Domestic Violence: When do the excuses stop?

Domestic Violence

This weekend a domestic violence issue in Texas transitioned into an assault on the Dallas Police Department. Early reports give every impression of a man, out of control in every way imaginable, extending his personal sense of outrage to his local law enforcement authorities.  “After the shootout at police headquarters, the suspect called 911 and gave a four- to five-minute rant, accusing of police of being to blame for him losing custody of a child,…” [CNN]

There was an incident in Montana last week that barely attracted much attention at all.  Augustine Bournes killed his wife and three children, June 11, 2015.  The children were all under the age of 6.  He set fire to their home, and then took his own life. [NYDN]   He was “anti-government and unhappy with his life.”  There’s a term for this pathology: Family Annihilators.  Pehaps the most tragic comment about the incident came from a relative: “People tried to tell him he needed to get help,” 35-year-old Starla Shannon said Wednesday. “He said he’d rather go to a vet than a doctor.”

There’s no question the Family Annihilators and the Public Attack Perpetrators are a distinct minority subset of those who commit or are involved in domestic violence.  However, they do set the peg for the extreme end of the spectrum.

The Excuses

Unfortunately for any rational discussion, the peg is inserted in swampy terrain, territory in which men are supposedly victimized by a culture that no longer provides Hollywood staple John Wayne-esque characters as role models (as if that were a model to be emulated), or fears of the expressions of male sexuality (as if ‘a little groping just happens naturally’ down at the garage), or Big Government obscures the origins of the “true source of oppression, (whatever in the world that might mean), or men’s natural expression of free speech is truncated by feminine criticism of those who don’t understand that ‘privilege’ begets a perspective which doesn’t necessarily include the lives of women or minorities.   There are other supposedly “pro male” excuses for male disaffection, such as the “lie” about equal pay; because it is said men work at more dangerous jobs? (Missing the point that the call is for equal pay for equal work, the last portion being conveniently omitted.

And then we get to the domestic arrangements – wherein women falsely accused men of rape, and women get the benefit of the doubt in court in terms of child custody and alimony or child support payments.

The Delusions

“There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present and invoke the security of a comfortable past, which in fact, never existed.” [Robert Kennedy, Chicago, 1963]

Okay, in 763 BC the Romans adopted the Law of Chastisement, allowing husbands to beat their wives, and in the 14th century the Church advised a little spousal abuse for her “spiritual improvement.”  However,  we also know that by 1600 there were shelters for women – they called them convents.  In 1871 both Alabama and Massachusetts declared wife beating a crime. [StM]   Thus, if a wife abuser is seeking a “comfortable past” be advised it hasn’t exists in the last 144 years.

Another useless excuse is that “they – meaning women – do it too!” The misogynists among us are fond of providing statistics which “prove” women are also engaged in spousal and domestic abuse.  The stuffing comes out of this straw man quickly.  No one is saying all spousal abuse is done by men – but a sizable proportion of it certainly is.

A study of the reports of intimate partner violence between 1994 and 2010 found that 4 out of 5 victims were female. [NDVH]  The American Bar Association’s study of domestic violence found that:

(1) “Access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse, according to a recent study, suggesting that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners.”

(2) “Of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner was more than three times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents in 2002.”

Therefore, we should rid ourselves of the delusions that (1) slapping the little lady around is good for them because the Romans did it; (2) it’s just as bad for men; and (3) a gun in the home will make things safer.

Home Not So Sweet Home

Nevada could do a much better job of preventing the instances of domestic and intimate partner violence, and violence against women and families in general. Our current statistics could use some improvement. The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence reported that for 2014 there were 65,026 contacts; 40,927 were for the first time; 15,534 were repeats; and 8,565 were follow ups. 1,091 adults needed shelter for 22,040 ‘bednights.’ 1,178 children were sheltered for 26,390 bednights. Most of the adults sheltered were between the ages of 30 and 44. Among those sheltered 12,096 were Caucasian, 3,396 were African American, and 7,725 were Hispanic.  Those numbers provide some context for the trauma.  Other numbers illustrate the strain on the system

Law enforcement was contacted 12,999 times, arrests were made 6,830 times. In 5,589 incidents arrests were not made. Police reports were made 481 times, temporary orders of protection were issued 11,354 times.  There were 4,520 court appointments, and 18,540 individual counseling sessions.

Looking for Solutions

First, and foremost, let’s make an attempt to alleviate the problem of escalating domestic violence by enacting common sense gun laws.

Local law enforcement authorities should have the power to immediately remove firearms from any home in which they have been called to deal with an incident of domestic violence – for their own safety if nothing else. [TCJ] [KMGH]  And, for the safety of the spouses and children the firearms should be locked up in police custody during the period covered by an order of protection.

Background checks should be expanded to private and gun show sales, and should include any records of domestic violence, stalking, or harassment.  No firearms should be sold to any person who is currently under a restraining order – temporary or extended.

Funds should be appropriated to adequately staff those agencies which keep records of criminal behavior, including incidents of domestic violence, the adjudication of mental health status, and the approval of temporary and extended orders of protection.

The state should require that all firearms in a home be kept locked when not in the immediate process of being maintained.

If we can take some small steps to create a safer environment for women and children, then we can better consider how to develop strategies for improving our society.  It would be helpful if we’d think beyond the extreme forms of firearm violence (Columbine, Va Tech, etc. or Montana and Dallas) and improve the way we deliver the message about violence and its results in general terms.  For example, behaviors like bullying are unacceptable, whether it’s bullying members of minority groups, women, or children.  Period.  Every school, public and private alike, should be required to update and upgrade their anti-bullying policies.

