Thursday, September 29, 2011


There is a quiet residential neighborhood in Uptown New Orleans that exploded into an in-your-face demonstration on Thursday night, all because of a sign showing President Obama in a diaper. For months, Timothy Reily, a homeowner with a corner lot and a self-described Tea Party member, has expressed his dissatisfaction in big, bold signs that he displays on the main street side of his property.

The diaper sign is not Reily's first display, but the current sign (above) pretty much tells Reily’s story. The visuals are important because until this week, Reily has refused all interview requests and has remained verbally silent, allowing his periodically changing signs to speak for him. I began to notice Reily’s signs several months ago because I often park on his block when I go to work closeby. Although the signs are irritating to me, for reasons I will explain later, finally I began to ignore them. Not so with this week's demonstrators. Some of them claim the sign is racist, while others are just upset that this quiet neighborhood has been upended by all the media attention. By the morning after the demonstration, national media had picked up the story.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry believes the signs are disruptive and perhaps not even legal. She went public with her disdain for Reily’s “art” earlier this week, and what followed were small gatherings of protestors in the street surrounding Reily’s corner lot, which ultimately led to the more chaotic scene describe above. Local TV news stations picked up on the controversy and what follows is a report from WWL-TV, New Orleans:

Racism? On some level, probably. First amendment issue? Yes, without a doubt. Guidry, a Democrat, met with Reiley in his home. Reportedly, it did not go very well. Reily claims she got in his face and threatened to find zoning laws that will force him to take the sign down. But then, guess who else shows up? Ray Nagin. Oy. Nagin, who thankfully hasn't been heard from much since he put out his crazy memoir that sold about three copies, also met with Reily. He tried to persuade Reily to take the sign down, and by all accounts the meeting was gentlemanly. The sign did not come down.

But for my money, Reily’s stunt is more telling than that. I look at his signs the same way I look at vanity license plates – you know the ones that have little messages on them. To me, these are the acts of individuals who somehow cannot seem to be otherwise heard. Why doesn’t Reily simply write op-ed pieces, or call in to talk radio, or organize community political meetings or galvanize his neighbors to support his cause? My guess is that one who takes the time to create signs with sarcastic, derogatory messages does so because he simply does not know how to become part of a healthier public discourse on the state of the nation. Unfortunately, these acts usually bring out the absolute worst in our American citizenry. And let’s face it, politics brings out the worst in Americans anyway, so once we get into “word art” – well it gets rough.

I’m not here to debate the relative merits or lack thereof of the Obama presidency. I would, however, really like to see the public’s mix of ideas elevated to a higher level of discussion. I’d like to hear from some true thinkers, rather than masses of reactionaries. Do we really need to see people carrying signs at rallies depicting the president of the United States as an aborigine, or a monkey, or a Nazi? I think not. Does it add anything at all to advance anybody’s cause to carry a sign that says “If Obama is president, do we still call it the ‘WHITE’ House?” How, I wonder, does this message contribute anything – “American taxpayers are Jews for Obama’s ovens”?

Nothing gets Americans hotter under the collar than the months leading up to an election, especially when unemployment is at record highs, home foreclosures are off the map and the stock market is tanking. Understood. But taking to the streets – or in Reily’s case to the walls of his property – simply to vent one’s frustrations does not really affect change. It serves only to invite company into one’s misery, and to turn otherwise picturesque city streets into personal billboards. It also serves to further divide an already extremely divided electorate among racial, social and political lines. The morning after the above-mentioned street protest, local talk radio played a recording of a demonstrator telling a reporter that her aim was to find out what business Tim Reily is in and then organize a movement to put him out of business. I, for one, do not recognize that particular America. That's not what we're about.

I fully support Reily’s constitutional right to say what’s on his mind. If he wants to put it on a sign on his property, that’s his prerogative. I would, however, prefer he’d take the sign down. What if his neighbor decides to put up a sign that says “Tim Reily’s a racist pig”? What if somebody down the street erects her own sign that says “John Boehner’s a dickhead”? And then maybe her neighbor puts up a bigger sign that says, “Nancy Pelosi can kiss my ass”. Is this really how we Americans want to weigh in on our nation’s political structure? And what about the beauty of the neighborhoods? That matters, too.

