Moderate Moment | Moderate Moms

What Happened?

How has a generation of angry, predominantly male teenage outcasts been able to skew a Country’s moral compass to get stuck on inertia? How have so many deeply troubled individuals been able to define an entire generation as one bent on revenge? Why did Americans respond to efforts to curb school shootings, like the one at Sandy Hook, by buying more guns? How has support for gun reform dropped by 5 percent as mass shootings have increased?

Remember when the big story in the news was schools listing ketchup as a vegetable? That was 1981. Fast track to today and we have an entirely different situation on our hands.

President Biden has the power to do something really significant. He can put aside concerns that Covid – 19 and inflation are already risk factors for Democrats in the mid-term elections. He can do something so overdue, it pulls the entire Country together, and stops the pattern of a broken two-party system volleying back and forth on the most pressing issues to heal and unite real people across the Country.

Biden should temporarily suspend the sale of the military level weapons that are being used in one nonsensical act of violence after the other. He should also issue an Executive Order to reinstate background checks on all gun sales and transfers. We also need to know who has what. You have to register your car, right?

In some cases, the sale of puppies and kittens and decongestants are more regulated than the sale of guns. How about the fact you have to be 26 to rent a car?

Drastic measures were put in place after 9/11. Americans didn’t mind taking their shoes off, standing in longer lines with stepped up security because we wanted to keep eachother safe. But Americans can’t agree now that we need to know when military style weapons, once reserved for use by the actual military and law enforcement, exhange hands?

The NRA was a skills based organization that brought fathers and sons and communities closer together with their gun recreation events and scholarship programs. What happened? How did the organization morph into one that fights laws that allow law enforcement to share gun data between states? In the 1930’s, The NRA was as concerned as the Feds about bootleggers using the Thompson or “Tommy” gun because the guns’ spray of bullets. They were so concerned, they advocated for gun registration. The organization’s input helped craft The Gun Control Act of 1938. So, what happened?

According to pop culture, the gun and guy you had to be afraid of in the 30’s was a mobster carrying a Tommy gun. Then it was a corner drug dealer with a 9 mm. Now, it is a nerd who can make his own gun on a model maker? What is going on?

If the people who are supposed to protect innocent civilians are so outgunned that they stand down and risk children being slaughtered in their classrooms, the gun is a problem.

It certainly isn’t the only problem.

Social media companies need to monitor content. User agreements need to let users know they will be held liable in the event words exchanged on their sites lead to crimes. Words that should have been flagged.

Revenge as a defining element of a generation’s outlook on their schools, workplaces and communities has to be addressed. Time to replace role models in pop culture bent on revenge with ones who model values we can be proud of.

Happy Holidays?

Whether you follow the weather, it seems inevitable that weather will find you, in a form and at a time you can least expect. The change of Seasons used to be reasonably predictable. Now, it is anything but. And it isn’t just the weather that is stirred up and unpredictable, is it?

The American psyche seems just as vulnerable.

Maybe it isn’t just the National Guard that is tired these days. Can we blame them? First, they were evacuating Americans in Afghanistan and then they were called to nursing homes to give baths to the elderly as part of an effort to relieve burned out Health care workers. No doubt, they’re worn out.

But so is the average American, it seems.

Here we are, in the midst of this third wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, asking ourselves what role climate change, if any, plays in all of this. Why is the latest version of Coronavirus, the Omnicron variant, which is reportedly as contagious as measles, spreading as fast as it is? Are we somehow more vulnerable than we might have been any other Winter when a cold or flu knocked on our door? We seem to be. Except the CDC tells us this is no cold or flu. And given that people who aren’t vaccinated are, in some cases, winding up in the hospital, most of us will get the vaccine. If only it were that easy.

We will get it and we will give a billion doses away to countries that can’t afford it. And the United States will be pounded for not doing enough.

Yes, there are podcasts, there are Scientific journals and virologists to quote. But if you don’t have time to catch the latest update or recognize that even the authorities get it wrong sometimes, you may be left to your own devices. The recommendations this Christmas were that it would be safe to gather without masks indoors, if everyone was vaccinated. We did. And, it wasn’t.

Maybe you are fed up with having to decipher acronyms, like WTO, WHO and mRNA versus regular old RNA and DNA.

I spent my holidays ordering N95 masks and extra tests. All this while trying to parse the difference between quarantining and isolating as the recommendations changed from a 10 day quarantine after exposure to 5, seemingly overnight. That was two weeks ago. Just this morning, after hearing we had had it in this house, a visitor asked if we might wait to have visitors until 14 days after the last sick person left.

Americans are used to seeing caravans on the news. Migrants trying to get into the United States on our Southern border, sub-Saharan refugees fleeing War and famine. They’re not used to a caravan of cars, occupied by families, travelers and even a Senator and former Governor, getting stuck for 24 hours, on one of the most trafficked stretches of Interstate in the Country in a major blizzard. One that has certainly seen its’ share of Winter snow before. The reason? Disabled trucks.

Surley, there is more going on here.

A fire that started as the year was winding down in Colorado has sent fire experts there back to the drawing board. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hurricane strength winds carried embers further and faster than investigators knew they could. In Colorado; in December.

This after a record setting tornado left a multi-state scar where homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and places of worship once stood. It was the biggest and widest footprint for a tornado in the United States.

If you dont think fire investigators are a little worn out in CO after that devestating run of wildfires through the Rockies the Summer before last, think again. Let’s not forget the mudslides that closed part of another major interstate, Highway 70 in Glenwood Springs.

Again, people want answers to what role climate plays? These weather emergencies belie an underlying urgency that is going unaddressed.

