Building bonds: one family’s story

As the optimism of the new year approaches, it is appropriate that we consider the plight of many of our struggling neighbors. In that spirit, I worked recently with Marcy J. Gallegos, a  principal producer and agency broker with Insured by Gallegos of  Hillsboro, OR, to craft a column about a local pregnancy support and parenting education program. I’d like to share that column with you.

Building bonds: one family’s story, By Marcy J. Gallegos

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces,” said the philosopher, George Santayana. That’s a thought that resonates during the Christmas season.

But like any masterpiece, families must be nurtured, kept healthy and protected from harm if they are to endure.

Rosa Sime-Reyes, 33, grew up in the Dominican Republic and came to the United States with her daughter, Emily, five years ago, following her husband, Emilio who had come two years earlier. The couple now have two more daughters, Lorraine, 3, and Kristen, 6 months and have been renting a modest one-level house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Tualatin.

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Rosa Sime-Reyes (Center) with two of her children, Lorraine (L) and Kristen (R)

While pregnant with Kristen and taking English classes at Tualatin Library, Sime-Reyes learned a program called Opening Doors might be able to help her get health insurance.

Opening Doors, part of Community Action’s Healthy Families program, is a free program that connects low-income pregnant women with services to help them have healthy babies. One of its services is expediting enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care coverage for low-income Oregonians. As an insurance broker who handles Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, I understand how important it is to help vulnerable pregnant women access health care as early as possible.

For Sime-Reyes, signing up for the Oregon Health Plan was quick and easy. She simply explained her family situation over the phone to Opening Doors staff and her application for coverage was accepted.

Healthy Families followed up by guiding Sime-Reyes through her pregnancy, finding a lactation group in Hillsboro and a baby care group in Tualatin for her to join, providing some children’s clothing and diapers and connecting her with a home visitor to help her family thrive.

Healthy Families is both a pregnancy support and parenting education program. It helps pregnant women get pre-natal support and then build strong parent-child interaction and attachment.

Many of the women Healthy Families serves come to the organization’s attention because screeners talk with them in a Washington County hospital after they give birth. If a woman qualifies, the screener alerts Healthy Families. A staff member contacts the woman, explains Healthy Families’ services and offers to help.

Healthy Families’ 11 home visitors build strong relationships with families under their care. For the first six months a home visitor goes to a home once a week. If the family finds employment and a stable place to live, is able to deal with money and health issues, and enjoys decent interactions with their children, the home visitor shifts to twice a month until the new child turns two. After that, visits occur once a month until the child is three.

“Studies show that this investment in children age 0-3 is huge in its payoff long term,” said Beth Dasher, Healthy Families’ program manager in Washington County. “We are making real changes in people’s lives and in the community at large because these children will be more stable and attached and will have tools to draw from when it gets difficult down the road.”

Home visitors are guided by a curriculum, “Growing Great Kids,” which teaches home safety, child discipline, ways to promote positive communications with children and how to break negative cyclical behaviors from their own childhood. “We talk a lot about the parent’s own history, what behaviors they would like to continue, what they would like to stop,” said Dasher.

“The goals are really up to the client,” said Dasher. “What’s really important is the process of learning how to set a goal, how to take steps toward it, how to achieve it, what it takes to be successful.”

What about Sime-Reyes’ goals? “I have so many goals,” she said. “My first goal is to get my U.S. citizenship. That’s why I’m learning English. I also want to be able to take time for my friends, my daughters and my husband. And I want to work outside my home.”

 

Truth is the 1st casualty

Governments lie.

Even more so when the issue is war.

Obamadebate

“We will crush al-Qaeda,” Barack Obama insisted during the second presidential debate on Oct. 7, 2008. “That has to be our biggest national security priority.”

At various times, Obama has declared al-Qaeda to be “on the run,” “decimated” and “on their heels”. In Jan. 2014, he was quoted in a New Yorker article likening al-Qaeda to an ineffectual junior varsity team.

But just one week after ISIS carried out the Paris terrorist attacks, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda killed 20 people in Mali.

Then, in early December, al-Qaeda fighters seized two major cities in Yemen as part of its effort to expand its influence in the country.

So much for the collapse of al-Qaeda.

