Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Am Spartacus! You Might Be Spartacus, Too

So the Judge Rotenberg Center has been in the news again, this time because of an article in New York magazine about Andre McCollins, a young man from Brooklyn who had been sent there in 2001, when he was sixteen. His mother had sent him there because she thought it looked like a pleasant place, with dedicated and competent staff, where he might learn to control the rage attacks he sometimes had. 

Here's the part of the New York article where she talks about what motivated her to enroll him there; it very much gives the impression she didn't know how brutal the disciplinary regime was going to be:
She called the Board of Education for help finding a new school, and an employee told her about the Rotenberg Center. Stepping inside for the first time, Cheryl [McCollins] was dazzled by the d├ęcor. There was nothing institutional about this place; the carpet felt five inches thick. "I thought the place was beautiful," she recalls. "I thought these people really took pride in what they did." She loved that residents lived in lavishly decorated houses -- not dorms. The boys wore button-down shirts and dress pants. And there were surveillance cameras everywhere; she couldn't imagine a better way to ensure that Andre wouldn't be victimized again. 
School officials told her about their program and explained how the electric-shock device worked. The staffers showed her a video, too, of other students who'd been hooked up to the GED ["Graduated Electronic Decelerator," the name for the shock device] and appeared to have been completely transformed by it. "I was so excited," she says. "I was like, 'He's going to be cured? This can really stop all those behaviors, the aggression? And he won't break up my furniture, he won't fight?' 'Yes, this device does it.' I was like, 'Wow! You're kidding! Why didn't anyone tell me about this before?'"  
Twenty months into his stay there, Andre McCollins was strapped down and shocked repeatedly for a period of seven hours. The way punishment at the JRC works, they have a list of "behaviors" targeted for each person. Whenever the person does something on the list, they get a shock. Andre's list apparently included such things as screaming and tensing up his entire body, which he did throughout his seven-hour ordeal.

I have to say now that I really, really identify with Andre, even more than I normally identify with the victim in such cases of abuse of disabled children or dependent adults. Andre and I share several things: we're the same age, both born in the year 1984 (poor, poor Andre, he has seen the inside of Room 101), both diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder in early childhood. 

Most importantly, we share a pattern of behavior.

The "full-body tense-up."

Obviously, I'm not Andre and I can't tell you what's going through his head when he tenses up his entire body, but I can tell you what it's like when I do it. 

First, some background: though I can speak fluently, I can really only do it when I'm not doing anything else. If I'm intent on something, I won't answer you if you speak to me. I probably won't even acknowledge you until a few minutes later, or until I can tear myself away from whatever it is I'm doing. Especially if I'm doing something mentally taxing, especially something nonverbal and mentally taxing, like math, I may need to wait a few beats to remember how to speak: what the words are, how to put them together in ways that make sense. 

I don't have to be doing hard or creative work for this problem to arise: physical pain and emotional stress are also mentally taxing, and also effectively put words out of my reach for a while. 

As such, my primary response to fear or pain has never been to vocalize. Most of the time it just doesn't occur to me. I react with my body instead, stiffening my posture, recoiling back and tensing every muscle simultaneously. (Sometimes when I'm in pain I also make a hissing noise, but not always). This is what I do whenever anyone touches me. I have reacted that way to touch since I was a baby: my mom says I used to stiffen up in her arms when she tried to hold me. 

It is, you might imagine, a completely involuntary reflex.

So, when I got to this part of the article (TRIGGER WARNING) ---
Usually after Andre got a shock and was restrained, he'd calm down, but on this day he only got more agitated. The more upset he became, the more he tensed up his body -- and the more he tensed up, the more shocks he received. Between 10 a.m. and about 11 a.m., the workers shocked him fourteen times. Each press of the button delivered a loud, high-pitched alarm -- informing employees the shock had been delivered -- while Andre's cries echoed down the hall.
"No, don't do that!"
"I'm sorry. Sorry. Sorry." 
"I won't do it again."
"No, please."
"Stop! Stop! For real!"
"Help me! Help! Help!"
Employees came and went throughout the morning and into the afternoon. They attached two more electrodes, so Andre had five total: on both arms, both legs, and his torso. Following the usual protocol, they tested the batteries on his shock device; rotated his electrodes so they wouldn't leave marks on his skin; offered him water. They studied his "behavior recording sheet" to figure out exactly what behaviors they were supposed to punish. And they documented each shock with the reason it was given: "Scream" or "Tense Up." 
Hour after hour went by and nobody knelt down next to Andre to try to calm him. Attention was considered a reward -- and a student who's exhibiting "targeted behaviors" is not supposed to receive any. When the staffers did speak to Andre, they were required to follow a script, like a case manager did at 1:25 p.m., when she pressed the button for shock eighteen, then said: "Andre, no full-body tense-ups." If any of the workers thought these shocks were excessive, they kept it to themselves. They all knew that if they didn't shock a student when they were supposed to, the phone in the classroom would ring and there would be a monitor on the line ordering them to press the button. 
--- I felt horror, not only at what they were doing to him, but also because they escalated it whenever he physically reacted to the pain. When you realize that, and let it sink all the way in, you see how easily they could have killed him that day. The perverse logic --- tensing up his body (showing fear and pain) is bad, so we will shock him (make him feel fear and pain) whenever he does it until he stops --- reminds you of other no-win scenarios, like the witch trials where they would determine an accused witch's innocence based on whether she sinks or floats in water. If she floats, she's guilty, and her accusers have grounds to kill her; if she sinks, she was innocent, but she's dead anyway.