Getting a better grip on history wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  Yes, 14th century Europeans were encouraged to “beat the women” but those aren’t the best role models.  Edward I of England was a fearsome warrior with a sound reputation on the battlefield, and a person known for being troublesome if not downright petulant.  However, when it came to his domestic life things were quite different.  His marriage in 1254 to Eleanor of Castile was by all accounts a genuine life-long romance. Her death at Harby in November 1290 left him devastated.  Some of the visible reminders of his love and loss can still be seen in that country – as in Charing Cross (Chere Reine, or Beloved Queen).  There are far better role models available throughout history, even European medieval,  than the thuggish peasant “improving his wife.”

At the extreme, the Montana family annihilator would rather have gone to a veterinarian than a psychiatrist – and that’s a sad tale in itself.  We’ve done a relatively poor job of diminishing the stigma attached to mental illnesses in this country. We could and should do better.  No one would sit around contemplating whether to get treatment for a broken arm – why would or should anyone not seek treatment for a broken mind?  We’d not let a person with a dangerously high fever stay away from a hospital – so why do we not have services immediately available for family members who are coping with a person who is experiencing mental instability?  And, those services should be provided in a setting which isn’t the county jail!

Stop letting the perfect become the enemy of the possible or even the pragmatic.  Opponents of common sense gun regulation, those who don’t wish to make the investment in mental health care services, and even those who have mistakenly analogized boorishness for masculinity, repeat the mantra that “it (whatever solution is proposed) won’t prevent tragedies from happening.  True. However, that doesn’t negate the improvements which could be made if we’d try.  Laws against bank robbery don’t prevent the criminals among us from trying, but they do provide for a place to put them when they are caught.  Increasing the number of mental health care facilities and programs will not provide 100% security – but it would be better than what we have at the moment. And, providing anti-bullying and anger management programs and projects at an early age won’t mean that some erratic person won’t engage in violent behavior – but the incidents prevented before they ever happen will reduce the strain on our educational, police, and health care services.

A productive perspective will do more to accomplish the reduction in domestic violence and related homicides than sitting stone silent wrapped in the fear a solution might not produce 100% success.  Franklin Roosevelt had two sentences for that:

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

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Filed under Gun Issues, Nevada, Nevada politics, violence, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Cresent Hardy Opens His Mouth, and you know the rest of the story

Hardy Quotations

A few more examples of the propensity of Nevada’s District 4 Congressional Representative to open his mouth and insert his foot, and we’ll have enough to publish at least a Kindle Single?  Yes, Cresent Hardy, newly elected Representative of District 4 has done it again.  (Those who would like a quick review of some of his previous hits should click over to Hardy’s Top Five.  DB had a “Cresent Hardy Retrospective” back in September 2014.)

So here we go, Rep. Cresent Hardy addressing a Libertarian function:

Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV) said recently at a Libertarian Party event that he hoped his children would never be a “drain on society” like people who were disabled. In audio published this week by the Nevada State Democratic Party, Hardy can be heard speaking to attendees at the Libertarian Political Expo in Las Vegas.

“I have three children,” Hardy explains. “One of them is summa cum laude and two were magnum cum laude. The other one, he didn’t need an education. He works for Raytheon, smarter than all the rest. He works hard, he builds things that are genius. Some people have that ability.” “But they all work hard. They are raising their own families,” he continued. “They will not be a drain on society, the best they can. Hopefully they will never have some disability that causes them to have to utilize that.” [RawStory] [YouTubeNSDP]

The unspeakable “that” is most likely disability benefits? Unemployment insurance compensation?  Any program through which the American people demonstrate that they do, in fact, care about their neighbors?  And, what do we make of the conflation of “disabled” with “diseased?”  Disabled people are a “drain on society?”

Rep. Hardy evidently missed the 2007 DePaul University study which found

  • Employees with disabilities had nearly identical job performance ratings as employees without disabilities.
  • The amount of supervision required was similar for both groups.
  • Participants from certain sectors stayed on the job longer than their counterparts.
  • Very few special accommodations were provided to employees with disabilities, and the average cost of the accommodations was $313.

Hmm, nearly identical job performance (which could mean in some cases it was higher) the same amount of supervision, longer tenure with the company, and not all that much needed in terms of physical accommodations? Doesn’t sound like much of a drain to me. He must also have missed the information from the NCED that employed persons with a disability in Nevada were more likely to be self-employed.  The same pattern holds nationally, as reported by the Department of Labor for 2013.  10.9% of the disabled were self employed compared to 6.4% of the non-disabled. Those would be the same people we call “entrepreneurs,” maybe even “job creators?”

The Nevada State Democratic Party called for Rep. Hardy to apologize to disabled Nevadans, but I’d not want to hang by my hair for as long as that might take.

“If Cresent Hardy wants to talk about ‘drains on society,’ he should point a finger at his buddy, deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy, not disabled children,” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Zach Hudson.  “Hardy has compared employment non-discrimination laws to ‘segregation,’ agreed with Mitt Romney that 47% of the American people are ‘freeloaders,’ and now called children with disabilities ‘drains on society.’  Cresent Hardy’s comments are outrageous and he owes an immediate apology to every Nevadan with a disability.”

In the narrow exclusive world of the Hardys and the Bundys, those numbers and statistical studies of the productivity of disabled persons don’t matter.  They don’t matter any more than the fact that as of the last DoL Report the unemployment rate for African Americans was 10.2% – meaning, of course, that 89.8% of African Americans in the civilian population labor force are WORKING.  In Hardy-Bundy Land those “Negroes sit on stoops…” and the disabled spend the day staring out of their institutional windows? This isn’t an informed view, it isn’t even a rational view, but it’s their world.

