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Photo cbc.ca

Photo cbc.ca

I love this Pope. Actually, I don’t ever remember to have been fond of a Pope in my lifetime. He talks about issues of poverty and wealth the way some Latin American theologians ( e.g. Leonardo Boff) I liked to read, did. Recently, he delved into a more domestic issue: spanking one’s children.

That brought me back to a conversation I had in 1996 in the smoking room of the World Bank, in Washington DC. Yes, in these dark times, there were smoking rooms in DC buildings. Then a fellow smoker of mine, a man of Erythrean origin, fumed about his neighbors, who had reported him to the cops, because they had heard noise in his house as he was disciplining his kid. I could not fathom it. The kid had misbehaved, he had to discipline him. I told him, jokingly: “Use other means. Tell your kid: No TV for you! Or no gun for you!”

I hope my friend did not have to cope with a trial in family court. I did. There, in this little world, men are suspects, especially foreign men. All have anger control issues. That’s why family courts ask them to take parenting classes and have them waste their time and their children’s with supervised therapeutic visitations.

In a country where mums are given a free pass to alienate at will, or buy their children a gun for Christmas, one can only hope that the Pope’s message that “spanking is ok if it’s not demeaning” is going to become a water-cooler discussion in family court.

Fathers in Jail (Photo Carmine Galasso)

Fathers in Jail in NJ (Photo Carmine Galasso)

On paper, New Jersey is far from having the worst child support laws in the US. Both parents’ income are used to determine the financial obligations of each, unlike in New York State, where child support is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income, irrespective of the custodial’s one. Yet stories of  New Jersey fathers in jail for default of child support payments pulls your hair up out of horror: fathers are rotting in jail with no end of their ordeal in sight. There is obviously something wrong with the way the law is enforced, and Governor Chris Christie seems quite oblivious of it when he travels to England in search of international exposure.

What goes wrong for fathers in the Garden State?  Colleen Diskin, in a July 26 2014 posting in New Jersey.com, locates the origin of this mess in New Gingrich’s cracking on “welfare queens” and “deadbeat dads.” He forgets to mention that Bill Clinton, with the dismantling of welfare as we knew it, is the one who cast the first stones of Gingrich’s reactionary project of returning to a pre-New Deal conception of the role of the state. What is this vision about? The poor are poor because they did not seize the plentiful opportunities available to him; if they are poor, it is because they are either trying to cheat the system, like deadbeat dads (then we can spare the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars), and they are therefore losers. In the later case, the state might condescend to help him, for a -short- while.  Rogue judges, such as judge Bonnie Mizdol in Bergen County family court, whose understanding of the obligations and responsibilities of parents squares with nineteenth century England at the time the Poor Laws, grants a once-a-week drug addiction counseling session to parents who cannot meet their financial obligations.

The problem with most states  implementing this grand vision is that they don’t have a shinning justice system, because they are, like the great state of New Jersey, cheap and/or lazy.  Here, access to food stamps or housing is conditioned upon granting the right to the county to sue for child support money, which goes to repay for these services; Technically, this is a transfer of income to poor custodial parents (mostly women) from non-custodial parents, who cannot afford it and end up in jail;  That’s a great victory for the state, which is in the clear, and can point to easy scape goats: deadbeat dads trying to escape their parental responsibilities.

As Krugman puts it today, “nobody understands debt,” or nobody understands that debt entails two parties, the debtor and the creditor, whose claim may be totally unreasonable; when you have a debtor who owes more than six figures in back child support, it may mean that 1/(dad’s) income) may have changed over the years (after all, the Great Recession reminded as that capitalism is a very unstable system, and that people lose jobs) and 2/ mum’s expectations as to what child support is to pay for has nothing to do with a child’s real needs, but what mum thinks they are.

The State of New Jersey has to face it: such debt is never going to be repaid, and owed not to. Putting dads in jail won’t change it.

Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Michael Stratton (Photo Edwin Torres, NYT)

Today I found the December 16 issue of the New York Times, which at first, I did not remember why I kept. Now it is clear. There was an Eleanor Stanford’s piece that would perfectly fit in the depressing New York State of the Division of Child Support Enforcement website, to cheer up non-custodial fathers searching what is going to be their ordeal in New York State.