By now, you're probably asking, "Why is this woman* going on at such lengths about her feelings, and her weird stiffening-up reflex? What does any of this have to do with Andre McCollins?" 

That's a fair question --- I'm not Andre, and I don't have any better idea than you do what he was thinking or feeling on that day. But because of all the things I do happen to have in common with him, I get a strong sense of "there but for the grace of God random chance go I" from his story.

I also believe there's a very strong tendency for non-disabled people to "other" people like Andre McCollins --- they might be horrified at what happened to him, but at the same time they know how impossible kids like him can be. They're aggressive. Violent. They can't be reasoned with. They're a "they," never a "we." People might think they ought to be treated more gently than they are at the JRC, but they have to be put somewhere, controlled somehow, ... don't they?

That's why I have made this post so personal. I'm not Andre, but I share some things with him, and more than anything I think people need to see articles from people who are like Andre in various ways saying, unambiguously, "THIS IS NOT OKAY. IT WOULD NOT BE OKAY IF YOU DID IT TO ME, AND IT IS NOT OKAY THAT YOU HAVE DONE IT TO HIM." If I come across anything Andre himself has written, I will link to it.

*Bitch, to the uncharitable. Cunt, to the vulgar. Perhaps "mewling quim," if you are Loki.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Republicans vs. the EPA - Part II

In this installment of the "Republicans vs. the EPA" series I'm going to focus on one particular legislative attempt to abolish the EPA.

In the spring of 2011, Republican legislators in both houses introduced two versions of a bill that would abolish both the EPA and the Department of Energy, and replace them with a combined Department of Energy and Environment.

This was promoted as a cost-saving measure, but it seems to me that it would also mean the environmental-protection aspect of the combined agency's mission would necessarily be compromised by no longer being the sole guiding purpose of its own agency, but instead one of many different, sometimes competing objectives.

For instance, the proposed DOEE would be responsible, not just for drafting and enforcing regulations to protect the environment and human health, but also for making sure the country's power plants (particularly the nuclear ones) are safe from terrorist attacks, and for research into better ways to generate electricity.

It seems to me very likely that, in the tug-of-war for funding, the counterterrorism and R&D functions would win a greater share of the agency's budget than the boring, stick-in-the-mud regulatory function. I also find it easy to imagine intra-agency pressure building on the regulatory side not to regulate natural-resource extraction too heavily --- especially in areas where the expected energy yield is high, like the use of hydraulic fracturing to get at buried reservoirs of natural gas.

(You don't have to take my word for it that combining these agencies would produce a conflict of interest, either --- here's a short article that former DOE employee Joe Romm wrote for Think Progress explaining why he thinks that would be the likely outcome of such a merger.)

Anyway, that's enough background information. On to the lists!

Here are the seventeen Republican senators who co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill:
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)*
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) - wrote and introduced the bill
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)**
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)

And here are the eleven House members who co-sponsored the House version of the bill almost a year later:
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) - introduced and sponsored bill
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ)
Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)
Rep. Sue Wilkins Myrick (R-NC)
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX)
Rep. David P. (Phil) Roe (R-TN)

The Senate bill seems to have died in committee on the same day it was introduced. The House bill, though it bounced around lots of different committees, also seems to have been tabled. Neither one ever came up for a vote.

*I'm really tempted, doing those party-and-state abbreviations, to borrow Melissa McEwan's convention of writing things like "R-Epulsive", "R-Idiculous," "R-etrograde," "R-Eally??", etc. But I figured I'd best stick with writing their actual state, in the interest of providing more information.

**Aren't Wyoming and Utah lucky? Both of those states' entire Senate delegations co-sponsored this bill!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Republicans vs. the EPA - Part I

I read a post on a blog called Brute Reason listing the worst parts of the Texas Republican Party's platform, and the first thing on the list was a call to repeal the Endangered Species Act and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This was not the first time I'd seen the EPA targeted in Republican rhetoric; actually, I seem to read something about how the EPA is too powerful*, too radical**, and ought either to have its influence greatly diminished or be dissolved outright coming from a prominent Republican on a regular basis!

