The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion

The mythology of bad teachers empowered by entrenched unions is only one part of a national disaster that has crept up on us over recent decades with the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Meant to provide legal protections for the disabled, the side effects of these laws has been to undercut funding and appropriate learning environments for normal children.

By stating this fact, I am risking a rain of fire from incensed parents of disabled children. These parents have been a primary inciting force of these laws, alongside adults with disabilities, and have ensured federal and state tax dollars will flow into programs that aid the disabled.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … assures certain protections to certain students with disabilities. §504 states that:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .”. 29 U.S.C. 794(a).[1]

One result of these laws has been the “mainstreaming” of students with disabilities into American public school classrooms. IDEA mandates that students with disabilities receive a “Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment.”[2]  Previously, students with disabilities with conditions such as autism, developmental delay, emotional/behavior disturbance, intellectual disability, orthopedic impairment, learning disability, learning disabilities and speech and language impairment may have been placed in special schools where teachers with specialized training could focus directly on their special needs.

Mainstreaming works for many types of disabled students but does not work so well for many others. School districts face lawsuits from distraught parents if their disabled child is perceived not to be treated “equally” with other students. There’s also a cost factor, with estimates upwards to $100,000 per year per student for a special needs environment, according to one article detailing a situation in Georgia.[3] The risk of lawsuits and soaring costs for special needs education causes school districts to place disabled students into classrooms with “normal” children.

A veteran educator dealing with special needs students for over 30 years in a major metropolitan school district cited one example of the outcome of such policies.

“One of the things we tried was to put her in an art class. She sat there the entire hour voicing this loud moaning cry.” He imitated the sound. “I don’t know how anyone expected her to learn anything. She functioned at the intellectual level of a six-month-old infant.”

What this educator could not quantify was the effect of this person’s behavior on the rest of the class over the eight years this student remained in this secondary level school. Did anyone else learn anything in that art class or was this a wasted hour in their day, an hour when they might have learned how to draw perspective, or blend complimentary colors if not for the loud cries steadily emanating from the severely disabled person in their midst?

What’s been lost in our urge to help those with special needs is the primary mandate of our schools—to educate the next generation of scientists, artists, technicians, educators, workers, and leaders for our nation. The commendable stated objective of the ADA, to make it possible for everyone with a disability to live a life of freedom and equality, is deceptively simple and ignores the reality: people with many types of disability will NEVER be able to live a life of freedom and equality.

This is not something many parents of such children are willing to accept. Many of them believe if their child mingles with regular kids and attends the same classes, they will graduate high school and go on to college. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

In our public policy pursuit of this fantasy, we’re continuing to overlook the collateral damage. Consider one experience of an elementary teacher in a private Christian school in a small Midwestern state. At the start of the 2018 school year, a new student was introduced to her class. Neither parents nor administrators introduced the child to the teacher or explained her needs. Instead, the teacher soon discovered that she would be expected to change the child’s diapers, spoon feed her, and deal with increasingly loud, belligerent, and violent behavior. The teacher’s aide, meant to assist in teaching a class of over 30 young squirmy children, was forced to devote her entire schedule to managing the disabled girl.

“Finally, at the end of the semester,” the teacher remarked, “my documented chronology of abuses by this student forced the administration to contact the parents and the student was removed from the school. I feel like I’ve lost an entire semester with the rest of these kids.”

The decision by a private school to accept ID kids is often a financial one—the school needs the tuition money. Private schools are not under the same federal mandate to mainstream kids with disabilities because they don’t rely on public funding. This helps explain the push to channel tax dollars to private schools and may in part have to do with maintaining the freedom to deny admission to severely disabled students.

Not all disabilities lead to chaos in the classroom. Young people with physical disabilities may require specific desk heights and schools free of stairs, but they can still participate in the learning process alongside non-disabled students. It’s the intellectually disabled who pose the greatest challenge in mainstreaming.

Intellectual Disability (ID), formerly known as mental retardation, is an ongoing and perhaps increasing condition in the U.S.[4]  Criteria for ID include an IQ under 70 in addition to deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect everyday, general living although many variables move the determination up or down these markers. Conditions meeting this definition include Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

Intellectual disability affects about 2–3% of the general population. Seventy-five to ninety percent of the affected people have mild intellectual disability. Non-syndromic or idiopathic cases account for 30–50% of cases [An idiopathic disease is any disease with an unknown cause or mechanism of apparent spontaneous origin.] About a quarter of cases are caused by a genetic disorder, and about 5% of cases are inherited from a person’s parents. Cases of unknown cause affect about 95 million people as of 2013.[5]

Benefits of mainstreaming for both normal students and disabled students include exposure to diversity. But the majority of benefits are exclusive to the disabled: learning socialization skills, exposure to higher functioning children, and the challenge of competition. This says nothing about any benefit to normal children. As the 30-year veteran put it, “Here we’re spending big chunks of our limited budgets to provide an aide to accompany an ID student all day while spending nothing to assist or promote a kid with 140 IQ.”

The loss to our future society is incalculable.

Of equal concern is the inevitable observation by ID students who compare themselves to the social lives and interactions of normal students. ABC’s ongoing (2015 to present) television program “Born This Way” portrays one aspect of this effect by showcasing high functioning Downs syndrome children who aspire to marriage, stardom, and independent living. Many of the stars of this program are closely assisted by their mothers, leaving a question about what they’ve actually accomplished on their own. At times the program seems exploitative, showcasing anomalous humans for entertainment purposes. Encouraging their expectations for a normal life may ultimately prove cruel.

