Monday, July 18, 2011

Are There Bigger Skeletons in the Bachmann Closet?

Michelle Bachmann has spent the better part of the last two months trying to convince everyone that she's not a crazy extremist but rather a mainstream candidate who moderates and independents can embrace in the 2012 presidential election. This despite many outrageous comments over the years about gays, immigrants, abortion, evolution, global warming, President Obama, members of Congress and American history...all the while padding her resume (being an IRS tax collector is not quite the same as being a "federal tax litigation attorney.") and downplaying her and her husband's batshit crazy Christian counseling center which cruelly performs "reparation therapy" on gays in an attempt to turn them straight.

As comedian Marc Maron brilliantly posited last week, "It does seem like their whole marriage is one prolonged experiment in this type of therapy." Maron was echoing the suggestions made earlier in the week by Jon Stewart that Marcus might be, er, how you say, in need of a little reparation therapy himself. Certainly wouldn't be a shocker, as it's always the most vehement anti-gay activists who end up caught with their closeted pants down.

It seems that little ole Marcus just might be to Michelle what Billy Carter was to brother Jimmy (worse even, as Billy's embarrassing antics never prevented Jimmy from becoming Leader of the Free World. Marcus could very well derail Michelle's campaign if his bizarre antics lead to scandal). Last week a radio interview clip from 2010 was released in which Marcus referred to homosexuals as "Barbarians." But he's now pulling a Weiner, claiming that the segment was "doctored." Actually, he claims he was "referring to children" and not gays. Apparently Marcus thinks it's ok to call children Barbarians? What is it about these loony Tea Baggers who, despite audio and video which captures their gaffes and lies, continue to deny, deny, deny as if this evidence didn't exist? It's like the classic Richard Pryor bit about his wife walking in on him in bed with another woman: "Are you gonna believe me or your lyin' eyes!?"

But there's another potential scandal I want fully investigated. And in fact, I want Michelle and Marcus Bachmann to immediately provide the information that would clear them, just as she demanded that President Obama release his long-form birth certificate to prove his U.S. citizenship. Bachmann claims she and Marcus "took 23 foster children into our home, and raised them, and launched them off into the world." This foster parenting took place in Minnesota between 1992-2000, but unfortunately the state destroys all such records after seven years, so nothing Bachmann claims can be proven publicly. Interestingly, while Bachmann claims that the fostering involved unwed mothers, some of the children suffered from eating disorders, and according to George Hendrickson, CEO of PATH Minnesota, the private agency that placed the children with the Bachmanns, none of them were in fact pregnant.

Bachmann herself has refused to provide details about her foster children, and for privacy reasons their names have never been disclosed. But given Bachmann's penchant for exaggeration and truth-stretching, in particular about her resume, don't we have a right to know more about her foster parenting and just how many children this actually involved? Are we to take a face value her claim of twenty-three when she seems to embellish other important details about her past? No, we should demand that the Bachmann's provide the same kind of concrete legal proof as they demanded of Obama. Until then, we should assume that her claim is as bogus as her work as a "tax litigation attorney."

And one more thing: the pastor at her church, Rev. Marcus Birkholz, said Bachmann's "a lady with energy and a heart' whose uncompromising "support for the unborn" is more than just about fighting abortion. "She sees the whole picture. It’s not just bringing a child into the world; that child has to be nurtured and educated."

Really? Bachmann "nurtures and educates" America's children? I'm just curious about a few things. Does the small government that Bachmann and her fellow Tea Party faithful fantasize about drastically cut or eliminate funding for foster parent programs? Education and health care for children? Does her "whole picture" include "nurturing and educating" the children of gays, immigrants, minorities and the poor, who so desperately need government assistance, the kind of assistance Tea Baggers dream of vaporizing from the budget?

Twenty-three kids, huh Michelle? We'll be waiting for the proof.....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Parents Can Learn From the Leiby Kletzky Tragedy

When to let your child out the door alone--to walk to school, camp, a friend's
house or to the park--is a distressing decision over which every parent struggles. And what happened this week to 8-year-old Lieby Kletzky is the gruesome realization of every parent's worst nightmare. The Brooklyn boy, walking home alone from camp for the first time, was abducted, killed and dismembered by a local man with a sketchy past and an ex-wife who'd taken out a restraining order on him.

Lieby's killing is as unfathomable a tragedy as there is. My own family has experienced brutal murder, and I understand the overwhelming shock and grief they're dealing with. It won't be easy to recover from something so horrific, and my heart goes out to them. And as the Kletzy family struggles to reconcile this senseless, random act of violence, parents in both suburban and urban areas nationwide are grappling with what to do with their own children's desire and need for independence. "Can I go by myself?" is a parent's most dreaded question. To be sure, Lieby's death has reignited the debate over the "when to" question more than anything in the last forty years since 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared off a Soho street and, still missing, is presumed to have been killed.

