Two of our next three topics relate to the American criminal justice system, and both are Linda’s ideas. On June 6, we’ll do policing reform. Monday we will cover a very, very important topic that gets much less attention: Our juvenile justice system.
We jail/detain a lot of juveniles in this country. On any given day in America, there are more than 80,000 youths in detention and correctional facilities, including 20,000 in juvenile detention centers, 54,000 in youth prisons, and almost 6,000 in adult prisons and jails. These system’s problems are legion and discussions of them rife with sad phrases like “juvenile solitary confinement” which 24 states permit, and “school-to-prison pipelines.” Individual outcomes can be heart-breaking, including here in Southern California. You also could throw in other systems that treat children and their problems, like foster care and the mental health system, if you want to look at the problem in all its facets.
Yet, quietly over the last 15 years, reformers all over the country have recognized the gross inadequacies of juvenile criminal justice systems and have worked hard to improve them. I know very little about this, but the articles below will give you a sense of what has been accomplished and how much farther we have to go to make youthful offences an embarrassing adult memory rather than the first step towards a ruined life that ruins others’ lives, too.
I will red these articles and a few more and on Monday I will start us off by describing some of the juvenile system’s worst problems and biggest obstacles to reform. Then we can talk about solutions, etc. I will highlight developments in California.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- A very short history (up to 2008) of juvenile justice in USA.
- 2015 good overview: Trying to fix our broken juvenile justice system. Recommended
- Major goals of reform advocates. Notice how many areas advocates say we need to address – including some well outside what we traditionally think of as the criminal justice system.
- Closing big, often-abusive youth detention centers is key, as is ending solitary confinement for youths and – especially – making sure kids in facilities still get an education.
- The “school to prison pipeline” doesn’t mean what you probably think it means.
- California’s reforms: Recommended
Next Week: What is a “just war?”
The debate over marriage in America in recent years has focused almost exclusively on same sex marriage. That’s an important and divisive issue, certainly. But, the institution of marriage has been evolving in other ways, too – rapidly. We’ve talked about some of these changes in other meetings, including a few weeks ago (future of masculinity) and in 2013 (changing gender roles). The average of first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, compared to barely 20 fifty years ago. Low-income Americans are far less likely to be married than in the past, and they marry far less often than affluent couples. More kids are born out-of-wedlock (but not necessarily in unstable relationships). Some marriages retain traditional gender roles while others are more egalitarian. Etc.
Clearly, American marriage is in flux. What it will look like in the future is hard to guess. Will American marriage fade away, as it has in some parts of Europe? Will traditional marriage make a comeback? Will there be multiple legal forms of marriage? I thought this might make a good conversation..
A lot has been written on this topic, Google revealed to me in a dream. I’ll try to synthesize the major questions surrounding the future of marriage and the possible trends it might take in my opening. Then, we can start our discussion.
Note: This week’s Discussion Questions are more detailed and to the point than usual. The highlighted links – especially the first one, a 6-minute YouTube video by an expert – are particularly useful to read pre-mtg, too.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How has marriage changed in the United States in recent decades, in terms of
- Who marries, when, and why; and
- The roles and expectations within marriages (like the “blue state” and “red state” models in link #1)?
- Have marriage and family law changed, too? Have they accommodated the new reality, or has the law lagged behind social changes?
- What do you think the institution of marriage in America will look like in, say, 20-30 years, in practice if not in legal form?
- Can/should family law or other public policies change to either
- Reinforce the types of marriages that we morally prefer or are more socially desirable; or
- Accommodate and support whatever new kinds of marriages and family relationships that arise?
- The future of American marriage: 6-minute YouTube video. Must see TV.
- Red families versus blue families: Two archetypes of modern marriage have emerged in recent years. (l6-pages long, but good)
- Americans’ attitudes towards marriage. Are they your beliefs, too?
- The Great Crossover: A majority of parents now have their first child before marriage.
- Relax! Young Americans aren’t rejecting marriage, they’re just delaying it.
- How to save American marriage. Recommended.
- Frontiers of marriage:
- Conservative POV: Progressives want government to replace the benefits that traditional marriage used to provide (like child care). This is true, basically.
Next Week: For-Profit Colleges: Market Niche or Scam?
This group does mainly politics, especially lately. But, we trespass into cultural and social issues more frequently than you might think. We’ve discussed gender roles, whether men and women think differently, society’s sexual double standard, and (pre-blog) the future of feminism. But, we’ve never devoted an evening to considering our culture’s notions of masculinity.
