Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

7 05 2011

Foster children would be allowed to get clothing only from second hand stores

By Todd A. Heywood | 04.22.11 | 11:40 am

Under a new budget proposal from State Sen. Bruce Casswell, children in the state’s foster care system would be allowed to purchase clothing only in used clothing stores.

Casswell, a Republican representing Branch, Hillsdale, Lenawee and St. Joseph counties, made the proposal this week, reportsMichigan Public Radio.

His explanation?

“I never had anything new,” Caswell says. “I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was — and quite frankly it’s true — once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.”

Under his plan, foster children would receive gift cards that could only be used at places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other second hand clothing stores.

The plan was knocked by the Michigan League for Human Services. Gilda Jacobs, executive director of the group, had this to say:

“Honestly, I was flabbergasted,” Jacobs says. “I really couldn’t believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we’ve gone in this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.”

Casswell says the plan will save the state money, though it isn’t clear how much the state spends on clothing for foster children or how much could be saved this way.

(If you’re wondering if we’re really at the abyss, read the comments.)

Credit: The Michigan Messenger; h/t Fred Clark at slactivist

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Punishment and diminishment—but I repeat myself

26 04 2011

Punish women who want/get abortions? Yes and no:

Stealing from Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones (via Matt Yglesias, w/his emphases):

Anti-abortion lawmakers in state legislatures around the country have already drawn national attention—and outrage—for pushing bills that would drastically limit access to abortions. But in Louisiana, one “unapologetically pro-life” lawmaker wants to go even further. State Rep. John LaBruzzo, a Republican from Metairie, has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions in his state—with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother—and charge women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform those abortions with “feticide.”

Louisiana state law calls for jail sentences of up 15 years, with hard labor, for the unlawful killing an unborn child. LaBruzzo told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the inclusion of the line subjecting women to “feticide” prosecution for seeking abortions was a “mis-draft,” and including it “would make [the bill] too difficult to pass.” He promised the provision will be removed from the bill before it goes to a committee vote. But while LaBruzzo doesn’t expect to punish women who seek abortions, he would still like to see doctors working on the chain gang for providing a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Yglesias goes on to note:

There’s something very ethically and metaphysically weird about the hesitance to legally sanction women who abortions. LaBruzzo and his fellow travelers seem to believe, quite sincerely, that a fetus is a moral person and that killing it is wrong. They’re also hardly unwilling to punish women who find themselves with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies—they’re eager to punish them via laws mandating that pregnancies be carried to term. And obviously it’s not the case that women typically get abortions by accident or because they’re somehow swindled into it by unscrupulous doctors. It’s almost as if he doesn’t take the moral personhood of pregnant women seriously. [my emphasis]

Yep, that’s about right.





The way is dark, the light is dim

15 01 2011

So I was going to write something about civility in politics.

Three times, I was going to write something about civility in politics—even had a header for one of ’em—but then I remembered: Been there, done that.

I think civility is a fine thing, and as mentioned in a very early post, I very much like the idea of going at it hammer and tongs with someone—and then eating pie.

Argument and pie: What could be better?

I still believe that. But I also believe that, in the face of incivility, tut-tutting about the rudeness of the other fellow is of no use; no, the correct response is tit-tatting: if he broke a metaphorical bottle over your head, and if you don’t like having metaphorical bottles broken over your head, then you smash one over his. If he comes back with a verbal fist to the face, then a lexical plank upside the head is appropriate.

Do not let the adversary get away with anything. Make him pay. And when he gets tired of being bloodied—and acts accordingly—then so should you.

The rules of politics are set and enforced by the participants, so if you want civility, you not only have to practice that civility, you have to enforce it—which means you have to punish incivility.

There is no other way.

~~~

It should be obvious that what works in politics does not necessarily work in, say, intimate or even collegial relationships, nor, for that matter, in the practice of science or in the arts or religion. (The truly interesting question is whether these gladiatorial tactics are appropriate to war—but I leave that to the military strategists among you.) My understanding of politics is predicated on conflict; my understanding of friendship is not.

~~~

I don’t think the Tea Partiers are fascists anymore than I thought GW Bush was Hitler, and any such comparisons are as sloppy and mendacious as those linking Obama to Stalin or Osama bin Laden.