Their world isn’t a place where the family is pleased with the progress – sometimes even just a little progress – made by their child at the new Miller School in Las Vegas. Instead, this is a world in which those burdened are decried as a “burden on others,” as if spending any money on those whose physical or intellectual limitations is a “waste?”  Tell that to the parent of a child with multiple handicaps? Or, to the spouse of a disabled person?

Ask someone in the land of Hardy and Bundy about individual children, or individual families and generally the response we get is “I wasn’t talking about Them…”  The Hardy-Bundy Land “intended subject” is  nearly always some generalized, fanaticized, imaginary Other who “games the system” (recall Sharron Angle’s challenge to people with autistic children), or who “will never be productive,” (does it matter to the parents of a severely disabled child?) What does it mean for parents of a child with serious brain injury that the little one can recognize their faces and may even smile? When we start applying a Cost-Benefit Analysis on that, we’re cooked.

Yes, Representative Hardy does owe disabled Nevadans, and their families, an apology, or at least an explanation.  However, the best we can expect is the formulaic, “If I offended anyone I am sorry.”   The statement may also be pure Hardy, “I’m just not a good man with words.”  Here’s some unsolicited advice:  “A closed mouth gathers no foot.”

UPDATE: Please read the excellent post linked here concerning Representative Hardy’s hypocrisy on this subject.

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Filed under conservatism, Politics, Republicans

Infrastructure Spending: Saving Pennies Costs Dollars

Infrastructure Spending

The Hill reported on the appropriations bill for transportation and housing last week:

“The House late Tuesday passed the fifth of a dozen spending bills for fiscal 2016 to fund transportation and housing projects.

Lawmakers approved the $55.3 billion measure by a razor-thin margin, 216-210, after rejecting amendments from Democrats that would have increased funding for Amtrak and the D.C. Metro, as well as doing away with a provision restricting travel to Cuba.

All but three Democrats voted against the bill, while all but 31 Republicans voted in favor. Lawmakers could be seen gazing up at the gallery displaying their votes as the bill appeared close to failing.”

Yet the meager spending for infrastructure needs was entirely too much for Heritage Action, the ultra-conservative lobby arm of the Heritage Foundation.  True to its corporate oriented interests, if anyone in the gallery was representing Heritage Action, they were looking for: the closing of the Federal Transit Administration; the elimination of all operating and debt service grants to Amtrak; the elimination of the Maritime Administration; the privatization of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation; the elimination of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program; eliminating the Essential Air Service Program; privatizing the FAA; shuttering the Appalachian Regional Commission; and eliminating subsidies for the D.C. Metro.  Heritage Action must be smiling at Representative Mo Brooks:

“Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) offered two amendments to slash Amtrak funding further. His first proposal, rejected 143-283 with 99 Republicans in opposition, would eliminate all $288.5 million for Amtrak operating grants. The other amendment, defeated 139-286, would strike the entire $850 million allocation for Amtrak capital and debt service grants.” [TheHill]

At least someone recognized that approximately 840,000 people commute to work on rail lines every work day. [Cap] Nevada Representatives Heck, Hardy, and Amodei voted in favor of the funding bill.  [HR 2577 rc 329]  Representative Titus voted against this measure to further diminish investment in our national infrastructure.

Pie in the Sky Meets Rubber on the Road

Perhaps there’s something about buzz words (Freedom and Free Market for example) which tend to obscure the obvious – that the failure to invest – as a nation – in our infrastructure has a negative effect on our economy.

Let’s stay with the rail line topic for a moment. The need is readily apparent in the Northeast Corridor,  which is:

“The most heavily traveled portion of the national passenger rail system is the Northeast Corridor, or NEC, which stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts. The Northeast mega-region is home to one in every seven Americans, or more than 50 million people. All told, the region accounts for $1 out of every $5 of economic productivity.” [Cap] (emphasis added)

One region accounts for 20% of our total economic productivity.  So, how do people get to work (to be productive) in this region?

“As highway congestion within the region has grown, so has Amtrak’s role as an efficient alternative to driving. In 2001, Amtrak provided 37 percent of combined air and passenger rail trips between Washington, D.C., and New York City. By 2011, its share of combined service had risen to 75 percent. The mode share growth for the segment from New York to Boston is also impressive. In 2001, Amtrak provided just 20 percent of combined rail and air trips. This share grew to 54 percent by 2011.” [Cap]

And, it’s not just congestion on the highways that is a problem, airlines are experiencing it as well.  The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported on May 14, 2015 that:

“Load factor in February (84.2) was higher than in any month since the peaks in January and February 2014. The February 2015 load factor was the third highest all-time, just below the first two months of 2014 (Table 2). Load factors have generally increased since the recession because passenger travel has increased at a faster pace than capacity. In February, RPMs (revenue per mile) were at the second highest level, down from the all-time high set in December but exceeding January, the third highest month. The last 10 months, starting with May 2014 through February 2015 are the 10 all-time highest months for RPMs (Table 4).