The world can be a very cruel, ugly place sometimes, and there are predatory monsters who walk among us, undetected, until they commit heinous acts. Somehow, it is our job to stay out of their way and to protect our children from them. When our children are young we take them everywhere. They are never out of our sight or control. And then they hit that magic age, somewhere between eight and eleven, when an innate sense of independence takes over and they want to be alone and to go places by themselves. It's as natural and necessary a part of growing up as attending sleepaway camp, dating, driving and going away to college. In some very real sense, it's the precursor to those organic milestones.

As much as we'd like to shield our kids from harm, we can't. We can't lock them in the house or walk them everywhere until they're sixteen simply because we fear deviants who attack, rape and kill. We can't prohibit our children from dating because date rape exists. We can't keep our kids from driving because there are drunk drivers who could harm or kill them. We must let our little ones leave the nest at some point so they can mature into happy, emotionally healthy, confident adults. Smothering them and denying them their critical independence can have lasting emotional ramifications. We have to wince, cross our fingers and simply hope for the best.

But what we can do as parents is be smarter, and help our children be safer as they begin navigating the world by themselves. The biggest question is, 'What is the right age to let a child go out alone?' That's a very difficult question to answer, as every child is different. Size, maturity, street smarts all play a role. The bigger concern should be what happens when they go out alone. Do they know their neighborhood inside out? Have parent and child done multiple test runs of the various routes a child will be taking? Has a child been indoctrinated with the realities of the street, and the potential harm he or she faces? Do they know their local safe havens? Have they been instructed how to physically defend themselves? Do they carry a whistle? Do they carry a cell phone? Have they been told never, ever, ever go with a stranger under any circumstances, even if they're told their mom or dad is in serious danger and only they can save them...or that their mom or dad has sent this stranger to retrieve them? Do they know how to scream? Do they know what 911 is?

As a society, we have to make some sense out of little Lieby's death or we've learned nothing from it. Something good has to come from it or he will have died in vain. His murder should give pause to every parent across America whose pre-teen child is venturing outside alone. It's a sad reality check and wake-up call, yet one which might allow us to make things a little safer for our kids.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Real Casey Anthony Verdict

Casey Anthony may have escaped the death penalty and life in prison, but she no doubt will receive a sentence perhaps even worse: life of scorn. There aren't many people in America who believe Anthony isn't responsible for the brutal death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. She simply benefited by the greatest legal system in the world. She may have gotten away with murder in a court of law, but she won't escape the court of public opinion.

Anthony is the new O.J. Simpson. She's the demonic object of our hatred and our frustration with our criminal justice system. It seems that at least once every decade we stand stunned, outraged and nauseated as the verdict is read in an audience-gripping, sensational murder trial as the killer walks free. But that's where the similarities end. In the 1995 O.J. trial, the prosecution not only had bodies--O.J's ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman--but clear evidence that they were murdered. There was also motive: O.J.'s tumultuous, violence-marred relationship with Nicole. And there was DNA evidence. Blood everywhere. O.J's, hers, Goldman's. At her place, his house, his car, and on a glove found at his residence. But that wasn't enough. The jury in this case could've had actual videotape of Simpson committing the murders and they likely would have acquitted him still.

In the Anthony case the prosecution had nothing. Nothing but reams of circumstantial evidence. Sure, if you stepped away from it all and looked at it in its totality with a rational, intelligent, common sense perspective, she's as guilty as sin. What loving mother fails to report her toddler missing for 31 days, then lies about it, creates imaginary people whom she blames the death on and, in the process, gets a "Bella Vita" ("Beautiful Life") tattoo and is out partying? We have every reason to believe she killed Caylee and we have every reason to hate her. But unfortunately, the prosecution did not have a motive, witnesses or a cause of death, and you can't convict someone of murder if you can't prove a murder took place. The burden of proof rested solely on the prosecution, and it simply could not prove Anthony's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No matter how upsetting and painful, no matter how infuriating and sickening the verdict, the system worked. In America, we don't send people to jail because we don't like them or because we're emotional and angry.

But time will not be kind to Casey Anthony. Like O.J. Simpson, she'll face constant animosity, ostracizing and public ridicule. She'll find everyday tasks like grocery shopping filled with vitriol. She'll find it hard to get a job. She'll probably never have a normal, healthy relationship. Perhaps she'll sell a book and do some interviews and make a few bucks, but she'll spend it just as quickly and probably end up destitute. She'll party hard and crash harder. And just like her partner in criminal history, Casey may ultimately end up in jail for some other heinous, despicable act. To be sure, Casey Anthony is not someone who's going to contribute to society in any meaningful way.