- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

Schools and hazardous materials

The mercury contamination “embarrassment” for D.C. Public Schools (“More mercury found at school,” Metropolitan, Thursday) is another painful symptom of the District’s failure to implement federal regulations.

Since 1986, the Hazard Communication Standard, aka “Right to Know,” has required an up-to-date inventory of all hazardous materials at a facility, proper labeling, training and much more.

The child blamed for the Ballou High School mercury spill in 2003 was, in part, a victim of the school system’s failure to properly manage hazardous materials in schools. This child became a patsy for the system’s failure to properly protect the children. Child safety should come before cookie-jar politics. Hazard-communication compliance is proactive, safer and cheaper than the reactive, recurring hazardous materials cleanup we are paying for today.


Riverdale Park

The benefits of joint custody

Cheryl Wetzstein’s article “Family ‘support providers’ increase” (Nation, Feb. 25), confirmed substantial earlier data showing that parents with joint custody pay far more in child support than parents who have only every-other-weekend “visitation” with their child. “Many advocacy groups say fathers are far more likely to pay full, regular child support when they have regular contact with their children,” the article said.

Of course. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. The only non-obvious consideration is why Virginia and Maryland are behind the national curve in not enacting stronger joint-custody legislation, as Washington did in 1996 with the indispensable help of then-Mayor Marion Barry and then-D.C. Council member Harold Brazil.

The Children’s Rights Council has testified more than 20 times before Congress with the message that children need both their moms and dads, regardless of the parents’ marital situation. An adult spends more money on someone who is part of his or her life. Not only do transfer payments (child support) to the other parent increase, but money spent directly on the child when the child is part of your life (not considered child support by the feds) also increases.

Joint custody is the fastest-growing concept in family law. In less than 20 years, joint custody (shared parenting) has become law in all 50 states. In 32 states and the District, it is a presumption or preference. Not all parents in the District know they are entitled to a third to half of the time during the year with the child, and judges and court staff need to give that liberal time even more than they do — for the child’s sake.

Not only is child support higher when both mom and dad are involved in the child’s life, but overwhelming research shows that juvenile crime and drug use go down and the child is more likely to finish high school. Over a generation, we expect those results to start showing up in our great nation’s capital.

With higher child support and better behavioral outcomes for children when raised by both moms and dads, you would think Congress would demand that as much attention be paid to parenting support as to financial child support. But no. Whereas the federal child-support office, under the Department of Health and Human Services, staffed by good people, spends $3 billion a year to collect support, guess how much is spent by the feds to encourage access/parenting time/visitation? Just $10 million a year. That’s right, 300 times more is spent collecting money as is spent on encouraging involved parents. The $10 million is apportioned to the states to be spent on parenting education, parenting plans, counseling and neutral drop-off and pick-up centers and supervised visitation.

If the government emphasized parenting, many child-support workers would be out of jobs. And the draconian collection methods used by the child-support folks — such as payroll intercepts even if you have not missed one child-support payment in your life, revocation of passports, roundups with handcuffs and jail time, would be less needed.

Many parents are indeed deadbeats. Some are dead broke. And some are “deadbolted” out of their children’s lives, to use a phrase coined by noted writer Gail Sheehy to describe parents who are pushed away by the other parent or courts indifferent to visitation.

Most parents, including 3 million mothers without custody in this country, are trying to do a good job. We should encourage them. When we do, more of our babies will grow up to become the healthy, happy adults they were meant to be.


Chief executive officer

Children’s Rights Council


No fan of Judge Bork

Bruce Fein’s enthusiasm for nominating “undiluted Borks to the Supreme Court” (“Embedded message,” Commentary, Tuesday), is a bit much.

Before Judge Robert H. Bork was nominated, I heard him address a huge audience at the Washington Hilton. The core of his message: Permanent or temporary majorities have the right to impose their beliefs and values on minorities. Immediately after he was nominated to the Supreme Court, I was one of the journalists who spent a day reading the papers Judge Bork had turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I found little evidence of his much-heralded brilliance but much of his odd obsessions.

In the succeeding weeks, I appeared on at least 30 talk shows, making the point that the Senate should approve only those who are enthusiastic supporters of the Bill of Rights.


Silver Spring

Money can’t buy democracy

I feel I must respond to the letter Monday from Donald J. Boudreaux, chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

I am not an academic or an economist, just a 78-year-old patriot; however, I also am not a prophet. For Mr. Boudreaux to use an annual income as a set and firm measure of the likelihood of success in Iraq is a bit pretentious. I have no idea how much each Iraqi earns, nor do I have any knowledge of the income of the average citizen at the time our own country was formed. That would be in 1780 dollars, of course, but would have to be equated somehow to the $1,500 he indicates. That was not a factor then. Somehow, we succeeded, didn’t we?

The measure of success of the democracy in Iraq is more a function of the determination of the people and the manner in which they go about setting up a government, and not how much money each person takes home. I lived for five years in Saudi Arabia, where very few Saudis worked because they got what they wanted from the government. The grunt work was done by Yemenis, Pakistanis and other “expats” along with we Americans and the British. With all that money available, Saudi Arabia doesn’t even come close to having a democracy.

Let’s give the Iraqis the benefit of our support — and time to work things out — instead of finding all sorts of reasons why they can’t have democracy. I have always told my employees, “Don’t come to me with problems unless you bring a suggested solution.” I don’t see Mr. Boudreaux giving any suggestions, just criticism. I’m sure glad I went to college back when we were taught optimism along with academics.


Livingston, Texas

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