I started to leave a comment to that effect on the other blogger's post, and decided to perform an exercise in just how mainstream this virulent anti-environmentalism is in the Republican Party.

Since Miriam's post was about a state party platform, I think I will start there as well.

Here's a list of all the states whose Republican party platforms include calls for the abolition of the EPA: 
Iowa (PDF - relevant quotes on page 5):
9.1 We support the pre-eminence of personal property rights and the freedom for individual property owners to manage their property above the protection of wildlife. We support maintaining an environmental policy that protects the rights of humans before animals, insects, and other creatures.
9.3 We call for closing government branches, offices, and agencies that strip us of economic prosperity in the name of saving the environment. We should eliminate policies and rules related to this.
We support eliminating the ... Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other bureaucracies that have consistently demonstrated wasteful spending and operational inefficiencies. We believe these functions, where needed, should be relegated to the States as defined by the Tenth Amendment.
Oklahoma (PDF - relevant quote on page 34):
...6. Abolishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, ... and distribution of [its] powers and responsibilities to state authority.
Texas (PDF - relevant quote at top of page 4):
Protection from Extreme Environmentalists - We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard as either a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.
Wyoming (PDF - relevant quote on page 48):
Be It Further Resolved that the Wyoming Republican Party calls for elimination of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
... and here are all the states whose branches of the Republican Party have language in their platforms that, while not calling for the outright elimination of the EPA, seeks to restrict its  
California (PDF - relevant quotes on pages 1 and 4):
Government should create a favorable policy environment supportive of California's farmers and ranchers ... . California's approach, rather, has been one beset by over-regulation, environmental extremism, and restricted access to water, the agricultural sector's lifeblood.
We believe that we can have both a healthy economy and a healthy environment, and believe in environmental policies supported by sound science, innovation, new technologies and incentives rather than regulation, taxation and litigation. Environmental regulations must be balanced and tempered by the effect that they will have on workers and on the economy. We believe that the Kyoto Treaty is fundamentally flawed because ignores the fact that the largest source of greenhouse gas in the world is China, which is exempt from the requirements of Kyoto.
We believe that entrepreneurs, using technology, innovation and incentives, are more likely to solve environmental problems than bureaucrats. 
Idaho (PDF - relevant quotes pp. 6-7):
Sec. 1 We believe that it is ultimately the individual's responsibility to act as stewards of their environment. The quality of our natural environment should be protected, and enhanced, while allowing reasonable, orderly growth with emphasis on multiple uses, local control, and minimal government regulation. 
Sec. 2 We believe the administration of federal environmental policy must be modified. These policies must give equal consideration to potential human suffering caused by restriction or elimination of basic human needs such as jobs, energy and overall quality of life. We support federal and state measures to re-establish the primacy of state government for implementation of environmental policy. 
Sec. 3 We discourage international regulations on industry which attempt to halt the production of certain industrial byproducts. Instead, we encourage citizens to adopt buying habits that promote a clean earth.
Promote energy independence aggressively by removing the obstacles created by government to allow private development of our resources; natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power.
Missouri (PDF - relevant quotes pp. 4-5):
At a time when the state and federal economy is faltering, some in Washington have proposed extreme, job-killing measures to regulate carbon dioxide. While it is important to balance economic growth and the environment, these regulations, which would raise prices on every single person in the country, are a step too far.  
Therefore, the Missouri Republican Party SUPPORTS:
  • Efforts to prevent any state or federal cap & trade scheme from taking effect.
  • Efforts to prevent EPA from unilaterally regulating carbon dioxide.
  • Environmental regulation premised upon sound free market principles and elimination of environmental regulation that imposes excessive financial burdens for tenuous incremental benefit.
North Carolina (PDF - relevant quote bottom of page 6):
If regulation is needed to protect the environment, government should only proceed with evidence that the benefits warrant the cost. Humans are a critical component of the ecosystem. Regulations must ensure a balance between humans and the environment.
North Dakota (PDF, relevant quotes pp. 5-7, p.10, pp. 13-15):
RESOLUTION NUMBER 11: ENERGY INDUSTRY... BE IT RESOLVED: The North Dakota Republican Party supports a balanced approach to the environmental and economic issues which will provide resolution to emissions of all sources of green house gases; and  
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: The North Dakota Republican Party opposes efforts like the Kyoto Protocol and legislative proposals such as McCain-Lieberman, Lieberman-Warner, Boxer-Sanders, Kerry-Snowe, Bingaman-Specter, and Feinstein-Carper that impose a cap and trade program that will adversely affect North Dakota's economy without balance to the environmental issues....RESOLUTION NUMBER 13: NATIONAL ENERGY SUPPLY STABILITYWHEREAS: The environmental impact of oil drilling and refineries can be reasonably controlled by modern technology; and  
