Friday, January 02, 2009

Divorce courts should start with presumption of joint physical custody

Ned Holstein, MD, MS, Executive Director of Fathers & Families, is a central figure in the new Newsweek article Not Your Dad's Divorce: How changes in child support laws, and a push by fathers for equal time, are transforming the way this generation of ex-spouses raise their children (12/15/08). The piece's author, reporter Susanna Schrobsdorff, to her credit, has a shared custody arrangement with her ex-husband. She explains:
When his parents divorced in the 1970s, they adopted the standard every-other-weekend-with-Dad setup. He remembered missing his father tremendously and didn't want that for our kids.
According to the article:
Fathers and Families believes [fathers aren't] getting a fair shake. Dr. Ned Holstein, a public health physician who heads the 4,500-member group, says it represents men who want more time for the right reasons. He attributes the fact that statistics still show that about 85 percent of primary physical custody goes to women to the variety of factors leading fathers to cede custody to mothers...

Why don't the men who are unhappy with the arrangements they have fight for more time? (Currently about 7 percent of sole custodial parents are men.) Holstein says the legal system deters them. "The lawyers are telling them, 'You can't fight this, you won't get it, and it will cost you a lot of money and heartache.'" While the numbers show that men who do fight for primary custody win as much as women do, Holstein says those cases are self-selecting: "They've been told in advance they have a chance at winning because they were Mr. Mom before the divorce-or there's an obvious problem with the mother."

Fathers and Families' Holstein argues that making kids feel at home at Dad's house is difficult when support payments can eat up as much as 40 percent of his after-tax income. They may have to leave the neighborhood for smaller quarters, leaving children's friends behind.

To change that, and to give Dads more time and an adjustment in child support according to the new laws, Holstein feels the courts should start with a presumption that there will be joint physical custody. Much of the research on the subject shows that a majority of kids who have grown up in joint physical custody arrangements report that they are satisfied with the way it worked, while kids who grew up in an "every other weekend arrangement" were more likely to be dissatisfied and want more contact with their fathers.
Some of the opposition's arguments in the article are problematic. For example, Jocelyn Elise Crowley, author of "The Politics of Child Support in America" and "Defiant Dads", says the problem with linking support payments and time spent with kids is that in some cases it can create a "less than pure incentive for fathers to ask for more time with their children."

This is a common feminist argument, and one which ignores the obvious converse--if a dad may seek 50% physical time with his children simply to lower his child support obligation, a mother may seek 85% physical time in order to increase it. Another quote:
Still, joint custody may not be for every family. Paul Amato, a leading researcher on the subject and a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, argues that...forcing uncooperative couples into a joint arrangement could end up creating more parental conflict, which most experts agree is the most damaging part of a divorce for kids. "I do not think it's a good idea to impose joint physical custody on unwilling parents," he says. "This strategy is likely to do more harm than good."
I don't doubt that this situation isn't good, but what's the alternative? In most cases, it's the mother who doesn't want to share custody with the father. If you don't "force" joint custody, what you're essentially saying is mom gets to have sole custody and dad is pushed to the margins of his kids' lives. This is what's known as the "Hostile Parent Veto."


AR: ACLU sues over ban on unmarried adoption

More than a dozen families filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a new Arkansas law banning unmarried couples living together from becoming foster or adoptive parents. The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking to overturn Act 1, which was approved by voters in last month's general election. "Act 1 violates the state's legal duty to place the best interest of children above all else," said Marie-Bernarde Miller, a Little Rock attorney in the lawsuit.

The group filed the lawsuit on behalf of 29 adults and children from more than a dozen families, including a grandmother who lives with her same-sex partner of nine years and is the only relative able and willing to adopt her grandchild, who is now in Arkansas' state care. The plaintiffs also include Stephanie Huffman and Wendy Rickman, a lesbian couple raising two sons together who want to adopt a foster child from the state. "It's just wrong. It's an injustice," said Huffman, who lives in Conway. "I'm being denied an opportunity to provide a home for a special needs child."

The families claim that the act's language was misleading to voters and that it violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit was filed against the state of Arkansas, the attorney general, the Arkansas Department of Human Services and its director, and the Child Welfare Agency Review Board and its chairman.

The Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that campaigned for the ban, said it was aimed at gay couples but the law will affect heterosexuals and homosexuals equally. Jerry Cox, the council's president, said he will likely ask the court to allow the group to intervene in the case. Cox said he had expected a lawsuit to be filed if the measure passed. "We are confident this lawsuit will fail and Act 1 will remain on the books," Cox said.

Rita Sklar, ACLU Arkansas' executive director, said the group wanted to file the lawsuit before the law takes effect Thursday. Department of Human Services officials have said they do not expect to have to remove any foster children from their homes. The state had already barred cohabiting unmarried couples from becoming foster parents and was in the process of reversing that policy when voters approved the new ban. The law does not affect any adoptions that were finalized before it takes effect.