Covid and Mental Health

I am one of the many Americans whose response to Covid has been to pack up my house and head for the hills. Fresh, mountain air, is the cure, I tell myself. And in the divine way that the Universe does sometimes give you just what you need, an opportunity materializes. A short term rental in a place I can drive to, with soaring mountains and places to escape in a State, where a friend says it is easy to isolate because everyone is so spread out anyway. Isolation is normal here, she reassures me.
As I am getting ready to depart, I realize it is also a State with a growing number of Covid cases.
Will that stop me? No.
I will mask up, put on gloves and wear a face shield. I carry wipes.
The first hurdle isn’t medical or mental. It is learning how to drive at night in a place that has an official dark sky designation. A place where, even as I navigate my passage through Santa Fe – a place that has streetlights – and wind thru the downtown area until I find the mountain road to Taos, it hits me that I cannot see two cars in front of me. No one else seems to have a problem with this. So, I pause, book a hotel and decide to finish the final stretch of my journey by daylight. I make a mental note to put driving at night in N.M. on my list of goals. Dark sky designations are admirable. It puts the World to bed when it is supposed to wind down, reduces what is artificial or disruptive and brings the stars and other nocturnal wonders to life. I’ll figure it out. It is worth it, right?
I realize I need to get a Covid test.
I listen to the local solar powered radio station (how cool is that) initially for the great mountain music but realize in short order, this is my lifeline for local updates on the virus. I hear free tests will be given out the following Weds. I search the website and even call the station. Can I get tested in a state where I am just visiting? Do I need to be a resident or at least, work here?
I am willing to drive. I call hospitals, pharmacies and Google drive-thru Covid testing.
The first person I talked to shares that she lost her Uncle to the virus. And she is hoping she still has a job once everyone is vaccinated.
I came here to ski.
The second person I call for an appointment thanks me for being willing to get tested and isolating before heading out to ski. He wishes more Covid escapees would do the same. I’ve taken some risks. Ate out in a big City over the Christmas holidays. We were outside, but still. I have flown twice since last March, had several overnights in hotels along the way, and grocery shopped.
Most of the hotel rooms I stayed in were sealed with labels that look like a band aid stretched over the door frame and door itself. Covid Clean! The only hotel stay that gave me pause was one in a room that thankfully had two full sized beds. Thank God there were two because when I pulled the covers off the first one, the sheets looked slept in! Maybe they came out of the dryer too soon and were wrinkled? They smelled fresh but I wasn’t going to chance it. I slept in the second. And its sheets were taut and free of wrinkles.
Otherwise, the rooms reflected what is the new high bar for what clean means. Hospital level sanitation. A clean with light or sheen that literally sparkles. It isn’t something that smells like antiseptic, it’s something for all five senses. From the band-aid like adhesive used to seal the door and provide a visual cue upon arrival to the hand sanitizer dispenser inside the elevators, it’s a clean new World out there.
Personally, the chance to ski is the perfect antidote for Covid-Anxiety. To be in the fresh, mountain air, in a sport where being six feet apart isn’t a new normal but has been the normal forever, is magical.
I wear my mask when cross-country skiing and wonder why? I am alone on the trail. I wear it because the Governor is asking us to. The good news is most skiers usually have face coverings on anyway. It is cold out there!

It Isn’t Just a Word

By Christine Doyle

Covid-19.

Sounds like the name of a deep state cell block in some remote, secret place.

Co-vid.

A cold that can kill? That can’t be right. How unfair. And the flu often does. So, what is this thing?

19? 19 what? Cases, maybe. Right. On what day? Day 3?

The letters C and O can mean so many things.

Co-. As in co-dependency.

& Co. As in a partnership. You know, like Tiffany & Co.

It can also mean C-O. As in rising levels in the air.

What a name.

I don’t think we will ever again hear a word or thought uttered, no matter how far off in the distant future, that starts with the sound “coh,” without experiencing a very specific kind of trepidation.

_____________

I put my hands in the dirt. I sweat and I toil. I will grow my own food at home. That is how I will keep myself and my family safe. I plant squash, peas and peppers.

I get basil. Lots of basil.

I have more success with tomatoes. Sweet, organic gems that improbably grow in groups of three. Isn’t this divine? One mother. Two children. There is synergy here. I can feel it.

I love watching the tiny green buds start out like little marbles on the vine. Even better, once ripe, I can say, “They’re safe to eat. Go ahead. Try one.” I bought the seedling at a local nursery. Is that cheating?

I don’t eat much takeout or prepared food these days. Ditto for restaurant meals.

I can probably count the number of restaurant meals I have had since March on two hands, except for the two week period this Fall when the heart shaped steamed milk on a cafe ai lait at the local coffee shop calls out to me in the most soothing way. I take comfort there, at a sidewalk table, as I listen to what sounds like a mentor counseling a mentee, six and twelve feet behind me, respectively. Still, I space out my visits to minimize the risk.

One sister is leaving 50 percent tips when she dines out these days.

_______________

My personal contribution to Covid relief seems to be working hard at not going crazy. “Be an example,” I say out loud, only slightly alarmed that I am talking to myself.

________________

For some reason, my initial reaction to this virus is like a flashback to 9-11. I am shocked. And then scared. Very, very scared.

I have a sense of foreboding not unlike what Californians experience after a small earthquake, when glassware rattles ever

so slightly on a kitchen shelf or your desk jumps a beat then suddenly stops, a quick blink in acknowledgement and then, wham! You realize it isn’t over. Except the shock that the Covid crisis isn’t over yet is unfolding over and over. And over.

Over?

Not yet.

Just like I did on that awful September morning that brought down the Twin Towers in New York, I know I will know people who die. And apparently, I do. My sister told me last week, one of her classmates, a beautiful immigrant from Haiti who went on to be an Opera singer and who sang at a close friend’s wedding, lost her sweet brother, Donald, to this incomprehensible disease. A disease that once you get past all the medical data and definitions, like ‘viral load’ and ‘pulmonary function’, is beginning to feel more like a crime enacted on humanity than “a virus that affects most people in mild ways.”

