Archive for October 2011

The scariest of all Halloween monsters: Registered sex offenders make good political theater on spooky children’s holiday

October 28, 2011

Brand awareness is essential to political success, and Halloween presents a great branding opportunity for a political campaign that never ends – promoting protection for children from an imagined vast population of pedophiles who supposedly lurk behind every tree and around every corner. What could be more frightening than Phillip Garrido on the front step, using chocolate to lure an adorable little Spiderman or Cinderella into a sexual torture chamber?

Reinforcing this potential horror in the public psyche, law enforcement agencies around the nation  – with fanfare —  launch an annual Halloween sex crime safety campaign, publicly reminding convicted offenders not to decorate or light their houses, and not to answer  the door on Halloween night.  They also remind parents to go to the internet and pinpoint the homes of local sex offenders before trick-or-treat excursions, by logging on to the online sex offender registry.

Let’s all join hands and endorse an eternal stay at the Hotel Hell for Phillip Garrido and anyone else who would sexually molest a child.  But this Halloween Monster Watch lends credibility to politically-fueled hysteria about the real risk of sex crimes against children.

Most registered sex offenders are not pedophiles, nor do most registered sex offenders present a violent threat. Many are on the registry because our sex crime laws are wider than the Grand Canyon, and are continually expanded and made more punitive by legislators who exploit public fear.

Sex crime laws are easy to pass. Which lawmaker in his right mind would oppose them? The result is a massive, messy tangle of state and federal initiatives intended to curb sexual crime, driven by a coalition of victims and family members who comprise a tiny, but sympathetic portion of the population.  With the help of zealous politicians and news organizations that thrive on sex crime coverage, these activists have successfully passed layer-upon-layer of law, prescribing criminal prosecution and life-time offender status not just for violent rapists and pedophiles, but for a litany of lower-level sex offenses.

Over the course of this year, The Reasonable Reporter has conducted a series of conversations with the kind of sex offenders who are a growing segment of the registry. Some of the interviews were with their families, or people involved in their legal defense.  For the most part, the offenders were ordinary men who made judgment errors or engaged in activities that were once considered ungallant, but not criminal.

One got into bed with a sexually aggressive young woman who lied about her age and was sophisticated beyond her years.  Several were just young and dumb themselves at the time of their offenses.  One is required to register and remain on lifetime supervision because of a couple of episodes of consensual teen sex with the same girl, who was younger than he was.

Then there was the man who gave a ride to a young woman who was walking at night on a long stretch of deserted road, and told him she’d gotten lost looking for the home of her aunt.  You could call this the gentleman’s dilemma. Knowing she was miles from town, should he take her to safety, or leave her lost in the dark, vulnerable to whatever fate she might encounter?

Inviting her into his vehicle was the first of several wrong decisions, which may or may not have involved sex. The young woman herself has said there was no sex, but nobody knows, because nobody else was there to witness. The man is no longer able to work in his chosen field, where he was quite accomplished, because he’s a registered sex offender.

Hollywood tipped its hat to the issue this summer in a comedy called Horrible Bosses. One of the characters with a horrible boss is trapped in his job because he is a registered sex offender (he urinated on a tree).  It’s difficult to get another job when your name is on the registry, so he’s stuck.  And yes, there are jurisdictions where public urination can land you on the list.

A special variety of sex offender has engaged via the internet in admittedly lascivious exchanges with cops posing as girls.  Most of these men never have a chance to become actual offenders, because they are arrested before their sexual intentions can turn into sexual acts. No actual girls are harmed in this exercise, because no actual girls are involved. But it makes great reality TV, and boosts the criminal conviction records.  It helps secure federal law enforcement dollars, and it allows politicians to brag and posture about protecting “children” because the “girls” are represented in their fake communication as young teens – children, legally speaking.

Meanwhile, thousands of men who are no real threat to anyone are stigmatized, with opportunities for normal career achievement and social lives closed to them. They may become unemployed, even homeless.

You will note there are no names in this piece. That’s because sex offenders are understandably publicity shy. Those who have jobs fear being fired if they identify themselves. They fear retribution if their neighbors become aware of their status. They live in a state of anxiety, knowing that the information is public and they can be discovered at any time.

The families of registered sex offenders are also reluctant to speak, because they have safety concerns for the offender, and because a peaceful family existence can become impossible when they reveal their connection to a sex offender.  Heartbroken parents watch, unable to help, as their young men live in fear and isolation.

Some lawmakers will admit behind the scenes that sex crime laws are more out of control than sex crime itself. But have you heard one say so in public?

There are some hard numbers from studies indicating that sex crime laws are doing more to ruin the lives of American men than they are doing to protect American children. But you don’t need a university study.  The published numbers on the sex offender registries tell the tale. The numbers of offenders in each category make it obvious that the majority of registrants are not Halloween monsters.

Finally, a quick reality check when it comes to Halloween night. Yes, there could be a pervert offering freshly-baked oatmeal cookies on Monday night to tykes who agree to retrieve them from his front pants pockets. But almost universally, kids trick-or-treat in groups, not alone. And parents, if they have two brain cells to rub together, don’t allow young children to go knocking on doors at night unaccompanied, period.

So why use Halloween night to stir up this brand of fear, when kids have a better chance of being hit by a car on Halloween than being sexually molested by a stranger?