WHEREAS: The United States needs increased supply of crude oil from North American sources....THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: The North Dakota Republican Party supports private industry building or expanding more oil refineries in North Dakota and in the nation to lower the cost of gas and reduce our dependence on foreign oil; and  
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: The process for obtaining the permits or expand to build refineries should be changed in a manner that would speed the process; and 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: The North Dakota Republican Party supports the drilling for oil off America's coasts and other places where it is now restricted....
RESOLUTION NUMBER 24: PROPERTY OWNERS' RIGHTS'WHEREAS: At the national level, some administrative rules and regulations promulgated to implement legislation, such as, but not limited to, "Swampbuster," the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act have usurped the rights of citizens to the beneficial use of private property without just compensation; and 
WHEREAS: As state agencies promulgate rules and regulations to implement state laws, they regularly affect the use of privately-held resources without due consideration of the economic impacts the rules and regulations impose on the owners of those resources; and 
WHEREAS: As governmental agencies (and the regulations they foster) have grown, private property rights have been diminished, and the operating costs of businesses forced to comply with such increased regulation have increased dramatically; and 
WHEREAS: The quality of life for all North Dakotans hinges on the state's businesses being allowed to compete without unnecessary and undue regulations; 
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That the North Dakota Republican Party supports any legislation that prevents the taking of rights to the beneficial use of property by its owner without just and actual compensation....RESOLUTION NUMBER 32: OPPOSING DISCRETIONARY REGULATION OF CARBON DIOXIDE BY THE U.S. EPA... BE IT RESOLVED: That the North Dakota Republican Party opposes the delegated discretionary regulation of carbon dioxide by the U.S. EPA or any other agency, and supports that any restrictions on carbon dioxide should be directed only by the elected members of Congress....RESOLUTION NUMBER 35: OPPOSING THE EXPANSION OF FEDERAL CONTROL OVER WATERWHEREAS: The federalized control of "all" waters in the United States means centralized control of the most critical requirement for the sustenance of all life, including human life; 
WHEREAS: The federalized control of "all" water defines a jurisdiction so comprehensive as to constitute control of even ephemeral waters; 
WHEREAS: The management of land and non-navigable waters is fully integrated and cannot be separated, so that federalized control of "all" waters virtually constitutes total control of all agriculture, and all management or development of private land; 
WHEREAS: Therefore, federalized control of "all" waters constitutes nothing other than total federal control and jurisdiction over the water we drink, the production of the food we eat, the measures we undertake to protect or enhance our properties, and provides a tool so powerful as to create a risk of tyranny in its full application;...THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: The North Dakota Republican Party opposes any federal agency rules ... that may be proposed to broaden the authority to regulate water, and urges their immediate repeal ...
South Carolina (PDF, relevant quote on page 25):
1. Environmental risks/concerns must be faced accurately, neither exaggerated nor underestimated; environmental remediation must incorporate the concepts of cost/benefit, risk analysis, and public/private cooperation. 
2. Environmental progress is integrally related to economic development as economic growth generates the capital to pay for environmental gains and as environmental preservation creates an atmosphere conducive to a high quality of life and economic development. 
3. The right to own, use, and dispose of private property is a fundamental political tenet of all free nations. Property rights are not to be violated by the misuse or overuse of government regulation and should dictate due compensation when a taking occurs. 
4. The United States, in the exercise of her sovereignty, should not "ratify any treaty that moves environmental decisions beyond our democratic process and transfers beyond our shores authority over U.S. property" (1992 Republican National Platform).
Vermont Republicans believe we must value Vermont's economic environment with the same respect we value our natural environment. 
We believe we can solve our environmental problems more quickly and cost-effectively with innovation and new technology than with more litigation and more government regulation. 
We believe entrepreneurs are more likely to solve America's environmental problems than bureaucrats. 
We support measures to encourage businesses to voluntarily cut pollution.
(A note about the wording on some of these, particularly about striving for "balance" between the environment and the economy, or, more specifically, between a given regulation's benefit to the environment and the cost to industry of compliance with it: the EPA already factors such cost/benefit analyses into its recommendations, so what these stipulations are actually asking is that greater weight be given to the economic-impact side of the cost/benefit equation.)

I was going to have this all be one post, listing not only all the state Republican Party platforms with anti-EPA (or generically anti-environmental regulation) language but also every currently-serving US Senator, Representative, or state governor who has made anti-EPA pronouncements, or acted to abolish, defund, restrict the EPA or block its actions, but the list got so long, and it was taking so long to ferret them all out, that I decided to break it up in the interest of being able to post something this month. (Hyperbole, I hope).

As to this part of the list, I'm not sure whether I'm more relieved to see that my current state of residence is not on the list than I am mortified to see the state I was born in, and still consider my home state, right there at the top. I had thought better of Iowa.

*It's not

**Oh, how I wish