Donald was so kind. Always smiling. So, so sweet.

Didn’t he perform with his sister at a good friend’s wedding? Wasn’t that him up there in the balcony standing beside Michele, who sang at the Met or tried out for a program there, at the very least. Yes, that was him, wasn’t it? The two of them side by side at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Nyack, New York?

“Amazing Grace. How sweet the sounds that saved a wretch like me.”

I pause as the words are imbued with new meaning.

“Amazing grace

How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost

But now I’m found

Was blind, but now I see.”

Source: LyricFind

Written by Judy Collins

Amazing Grace? It was a wedding. Isn’t that a funeral song? Ah, Covid brain. Was Donald even there that day?

________________

I must have Covid. After all, I did have a 100.5 fever one single afternoon in early August. And in the high 90’s for a few days before that.

If I don’t have Covid, why am I living like I do?

It may be time to put that on a post-it note on my bathroom mirror. “Good Morning, Self. You are safe. Be grateful. Stop being crazy.”

Instead, I am obsessed with locking my doors.

Markets move on fear. There is a 500 point drop in the Nasdaq today. Of course, this particular Coronavirus, Covid 19, is a disease of the lungs. But isn’t it also a disease of the mind, given the fear it inspires?

_______________

“How are you, Mom? I mean, how are you, really?” my daughter asks on one of our loops around West U. “I’m concerned,” she says. Can I blame her?

I don’t know what to believe. And I can’t shake the feeling, the experts don’t know what to believe either. It’s a novel virus. Maybe they’re all just guessing.

“My ——— (Fill in title. Son/Daughter/Mother/Father/Neighbor/Friend) works at ——— Hospital and says there are no patients on the Covid floors.” “Not true,” a friend, who is a nurse at Memorial Hermann, tells me. “We have four hundred here at the moment.”

These conversations happen days apart.

“They tried to impeach him and they couldn’t. So now they’re going to wreck the economy to drive him from office,” a conservative television commentary offers.

“I don’t have to wear a mask. I have an exemption,” a customer inexplicably shouts at a barista.

“I think it is bio-terrorism.”

I think it is bigger than a single person. I won’t say it out loud but I am convinced I really do know. It’s ecotage. You know, those people who used to throw paint on tanks. Maybe they’re starting pandemics, I think to myself, and then wonder why I have trouble falling asleep that night.

What is that, you say? You, Dr. Scientist? The one I wish was running for President. No evidence it was man made? Nothing in its genetic code to prove it was engineered in a secret military lab and let loose in a wet market, where live animals, like pangolins (another new word!) and bats are slaughtered and housed in the same place, blood and bodily fluids comingling and mind you I have never been, but the aforementioned blood and bodily fluids then streaming into the aisle.

No wonder I lose my appetite for chicken.

I post a sign in the door frame between the foyer and my living room. “Shoes off, Please!”

______________

Who we call in those first few weeks is so telling.

There are the calls that are visited upon us, the offers of support we give and my personal favorites: the gut check calls to people in our regular orbit because we think they have common sense. Why do we think a relative or neighbor who was spot on about last month’s hurricane might know if it is safe to travel yet?

Aren’t we all just trying to get our arms around this thing?

“Maybe it’s a move by environmental activists to fast track to a green economy and hurt the very industries being blamed for climate change,” I hear myself positing in yet another one of these early Pandemic conversations.

Or maybe it isn’t caused by something or someone, but causal. The result of dollars, designed to protect us from pandemics, now missing. It is enough to make anyone sick, isn’t it?

I buy an Instapot and learn to cook and like beans in case there is a run on meat. I freeze extra bottles of water. I stock up on toilet paper and pay $27 dollars for a pack that might have cost $18 dollars pre-Covid.

I ask my kids if they want me to teach them to cook, convinced as I am that certain kinds of food are the key to an individual’s personal Covid shield. “It’s okay, Mom,” my daughter asks, “we have the internet.”

For the first time in my life, I have a morning ritual. Routine is just too normal a word for the way I am behaving. For a little while, anyway, it involves a juicer and mashed oranges and grapefruits. One grapefruit to every four oranges. My son wonders where the Vitamin C is, as in vitamins from a bottle, the ones I get at Costco. “There is a run on them,” I respond.

“What are you up to today,” a close friend wants to know. “Oh, probably just decluttering.” She laughs. “You don’t have any clutter.” Not anymore. I also am scanning the kids artwork and school photos, in files by name, grade, activity and calendar year.

Who is this Covid creature? I don’t recognize her.

I tell myself I am being a good daughter by checking in with my Mom each day by phone. At some point it occurs by to me that the well-check is two way and that, at 89, it might not be fair to expect her to FaceTime.

What I don’t do is write. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I delete a piece I start a few weeks into the crisis about my early Covid response, which can only be called an absurd regression towards overparenting. A regression back to a time when I bake chicken after dipping it in orange juice and honey, dredge it in Rice Krispies, and add a pat of butter on top.

A time when I try to pass breakfast off as dinner because it is a cute thing to do. Here I am. March 2020. I am serving homemade pop-tarts for dinner to two now-adult people.

I decide I cannot write about something as confusing as a novel virus, a virus impacting, not just my day or at the most, several days, like all the other flus or colds I ever had, but one having an unprecedented impact on the entire World.

Instead I go into a metaphysical phone booth and hope to emerge a Super Survivor.

