Monday, July 11, 2005

More Family Values from the Red States [u]


July 11, 2005

A Drug Scourge Creates Its Own Form of Orphan


TULSA, Okla., July 8 - The Laura Dester Shelter here is licensed for 38 children, but at times in the past months it has housed 90, forcing siblings to double up in cots. It is supposed to be a 24-hour stopping point between troubled homes and foster care, but with foster homes backed up, children are staying weeks and sometimes months, making it more orphanage than shelter, a cacophony of need.

In a rocking chair, a volunteer uses one arm to feed a 5-day-old boy taken from his mother at birth, the other to placate a toddler who is wandering from adult to adult begging, "Bottle?" A 3-year-old who arrived at dawn shrieks as salve is rubbed on her to kill the lice.

This is a problem methamphetamine has made, a scene increasingly familiar across the country as the number of foster children rises rapidly in states hit hard by the drug, the overwhelming number of them, officials say, taken from parents who were using or making methamphetamine.

Oklahoma last year became the first state to ban over-the-counter sales of cold medicines that contain the crucial ingredient needed to make methamphetamine. Even so, the number of foster children in the state is up 16 percent from a year ago. In Kentucky, the numbers are up 12 percent, or 753 children, with only seven new homes.

In Oregon, 5,515 children entered the system in 2004, up from 4,946 the year before, and officials there say the caseload would be half what it is now if the methamphetamine problem suddenly went away. In Tennessee, state officials recently began tracking the number of children brought in because of methamphetamine, and it rose to 700 in 2004 from 400 in 2003.

While foster populations in cities rose because of so-called crack babies in the 1990's, methamphetamine is mostly a rural phenomenon, and it has created virtual orphans in areas without social service networks to support them. in Muskogee, an hour's drive south of here, a group is raising money to convert an old church into a shelter because there are none.

Officials say methamphetamine's particularly potent and destructive nature and the way it is often made in the home conspire against child welfare unlike any other drug.

It has become harder to attract and keep foster parents because the children of methamphetamine arrive with so many behavioral problems; they may not get into their beds at night because they are so used to sleeping on the floor, and they may resist toilet training because they are used to wearing dirty diapers.

"We used to think, you give these kids a good home and lots of love and they'll be O.K.," said Esther Rider-Salem, the manager of Child Protective Services programs for the State of Oklahoma. "This goes above and beyond anything we've seen."

Although the methamphetamine problem has existed for years, state officials here and elsewhere say the number of foster children created by it has spiked in the last year or two as growing awareness of the drug problem has prompted more lab raids, and more citizens reporting suspected methamphetamine use.

Nationwide, the Drug Enforcement Administration says that over the last five years 15,000 children were found at laboratories where methamphetamine was made. But that number vastly understates the problem, federal officials say, because it does not include children whose parents use methamphetamine but do not make it and because it relies on state reporting, which can be spotty.

On July 5, the National Association of Counties reported that 40 percent of child welfare officials surveyed nationwide said that methamphetamine had caused a rise in the number of children removed from homes.

The percentage was far higher on the West Coast and in rural areas, where the drug has hit the hardest. Seventy-one percent of counties in California, 70 percent in Colorado and 69 percent in Minnesota reported an increase in the number of children removed from homes because of methamphetamine.

In North Dakota, 54 percent of counties reported a methamphetamine-related increase. At what was billed as a "community meeting on meth" in Fargo this year, the state attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem, exhorted the hundreds of people packed into an auditorium: "People always ask, what can they do about meth? The most important thing you can do is become a foster parent, because we're just seeing so many kids being taken from these homes."

Officials also say methamphetamine has made it harder to reunite families once the child is taken; 59 percent of those surveyed in the national counties study agreed.

The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, enacted as babies born to crack users were crowding foster care, requires states to begin terminating parental rights if a child has spent 15 out of 22 months in foster care. It was intended to keep children from languishing in foster homes. But rehabilitation for methamphetamine often takes longer than other drugs, and parents fall behind the clock.

"Termination of parental rights almost becomes the regular piece," said Jerry Foxhoven, the administrator of the Child Advocacy Board in Iowa. "We know pretty early that these families are not going to get back together."

The drug - smoked, ingested or injected - is synthetic, cheap and easy to make in home labs using pseudoephedrine, the ingredient in many cold medicines, and common fertilizers, solvents or battery acid. The materials are dangerous, and highly explosive.

"Meth adds this element of parents who think they are rocket scientists and want to cook these chemicals in the kitchen," said Yvonne Glick, a lawyer at the Department of Human Services in Oklahoma who works with the state's alliance for drug endangered children. "They're on the couch watching their stuff cook, and the kids are on the floor watching them."