Before dumping severely disabled children into classrooms with normal students, schools need to ensure that teachers are prepared for the challenge. Many of them are not. Teacher education does not include techniques for changing diapers on physically mature ‘students.’

An estimated 1.8 million of the U.S. population are considered severely disabled, yet many of the disabled youth have parents who struggle to ensure their child’s future is as close to normal as possible. What parent wouldn’t?  Yet as observed by one special educator,

“… research also shows that students with disabilities, whether mild or severe, often have poorer social skills and are less accepted by their non-disabled peers. So we have to ask ourselves—who are we really thinking of when we talk about inclusion? Are we thinking of the student with a mild learning disability who may easily blend in and be accepted by their abled peers, or the student with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair and must be fed by a feeding tube, who just may stick out in a mainstream crowd? Speaking from experience, I’ve seen that the best communication skills, motor skills, and social skills are developed when students work alongside peers who are like themselves—peers who share their struggles, who know what it feels like to make huge gains in small steps.”[6]

It’s time to take a fresh look at the ADA and IDEA legislation and come to a new understanding based not only on what parents of disabled children dream for their child but also what is best for the rest of our children and the nation as a whole. The cost burden to schools is enormous. Specially trained aides are required to accompany disabled children through the day, to feed them, change diapers, and physically contain them. School budgets have not increased commensurate to the added expense of adequate staffing for meeting the needs of disabled children, and yet the nation wonders why classroom teachers are buying school supplies out of their own pockets.