“Capacity declined in February from December, the highest all-time level, and from January, the eighth highest month, revised from last month’s Air Traffic press release. November, December and January are the only post-recession months among the top 10 for capacity, showing that after six years, capacity has returned to pre-recession levels (Table 6). Systemwide enplanements in February were the highest since the recession. February international enplanements were the fifth highest all-time. Domestic enplanements have been rising slowly but remain below pre-recession levels. Domestic enplanements in February were at the highest level since March 2008 (Tables 8, 10, 12).” [BTS]

Translation: Loads are up, capacity is down, and we’re all trying to fly at rates not seen since the Recession of 2007-2008.   There’s always the family wagon?  In 1980 we had 9,215 miles of interstate highways, and another 6,774 miles of “other freeways and expressways,” by 2013 these numbers grew to 17,866 interstate miles and another 11,602 in the “other” category [FHWA] And we can jam them up on any given rush hour and holiday weekend. These numbers actually don’t mean all that much until we take into account our attempts to maintain this system with a Highway Trust Fund which has a closing balance down 17.8% from last year. [FHWA]

It’s all well and good to offer Pie In The Sky privatization schemes and other “market driven” fantasies, however what our economy needs is a nationwide transportation system which gets people to work and products to market.

“Highway bottlenecks affecting freight are a problem today because they delay large numbers of truck freight shipments. They will become increasingly problematic in the future as the U.S. economy grows and generates more demand for truck freight shipments. If the U.S. economy grows at a conservative annual rate of 2.5 to 3 percent over the next 20 years, domestic freight tonnage will almost double and the volume of freight moving through the largest international gateways may triple or quadruple.” [FHWA]

The following map from FHWA shows where these bottlenecks are at present, not that we couldn’t guess:

Highway bottlenecks Every time a freight load is delayed in these interchange bottlenecks it costs money, and there are other kinds of bottlenecks as well. Steep grade bottlenecks costs in 2006 (12% of total truck hours of delay) were  about $32.15 per hour.  Signal bottlenecks can also cost approximately $32.15 per hour.   If we believe in a “market based” economy then perhaps we ought to think of the market inefficiency created by various and sundry bottlenecks which are costing us $32.15 per hour for Nothing.  Now, think of a truck load of goods experiencing an interchange bottleneck, a signal bottleneck, and a steep grade bottleneck?

We could be working on these bottlenecks, and on the maintenance of our highway system – but that would cost money, including money from the TIGER grants from the Department of Transportation.  (TIGER = Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) So, what did the House do?

“The overwhelmingly popular TIGER program would shrink from $500 million to $100 million. In addition, the size of grants would be far smaller, within a range of $2-15 million, down from last year’s range of $10-200 million. This year’s T-HUD also reduces the share that the federal government will cover for TIGER projects, from 60 percent to 50 percent, requiring more local or state money to be brought to the table.” [T4Am]

Remember, the idea of a national transportation system in a modern economy is to get goods to a nationwide market.  Across the rails, over the highways, or via air freight, none of which the House of Representatives thought worthy of increased appropriations – in the “interest” of fiscal austerity.  It’s penny wise and pound foolish, as the old saw goes, and worse still it places the seamless transportation of both workers and the products they make increasingly at the mercy of state and local governments which are unable to raise the funds to complete the necessary maintenance and improvement projects.

It’s obvious what outdated and uninspected components can do to a transportation system – train wrecks, highway deaths, delayed freight, air accidents.  It’s not so obvious when the drain is hidden from view – hours wasted in any one of the three types of bottlenecks measured by the Federal Highway Administration, hours and money wasted in unnecessarily long commutes, congestion delays at airports and railway freight terminals … Time is money and we’re wasting both commodities.

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Polls, Pols, and Timing

Ballot box 2

There are 517 days until the next general election. 517.  That is almost 17 months.  Or, to illustrate it another way, an infant born today will be walking at the time the election comes around, and the little darling will be feeding itself (sort of, if you count spaghetti “worm wrestling” as a form of feeding).  By 18 months the toddler will have about a 20 word vocabulary, to apply along with an assortment of noises, some of which will be comprehensible.  Our toddling little newbie will also be a master of mimicry – which is fine if we’re talking about wiping a table with a sponge, not so fine if it’s an antique hardwood table.  In other words – it’s a LONG time before the next presidential/general election.  There are some things we can do as “consumers” of election and political news which can help make the 2016 experience more positive.

#1. Insist on the development of ISSUES.  For example, what is the best way to promote the growth of the American economy.  This is a long established issue, but remember, we want the development of this issue, not merely a collection of sound bites and dog whistles, and in a rational world this is the appropriate time for the parties to prepare the general outlines of their specific proposals.  Contrary to the common media offering of “What will Candidate X’s statement on job creation mean for blue collar voters?” think about what economic philosophy is the Candidate espousing?  Once the philosophy is clarified then individual proposals can be evaluated on the basis of how they will affect crucial elements of our economy and not merely for select electoral groups.  Consider the source.

Unfortunately, those who get air time, and the attention of punditry, are those who are dramatic, flashy, confrontational — or “newsworthy.”  Is that dramatic, flashy, confrontational candidate really the standard bearer for the party?  If not, then all that’s been accomplished from the issue development side of the ledger is the addition of much bombast and hot air.  This, like the tantrum of a not-quite-two year old, can be safely dealt with by taking a few deep breaths and staying calm.

#2. Insist on transparency.  In an era of “dark money” we need to know if the candidate is being manipulated by large donors of the Super Pac variety. Again, this far out from the general election, it’s still ‘finance’ time for the candidates.   And, in terms of finance, do I want to cast my vote for an individual who is receiving massive amounts of money from sources which are unidentified? Perhaps, it’s more important at this point in time to know to whom candidates (especially presidential aspirants) are speaking than exactly what they say.

