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Sunday Extra

with 11 comments

Okay, there’s also a long post, but here


is an article by Barbara Ehrenreich.  And yes, I know some of you have problems with Barbara Ehrenreich, and I do, too–but this is the kind of thing I read her for.

And I’ve talked about some of it–including the “send everybody to prison for everything and act as if jaywalkers are Hannibal Lecter” thing–here.

Written by janeh

May 20th, 2012 at 10:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Sunday Extra'

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  1. Tyical Ehrenreich: facts more reasonable than her conclusions. It’s not enough to have cash-strapped governments cracking down on those not paying child support and trying to lower the costs of incarceration: it has to be a plot to extract money from the poor. And why isn’t data kept in a fashion convenient to her? Probably another plot!

    I can’t say I’m interested enough to track back through her footnoting to find out how the missing numbers were estimated, but that sort of “statistic” seldom grows less alarming with each iteration. See figures on anorexia, AIDS and spousal abuse, for instance–or watch “food insecurity” become “hunger” with repetition.

    Which is not to say we aren’t making some serious mistakes in government policy which make poverty deeper and harder to escape. Just let me know when Ehrenreich attacks unnecessary professional certification, or challenges the teaching methods which leave children from poor families disproportionately illiterate and innumerate. She’s fast enough with “solutions” which require more government supervisors. I think there were three categories in that short article–and it’s one thing I think we already have a surplus of.


    20 May 12 at 8:09 pm

  2. I’m not familiar with Barbara Ehrenreich and I have mixed feelings about the article. I can see her point but her language triggers warning bells in my mind.

    Some examples:

    “insanely high rates of interest” What is a sane rate of interest to charge to someone on a low income with a high risk of non-payment?

    “crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license” We have had reports of drivers arrested 10 times in 2 years for driving on a suspended license. And the arrests were for things like drunken driving, speeding in school zones, going through red lights. I don’t consider driving with a suspended license as trivial.


    20 May 12 at 8:09 pm

  3. Driving with a suspended licence seems to be an increasingly common offence down here. Given that it negates the driver’s insurance, the implications can be horrendous for everyone involved if an accident occurs. Given that the reason the licences were suspended in the first place is usually for dangerous breaches of the traffic laws, we shouldn’t feel sorry for the people Ehrenreich sees as victims, and we should renew our amazement at her inability to see the woods for the trees, so common in the punditry.

    In this instance she makes some good points, but the one above was not one of them.


    20 May 12 at 8:36 pm

  4. Our local media has started printing the fines owed by some of our people who consistantly drive without licesnses – and as mentioned above, the reason they usually don’t have a licence is that they’ve got either a long history of dangerous driving offences, or a short but spectactularly terrible one. The ones with the long history are the ones owing thousands in fines, which they can’t pay. They often also have short periods of imprisonment, which also fails to deter them. I don’t know what you do in such cases, except continue to punish them as you catch them. I don’t see that trying to make them pay for their meals in jail or court costs is going to make much difference.

    They always seem to get access to cars, though. I suspect a lot of them borrow from feckless friends or relatives, with or without permission.


    20 May 12 at 9:50 pm

  5. While I’m perfectly willing to concede that “most” people who have lost their drivers license may have done so for reasons directly related to dangerous driving — to dwell on THAT issue to deflect attention from the actual point in the article — that taking away a drivers license from someone who is in arrears on child support is at best counterproductive and is in fact is normally simply malicious, stupid, and vindictive.

    And I should think it would be intuitively obvious that 600% interest is an insane rate to charge someone with a limited income at best. If it is true that it is only possible for a profit generating business to make a profit loaning money to people by charging that interest rate, then that strikes ME as one of the areas where government is legitimately called upon to step in and take over.

    A little more on the poverty trap from an unlikely source:




    20 May 12 at 10:24 pm

  6. And on the issue of child support.

    You have to understand — courts do NOT take into account ANY expenses. They take (if you’re lucky) your net paycheck after withholding taxes (if you’re not lucky, they might use your gross pay) — and that’s where their math starts.

    Oh, but you say you have ACTUAL expenses like, oh, rent for yourself (you’re living on your own now), utilities, car expenses.

    Food for yourself.

    Not taken into account when determining the legal amount you have to pay.

    For the working poor they can literally not have enough money to live on, even if they live 5 to a studio apartment.

    Remember — not having a job doesn’t count for much either.

    Even being in jail doesn’t stop the counter, it just keeps ticking up increasing the “back child support” you owe.

    And of course, to get the amount adjusted requires court costs and lawyer fees. If you try to go pro per, you still have to get time off your bottom level job (which means it’s hard to come by, and you don’t get paid, which doesn’t help with the problem).

    It’s one thing if the “dead beat dad” is middle class or above and who to meet the payments simply has to eat a little pride and reduce their standard of living somewhat.

    But for the working poor it can be all but a death sentence since the law simply assumes, in effect, that they are that middle class guy who only needs to “suck it up a little” to make the payments, when the reality is that for many working class men they literally have to choose between eating – at all – and making the court ordered payments.

    Now picture the guy who can barely make some attempt to pay the child support while still paying all his other bills and —- he loses his drivers license because he was behind.

    On what planet does that make sense?


    20 May 12 at 10:38 pm

  7. “Now picture the guy who can barely make some attempt to pay the child support while still paying all his other bills and —- he loses his drivers license because he was behind.

    On what planet does that make sense?”

    I agree with her (and you) about taking the licences away from the working poor simply for failure to pay a government bill, child support, or other charges unrelated to actual vehicular offences, and compounding fines and charges for late or non-payment is as cruel as it is counterproductive.