To paraphrase one of my least favorite American presidents, I just want to say, “Tear down that sign, Mr. Reily.” Do it now. And then -- speak up. Every voice counts.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Morning talk radio can be such white noise most of the time. But one recent morning as I drove to work, my ears perked up while I listened to an interview with Elaine Donnelly, founder and President of the Center for Military Readiness (CMR). CMR presents itself as an “organization formed to take a leadership role in promoting sound military personnel policies in the armed forces.” Sounds very patriotic and progressive, right? It’s not. CMR exists primarily for one purpose – to keep gay Americans out of the armed forces. The day I heard Donnelly pontificating on the radio was the first day that the old Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy no longer existed. Gay Americans could openly and proudly serve their country. Donnelly wasn’t having it.

When asked if she saw possibilities for positive contributions from gay service members, Donnelly (below, left) said she could not think of any. When asked what her main objection to gays in the military was, (other than the fact that they were gay), she said all it accomplishes is adding stress to all of the other military personnel. Donnelly calls the new military structure, post DADT, a “San Francisco military,” and “the president owns it from this day forward.” About the new laws supporting gays in the military, Donnelly says, “This is a political payoff on the part of the president to LGBT activist groups.” Donnelly’s take on the new military world? “There is nothing beneficial for the military here.”

Donnelly, who in the recent past has also suggested that gay men and women should not be allowed to teach in public schools, peppers her statements with terms like “gay agenda,” and “gay separatists.” To his credit, the interviewer speaking with Donnelly this week asked her repeatedly how military readiness would be affected by the inclusion of openly gay service members in the U.S. military. To Donnelly’s discredit, she never answered the question. Donnelly’s limited thinking is not confined to gays in the military. She has also suggested that the horrors of Abu Ghraib had much to do with allowing women in the military. Donnelly, whether she knows it or not, has fashioned herself into the 21st century Anita Bryant.

How odd that Donnelly, a woman of reasonable intelligence, does not realize that extremists with exclusionary causes like hers, do nothing more than galvanize the majority of fair, forward-thinking Americans to defeat discrimination. One has to wonder how Donnelly can establish an organization called “Center for Military Readiness” and not truly address the real issues threatening military readiness:

• In March, Congressman John Olver (D-MASS) expressed his own military readiness concerns. He pointed out that in 2010, in Afghanistan “one-third of deaths and casualties could have been avoided if proper body armor and vehicle armor had been provided from the start of the war.” Troops are still in danger and the current armor solutions are not adequately protecting them, Olver said. (Note to Elaine: Perhaps CMR needs to focus some of its attention and funding on properly outfitting our service members in war zones – including those who are gay).

• Sexual assault runs rampant in the U.S. military, overseas, according to the Pentagon’s own statistics. The numbers show there were more than 3,000 women sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2009, up 11 percent from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population.” (Note to Elaine: These are heterosexual assaults mostly by male military personnel against female military personnel. Perhaps the CMR needs to work toward protecting victims of these assaults and look into the reasons the Code of Military Justice is not being routinely enforced). In its March 10, 2010 issue, TIME Magazine reports anecdotally, that many women overseas stop drinking water after 7PM, so they will not have to go to the bathroom after dark and run the risk of being raped.

• A 2010 U.S. Army report reveals 160 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009 and an additional 146 deaths resulted from risky behavior such as drug or prescription medication abuse. Seventy-four of those deaths were overdoses. There were 1,713 attempted suicides last year. Even more recent numbers: In July of this year, the U.S. Army reported a record 32 suspected suicides, the highest number in one month since the Army started keeping suicide records two years ago. (Note to Elaine: What are the deficiencies in the U.S. military that would create a higher suicide rate among military personnel than in the general population? Don’t depression, drug abuse, medication abuse and alcohol abuse threaten our military readiness? CMR might want to focus some efforts here).

• At Fort Hood, TX, the nation’s largest military post, in 2010 one in four service members sought mental health counseling for combat stress, substance abuse, broken marriages or other emotional problems, according to Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli. If we’re really going to concentrate on military readiness, shouldn’t our efforts be put here, rather than on who’s sexually attracted to whom? Elaine? Are you listening?