The drug also produces a tremendous and long-lasting rush, with intense sexual desire. As a result of the sexual binges, some child welfare officials say, methamphetamine users are having more children. More young children are entering the foster system, often as newborns suffering from the effects of their mother's use of the drug.

Oklahoma was recently chosen to participate in a federally financed study of the effects of methamphetamine on babies born to addicted mothers. Doctors who work with them have already found that the babies are born with trouble suckling or bonding with their parents, who often abuse the children out of frustration.

But the biggest problem, doctors who work with children say, is not with those born under the effects of the drug but with the children who grow up surrounded by methamphetamine and its attendant problems. Because users are so highly sexualized, the children are often exposed to pornography or sexual abuse, or watch their mothers prostitute themselves, the welfare workers say.

The drug binges tend to last for days or weeks, and the crash is tremendous, leaving children unwashed and unfed for days as parents fall into a deep sleep.

"The oldest kid becomes the parent, and the oldest kid may be 4 or 5 years old," said Dr. Mike Stratton, a pediatrician in Muskogee, Okla., who is involved with a state program for children exposed to drugs that is run in conjunction with the Justice Department. "The parents are basically worthless, when they're not stoned they're sleeping it off, when they're not sleeping they don't eat, and it's not in their regimen to feed the kids."

Ms. Glick recalls a group of siblings found eating plaster at a home filled with methamphetamine. The oldest, age 6, was given a hamburger when they arrived at the Laura Dester Shelter; he broke it apart and handed out bits to his siblings before taking a bite himself.

Jay Wurscher, director of alcohol and drug services for the children and families division of the Oregon Department of Human Services, said, "In every way, shape and form, this is the worst drug ever for child welfare."

Child welfare workers say they used to remove children as a last resort, first trying to help with services in the home.

But everywhere there are reminders of the dangers of leaving children in homes with methamphetamine. In one recent case here, an 18-month-old child fell onto a heating unit on the floor and died while the parents slept; a 3-year-old sibling had tried to rouse them.

The police who raid methamphetamine labs say they try to leave the children with relatives, particularly in rural areas, where there are few other options.

But it has become increasingly clear, they say, that often the relatives, too, are cooking or using methamphetamine. And because the problem has hit areas where there are so few shelters, children are often placed far from their parents. Caseworkers have to drive children long distances to where parents are living or imprisoned for visits; Leslie Beyer, a caseworker at Laura Dester, logged 3,600 miles on her car one month.

The drain of the cases is forcing foster families to leave the system, or caseworkers to quit. In some counties in Oklahoma, Ms. Rider-Salem said, half the caseworkers now leave within two years.

After the ban on over-the-counter pseudoephedrine was enacted - a law other states are trying to emulate - the number of children taken out of methamphetamine labs and into the foster care system in Oklahoma declined by about 15 percent, Ms. Glick said. But she said the number of children found not in the labs but with parents who were using the drug had more than compensated for any decline.

The state's only other children's shelter, in Oklahoma City, was so crowded recently that the fire marshal threatened to shut it down, forcing the state to send children to foster families in far-flung counties.

At Laura Dester, three new children arrived on one recent morning, the 3-year-old being treated for lice and two siblings, found playing in an abandoned house while their mother was passed out at home. The girl now wanders with a plastic bag over her hair to keep the lice salve from leaking. She hugs her little brother, then grabs a plastic toy phone out of his hand, leaving him wailing.

"Who's on the phone?" asks Kay Saunders, the assistant director at the shelter, gently trying to intervene.

"My mom," the girl says, then turns to her little brother. "It's ringing!" Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


Paul A. Bové

Distinguished Professor

Editor, boundary 2

517 M & N CL

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA  15260


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Coming to Get us!

House urges end to liberal bias on Pennsylvania campuses

Wednesday, July 06, 2005
By Bill Toland, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG -- Hoping to root out political intolerance at Pennsylvania's college campuses, the state House of Representatives is forming a committee to investigate claims among some college students that professors gave them unfair grades because of differing political ideologies.

But critics of proposals like these say political conservatives, emboldened by election successes over the past decade, are making a thinly veiled charge at the last bastion of liberalism -- college campuses -- armed with flimsy evidence and in search of a problem that doesn't really exist.

Rep. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, says he's collected about 50 examples of "intolerance" from college students. Armstrong's proposal, which parrots others made in legislatures across the country, is based on the concern among Republicans that conservative students are at worst graded unfairly, or at the very least feel intimidated because their views don't match those of their liberal professors.