Let’s assume at this early date that the candidates will say what they perceive the audience wants to hear – because the candidates are not necessarily there to propose profound ideas – but to collect money.  Buzz words beget buzz and buzz opens billfolds.

#3. Ignore polling. Of all my gripes with modern cable news, the persistence of polling and the reports of polling, heads the list.  17 months out from a general election the only thing we learn from polling is the level of a candidate’s name recognition.   Recognition is a long long way from establishing a ‘brand’ and even further from creating ‘identification’ on the part of the voting public.  I am about to decide that the level of poll reporting done by a media outlet is an indication of its general lack of resources and talent. The more polling reports the greater the paucity of resources and the less imaginative and intelligent the management.

And, herein I’ll give Secretary Clinton some props.

One of the more interesting bits of whining from the D.C. media came from Politico’s publication of Glenn Thrush’s ear-splitting screed about how Secretary Clinton ‘hates the press.’   There is a time for more media access, but 17 months out from a presidential election  isn’t it.  This, for politicians behaving like adults, is the time for dealing with finances and issue development.

Politico also seemed distressed that when Secretary Clinton recently visited Iowa she focused on “preaching to the choir,” in “controlled environments.”  Of course she met with “activists.” Who else does one meet with to set up the ‘ground game’ and seek donations?  Could we also say that when three Republican governors met with mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in late March, the candidates were “preaching to the choir in a controlled environment?”  Of course they were – it’s what candidates do at this stage of the game.

Speaking of issues – the only time we’ll see the entire project launched in a single moment is in a shipyard. Otherwise, we’ll see proposals rolled out one at a time; especially when there’s an advantage to be gained by putting the opposition on the defensive.  On Thursday, June 4, Secretary Clinton released her proposals concerning the expansion of voting rights.  Republicans, who’ve been hard pressed to find significant examples of voter fraud, were caught without a clear response:

“The result is a dynamic in which Republicans are outraged by an ambitious Clinton proposal, for reasons they have not yet identified. Christie thinks voter fraud is a massive problem in New Jersey, which isn’t true, and under the circumstances, isn’t entirely relevant. Perry thinks the status quo in Texas is already great, which would come as news to the 600,000 people the Republican governor helped disenfranchise. Kasich is worried about being “divisive,” as if expanded voting access is somehow inherently acrimonious.” [Benen]

Governor Scott Walker opined that the proposal was out of the mainstream and defied logic – although he couldn’t explain why or how. [Benen]  When issue positions are carefully crafted, and selectively timed, the result is usually good, i.e. the opponents are on the defensive, and “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Thus far the Clinton Campaign has done a good job of staying on target, not rushing the timing, and not clamoring for any more attention from the press than is necessary to get selected messages out while concentrating on the issue development and financial aspects of the campaign.  (Don’t worry, I’ll have kind things to say about Senator Bernie Sanders later, but I think he’s running a very different model of campaigning.)

In the mean time, as those toddlers start walking and feeding themselves, the Beltway Media may want to take some time to review the structure and timing of politicians and campaigns, and not become too enamored of explaining and analyzing their own somewhat worthless polling.

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Filed under Economy, media, Nevada politics, Politics

The Old Congressional Punching Bags

Amodei 3 The 114th Congress had a fine time with amendments to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice (H.R. 2578)  A few of these are worth considering, and noting the positions taken by Nevada’s Congressional Delegation. 

Bag One: Amendment 271, from Representative David Reichert (R-WA) cuts $100 million from the Census Bureau and transfers the money to the COPS program. Reichert’s punch line is commendable: “Today there aren’t enough cops on the street. The community policing program has, in some parts of this country, been eliminated or cut back. So school resource officers are gone in some communities. Storefront officers are gone. They are gone, Mr. Chairman, and we need to bring them back. We can do it together. We can solve this problem and keep our community safe.”  [Thomas]  Where he found the money is not.  It’s taken from the programs and periodic census appropriations in the Census Bureau. [HR 2578 pdf page 7 line 8] The Wingnuts among us don’t like the Census Bureau because it collects information on Freedumb Folks

The corporate lackeys aren’t happy with the social programs and any way they can prevent reliable statistics from being compiled which indicate poverty levels, numbers of children living in poverty, numbers of elderly relying on nutrition assistance, etc. is acceptable.    The problem with whacking demographic statistics is that these are used by companies, large and small, on which to base expansion, hiring, store placement, and other business decisions.  There is some information available from private business information firms, but by cutting the capacity of small business to easily access retail level statistics from the Department of Commerce, Congress has just made it harder on the little guys.  Not that the interests of truly small family owned businesses has been an essential feature of Republican politics lately… and we won’t know exactly who favored this sleight of hand because the amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

This wasn’t the only raid on the Census Budget. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) Offered his amendment to “reduce funding for the Periodic Censuses and Programs by $17.3 million and increase funding for victims services programs for victims of trafficking by a similar amount.” [Amdt  275] This, too, passed on a voice vote.

Bag Two: Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) offered his amendment (294) “an amendment to increase funding for the FBI by $25 million and to reduce funding for administrative provisions of the Legal Services Corporation by a similar amount.” The Legal Services Corporation is another popular punching bag for conservatives.  Pittenger’s specific amendment failed, but the 20% cut in the Legal Services Corporation funding stayed in the final bill, the vote on which was 242-183.  Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy voted in favor of the cuts, Representative Titus voted no. [rc 297]

The bill passed after lawmakers turned back an amendment from Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) to cut LSC’s funding by an additional $25 million, with the money to be reallocated to the FBI budget.  The amendment failed  by a vote of 263-163.” [LSC]  Representatives Amodei and Hardy voted in favor of the Pittenger amendment; Representatives Heck and Titus voted no. [rc 275]   Even without the extra slash from the Pittenger amendment, what’s the impact of the House appropriations on the Legal Services Corporation?