• By now, it is common knowledge that the U.S. Army has employed questionable, if not downright unauthorized tactics in recruiting new service members. Improprieties include recruiting high school students under the age of 17, promising potential recruits job training that does not exist, promising educational benefits that far exceed what the military covers, recruiting in commercial areas or high school campuses where recruitment is not allowed and more. Elaine, I’m wondering: If the military is recruiting individuals who are not qualified to serve, and if recruiters’ superiors are turning a blind eye to fraudulent recruiting techniques, wouldn’t that somehow knock our military readiness down a notch or two? I’m just sayin.’

Military readiness is not about sex or sexuality. Let’s call this what it is – a non-issue. Gay service members have quietly been sharing quarters with straight service members forever. Everyone has co-existed relatively peacefully. Military readiness has more to do with how recruiters are persuading people to sign up, how military personnel are being treated once they’re in, what types of protection (or lack of such) is being afforded combat personnel, and how the military justice system is or is not dealing with clear violations of military law. Fringe group extremists like Donnelly accomplish nothing more than taking the necessary focus off of real issues that affect national security. Elaine, we’ve heard your rhetoric over and over again. It is meaningless, and to most of us it sounds like the rantings of a bitter person who has a personal anti-gay agenda. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history and your attempts to spread paranoia were ineffective. If you truly want to serve your country as a private citizen, start using your resources and your energy to strengthen the existing military and to improve its reputation among other world powers (especially the 25 countries that already allow gays to serve openly in their military) who have come to view the current “gays in the military” debate as nothing more than tired, old American provincialism. Elaine, we Americans are bigger and better than that. If you are not, then you need to step out of the public spotlight, permanently.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Here is a name to keep out of your rolodex, not to mention your psyche. He is Keith Ablow. Ablow may not be a household name in your neck of the woods, but he has made great strides in becoming a media personality. Ablow is a Johns-Hopkins-trained psychiatrist, who discovered during his college years that he had a talent for writing and reporting. Broadcasting discovered him, slowly but surely, and over the years he has become a sought-after commentator on big name shows. It is, however, his unfortunate take on the Chaz Bono/ “Dancing With The Stars” 2011 story that will probably follow him for the rest of his career. One wonders how he could be so lacking in foresight as to come forward with some of the preposterous things he has said about the recently transgendered Bono.

I could tell you all about his incessant ramblings, but listen for yourself to an interview Ablow did this week with FOX news reporter Megyn Kelly:

Gosh…somebody forgot to tell the doc that kids are not real keen on watching shows about ballroom dancing. Oh, and somebody neglected to inform Ablow that most kids in America wouldn’t know a Chaz Bono if it fell on them. And really, how much of the DWTS show time is going to be devoted to discussion of changing one’s gender or delving into one’s sexual identity? Hey..Ablow, have you ever even watched this program? I’m thinking probably not.

But that’s not even the issue here. The real issue here is Ablow’s motivation to spout off his highly unscientific b.s. about Bono’s influence on children. Is it his deeply caring spirit that just moves him to save the world’s children, or is it his incessant, borderline phobia about gender identity once again rearing its ugly head? Perhaps this is a good time to remind the reader that it was just a year and a half ago that Ablow wrote a column skewering the J.Crew catalog for featuring a picture of designer Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toenails hot pink. According to Ablow, “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization’ is not known.” Ablow, it seems has no room for grey areas in gender identity. He goes on to say, “These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.”


So, let me see if I, an average reader/viewer, understand all of this hifalutin hyperbole: If a transgender person appears on a TV dancing competition whose audience demographic skews older and female, kids will suddenly want to remove their genitalia. If a mother paints her kid’s toenails the wrong color and has a picture taken of that, the boy will probably end up gay. How’m I doing Ablow?

The explosion of mass media over the past couple of decades has created pathways for extremists like Ablow to come forward to claim airtime in prime time. If you are of a certain age, you grew up with three or four TV stations. By the 1980s you had a couple hundred cable channels from which to choose. Broadcasters had to find ways to fill up all of that air time. That is the downside of the rapid and ongoing expansion of traditional and digital media. Does anyone believe the likes of Jerry Springer (above, right) or Ann Coulter or Dr. Laura Schlesinger would ever have found themselves in front of a TV camera before cable? Absolutely not. Ablow is simply another in a long line of on-air personalities with extreme behavior or politics or prejudices that have managed to claim some of our time and attention.

