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Thursday, March 14, 2013

CHILD NEGLECT and a Filibuster

I wrote last week about the neglect and abuse of children that Congress produces by its inaction,  and by its failure to understand what outcomes its actual legislation produces.  Along comes Senator Rand Paul to put an explanation point on what I wrote.  First, he manufactures an issue that does not exist.  Second, he stresses the power of the Executive branch of government as a negative while he fails to see what Republicans like him have been doing to use the power of Congress to prevent the passage of legislation meant to aid people, particularly children.  Third, comes forth the utter hypocrisy of all he stands for on this issue of drones attacking American citizens, while ignoring real children being killed by hunger, guns and inadequate health care.  His filibuster was not the heroic speech that some like-minded conservatives suggested, but a rant about a made-up problem and issue that, at best, might occur in a country run by Tea Party-like right-wing radicals.

For a Senator who serves on the Senate Sub-committee on Children and Families, his legislative record is a vote against children at almost every turn.  Let‘s mention just a few instances:

* Note: Rand Paul has a 100% conservative voting record according to CPAC. * Voted Nay on extending student loan interest rates, and on prohibiting an increase in those rates;

* Introduced Separation of Powers Restoration and Second Amendment Protection Act of 2013 (nothing about protecting children from gun violence) * Introduced an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act concerning claims about the effects of foods and dietary supplements on health-related conditions and disease

* Introduced an amendment to prevent the creation of duplicate and overlapping Federal programs 

* Co-sponsored repeal of Affordable Care Act more than once

* Co-sponsored Health Care Bureaucrats Elimination Act - Amends the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board charged with developing and submitting to the President, for Congress to consider, detailed proposals to reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending.

* Co-sponsored Repeal of the CLASS Entitlement Act - Repeals provisions of the Public Health Service Act enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (entitled the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act or the CLASS Act) which establish a national, voluntary insurance program for purchasing community living assistance services and supports for individuals with functional limitations that will allow them to maintain their personal and financial independence and live in the community.

* Sponsored Parental Consent Act of 2011 which mainly prohibits mental health screening of individuals under 18 years of age without the express, written, voluntary, informed consent of the parent or legal guardian of the individual involved; also prohibits federal funds from being used to establish or implement any universal or mandatory mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening program. (Unhelpful in terms of dealing with aberrant or violent behavior of teens)

* Co-sponsored Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011with cuts in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Indian Health Service, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (all of which involve children#‘s well-being)

While chipping away at budgets and departments that essentially contain programs benefiting children, this member of the Sub-committee on Children and Families has not, to my knowledge, sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation that benefits children in any major area, including health, nutrition, housing, education, pollution control, or community services for children with special needs, since he came to the Senate. Exactly what is he doing on that sub-committee?  Oh, I know -- protecting children from being attacked by drones!

Therein lies the real shame of this man‘s wasting of the Senate’s time.  Instead of dealing with the major issues of our day, he makes a major calamity out of a non-existent issue.  How many American citizens have actually been killed by drone attack on our soil?  Not one!  But how many children were killed or injured by gun violence in the last year we have full statistics (2010)? -- Over 18,200! Senator Paul needs to get his priorities straightened out.

However, to be fair, we must point to the main reason for Mr. Paul’s filibuster.  It was to keep talking until the White House clarified whether it has authority to kill U.S. citizens on American soil with drones.  Administration lawyers said in all but the most extreme cases, the answer is no.  Speaking about hypothetical circumstances, Paul mused for hours about what kinds of circumstances might prompt the White House to unleash drones on Americans and what kinds of Americans might be targeted.  After 13 hours, Paul finally closed down his filibuster, having gotten an answer to his hypothetical question.  The real question for Paul, of course, is the power of the Presidency.  Although he seeks it openly, h,e fears it, and wants us to do the same.  He has a tendency to see things where they do not exist, as we shall see in just a bit. 

What makes this even more unpalatable were the reactions of arch-conservative talk show hosts, plus those of members in the Senate and the House.  They lauded the courage and leadership of this man; Rush Limbaugh even describing the filibuster as a watermark for changing the direction in which Washington is moving.  In my estimation, these reactions are more than adequate reminders that the radical Republicans are neglecters and abusers of this country‘s children.  It‘s past time to realize that they are the epitome of what is wrong in Congress: lack of attention to the needs of our citizens, especially our children, and being absorbed in non-issues, or manufactured issues that have little basis in reality.  (I won’t be caught saying this very often, but kudos to John McCain for speaking out against what Paul was trying to do!)

In regard to wasting the people’s resources and time, let us take a brief look at examples of  legislation on which Senators like Rand Paul spend precious time:

*Cut Federal Spending Act of 2011

*Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011 *A bill to limit suspicious activity reporting requirements to requests from law enforcement agencies, and for other purposes.

*A bill to require the Attorney General to establish minimization and destruction procedures governing the acquisition, retention, and dissemination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of certain records.

*A bill to remove the extension of the sunset date for section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act

*A bill to provide judicial review of National Security Letters.

*A bill to modify the roving wiretap authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

*A bill to require judicial review of Suspicious Activity Reports.

*A bill to modify the criteria used by the Corps of Engineers to dredge small ports

*A bill to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from awarding any grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or other financial assistance under section 103 of the Clean Air Act for any program, project, or activity carried out outside the United States, including the territories and possessions of the United States.

*Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act of 2012

*A joint resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the Government of Libya and the Government and people of the United States, and making provision to prosecute the same.

*A joint resolution declaring that the President has exceeded his authority under the War Powers Resolution as it pertains to the ongoing military engagement in Libya.

*A joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress that Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner no longer held the confidence of Congress or of the people of the United States.

*A joint resolution disapproving a rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the mitigation by States of cross-border air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Perhaps this is enough to pinpoint the difficulty with Ron Paul.  He likes to find obscure difficulties or flaws that he can make into major legislation.  It must be such fun to be able to criticize the administration, block meaningful programs, and find all kinds of national security details.  But where is the legislation that might speak to real national issues, and thereby address existing problems, like the need to provide a world-class education to our children and young people.  His answer, I fear, is bound up in a joint resolution that he co-sponsored in 2012.

S.Res.99 - A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the primary safeguard for the well-being and protection of children is the family, and that the primary safeguards for the legal rights of children in the United States are the Constitutions of the United States and the several States, and that, because the use of international treaties to govern policy in the United States on families and children is contrary to principles of self-government and federalism, and that, because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child undermines traditional principles of law in the United States regarding parents and children, the President should not transmit the Convention to the Senate for its advice and consent.

Perhaps this is the epitome of what we are referencing about Rand Paul and other radicals.  Not only does he confess that he believes centuries-old documents are the primary protectors of children, along with family of course, making it abundantly clear that he does not support a declaration of Children’s rights ratified so far by 193 countries, including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, plus all other member countries except Somalia, South Sudan and the USA.  He believes that national governments should not get in-between parents and children, and that international laws that guarantee rights to children threaten US laws that support the primacy of parents. It comes down to a conflict of national and international law, in his mind, but in many areas of the Convention, there is no conflict.  Again, Rand Paul and 36 other co-sponsors have made up a crisis of legal conflicts in order to disparage the positive aspects of this Convention.

What does the Convention cover?  Essentially Wikipedia says it supports the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.  “The Convention requires that states act in the best interests of the child. This approach is different from the common law approach found in many countries that had previously treated children as possessions or chattel, ownership of which was sometimes argued over in family disputes.”

“In many jurisdictions, properly implementing the Convention requires an overhaul of child custody and guardianship laws, or, at the very least, a creative approach within the existing laws. The Convention acknowledges that every child has certain basic rights, including the right to life, his or her own name and identity, to be raised by his or her parents within a family or cultural grouping, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.”

“The Convention obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, and to have their privacy protected, and it requires that their lives not be subject to excessive interference.  The Convention also obliges signatory states to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and asks that the child's viewpoint be heard in such cases. The Convention forbids capital punishment for children.”

In its General Comment 8 of 2006, the Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that there was an "obligation of all States parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children".  Article 19 of the Convention states that State Parties must "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence".

Rand Paul and his cohorts apparently need to read this Convention more carefully.  It just so happens it addresses many of the real issues and problems that children face the world over.   Perhaps they and he would do well to take a look at the Principals of Legislation published on their website by the Children’s Defense Fund as a guide, not only to the importance of the U.N. Convention’s provisions, but as a guide to future legislation aimed at children‘s well-being, and to the defense of children against austerity measures.

“Any budget cuts”, says CDF, “must improve and not worsen the state of America’s children by:

1)    Protecting investments in children and low-income families from cuts.  Since the Budget Act of  1985, the fundamental principle of protecting children and other vulnerable populations has been a cornerstone of deficit reduction -- every automatic budget cut mechanism has exempted low-income assistance programs from all cuts.

Children are the poorest age group in America, with more than 1 in 5 children (1 in 3 in communities of color) living in poverty.  Polls show that almost 60% of Americans oppose cutting investments in anti-poverty programs

Cutting children from the budget now will cost us more later, increasing poverty rates, drop-out rates and jobless rates

2)   Investing in children to create jobs and promote economic growth for the nation.  For instance:

Early childhood programs have an estimated inflation-adjusted return rate of 10% or higher; society as a whole enjoys the majority of the economic return

Investments in high school education that raises graduation rates have been shown to yield a public benefit of $209,000 per student, and an economic benefit to the public purse 2.5 times greater than the costs

3)   Ensuring the most advantaged Americans and corporations pay their fair share.  Corporate tax deductions, exemptions, and credits cost the nation about $103 billion in lower tax receipts in 2011.  Each hour, about $11.8 billion is lost through these loopholes -- money that could instead be invested in:

Annual salaries for 420 Head Start teachers; or Pell grants for 3,100 low-income students; or WIC benefits for 23,600 women and children for a year; or SNAP benefits (food stamps) for 9,700 children and adults for one year.”

The priorities of Congress are so upside down right now, that Senators like Rand Paul cannot comprehend the harm they are doing to our most important resource: our children.  Apparently, they would rather let them languish in homelessness, poverty, hunger and ignorance than invest in their future and the future of our nation which stands to benefit from the potential talents and earnings of our youngest citizens.  Our job right now as concerned citizens is to stand up for all of this nation’s children, and to let Congress know that we will not tolerate the proposed austerity measures of sequestration and the Ryan Budget which clearly amount to child abuse and neglect.