“We are disappointed that in the face of enormous unmet need for essential civil legal services among low-income Americans and other issues affecting access to justice, the House has voted to cut LSC funding by 20% to levels not seen since 1999,” said LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and Frank B. Strickland, LSC Board Chair during the George W. Bush administration. “We recognize that this is a time of austerity, but the foundation of our country and the integrity of its legal system are built on the concept that everyone is entitled to fair and equal access to justice, irrespective of their economic means. Because this is a core American value, we are hopeful that significant additional funds will be provided to LSC by the Senate or in a negotiated budget agreement later in the year.”

LSC estimates the funding cuts will force local programs to lay off more than 1,000 staff members, including 430 attorneys, and close 85 legal offices nationwide.  This would result in 350,000 fewer people served and 150,000 fewer cases closed each year.”    [LSC]

Just as the Census Bureau presents an obvious punching bag for the radical right, so does the Legal Aid budget.  No matter that Nevada is already working on shoestrings … there are 23 lawyers, about 14 paralegals, and 15 other assistants in Nevada who worked on 3,984 cases in 2014.  In case the conservatives are thinking that all Legal Aid does is represent gang members in criminal courts – think again.  Nevada Legal Aid is NOT the public defenders office.

Of the 3,984 cases Nevada Legal Aid worked on in 2014, 2,669 (67%) were concerned with housing. There were 366 income disputes, and another 175 consumer law cases.  And, who were these people?

Clients by Ethnicity Nevada 2014
White 1,822 46%
African American 1,172 29%
Hispanic 641 16%
Native American 131 3%
Asian/Pacific 97 2%
Other 121 3%
Total 3,984 100%

Nothing says “protecting corporate interests” quite so well as reducing the capacity of low income citizens of Nevada to prevail in their disputes about housing, income, and consumer protection.

It might be well to recall even before the next election rolls around that three members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation (Representatives Heck, Amodei, and Hardy) believed it was perfectly defensible to punch the Census Bureau – from which most truly small businesses get their demographic data, and the Legal Services Corporation – the last resort of those who have been unlawfully evicted, swindled, or cheated – one more time.  There aren’t too many more hits these agencies can take.

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Filed under census, civil liberties, Commerce Department, Congress, conservatism, Judicial, Justice Department

TLC got Duggared?

Deuteronomy

I’m wondering why anyone was particularly surprised by the revelation that one of the male members of the Clan Duggar molested his sisters and a babysitter.  Information about the Quiverfull Cult has been easily available since at least 2009, and as Newsweek described it the cult is a ready-made environment for the abuse of women and female children.

“At the heart of this reality-show depiction of “extreme motherhood” is a growing conservative Christian emphasis on the importance of women submitting to their husbands and fathers, an antifeminist backlash that holds that gender equality is contrary to God’s law and that women’s highest calling is as wives and “prolific” mothers.” [Newsweek]

What follows is a loose network of extreme fundamentalists who value the creation of sons (daughters are just the potential mothers thereof), offer much militaristic palaver, and espouse the ultimate political message: If we can’t defeat our opponents now, then we can simply overwhelm them with our progeny later.  In this milieu family planning and gender equity must be eradicated to prevent the further “destruction” of society.  The desired result is a patriarchy in which godly women are submissive wives and mothers.  In short, it’s back to the Bronze Age.

Network “Difficulties”

TLC, which has devolved from an educational cable channel into a sideshow, decided airing a program about an extremely large family would attract viewers – an audience perhaps analogous to those who show up to view train wrecks – and it did, garnering some $25 million in ad revenue, a tidy profit since the network is paying the family approximately $40,000 per episode. [EW]  What happens to the show, (1) it continues; (2) it changes focus to a new family, or (3) it’s dropped may, well depend on whether TLC can find sponsors after Walgreen’s, Payless, General Mills, and Ace Hardware headed for the exits.

I’d feel some compassion for the network, but … first, this is what can happen when the felt need to provide content which appeals to the lowest common denominator overcomes the discussion about providing quality content.  The Network was “deeply saddened” to have to yank its re-runs in the wake of the Duggar Scandal, perhaps because it was drawing about 1 million viewers per nightly episode. [THR]  Just for a little perspective,  Game 1 of the NBA finals grabbed  14.37 million viewers. [TVBN]  Perhaps TLC should have learned a short lesson when A&E dropped the prime character in Duck Dynasty after his egregious commentary, after the Food Network had similar problems with Paula Deen, and especially after the network itself got entangled in the Honey Boo Boo fest; a lesson that when you are dealing with extremists don’t be surprised when they behave that way.

Secondly, the network might have known it was treading in dangerous terrain when some of the other prime characters in the Patriarchal Posse were also exposed  experiencing moral meltdowns.

In November 2013 the leader of Vision Forum Ministries confessed to an illicit affair, and the organization closed up shop. This was the anti-contraceptive advocacy group which gave Michelle Duggar that “mother of the year award.”  VFM wasn’t the only part of the Patriarchal Posse experiencing problems – we should add the conservative Institute in Basic Life Principles to the roster.

The IBLP, from whom the Duggars sought guidance, was “shocked” when leader Bill Gothard found himself facing allegations of “sexual abuse from dozens of women associated with his organization.” [Wire] All this might lead a person to wonder: Didn’t anyone learn anything from the sad saga of Jim and Tammy Fay Baker?