But here is the upshot of this whole disturbing trend. We, the viewers, are smarter – much smarter – than they give us credit for. I know and you know that nobody makes a major life decision by watching Chaz do the cha-cha. And we know that pink paint does not a gay boy make. We are smart, thinking individuals and we also know that these crackpots who espouse their attention-getting rhetoric are nothing more than entertainers. Dr. Keith Ablow, with his enviable education and experience is really nothing more or less than a thinking man’s Jerry Springer. He underestimated us, and that may be his fatal flaw.

Now, if there is one thing that may deter me from this season’s DWTS, it won’t be Chaz Bono – it will be another contestant – one Nancy Grace (right), yet another crackpot whose 15 minutes have been stretched way too far. Honestly, if I have to watch Nancy Grace do a quick step on national television, I may have to be sedated. And Dr. Ablow, on Sept. 19 when ABC offers its season premiere of DWTS, you need to change your channel to something safe and calm – may I suggest C-span and a glass of nice, warm milk?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


My name is Paul, and I’m a TV addict. There I said it. There are no 12-step programs, meditation gurus or publicly funded initiatives to help me. The only thing that helps is TV. Lots of it. More of it. TV in every room. I watch everything from C-Span to The Real Housewives of Wherever. I recently bought something called a “Smart TV.” I can’t explain myself—I saw it in a store and the edge-to-edge, high definition picture engulfed me until I felt like I was sitting on Oprah’s couch with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. This TV is so advanced that I believe if I stare at I hard enough it might cook dinner for me. And who cares? Who has time for dinner when “Dancing with the Stars” is on, or “Mad Men,” or “The Daily Show?”

So it should come as no surprise that every year at this time I’m downright giddy waiting for the new Fall TV season to begin. This year there are several things happening that could shake things up in the industry. Here are a few shows I’m waiting on the edge of my seat to see:

THE PLAYBOY CLUB (NBC): When in doubt, the major networks seem to revert to 1960s drama. And that might be because there was plenty of it in the 60s. Hugh Hefner’s empire was at full throttle during the post-Kennedy/Camelot era, and nothing has really ever matched its allure since. In this NBC prime time version, Eddie Cibrian is Nick Dalton, a suave Chicago lawyer who, of course, has his own key to The Playboy Club. CNN said Cibrian is doing his best Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) impression. True, but then Jon Hamm has been doing his best Robert Vaughn (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) or Mike Connors (“Mannix”) since “Mad Men debuted in 2007. Whether Cibrian has the dramatic cache to pull this off remains to be seen. The show has already generated controversy; Without even seeing one episode of the show, the Parents Television Council (PTC) already lobbied NBC to cancel it before it even airs, because of “salacious content.” In June, The National Enquirer reported that KLS-TV in Salt Lake City, a Mormon-owned company, has decided not to air the show on its station. So far, it seems KLS is alone in its discontent. The real test of “The Playboy Club” won’t be who bans it, but how authentically the creators are able to paint a real portrait of a singular era. Many series have failed to do so and put forth a canned version of the 1960s that is almost cartoonish in its recreation. The 1960s were “devil may care” years. It was a time when the birth control pill had just hit the mass market, and Frank Sinatra used the term “ring-a-ding-ding” with a straight face and looked cool saying it. We’ll know after the first episode whether this one works. Here’s NBC’s official preview:

Looks pretty juicy to me. But then, I watch everything.

THE ROSIE O’DONNELL SHOW (OWN): When last we saw Rosie O’Donnell on daytime TV, she was the moderator of ABC’s “The View,” and we all know how that ended. Then she helmed a daily radio show that was not half bad, actually. Then our holy St. Oprah of Chicago came calling, offering Rosie a daily talk show, but more amazingly, Oprah gave her the entire HARPO studios facility in Chicago from which to create and broadcast the show. Who could say no to that, right? O’Donnell’s reign as the Queen of Nice (Newsweek” dubbed her that in its July 14, 1996 cover story), ended nine years ago. This time she says her show will be more topical, less celebrity-focused and now, at 49, she’s a different Rosie. She’s not as nice, but she’s not as angry as she was on “The View.” Will it work? Not sure yet. OWN has failed to live up to the hype, and Oprah recently took over as CEO to try to steer her network in a more productive direction.