“Sloppy and mendacious”: But what if people really are afraid that Obama is a Secret Musselman in thrall to an anti-colonialist anti-American communist conspiracy?

Grow up.

The evidence is lacking, just as evidence that Bush planned the hijackings on Sept 11 is lacking. The sincerity of beliefs matters not one whit if those beliefs are, to quote a couple of automotive philosophers, “unencumbered by the thought process”.

The proper response to such charges is either mockery or a swift linguistic kick in the shins.

~~~

Well, okay, the fists-up response is not always appropriate. One can engage in a kind of political discourse which seeks understanding, and to which nonsense might best be met with questions as to why the interlocutor believes that, or even a polite I disagree.

And, ff course, if one is outnumbered and such verbal disagreement could lead to a physical beatdown, keeping one’s trap shut is also a fine tactic.

~~~

I hate eliminationist talk, and find it stupid and counterproductive, if not potentially dangerous. I don’t  engage in such talk, don’t laugh at jokes about assassination, don’t as a general matter invite the spectre of real violence into the arena of politics.

It’s not because I’m good, but because I’m an Arendtian, and I think politics has a purpose which can be shattered by violence.

(Yes, I have invited public figures to engage in anatomically impossible acts on themselves, and will likely do so again the future. These aren’t my best moments, but I think a not-unreasonable response to the denigration and dehumanization of an entire category of human beings.)

Aristotle and Arendt both thought politics ennobling; a part of me agrees that yes, it offers the possibility of us inhabiting one of the highest kinds of human being.

But, as Machiavelli pointed out, one rarely reaches that pinnacle unscathed.

h/t, and for a completely different set of views, see James Fallows here, here, here, and here





When I break down just a little and lose my head

11 01 2011

Deep breath.

I don’t know if this is the first but I do plan for it to be the last time I talk about this.

This is about Jared Loughner. And me. And the one thing that might connect us: neither of us were committed for mental illness.

As mentioned previously, I do not know if Loughner is mentally ill, and I really wish so-called experts would quit diagnosing him over the airwaves. But mentally ill or not, his actions prior to the shooting have led to a fair amount of discussion as to whether he should have or could have been committed.

Here’s where I come in: A half a lifetime ago, I had a commitment hearing. It was not a pleasant experience.

The judge was fine, the court-appointed attorney was fine, even the room in the locked ward of the psychiatric wing of the hospital was fine. And I wasn’t even committed, tho’ I do think I had to agree to stay on the ward and do x, y, and z.

I was deeply angered at having been incarcerated in the psych ward in the first place, and for years afterward felt that the incarceration was both unjustified and unjust.

Hey, I just wanted to kill myself, that’s all, no one else. No big deal.

The details are, pfft, details. There were cops and handcuffs and then at the hospital, restraints (which I managed to pull off*)—all of which sounds ghastly and it was, but it was ordinary, too.

Ordinary in that the cops were decent, as were the hospital staff, and the ward was clean and everyone had their own semi-private rooms and it was probably as good as these truly shitty things get.

It sucked, yes, and it sucked because I needed to be there.

It took me awhile—years—to realize that corralling me into a psych unit was both just and justified.

So, zoom back out: Does this mean I believe that everyone with an untreated or refractory mental illness should be consigned to a psych ward?

No.

But while it might have once been too easy to commit people for too long (for-ever. . .), the problem now is that too many people—both those who want help and those who don’t—have difficulty getting that help.

That’s where the focus should be: on access to good treatment for mental illness. Any discussion about making involuntary commitment end must begin with that concern.

William Galston goes about this the exact wrong way:

The story repeats itself, over and over. A single narrative connects the Unabomber, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer, Reagan shooter John Hinckley, the Virginia Tech shooter—all mentally disturbed loners who needed to be committed and treated against their will. But the law would not permit it.

Starting in the 1970s, civil libertarians worked to eliminate involuntary commitment or, that failing, to raise the standards and burden of proof so high that few individuals would meet it. Important decisions by the Supreme Court and subordinate courts gave individuals new protections, including a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication. A few states have tried to push back in constitutionally acceptable ways, but efforts such as California’s Laura’s Law, designed to make it easier to force patients to take medication, have been stymied by civil rights concerns and lack of funding.

We need legal reform to shift the balance in favor of protecting the community, especially against those who are armed and deranged.

Yes, the point of treatment is not the unwell, it’s the rest of us.