A network shouldn’t have to wait for a summation like the following before getting a clue that some programming might not be appropriate for prime time viewing;

“The “pitch” of Biblical patriarchy, as epitomized by Michelle Duggar, is that women will be coddled and worshipped in exchange for giving up their ambitions and the autonomy to practice an extreme form of female submission. The unpleasant truth is that a culture that teaches that women are put on Earth for no other purpose but to serve men is not going to breed respect for women. Instead, these incidents show a world where men believe they can do whatever they want to women without repercussions. Is it any surprise that a subculture that promises absolute control over women will attract men who want to dominate and hurt women? Don’t believe the TLC hype. Biblical patriarchy is a sour, dangerous world for women, and luckily, that reality is finally being outed.” [TDB]

A commercial enterprise

CNN once explored what components tended to create a television program with lasting popularity.  Its review indicated the following: “Culture watchers say a constellation of factors make a TV program last: great writers, producers and actors; a good concept; room to grow with a strong ensemble cast offering multiple story lines; a desirable time slot; audience comfort; loyal network support; and the public’s fickle taste — the wild card.” 

This is all well and good, but doesn’t address one of the primary considerations in television  – the cost.  Not-Quite-Reality Shows are relatively cheap to produce, ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 per episode.  In comparison, at its peak ER was costing approximately $13 million per episode,  Friends cost about $10 million per program, and Deadwood cost about $4.5 million per episode. [Marketplace]  In short, hiring quality writers, producers, and developing an ensemble cast presenting multiple story lines isn’t anything close to cheap.  And, the bottom line is still the bottom line:

“TLC was even rebranded with “Life Unscripted” as its slogan in the mid-’90s, “Live and Learn” in the mid-2000s and “Life Surprises” in the late-2000s. Since undergoing this rebranding, the channel has shaken its poor ratings and has become one of the primary sources for reality shows. Undoubtedly, the success of shows like “Jon & Kate Plus 8″ contributed to the recent surge in market price for TLC’s parent company, Discovery, in 2008-2009.” [Investopedia]

This is the point at which “audience comfort” clashes with “corporate earnings.”  The television audience wants to feel positively about the characters – real, cartoon, ‘reality,’ or actors – in their homes. Portrayals on the screen should be enough ‘like us’ to be sympathetic (or an obvious villain) but not so much ‘like us’ that they are as un-dramatic as our quotidian existences.  We still require the old standard elements — focus, tension, timing, rhythm, contrast, mood, space, language, sound, symbolism, conflict, climax, and resolution, in order to label a show as one of genuine quality.  This can get expensive.

When there is a plethora of small networks clamoring for our attention there may also be a temptation to broadcast the most contrasting, most dramatic, and most conflicted – i.e. most titillating  fare.  The marketplace enters the formula when the cost of production, the expense of broadcasting, and the willingness of advertisers to purchase air time are all taken into consideration.  We should also attend to the financial elements like syndication, after-run DVD sales, and other revenue factors.  However, we will still ultimately receive what the advertisers are willing to pay for.

When, for example, advertisers are unwilling to associate their brand with “a sour, dangerous world for women” then shows such as the Duggar’s will be terminated.

In the mean time, does Josh Duggar owe someone many shekels?

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Filed under conservatism, Economy, media, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

The Fanatic Season: Politics as Liturgy

Fanatic Eric Hoffer summed it up in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements in 1951:

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”

Consider how often the right wing insists on doing the unthinkable?  Why would anyone launch a deliberately provocative  “Cartoon Contest” and call it an exercise in ‘free speech?’  Why would anyone put a gun site target on the names of members of Congress? Why would anyone think it appropriate to print the addresses of physicians who provide abortion services?  Because, perhaps, these are arrogant gestures, with a complete disregard for the safety and well being of others, defying convention (and good sense) as would a single-handed hero in defense of something, anything, whatever…

On the national level this allows Fox News to promote the demonization of Islam and its adherents, or to declare a “War on Christmas,” or to offer comfort to the bigot, the intolerant, and the racist.   On a state level the concept allows the elevation of the gun enthusiasts and supports their sense of victimization – as some unspecified “they” are perceived to be “coming for your guns. “ It also allows the faithful to identify “public servants” as “pigs at the trough” when they aren’t being vilified for not doing their jobs with insufficient resources; and, to degrade the humanity of the working poor for “not making good choices,” thereby relinquishing their right to be treated with compassion as fellow human beings.  Hoffer had a line about this concept as well:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Indeed, the current manifestation of the conservatives in the Republican Party (and this may mean just about all of its leadership at the moment, the moderates being driven from the field) is beset with devils of all sorts.   At this juncture political ideology becomes confused with something we might call political liturgy.

Let’s look at the definitions. First, ideology is defined as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”   Liturgy means “a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.”  A formulary “is a collection of formulas or set forms, especially for use in religious ceremonies.”

The fanatic may have some difficulty differentiating between an ideology and the performance of liturgy. Ideology is properly understood as a position a person takes regarding, say, how revenue is collected for the operation of a government and the priorities for its distribution.  A liturgical element inserts itself as time after time a politician asserts talking points which are faith based with little or no rational substance.