I walk six miles at a stretch to build up my lung capacity, I stop hugging and learn to bow or elbow bump, instead. I bring my own folding chair with my own can of Lysol to a socially distant virtual wine tasting, where four of us sit six feet apart and have a laptop set up to listen to a Sommelier give a webinar from the safest place of all, Cyberspace. Each of us brings our own four bottles. Um, that’s a lot of wine. We never really get to the wine, though. We are too busy talking about whether Melissa’s stepbrother’s wedding will go off as planned, what Caroline is going to do now that her semester abroad just got cancelled and my own daughter’s post-graduation career shuffle because of a hiring freeze.

With uneven results, I attempt to: pray more, get off social media, develop a home based yoga practice (week 41), complain less (maybe next week?), take up acrylics and make new curtains. Said curtains are now held together by safety pins, which I try to hide by twisting the fabric just so, like I’m rotating my leg in a yoga extension, and for part of the day at least, you can’t see them. I am still working on making a really good homemade pie crust. And oh, I did just learn how to say, “hi” in Norwegian.

Turns out it isn’t, “halloooooo,” pronounced like balloooooon without the “n.” It’s, “Hei!”

Hey, Karen, I think. Get a grip. People go to work. The person behind the coffee you are sipping is at an even greater risk. I notice early in the crisis two groups of workers that never stop or go indoors – construction and lawn care. In mid-October, I get up the nerve to fly again. I look like a Star Wars Droid. Shields on top of masks and gloves half way up the elbow. The flight attendant asks if people think the cabin is stuffy. “Open up the air vent,” she suggests. “The air system is disinfected.” Like kids in a classroom, a not-full plane of passengers’ bring their raised hands down and one-by-one, turn on the overhead vents.

We can breathe again.

Operation Texas Shield

Sign this petition to prevent human trafficking.

In their own words: How Texas pimps recruit and sell girls for sex

Article reposted with permission from The Texas Tribune

BY EDGAR WALTERS, NEENA SATIJA AND MORGAN SMITH

How the crusade against sex trafficking in Texas has left child victims behind.

When it comes to punishing the sex traffickers who exploit Texas kids, state leaders are unforgiving: Their crimes are “vile,” “heinous,” “despicable,” “unconscionable.”

Texas Tribune reporters talked to three convicted traffickers to try to understand the power they wield over victims and the attraction of what they call “the lifestyle.” They explained how vulnerable kids end up in the sex trade and how the business works. The interviews also revealed a common thread between pimps and their victims: the poverty and violence in their backgrounds.

Jasmine Johnson, 26, is serving a 25-year sentence for trafficking a minor — a young victim the Tribune is featuring in this series. Johnson still maintains her innocence in that case, though she spoke openly about her experience as a pimp who led a group of eight adult women in Dallas.

Anthony Harris, 30, is serving a five-year prison sentence in Huntsville for a 2014 charge of compelling a minor into prostitution. He pleaded guilty.

K.A., 25, is serving a life sentence for pimping out a 15-year-old runaway in San Antonio and murdering her boyfriend, crimes committed when he was 20. He would only consent to being identified by his initials, and he spoke in general terms about pimping — not about his own experiences.

Here they are in their own words, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you first get into the sex trade?

Johnson: I guess ’cause my daddy wasn’t a part of my life, I acted out. I hated to see my mama struggle. I just started hustling. I knew I always had pimping stuff in me, but I didn’t call it that.

Really, the streets gave me the pimp title because I ain’t never seen it like that. I just thought I was being a player or whatever. But like, when I’d see regular guys on the street, they’d be like, “Oh, you a pimp, I salute you.”

Harris: I didn’t feel like there was a lot of opportunity in Arkansas. So I came out here … for school. School didn’t work out … I caught a drug charge.

I didn’t have the money to go back to school, so I was just working odd jobs. I kind of started getting in the streets in Dallas. I was staying in hotels. Motel 6es, two-and-a-half, three-star hotels. A lot of girls frequent those hotels. So they used to have clients that come to those hotels. But sometimes they get rowdy. They’re drunk, or they’re high.

The girls see me so much in the room that they start to friend me. And they ask me to have their back. Don’t let nobody hurt them while they do what they do. It just kinda started out like that.

How did you recruit girls to sell sex?

K.A.: If you meet a female, she don’t got no family, she don’t got nowhere to stay, but you got a little bit of money, you doing for her, you putting a roof over her head, feeding her … she going to end up trusting you, depending on you.

Y’all have some talks about the future, selling her the dream. It’s like, “Well, what are we going to do? What can we do? If you are really about this union, about this team, you are going to do this, it’s on you.”

You’ve got some females, they run their own, they manage theyselves. But most, they want a daddy to feel secure, to feel like they got somebody watching out for them.

Harris: A lot of people always think that somebody’s making them do it or forcing them to do it. That’s not the case. Most cases, these girls are already doing it. They’re doing it on their own. It’s just, they hate to be by themselves, or they can’t take care of their money.

It’s just like any regular household. A man takes care of the household, so they feel like that’s what they need the man there for. You feel like family. When you’re looking out for somebody like that, it don’t feel like a business. It feels like family. I got your back, you got mine.

Johnson: If it’s a new girl trying to get on my team, I have sex with them first because I know I can get in they head. Once I make love to them, or what they think is love, know what I’m saying, I really don’t have no feelings behind it. I just be thinking about money. That’s my main thing is money, so I be like, I have sex with them.

It was like I mind-fucked ’em. I was in they head.

And then after that, they just start giving me whatever I need. They give me all they money. They cater to me, they spoiled me. All of them did this for me. And even though I know it was kind of wrong for putting them through that because they ain’t have to do it — but they chose to. I didn’t make them. I didn’t force them. It just ended up happening like that.

What draws people to pimping?

Johnson: I was in love with the money we was making. The money was good. ‘Cause I ended up getting a car, and then I upgraded to a house. I was like, “OK. I ain’t never had no house.”