    That said, it makes sense on Planet Earth, Mike, if the loss of licence was due to the mandatory penalty of suspension/loss of licence which automatically follows from particular types of driving offences, eg mid-high range drink driving, driving an unregistered and thus, in Australia at least, an uninsured vehicle on public roads, driving in a dangerous manner, failing to stop after an accident, negligent driving causing serious injury and/or death, and the like. In my opinion, these people should never again be allowed to drive on the roads if they are repeat offenders.

    Unfortunately, most of those who are repeat offenders are simply given progressively longer suspensions, and a large minority, if not a majority of those are scofflaws for whom a jail sentence is the only sort of punishment that might have the slightest chance of getting their attention, and that often for barely the time served. Putting a motor vehicle in the hands of people like this is no less and perhaps even more irresponsible than putting a gun into the hands of a child. That Ehrenreich seems not to understand the fundamental reasons for the existence of such penalties makes it hard for me to take her seriously on the other issues.

    In most if not all Australian jurisdictions, courts have the power to provide a provisional and heavily restricted driver’s licence to those who need to drive to earn a living. It authorises them to drive specifically identified vehicles during working hours. This overcomes the problem of having people too heavily penalised for relatively minor offences. It’s a privilege that does not, and should not, extend to repeat or serious offenders.

    I don’t agree with her about the alleged unreasonableness of the money lenders whose interest charges might, in the worst cases, reach an annual 600%. Whether or not such extremes are legal in some places, there’s a whole lot of territory between the normal practices of the vast majority of such credit providers and credit consumers and the worst cases which, she strongly implies, are close to the norm.

    In fact, the whole problem with her article from my point of view is that, so typically of so much polemical writing on both sides of the divide, she assumes that the worst conceivable outcome is the norm, and doesn’t provide any actual evidence that it is.


    21 May 12 at 12:02 am

  8. And on the other side of child support, there’s the allegedly poor dead-beat who works in construction, mostly off the books for cash, lives mostly with his mother, always has plenty of money for vehicles, drink, drugs and deer hunting, and scoffs at years of back support left owing, to the tune of $60,000+ by the time the child reached maturity.

    There was no snatching of driver’s licenses, no jail time. Oh, and you’d better pay for airplane tickets, mom, for that kid to see his father!

    No doubt some men are assessed more money than they can pay. But system-wide, after a divorce, women suffer dramatic decreases in household income, driving nearly half into poverty, while the men…not so much. This:”Economically, women suffer more from divorce than men. Though child support helps a woman avoid poverty after divorce, it does not help as much as most think. Over 35 percent of custodial mothers receiving child support were impoverished 16-18 months
    following the divorce, while only 10.5 percent of all non-custodial fathers (those paying child support and those not) were impoverished.” from this link: http://primacyofreason.blogspot.com/2011/05/in-depth-study-after-divorce-44-of_31.html

    My dear relative, the mother in the scenario above, also had a second child, by another father, also delinquent. By the time her two kids reached 18, she was owed well over $100,000 in support that was never paid. I was very lucky, my ex always paid his support on time. Despite that, I incurred heavy debt before I was able to graduate from college and find a job, then took over three years to dig myself out. And this was in booming economic times. My ex had to cut back a little on his recreational spending. I lived without health insurance for years.

    So pardon me if I don’t cry for all the poor men. The poor women are in much more dire straits.


    21 May 12 at 1:53 am

  9. The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it. It’s a policy critics say is often abused, but experts told The HuffPost that the way the law is applied to bail money in Brown County is exceptionally unfair.

    It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family’s money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. “The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money,” Williams says. “Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money.”



    21 May 12 at 7:47 am

  10. So, looking at Lymarre’s complaint, the reasoning seems to go like this: Some men* who could afford the payments are actual deadbeats – who’s payments are never collected — so who gives a damn about the working poor trapped in a situation they can never get out of. My (one) friend got screwed, so lets just (strong language warning) fuck an entire class of people.

    *And it is only some, MOST actually care about their children and make the payments on time and in full – that’s a statistical fact you can look up.


    21 May 12 at 7:53 am

  11. There are some men and some women who suffer financial disaster after divorce, as well as some who suffer relatively little after repeated offences such as dangerous driving. But you can’t really make the law to target the extremes. If you do, you’ll make matters worse for a lot of the people who would otherwise be in the middle, like the poor workman who gets assessed some incredible proportion of his salary or the mother who doesn’t get any help with feeding and clothing their children. Moreover, a lot of writers don’t seem to realize that people don’t react like machines. If you can deter 50% of dangerous drivers with a fine of $1,000, it doesn’t follow that you can deter 100% of them with a fine of $100,000. There’s a point at which a proportion of them will say ‘To hell with the law’ and ignore it – even if it means jail time. All you can do is acknowledge that a certain proportion of the population who shouldn’t be driving at all will do so whatever you do, try to catch them in the act, and wait for them to age out of the system. But that is seen as defeatest by some people and irrational by others, who think everyone reacts to a criminal charge or fine as they do.

    I’ve heard terrible things about the civil forfeiture law in the US. I’m pretty sure you have to pay bail directly here (no bail bondsmen), but I’ve never heard of it being confiscated. If you are caught poaching, you can lose all your equipment (including your boat), but confiscating cash from friends and relatives is unheard-of, even if it may possibly have been the result of selling wildlife illegally. Drug dealers are arrested all the time without their relatives having their money sniffed by drug dogs and confiscated.


    21 May 12 at 8:45 am

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