Think I’m misreading Galston? Well after arguing for an expanded list of people who should be held legally responsible if they have “credible evidence” of someone’s “mental disturbance” and don’t report it to “both law enforcement and the courts”—not emergency rooms, not health officials—he argues that “A delusional loss of contact with reality” (whatever that is) should be enough to begin the process of commitment.

To be fair, he does say this process should include “multiple starts with multiple offers of voluntary assistance”, which, if one doesn’t volunteer, could end with “involuntary treatment, including commitment if necessary.”

That actually would sound reasonable as a way to try to get help for people, except, of course, that’s not Galston’s real concern:

How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?

That’s right: people sleeping on heating grates or hiding out in rooms or basements and unable to care for themselves or anyone else is not the threat to democracy, it’s that “mentally disturbed loners” might take a shot at a president or pop star or member of Congress.

I have absolutely no truck with murder and assassination, and believe that if better care for the mentally ill would lead to fewer violent crimes, that would be wonderful.

We’re not going to get that better care, however, if all that matters is the fear of the well and the punishment of the unwell.

Right now, punishment is the driving approach to mental illness. According to a 2006 Human Rights Watch report,

More than half of all prison and state inmates now report mental health problems, including symptoms of major depression, mania and psychotic disorders, according to a just-released federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates.

In 1998, the BJS reported there were an estimated 283,000 prison and jail inmates who suffered from mental health problems. That number is now estimated to be 1.25 million. The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent).

Women prisoners have an even higher rate of mental health problems than men: almost three quarters (73 percent) of all women in state prison have mental health problems, compared to 55 percent of men.

Galston should be pleased: we’re already locking up a lotta crazy folk! Too bad that they’re not getting treated once they’re in jail.

Prison staff often punish mentally ill offenders for symptoms of their illness, such as being noisy, refusing orders, self mutilating or even attempting suicide. Mentally ill prisoners are thus more likely than others to end up housed in especially harsh conditions, including isolation, that can push them over the edge into acute psychosis.

Would involuntary commitment have helped these prisoners? Again, if one follows Galston, the deranged should be reported to “law enforcement officials and the courts”, not to anyone actually in a position to help them.

And where would all of these people go, if not to jail?

According to Human Rights Watch, the staggering rate or incarceration of the mentally ill is a consequence of under-funded, disorganized and fragmented community mental health services. Many people with mental illness, particularly those who are poor, homeless, or struggling with substance abuse – cannot get mental health treatment. If they commit a crime, even low-level nonviolent offenses, punitive sentencing laws mandate imprisonment.

The new BJS report reveals that state prisoners with mental health problems were twice as likely to have been homeless and twice as likely to have lived in a foster home, agency or institution while growing up as those without mental health problems. Prisoners with mental health problems were also significantly more likely to have reported being physically or sexually abused in the past, to have had family members who had substance abuse problems, and to have a family member who had been incarcerated in the past. An estimated 42 percent of state inmates had both a mental health problem and substance dependence or abuse.

(See also: here, here, and here, or just run a search on “mentally ill prisoners”.)

I don’t think this is working. It’s just possible, in fact, that if there were better patient-centered options—options which could include involuntary treatment—that fewer mentally ill people would end up in jail. Good for them, good for us.

We can’t just jump ahead to involuntary treatment and commitment, however, before building up the infrastructure for all treatment, voluntary and not. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law, and even with that law, treatment for mental illness may legally go uncovered.

So let’s make treatment possible. Let’s make sure the vulnerable have a place to go where they can actually get help before we call on cops and judges. Only after we make sure treatment is actually available does it make sense to talk about laws to draft the resistant into that treatment.

There’s nothing easy about any of this, not least because some mental illness are just damned hard to treat, but if commitment is to be both justified and just, then it makes sense that in our rights-based hyper-individualist society that we actually pay attention to the individual at the center of the debate.

*This is why you should always wear a watch: if anyone tries to tie your wrists together or to something (like, say, the rail of a hospital bed), you can use the extra space provided by the watch to wrench and wriggle your wrist free.

~~~

Coda: I got lucky—although it sure as hell didn’t feel like it at the time—because I got care.

A person shouldn’t need luck to get care.

h/t The Daily Dish





Welcome to the Ludovico Centre*

27 04 2010

I know, I know: It’s like obsessing that ‘there’s somebody wrong on the internet!’

But Gott im himmel, I cannot let this go:

Strict Abortion Measures Enacted in Oklahoma

Strict: so THAT’s what they’re calling punish-evil-women measures these days.

According to James McKinley Jr of the New York Times:

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

Got that?

The first provision is presumably driven by an overwhelming need to ensure that woman understands exactly what she’s about to do—because, hey, women are such silly little things who go about evacuating their uteri for just any ol’ reason.

And who could be against a truly informed consent?

Um. . . then. . . about that second provision?

But wait! There’s more!

Two other anti-abortion bills are still working their way through the Legislature and are expected to pass. One would force women to fill out a lengthy questionnaire about their reasons for seeking an abortion; statistics based on the answers would then be posted online. The other restricts insurance coverage for the procedures.

Any penalties attached for writing over the questionnaire ‘BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO HAVE A CHILD RIGHT NOW YOU DUMB FUCK!’ or  ‘NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS YOU NOSY PIECE OF SHIT!’?

And just in case you think I’m overreacting, how’s this for an Alex-in-the-movie-theatre mind-fuck:

Several states have passed laws in recent years requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, and at least three — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — require doctors to offer the woman a chance to see the image. But Oklahoma’s new law says that the monitor must be placed where the woman can see it and that she must listen to a detailed description of the fetus. [emphasis added]

Tell me—tell me this is not about punishing women.

(*Yes, that’s a A Clockwork Orange reference)





A girl in trouble is a temporary thing

4 06 2009

One more question, and I swear to god that I’m done with this topic (for awhile).

This is directed [out into the ether] to those who would enact a legal ban against abortion:

What will you do to the women?

It’s a simple question, but I’ll be damned if I’ve been able to come up with an answer. I’ve checked pro-life web sites, asked this question in comments sections of blogs, listened to those who want abortion made illegal, and no one will say what would happen to women who want abortions and act to obtain them.

Most declare they have no intention of charging women—we’re all just victims of the big, bad abortion industry—unless those women happen to be the ones providing the abortion. No, those on the receiving end, well, we’re to be pitied for being dragged into the maw of the baby-killing machine.

Erin Manning, who comments on and occasionally subs for Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con, accused me of scaring up a Handmaid’s Tale-style scenario when, some time ago, I asked this question to the Crunchy commentariat. (And, honestly, all I did was ask the question, nothing else.) She then went on to outline a future in which life is valued and women and children protected and supported and valued and families supported and, um, valued and. . . it’s all good!

With those nasty abortionists out of the way, girls and women will apparently be liberated from the degredation of sexual autonomy and boys and men will cherish us as the sanctified vessels we are.

I’m only exaggerating a little bit. Really, she wrote in rose- and golden-prose of this spectacular, life-affirming, future. And she absolutely refused to engage the question of law, order, and punishment.

So, to repeat: If abortion is outlawed, what happens to the women who seek abortions?

Anyone?





This was not helpful

21 05 2009

From the New York Times Lede Blog:

May 21, 2009, 7:38 am

Updated: 7:38 am

Catholic Archbishop Explains Remarks on ‘Courage’ of Abusers

The new head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols — who said on Wednesday that it “takes courage” for members of the clergy in Ireland who abused children “to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at” — tried to clarify his comments on Thursday.

Archbishop Nichols, who officially takes over the post of Archbishop of Westminster at a ceremony on Thursday, told British television on Wednesday, after the release of a 2,600-page report detailing the abuse of Irish children at Church-run state institutions:

It’s very distressing and very disturbing. And my heart goes out today, first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public…. Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past, which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage. And also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.

On Thursday, Archbishop Nichols told BBC Radio that his remarks were “perfectly sensible” and stressed that he also said that anyone guilty of abuse should be prosecuted. The BBC reported that Archbishop Nichols said, of members of the clergy who had committed abuse:

It is a tough road to take, to face up to our own weaknesses. That is certainly true of anyone who’s deceived themselves that all they’ve been doing is taking a bit of comfort from children.

The Irish Times reports that Archbishop Nichols was also asked if members of the clergy should be subject to prosection and that he replied: “Yes, absolutely. If the offenses are such that demand that.”

——

Oh, at least he wants them prosecuted. So what is doing to make sure that happens?