Eleanor Stanford is telling us that yes, there are ultimately good things coming out of a long period of unaffordable child support payments. It’s about a man, Michael Stratton, from Queens. One understands the man may have had glamorous times in the movie as an extra and as a stunt driver. Comes a divorce and everything is turned upside down. Piling child support arrears keep him at a disadvantage to get good jobs, and suspension of his driver license did not help either. I will spare you the financial ordeal of the poor fellow and get to Stanford’s conclusion: Michael Stratton still has a relationship with his daughter in college (how beautiful) and the whole thing has taught him a lesson in personal finance. The benevolent New York State lawmakers must have done something right after all.

Needless to say, there is no question asked on why the non-custodial father pays what he has to, irrespective of the income of his ex-spouse and his professional situation, and for so long (New York State is one of the few states, along with Indiana and the District of Columbia, where fathers have to pay child support until their kids are 21).

One cannot emphasize enough the importance of the role of journalists. When they fail to question the status quo, they help perpetrate it.

As I was watching tonight Chris Hayes on MSNBC commenting on a sentence chanted by many US

Eric Garner (photo ABC News)

Eric Garner (photo ABC News)

Presidents, “we are a nation of laws,” my mind started to wander in many directions. Justice is not the forte of the US, and 2014 has not shown any sign of progress in that department. After Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, Michael Brown in Ferguson (Missouri) and Eric Garner (Staten Island, New York) were added to the list of cops’ victims in 2014, just to mention the most famous ones. And the culprits, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, are free to carry on with their lives.

Undoubtedly, there are many people like me who saw the video of Mr. Garner being chokehold to death and cannot figure out how Daniel Pantaleo has been set free by an Staten Island grand jury. A sophisticated commentator on The Brian Lehrer Show last week pointed at the prosecutor engineering the grand jury’s decision through a “smart framing of the narrative.” I surely am no law expert, but I cannot fathom how Pantaleo’s narrative as reported in The New York Times, did fly: Pantaleo did indeed report that “after he released his grip, he held down Mr Garner’s head down Mr Garner was not injured by other officers rushing in, as well as to prevent Mr Garner from possibly biting one of them.” That ‘s all there is to it, folks. Pantaleo was here to protect, and did protect Eric Garner from his colleagues and his colleagues from Eric Garner. It did not work for Eric Garner, but what seems to have mattered for the Staten Island’s grand jury is Pantaleo’s intentions: to protect.

Holding for cultural differences – the US is a cop-loving country, while where I come from, the love of cops is not exactly part of one’s DNA- this self-righteous justification of a crime with the intent to protect gives me goosebumps, as I have heard it so many times from ex against any attempt on my part to have a role in my girls’ life, or simply to know about them.

Speaking of protective chokeholds, I recently asked my ex where my youngest daughter, 17, was planning to go to college. Ex’s email reply: Sorry, this information concerns her future adult life. I am here to protect her future privacy (she was already bestowing her with the mission of extending her motherly protection to my daughter’s adulthood).  As I insisted that by our divorce agreement, she had to provide me with this  information, I received an email, supposedly from my daughter, whose style and message revealed mom’s craftsmanship: Hi, sorry (no “Dad,” an intolerable greeting for mom) but I cannot give you this information because you will post it on your stinky blog (in fact, it is mom who has a grudge against this blog… Let’s say she likes to protect unnoticed). I am 99.9 percent sure that mom impersonated my daughter, but hey, even if I could prove that in a court of law, she would claim it was all for my daughter’s own good .

It’s time for the justice system to clip the wings of the Pantaleos of all kinds, cops and alienating mothers; for the sake of their proteges, whom they keep from breathing. It just takes precedents.

Last Sunday November 9, I was at the demonstration in support of the families of the 43 student teachers rom the rural school of Ayotzinapa who disappeared in Iguala, a city located in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. The horrifying slaughter of these 43 students by the drug cartel “Guerreros Unidos” acting on behalf of the mayor of Iguala on September 26 have prompted protests that show no sign of relenting so far in Mexico. Demonstrations have taken place in Europe, and in several cities in the US.

