When Justice Harms Children

When King Solomon had to decide which of two women claiming to be the mother of a child, he took up a sword and proposed to give each claimant half of the child. The mother immediately rescinded to take the child to save its life. So the king knew that she was the mother of the child and gave it to her.

If only it were that simple in today’s family courts. Children as young as one year old are ‘split’ in half by judges, forced to shuttle back and forth between two alternate worlds. And some children end up dead.

While most children’s lives are not at risk, many end up in the hands of abusers. Unable to protect vulnerable children, family court judges give custody to men in jail, to men who have a restriction order against them from another judge, and to men a child is afraid to be with. Court sanctioned abuse occurs in the name of equality, the professed importance of rising a child by both a mother and a father.

How is this possible? Like any court system, the family courts are only as good as the protection they provide to the innocent, or here more appropriately, the vulnerable. And protect they cannot. This is not about the many cases where judges have to create some order in the turbulent lives of disrupted families. This is about men able to manipulate a system that is ripe with corruption, a money industry of child support and evaluation services, court fees, lawyer fees, and worst of all unaccountable judges that do not have proper oversight, and if they do, the system first protects the judge rather than the children.

It is hard to grasp the mind of an abuser, if not experienced first hand. Why would they want to hurt a child or its mother, or both? Abusers crave control. Control over money, control over the lives of others. Their control over a victim is enabled simply by the ability to hold the other party captive to the court process. The ability to force women into very costly custody battles. And adding insult to injury, women fiercely fighting for their child are often accused of parental alienation, a corrosive concept that puts parental rights over those of a child to be safe. Able to demonstrate alienation from his child, the abuser usually gets his prey.

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Climate change and the economy of scale

When it comes to global warming, cost-benefit analysis by Bjorn Lomborg* shows that investing in adaptive strategies (building protective infrastructure, developing renewable energy) is superior to coaxing people into using less fossil fuel through indirect measures like cap-and-trade and carbon taxes. Thus we should invest money into the pursuit of tenable strategies that prepares the infrastructure of the most likely affected (e.g. storm levies against see level rises) from probable harm now. Costs are upfront and visible to all, while CO2 level targets are fashionable and sexy sounding (e.g. 350.org), yet their link to specific damages occurring in the future are unpredictable. Information, not fear.

* http://www.lomborg.com/cool_it

Open Immigration is Good Economics

Our political stalemate on immigration reform tears apart families and leads to an atrocious and inhuman treatment of people in deportation facilities including tens of thousands of children. A generous and fair reform to immigration, solving the impasse for many undocumented laborers in the Unites States, would solve both human and economic problems the country as a whole facing. These ‘law breakers’ are mostly hardworking individuals who strive to attain the American dream – North, South and Central.

Big data, reliability and decision making

Today the NYT editorial board published a disastrous opinion about higher education and federal aid requesting that student success should be the measure for financial aid to students that want to attend a particular college. What is student success? Drop out rates, income after graduation, number of students at a defined proficiency level etc.

These outcome measures depend on data, big data. But these data appear to be unreliable, outdated or just based on outliers, as some recent ‘Upshot’ articles in the same paper show. It seems that almost everyone is working with wrong numbers (e.g. extend of student debts), incomplete numbers or no numbers at all. For instance, the much touted drop out rates include students that switch colleges for various reasons including military reassignments, course repeat rules, and inability to get a seat in required courses (my experience as a community college professor), yet those students are counted as drop outs.

Sadly, the ‘system’ cannot produce correct numbers as we cannot track individual students across different colleges (privacy rules, software incompatibility, proprietary data etc.). And a higher education system that rightly encourages everyone to enter college should not be surprised about high ‘drop out’ rates or long terms of graduations, e.g. six years instead of four.

The worst aspect about the economic reward and punishment ideology that the NYT board glowingly supports is that they do not even address student behavior. All outcomes seem only the responsibility of the school/teacher, never the student, although a large number of community college classes are now dedicated to remedial education (e.g. teaching 8th grade math), demonstrating the great length these entry level colleges go to prepare students to be successful. Despite these efforts, what colleges cannot control is the life of students, their work and family demands, and their attitudes. Attitudes can be nurtured, of course, but any change must come from within a person. When education reformers peddle their favorite reform model, without fault, these programs are distinguished by one thing and one thing only: long work days, no slouching, discipline and hard, hard work.

Security trumps Democracy

Going back to ‘normal relations’ with Egypt, as Secretary of State Kerry has promised last Sunday, simply reflects the driving force of US national interests: at the end of the day, security trumps freedom.

For Obama, to support the extremely repressive Sisi regime makes sense of course. Who wants another failed democracy in the Middle East? So our best bet is playing along with Dictators and Monarchs that suppress freedom of expression and religion and violate human rights to do so (this is a good time to become friends with Iran, for they are no worse than Egypt or Saudi Arabia, but more influential in Iraq and Syria).

The hard lesson of Iraq’s failed nation-building experiment, which I surely think is behind the deal with Sisi, is that wishing for democracy by simply saying people want freedom does not work. People, when given a choice, may just vote for the guys we do not approve of*, and do not vote for a progressive, secular American version of freedom that includes separation of Church and State, the one important foundation of a successful democracy.

*They may actually not vote this way, but then the ballots are stuffed as in Afghanistan, or the opponents are jailed and the winner gets the obviously fake 97% of the vote.