On multiple occasions Obama has also asserted that the last American troops in Afghanistan would return home by the end of his presidency, concluding the longest war in U.S. history. But fighting with the Taliban still rages.

On Dec. 21, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle slaughtered six American troops and injured two more near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. And American troops will still be there when Obama leaves office.

“With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001, when the puritanical Islamists were ousted from power after the 9/11 attacks,” the Washington Post reported today.

As Afghan security forces deal with over 7,000 dead and 12,000 injured in 2015,  U.S. Special Operations troops are increasingly being deployed into harm’s way to assist their Afghan counterparts, according to the Post.

But Obama still insists American troops aren’t at war in Afghanistan any more, just “training and advising”.

Of course, the Soviet government wasn’t exactly honest with its people when it sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 either, or during its next 10 years of war there.

The Soviet Union sent over 100,000 soldiers to fight in Afghanistan, withdrawing only after at least 15,000 of its soldiers (and more than a million Afghans) had been killed.

SovietsAfghanistan

Soviet BMP-1 mechanized infantry combat vehicles and soldiers move through Afghanistan, 1988

Oral testimony from the Soviet soldiers reveals that during much of the war the Soviet government told its people little more than that their children were building hospitals and schools, helping the Afghans build a socialist state and “…bravely protecting the frontiers of the fatherland…in the execution of (their) international duty.”

In fact, there’s a long history of deception in American wars, too.

In 1898, President McKinley said the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana Harbor by a Spanish mine, killing 266 officers and enlisted men and justifying the Spanish-American War. It turned out burning coal in a bunker triggered an explosion in an adjacent space that contained ammunition.

USSMaine

The destruction of the USS Maine

Then there’s the U.S. war in Vietnam.

In 1964, President Johnson ordered retaliatory attacks against gunboats and supporting facilities in North Vietnam after attacks against U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Spurred on by Johnson, the U.S. Senate passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the president “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” Only two Senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voted “no”.

But reports of the attacks were a lie, as were so many reports on the progress of the war in subsequent years and incursions into Laos and Cambodia.

And so began the tragedy known as the Vietnam War.

VietnamUStroops

Wounded U.S. soldiers await a medevac helicopter during a war that in time claimed 58,000 American lives..

David Halberstam wrote an often-cited book “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident, foolish people who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said later, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Years later, Daniel Ellsberg, who made the explosive Pentagon Papers public, said, “The Pentagon Papers…proved that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward.”

And then, of course, there were the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

“We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003. “…should we take the risk that he will not someday use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk for the American people.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations

And so the war began.

As columnist Sydney Schanberg wrote, “We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tweedledee. Tweedledum: The two parties spend with abandon.

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Tweedledee. Tweedledum. This is what we get when the two parties work together, a massive spending spree.

A $1.1 trillion federal spending bill and a $650 billion tax package unveiled today show that neither party gives a damn about holding down spending. It’s not that all the items to be funded are wasteful or unneeded, but the package will push spending above previously agreed limits by $66 billion in 2016 and permanently extend a vast array of tax benefits that will add at least a half-trillion dollars to the federal deficit, once a matter of great concern.

deficit

  • Bowing to pressure on Republicans and Democrats from medical device manufacturers across the county, including in Oregon, anti-Obamacare zealots, and ticked-off unions with expensive healthcare plans, the legislation will postpone for two years (which probably means forever) a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices manufacturers, that was expected to raise $29 billion of net revenues over 10 years and a so-called “Cadillac Tax” tax on expensive employer-sponsored healthcare plans, that was projected to raise about $30 billion over 10 years to cover new spending under Obamacare. Then, to add insult to injury, the legislation makes the Cadillac tax refundable when it restarts. The lost taxes will blow a hole in planned funding to cover the cost of Obamacare.
  • The Defense Department will get $1111 billion for new military equipment, including F-35 Joint-Strike Fighters, Black Hawk helicopters, attack submarines and guided missile destroyers.
  • A 40-year-old oil export ban will be rescinded and, in trade, Democrats will get expensive extensions of wind and solar power tax incentives.
  • A research and development tax credit will be expanded and extended permanently.
  • The $1,000 Child Tax Credit will be extended permanently.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit will be permanently extended.
  • A federal health program for first responders and construction workers who worked at the World Trade Center site after 9/11 and a separate victims compensation fund will be extended at a cost of $8 billion.
  • A National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund will be created to “support work that helps Americans understand and adapt to forces like sea level rise, severe storms, and ocean acidification” associated with climate change.
  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit, an annual credit for tuition and other qualified expenses, will be permanently extended.
  • A $250 annual deduction on qualified expenses of teachers will be indexed for inflation and permanently extended.
  • Five tax credits tied to charitable donations by individuals and businesses will be permanently extended.
  • Funding for the IRS will be frozen, punishing the IRS for targeting conservative groups, but also further limiting its ability to go after tax scofflaws and, this, reducing tax receipts.
  • A $255 per month pre-tax benefit for parking and public transportation expenses will be permanently extended.

