Letters to the editor

On child abuse and the court, the Air Force's $35 billion tanker, Massachusetts healthcare, and the Berlin Wall.

On child abuse and the court

Thank you for publishing, "Child abuse: when family courts get it wrong," in the Oct. 11 issue. For years, distraught mothers who complained about unfair custody decisions were dismissed as "disgruntled litigants." The up-to-date research has now established that custody courts are failing to protect battered mothers and their children because they are using outdated and discredited practices.

When domestic violence first became a public issue in the mid to late 1970s, professionals involved with such cases developed practices without the benefit of useful research.

Police departments, for instance, had a standard approach of having the alleged abuser walk around the block to cool off before returning to the house. This practice was changed after research demonstrated that when a man killed his partner, the vast majority of the time the police had already been called to the house and used this approach, and often, police had gone to the home already up to five times.

As police developed a policy of arresting abusers and attempting to hold them accountable, the domestic violence homicide rate went down. It is time we reform the system so that the safety and well-being of children and domestic-violence victims becomes the first priority.

Barry Goldstein

Domestic violence speaker, author, consultant, and advocate

Teaneck, N.J.

I was heartened to see the opinion essay bring attention to the serious problem of family courts getting it wrong in child abuse cases.

Far too many children end up being ordered by the court to live with their abuser. When the protective parent seeks help from the court, the abuser files for custody and claims that the child's statements are false allegations made by a vindictive parent, and the facts get turned on their head.

Sadly, as an attorney, I often have to advise protective parents that their child might suffer even greater harm if the abuse is brought to the attention of a family court. This should not be.

Charles R. Hofheimer

Virginia Beach, Va.

Parental alienation is dangerous, harmful, and abusive to the child. A growing body of research points to the long-term damage done by unjustifiably breaking a previously loving child-parent bond. What we need now is to focus on finding and choosing the most effective remedies.

Writer Kathleen Russell should look at the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization website to see the biographies written by the victims of parental alienation. Many describe the exact scenario Ms. Russell uses to support her claim, but show a much different perspective of who their abuser is.

Robert Samery

Vice president, Parental Alienation Awareness Organization

Toronto

The California Protective Parents Association works with nonabusive parents in custody disputes. Our research of 362 cases shows that 81 percent of protective parents (mostly battered mothers) had primary custody when they asked family courts for safety for their children. Each mother spent an average of $100,000 on her case. The outcomes are horrifying. In the end, a scant 5 percent of mothers retained custody while the abuser had supervised visits. Most children who were ripped from their protective mothers continue to report abuse. Their desperate cries, present-day echoes of the "lost children" of Francoism, go unheard by family court.

Connie Valentine

Policy director, California Protective Parents Association

Davis, Calif.

The Air Force's $35 billion tanker should raise flags

Regarding your recent article, "Air Force gets back tanker contract": It mentioned the recent World Trade Organization's ruling that European countries have illegally subsidized French aerospace company Airbus, but neglected to note that Airbus's bid for the tanker contract was itself financed with $5 billion of these illegal subsidies.

This should be setting off alarms within the Obama administration. First of all, Airbus is clearly flaunting fair federal contracting rules by leveraging its illegal subsidies; coming on the heels of the president's speech to Wall Street about adhering to strict ethics and regulations, Airbus's tanker bid stands out as an obvious abuse. Moreover, 44,000 jobs are at stake: If the Air Force hands Airbus the contract, it will manufacture its aircraft largely overseas.

Last year at a Pennsylvania campaign event, then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama said he would be surprised if the Pentagon didn't choose an American company to build the next tanker. Now, American workers will be unpleasantly surprised if President Obama doesn't take a stand for US jobs by requiring Airbus to divest itself of its illegal subsidies or walk away from all government contracts.

Richard Michalski

General vice president, The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

Upper Marlboro, Md.

Massachusetts healthcare example

Regarding Paul Hsieh's Sept. 30 opinion piece, "Healthcare in Massachusetts: a warning for America": While Mr. Hsieh lives in Colorado, I am a western Massachusetts resident and an extremely grateful former beneficiary of the state's subsidized health plan, Commonwealth Care.

I admit that it did take me a few tries to find a provider that was accepting new patients, but I chalked that up to the thousands like me who were newly able to afford basic care. The service that I received through the state plan was affordable and excellent.

While I acknowledge that not everyone's experience will be identical to mine, the horror stories presented by Hsieh in his article don't sound like mine at all.

I know of nobody who has waited even close to a year for a physical or received insufficient care, and group physicals sound about as fictitious as Sarah Palin's "death panels."

Furthermore, my current employer-provided health insurance does not cover several of the basic services covered by Commonwealth Care (my eyeglasses, for one), so his suggestion that all insurance plans must match the state plan's coverage is misleading.

On one point we agree:

The plan is well over its budget right now, and we have raised some taxes to compensate. I don't mind paying a little more in taxes if it means that my friends, neighbors, and I will always have access to affordable medical care, regardless of unforeseeable hardships or changes in employment status.

Pamela Fontes-May

Northampton, Mass.

The Berlin Wall came down, but remnants linger

In response to the Oct. 8 opinion piece "The Berlin Wall: what really made it fall" by Elizabeth Pond, about how the Berlin Wall came down with hardly a thud, 20 years ago in 1989: On this anniversary of the event that symbolized the end of the Soviet Empire we should look back with gratitude to the brave citizens of Leipzig who prayed and brought candles into the streets – and the East German soldiers who refused to fire on their own people.

It may be hard for young people today to comprehend how much fear and oppression dominated the lives of those caught under Soviet rule. Even in the United States some people built home bomb shelters during the cold war, with the hope of surviving a feared atom bomb attack.

My husband's family, because his father fought for freedom for Belarus, had to flee their home in Vilnia when it was occupied by Soviet troops during World War II. The alternative was the Gulag, or worse. We think of that era as past. Yet remnants of those oppressive regimes remain. In Belarus, for instance, the media is controlled, an elected Parliament was disbanded, official election results were announced before the close of balloting, people are jailed by the KGB for peaceful protests, and friends of ours are among the "disappeared." Smear campaigns are even targeted against those in the United States who are effective in opposing that regime.

People in countries like Belarus still need to break oppression's chains in order to live freer lives under a democratic government. Support and prayers can be powerful forces to bring about change.

Joanne Ivy Stankievich

Monmouth Beach, N.J.

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