Flying under the radar.

27 Jun

New child support laws will take effect in Indiana on Wednesday. I haven’t read the whole thing, because I don’t have kids and I’m no longer dealing with this particular nightmare, so there’s much I don’t know. But the Indianapolis Star tells me that, under one new provision, casinos will be required to withhold winnings for estranged parents who are delinquent in support payments. This seems reasonable and kinda good.

But the thrust of the article is this: Any recipient of child support who doesn’t fully cooperate with prosecutors will automatically lose their public assistance benefits as well, including grandparents who will now be forced to participate in the prosecution of their own children.

As a graduate of Indiana’s child support system, I have a little bit of insight into this particular mess. When I was a child, Indiana didn’t give two shits to enforce the prosecutions once you had followed through on them. As a kid, I was in and out of court more often than any habitual offender. My father whined, cajoled, and made threats. It was basically spite and spite alone that kept us willing to participate in the system at all, since the amount we were awarded was pathetic–it was a fucking handful of change. The stress and anxiety involved in continued trips to the courthouse to try to enforce a useless court order were often near-debilitating. The time off work required of my mother probably should have landed us on welfare, though to my knowledge it didn’t.

This law isn’t about successful prosecutions, or a greater need for them. Like any number of others passing state legislatures, this is a trojan horse law. It has nothing to do with prosecuting deadbeat parents. It’s about kicking people off public assistance, in many cases the people who need it most. Every single statistic predicting the academic, social, or employment success–or lack thereof–of children of single parents is tied directly to that parent’s income level. In fact, there is no direct link between single parenting and childhood disadvantage. The link is entirely rooted in economic status. (The same holds true for many measures people use to reinforce their sense of cultural hierarchy: race, age of parents, etc.) So, great: Let’s take away another possible source of support for those kids, dropping them further down the fucking rabbit hole.

As a kid with a deadbeat dad, I never thought I’d see the day when the deadbeat dads themselves became the victim/heroes in the whole situation*. Like any number of others, my dad moved to Florida in the 80s; Florida was the last US state to prosecute child support delinquencies–it became, essentially, a deadbeat-dad safe haven. Of course, now, the deadbeats aren’t always dads and the practice of automatically awarding custody to mothers has been dead for a decade or more. The vast majority of custody cases among middle-class families end in those odd half-week split custody arrangements, where nobody pays support and the kids are used like a time-share. And, you know, good for them, if it works. The old-fashioned, stereotypical arrangements happen primarily among that group of people with whom the middle class and talking heads have shown a deep disinterest in empathizing: the poor.

Even so, the mantra of the American male on this particular subject has two strains: First, the mothers are bleeding the fathers dry. No matter that it’s the child, not the mother, who loses. Who gives a fuck about the child, anyway? Them bitches just want our money. No matter, too, that the child support system awards amounts based explicitly on each parent’s income, not on some abstract idea of need or a mother’s request. And then: It’s so unfair that the woman is always awarded custody. No matter, again, that this archaic practice only happens when a father walks out and expresses no desire to have custody or the father has done something–like sell drugs, say–to establish his unworthiness as a parent. Despite their obvious basis in fantasy, I hear these unexamined bullshit lines over and over from middle class men and boys whose own custody orders, if they were subject to them, bore no resemblance to the bullshit itself. Of course, the relationship between the law and cultural perception is tenuous and uneven, at best, so this is, in the end, just a tangent, an aside, albeit one that pisses me off to pretty much no end.

This is a politically-motivated trojan horse law. It has friends. For example, Oklahoma’s unreasonably stringent new abortion regulations. That law, which does not include an exception for victims of rape or incest, is patently absurd. It requires not only a sonogram before the decision to abort is finalized; it requires, in some cases, that instruments be inserted into a woman’s vagina for a particular–totally unnecessary–kind of scan, functionally violating her via penetration (again, in the case of rape victims). Doctors are required to describe the critter out loud, in case a woman chooses to look away from the machinery.

Besides spawn, what does one law have to do with another? Neither one has at its heart the enforcement of the provisions it designates. Indiana’s new support law wants to kick you off welfare. Oklahoma’s abortion law wants to scare away any ethical, patient-centered doctor in the state who performs abortions. This has already happened in South Dakota as a result of extraordinar(il)y (stupid) laws: one clinic serves the entire state. Oklahoma also hopes that their law will push Roe v. Wade back to the Supreme Court–their failure to include an exception for rape victims makes this clear. The law has nothing to do with a sonogram or description. It’s about the national political movement to annihilate the right to privacy for American women.

Even further, these laws are only marginally related to their subject matter at all. They are part of a larger strategy to integrate conservative ideologies into our legal system without that silly democratic legislative process getting in the way. When a George W. Bush executive order redefined the legal definition of “child” to include the unborn, the administration claimed the goal was to make the unborn insurable and facilitate the prosecution of violent crimes against pregnant women and their fetuses. If you believe this, of course, you’re an idiot. Likewise “terrorism”: Feel like organizing a non-conservative political group/event/party/protest? Hope you enjoy your wiretap, which comes free with purchase and can’t be returned.

The purpose, of course, of all this shit, is to consolidate power under the US conservative banner. The purpose of consolidating that power is to continue using it to line the pockets of Halliburton** and friends. When the only sentiment in your heart is a profit motive, your humanity is gone.

*That is, I never thought I’d see that day until I developed a stronger understanding of gender relations in this country, and realized that everything–everything–is the woman’s fault, even if she’s the mother of your children and blaming her hurts them, too.

**Yeah. BP contracts Halliburton*** to build the well, including the faulty concrete. Ten days before the spill, Halliburton pays an absurd amount of money for Boots and Coots, an incredibly poorly-named oil cleanup firm. Post-spill, BP contracts Boots and Coots (Halliburton) to clean up the spill Halliburton’s shoddy work created. Don’t worry, Dick. This co-pay’s on us.

***Halliburton who, recall, moved its headquarters to Dubai so as to avoid paying US taxes on the exorbitant income it “earned” from no-bid US government contracts and private sector contracts like the circle jerk described above.


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