If the Shoe Fits…

Dr. Sam Green is the head of King’s College London’s Russia Institute. On Point interviewed him this morning about Putin, where they discussed, among other things, why he’s so, uh, Putey. Green acknowledge the fact that Putin has been out to revitalize the fallen Soviet Union, but he also said that Putin keeps power by conflict and surprise. He likes to push everybody off-balance, and then keep them there. The problem is that to keep up his act, he has to constantly escalate. In my assessment he’s like a TV drama that’s gone on too long. Pretty soon you have helicopters falling on surgeons–or passenger airliners falling out of the sky. The pattern is as addictive as it is lethal–and it could go on for years. 

At that point, my schedule was such that I couldn’t finish the interview. But I left wondering whether, if I had come in during the middle of what I heard, I’d think we were talking about somebody else.

(Originally posted March 15, 2018)

Immigration by the Numbers

According to the Cato Institute’s 2017 study, undocumented immigrants are 44 percent less likely to commit an imprisonable offense than their American-born counterparts. Meanwhile, according to Pew, 66 percent of undocumented immigrants have lived in the US for over ten years. US News and World Report found that undocumented workers paid almost $12 billion in taxes in 2016. And the Congressional Research Service has revealed that since 2011, undocumented immigration to the US has reached a 40-year low. 

Just so we’re all on the same page here.

(Originally posted February 11, 2017)

SVU

I don’t have a terribly high opinion of the political commentary offered from SVU, but I thought the episode this week was pretty startling. The executive summary (spoilers) is that an Ann-Coulter type journalist is a guest speaker at a university campus, where the protestors and counter-protestors get into a riot. During the fracas, somebody rapes this journalist. What happens next is what you’d expect: grandstanding lawyers, a hateful peanut gallery. One suspect is a mouthy Antifa barista who says a woman who denigrates women should be denigrated herself. The other suspect is a white-supremacist vlogger who wants to throw out half the jury because they aren’t racially pure. At the end of the episode, the court dismisses charges against all suspects. The case is just too fraught for the truth to will out. The Anne-Coulter clone stalks off—brutalized, enraged at the inefficiency of the justice system, and undeserving of the fact that nobody will ever put her rapist away. 

The episode was difficult to watch, because it showed me people I don’t like, and also people I don’t wish to be like. It showed a fringe that seems to creep closer to the mainstream each day. But more than that, it showed what could happen to a process that should really remain above politics (as much as anything can). It showed a breakdown of law and order. I’m not talking about riots in the streets; the riot finished in two minutes of airtime. I mean a breakdown of due process, of bureaucracy, of justice itself (no matter how imperfect it has always been). And all of this happened, because those of us who have inherited the system couldn’t work with one another well enough to employ that system. We could not protect a citizen, because the case was never about a citizen. It was about a stance. It was about who was right. In fact, it was like another famous court case, where a woman once agreed to cut a child in half.

(Originally posted February 2, 2018)

Net Neutrality

So the predatory rich have worked for years now to control information. You can see this everywhere from cable news networks, to for-profit universities, to robocall and social media campaigns that spread misinformation. By stifling net neutrality and allowing companies to regulate both internet speed and content, they are, again, tying information to the highest bidder. This is like taking the backdoor to kill freedom of speech. Under the net-killers’ scheme, anyone could say whatever they wanted, but the only ones to hear it would be those who paid for a ticket to the right hall.

In my novel about an oppressive church, students have to stand around their seated master while he teaches. This is to keep the information insular, because the church has realized that information is power. My novel’s world crumbles to war, on account of propaganda, so-called heresy, and revelation. The church names enemies; the church names crimes and penalties; and anyone who tries to assert information to the contrary is added to the church’s list. My protagonists are scholars, back-alley teachers, and information thieves. I’ve taken my inspiration from the Reformation, the reigns of Ivan the Terrible, and the Soviet gulag. But if the Trump administration continues on its path, then I–and other artists, and journalists, and profs–will also speak both from and to this country, while for the first time in maybe ever, it begins to post guards at the doors to the largest library the world has ever seen.

(Originally posted November 22, 2017)

Terrorism by the Numbers

According to the US Counterterrorism Center (2016) between 87 and 92 percent of terrorist attack fatalities are Muslim. ISIS thinks infidels are enemies, but they believe Jews and Christians could live in their ideal caliphate as second-class citizens. They think that Muslims who are Sunni, however, have seen the light and refused it. Sunnis are, therefore, apostates, and deserve annihilation. Close to 90 percent of the Muslim world is Sunni.

(Originally posted June 19, 2017)

Spartan

“Trump’s budget calls for a drastic rollback of programs for the poor and disabled along with a robust hike for the military and border security. The plan, which won’t become law without Congress’ approval, is laced with $3.6 trillion in cuts to domestic agencies, food stamps, Medicaid, highway funding, crop insurance and medical research, among others.”

In my mid-twenties, I worked as a caregiver in a group home for adults who had developmental disabilities. I knew of a resident, named Sally, who slumped in her wheelchair all day, because she’d lost the core control to keep her head up. I asked why we didn’t provide a chair that allowed her to recline, and the manager said that they we didn’t have the funds, but that we were trying to raise the money as fast as we could. I don’t know if Sally ever got her chair. 

Our care agency—which has a good reputation—paid most of its workers $7.50/hour. (This was when $5.15 was minimum wage.) People could earn $11/hour, but that money was available only for those who would stay overnight in a house with three sexually-aggressive men. My colleagues and I provided the most personal care imaginable, every day, including holidays, while trying to ameliorate the residents’ awareness that many of the people in their lives were actually paid to be their companions.

The work could be rewarding; it’s good to bring light to somebody’s life. During my tenure, I met the best parts of myself. But I also met the worst. I was able to change jobs before I burned out, but my older, less-educated colleagues did not have that latitude. And when somebody is stuck in a job that makes exacting demands while meting little compensation, that person can start to resent the job—to reject the fact that they earn less than a living wage to keep three or four others alive. And some of these employees become so weak that they develop a behavior that moves from indifference, to negligence, to abuse. 

This, then, is a post about not just the welfare of the people who work in group homes, but also—and most important—the people who live in them. The WHO estimates that adults with developmental disabilities are four times more likely to become victims of abuse than their non-disabled peers. Part of this abuse stems from the fact that predators prey on the vulnerable. And the truth is that there are few people more vulnerable than those who can’t move or speak well. But another factor is the wholesale depletion that goes on in the group homes as they try to address so many needs with so few resources. There is never a time when abuse is excusable, but as a reaction, it becomes more available to some, when they face the grinding demands of the impossible.

By further decimating funds for the care of our most vulnerable, Trump’s budget will threaten the country from the inside. He will divert so much to defending against invasion from the outside, that he’ll make us like Sparta, who lionized a boy who so focused on stealing a fox that he let it claw out his innards rather than return it to his enemy.

(Originally posted May 24, 2017)