The ACLU had represented four plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the state's ban on gay foster parents in 2006. The Family Council had campaigned for the initiated act in response to that ruling. The lawsuit challenging Act 1 was assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox, who had initially overturned the gay foster parent ban. The ACLU's suit notes that the council had pushed for the new law as part of a campaign to blunt a so-called "gay agenda," but the restriction affects heterosexual and homosexual couples equally.


Talk about surrender

Thr media took great delight in reporting the encounter between US President George W. Bush and a pair of flying shoes during his final visit to Iraq two weeks ago. But the great bastions of free speech missed the true significance of an Arab reporter throwing his shoes during a press conference in Baghdad. Bush has long maintained that it would be a fine thing to see the emergence of some basic Western values in the Arab world. Values such as freedom of expression. Perhaps the return to Iraq of a bit of shoe-throwing as the ultimate sign of Arab disgust is a healthy sign of a democracy, warts and all, taking hold. Iraqis had to wait until Saddam Hussein was dead before they threw their shoes en masse at his toppling statue.

Puerile as it is as a form of expression, Iraqis can now throw shoes freely at any leader, including the outgoing leader of the free world. So maybe Bush's final visit to Iraq is, after all, a healthy sign of democratic values taking root. What a shame those same values have, over a period of years, been uprooted in the West.

If 2006 will be remembered as the year the West rolled over when tested on free speech - think the Danish cartoons, which large swaths of the media refused to publish for fear of causing offence - two years on, things are worse.

The year 2008 deserves to be seen as a year of anticipatory surrender, a year when the West decided to roll over on free speech of its own accord. Just in case. No threats. No demands. Just suppress controversial speech in advance, just in case it causes offence. You understand, we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. In fact, such a trashing of core Western values is difficult to understand.

In no particular order, an audit of 2008 must begin with the comments of Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, who announced in October that Islam deserved different coverage in the media compared to other religions because Muslims were an ethnic minority.

While a spokesman for Thompson tried to play down the significance of what the head of the British public broadcaster had said by claiming that his boss was not calling for preferential treatment of Islam by the media, it's hard to interpret Thompson's words any other way.

The fact that a religion is identified with one or more ethnic minorities should surely have no bearing on other people's freedom to probe, question and indeed lampoon that religion, in the same way that Christianity is regularly subjected to criticism and comedy spoofs. It is deeply troubling that in response to claims by British comedian Ben Elton that the BBC would "let vicar gags pass but not imam gags", Thompson said that it did take a different approach to Islam. A public broadcaster that openly admits self-censorship of important issues may get a mark for honesty, but the price is taxpayer-funded vandalism of Western values.

The same rank capitulation occurred in the private sector when, in August, Random House pulled the publication of The Jewel of Medina, a book by Sherry Jones that told the tale of Aisha, the child bride of Mohammed. The publisher had received no threats, just "cautionary advice" that publishing the book "might cause offence to some in the community (and) incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment". Perhaps Random House took comfort, in a "we told you so" kind of way, that the publisher who did finally print the book in Britain, Gibson Square Books, was set on fire.

But instead of surrendering to perceived threats and real violence aimed at ideas and words, the West ought to be stiffening its resolve, declaring such barbarism unacceptable in a free society committed to freedom of expression. That is not happening. When Somalia-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali arrived in Australia in early August to talk about free speech and her right to criticise Mohammed, she was still accompanied by security to protect her from those who regard violence as a legitimate response to words and ideas. Hirsi Ali won't be silenced. Neither will Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who is also surrounded by security. The release in March of his short film Fitna, which is critical of Islam, wasfollowed by a fatwa from al-Qa'ida, boycotts against Dutch products, and attempts by Muslim countries to censor the film from the internet.

In the face of real threats, the tendency to curtail free speech even before threats arrive rather than offend minority sensibilities is spreading like a virulent cancer. Recall the case of the controversial Dutch cartoonist who was arrested in May and interrogated for his cartoons that mocked Islam. At least Gregorius Nekschot did not suffer the fate of Shafeeq Latif, who was sentenced to death in June by a Pakistani judge for insulting Mohammed.

But the West is killing free speech slowly - by more subtle means - through state-sponsored censorship under the grand name of protecting human rights. The insidious role of human rights commissions was exposed in June when Mark Steyn and Canadian magazine Macleans were hauled before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for Islamophobia. While the complaint was ultimately dismissed, the fact that words warrant oversight by a state tribunal points to a rank attitude to free speech where a person is required to spend copious amounts of time and money defending words and ideas. The same thing had happened in April, when the Ontario Human Rights Commission dealt with complaints against Steyn and Macleans. And in January, when conservative commentator Ezra Levant had to defend his publication of the Danish cartoons to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.

As Steyn wrote of his experience of heavy-handed state censorship, the media "seems generally indifferent to a power grab that explicitly threatens to reduce them to a maple-flavoured variant of Pravda ... As some leftie website put it, `defending freedom of speech for jerks means defending jerks'. Well, yes. But, in this case, not defending the jerks means not defending freedom of speech for yourself. It's not a Left-Right thing; it's a free-unfree thing".