ANDERSON COOPER: CNN’s snow-capped, engaging news host has decided to pick up where Oprah left off. This past week he debuted his daytime talk show. He’ll still do “Anderson Cooper 360” in the evening, but the daytime show promises to feature his lighter side. Cooper’s edge is that he can probably attract the biggest names in the news. On his debut hour he featured the parents of the late Amy Winehouse, for example. But the next day, Snooki and Kathy Griffin shared the stage. Reportedly, Cooper will begin the second week of his talk show with a full hour interview with his fascinating mother, Amy Vanderbilt, 87. The daytime talk genre is a tough animal. Those who seem like sure bets often fall flat – think Jane Pauley and Roseanne Barr. Broadcasting from the elegant Manhattan event venue Jazz at Lincoln Center, Cooper has some advantages in this genre: First, he’s a man, in a format that has largely been dominated by women; second, the venue is breathtaking and the cameras have done a stellar job in capturing its vistas; and most importantly, he comes to the show with an established audience from his CNN show. The odds seem to be in his favor, but then, I once said the same thing about Megan Mullally, so don’t listen to me.

TWO AND A HALF MEN (CBS): If they had replaced Charlie Sheen with one of the rumored actors like Hugh Grant or John Stamos, we’d probably have said, “Well, Hugh Grant is no Charlie Sheen,” or “John Stamos doesn’t have that bad boy thing that Charlie Sheen has.” But Ashton Kutcher is a different story. He’s younger, he’s hotter and his past television outings have been largely successful. I’m writing this post before the debut episode, but I feel confident it will probably draw its biggest audience in years. The curiosity factor has caused many of us to already set our DVRs. The show was a classic ensemble piece from day one; it wasn’t the Charlie Sheen show. He was a big draw, he mattered and he reportedly worked very hard to keep the show viable in the marketplace, but the rest of the characters were so well formed and developed that the show can likely carry on. The network is clearly feeling confident: Kutcher’s reported per episode salary is $750,000. To give you some frame of reference, Angust T. Jones, who plays young Jake Harper reportedly pockets $250,000 per episode and he has been a cast member since day one. Jon Cryer, according to TV Guide, takes home $550,000 per episode.

There is much more to report about the Fall season – the “Charlie’s Angels” redux, the return of Simon Cowell to evening TV, the Steven Spielberg backed time travel extravaganza on Fox, “Terra Nova,” Ted Danson replacing Laurence Fishburne on “CSI,” ABC’s own 1960s drama, “Pan Am,” to name a few. And whose big idea was it to put “The Good Wife” up against “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday nights? I wish I could give you something to live for for mid-season, but so far the biggest story is TNT’s remake of “Dallas.” Really?

Stay tuned, and look for me in the audience. I'm always there.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Yesterday I turned 50-something. Okay, okay, it’s 58. What the hell. You know, around the mid-50s, people start making “old jokes.” I never pay much attention to the old jokes because I do not feel any different than I felt at 40 something, except now I sort of get it. “It” in this case refers to life. Listen, it takes a good 50 years to get it, at least for some of us. The morning of my birthday there was a bomb threat at the university where I work, and somebody said to me, “I guess you’ve seen it all by now, huh?” Seen all what, I wondered. Not only have I not seen it all, but I believe in that old adage, “The older I get, the less I know.” Oh it’s not that I haven’t been paying attention, or that I have a hard time learning things. It’s just that every time I think I have things really figured out, there’s a bomb threat, or the truly wrong person gets elected, or somebody tries to make cigarettes cool again or telephones become computers or somebody like Kim Kardashian becomes famous without doing anything. It’s those curve balls they throw at us that really confound us. Kim Kardashian? Really? Come on.

I’d like to tell you the view from 50-something is clear and delightful, but the truth is it’s complex. I’m in the most interesting generation I can think of. We grew up in the 1960s when it became de rigueur for revered religious and political leaders to be shot dead on pavements coast to coast. We were raised on calamity. Then came Vietnam. Then Richard Nixon. Watergate. And horror upon horrors…disco. My generation does not wallow in the “good old days,” because the old days were not so good. We got out of college when the national unemployment rate was at about 10 percent. Cars weren’t air conditioned. Oy. Manual typewriters, lots of drugs (and not the good ones), polyester everything and canned peas. What’s to get all nostalgic about?

