August 12, 2005

Obscenity and Child Neglect

Continuing the obscenity rant, I was thinking this morning about the nature of the constant complaint that The Children mustn't be exposed to something or another. Their minds can't be poisoned with seeing two men or two women holding hands. They oughtn't be traumatized by partial nudity, descriptions of sex acts they may want to try someday, or dirty, dirty swear words.

Then it struck me that the whole thrust of this argument puts the lie to the other constant complaint: that public discourse is too materialist. These are all 'spiritual' complaints in the sense that they refer to intangibles, sometimes reasonable and sometimes not. Putting these obscenities, these filthy things in front of The Children is sometimes likened to abuse, to an attack.

However, barring cases where what's legally defined as child abuse or neglect are involved, these are my materialist complaints about the ways in which society poisons children's minds and exposes them to harm.

Jobs are being shoveled out of this country by the truckload while rival nations like China and India invest heavily in the education of their people. They see a future in which there will be a lot of competition to be at the leading edge of technology, but some leaders in America look towards that same future and decide that it's time to handicap future job seekers by undermining their understanding of a critical branch of science.

Even if the next generation is able to find a job, due to today's fiscal irresponsibility, much more of their tax revenue will have to go towards paying off the huge budget deficit that the Republican leadership is saddling them with. In order to give tax cuts to the wealthy today, every new American will be stuck with a birth tax represented by their share of the federal deficit and the lost benefits to their communities if the money used to repay the debt plus interest was instead used to improve employment opportunities, transportation, education, public sanitation or healthcare. While I feel confident that the nation's military spending, even in times of budget crisis will continue to go up until it hurts (at the urging of those who say that 'throwing money' at education is no solution,) eventually these deficits could also come to be a threat to national security as America is left at the mercy of creditors and unable to properly fund a modern military.

Further sending the message that they care more about salvation than a possible future of starvation and poverty, some of the most 'religious' and 'moralistic' areas of the country spend the least per capita on education and see no problem with the disparity between lavishly funded school districts and those public classrooms where the books are old and most new supplies come out of the salaries of the underfunded teachers.

Religious extremists love to raise the alarm about the terrible children's health threats of condom use, shaking hands with AIDS patients, maybe masturbating and the potential mental damage from premarital sex. They completely ignore recent information that new-fangled forms of abstinence-only education increase risky sexual behavior in teens. Many US religious groups are also gearing up to oppose vaccinating teens against human papilloma virus which can cause cervical cancer later in life because they think it will send the wrong message.

And speaking of health, where is their concern about the 10 million American children without health insurance? According to the fact sheet put together by the American Medical Student Association, 90% of those children live in families where at least one parent has a job, 70% of them live in families below 200% of the poverty level as of 1997, that as many as a fifth of them have untreated vision problems that could hurt school performance and a quarter of them use the emergency room as a regular source of healthcare. From unnecessary hospitalization due to untreated chronic problems to increased school absences, these children are starting out in life with a sometimes invisible disadvantage.

The EPA acting jointly with the American Chemical Council didn't see anything wrong with introducing actual poison in the form of pesticides into the homes of low income families to measure the effects on their children, rewarding them with a monthly pittance and some trivial consumer goods. The intent of the study was to see how much poison could 'safely' be introduced into the bodies of children all over the country. Our greedy chemical industry was so intent on going forward with these tests that it took those beacons of morality in the House and Senate to tell them to put the brakes on until they can figure out safer ways of studying the effects of these poisons on children and pregnant women.

The paragons of virtue in the House and Senate have yet to indicate such concern for minority mothers and children from vulnerable populations living in poor housing that encourages pesticide use and increases allergen exposure. Further, the Bush administration has decided to rescind safety requirements on rat poison that would require manufacturers to add a bittering agent and dye to their product to decrease the likelihood of children swallowing it in the first place and making it easier for doctors to identify the ingested poison in a medical emergency. The incidence of children ingesting rat poison in low-income minority households has been increasing since the rule was repealed.

Other poisons children are exposed to in this country include mercury, with The National Academy of Sciences finding "that more than 60,000 newborn children are at risk of neurological development problems due to mercury overexposure in the womb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in twelve women have unacceptably high levels of mercury in their blood." The toxic cocktail also includes lead, organophosphates and PCBs.

The religious right rails against the right of women to choose their own reproductive healthcare, insisting that a developing first trimester fetus be put above its fully conscious and autonomous mother. But they raise no such ruckus over the increase in exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb, which has been shown to be able to disrupt brain and endocrine system development and leave a permanent mark on children who are brought to term.

The legal definition of child neglect includes a failure to feed your children. Not only do the leaders of the world's richest nation continue to ignore the link between poverty and hunger right now, which Bread for the World notes could be corrected for less than US and European yearly expenditures on pet food, they continue to ignore the destruction of the ecosystems that will feed all of our children in the future. The failure to properly manage global fishing, as well as the early effects of global warming, is resulting in decline and collapse in fisheries all over the world. Global warming is already decreasing the amount of arable land from which to get future food, and even the Pentagon is deeply concerned about these effects continued into the future. Human activity is also playing a more direct role in decreasing our ability to feed future generations:

The pace of desertification has doubled since the 1970s, threatening to turn 135 million people into environmental refugees. The United Nations says slash-and-burn agriculture, growing populations, depleted water supplies and poor conservation are to blame, along with global warming. Africa could lose two-thirds of its arable land by 2025, Asia one-third and South America one-fifth. Most at risk are people living on the edges of deserts like China's Gobi and Africa's Sahara. Growing populations in those areas speed desertification by cutting more trees for firewood, overgrazing, overfarming and overtaxing water supplies. 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to flee desertification by 2020 by migrating to northern Africa or Europe. ...

A failure on our part to sustainably feed people living precarious lives at the margins of global society increase damage to sensitive, bellwether ecosystems. It's 'their' problem today, it will be everybody's problem when future generations take up the responsibility of managing the world's resources.

I have no reservations in saying that policymakers who don't care about improving education, decreasing the burden of future debt, reducing the presence of toxic chemicals and taking action to dampen the effects of global warming are perpetrating a cruel form of abuse against the once and future children of the nation and the world. They can rail against obscenity all they want, but the only unclean thing I see is their foul, shortsighted and heartless hypocrisy.

Posted by natasha at August 12, 2005 03:27 PM | Environment | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

Natasha, I couldn't agree more. Well done, putting it all together. I never thought I would see these changes in my life time- the perfect storm. Global warming is the most deadly as it is a systemic change and will effect every living creature on this planet. We were a grand experiment and as smart as we were we didn't appreciate the natural systems that provided for our health and well being. If you can't drink the water or breathe the air.....

Posted by: karey at August 13, 2005 06:24 AM