Aside from the tremendous cost to taxpayers,[7] there is no real assessment of the cost to teachers, normal students, or society as a whole for these well-intended policies, but it surely is great. Many teachers are leaving the field with its low pay and unexpected demands. Yes, there are lousy teachers out there just as all levels of competence exist in any profession. This isn’t a problem of unions or incompetence—it’s a problem of well-intentioned public policy failing to take the big picture into consideration.

~~~

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individuals_with_Disabilities_Education_Act#Individualized_Family_Service_Plan_(IFSP) for more details about these laws

[2] https://www.eparent.com/education/mainstreaming-the-education-of-children-with-disabilities-the-teachers-perspective/

[3] https://www.theclassroom.com/the-cost-of-mainstreaming-vs-special-education-classes-12067245.html

[4] Multiple studies show a direct link between pollution and intellectual disabilities. See, for example, http://www.sci-news.com/medicine/link-air-pollution-intellectual-disabilities-06637.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_disability

[6] Smith N. Takepart. Op-Ed: An argument against mainstreaming kids with disabilities. A special education teacher shares why she believes students with special needs thrive in schools solely for kids with disabilities. https://www.scoop.it/t/issues-in-special-education

[7] Approximately fifty percent of the current Medicaid budget pays out to children with disabilities. See https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/medicaids-role-for-children-with-special-health-care-needs-a-look-at-eligibility-services-and-spending/

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Change II: Gift to Our Future

What will make things better? Here are some ideas.

Social Support Programs: Address the Root

When a person applies for food stamps, unemployment, Medicaid, or other tax-supported programs, they face a stack of requirements to prove they’re worthy of help. Each application and benefit comes with its own separate process. Part of the problem for such applicants might be a lack of understanding about how to meet application requirements.

What’s needed is an advocate to guide the applicant through the process but also, more importantly, to assess the person’s situation, capabilities, and needs and to assist that person in moving beyond their current status. Education, job training, mental health care, and/or medical treatment are among the needs often experienced by those seeking government assistance, but rather than actually helping people get the help they need, current programs throw out random packages of aid without any comprehensive effort at addressing the root causes.

An advocate for such applicants could assist in the process of seeking help whether gaining access to the full array of needed services, completing the application process properly, or assigning a counselor to help the applicant sort out his/her current life situation (in which case the advocate and counselor become a team). Without expert advocates to steer each applicant through an increasingly complex system, we risk wasting billions on systemic inefficiencies and do nothing to solve the problems that cause these people to need help in the first place.

Of primary importance is assisting recipients in teaching them nutrition including cooking lessons.

Dispose of Outdated Laws

Drug laws

The drug war, like alcohol prohibition before it, frames the use of certain natural drugs as a moral failing. The result has been mass incarceration for private behavior.

All natural drugs should be immediately legalized, regulated like alcohol, and taxed. That includes marijuana, coca leaf, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, opium, and Ayahuasca, among others. Persons wishing to consume any of these substances should be able to walk into a retail establishment like a liquor store anywhere in the country and buy a product that’s been certified for purity and dosage. Such products should not be controlled by pharmaceutical companies. Individual production of such substances for personal consumption should be allowed without taxation or regulation. Public venues which serve psychoactive drugs should be licensed in the same manner as establishments for consuming alcohol.

Anyone previously convicted or imprisoned for possession, “manufacture,” or sale of these substances should be released from incarceration and their convictions expunged from the record. Unfortunately, due to the massive numbers of persons involved, any compensation for their loss of income or other social costs is not feasible.

Substance abuse, like alcoholism, can become a serious problem for certain people. Currently, only the very rich can afford treatment programs that address the whole person through nutrition, counseling, and exercise, among other things. Tax revenues derived from retail sales should first provide for comprehensive treatment centers in every community where anyone suffering from addiction can be immediately admitted.

Performance testing for job safety should take the place of current drug testing. A brief interface with a computer terminal for tests tailored to immediately show competency to meet job requirements—attention, dexterity, coordination, etc.—should be part of the employee’s beginning of his/her work day.  A test failure, no matter what the cause of impairment—hangover, intoxication, fight with the spouse—could become part of that employee’s record with appropriate consequences for repeated failure.

Intoxicated driving will be prosecuted.

Sex Laws

Prostitution should be legalized, regulated, and taxed as any other business. If a person wants to sell the use of his/her body for sexual gratification, it should be within his or her right to do so. Government licensing should include regular health inspections to ensure public safety. Houses of prostitution could compete with luxurious settings, the most attractive employees, or the most innovative approach – for example, offer an immersive experience in an establishment with fantasy themes (medieval, harem, S&M dungeon, etc.). There should be no restriction on how houses of prostitution or individual practitioners might combine their services with other services such as massage, restaurants, intoxication venues (alcohol and/or drugs), or even mental health counseling.

Facilities/Resources

Eliminating drug and sex laws will result in decreased need for jails and prisons as well as employees of those criminal justice systems. Freed-up resources should be redirected to improving public defender salaries and providing for persons prosecuted for other offenses.

Reining in Greedmasters

CEOs and other top executives should receive pay based on the pay their workers receive. If the company is profitable enough to pay at CEO $27 million a year, workers should be earning far more than $15 or even $20 per hour. Prices for products that serve a lifesaving role for consumers should be regulated by the government just as utilities and other vital public services are regulated.

Healthcare

Medicare for everyone. Eliminate insurance companies unless they are non-profit. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies must be non-profit. Drugs would be price controlled. Research for new treatments and new drugs would operate under federal grants.

Legal Services

Expand funding for free legal aid so that injured parties have full recourse to legal action.

Everyone is responsible

National service

Everyone reaching age 18 must serve whether Peace Corps, military, domestic infrastructure, civic duties or whatever else would benefit the public at large. No exceptions except for significant disability. Higher education, either college or vocational, can wait until the completion of two years’ public service. Serving in such duties should be in a location away from the family home, should provide food, shelter, and a minimal wage, and should result in free college/vocational training at its conclusion.

Education

All secondary schools should be required to offer a curriculum that includes literature/language, basic math, basic science, state and national history, music, art, and domestic duties including balancing a checkbook, changing a tire, and nutrition/how to cook. Males and females need the same courses. Domestic duty classes would include thorough sex education with a segment where kids have to carry a baby (doll) around 24-7. Dolls used for this teaching experience should be computerized to function as close to human behavior as possible including messy diapers, hunger, and crying. Birth control pills should be freely dispensed at school health clinics with or without parental permission.

Teacher salaries should be competitive with other professions requiring college degrees even in the most impoverished districts.

States which allow religious schools and home schooling should be required to regularly test home schooled and religious school students for the same course requirements as public schools students. Non-public school students who can’t pass the exams cannot receive a diploma. Repeated failure to pass exams would require the student to enter public schools. Public school students who fail to pass exams would be entered into a special unit of the school system and assessed for need of nutrition, mental health, and family problems, among other things, and individually tutored until learning improves.

Vocational training for all trades should be available and affordable as should college.

Homeless Population

An estimated 25-30% of homeless people suffer mental illness. Yet few programs addressing homelessness provide for treatment. Often these individuals end up in local jails because they can’t take care of themselves and there are no longer facilities dedicated to treating them.

“…during the Reagan administration, Federal funding for such institutions was shut down so that our wealthy class could pay less in taxes, and that put many thousands of mentally ill people out on the street corner. We have done nothing since to remedy this. A compassionate nation would care for these unfortunate people, and provide the mental facilities to house them where they could get the help they need that their conditions require.”[1]

Most homeless programs exhaust their resources in simply trying to feed and shelter the homeless. Successful efforts to address homelessness are based on meeting physical needs as well as mental health concerns. Addiction is another illness at the root of many homeless situations. Until systemic remedies are put into place, homelessness will continue to plague us.

Successful programs for the homeless are centered in tiny home villages or converted industrial/commercial properties. As shopping malls have become less viable, some cities and nonprofits have converted these sprawling spaces to homeless housing. Facilities serving the homeless would offer food service, counseling, health care, and job training. Refinement of services for homeless might include separation of persons by root cause of their homelessness; mentally ill might be separated from persons suffering addiction, for example.

Taxes

Poverty levels should be adjusted annually to meet the real costs of housing, food, and transportation in the location of each person. Persons earning above poverty level should pay income taxes on a sliding scale. Income at some level should pay a very high rate, as much as 70% of income.

In addition to legalized ‘sin’ transactions (drugs, sex) that would generate significant tax revenues, churches should be taxed like any other business. Penalties and additional taxes should be assessed against any corporation or individual found to be hiding income in foreign countries. No tax shelters.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and a happy future for all!

~~~

Have ideas or arguments about my list? Submit your own list of solutions to me at denele.campbell@gmail.com and I’ll publish reasonable submissions. Limit 1,500 words, one list per person.

 

[1] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-most-successful-homeless-program

Change: It’s Up to Us

The current conservative narrative revolves around the imagined horrors of Socialism. Apparently without awareness of the many socialist programs upon which they depend, the reactionary segment of the U.S. voting population has taken up the latest incarnation of the old Red Scare.

A “Red Scare” is promotion of widespread fear by a society or state about a potential rise of communism, anarchism, or radical leftism. The term is most often used to refer to two periods in the history of the United States with this name. The First Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War I, revolved around a perceived threat from the American labor movement, anarchist revolution, and political radicalism.  The Second Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War II, was preoccupied with national or foreign communists infiltrating or subverting U.S. society or the federal government…

…the Red Scare was “a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of life”…[1]

If any of this sounds familiar within the context of current political debate in the U.S., well, it should. The same argument has been fomented now for 100 years. Hysteria about the creeping plague of socialism undergirded the Cold War, our disastrous policies in Latin America, and the war in Vietnam. The hue and cry of those terrified of socialism and its big brother communism has motivated the expenditure of trillions of U.S. dollars and spilled the blood of tens of thousands of our young men. The damage worldwide is incalculable.

