Tuesday Reads: Targeting Citizens with Predator Drones while Failing to Protect and Nurture ChildrenPosted: December 13, 2011
Good Morning!! Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about predator drones being used by local law enforcement in North Dakota. According the the LA Times story Dakinikat referenced,
Michael C. Kostelnik, a retired Air Force general who heads the office that supervises the drones, said Predators are flown “in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement and emergency responders in times of crisis.” Yet Congress never approved the use of drones for this purpose.
…former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who sat on the House homeland security intelligence subcommittee at the time and served as its chairwoman from 2007 until early this year, said no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.
Using Predators for routine law enforcement without public debate or clear legal authority is a mistake, Harman said.
But the article makes clear that law enforcement types are slavering over the possibility of using the sophisticated surveillance technology offered by drones–and without a warrant.
Glenn Greenwald had more at his blog yesterday. He says that the so-called “approval” for the use of predator drones on U.S. soil came because Customs administrators included the words “interior law enforcement support” in their budget request! And since Congresspeople rarely read the bills they vote on, no one noticed. So now government agents can spy on us and track us whenever they want, apparently.
Whatever else is true, the growing use of drones for an increasing range of uses on U.S. soil is incredibly consequential and potentially dangerous, for the reasons I outlined last week, and yet it is receiving very little Congressional, media or public attention. It’s just a creeping, under-the-radar change. Even former Congresswoman Harman — who never met a surveillance program she didn’t like and want to fund (until, that is, it was revealed that she herself had been subjected to covert eavesdropping as part of surveillance powers she once endorsed) — has serious concerns about this development: ”There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,” she told the LA Times. The revelation that a Predator drone has been used on U.S. soil this way warrants additional focus on this issue.
You’d better not be doing anything suspicious on your own property–like smoke a joint in the backyard or something. You could be spotted, raided, and thrown in jail in no time flat, all without a warrant.
Dakinikat sent me a link to this article at the NYT on the relationship between poverty and education: Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?
No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.
No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools. President Obama’s policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more “efficient” through means like judging teachers by their students’ test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind.
The Occupy movement has catalyzed rising anxiety over income inequality; we desperately need a similar reminder of the relationship between economic advantage and student performance.
As a developmental psychologist I can tell you there are tons of studies that show that socioeconomic status (SES) is related to many different variables. This is a fairly complex issue, because poor people are disadvantaged in so many ways. Poor families are more likely to have only one breadwinner–usually a mother–who is probably overwhelmed by stress and worry. That leaves mom with much less energy to spend talking to and reading to her children.
A researcher I know slightly, Catherine Snow of the Harvard School of Education, worked on a number of government-funded longitudinal studies that investigated this. The research showed that very young children who are talked to, encouraged to tell stories about things that happened to them, and are read to in an interactive way are better prepared for literacy and will perform better in school than children who don’t get those kinds of attention. Interestingly, they found that the best predictor of academic success is a child’s vocabulary.
Children in poor families may also be stressed by inadequate nutrition, abuse from stressed-out parents, and perhaps exposure to violence in their neighborhoods. This kind of stress leads to higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which in turn can cause all kinds of problems, including obesity.
Back to the NYT article:
The correlation has been abundantly documented, notably by the famous Coleman Report in 1966. New research by Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University traces the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families over the last 50 years and finds that it now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.
International research tells the same story. Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?
Why does the government ignore this research–much of which has been done with government funding? There has been no effort to deal with the source of the problem–poverty–just bullheaded efforts to force schools to meet unrealistic standards. The authors admit that many in the government want public schools to fail so that education can be privatized and turned into a profit-making corporate enterprise.
The authors offer some suggestions, but since none of our elected officials seems to want to deal with the problem of increasing poverty among children in this country, their ideas come off sounding pretty weak.