If large sections of the media - normally devotees of free speech - cave into what the BBC's Thompson called the "growing nervousness about discussion about Islam", that self-censorship ripples out to all corners of society. After the Danish cartoons fiasco, the onus was on the West to show its spine, to reassert its faith in freedom of expression. So far it has failed on that score. Let's hope 2009 is a better year for free speech and the West's confidence in itself.

Postscript: Beaufort Books of New York is the publisher of The Jewel of Medina. Miss Jones contacted me overnight saying the following:

Dear Ms. Albrechtson,

Your article on the West's capitulation to radical Muslims on free speech was very thought-provoking-and you could have included many more examples! I applaud you for speaking out on this crucial issue. Silence is consent, the saying goes, and if we don't exercise our freedom of speech to protest these attempts to muzzle it, we will certainly lose it.

I would like to make one minor correction regarding my novel, "The Jewel of Medina." Gibson Square Books has not published it-nor, as far as I can ascertain, does publisher Martin Rynja intend to do so. Shortly after the Sept. 27 arson attempt at his London home office, Mr. Rynja issued a statement declaring that I had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of my book. This assertion, of course, was untrue. Although we have corresponded with Mr. Rynja, neither my agent nor I have been able to coax from him a prospective publication date or any indication of his intentions for the book.

My only English language publisher at this time is Beaufort Books of New York. With my consent, this courageous publisher published my book in a hurry, on Oct. 6, in order to counter the dangerous rumors that my book was pornographic. Our strategy appears to have worked, for the threats and tirades against "The Jewel of Medina" and me have ceased for the most part. "Jewel" has been published in five countries-the US, Germany, Denmark, Serbia, and Italy-with no repercussions. We have had good sales throughout. In Serbia, the book was the number-one bestseller for at least two months and continues to sell well. It will debut in Spain Feb. 4.

For more information, feel free to visit my new website. Thank you for standing up for this most important of rights-freedom of speech and expression. And thank you so much for your attention here. I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!


Defining greed is an indulgence of its own

Complicated times provoke simple answers. As the global financial crisis keeps unfolding, the no less global intellectual elite has readily identified the culprit. Political and religious leaders, artists and even some economists are convinced greed is to blame for our economic problems. A combined Google search for "global financial crisis" and "greed" delivers no fewer than 87,900 results. But is greed really the culprit or just a convenient scapegoat? And is greed an economic category at all?

In fact, it is not quite clear what greed means, so let's look it up in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines greed as "a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed". If this is anything to go by then we should all sprinkle ashes on our heads and plead guilty. Not many people in Western society could honestly claim not to own more than they need. A microwave oven? Go cook on your stove! A plasma TV? Entertain yourself with a good book from the library! A car? Get on yer bike, mate!

Is it inappropriate to include these common possessions in the definition of greed? Should one draw a line between these normal, everyday luxuries and real extravagances? Maybe so, but then you would have to define where "normal" ends and greed begins. That could be more difficult than it sounds. Take Theo Albrecht, for example. You have probably never heard of him, which shows he is certainly not greedy for attention, although he is 16th on the list of the world's richest people.

Mr Albrecht is one of the founders of the retail chain Aldi. Starting with a single corner shop in the 1950s, he has made his fortune by opening hundreds of highly profitable discount stores worldwide. But from the little that is known about him, he is still leading a simple life in his home town of Essen in Germany, collects old typewriters as a hobby and plays golf. When he was kidnapped in the 1970s his abductors insisted he show them his passport for identification because his suit looked too cheap for a man of his wealth.

Mr Albrecht's lifestyle hardly sounds like one driven by excessive greed, yet it was enough to amass a fortune of $US23 billion. Not bad for him, but probably even better for millions of his customers. The Federal Government's GROCERYchoice website recently reported that Australian consumers could not get their basic staple products cheaper anywhere than at Aldi's. They may help to make Mr Albrecht richer still, but they are certainly getting a good deal themselves. Or could it be that they are a little greedy, too?

The story of Aldi and its customers is quite revealing as it shows how meaningless it is to discuss business behaviour in categories such as greed. Would we regard Mr Albrecht as greedier if he wore more expensive suits? Or are we more likely to accept a fortune made in retail because we think we understand it better than, say, the business model of hedge funds and short sellers?

Greed as a moral category is hardly apt to describe the business world. Business people may be ingenious and clever, they may make a lot of money and strive for ever-higher margins, but this does not say anything about their personal morality. And this kind of business spirit is the engine of our prosperity. Call it greed if you want to but without it you would hardly be able to fill your dinner table. As Adam Smith famously wrote: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest."

We are ready to accept the idea of self-interest when things go well and everybody benefits. Yet as soon as things get a little more difficult, we are equally quick to blame others and call it greed. If we were honest, they probably do not behave more selfishly than we do when we do our weekly shopping, and in principle there is nothing wrong with this.

The global financial crisis might have sparked a new wave of moralistic blame games. But by playing them, we do not get any closer to understanding what actually caused our economic problems. Analysing lax monetary policy and insufficient regulatory systems would be a better way to find out about that. But why hold ourselves up with details? Claiming the moral high ground by condemning others is the easier option when things are complicated.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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