Archive for March, 2013

It took me a week to swallow Ethan Bronner’s piece in the New York Times, “Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty

Russel Davis (Raymond McCrea Jones for the New York Times)

Russel Davis (Raymond McCrea Jones for the New York Times)

Promise for Poor,” on March 16. The punchline: everybody has a constitutional right to a lawyer in the US since 1963 (bless the sixties) in criminal courts, but Gideon v. Wainwright does not guarantee this right in civil matters. Hence, there are a bunch of folks in Georgia (the State that Bronner gathers his evidence from) who end up in jail for cases as varied as foreclosure, job loss, spousal abuse and custody, for lack of proper representation; like Bill Jerome Presley, no criminal record, who spent 17 months in jail for failing to pay… $2,700 in child support.  Mr Presley lost his job in the recession, could not pay child support, was sent to jail and brought back to court shackled to be sent back to jail again, cause, I guess, the judge could not understand why Presley had not saved enough in jail to come up with the child support money; or Russel Davis, Navy veteran with post traumatic stress disorder, also jailed for failing to pay child support.

Like the other guy, I can’t but lament the dire political times we are in, when debt is made a national priority by the republican aisle in Congress. Were this not the case, perhaps more public money would flow into family justice – among others- and lawyers would be provided to poor folks who cannot afford their services. But it’s only part of the problem. Poor folks – mostly poor non- custodial fathers – would not be facing jail in the first place if not for those imbecile family laws – obviously  in Georgia, but in New York State too, as readers of this blog know- that bloomed in the wake of the dismantlement of “the welfare system as we knew it.” The free-market feminist underpinnings of these laws was that idleness is an incentive to more idleness. Stop subsidizing idleness and everybody will lift oneself up out of poverty. And if that does not happen, at least  family courts will make sure the bastards pay child support. As for the right to see their kids, they have the market.

Poverty breeds crime, as the proverb says. Nowadays, it sure breeds jail time irrespective of crime. That’s the upshot of these brillant legislative changes.

The funny thing, at least for New Yorkers, is that city’s ads against teen pregnancy are covering these days the subway trains and bus stops. This campaign has been highly criticized, and rightfully so. The gist of it: poor, black, latina, female teen, don’t get pregnant. The campaign did not forget any cliché: on one of these ads, one can read “chances are he won’t stay with you.”  You know, men. Irresponsible deadbeats.

Every time I am in the train and I see the whipping children of Bloomberg’s ads, I have popping up in my mind a poster with a man, race indifferent, casually dressed, and the slogan: “Dude, if you cannot foresee 21 years of uninterrupted employment, beat it. Don’t have kids. You may end up in jail if you don’t pay child support.”

And below the picture of this fellow: “And if you are not happy with it, take it to Congress, or wherever you have to, to the street or on cranes.”

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Since we are incomunicado, I have to keep you posted about the part of your family you don’t see. Remember Jean-LouiseBaptiste, your cousin? He and his girlfriend, Pia, had a little girl,  on December 8.

Her name is Louise, like Madame de Rênal, one the heroins of Stendhal’s the Red and the Black, my favorite novel. I don’t know about you, but just looking at her on this picture, I can’t wait to be formally introduced to her.

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Since I live in America, I have been growing a distaste for the word “dream.” Rodriguez, the unwitting main character of the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” (2013 Oscar to the best documentary) has reconciled me with it.

Perhaps because Rodriguez did not have dreams, or because if he had any, they were not aspirational. It must have to do with his Mexican blood or the fact that he’s from  f…    Detroit.  Not even:  from Dearborn, in the suburb of Detroit.

In the 1960s, Rodriguez for sure has a voice that gives you the chills and lyrics that kill. A few people in the music scene in Detroit noticed it,  and an album of his songs was produced but it did not go anywhere. A few years later, Rodriguez was bigger in South Africa than Dylan or the Beatles. An American had indeed brought a tape with Rodriguez’s songs and the tape was duplicated. The upshot was a “viral” success that nobody could ever dream off, some forty years before the advent of social medias. Except that Rodriguez did not have a clue about it. In 1998, he finally does and he’s invited to give a concert – in front of thousands of people. He gave some thirty concerts there. And he then went back to his job – construction worker- and his house in Dearborn:  no tour in the US or in Europe in the pipeline, no move in a glorious mansion in Marta’s Vineyard, no lawsuit against the record company  he never got a penny from.

At some point in the documentary, a music journalist said about Rodriguez “that home is acceptance.”  You don’t pay much attention to this sentence if you get it inside a fortune cookie. While watching the movie, I was weeping in the bucket of popcorn of my neighbor.

What does it have to do with fatherhood?  Rodriguez has three daughters, and they talked about him in the documentary;  About him and them being poor and working class. Not proudly  -pride assumes somebody in front of whom one is proud of-  but calmly, peacefully. That’s just what it is. From what the three daughters say, you sense how much they acknowledge what he gave them. That’s when I started becoming jealous of Rodriguez.

Missing “Searching for Sugar Man” may not be unamerican, but it is inexcusable.

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