And I don’t like men, so I was gonna get artificial insemination. That’s what I was saving my money for. I always wanted a child myself.

K.A.: It’s like free money. You don’t gotta re-up. If you sell drugs, you gotta pay for the drugs at a wholesale and then go back and stack yo’ money. If you selling sex, that’s something that you don’t gotta re-up on.

Do women who work in the sex trade face violence?

Johnson: I didn’t beat my girls. I might fight them sometimes, like slap them or something, but I didn’t beat them where I just beat them for no reason or something. It wasn’t like that. We’d just fight. It wasn’t all harsh. I didn’t do them bad or nothing like that. I spoiled them like they spoiled me. They got what they wanted; I got what I wanted. They got they hair done and all of that stuff, buy them wigs and stuff like that, dance clothes, stuff they need to make their money.

K.A.: You got some, they call them gorilla pimps, who if she stops after she’s already begun, they feel like, well she said she game. They rough her up a little bit, so she’s going to get back on the program.

You have some crazy folks out there. You got a lot of males, they gonna rape someone, they ain’t gonna pay. There’s a lot of prostitutes who ended up dead doing what they were doing. It’s dangerous. It’d be treacherous out there.

Harris: The girl would text me and say, “His time is up, but he don’t want to stop.” I’d knock on the door. I stopped a lot of people from getting raped, hurt, beat up, just by my presence alone. I don’t have to go in there and be no big macho guy. Just being around. If somebody know you’ve got somebody with you, the chances of you getting hurt are minimum to none. Especially if you’re doing something dangerous.

Who were your clients?

K.A.: Just regular people, just average people. Truck drivers, they lonely, they got money, they be driving around places, they ain’t got no wife with them.

Johnson: Every Friday, they get a check. They work on a construction site or something like that. And they get drunk every Friday. So I was like, “Y’all gonna go over there, have sex with them, and if they drop they pants, get the whole wallet, you know what I’m saying.”

Harris: Most of them be businessmen with wives, you know, families. They don’t be wanting any trouble.

How did you turn a profit?

Harris: When you first start, you’re making, getting, $100 a half-hour, or $150 a whole hour, or $200. I set up a plan for them. “How much money you can make? How much are you going to need to take care of you?”

You got a thing that’s called [online] reviews. It all goes about how they dress, if they smell, if they look like they was a druggie, were they the girls in the pictures, did they get all the time they were supposed to get. What kind of fetishes they did. All of this goes into play with the rates. If you treat them fair, you know, they give you a good review. If they give you a good review, the more reviews you get, the more expensive your rates go.

For an hour, you’re getting $400, $500. That’s if you follow the plan.

Johnson: They would come and tell me, “Hey, this dude want to have sex. He talking about it’s gonna be $500 or something like that.” And if it’s a low amount, I’d be like, “No, he ain’t trying to spend no bread. No.” But $500 and up, I’d be like, “Yeah.” Or $300, yeah, that’s the lowest I’d go.

K.A.: Some might say $500, some might say $300. High-dollar female, you might send her to the Marriott with a politician or somebody who got some money like that, he may pay her $400.

It’s good money. If you pimping her, all that’s yours. I’m not going to say it’s all for you; it’s yours, but you keep a house over her, I mean you feed her, you provide for her.

What would you say to other people who are still in the “lifestyle?”

Johnson: It’s a lot of people trying to do this pimping thing, but it’s gonna get you caught up. If you can’t call no lawyer down there, you gonna end up in prison or end up dead.

I would say chill out on that pimping stuff because it ain’t what’s up no more. Everything’s getting played out. Everything’s old. The law’s really hot on it.

Harris: I know anything illegal always comes to an end. So if you have to do it, I felt like, you know, you should have a goal to do it. If I hustle this long, I can put this money into going to college, or I can put this money to a trade, or I can get me a house.

K.A.: We all playing a losing game, you know, and sooner or later everything is going to come out. You can do everything right, be smart, watch A through Z, but it’s always, somewhere down the line, something you gonna miss, somewhere you gonna slip.

Editor’s note: 

One of the reporters on this story, Neena Satija, also works for Reveal, a public radio show and podcast from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Ryan Murphy was the lead developer on this story; Emily Albracht was the lead designer.

How hollow rhetoric and a broken child welfare system feed Texas’ sex-trafficking underworld

Article reposted with permission from The Texas Tribune

BY MORGAN SMITH, NEENA SATIJA AND EDGAR WALTERS

When Mia was 16, she walked out of a Houston children’s emergency shelter. She had to go, she told the staff. Her pimp was waiting.

It was 2013, the day before Thanksgiving. She was almost 200 miles from Corpus Christi, where she grew up.

Mia had been raised by her grandparents and, after they died, by her drug-addicted mother. When her mother went to prison, other relatives took her in.

By the time she was 10, behavioral problems landed Mia in a psychiatric hospital. That’s where a state-appointed lawyer told her, as gently as she could, that the aunt and uncle Mia had been living with no longer wanted her.

She entered Texas’ long-term foster care system. For the next six years, she cycled through 19 different homes and institutions. She was brutally punished in some of those places — thrown to the ground and restrained, made to stand on milk crates for hours — and sexually assaulted. She attended nine different schools. She wound up in the emergency room twice for suicidal thoughts.

After Mia ran from one foster care facility, police found her in a park; she told them she had been having sex for money. She ran away again, and authorities sent her to the Houston emergency shelter. That’s where, 15 minutes later, she ran for the final time, back into the arms of her pimp.

Like too many kids in the state’s care, she disappeared into the underworld of sex trafficking.

Mia was still missing a year later, in 2014, when a massive class-action lawsuit against the state’s long-term foster care system went to trial. Lawyers had named Mia the lead plaintiff on behalf of all 12,000 children in the system. Federal District Judge Janis Jack would later rule the state had mistreated those children so severely that it violated their civil rights.

