. A match helped your application, but wasn’t nearly as important as the practical benefits and efficiency of the project itself.

Okay, that’s a lot of backstory. Here’s what made me choke: In the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan, “The amount of non-federal funding supplied for a given project will count for 70% of its score, while “evidence supporting how the project will spur economic and social returns on investment” will be weighted at just 5%.”

WHAT. WHAT. WHAT.

SEVENTY PERCENT OF ITS SCORE?

I’m speechless. Or, well, maybe not since this post is so long no one’s going to make it to the bottom.

I just…that’s a disastrous tidbit of information.

I’m not the only one who sputtered over this revelation. From yesterday’s Guardian:

“In other words, projects will live or die based on the resources they can attract, rather than the number of people they would serve or how urgently they are needed.

“This system not only incentivizes projects that profit at the public’s expense, such as toll roads, but also increases the likelihood that federal dollars will flow to wealthy jurisdictions that need them the least. When priorities are determined by wealth and profitability, the disadvantaged are left behind. Under Trump’s plan, communities that most need critical infrastructure investments – low-income communities, often communities of color – will be left out.”

Infrastructure isn’t sexy, and right now news of this plan is understandably drowned out by bigger, more urgent happenings. But we need to keep an eye on this. I’ll be watching.

Removing Confederate monuments doesn’t “erase” history. It reveals it.

August 19, 2017 @ 7:39 am | Filed under: Alabama, Current Affairs, History

My roots are Southern. There are both Confederates and Unionists on my family tree. The Unionists are the ones I’ve spent five years trying to write a book about—complicated in more ways than I can express. They were a bunch of Northern Alabamans who wanted no part of Secession. Their county delegate to the January 1861 Alabama Secession Convention, a schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats, was beaten and jailed for refusing to sign the ordinance of secession.

These Winston County folks—led by my direct ancestors, the Curtis brothers—passed a resolution saying that if Alabama could secede from the Union, Winston County could secede from Alabama. Many Winston County men joined the Union army, including my 4th-great-grandfather, John Curtis. Others were killed in various gruesome ways by members of the Confederate Home Guard—their own neighbors. Another of my 4th-greats, one Wiley Tyler, died of starvation and infection in a Confederate prison camp. He’s where my pen name comes from.

I wish I could say that these devoted Unionist ancestors of mine—who fought and died because they refused to be traitors to their nation—had been passionate abolitionists. They weren’t. But they did know that the reason behind the War was slavery. Frank discussion of that reality is everywhere in their letters—just as it is in the letters written by the leaders of the Secession movement. In 1860 and early 1861, a number of men were appointed by various Southern states to be secession commissioners. These men traveled far and wide, speaking and writing in favor of Secession. You can read their letters. I have. They don’t beat around the bush. They believed that Lincoln was going to destroy the institution of slavery. You can read these letters—this primary source material—in a book called Apostles of Disunion.

When we get our information second-, third-, tenth-hand—when it comes to us filtered and packaged by people with something to sell—it can be difficult to get at the truth. The myth of the Lost Cause is one of those packages. The Confederate monuments, most of which were put up in the 20th century, long after the War—including many that were built in the 60s during the Civil Rights movement—are part of that mythology, that package. And it’s a package that was designed for and marketed explicitly to white people.

Those monuments celebrate men who went to war against the United States of America. Men who went to war because the Republic was finally moving to end the practice of enslaving other human beings.

Enslaving. Other. Human. Beings.

My friend Lydia Netzer wrote,

A statue of General Lee is NOT the same thing as a concentration camp turned into a museum.

A concentration camp turned into a museum would be like a slave market turned into a museum, or a slave plantation turned into a museum.

A statue of General Lee would be like if you tore down a concentration camp and left up a statue of Hermann Göring on a pedestal.

Removing these statues—moving them, perhaps, to a museum where these men’s own words could provide context on their intentions in declaring war against their own country—is in no way “erasing history.” We must not let pat phrases like that cheapen the way we talk about and think about these grave matters.

We must go deeper than the talking points. If you are bothered by the idea of history being “erased,” then READ that history—the primary source materials that clearly, directly, unequivocally laid out the reasons for the war in the first place.

Such as this address made by William Harris, a sitting Mississippi Supreme Court justice, to the Georgia state legislature, in his role as a secession commissioner:

“They [Lincoln’s Republicans and the North] have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races…equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony…

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality…[Mississippi] had rather see the last of her race, men, women, and children, immolated in one common funeral pile [pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political, and social equality with the negro race.”

The push to remove Confederate monuments isn’t an attempt to “erase” history. Quite the opposite. It’s an effort to expose the truth that has been papered over for far too long.

Valentine’s Day action items

February 14, 2017 @ 8:54 am | Filed under: Current Affairs

Pruitt confirmation vote (and others) likely this week. I’ve mentioned that special education, healthcare, and policy related to climate change are the three issues I’m focusing my energy on. Pruitt is a disastrous choice to head the EPA.

Also tops on my call list this week: pushing for bipartisan investigation of Flynn. Chaffetz and Nunes (House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee chairs) both said this morning they don’t intend to investigate the circumstances that led to his resignation, which is just bananas.

Chaffetz: GOP Oversight Chair Says His Committee Won’t Investigate Flynn

Nunes: “Nunes also told reporters that he would not investigate Flynn’s discussions with Trump about his calls with the Russian ambassador.

Celeste Pewter maintains a useful website and Twitter feed for action items, if you’re having trouble keeping up. (Aren’t we all!)

It’s all a bit surreal, isn’t it? In my home this morning, there’s pink milk and chocolate hearts and big smiles. Outside our door, the world churns.

Valentine's Day

What Wonderboy saw when his bus went past the house this morning

tuesday

February 7, 2017 @ 8:41 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs

sally-field-as-mrs-gump-in-forrest-gump-1994

Reposted from Facebook, where I have had a lot to say, in these past weeks, about the DeVos nomination.

My objection to Betsy DeVos’s nomination was about, as I have expressed here so often, her absolute lack of public education experience and her shocking gaps in knowledge. Now that she’s been confirmed, you can bet I’ll be focusing on matters of policy. We have some serious watchdogging to do.

And you know what, I know not everyone here agrees with me on all matters of policy. Of course not. I can respect someone who takes a well-articulated, well-considered position even when I believe the position is dead wrong. But I cannot respect a Secretary of Education who doesn’t know the difference between measuring growth vs proficiency, and appears not to grasp what IDEA is and why a federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities was necessary in the first place.

(That history is sobering. In 1970, five years before IDEA was passed, only one in five children with disabilities was educated in U.S. schools. Many states actually had laws excluding certain students from school, including students who were blind, deaf, or cognitively disabled. Today my son receives excellent, individualized instruction, adaptive physical education, speech therapy, and audiology/hearing aid services in our neighborhood middle school. The intensive physical therapy he received via Early Intervention (IDEA Part C) from age four months on is almost certainly the reason he can walk today.)

I don’t take IDEA for granted. The past two weeks have shown us how rapidly and dramatically things can change. That’s why I’ll be watching vigilantly. And speaking up, speaking out, marching, calling, mobilizing—whatever it takes.

Betsy DeVos, my eye is on you.

day nineteen: heartbreak

January 19, 2017 @ 5:33 pm | Filed under: Books, Charlotte Research, Current Affairs

Yankeecopies

Feb. 17, 1818 Yankee article with my researcher’s sticky note still in place

I woke up to the news that the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are among the programs slated for elimination in the new administration’s budget proposals. Not exactly a surprise, but still it smacked me in the gut, and I’ve walked around feeling ill all day.

Anyone who knows me knows why I’m sick about the scrapping of the NEA. But losing the National Endowment for the Humanities as well? Takes my breath away. If you’ve read my Charlotte books, you’ve seen one NEH project in action. The NEH funded the US Newspaper Program, which gave grants to all 50 states to preserve old, crumbling newspapers on microfilm.

Massachusetts, for example, received $770,942 in NEH support to catalog over 8000 titles, including the 1680 Publick Occurrences, America’s first newspaper. There are treasures in those archives that would have been lost to time, but for this federal funding program.

On Tide Mill LaneYou know that hurricane I wrote about in Tide Mill Lane? I learned of it in The Yankee—including whose roof was torn off and what other damages Roxbury folks suffered. The Brighton Cattle Show, right down to all the winners? The Yankee. The vandalism of the Bible in a Roxbury church. The first gaslights in Boston. The parade, the details of the wagons and the whole celebration. The first elephant brought to North America. All that priceless historical information came right out of newspaper articles that are available on microfilm at the Boston Public Library.

Jane was still going through treatment for leukemia in NY when I was researching and writing the first two Charlotte books. I couldn’t travel. My editors at HarperCollins arranged a stipend for on-site researchers who made copies for me. “ANYTHING AT ALL you can get me from the years 1800-1820,” I asked. “The whole paper, not just the news articles. I want advertisements, editorials, everything.” Amy Sklansky and Theresa Peterson put in dozens of hours printing off copies. I pored over those riches for months. I still have them—boxes of Yankee articles on that slippery microfilm paper. I use the story about the orchard thieves (“a man named Peter Twist and two well-dressed women”) in writing workshops to this day.

That’s what the NEH did for me, and for you, if you enjoyed my books. And that’s one tiny fraction of what those tax dollars funded.

 

“Soybean fields or canola fields or sunflower fields, they all have this systemic insecticide.”

March 29, 2013 @ 6:13 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs, Nature Study

salviabee

I know I’ve been singing this song for a long time, y’all, but it’s bad, bad, bad and getting worse.

Soaring Bee Deaths in 2012 Sound Alarm on Malady – NYTimes.com

“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”

When beekeepers and scientists first starting investigating colony collapse disorder, causes were uncertain. Rowan Jacobsen’s excellent book, Fruitless Fall, explores possible reasons. (Here’s one of my many posts about the book.)

Five years later, we have a much clearer idea of exactly what is happening, and it’s very bad news.

But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests.

While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths.

The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths.

Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.

The pesticide is embedded in the seeds. I posted to another piece on this topic this last week, and these are just a couple of the many anxious reports I’ve picked up on my bee wire (Google Alerts, when they’re working) in the past few months. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I implore you to read up on this issue, if you haven’t yet, and to spread the word far and wide. If we lose the bees, we lose the world as we know it.

Ways to Help Victims of Hurricane Sandy

November 2, 2012 @ 6:19 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs

Kid-Lit Cares: Superstorm Sandy Relief Effort:

What is KidLit Cares?

It’s an online talent auction to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for Sandy. Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.

What kinds of things are included?

Manuscript critiques, in-person and Skype author visits, virtual writing workshops, school & library marketing consultations for authors… you name it.

See also: Six Ways for Geeks to Help with Hurricane Sandy Relief at GeekMom.

Hurricane Sandy Links

October 29, 2012 @ 8:07 am | Filed under: Current Affairs

Rounding up links I’m watching today:

Severe NJ Weather (Facebook page, lots of current photos)

NPR Hurricane Sandy breaking news, frequent updates

Storify: Live Hurricane Updates

Google maps, hurricane edition

New York Times, Hurricane Sandy: View From Above (photo from 51st floor of NYT building, updated every few minutes)

Twitter feeds: @ScottBeale, @Lock (Lockhart Steele, lots of photos)

UPDATED: Live Webcams of Areas Affected by Hurricane Sandy

Feel free to share your own. Hope you weather this well, East Coast friends…