But aside from all the spending, Congress did accomplish a few good things.

There will be a pay freeze for Vice President Biden, for example.

Also, earlier this year the dour, stick-in-the-mud Capitol Police said sledding by gleeful children and adults on the snow of Capitol Hill would no longer be allowed. The package asks that the Capitol Police rescind that prohibition so the jollity can resume.

Capitol-Sledding

Wherever you shop for Christmas, it’s the same place

mall

Ever gone into a car dealer and been so put off by the salespeople that you walked out and bought your car at another dealer across town? Chances are that other dealer was owned by the same person.

It’s that way with a lot of retailers today. Different store names, but same person or company behind the curtain.

Take jewelers. I went to Friedlander’s Jewelers in Washington Square the other day looking for a gift. They had something close to what I wanted, but I wasn’t thrilled with the customer service, so I decided to try Kay Jewelers and Zales, also in the mall, and then Jared – The Galleria Of Jewelry in Tigard.

Later, because I’m a naturally curious sort of fellow, I decided to check on who owns these jewelers. Good grief! Turns out all four are owned by the same company, Signet Jewelers, an Akron, OH-headquartered company listed on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges.

Signet operates about 3600 stores in the U.S., U.K. and Canada under a plethora of names, pulling in approximately $6 billion in annual sales.

Its individual brands include all of the following:

  • Belden Jewelers
  • Ernest Jones
  • Friedlander’s Jewelers
  • Goodman Jewelers
  • Gordon’s Jewelers
  • Samuels Jewelers
  • Jared The Galleria Of Jewelry
  • Jared Jewelry Boutique
  • Jared Vault
  • JB Robinson (JBR) Jewelers
  • Kay Jewelers
  • Kay Outlet
  • LeRoy’s Jewelers
  • Mappins
  • Marks & Morgan Jewelers
  • Osterman Jewelers
  • Peoples Jewelers
  • Piercing Pagoda
  • Rogers Jewelers
  • Shaws Jewelers
  • Sterling Jewelers
  • Ultra Diamonds
  • Weisfield Jewelers
  • Zales

The amalgamation of jewelry stores is part and parcel of the homogenization of American retailing. Writers often talk about establishing a “sense of place”, but if you were dropped into almost any mall in the country it would be impossible to know where you were because they are largely identical. They’ve been designed for coherence and predictability, no surprises. Local idiosyncracies have been annihilated by American mass culture and uniformity reigns.

 

 

 

Want to avoid paying Our Oregon’s new taxes? Here’s how.

In its effort to punish Oregon businesses with higher taxes,  Our Oregon got a little too clever in its supposed push for “fairness”.

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The group, an alliance of unions and other progressive groups, filed initiative measures that would substantially raise corporate taxes. It has to gather 88,184 signatures ahead of a July deadline to get the measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The measure would increase the state’s minimum income tax for larger corporations, requiring them to pay a gross receipts tax of 2.5 percent on their Oregon sales above $25 million. The state currently anticipates collecting $500 million in corporate income taxes in each of the next two years. The Our Oregon measures would raise corporate taxes by an estimated $2.6 billion annually.

But there’s a loophole. Want to make sure your company won’t be hit with the new taxes if they become law? Declare it a benefit company under ORS 60.754. There are already 740 registered benefit companies in Oregon. No reason not to keep them coming.

Good Clean Love is one of Oregon's first registered benefit companies.

Good Clean Love is one of Oregon’s first registered benefit companies.