Hmmm. Maybe a mostly-liberal political club just prefers to discuss other aspects of our politics, rather than to debate the anxieties and problems of America’s dominant cultural group. Still, for years now I’ve been reading that two things are true with regard to America’s men:
- Our 21st century economy and social structures no longer support traditional gender roles and their old-fashioned model of masculinity; and
- A lot of men are pretty pissed off about it, feeling underappreciated, unsupported, and adrift.
I’m not just talking about misogynist backlash, like the “men’s rights” movement, or right-wing backlash politics, like Rush Limbaugh’s sputtering fury towards “Feminazis.” (I do think a common thread links the conservative anti-feminist backlash and general male cultural anxiety: A loss of power and privilege. Men are now a minority in the workforce and in higher education. Some analysts believe that women, with their superior communication and social skills, are better-suited than men to thrive in our 21st century, networked, service-oriented economy.) No, I mean this as more of a cultural topic, one in which we might explore how we have experienced changing notions of masculinity as we’ve matured. Or, we could just spew facts and figures, like usual.
I’ll open us up on Monday by flexing…your minds, I hope, with a short introduction that lays out kind of what I mean by the topic. Then, I’ll start the conversation by asking all of you whether you think the meaning of manliness has changed in your lifetime and whether that’s to the good or ill.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What is expected for a man to be manly in America today? Which attitudes and behaviors are encouraged and discouraged? Try listing these characteristics; e.g., independent, bread-winning, tough, stoic, respectful of authority, fatherly? What about violent, sexually aggressive, dominating?
- Have these societal expectations changed in your lifetime?
- Does our economy and society still support traditional gender roles? What should be done to better support men and boys in our society?
- What are women’s expectations of masculinity? Have they changed? Are they realistic?
- What should we be teaching boys and girls about appropriate masculine behavior?
LINKS – (some are short!)
- Is the American ideal of masculinity changing? Maybe, maybe not. Recommended
- The new economy is unsettling and splitting our notions of masculinity. Recommended
- The lives and achievements of U.S. men, in charts.
- Can we build better men by rejiggering the meaning of masculinity?
- Hollywood men: How the movies have depicted manliness.
- Millennial men are facing changing roles and expectations.
- The backlash:
- Wait. The whole premise behind this topic is stupid:
- Conservative POV:
Next Week The Arab Spring – A Failure or an Incomplete?
I thought we’d try something a little different for a few weeks. Our next 4-5 meetings take on directly some of the major political themes that today’s conservatives sound. For me, there could be no other choice for the first topic than the “growing dependency” on government idea.
In case you didn’t know, the idea that Democrats in general – and Obama in particular – want to get Americans “hooked” on government is a major, major theme on the Right these days. One hears it over and over and over again on talk radio, conservative websites, and other media outlets. Dependency on government programs, they say, is rising, and the public only voted for Obama twice because he first promised and then delivered freebies to his voters. This meme has a powerful appeal to millions of Americans and seems to have become a core belief among conservatives. Poor people are no longer lazy, it seems; they’re seduced into dependency on the State. They are victims of liberalism.
It is easy – way too easy, speaking of seductive notions – just to dismiss it all as covert racism and willful blindness to seeing the worst recession since WWII and the fracturing of the job market for low-income Americans. One of my big goals for Civilized Conversation is to try to understand things most of us want to dismiss out of hand and to examine them on their merits. Could there be anything to this idea of growing dependency on government? What if the economy stays flat for years? Regardless of the merits of this notion, why is it so appealing to conservatives?
I’ll open our meeting by introducing the topic and summarizing the evidence for growing government dependency. Then, we can perhaps debate in a civilized fashion why so many of our countrymen believe in this.
Discussion Questions –
- What do they mean by a growing dependence on government? What evidence do they cite and how do they (or do they!) rebut the obvious counterarguments?
- Who really benefits from government? Do we really redistribute much? If so, why?
- Why does the dependency meme resonate so strongly with conservatives?
- Could there actually be a problem here? What if private sector jobs don’t come back? Will dependency advocates be right?
The argument –
- Yes, safety net spending is way up. But, the causes are mostly the unprecedented recession (temporary), and structural changes in our economy. It’s not some sudden growth in laziness.
- Does government redistribute wealth? Sure. But, it goes both ways and the federal government does not redistribute downward much!
- Of course the safety net redistributes. As social insurance, it is supposed to do that.
- Specific programs:
NEXT WEEK: Do Americans agree on what freedom means?
Next Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his sixth state of the union address. He is expected to focus on small steps the government can take to start restoring the widely-shared prosperity that our economy used to provide, before a tiny sliver began capturing all of the fruits of rising productivity. Three years after the Great Recession officially ended economic growth is back, stocks are back, corporate profits are back. But, employment, wage growth, and job security are not. Worse, this situation caps a 40-year trend of stalled median wages that doesn’t even take into account the millions of workers that, starting in about 2000, have dropped out of the labor force altogether.