Buried in Jack’s 2015 decision — and largely missed in subsequent discussions about foster care in Texas — was the fact that Mia was a victim of a crime that top Texas leaders have been publicly battling for more than a decade.

Sex trafficking is “one of the most heinous crimes facing our society,” Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters at a January news conference, flanked by posters with pictures of kids hat read “I AM NOT FOR SALE.” Gov. Greg Abbott made the fight against sex trafficking — which he calls “modern day slavery” —one of the 10 key issues of his gubernatorial campaign, and he previously spent years focused on it as attorney general. Neither Abbott nor Paxton agreed to an interview.

Yet for all the energy the state’s leaders pour into anti-sex-trafficking rhetoric, most of their focus has been on arresting and convicting pimps, not rehabilitating their prey.They’ve devoted hardly any resources to the victims whose testimony is essential to putting sex traffickers behind bars. They have also failed to confront the role the child welfare system plays in providing a supply of vulnerable kids to criminals waiting to exploit them.

Eighty-six percent of missing children suspected of being forced into sex work came from the child welfare system, national data show, and a state-funded study estimatedthat the vast majority of young victims in Texas had some contact with Child Protective Services. Interviews with law enforcement and child advocates around the state tell a similar story.

Dallas Police Detective Michael McMurray has worked child sex-trafficking cases, many involving foster children, for more than a decade. He used to believe that going after criminals would be the most effective anti-trafficking strategy. He called it the McMurray Theory.

“We’ll put all these pimps, all these traffickers in prison, and the word will get out, and people won’t be doing this anymore because they’ll be too afraid to go to prison. And that’ll solve the problem,” he said.

But after 10 years of locking up sex traffickers, the lack of progress frustrates him.

“The McMurray Theory is not working out too well,” he said.

A common story

Stories like Mia’s are tragically common: Recent estimates suggest Texas is home to some 80,000 child sex-trafficking victims, kids who — in one way or another — end up being sold to adults for sex.

The Texas Tribune has uncovered dozens of these cases buried in criminal files and unfurled in interviews with prosecutors, caseworkers, police officers and victims’ advocates over five months of reporting.

There’s Jean, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who at 16 turned to a Dallas pimp for food, shelter and affection amid a slow-burning crisis in the state’s foster care system.

And Lena, a foster child who at 17 became one of the youngest inmates in the Harris County Jail, even though authorities knew she was a victim of child sex trafficking.

And Yvette, who was convicted in San Antonio of trafficking a minor two days after her 23rd birthday, despite suffering at the hands of the man who pimped them both out.

And Sarah, a 16-year-old from Austin who gave police a rare cause for hope after landing a spot at the state’s only treatment facility for sex-trafficking victims.

Each of their pimps was punished under the law. None of the girls got the help they needed.

Empty laws, hollow programs

State officials say they have taken steps to address Texas’ sex-trafficking problem. Texas was one of the first states to pass a law defining human trafficking, in 2003. Lawmakers have piled on with additional legislation — and great fanfare — in virtually every legislative session since.

They’ve made it easier to prosecute men and women who exploit minors, as well as the buyers who seek to purchase sex with them. They’ve established a special team inside the attorney general’s office to help unravel sex-trafficking rings.

Top state leaders routinely trumpet the law enforcement stings that round up suspected traffickers. Most recently, Paxton’s office claimed a minor role in arresting the chief executive of Dallas-based Backpage.com, one of the largest online advertisers of commercial sex.

Thousands of state government employees have received training to help them identify potential sex-trafficking victims. Child welfare officials also say they are doing a better job of tracking down runaways like Mia, who are among the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

But the state’s child welfare system — overseen by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services — needs $1 billion over the next two years to shore up its operation, department officials say. State lawmakers have proposed spending just under one-third of that amount.

Lawmakers have also passed few policies aimed at directly helping victims, and they have balked time and again at providing the money to pay for them. That has left a laundry list of empty laws and hollow programs.

“I try to be upbeat about the Legislature, every time I come here,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat who’s worked on anti-trafficking laws. “But my little joke is, sometimes the Texas Legislature is like the guy who’s really insistent on taking you out to lunch, but when the check comes, he’s nowhere to be found.”

Bills but few dollars

Among legislators’ unfunded efforts over the past decade:

  • A 2009 sex-trafficking law calling for a victim assistance program to distribute up to $10 million a year in grants to provide housing, counseling and medical care for trafficking survivors. The Legislature neverappropriated the money. Eight years later, the program’s coffers remain empty.
  • An anti-trafficking measure passed in 2011 meant to establish a stream of funding for victims by requiring convicted child traffickers to pay them restitution. Restitution depends on a defendant’s ability to pay, which is often limited. None of the victims the Tribune interviewed said they received any money after their traffickers were imprisoned.
  • A 2013 law authorizing judicial diversion programs for juveniles caught selling sex. Lawmakers provided no money for those programs.
  • A 2015 law allowing police to take “emergency possession” of sex-trafficking victims, as long as they place them in secure facilities providing everything from 24-hour supervision to counseling. But no such facility exists, and no funding has ever been allocated to create one.

In the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers created a child sex-trafficking unit in the governor’s office and gave it a two-year budget of $6 million. That money will go toward coordinating services for victims across the state, but not toward addressing the lack of places for them to go.

There is only one facility in the entire state that is licensed specifically to treat victims of sex trafficking, and it can only fill 20 beds at a time. Not one of those beds is available for an “emergency” placement, meaning victims in immediate crisis, like those picked up by police in the middle of the night, don’t qualify. And no beds are available for boys.

