Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for the Rutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia. Danziger has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He served in Vietnam as a linguist and intelligence officer, earning a Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Born in New York City, he now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here.
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"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance," the old bumper sticker says. Yet for decades, national and state lawmakers have flaunted their ignorance of what makes a good society by stupidly shortchanging our investment in our youngest minds. At the same time, corporate and governmental policymakers have intentionally rigged our economic and political systems to hold down workers' incomes even while their living expenses rise. The result is that mothers and fathers alike are herded into whatever jobs or jobettes are available — just to make ends meet. This leaves young children to ... what?
Let's be clear: Caring for children is expensive. Kids are labor-intensive — assuming, that is, the goal is not merely to keep the little creatures watered, fed and restrained, but actually cared for intellectually, emotionally and socially. Today, only the wealthy can purchase primo attention from private providers and, thanks to ever-attentive lawmakers, the rich even enjoy a special tax-break loophole for their nannies. But workaday families — especially the majority stranded on the lower rungs of the economic ladder — are mostly on their own when it comes to child care.
For our society to rank up with other developed countries, there is no shortcut. We must choose to make a significant public investment to sustain an egalitarian system of quality child care ... or maintain our present "We don't care" policy toward our kids.
As inadequate as today's "care" network is, it's only fair to note that the rickety thing actually is heavily subsidized. Not by government, but by the caregivers hired by center owners to tend to the children! Most of these providers are paid less than $11 an hour — on par with parking lot attendants and less than many dog walkers. The hours are long, the ratio of children-to-caregivers tends to be impossibly high, job stress is severe and staff support is meager.
Even as the need for care has soared in recent years and centers' fees have climbed, pay for caregivers (overwhelmingly women and mostly low-income women of color) has stayed flat. Benefits and job security? Get real. Usually, workers' wages are so low that they can't afford to enroll their own children in the centers where they attend to others' young ones. Training and career development? The U.S. model does not consider caregiving a profession or a career.
A mind-warping brainteaser: What country set the gold standard for high-quality, universal child care? Hint: The very one that now fails so pathetically, stupidly and shamefully to meet that crucial need. Yes, it's the mighty USA!
It came at the onset of America's commitment to World War II. With masses of men deployed, masses of women were called to rev up economic production by working as everything from engineers to Rosie Riveters. Their children? Believe it or not, our government responded directly and effectively by passing the Lanham Act in 1943. The new law treated child care as a core component of our nation's infrastructure, key to a unified war effort. This was a national/local government partnership that set up and staffed a publicly subsidized network of more than 3,000 Lanham Act preschool centers all across America, open to all.
These weren't mere child-minding barns, but full-scale teaching and nurturing centers that paid for accredited teachers and staff and trained them in childhood education. The program was widely affordable: For about $.50 a day (equivalent to less than $8 today) a child could get 12 hours of quality care. Twelve hours! The fee included lunch and snacks; the centers operated all day, year-round, reached families in 47 states and aimed at a 1-to-10 teacher-student ratio. Subsequent studies found the program enormously beneficial to the well-being of children, parents, communities and the nation.
So, of course, right-wing extremists killed it. After the war, they loudly insisted that women return to housewifery and that the government get out of child care. Succumbing to their pressure, President Harry S. Truman axed the budget for the Lanham Act centers shortly after Japan surrendered in 1945.
To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.
A deadly plague continues to rage across America, and neither vaccines nor face masks nor herd immunity can stop it. The epidemic of drug overdose deaths has taken more lives than COVID-19 and is more intractable. But the Biden administration is showing a welcome openness to a new strategy.
That approach is known broadly as "harm reduction." The idea is that drug abuse should be regarded as a public health problem, not a crime or a sin. Prohibiting and punishing drug use doesn't work. A better option is helping illicit users modify their behavior to reduce their risks.
"I believe this administration is the first to use the term 'harm reduction' in its drug strategy," says Maritza Perez, director of the office of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
The risks of opioid use in particular are grave and growing. In 2019, the number of drug overdose deaths was 70,630, the highest ever, and most involved opioids. But in 2020, the total was 93,331, an increase of 32 percent. Since 1999, more than 900,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses.
The epidemic has its roots in the 1990s, when drug companies brought out new opioids such as OxyContin, which were marketed as safe for treating chronic pain. But many patients became addicted, and some died of overdoses.
You might think that the federal crackdown on pain prescriptions and the successful lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies would make a big difference, and you would be right: The number of fatalities involving nonprescription opioids has soared.
For the past half-century, presidents of both parties have seen drug abuse as a job for police and prosecutors, relying on harsh punishment to deter buyers and sellers. But mass incarceration failed — and President Joe Biden, who helped bring it about as a U.S. senator, now recognizes it was "a big mistake."
Today, he's embracing something different: trying to keep drug users alive while facilitating their access to ways of overcoming addiction and avoiding death. The COVID-19 relief act enacted this year includes $30 million for programs aimed at harm reduction.
Among these are syringe services, which let injecting drug users get free, sterile needles without fear of arrest. These are a time-tested method of curbing lethal diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, but they have long been barred from federal funding. President Barack Obama got the ban lifted, but when Republicans regained control of Congress in 2011, they restored it.
Even former Vice President Mike Pence, however, was willing to allow syringe services when things got dire enough. As governor of Indiana in 2015, he approved a program in one county to combat a severe outbreak of HIV. "I will tell you that I do not support needle exchange as anti-drug policy," he said then. "But this is a public health emergency." The program was a phenomenal success.
The White House has issued a long statement of its drug policy priorities, with an eye to reducing fatal overdoses. It promises to improve access to drugs used to treat and overcome opioid dependence. It endorses efforts to promote the use of naloxone, which can reverse overdoses, and test strips to detect fentanyl, a highly potent opioid that suppliers often mix into heroin and cocaine — with sometimes tragic results.
The point is not only to save drug users from sudden death but also to give them a path away from addiction. Harm-reduction organizations, the White House statement says, "can build trust over time with patients and are in a unique position to encourage (drug users) to request treatment, recovery services and health care." This year's expansion of the Affordable Care Act has also made it possible for more people to get mental health and substance abuse treatment.
But the addiction to law enforcement is hard to break. Biden has proposed to make permanent the Trump administration's policy of classifying all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs, exposing users to stiff criminal penalties.
That's the opposite of harm reduction — adding the hazards of imprisonment to the risk of overdose. Not to mention that, as we've learned from decades of trying to eradicate cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, locking up people for using drugs doesn't keep people from using drugs.
Biden has taken a big step toward a better future. But he still has one foot stuck in the past.
Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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