So what exactly should we fear about these philosophies of social order? For one thing, we should avoid conflating the differing ideas. Socialism is not communism. Democratic Socialism is not Socialism. All Societies employ socialism to some degree. For example as a minimum in the United States: the public library, public works, social security, the military, the fire department, police, health care (state hospitals, Medicaid, and Medicare). All of these functions and more can operate quite well under a capitalistic democracy.

Countries that have a strong central government tend to exhibit more acceptance to social programs. The idea that people can do more as a group rather than as individuals is accepted by the population under a strong central government and are more willing to surrender certain personal rights. In North America, two similar countries can be compared. Canada, for example, has a strong central government as evident in her national gun laws and criminal codes applied across all provinces and territories, and at the political level a healthy socialist political party…

The United States, on the other hand, has strong state rights over a central government resulting in various gun laws and criminal codes across the country, and does not have a party with socialist leanings (although the Democratic Party is often referred to as liberal). Therefore, individualism is a characteristic in the United States that is highly regarded and individuals are less likely to surrender certain personal rights. Social programs greater than the absolute minimum are considered charity at best and at its worst seen as diluting individualism and reducing personal wealth.

Americans, therefore, view socialism as a threat to their individualism and coupled with the McCarthy Era’s effective propaganda have developed an unrealistic definition between it and communism supported by fear.[2]

Face it. We’re no longer a society dominated by small close-knit communities where caring neighbors or a church provided care for those in need. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors. Neither churches nor charitable giving offer systematic methods of determining whether someone is truly needy or simply playing on sympathies. Nor do local charities have a method to ensure that assistance is available to all who might need it rather than the select few who appear at the church house door. Nor is there any assurance that the amount of support provided by a charity is appropriate to the need at hand. Charities themselves are often cookies jars raided by their operators.These are the exact reasons a federal system became vitally important as our nation grew beyond its early days of small rural communities.

While we thumb through our Twitter feed or view video from around the world, why do we expect that despite all the advances in technology and global economies that we’re somehow able to exist socially in a previous century? We are not what we were in 1850 or 1900 or even 1950.

As for that mythical freedom to pursue our fortunes, it’s time to recognize that those days are long gone – if, indeed they ever existed. There is no free land given to veterans of war or government projects, no expanses of virgin timber, no undiscovered gold. Our population in 1800 was 5,308,483. Now it’s 291,421,906.

If a rich man can afford five houses, two yachts, and countless other luxuries, why is it a hardship to take enough of his money so that he can only afford two houses and one yacht? Chances are high that he didn’t create that wealth by himself but rather workers hired at the lowest possible rate of pay in order to profit off their labor. Or he inherited his fortune from someone who did the same.

If a poor man is homeless, what do we do about it—let him die on the street?

If a newborn is the one out of 33 born with a medical problem like a heart defect, spina bifida, cleft palate, clubfoot, or congenital dislocated hip, and her parents have no medical insurance, what’s the right thing to do?

If people don’t have enough to eat, do we feed them?

If we are faced with a life-threatening illness, should we lose our home and everything we own to get medical care?

Is it truly our morality as a nation to allow the pharmaceutical industry to gain billions in profits while forcing the poor to die without the medication they need to survive? To allow doctors to live like royalty? To allow hospitals to generate profit off the sick and dying?

What is socialism, anyway? By its old definition, a socialist economy was owned by the people. Factories, offices, and industry in general were either worker cooperatives or government owned. No one in the U.S. except perhaps the extreme left advocates for such a system. The problems of this approach included worker apathy and potential for corruption, not that capitalist systems don’t suffer similar downsides. The benefit was that everyone had means of support and a job to do.

A new approach to social problems is called democratic socialism. Let’s look at what that means.

…in many of the societies of Western Europe which have adopted progress toward democratic socialism, productivity, standards of living, incentives, and markers of personal happiness and security are very high. Social democracy is a kind of socialism that tries to mix parts of socialism with capitalism. In this system, the government takes wealth (money) from the rich and gives it to the poor… but despite there being more government control and less chance to make a very large amount of money, people can still run their own businesses and own private property. Unlike communism, where all private property is taken to be owned publicly, people and businesses pay taxes on their property, and this money is spent on public services after taking out the costs of running the government and collecting the taxes. [3]

We as a democratic nation have an ongoing opportunity to craft a society that allows for entrepreneurship while also providing a safety net for those who need our help. We’re already pretty far along this path but much more work remains to be done. The question is, do we go backwards now, undo laws governing labor (sick leave, vacation time, 40-hour work week, workplace safety, retirement benefits)? Cancel policies providing food, medical care, and minimal living support for the disabled and poor? Do we go back to subscription schools where only those who can afford it are able to educate their children?

Or do we make clear-eyed decisions about how to best provide an equitable existence for our fellow man? Because, yes, we are our brothers’ keepers. We live in a nation still rich in opportunity. We’re not stupid. We need to approach these questions with open minds and do what we as Americans do best – move forward with meaningful solutions. That’s what will make America great.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Scare

[2] https://www.quora.com/Why-are-Americans-so-scared-of-socialism

[3] https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism

 

Further reading: Saving Capitalism, by Robert Reich 

“Perhaps no one is better acquainted with the intersection of economics and politics than Robert B. Reich, and now he reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in eighty years. He makes clear how centrally problematic our veneration of the “free market” is, and how it has masked the power of moneyed interests to tilt the market to their benefit.

“Reich exposes the falsehoods that have been bolstered by the corruption of our democracy by huge corporations and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street: that all workers are paid what they’re “worth,” that a higher minimum wage equals fewer jobs, and that corporations must serve shareholders before employees. He shows that the critical choices ahead are not about the size of government but about who government is for: that we must choose not between a free market and “big” government but between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver the most gains to the top. Ever the pragmatist, ever the optimist, Reich sees hope for reversing our slide toward inequality and diminished opportunity when we shore up the countervailing power of everyone else.

“Passionate yet practical, sweeping yet exactingly argued, Saving Capitalism is a revelatory indictment of our economic status quo and an empowering call to civic action.”


“What Causes Poverty” by Mike Sosteric

July 8, 2015

“…Poverty causes nothing but hardship and struggle for the people. Children who grow up in poverty have poor health, poor hygiene, poor diet, poor housing, lousy experiences at school (as evinced by higher absenteeism and lower scholastic achievement), more behavioural and mental problems, and long term employment difficulties. Adults who are poor have the same difficulties as their children, getting sicker more often, being unemployed for longer periods, taking more time off work, living shorter lives, and so on. There is no doubt about it, being poor is a liability: it causes disability, disease, and even death…”

My Personal Consumerism, Part II

So the appliances.

With this latest wrinkle in my life that has provided a modest financial margin to do things like put a new roof on my house, I’ve also invested in new appliances. This will be the first time in my life I’ve been able to have nice new kitchen appliances. How thrilling!

One would think that purchasing something new would lend a warm feeling of excitement and satisfaction. That’s what we see in advertisements, isn’t it – smiling happy faces with shiny new products? Well, let me tell you…

Previously, I purchased what I had to have from Lowes because I had a charge account there. Never mind their interest rate of 21-25%. No, never mind that. (This is the quiet assault on the poor, those who never can lay out $1,200 for a new fridge when the old one suddenly stops working and so end up paying far more because of interest.)

But now, with my new cash budget in hand, I didn’t need to charge anything!

So I went to Lowe’s for a new stove and dishwasher.  My existing stove had been in service for about 20 years, a purchase made on a credit card at a store in Springdale that carries new stuff but specializes in scratched or dented appliances. The stove was bashed in on the right side and the bottom drawer never worked properly, but the burners and oven performed well until the last several years during which time the right front burner stopped working. Mice had periodically invaded the insulation behind the oven, and so baking produced a slightly mousy odor.

Plus, you know how stoves get – janky – no matter how carefully you clean. Scratched enamel and burnt on film on the burner grids.

Then there was the over-the-range microwave, used when I got it with a break in the bottom door frame. In order to replace the light bulb, a series of tiny screws had to be removed to drop a glass panel. The front grill for ventilation could not be completely cleaned as the intake grid vanished into the upper areas of the microwave. No turntable. Not 1000 watt.

Then there was the dishwasher, installed sometime in the early ‘90s. The panels on the door had long since developed a rich array of rust spots. The door spring busted years ago and I replaced it with a semi-functional spring that made loud squawking noises when the door opened. The bottom spray arm lost part of its assembly at some point, so washing the lower rack became hit or miss with plates spaced widely apart and requiring pre-washing by hand. So yeah, give me a new dishwasher!

Back in August, my early-90s refrigerator died and the new one I got at Lowe’s needed matching stainless steel appliances, although I will admit to feeling disgusted with myself for jumping on the bandwagon for ‘all stainless steel appliances.’ How many times have I rolled my eyes while watching Home and Garden channel and other home improvement programming where invariably someone says they want all stainless steel appliances? It’s like a club of avid consumer cliquishness.

But here I am, trying to obtain all stainless steel appliances. At least my washer and dryer are white.

So at Lowe’s I quickly discovered that all their ranges have five burners with metal gridwork completely covering the top of the stove and reminiscent of a medieval drawbridge gate. What the hell? Who decided this? Who wants to lift (and clean) massive metal burners? Where are we supposed to place spoons or spatulas we use while cooking?

At Lowe’s website, I found four-burner stoves in stainless. Problem solved. But no – wait. I read the fine print, then called the store, and learned that installation of said stove-microwave-dishwasher involved a whole new level of expense. For the range, they’d require $60 to convert to propane and another $155 to send a plumber for the installation. (Turn off gas supply, unscrew old hose, screw on new hose…)

For the microwave, they’d require $105 to install and would not touch installation if the old microwave had been direct wired. Well, of course mine had been.

Then for the dishwasher, they’d require $139 for a plumber to install plus $20 for the new water connection hose. And, same as microwave, they wouldn’t touch it if it had been hardwired. (See previous paragraph.)

No, they didn’t offer a combination of plumber duties between stove and dishwasher in order to reduce the cost.

Hell, I could have bought an entire additional appliance for all that.

Then I checked in with the place in Springdale. Sure enough, a very friendly salesman got on the phone and told me everything I wanted to hear. Stove – slightly cheaper, no problem. Dishwasher, cheaper. Microwave cheaper. And all installed by one guy for about $150. Get outta here!

Plus – they would haul off all my old stuff at no charge. Lowe’s wanted $20 for each old appliance.

So several days later the truck arrives and right away I see problems. The microwave is enormous and dented on the right side. The range is white – and not adjusted for propane. At least the dishwasher seemed ok. But no one had lined up the installer.

Thus began a three week saga that is still not finished. The store agreed to switch the massive dented microwave (dent NOT mentioned by salesman) for a small countertop model plus range hood. Dishwasher doesn’t really dry the dishes unless I put it on a long ‘heated dry’ cycle, but that’s part of the slow deterioration of manufacturing quality, not a problem caused by the store. Second delivery of range, adjusted for propane, was a FIVE BURNER model. Are you serious?

Went to store where they admitted they had zero four-burner stainless ranges in stock. What? After I put my fists on my hips and shifted to a slightly louder tone of voice, they finally agreed to order a four-burner, stainless steel range.

Here’s the model I really wanted but they didn’t have him in stock.

Even though I loathe driving to Springdale, I will visit the store BEFORE they deliver the range to see if they’ve adjusted the burners properly because the white stove currently in my kitchen, which they ‘adjusted’ at the store, has no low flame. Turn the burner to ‘low’ and the flames are just as high as they are on ‘high.’ They said that had to be a problem with my propane tank pressure. But it wasn’t a problem with my old stove, so it can’t be that my propane tank has spontaneously jacked up the pressure.

Also, it turned out the installer’s fee wasn’t part of what I paid the store, which wasn’t made clear. (In one of my six phone conversations with the store manager, I asked if they’d fired the salesman yet. They have not.) Plus installer had tried to call me to coordinate his arrival with the delivery but the store hadn’t given him the right phone numbers, so everything on the first delivery arrival had to be rescheduled to match his availability. And the installation fee wasn’t $150 but $275 because he had to wire two outlets at $50 each and connect a new drain line for the dishwasher. Still, even at $275, it was cheaper than Lowe’s.

Highway robbery: Fifty bucks to wire an outlet to an existing wire.

I’m not sure how much more of this consumer joy ride I can stand.

 

My Personal Consumerism, Part I

A beige plastic spoon rest I’ve used for the last twenty-plus years is now ignominiously stained and warped by more than one close encounter of the worst kind with a stove burner. It contains three shallow cradles where spoons can rest in between stirring whatever I might be cooking. Being well versed in the Gospel of Consumerism, I recently decided to replace it.

This was a job for Amazon.com, where a total of 41 PAGES of search results offer an array of elaborate spoon rest choices. One might find a metal spoon rest with all the features of a fish, or elephant, or sea horse. A multitude of spoon rests have been created with colorful mosaics, period art, or clever or poignant statements about love, life, or food. Spoon rests in solid colors and various shapes abound as do rests that aren’t really rests, but rather exercises in various aspects of geometry by which a spoon might stand on its nose or recline at an angle.

Some of the rests feature an ingenious slotted holder whereby drippings from said spoon might settle below the actual spoon, in essence creating two surfaces to later clean instead of only one. Or consider the utilitarian grater spoon rest for your garlic, cheese, or spice grating in addition to use as a spoon rest. (below) Others form such a textured and convoluted surface that one might never fully clean it.

Despite the enormous array of color, design, and material, none of these elaborate and in many cases outrageously expensive spoon holders offer the key features provided by my humbly stained, warped plastic spoon holder:  a nesting place for three spoons. Virtually all but one or two of these models now available in the vast warehouses of kitschy kitchen gadgets offer a place for only one spoon.

I wasn’t aware that cooking in the modern era had been streamlined down to one pot. In my world, there might be simultaneous preparation of mashed potatoes, green beans, and braised steak with onions, each of which would deserve–indeed, demand–its own utensil.

Yes, there are exceptions. One product offers space for two spoons. It retails at the popular Wayfair.com site and sells for ‘only’ $33.99.

Or there’s this streamlined offering from Amazon.com (below) for only $9.99, if one wishes one’s ladle and spoon handles to become airborne.

Yet another option is the silicone ‘utensil rest’ item which would hold up to five utensils, essentially filling the entire space between left burners and right burners at its 7.3 x 6.7 x 1.5 inches dimensions. The warnings include: “Don’t clean it with abrasive soap or scouring pad, hand-wash recommend. Don’t heat it directly by fire. Don’t pull and impact it violently or scratch it with sharp things. The sudden change of temperature must not exceed 240 centigrade while being used.”

One must admire the energy and creativity invested in this vast array of spoon rest options. Yet I despair.

Why can’t I get a new spoon holder just like the spoon holder I already have?

Well, I could, kind of. By Google searching for “triple spoon rest,” I located one that looks just like my old one and ‘only’ $4.94. But overall, consumer ratings put it at 2.4 stars out of 5. Here’s one review of it:

I had one just like this from the same company that I bought years ago. So when it finally gave up the ghost, I wanted to replace it with the same item. I really like how big it is and that I can put multiple spoons on 1 rest. (If you are really cooking you use more than one utensil). I found this on Amazon and was pretty excited to be able to replace mine with an exact duplicate. Well, the shape and size are the same, but wow!! What happened to the thickness and quality!!?? It is so thin compared to the one I bought years ago. In fact, I washed my old one over and over in the dishwasher. This one came out partly melted the 1st wash.

So that’s a big NO.

I also found one for three spoons made of stainless steel. It’s an ideal concept for a stove-top item. HOWEVER, the piece is 10 x 4.9 x 0.4 inches. Ten inches long? WHY?

This disappointing array of consumer options has brought me to a new understanding. I should respect my old spoon rest and keep it. Its stains are markers of our years together, the many pots of chili and vegetable soup, the hours of simmering pot roast. Its misshapen profile serves as a reminder of neglectful moments when my attention to cooking gave way to refereeing kids or lingering on a too-long phone call.

After all, I too show the marks of my years, kind of warped around the edges from close encounters to heat of a different kind. And other life drama.

With more than 20 years of faithful service to its credit, why should I replace the venerable old servant with something that doesn’t fit my needs, costs too much, and would be bereft of any memory whatsoever?

Consumerism instilled by vast corporate effort turns every item and every occasion into a compelling need to spend money. As the years go by, more and more of our past ends up in the landfill for no good reason other than an infection of consumerism. It must be new! It must be shiny! By what other blood would the corporations of the world flourish if not our pervasive consumerism?

So I won’t participate, at least, not for this item, not for this moment. The old spoon rest will maintain its pride of place on my new stove top.

(More on the new stove in my next blog, My Personal Consumerism, Part II.)

 

What You Might Not Know About China

With trade politics thickening the air like an April snowstorm, you might be intrigued to know a bit about China’s past history with exports and imports. As in, we should be very careful.

We all know China’s civilization is one of the world’s oldest with historical records dating back at least to 2000 BCE when the Xia dynasty began. Legendary emperors introduced natural medicines including ephedrine, cannabis, and tea—the latter being the crux of a trade matter that would come back to haunt Westerners today.

Over 3000 years passed as the country went through various changes in leadership and cultural developments but here’s the important thing—they stayed within their borders. With all their advancements, they seemed content for all those centuries to keep to themselves.

Just because the Chinese did not use their advancing sophistication in efforts at world conquest did not meant they didn’t trade. Bits of Chinese silk have been found in Egypt from around 1000 BCE. The famous Silk Road, established around 200 BCE, accommodated the trade of Chinese silks, herbs and spices, and cultural ideas ranging from Buddhism to use of horses. Only with the Mongol invasions in the early 13th century were the Chinese forced to deal with outside forces.

The Chinese bounced back with the founding of the Song dynasty, considered the high point of classical Chinese civilization.

Empress Zheng (1079–1131)

The Song economy, facilitated by technology advancement, had reached a level of sophistication probably unseen in world history before its time. The population soared to over 100 million and the living standards of common people improved tremendously due to improvements in rice cultivation and the wide availability of coal for production. The capital cities of Kaifeng and subsequently Hangzhou were both the most populous cities in the world for their time, and encouraged vibrant civil societies unmatched by previous Chinese dynasties. Although land trading routes to the far west were blocked by nomadic empires, there were extensive maritime trade with neighboring states, which facilitated the use of Song coinage as the de facto currency of exchange. Giant wooden vessels equipped with compasses traveled throughout the China Seas and northern Indian Ocean. The concept of insurance was practiced by merchants to hedge the risks of such long-haul maritime shipments. With prosperous economic activities, the historically first use of paper currency emerged in the western city of Chengdu, as a supplement to the existing copper coins.

The Song dynasty was considered to be the golden age of great advancements in science and technology of China …Inventions such as the hydro-mechanical astronomical clock, the first continuous and endless power-transmitting chain, woodblock printing and paper money were all invented during the Song dynasty.

China’s military and imperial ambitions did eventually lead to imperialistic ambition. By the 1400s, Chinese colonialization in foreign lands extended to Japan and Vietnam. That was small potatoes compared to the Europeans who had begun far-flung expeditions to virtually every corner of the earth. In fact, by 1500 a strong isolationist fervor developed in China. When contacted by Western powers such as Portugal in 1520 and the Dutch in 1622, the Chinese vigorously repelled any and all attempts at collaboration.

Meanwhile, the West had begun to thirst for all things exotic including spices from Indonesia and India and especially tea, silk, and porcelain from China. Despite rich colonial profits from Caribbean sugar and tobacco to American cotton, African ivory, and Mexican silver, imperial appetites were insatiable. Just like today, the West—especially the fanatical tea-drinking British—suffered a terrible trade imbalance with China. China didn’t have much interest in the woolens and other commodities offered in trade by Britain and insisted on silver payment for its tea. By the late 17th and early 18th century, Britain faced a monetary crisis over its trade with China.

And here’s where it becomes very instructive as to our current trade situation with China, “we” meaning Americans, that peculiar offshoot of the British Empire who fired its first shot over the king’s helm by dumping, yes, you’ve heard this before, crates of tea overboard in Boston Harbor. British efforts to shore up its finances meant hiking taxes on tea, and the colonists weren’t having it.

Meanwhile, among its other conquests of empire around the world, British invasion of India brought them local merchants dealing an ancient and powerful substance known as opium. Clever Brits thought to import opium to China in the belief that it could balance its trade debts from tea. It didn’t take long for Chinese authorities to recognize the threat to their social order posed by widespread opium use. In 1780, the Qing government issued an edict against opium and other restrictions soon followed.

… Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor wrote to King George III in response to the MaCartney Mission’s request for trade in 1793: “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders. There is therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” Tea also had to be paid in silver bullion, and critics of the tea trade at this time would point to the damage caused to Britain’s wealth by this loss of bullion. As a way to generate the silver needed as payment for tea, Britain began exporting opium from the traditional growing regions of British India (in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) into China. Although opium use in China had a long history, the British importation of opium, which began in the late 18th century, increased fivefold between 1821 and 1837, and usage of the drug became more widespread across Chinese society. The Qing government attitude towards opium, which was often ambivalent, hardened due to the social problems created by drug use, and took serious measures to curtail importation of opium in 1838–39. Tea by now had become an important source of tax revenue for the British Empire and the banning of the opium trade and thus the creation of funding issues for tea importers was one of the main causes of the First Opium War.

Delicate business, trade. By the early 1800s, Americans also began importing opium to China as a blend of opium and Turkish tobacco. The resulting competition between America and Britain brought opium prices down resulting in easier access for the average Chinese resident. By 1838, Britain alone imported more than 1,400 tons of opium to China. It was estimated that 27% of adult male Chinese were addicted.

China’s emperor wrote an impassioned letter to Queen Victoria, explaining the harms of opium use and questioning Britain’s “moral judgement.” Sources say the queen never received the missive, but it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. The economics of trade meant that the nation’s leaders bowed to commercial interests.

Under the new law in 1839, Chinese began boarding British ships and confiscating opium. In one raid alone, authorities destroyed over 1,200 tons of opium on a public beach. Outraged, British importers demanded the assistance of British military. Matters devolved as Chinese banned British ships from taking supplies or water at Chinese ports and various skirmishes ensued, leading to debate in British parliament. The House of Lords (which included owners of most of the ships and trading companies) wanted war with China. The House of Commons, more sympathetic to the problems caused by opium, wanted the opium trade to stop.

No extra points for guessing who won. In a military buildup of British ships and personnel beginning mid-1840 and supplemented by Indian dragoons by 1841, Western powers with their heavily armed gunships and superior technology sailed up the Pearl River and destroyed less-well-armed Chinese vessels and troops. The British blockaded Chinese ports up and down the coast. In July 1842, British warships steamed up the Yangtze River to Canton where they destroyed Chinese forts protecting the city. Ultimately, China had no choice but to surrender and accept terms including stiff fines payable in silver and British control over Hong Kong and Singapore, initiating what the Chinese called “The Century of Humiliation.”

Meanwhile, the East India Trading Company [British] sent Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to sneak into China to steal tea plants and a few Chinese men who knew how to grow it. Vast tea plantations in India were the result. Under British control until 1947, India’s tea crops bypassed China’s, thus ending the need to trade with China for the tea supply.

I don’t think I need to belabor the point. It seems the Chinese have learned their lessons well.

~~~

Quoted passages pulled from Wikipedia articles:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_China#Xia_dynasty_(2070%E2%80%931600_BC)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Opium_War

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fortune

U.S. Budget — Military and Social Security

Deceptive and Counterproductive.

Discussion ebbs and flows on the topic of U.S. spending. Of particular interest to several of my liberal friends is military spending. Frequent Facebook posts on this subject claim that military spending consumes over half the budget.

I agree that the military is not an ideal place to invest so many billions of dollars. I also agree that the U.S. has a history of blowing money on weapons and aggression. Further, I question whether the U.S. uses military means when a better, longer-lasting path to peace and stability in troubled parts of the world would be investments in education, infrastructure, agriculture, and commercial development.

All that said, I have to protest the continuing use of incorrect data in arguing against military spending. The cause for less military spending is not enhanced by presenting incorrect information. Just the opposite.

The accurate 2017 budget breakdown:

Please note that the portion designated military spending occurs in the lower left  of this pie chart and as such does not constitute half of the U.S. budget. It’s important to discriminate between a breakdown of discretionary spending and overall spending. Discretionary spending is one category of overall spending. It’s within the slice of pie of discretionary spending where we see the big bite that goes to the military:So yes, military spending within its slice of pie of discretionary spending, is over half the budget. And there’s no limit to the close examination this distribution of funds deserves. But please, let’s make our arguments based on the actual facts.

A second realm of considerable error by liberals calls for a shift in U.S. spending to better honor social programs like Social Security. A popular mantra on social media these days mistakenly claims that we ‘own’ our retirement funds because we paid into them. The following discussion spells out the facts:

“It’s My Money” [WRONG!]

* A common perception about Social Security benefits is: I am entitled to the money. It’s my money. I’ve saved it.

* Social Security is mainly a “pay-as-you-go” program. This means that it pays most of its benefits by taxing people who are currently working.

* Per the Social Security Administration: The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Your taxes are being used right now to pay people who now are getting benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

* From the start of the Social Security program in 1937 through the end of 2016:

  • 94% of all Social Security payroll taxes were spent in the same year they were collected.

  • 13% of Social Security’s total income (including payroll taxes, taxes on Social Security benefits, transfers from the general fund of the Treasury, and interest on the Social Security Trust Fund) has accumulated in the Social Security Trust Fund.

* Per the Social Security Administration: Since the Social Security system has not accumulated assets equal to the liability of promised future benefits, the social security wealth that individuals hold represents a claim against the earnings of future generations rather than a claim against existing real assets.

* After the federal government pays back with interest all of the money it has borrowed from Social Security, the program’s current claim against the earnings of future generations is $30.8 trillion. This amounts to an average of $132,914 for every person now receiving Social Security benefits or paying Social Security payroll taxes.

* Per the Social Security Administration: There has been a temptation throughout the program’s history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. … Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law. … Benefits which are granted at one time can be withdrawn.…

* In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5 to 4) that entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right. [emphasis added]

[For more discussion of Social Security taxes, allocations, and projections, visit the Just Facts page.]

So let’s get our heads screwed on straight, fellow progressives. While a large chunk of U.S. tax dollars go to military expenditures, it is NOT consuming over half of our tax dollars. Our Social Security and Medicare funds are NOT held for our future use like individual savings accounts, but rather are spent immediately in payouts to persons currently receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits.

If we expect to prevail in directing our nation toward a more equitable and socially conscientious future, we need to be well informed and make our arguments for social justice in ways that make sense and align with the facts.

That is all. For now.