Miguel Angel Hernandez Martinez

Miguel Ángel Hernández Martînez

Last Sunday, the organizers of the demonstration asked volunteers to draw on a large white piece of paper the face of one of the 43 from their picture. Mine was that of Miguel Ángel Hernández Martínez.  We were also given the bio of our model written by the renowned writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska. We had to write this bio on another sheet of white paper. This exercise was most meaningful as, while drawing and writing, we came to be acquainted with the person we had to draw and to describe with Poniatowska’s words. Here are those for Miguel Ángel:

Miguel Ángel Hernández Martínez, age 27, “his nickname is “Botita” (little boot) because his older brother, who also studies at the College, is called “El Bota” (boot) so he automatically got called “Botita” although he isn’t little, he’s of medium height and fat, never messes around, is always friendly, wholesome, never annoying: he doesn’t make rude jokes, he’s friendly and likes to help out, always looking out for people, a boy who is very supportive of everyone, in class he explains things to the teacher and gives a hand…”

While the parents of the disappeared don’t even have the remains of their sons to start mourning, and the Mexican judicial system, in the voice of the Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, is “tired”of answering questions, President Peña Nieto was representing Mexico at the G20 summit.  I for one, have no category where to put this posting. The closest is “Miscarriage of Justice,” but for justice to be miscarried, there has to be a judicial system which at least tries to carry justice.

 

 

 

Hitchhiking scene  (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Hitchhiking scene (It Happened One Night, Capra)

Praising a Capra movie is like touting the Taj Mahal as one of the greatest monuments in the world: it is neither original nor insightful. Anyhow, I will. I just saw “It Happened One Night,” a movie Capra directed in 1934. In a nutshell, the movie tells the story of a romantic encounter between a runaway heiress, Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), and a journalist, Peter Warren (Clark Gable).

This movie is a jewel, but I want here to chat about the father-daughter relationship, which is bumpy, physical and loving. Alexander Andrews (Walter Connolly) is a rather invasive father: he has kidnapped his adult daughter on his yacht to have her break up with a fortune hunter she is supposed to marry. Ellie, the daughter, is not that fond of him but cannot stand her father telling her what to do all the time. She starts a hunger strike. Her father brings a tray of food in her room which she throws on the floor. He slaps her, and she escapes by jumping off the boat. On the bus to New York, she meets Peter Warren, a journalist she falls in love with. And she tells him. While Warren rushes to New York to get money and propose, Ellie is woken up by the owners of the motel, with no money to pay for the room. She naturally asks daddy for help. As she brings herself to marry the rich playboy, Andrews gauges her daughter’s true feeling in a beautiful scene, where Andrews comforts his daughter Ellie, as he did when she was a little girl.

Let’s face it. The story of “It Happened One Night” would not even be considered by Hollywood studios nowadays, if not for MAJOR changes. Let ‘s see… Upon her escape, Ellen rushes to court and gets a restraining order against dad…Better: she brings in Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler (Law and Order, Sexual Victims Unit), and they get her to sue the paternalistic pig. In the end, Ellie has Warren sign a prenup in Cancun. Lastly, Warren gets to work for Joe Biden’s campaign against domestic violence with Marishka Hargitay…

These timely adaptations of the script of “It Happened One Night” are of groundbreaking relevance. Oh, I forgot: In the movie, before going to the bottom of his daughter’s feelings, Andrews meets Warren to pay him back for his expenses, and finds out about Warren’s feelings for his daughter (see, that was a time when men dared to mingle into things that were none of their business). Warren, who is never at a loss for words, tells Andrews what he thinks of rich folks and the way they raise their kids. So thirties…

Is it Capra’s genius that makes Depression times almost charming?

Earlier today,reading about the O’Connors (Fathers 4 Justice)’s appearance last Friday in a civil case brought against them, I was getting

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

World Largest Crane on the Tappen Zee Bridge (Angel Franco, New York Times)

into a very gloomy mood. I like this organization; The fathers’ right movement owes much to it, and it’s sad to see it sliding into irrelevance.

Fortunately, some very good news made my day: the International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP) had his first conference in Bonn (Germany) in July of this year. The conference provided evidence that shared parenting was in the best interest of the child of divorced parents, and, that “national family laws should include the possibility to give shared parenting orders, even if one parent opposes it.” The theme of the first conference was “Bridging the Gap between Empirical Evidence and Socio-Legal Practice.”

This “bridging the gap”part shows real, commendable ambition.That’s also where the credibility of the International Council of Shared Parenting is to be tested. When you have the tragically decrepit New York State justice system (have you read Kalief Browder’s story in Jennifer Gonderman’s piece in a recent issue of the New Yorker?), and when the beacon of New York State’s political projects in the coming years is the new Tappan Zee bridge, you do not have exactly the most conducive environment to implement ambitious reforms of the judiciary. By the way, I have to make sure that French father’s right activists know about this famous crane which is used in the building of the new Tappan Zee bridge…

But I should not be that pessimistic after all. Shared parenting is debated in Maryland, by people who know about the work of the InternationaL Council of Shared Parenting.

 

 

 

 

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