And a business that registers as a benefit company really doesn’t add much of a burden. All it has to do is designate at least one “benefit governor” on its board, choose a third-party standard to follow, publish an annual report on its website showing how the business met the standards that year.

If Good Clean Love, an Oregon maker of organic sexual lubricants and oils, and Sweet Leaf Cannibis of Springfield can do it, surely a lot of other businesses can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trigger warning: college Christmas guidelines

Check out the Christmas celebration guidelines issued by some U.S. colleges.

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CORNELL UNIVERSITY

University members are reminded to be respectful of the religious diversity of our students and colleagues and are encouraged to use an inclusive approach in celebrating the holiday season. Individuals and units demonstrate this inclusive approach by:

  • Focusing on the winter season rather than a particular holiday
    • Displaying symbols that visually represent holidays of several religions in combination with secular decorations of the season.

Guidelines for inclusive seasonal displays:

Winter Holiday Displays/Decorations that are Consistent with Cornell’s Commitment to Diversity and the University Assembly Guidelines:

  • Snowflakes
    • Trees (in accordance with Fire Safety Guidelines) decorated with snowflakes and other non-religious symbols

Winter Holiday Displays/Decorations that are NOT Consistent with Either University Assembly Guidelines or the University’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness

  • Nativity scene
  • Nativity scene
  • Menorah
  • Angels
  • Mistletoe
  • Stars at the top of trees
  • Crosses
  • Star of David

 

THE UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE KNOXVILLE

 

Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace

We encourage you to implement the following best practices for inclusive holiday celebrations.

  • Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.
  • If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.
  • Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, “Dreidel” or “Secret Santa.” If you want to exchange gifts, then refer to it in a general way, such as a practical joke gift exchange or secret gift exchange.
  • Décor selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture. Identify specific dates when décor can be put up and when it must come down.
  • Refreshment selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture.

 

OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

Decorations:

  • Individuals or departments may choose to focus celebrations on neutral, seasonal themes. Greenery, white lights, snowflakes, bows (preferably not red or green), and similar motifs convey an inclusive holiday spirit.
  • Decorations and food should be general and not privilege any religion.

It’s a new era, folks.

 

 

 

 

 

The San Bernardino massacre and the failed U.S. visa system

(Addendum: Dec. 10, ABC News, http://abcn.ws/1QfISlG)

Farook and Malik’s marriage isn’t the only one garnering suspicion. In the midst of the investigation into Farook’s family, new details have emerged about the use and possible abuse of the government marriage citizenship program involving Enrique Marquez, the man who officials told ABC News originally bought two of the weapons used in the San Bernardino attack and was married to Mariya Chernykh, who moved from Russia to the United States in 2009.

——

(Addendum: Dec. 9, NY Times ,http://nyti.ms/1NcHEUE)

James+Comey+Jr+Senate

“The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Wednesday that the couple who waged a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., last week had been talking of an attack as far back as two years ago, before the United States gave the woman approval to enter the country…The disclosure raised the possibility that American immigration and law enforcement authorities missed something in the woman’s background when they granted her the approval.”) I’ll say.

——

Not to worry, says the U.S. government. Immigration law is strictly enforced.

Except that it isn’t.

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Tashfeen Malik, who pledged her fealty to ISIS and joined with her husband to brutally slaughter 14 people in San Bernardino, came to the United States on a “fiancée visa”, otherwise known as a K-1 visa.

Tashfeen Malik

Tashfeen Malik

Under the law, the spouse-to-be from a foreign country is allowed to enter the United States for 90 days so that the marriage ceremony can take place. Once the marriage takes place, the spouse may apply for permanent residence and remain in the United States while U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes the application.

The government says the fiancée visa system is very rigorous and strictly enforced. If the foreigner doesn’t follow the law, they have to go home.

The problem is violations of U.S. visa law are routinely ignored.

The fact is that about 40% of the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States aren’t low-income people from Mexico and Central America. Instead, they are foreigners who arrived legally, often on fiancée, tourist or education visas, and just never left. They became what are simply labeled “overstayers”.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the government doesn’t even compile information on the millions of overstayers, leaving it to others to piece together a snapshot of who they are and where in the U.S. they live.

So much for homeland security.