This article really hit home with me, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why America as a whole doesn’t seem to care about children. I’ve been trying to write about post about it, but have struggled to put my ideas into words. I might as well just put some of it down here. My thoughts were not only about education, but also about the problems of protecting children from abuse and exploitation.
Children are our future. It’s a cliche because it’s true. We spend billions of dollars on the ridiculous and dangerous Department of “Homeland Security,” and we do very little at the federal level to protect children from poverty (one in four young children in the U.S. live in poverty), violence, abuse, and exploitation.
We are destroying our system of public education by requiring standardized tests instead of teaching children critical thinking. We encourage profit-making charter schools instead of providing more support for public schools.
In my fantasy future government, the President would have a cabinet level department devoted exclusively to children’s issues. This department would focus on designing the very best possible educational system for young children. There would be a strong focus on early childhood education, and especially on educating parents about the best ways to foster future academic success for their children, based on serious research. The department would work with the NIH and NSF to provide research grants to study these educational issues.
In addition, the department could develop ways to deal with the rampant abuse of children–physical, emotional, and sexual–that takes place in this country. The need for this is obvious if you read the news regularly. Children are beaten, raped, and murdered in their own homes every day. They are sexually abused in schools and in organized activities by people who should be protecting and guiding them. And people who hurt and kill children generally receive lighter sentences than those who prey on adults.
What has prompted me to think about these issues is not only the recent high-profile sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, but the stories that have been breaking recently about child sexual abuse in the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Two men who worked with child actors were recently arrested, Jason James Murphy, who worked on the well-received movie Super-8, and Martin Weiss, a talent agent.
The arrests have led a number of former child actors to come forward and talk about being abused as children. Reuters covered the story last week.
First, it was the Catholic Church. Then Penn State. Now, a new child-abuse scandal in Hollywood is raising questions over the safety of minors in the entertainment business and sparking calls for new child-labor regulations.
Last week Martin Weiss, a longtime manager of young talent, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation after an 18-year-old former client told police he had been abused by Weiss 30 to 40 times from 2005 to 2008.
Weiss’ arrest came just weeks after it was discovered that a convicted child molester and registered sex offender under the name Jason James Murphy was working in Hollywood and helping cast children for movie roles.
TheWrap contacted a wide array of professionals and found a mix of surprise, and those that say that this type of abuse is an ongoing concern, pointing to abuse allegations over the years by actors such as the late Corey Haim and Todd Bridges.
Other former child actors who have talked openly about the problem are Paul Peterson who appeared on The Donna Reed Show, Allison Arngrim from Little House on the Prairie, and Corey Feldman, who appeared on Nightline in August to talk about his own abuse.
“I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry. … It’s the big secret,” Feldman said.
The “casting couch,” which is the old Hollywood reference to actors being expected to offer sex for roles, applied to children, Feldman said. “Oh, yeah. Not in the same way. It’s all done under the radar,” he said.
“I was surrounded by [pedophiles] when I was 14 years old. … Didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize what they were and what they wanted … till I went, Oh, my God. They were everywhere,” Feldman, 40, said.
The trauma of pedophilia contributed to the 2010 death of his closest friend and “The Lost Boys” co-star, Corey Haim, Feldman said.
“There’s one person to blame in the death of Corey Haim. And that person happens to be a Hollywood mogul. And that person needs to be exposed, but, unfortunately, I can’t be the one to do it,” Feldman said, adding that he, too, had been sexually abused by men in show business.
Another child star from an earlier era agrees that Hollywood has long had a problem with pedophilia. “When I watched that interview, a whole series of names and faces from my history went zooming through my head,” Paul Peterson, 66, star of The Donna Reed Show, a sitcom popular in the 1950s and 60s, and president of A Minor Consideration, tells FOXNews.com. “Some of these people, who I know very well, are still in the game.”
“This has been going on for a very long time,” concurs former “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal.”
Arngrim, 49, was referring to Feldman and his co-star in “The Lost Boys,” Corey Haim, who died in March 2010 after years of drug abuse.