The end result is that during the precarious period when victims first come into contact with authorities — adults they should be able to trust — they often end up in handcuffs instead. Nearly one-third of trafficking victims recovered by the state’s child welfare investigators are sent to juvenile detention.

“The state needs to step up and be prepared to protect these kids,” said Ann Johnson, the former lead prosecutor for Harris County’s sex-trafficking unit. “If we don’t invest wisely in the front end, we’re going to pay for it more later.”

HOW BAD IS THE CHILD SEX-TRAFFICKING PROBLEM IN TEXAS?

Texas doesn’t have a uniform policy on how state and local agencies should collect data on sex trafficking, so it’s hard to know. But there are a few numbers that offer a limited glimpse into its scope.

79,000
A conservative estimate of the number of young sex-trafficking victims in Texas in any given year, the vast majority of whom are under 18, as calculated by a 2016 University of Texas study funded by the governor’s office.
78,600
The subset of those victims who had some contact with the child welfare system, according to the same study.
86
The percentage of missing kids nationally suspected of being forced into sex work who come from the foster care or social services system, according to 2016 figures from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
31
The number of kids who ran away from Texas foster care and were identified by child welfare workers as sex-trafficking victims in fiscal year 2016. All were girls, ages 13 to 17. Given that many runaways are never found, few victims come forward and Texas only started keeping that data in late 2015, the number is surely an underestimate.
181
The number of people arrested on allegations of forcing children into sex work in Texas’ two largest counties — Harris and Dallas — in the past two-and-a-half years.
41
The number of minors arrested on suspicion of prostitution in those two counties over that same timeframe.
Source: Texas Tribune research

Texas lawmakers say they’re proud of their track record.

“We’ve passed more legislation than any state in America,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the Houston Democrat who has sponsored nearly every anti-trafficking bill for the past several years.

Lawmakers have announced plans to file another anti-trafficking bill this session, which they said will focus on further enhancing penalties for convicted pimps.

Thompson acknowledged the state needs to place more emphasis on helping victims, but she wasn’t sure there would be any funding to do so.

“I just hate we have not been able to do more faster,” she said. “But we are catching up.”

“A perpetual hell” 

As lawmakers begin figuring out how much money they can spend in this year’s legislative session, the Texas child welfare system is buckling under a $110 million budget shortfall. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says it fails to check on hundreds of the state’s most endangered children each day, and there’s a crippling shortage of good homes for children removed from their families.

The class-action lawsuit, a series of high-profile child deaths and a barrage of negative headlines have pressured lawmakers to take action. Leaders in both the House and Senate have again proposed reforms, but so far they largely focus on administrative fixes.

Child welfare officials say they need money.

“We have to spend the funding now,” agency chief Hank Whitman said at a January budget hearing. “Otherwise, these children will end up in the criminal justice system, and they’re there for life, and it’s a perpetual hell for them.”

Whitman said his agency needs an additional $1 billion over the next two years to hire workers, find more foster homes and make basic improvements to children’s care. Lawmakers have so far shown an appetite to spend only about $325 million. The governor has asked them to spend $500 million.

“Do not underfund this rickety system only to have it come back and haunt you,” Abbott said in a January speech to the Legislature.

Lawmakers say they are skeptical more money will improve the agency’s performance.

“Problems persist at this agency despite funding increase after funding increase,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican and the Senate’s chief budget writer, said in a prepared statement. “Moving forward, we must ensure that additional resources lead to better outcomes for children.”

Even as the Legislature debates its own reforms, Paxton and Abbott continue to fight Judge Jack’s orders to overhaul the foster care system, arguing Texas will do it better without the meddling of a federal court.

Meanwhile, almost two dozen children run from foster care each week. One of those children was Mia, the teen from Corpus Christi who became the anonymous face of the foster care lawsuit.

A few months after she walked out of the children’s emergency shelter in Houston and returned to her pimp, child welfare workers got a tip about her location. But they waited two weeks before visiting the address. By the time they got there, Mia was gone.

The next year Mia turned 18 and aged out of foster care. She hasn’t been heard from since.

About this story: 

The Texas Tribune generally does not publish the names of victims of sexual abuse or sex trafficking. Mia, Yvette, and Sarah are pseudonyms. Jean is identified by her first name at her request. Lena is identified by her middle name at her request. The details in Mia’s story come from court documents in the foster care lawsuit and interviews with her lawyer. In total, The Texas Tribune interviewed more than 90 people for this series, including 16 victims, 14 foster care and victim service providers, eight prosecutors, 11 police officers and three pimps. Reporters reviewed more than three dozen criminal cases and attended two full sex-trafficking trials.

Editor’s note:  

One of the reporters on this story, Neena Satija, also works for Reveal, a public radio show and podcast from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Ryan Murphy was the lead developer on this story; Emily Albracht was the lead designer.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Why it Matters / Christine Doyle

Each morning, my daughter parks in a special spot up at school, a school that promotes sustainability. These prize slots go to kids who drive “green” cars. Hers is a Jetta TDI. It gets great gas mileage and we thought produced fewer diesel emissions than its competitors. But does it?

Volkswagon has just announced that the clean diesel may not be clean after all.

We’ve been VW fans since before she was born. I had a red VW Rabbit I nicknamed Bunny when I was in college. We got a dark green Jetta sedan with tan leather interior when I was expecting her. City dwellers, it was the perfect small car solution for our family, just what we needed to take a baby and groceries home at the same time.