The resolution was approved last night by the House, 108-90, after the House voted to end debate on the subject, even though several representatives remained in the speaking queue. By that point, debate on the resolution had consumed parts of two days, with the House interrupting debate Monday night, Independence Day, so everyone could go watch the fireworks.

Gibson, in explaining the proposal, said that he hopes to guarantee "free speech and tolerance" at the colleges that are owned or partly owned by the state. The resolution, which does not need the governor's signature, says that "students and faculty should be protected from the imposition of ideological orthodoxy," and students should be "graded based on academic merit, without regard for ideological views."

The investigative committee, composed primarily of the House's higher education subcommittee, plus two appointees, would explore whatever problems exist and then determine if corrective legislation is necessary.

The movement to temper the liberal stronghold on college campuses germinated quickly. So far this calendar year, more than a dozen state legislatures have considered bills that would either restrict professors, or set up a committee or grievance process that would explore the allegations of unfair treatment.

None of the proposals has passed into law, and wherever they have been advanced, they've created controversy among lawmakers, students and especially university professors. Pennsylvania's version has been percolating since April, and has already drawn opposition from teachers groups, like the American Association of University Professors.

One of the driving forces behind the movement is the Students for Academic Freedom, a Washington-based group founded by activist David Horowitz. In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, he said the past six months have been a "watershed in the academic-freedom movement" and hopes the movement to monitor teachers for bias will eventually trickle down to public elementary and high schools.

Students for Academic Freedom says its goal is to "end the political abuse of the university and to restore integrity to the academic mission as a disinterested pursuit of knowledge." The group plans to distribute a book called "Unpatriotic University," which tells readers that colleges are full of "anti-American rhetoric, and [shut out] conservative points of view both in classrooms and on speakers' platforms."

Much of the Pennsylvania bill was borrowed from the Horowitz group's "academic bill of rights."

Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, referred to the Horowitz group and said the resolution is just "an attempt to respond to a national movement. ... We're just trying to fall in line."

(Bill Toland can be reached at or 1-717-787-2141.)


Copyright ©1997-2005 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 01, 2005

U.S. won't cede control of Internet's key computers

U.S. won't cede control of Internet's key computers

U.S. won't cede control of Internet's key computers

Friday, July 01, 2005
By Anick Jesdanun, The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The U.S. government will indefinitely retain oversight of the main computers that control traffic on the Internet, ignoring calls by some countries to turn the function over to an international body, a senior official said Thursday.

The announcement marked a departure from previously stated U.S. policy.

Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, shied away from terming the declaration a reversal, calling it instead "the foundation of U.S. policy going forward."

"The signals and words and intentions and policies need to be clear so all of us benefiting in the world from the Internet and in the U.S. economy can have confidence there will be continued stewardship," Gallagher said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said the declaration, officially made in a four-paragraph statement posted online, was in response to growing security threats and increased reliance on the Internet globally for communications and commerce.

The computers in question serve as the Internet's master directories and tell Web browsers and e-mail programs how to direct traffic. Internet users around the world interact with them every day, likely without knowing it. Policy decisions could at a stroke make all Web sites ending in a specific suffix essentially unreachable.

Though the computers themselves -- 13 in all, known as "root" servers -- are in private hands, they contain government-approved lists of the 260 or so Internet suffixes, such as ".com."

In 1998, the Commerce Department selected a private organization with international board members, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to decide what goes on those lists. Commerce kept veto power, but indicated it would let go once ICANN met a number of conditions.

Thursday's declaration means Commerce would keep that control, regardless of whether and when those conditions are met.

"It's completely an about-face if you consider the original commitment made when ICANN was created," said Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor who has written about policies surrounding the Internet's root servers.

ICANN officials said they were still reviewing Commerce's statement.

The declaration won't immediately affect Internet users, but it could have political ramifications by putting in writing what some critics had already feared.

Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami professor who helps run an independent ICANN watchdog site, said the date for relinquishing control has continually slipped.

Some countries, he said, might withdraw support they had for ICANN on the premise it would one day take over the root servers.

The announcement comes just weeks before a U.N. panel is to release a report on Internet governance, addressing such issues as oversight of the root servers, ahead of November's U.N. World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia.

Some countries have pressed to move oversight to an international body, such as the U.N. International Telecommunication Union, although the U.S. government has historically had that role because it funded much of the Internet's early development.

Ambassador David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department, insisted that Thursday's announcement was unrelated to those discussions.

But he said other countries should see the move as positive because "uncertainty is not something that we think is in the United States' interest or the world's interest."

Gallagher noted that Commerce endorses having foreign governments manage their own country-code suffixes, such as ".fr" for France.


Copyright ©1997-2004 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.