“I literally heard that they were ‘passed around,’” Arngrim said. “The word was that they were given drugs and being used for sex. It was awful – these were kids, they weren’t 18 yet. There were all sorts of stories about everyone from their, quote, ‘set guardians’ on down that these two had been sexually abused and were totally being corrupted in every possible way.”
Yes, Virginia, child sexual abuse is common in every strata of our society. It’s not rare, and it’s time we got serious about dealing with it. If we had a Cabinet department of children’s issues, we could address the problem with public education programs. It worked for smoking and littering–why not try it with child abuse?
The department could request that the media show public service announcements to educate parents about nonviolent ways of disciplining their children and about the dangers of hitting or otherwise abusing children. I firmly believe that child abuse is the root cause of many of society’s ills–including domestic abuse, pedophilia, rape, murder, and serial murder. The majority of abused children don’t grow up to be perpetrators, but they often turn their anger on themselves, becoming depressed or suicidal or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
High profile cases like the Penn State and Hollywood casting scandal can often spur changes in societal attitudes. We should seize upon these issues to push Federal, state, and local governments to take positive action to improve the lives of American children.
Now I’ve rambled on too long and haven’t covered many stories. I’ll have to leave it to you to post what you’ve been reading and blogging about in the comments. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my somewhat incoherent thoughts.
This week is ADHD Awareness Week. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned about this developmental disorder over the past decade or so; and I thought I’d share some of it with you.
I used to be somewhat skeptical about the existence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). After all, this supposed disorder didn’t exist when I was a kid, as far as I knew. (It turns out the behavior patterns associated with ADHD were observed as early as the 1790s). It seemed to me a bad idea to give children speed, which is basically what the stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD are.
When I went back to college to study psychology, I became friends with another student who had the diagnosis. Interacting with this young man and observing his behavior convinced me that ADHD really does exist.
My friend (I’ll call him “Bill”) had difficulty paying attention in class and sometimes he would stare out the window for long periods of time. He had trouble concentrating on writing assignments, because he was easily distracted. Paradoxically, Bill could focus his attention for long periods of time on something he found very interesting, like using the computer, playing music, or running. Those are common symptoms of ADHD.
People with ADHD tend to be impulsive–they may do or say things without thinking about the consequences, and this can lead to problems with other people.
I saw Bill get into trouble in his personal relationships again and again. He would make appointments to spend time with someone, forgetting that he had already made an appointment with another person–sometimes even two or three other people–for the same day and time. He often had to call people and cancel plans because of this. Most of the time, friends were understanding, but Bill ran into trouble when he made these mistakes in interactions with professors and other people he wanted to impress.
Although I liked Bill very much, I admit that I tired of hearing about his constant scheduling mixups, and about people who were angry with him about them. He wasn’t always easy to be friends with.
Something else I noticed in my interactions with my friend Bill was that he often used language in unusual and interesting ways. He sometimes had difficulty finding the right word and would make up words or describe emotions and behavior in unexpected ways. It’s possible that Bill had some kind language disorder in addition to ADHD, but he told me that he could often recognize fellow sufferers by the way they used words. I came to believe that Bill thought about things from a different perspective than most people, and I found that aspect of his ADHD somewhat charming.
As an undergraduate, I became fascinated with children’s language development; and I went on to specialize in that field in graduate school. One of the papers I wrote in order to qualify as a Ph.D. candidate was about ADHD and two aspects of language development: private speech and narrative (storytelling).
Private speech is self talk that young children use to support their play and other activities. They speak out loud to themselves, describing what they are doing or working out problems as they go along. Here’s an example:
A number of researchers have found that children with ADHD use more private speech and use it for about 3 years longer than typically developing children, who have generally stopped talking out loud to themselves by age 7 or 8. Children with ADHD may continue to do so until age 11 or so. The assumption is that children with ADHD use private speech more than other children because it helps them stay focused on tasks.
My main focus in graduate school was on children’s narrative development–basically the way children develop the skills used in telling stories. Narrative skills are used in forming autobiographical memories as well as in structuring reality and understanding the world around us. They are also an important facet of early literacy and an important predictor of how well children will perform academically. Children with ADHD tend to tell stories that are more poorly organized and less cohesive than those told by typically developing children.
So there are a couple of concrete examples of differences in language abilities between children with ADHD and typically developing children. In recent years there have also been brain imaging students that demonstrate that the brains of children with ADHD develop more slowly in some ways than the brains of typically developing children. Here’s one example:
Philip Shaw, Judith Rapaport and others from the National Institute of Mental Health have found new evidence [that]….When some parts of the brain stick to their normal timetable for development, while others lag behind, ADHD is the result….they used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brains of 447 children of different ages, often at more than one point in time.
At over 40,000 parts of the brain, they noted the thickness of the child’s cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer, where its most complex functions like memory, language and consciousness are thought to lie….
In both groups of children, parts of the cortex peaked in terms of thickness in the same order, with waves of maturity spreading from the edges to the centre….[but] the brains of ADHD children matured about three years later than those of their peers. Half of their cortex has reached their maximum thickness at age 10 and a half, while those of children without ADHD did so at age 7 and a half[.]
Isn’t it interesting that children with ADHD tend to lag behind in brain development by about three years–about the same length of time they continue to using private speech after typically developing children have stopped?
Here’s another blog entry on a different study of brain development in children with ADHD. This study found that children with ADHD had smaller caudate nuclei than typically developing children. This was a small study of 26 5-year-olds.
The basal ganglia (or basal nuclei) are the parts of the brain involved with voluntary motion and some forms procedural learning (development of a motor skill through practice, such as playing a musical instrument). The caudate nucleus specifically functions in learning and memory; it tells the cortex (the area of our brain where higher reasoning occurs) to do something based on current conditions. Importantly, the caudate nucleus controls motor skills partly through inhibition of particular behaviors, and disinhibition of others; an overactive caudate nucleus may be implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Smaller caudate nuclei had been documented before in older children with ADHD, but not before in children so young. The authors point out that previous studies have not been able to sort out what comes first: changes in brain structure or the behavior, which is part of the motivation of looking at younger children.
Just in time for ADHD Awareness Week, new guidelines have been released for the treatment of ADHD in children as young as 4. I must admit I find that a bit troubling. I hate to see kids get labeled as having a psychological disorder before they even start kindergarten. From the Wall Street Journal:
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be diagnosed in children as young as age four, according to new treatment guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The guidelines, released Sunday at the academy’s annual meeting in Boston, provide instructions for pediatricians on diagnosing and managing ADHD in children four to 18. They say behavioral management techniques should be the first treatment approach for preschool-age children.
But they also suggest doctors consider prescribing methylphenidate, commonly known by the brand name Ritalin, in preschool-age children with moderate to severe symptoms when behavior interventions don’t provide significant improvement. It’s a potentially controversial recommendation, because these medicines aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in that age group.
I’m not an expert on ADHD, but I am recovering addict, and I worry about children so young being given powerful mind-altering drugs. My friend “Bill” had been prescribed Ritalin as a child, and he felt that using the drug had resulted in his abusing cocaine and alcohol as a young adult.
Generally speaking, I’d like to see doctors, teachers, and parents use behavioral solutions for ADHD symptoms, rather than drugs. At the same time, I know that psychoactive drugs have been extremely helpful to me in dealing with severe depression. There are times when drugs are a good solution, but only in concert with therapy and self-awareness.
Again, I haven’t had a great deal of practical experience with ADHD. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone here who has. All-in-all, I think it’s a good thing that developmental disorders are recognized now more than when I was a kid. I can only assume that some kids fell through the cracks back then, while now kids with these problems get attention and treatment–however flawed it may be.