The view from 50-something is one of assimilation. We take all of the events and people to whom we were exposed, and we try to see where it brought us. But then, along comes Michele Bachmann or some other whack job that causes us to wonder how we got there. Surely we didn’t go through all of those tumultuous decades to arrive at a moment when inept people who lack sound judgment and reason actually believe they could be world leaders. It cannot be possible that we had all of the advances in digital communication and media so that somebody like, say, Chris Matthews could just yell and rail at his guests in the name of journalistic interviewing. Could all of the human ingenuity and foresight that it took to invent and advance the radio industry simply have been such so that somebody like Rush Limbaugh could become the highest paid radio broadcaster in history? Surely not. Something must have gone wrong in the universe to bring us through the entire civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, just to arrive at a moment a half century later when statistics tell us more black men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.

It seems impossible that here in the post-feminist age, after all of the Gloria Steinems, Simone de Beauvoirs and Betty Friedans of the world, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that women still earn about 79 cents on the dollar compared with men in the same occupations (That number drops to 68% for African-American women and 58% for Hispanics). Did you know of our 100 U.S. senators, only 17 are women? Wait…it gets worse – There have only been 39 women who have ever served in the U.S. Senate, since it was established in 1789.

At 50-something, many people in my generation are somewhat shocked at the lack of cultural change and social progress in our lifetimes. We have a lot of technology, plenty of luxury items and lots more free time than our grandparents, but real progress? Not so much. That’s discouraging for a population group that came of age in an activistic, idealistic moment and mindset. We truly believed we could change the world. It was the 1960s mentality. You may call it idealism. I think we thought of it as a formidable mix of personal power and hope.

So, with all of this said, how would I characterize the view from 50-something? Here are the keywords: Humble, hopeful, skeptical, sobering, exasperating, unpredictable, dynamic, fascinating and grateful. Listen, here is what I know for sure: Every moment has been and will continue to be a gift. That’s what life is, and isn’t a birthday the perfect time to say that out loud? Think about it. 58? Well, I’m a tweener. I’m not young, but I’m not old. It’s not all ahead of me, but it’s certainly not even nearly completed. The view from 50-something is just one of absolute amazement. After all, who among us could have known when we were 20-something that by the time we were 50-something, sex could kill you, marijuana could cure you and cars could talk? Like I said…amazing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


On June 21, when the NYC medical examiner completed his report on Jamar Johnson, 5, it was revealed he had died as a result of “blunt force trauma causing him to suffer a laceration to his intestine and pancreas," according to court documents. Even a body as small as young Jamar’s would have to be bashed pretty hard to cause those injuries, but then Jamar’s murderer was quite angry. That would be Kim Crawford, 21, single, unemployed mother of two, with a history of drug abuse. Oh, and it should be noted…Kim is Jamar’s mother. You may be wondering what drove Kim Crawford her filicidal act. It seems Jamar had broken the television set while using his Nintendo Wii. And it seems Crawford says she was “punishing” him for his act. In the weeks that followed, despite Crawford’s contention of innocence, it was revealed that she has an arrest record for assault and drug charges, and that police had been called to her subsidized apartment on East 227th St. at least nine times since 2006 for domestic disturbances. And yet – Jamar and his sister remained in the home with little hope of ever seeing adulthood, or at least of ever reaching adulthood with any degree of peace.

Crawford (below, left) has since been charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. There are no excuses for Crawford’s act, but maybe it should be a wakeup call for the bloody side dish that seems to be served up during economic recession. Kids are being brutalized coast to coast, and often nobody knows about it because the parents are clever enough to cover it up, or deceitful enough to lie about it, like Crawford did. Is there a link between the national economy and child abuse? The evidence would suggest there is.

By now you’ve heard that national unemployment is holding steady at 9.1%. In August the U.S. added no new jobs. You are so accustomed to hearing these gloomy reports that it has become little more than white noise, right? And you have heard all about how clinical depression is up, consumer spending is down, and economic indicators are stagnant. But who talks about the children of the jobless? Did you know that during times of economic recession, studies show that child abuse and neglect increase? Probably not. Nobody writes much about that.