Ruckus at the Las Vegas WRLC conference: Conservative Latino activists reveal GOP dilemma

October 21, 2011

Conservative Latino activists clashed this week with establishment Latino Republicans sitting on a panel at a regional GOP conference in Las Vegas. The discussion topic was how to stimulate jobs and prosperity for the Latino community. But in the final moments, some panelists dispensed advice about how to woo Latino voters, many of whom default to Democratic candidates despite holding cultural values that align more closely with Republicans.

Members of the audience began to shout as the panelists wrapped up and prepared to leave the stage.   The dissonant voices belonged to several  Republican Latinos from Las Vegas.  GOP activists from other states joined in, pelting the panel all at once with war stories suggesting that its highly-placed members, two of which served in the Bush Administration, might be out of touch with the realities of grassroots outreach.

“It’s one thing to sit back and talk about it, but we are doing it,” said Las Vegas businessman Robert Zavala after the skirmish ended.

The stage was cleared following a few minutes of chaotic exchange. The panel moderator appeared to minimize the challenges, urging the locals to stay informed and keep fighting, which only stirred them to further shouting.

The public squabble reveals a big GOP dilemma at a time when 50 thousand American Latinos per month reach voting age, creating an ever more powerful political force.  Republican volunteers who are best equipped to understand Latino voters – other Latinos – say they’re encountering resistance because of the party’s relentless focus on immigration.

The anti-illegal immigrant message comes across to Latinos as anti-Latino, according to these folks, who spend their time on the ground.

Many Latinos are offended that Republican leadership doesn’t denounce extreme rhetoric coming from conservative factions that make immigration their top issue, says Jose Cuevas, a Texas restaurateur who is also the chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  Cuevas sat on the panel in Las Vegas, but did not enter the fray while he was on stage.

Backstage, he expressed agreement with the local activists.

“I’ve been  a Republican all my life, and I’ve told leadership, ‘if I’m having a hard time staying with you, then you have no chance of bringing anyone else on board’,” Cuevas said in an interview.

“I’m frustrated that we don’t have a leadership that tells the intolerant to be quiet,” he told the Reasonable Reporter.

And so, the GOP must take a politically-dangerous stand against a core constituency, to strengthen its relationship with a less dependable one that’s increasingly decisive in elections.

“You’ve just got to do the math,”   Cuevas said. “If you alienate the Latinos, we stop winning elections in four to six years.”

The GOP establishment encourages Latino outreach to focus on hard work and family values, which is not substantially at odds with the approach the local activists believe is correct.  But they say the immigration issue clouds the perception of the party.

The Las Vegas panel discussion was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity as part of the Western Republican Leadership Conference.  Spokesman Adam Stryker says the program was not intended to touch on immigration. Its purpose was to focus on the organization’s key objective of promoting conservative economic policy.

Chris Christie would have done well BECAUSE he’s fat.

October 7, 2011

Incredibly enough, there are people in this pizza-and-beer-loving nation who believe Fat New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would have had a tough race, had he entered the GOP presidential primary, because of his weight.

Such nonsense. The Fat Governor of New Jersey, had he tossed his hat in the ring, would have done well precisely because he’s fat.  We are a Taco Bell, Burger King, dip-and-Doritos, mac-and-cheese culture.

A lot of Americans are bloody sick and tired of being told at every turn that our body mass index is out of whack.  We suspect Fat New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and his wife, too, who appears to have put away a few double-stuff Oreos in her time, would never nag us about our eating habits.  We would welcome a policy of silence from the White House on our food choices when we’re watching the news at dinner time.

As to cultural prejudice against the chubby?  Sure, it exists. Unlike other brands of prejudice – those based on race, gender and religion – prejudice against fat people is acceptable, and in many states, it’s legal.  This snottiness grows tiresome, even to the not-so-fat, because who among us looks perfect in any case?

There are Americans – and not just french fry-ordering, fat slob, sweatshirt-wearing Americans, but perfectly lovely, marathon-running, yoga-practicing, organic kale-eating Americans, too —  who might find solidarity with the Fat New Jersey Governor, because he doesn’t give a crap if people call him fat.

In fact, the Fat New Jersey Governor told opponent John Corzine during their gubernatorial contest to stop pussyfooting around and just say it.

“I’m fat,” Christie said. And he won.

Here’s the thing.  You can’t pull this off if you’re just a few pounds on the heavy side. A few extra pounds doesn’t make a definitive statement. It suggests mere absence of discipline. It suggests you’re in denial.  It suggests you overindulged all summer even though you knew you’d have to make a bunch of on-camera appearances in the fall, and then you took the word of a friend who said, “No!  No, you’re fine!” when you made a self-deprecating comment about how your suit jacket looks like it belongs to your kid brother.

To be taken seriously by Americans weary of nutrition-harping, anti-fat propaganda, you have to be unmistakably and unapologetically fat.

Christie has already lived through a campaign where his heft was fodder for serious analysis (Washington Post, no less). And yes, let’s say it again. He won.

None of it matters now, because he’s keeping his portly ass out of the race.  But we’d love to have raised our 170-calorie Guiness Stout to his candidacy from our ringside seat in the living room recliner.  You go, Fat Governor of New Jersey.