Some Examples

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) concerning proposals to increase the minimum way is that doing so will have a negative economic effect.  This is often reduced to the formulaic: Increasing the minimum wage will cost jobs.  The problem is that there is no substantive research confirming this notion.  There are several credible studies indicating there would be no “negative employment effects” of increasing the minimum wage, and the talking point defies the common sense notion that an employee of one company is always a customer of others.  Empirical studies demonstrate that lower wage workers are more likely to spend marginal income than wealthier ones. [Salon]

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) is “Support the Troops;” and a person can easily obtain a yellow ribbon car magnet for this message to place alongside the “Love Your Country Live With Pride” bumper sticker.  That this is a liturgical insertion rather than an ideological position is illustrated by the disinclination of Republicans in general to vote in favor of increased wages for members of the Armed Forces, in favor of more benefits for service members and veterans, in favor of more job training programs for veterans, and in favor of the extension of more VA medical services to veterans who served during peacetime.  At the risk of sacrilege, I’d say this is roughly analogous to reciting “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison” without thinking of the meaning.

And then there’s the standard GOP line … “the government is the problem.”  Until, of course, it’s the solution.  We might consider Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s remarkable illustration of how this liturgical element can be reversed as he begged for federal aid for Texas cities literally drowning in flood waters.  This, from the self-same Senator who voted against federal relief expenditures for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. [DailyBanter]  This line is hauled out of the vestry and applied to attempts to curtail malfeasance (and worse) in the banking industry, to curb polluters, to put the brakes on corporate mismanagement, until the nation becomes a victim of banking malfeasance (or worse), the state has to clean up a toxic spill, and the investors in a corporation despair of any relief from greedy executives.

The Ramifications

When policy positions (political ideological statements) become articles of faith (as part of a liturgy) then there’s a danger that portions of the electorate are no longer participating in a political process, but are voting and behaving as a “mass movement” in which the Devils will be scourged by those who can recite all the correct elements of the liturgy.  Nothing contemporary illustrates the liturgical quality of Republican leadership statements as the current blathering about climate change.

When the Pew Foundation did some polling on the subject it found that 67% of all adults surveyed believed that climate change is occurring, and 84% of Democrats (or those leaning toward the Democratic party) agreed.  Among Republicans 46% agreed the climate is changing, and this represents 61% of “mainstream GOP” who agree the climate is changing, and 25% of Tea Party adherents who agree.

Bear in mind the Tea Party  percentage when noting that 66% of Democrats agreed that human activity was a major cause of climate change, compared to 43% of independents, and 24% of Republicans in the 2013 survey.

The 24-25% of Republican voters would likely find nothing untoward about presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s request that the Pope leave the “science to the scientists.” [CSMonitor]  It’s probably important to note at this point, that no, the Pope doesn’t have the equivalent of a master’s degree in chemistry – but he did have a degree in chemistry in the Argentine educational system and according to a fellow Jesuit: “Liebscher said he hopes this does not sound like “we’re denigrating his education. Francis certainly respects the scientific method, and careful measurement ranks high in his list of values.”   The “correct” liturgical response about climate change has evolved in Republican political parlance.

Initially, and there are still adherents to the position, the GOP response was that Climate Change was misinformation, or at worst a hoax.  Later on the position was Climate Change is real but human beings aren’t responsible. The present iteration seems to be that Climate Change is real, human beings just might be responsible for some of it, and ordinary people shouldn’t talk about it because “science is best left to scientists,” the optional liturgical insertion may be “I’m not a scientist.” [Bloomberg]

Moving beyond a single illustration of how the transformation of ideology into liturgy is problematic for a democratic republic, when the correct formulaic recitation of liturgy stands in place of a discussion of policy alternatives only the True Believers are deemed fit to carry the party banners.  This is what former Republican official Bruce Bartlett complains of when writing that Fox News has actually harmed the political prospects of the Republican Party.

‘Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season.’

Compare this to one of the original quotations above:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

The unspoken assumption seems to be that Fox News will only beat out the rhythms of the Pure, the uncontaminated unadulterated liturgy of the extreme right.  It will only sate the political appetite of those who prefer liturgical formulations rather than explain the underlying catechism; in other words – those who wish to cast out the “devils” — be they African Americans in urban areas, minimum wage workers, environmental advocates, human rights activists, critics of the banking industry, or Democrats.

The proper incantation of the political liturgy will comfort those who wish to be comfortable in their biases, prejudices, and ideology.  Just as their unquestioning belief in a particular confession of faith grounds them, their insistence on a political liturgy relieves their anxieties keeps them anchored.   A liturgy which validates their fears – of African American men, of the working poor, of unemployment, of immigrants, of members of the LGBT community, of Muslims, of economic displacement, of anyone or anything outside their immediate experience – is consoling.

The Bottom Line

The problem, as Bartlett observes in a political realm, is that the more ideology is replaced by a confession of faith, and the more the confession of faith is sustained by the participation in ritualized liturgy, the more likely it is that the movement devolves into a sect.  Once a movement is reduced to a sect at least two things can happen, and they’re both bad.

First, as Bartlett notes, the sect becomes so restricted that it cannot reach a wider audience, and secondly the sect is inclined to defend the indefensible, merely because a fellow member is being criticized.  Witness the defense of the Duggar family’s handling of their son’s molestation of his sisters which almost perfectly summarizes the DARVO position – Deny, Attack, Reverse the Victim and the Offender.  Again, the more the sect becomes identified with a cultish adherence of defending the indefensible the more narrow the appeal of the movement.

One one hand there is some consolation in the idea that the Republican Party may eventually restrict itself to a narrow cult of unelectable True Believers, however, as one who finds the restriction of alternative points of view counter productive in politics and public policy the prospect of a degenerating GOP is not very appealing.

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Filed under banking, conservatism, ecology, energy policy, financial regulation, Republicans