As usual, the numbers tell the story: At Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, last year doctors studied 512 patients between the ages of six and nine, from 2007 to 2009. Here’s what they found: The number of cases of shaken baby syndrome rose from six per month before Dec. 1, 2007, to 9.3 per month after that date. Some 63 percent of the children studied had injuries severe enough that they had to be admitted to pediatric intensive care units, and 16 percent died.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome,(which often leads to abusive head trauma), the long term consequences of just this one act can include learning disabilities, hearing and speech impairment, blindness, cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment and in about 300 cases a year, death. Jamar, of course was not a victim of shaken baby syndrome (as far as we know), but he was nonetheless a victim of parental violence. A 2009 report from The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us that more mothers than fathers kill their kids. The majority of victims are under three years old, followed closely by those up to seven years old. Astonishingly, 75.8% of perpetrators in cases of child fatality were the parents. Gender of the child doesn’t matter – fatalities are almost evenly split between boys and girls. Not surprisingly, children in low socio-economic status households were far more likely to be battered or killed than those in other environments. Still, way too many kids in middle-class homes are still being abused, as well.

In Boston, Dr. Robert Sege of Boston Medical Center found that child abuse definitely increased in conjunction with the rise in unemployment. Here is what his team found: Starting in 2008, following the beginning of economic distress nationwide, their research recorded a 30% increase in child maltreatment cases, most of which involved neglect, and since 2009, the hospital has already recorded a steady increase. Sege’s study looked at all 50 states from 1990 through 2009 and found that for every 1% increase in unemployment, they found an increase in child abuse reports of at least 0.50 per 1000 children one year later.

It causes one to wonder if recent high profile child abuse reports could be a result of economic doldrums. Not all of these kids come from homes where parents are unemployed, but most American families are feeling the pinch of a lifeless economy. And, as you will see, it is not always the child’s parent who is the abuser:
• Take the recent case of Gary Johnson, Jr., 35, who beat up a 16-year-old in his own back yard. Watch:

• Then there is the case of the Alaska mom who couldn’t’ get her adopted son to behave, so she routinely poured hot sauce down his throat and forced him to take ice cold showers. Watch:

Jessica Beagley was given three years of probation, a 180-day suspended jail sentence and a $2,500 fine — also suspended — after she was convicted last week of misdemeanor child abuse. In easy terms, the judge slapped her hand. The message from the courts seems to be that so long as the child has not endured sexual abuse or actual bodily harm, there will really be no punishment. A suspended sentence and a suspended fine would not seem to be a great determent toward future abuse. And make no mistake – what Beagley did is abusive. Any child who was ever subjected to this type of abuse can tell you that such incidents are emotionally cumulative. They never really go away.

• Just wait a few years and ask the three grandsons of Christopher Carlson, 45 of Indianapolis. Carlson took the boys on grueling hikes through the Grand Canyon. Any or all of them could easily have died under the watchful eye of their grandfather, who said there were “tough people in the world” and his grandchildren needed to toughen up. Watch:

The facts are clear: Children are probably the most powerless citizens in our society, or any society. They have no decision-making power in the family, and they usually have no way out when they’re being battered, bloodied and kicked in the gut. Everybody knows abusers were usually abused when they were kids, so we are perpetuating the cycle of abuse by allowing the abusers to receive suspended sentences, or judicial mercy. If an abuser is found by a judge to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, and later found competent enough by doctors to rejoin society, chances are he or she will never stand trial and be let out to do it again. Cases of verbal or emotional abuse often never see the light of day in a courtroom, and if they do, the burden of proof is too high, and again, the abusers walk.

What can you do? The experts are in agreement: SPEAK UP if you know of or even suspect a child is being abused. Call anyone who will listen. Call the school, the church, the police. To find the appropriate agency or entity to call in any of the 50 states, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services operates the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Somebody needed to call somebody before Jamar Johnson turned on his Wii game on June 21. Nobody did. He’s dead, his sister is without parents and his mother’s life, at age 21, is essentially over. Neighbors, friends or relatives who may have witnessed previous abuse were effectively enabling Crawford’s behavior when they failed to speak up. I, for one, wonder who Jamar Johnson may have become had he been able to grow up and escape East 227th St. He did not. And we will never know.