I’ll never forget the day, here in Missouri, in 2008, when we bought two Jettas on the same day. Mine was a Jetta TDI wagon; the other a Jetta TDI sedan. They were two of the first clean diesels available in Missouri. I still remember the conversation up at the kids school when we were talking about this new evolution in green technology at a parent breakfast meeting. Other parents kept asking, “Is it an electric car?” “No.” “Oh, it’s diesel? “That can’t be good for the environment,” they said. It may turn out it was not only not good for the environment but really bad brand management as well.  The company allegedly designed software to trick the testers gaging diesel emissions. I still remember what I was told when I incredulously asked the salesman how diesel fuel could be good for the environment? “It gets recycled and is used in other ways by the engine,” he said. Someone even got a tissue out to show us there was no soot coming out of the exhaust.

Fast track to last Summer when the EPA was expected to issue new rulings on limiting carbon emissions from coal plants. I remember thinking to myself, and asking out loud on social media, “Why can’t they just employ the kind of technology my clean diesel car uses to curb emissions? Can’t they reuse emissions before releasing them into the environment?” Why, indeed.

Locally, I have had a great experience with the folks at Dean Team. I have even made them brownies. No kidding. They’ve loaned me cars, washed the ones in service and generally been efficient and responsive. When I called them, they referred me to Customer Care. Customer Care said, “We’re still trying to figure it out but we will make it right.”  I went in to talk to a sales manager today to express my disappointment and find out whether my Toureg was affected. He said, at this point, the Toureg doesn’t appear to be since it has a different engine. They’re still asking whether the Passats, Jettas, Golfs and even Audis are among the cars with the illegal software. Hopefully, it isn’t too late for VW to make this right.

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Parker on the Planned Parenthood Videos

In his satirical solution to Ireland’s prolific poor, especially among Catholics whose fish diet was thought to enhance fertility, Jonathan Swift suggested a new menu item: Succulent 1-year-olds for dinner.

His essay “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country . . . ” was intended to shake up the English and remind them that the Irish were, in fact, human beings. This took quite a while to sink in.

Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary In 2010.View Archive

“The archers are ready,” King Edward I is told in “Braveheart.”

“Not the archers,” the king replies. “Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing.”

Obviously, the Irish survived to write newspaper columns. And civilized people don’t eat babies — at least not roasted or steamed or as part of a ragout, as Swift suggested. But there are other ways to make use of the unborn, as revealed in the recent undercover video in which Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, explains how abortions can be performed so that body parts remain intact for medical research.

Nucatola thought she was talking to two buyers from a human biologics company that would serve as middlemen in procuring fetal organs for biotech companies. But the two were actually actors hired by the Irvine, Calif.-based Center for Medical Progress, reported to be an antiabortion group.

In the video, Nucatola is seen eating a salad, sipping wine and talking matter-of-factly about the procedures she uses. One gathers from her comments that she is a skilled abortionist.

To ensure the viability of the calivarium (incomplete skull), for instance, Nucatola prefers to move the fetus into a breech position so that the head comes out last. Otherwise, dilation is usually insufficient to avoid crushing the skull. She also avoids grasping the torso where valuable organs are located.

“I’m basically going to crush below, I’m going to crush above, and I’m going to see if I can get it all intact.”

Her comments were shocking enough, but they were magnified by the banality of the circumstances. A fetal liver here, a bite of Romaine there, a sip of wine. Nucatola’s strictly clinical view was that such valuable live tissue (a.k.a. hearts and livers) shouldn’t go to waste. By providing terminated products for research, she was facilitating an “extra bit of good.”

Apparently, this is also the view of women who sign the consent forms. At least donating one’s issue to research is a way of casting abortion in a somewhat positive light, sort of like donating the organs of a deceased child. Except for all the obvious differences.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I do aim to avoid euphemism for the sake of clarity. Basically, the volume of older fetuses at some of Planned Parenthood’s locations is so great that they have a disposal problem. What do you do with all these bodies?

Environmental laws prevent throwing fetuses in the trash, and even if they could, some garbage collection companies refuse to pick them up. The middleman who, through sanitized packaging and clinical language, can clean up such a mess and, for a price, contribute to science is God-sent. Or is it from the other fellow?

Some of the research using these “products of conception” is, ironically, for ailments common to the elderly — such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. We seem to have traded “Soylent Green” wafers — food made from the remains of old folks forced into premature termination in the 1973 film — for gestational organs. There is a certain hideous symmetry to this dispensation of human products — those too young or too old to be useful except when un-alive — but I’m not sure this is how the cycle of life was intended to unfold.

Planned Parenthood’s response to the video has focused on clarifying that no parts are sold for profit. The organization’s affiliates only seek to recoup the cost of doing business. President Cecile Richards also has apologized for Nucatola’s tone.

But let’s clarify further.

Eventually, profits will be made — perhaps with medications enabled by research on a 24-week-old fetus’s brain stem. Just think: No unwanted baby; no burden to society; plus treatment for someone’s dementia — a perfect trifecta, made in hell.

And tone isn’t the issue. The issue is that we’re commodifying human fetuses and harvesting parts for distribution in the marketplace, using rationalizations that can justify anything.

The dead may cost nothing, but the livers of terminated fetuses are selling like hotcakes.

Jeb’s Slow Jam

JEB BUSH

Watch Jeb Bush Slow Jam the News With Jimmy Fallon

The latest Bush to run for president stopped by The Tonight Show

Forget Iowa and New Hampshire — the hottest spot on the campaign trail is late-night television.

Jeb Bush, who announced he was running for president on Monday, stopped by Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show to slow jam the news — something you may recall President Obama did back in 2012. While the “news” in this case wasn’t recent headlines but a brief summary of Bush’s formal campaign announcement and select accomplishments, Fallon’s suggestive commentary made the segment something you definitelyhaven’t heard before.

“He’s got lots of experience down south,” Fallon joked. “He came from Texas where everything is bigger. He turned Florida from a limp peninsula into a virile member of the U.S. economy.”

See the full video below, as well as Fallon’s interview with Bush, where the presidential hopeful talks about how he met his wife: