Two Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation that would tie welfare assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to the educational performance of students who benefit from it, and the legislation was approved by committees in both the state House and Senate last week.
Under the legislation brought by two Republicans, a student who doesn’t not make “satisfactory progress” in school would cost his or her family up to 30 percent of its welfare assistance, the Knoxville News and Sentinel reported:
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.
When Campfield introduced the legislation in January, he said parents have “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school. “That’s child abuse to me,” he added. Tennessee already ties welfare to education by mandating a 20 percent cut in benefits if students do not meet attendance standards, but this change would place the burden of maintaining benefits squarely on children, who would face costing their family much-needed assistance if they don’t keep up in school.
TANF, meanwhile, is failing students and their families. It serves fewer impoverished families and children than its predecessor did before the 1996 welfare reform law was instituted, and it especially failed during the Great Recession, when the rate of families served fell in 35 states despite increases in both poverty and unemployment. And Tennessee’s welfare program is hardly robust — the maximum benefit is $185 a month and hasn’t changed since 1996. Given that low-income students already struggle to keep up in school, further reducing the already-modest benefits they receive from TANF isn’t likely to improve educational outcomes. It could instead make them worse.
By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, April 1, 2013
“Eeerily Similar Marketing Stragety Of The Tobacco Industry”: Gun Industry Aims To Sell Youth On Assault Weapons
Responding to Americans’ declining interest in shooting sports, gun manufacturers are developing programs to market their products to younger children. The National Shooting Sports Foundation trade association and the industry-funded National Rifle Association spend millions of dollars annually to recruit kids as gun enthusiasts. And those efforts increasingly focus on pushing semi-automatic assault weapons, including the very model used by the shooter in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.
The New York Times reports:
The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 — an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one — the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent.
“Who knows?” it said. “Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!”
The industry’s youth-marketing effort is backed by extensive social research and is carried out by an array of nonprofit groups financed by the gun industry, an examination by The New York Times found. The campaign picked up steam about five years ago with the completion of a major study that urged a stronger emphasis on the “recruitment and retention” of new hunters and target shooters.
Federal law prohibits the sale of rifles to those under age 18. But through programs at Boy Scout camps and 4-H clubs, the NRA trains children on how to safely shoot single-shot rifles. And, according to the report: “Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older, more traditional programs: that firearms can teach ‘life skills’ like responsibility, ethics and citizenship.”
This effort seems eerily similar to the marketing strategy employed by the tobacco industry in the 1980s. Recognizing that the number of smokers in America was declining — and dying off — cigarette companies sought to addict underage children to ensure a continuing market for their product. A now infamous 1981 Philip Morris corporate memo noted that “[t]oday’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens. In addition, the 10 years following the teenage years is the period during which average daily consumption per smoker increases to the average adult level. The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”
One gun-industry study noted a similar need to “start them young,” observing that “stakeholders such as managers and manufacturers should target programs toward youth 12 years old and younger… This is the time that youth are being targeted with competing activities. It is important to consider more hunting and target-shooting recruitment programs aimed at middle school level, or earlier.”
By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, January 27, 2013
The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world’s great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.
Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter’s day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes and homes blown from their foundations now perching at perilous angles.
Still, the human spirit cannot be blown away. The highlight of my beach walk was etched on a plywood barrier protecting an empty lot. Someone had scrawled the words: “NO retreat. NO Surrender. Not now. Not Ever. Rockaway 4ever.”
For political junkies, the meaning of 2012 was defined by an electoral verdict rendered by a richly diverse electorate on behalf of President Obama. History may well judge the election as the year’s decisive event, a turning point in our national argument.
Yet it was also a year that ended in twin tragedies.
First came the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, and in New Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan and Connecticut. Sandy taught me something troubling about the limits of my own empathy. Of course I felt for those elsewhere whose lives were wrecked and whose communities were torn apart in other natural disasters. Televised reports seared New Orleans, and especially its Lower Ninth Ward, into the consciousness of all Americans.
But television pictures are less powerful than ties to a particular place and to the people who live there. My mother-in-law, Helen Boyle, and the families of two of my brothers-in-law, Brian and Kevin Boyle, were all displaced by the storm. They inspire my love for Rockaway, a place that was also home to so many firefighters, police officers and others who perished in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
We can’t forget Rockaway’s times of sadness, but these cannot wipe away so many moments of delight. Whenever we arrive for one of our frequent visits, my wife, Mary, our three kids and I are immediately drawn in as if we have spent our whole lives here. Old-fashioned places are like that. Community is not a philosophical abstraction in the blocks of the Belle Harbor neighborhood where my extended family lives.
An experience like Sandy dissolves ideology. My sister-in-law Kathy Boyle, part of the management team that helped keep South Nassau Communities Hospital open during the storm, offered a view of the role of private and public action so filled with common sense that it would never enter Washington’s debate.
In politics, we debate, uselessly, whether government agencies or nonprofits are “better.” Her conclusion is that not-for-profits with ties to people and neighbors — Catholic Charities and a slew of other religious groups, Team Rubicon, local charitable organizations such as Rockaway Wish, Rockaway Help and the Graybeards — were absolutely vital in the earliest days after the storm, before government help was up and running.
Then, government could kick in with larger-scale aid and basic services, notably a New York City Sanitation Department that cleared away mountains of sand and debris.
Kathy, more conservative than I, has no illusions about government, yet she also has no illusions that we can live without it. At the same time, none of us should pretend that government, without community, religious and nonprofit associations, can solve our problems all by itself. Our authentic tradition is to bring the public and voluntary spheres together, not divide them.
And surely government has no more important role than in protecting its citizens, young children above all, from violence. However much we identify with Sandy’s victims, we can probably never fully fathom the desolation felt by the parents in Newtown, Conn. A hurricane has no face. Nature has no conscience. The loss of a child to random violence committed by another human being is an inexplicable evil.
We must act forcefully to contain gun violence, and that is a political matter. But a year that ended on notes of heroism in response to natural disaster and endurance in response to human horror brings to mind George H.W. Bush’s challenge: We need to become “a kinder, gentler nation.” That seems a worthy resolution for 2013.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 30, 2012
In December 2001, my father sent his first-ever Christmas card to me.
He even signed it, “Love, Dad.” Unprecedented. Throw some tinsel on my head and watch me sparkle like a snow globe; that’s how happy I was.
Dad came from the “show, don’t tell” school of parenting. He supported his family and shoveled the snow from the walkway before any of us were out of bed. His love was to be understood.
His postscript on that 2001 card made clear that despite the arrival of his one-time-only Christmas greeting, nothing had changed.
“I got a card from the wife of a man I used to work with,” he wrote. “She was at the church when you spoke, and she said you were the best they ever had. Don’t get the big head.”
What he didn’t mention was that he had attended my speech, too, delivered in the church of my childhood. He also skipped the part about how he had grinned through the whole darn thing.
Each December, I pull out Dad’s Christmas card and prop it up on my desk. He’s been gone for six years now, and the sight of his cramped handwriting makes him feel a little less far away. His admonishment about this head of mine is a reminder that in his own way, he loved me very much.
I spent way too much energy wishing my father would just come out and say it. Well into my version of adulthood, I’d end every phone call with, “I love you, Dad.” His response: “Yep.” Sometimes he’d mix it up by saying, “OK.”
Once in a while, I’d push back. “A-a-a-a-nd you love me, too?” His response every time: “Well, if you already know it, there’s no need for me to say it.”
When he finally wrote “Love, Dad” on that card, there was no victory. It was his second Christmas without my mother, and his heart was broken. How I longed for the days when Mom was still around and Dad’s “yep” was code for what he meant to say. Some things we learn too late.
This has been a long year for many Americans. Even if our own lives bobbed along without incident, it was hard to ignore the suffering of those around us. We did what we could. We attended funerals and hospital rooms, wrote checks and volunteered, worried ourselves sick and bowed our heads in prayer. Some of us smiled for no reason, and strangers felt a little less alone.
This Christmas season, the tragedy in Newtown, CT, altered the holiday for all but the most hardhearted among us. One minute we were shopping for stocking stuffers; the next minute we were trying to remember to breathe. Twenty young children and six adults who risked their lives to save them were dead. What? What? It was that horrible, that unbelievable. We never will be the same.
And yet, Christmas came.
Now the new year barrels toward us, a force of promise and uncertainty. May we welcome it with gratitude that we are here to greet it.
As I write this, snow is threatening to bury our house here in Ohio. My youngest daughter and her boyfriend spent the morning on cellphones, trying to reschedule canceled flights home. Halfheartedly, I try to hide my joy.
They are in a hurry, but I’m old enough to be on the other side of that impatience. All of our family was happy and healthy this Christmas. I know that kind of luck runs out.
I also know that my daughter’s heavy sighs mean only that she is young, with plans that did not include two more nights with her mother. I will not misread her signals, nor will I complain. Her love is understood.
For that, we can thank her grandfather for a lesson once learned too late.
By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 26, 2012
Well over 100 years ago, shortly after her eighth birthday in July, 1897, a young New Yorker named Virginia O’Hanlon put pen to paper in hopes of settling an argument she’d been having with some of her little playmates: Is there in fact a Santa Claus? She sent her brief letter to the New York Sun because, she explained, “Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’”
Weeks passed without response from the newspaper, which apparently misplaced the letter. Young Virginia had just about given up hope. But on September 20, Edward P. Mitchell, the Sun’s editor, handed it to veteran writer Francis Pharcellus Church with instructions to craft a reply for the next day’s edition. Church had seen the worst of mankind, having covered the Civil War for the New York Times. But the editorial that he crafted conjures man’s best angels, which explains why it’s the most reprinted editorial ever.
As we try to come to grips with the awful fact that a score of six- and seven-year-olds in Connecticut will never see their eighth birthdays, Church’s words have special resonance. “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus,” Church wrote. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. … [Without Santa Claus] the eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
When so many of those individual lights have been snuffed out, it’s important to remember the things that give life its “highest beauty and joy” and pull back the “veil covering the unseen world.”
Here’s Virginia O’Hanlon’s original letter:
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
And here, in full, is the unsigned editorial which Church penned:
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Thank God indeed.
As the right jolly old elf himself can be heard to exclaim, ere he drives out of sight:
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, December 24, 2012