We’ve talked about some of this before (here and here, for example). But, we’ve never focused a whole meeting on solutions. Maybe that’s because it’s so daunting to figure out ways to improve pay in private markets where most Americans make their livings. Or, maybe it’s because we don’t do solutions in this group. Anyway, Obama’s speech gives us a good opportunity to discuss whether and how to use public policy to raise wages.
Monday I’ll open a little longer than usual because I want to describe the problem clearly and explain enough details about what Obama is expected to propose that we can discuss them intelligently. I’ll also mention, but not rebut, the main arguments of those that argue that raising wages through government policy can’t possibly work without harming our overall economy. As you can see from the discussion questions below, this can be a kind of a theory of everything topic. My idea to avoid this by focusing on the Obama proposals, one by one. But, we can go big and do a government is benevolent / inherently useless discussion if you really want to.
Discussion Questions –
- What? Are low wages really such a problem for many Americans? Which ones? Low compared to what: To the economic value they produce? If so, why aren’t they paid accordingly? If not, are wages the problem or is it something else?
- Why/ Causes. Also, are these causes “natural” to a modern economy, to the workers themselves, or did we do this to ourselves?
- Solutions? What could be done – without reducing job growth or s screwing up economy and misallocating resources?
- SOTU Proposals? What will the president propose? How will he justify them?
- Objections? What are the main objections to these proposals (that don’t fit on ideological bumper stickers)?
Links – (A very broad topic. Read the topics that interest you.)
The Problem –
- [Update, Here’s a must read, because I’m so furious researching this! Also, this: Corporate profits are at a post-War high directly because wage growth is near a post-War low.]
- Average Americans’ wages have been flat for 40 years – even as their productivity has skyrocketed. Recommended.
- One in four Americans working in low-wage jobs. Seven of ten of the most common jobs pays under $30,000. Recommended.
- More, in charts: An overworked and underpaid America.
- A conservative rebuttal: No, worker compensation has almost kept pace with their value, if one measure it right.
- I will rely a lot on this study of the problem.
- [SOTU proposals: I will post if details available before our meeting.]
- Minimum wage:
- An alternative to raising the minimum wage.
- Revive labor unions so workers have more bargaining power.
- No. Just focus on education. Better train mid-skill workers, like we discussed
- Mike is right! Getting back to full employment is the answer.
NEXT WEEK: A post-SOTU topic. The Good, Bad, and the Ugly Of a 2-Party Political System.
We’ve had a bunch of kind of technical topics lately, and this week we’ve got one more before we get back to some less stuffy issues over the holidays. (Plus, new topics will be ready on Monday!) This topic involves something that the government devotes a lot of money and effort to: Promoting homeownership.
It’s a total myth that these programs caused the financial meltdown (although it’s an article of faith among conservatives). Still, the bursting of the housing bubble lets us take a hard look at whether the government promotes homeownership in the right ways, and whether it’s time to scale back some of it and devote the resources to new priorities. President Obama has proposed an ambitious – in some ways, though not in others -plan to reform housing promotion policies, including reforming “Fannie and Freddie,” the two quasi-governmental institutions that do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Housing policies affect a lot of Americans and it’s high time we brought it out of the shadows.
On Monday, I’ll open by explaining a little about the biggest ways government encourages and directly or indirectly subsidizes homeownership. They include the famous (mortgage interest deduction, Fannie and Freddie), but other stuff, too. Then, we can debate the issues – including whether helping people afford a house should be a major priority of government and a major use of taxpayer dollars at all.
Discussion Questions –
- Why does the federal government promote homeownership at all? What is the justification?
- How does the government do this?
- Who really benefits from these policies? All Americans? All homebuyers? Some homebuyers? The financial industry?
- What does subsidizing home buying cost us, in terms of taxpayers’ money, distortions of free markets, and increasing financial risks to the economy?
- What would you do about it? Will anything get done, given that powerful interests benefit so much from the status quo?
Gov’t subsidies for home buying –
- How the government subsidizes homeownership. (I’ll explain this stuff more simply)
- Obama has proposed some major changes in this area. Recommended or, for more, see here.
- Obama’s approach neglects a lot of Americans. Skim.
Is it time to scale back this stuff?
- Yes. Get rid of the 30-yr, government-backed mortgage. Recommended
- Besides, there’s no reason to valorize owning a home or for big-time government support for it.s
- No, promoting home buying is a necessary and vital government function. Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: Christian Ethics for the 21st Century.