Category Archives: C

Prison Rehabilitation Needs Rehabilitation

Yesterday’s Morning Edition story about NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to reinstate a program to allow prison inmates to take college classes is a fascinating study in framing.

Let’s examine the story’s arguments for and against the proposal:

For Against
“‘Forget nice; let’s talk about self-interest,’ Cuomo [said]. ‘You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that’s 600 grand. Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back.’Cuomo says helping inmates get a college education would cost about $5,000 a year per person — chump change, he argues, if it keeps that inmate from bouncing back into prison.” “What do you say to a Yoko Ono if Mark David Chapman [who killed her husband, John Lennon] says, ‘I want a college education?’ ” the reporter asked.
Cuomo also says, “Let’s use common sense, the economic cost, the human cost — let’s invest and rehabilitate people so they have a future.” “[T]axpayers just won’t stand for inmates getting a free college education, while middle-class families struggle to pay for their kids’ tuition, housing and books.”That is the vast majority of feedback that I’m also getting from my constituents,” [NY State Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D)] says. “You know, ‘Where is the relief for the rest of the law-abiding population?'”
“There must be no doubt about whose side we’re on,” [President Bill] Clinton argued [in 1994]. “People who commit crimes should be caught, convicted and punished. This bill [eliminating student aid for inmates] puts government on the side of those who abide by the law, not those who break it.”
“Club Med” for inmates

Note that all the arguments against the proposal are about fairness, not money and self-interest. While the fiscal argument is strong, it doesn’t touch hearts. When made, as in this article, without being framed in values, it seems to inaccurately reduce justice to dollars.

The moral argument against touches both minds and hearts. Unless a strong moral argument in support is made over and over, I expect the nos will have it.

The argument against comes from what George Lakoff calls the strict-father worldview: prisoners are bad people who deserve only punishment. Their rehabilitation is solely up to them, not the state.

The argument in support comes from Lakoff’s nurturant-parent worldview: We are all in this together. Despite having done bad things, prisoners continue to be Americans and human beings and should be helped to return to society as productive citizens when possible and sensible. That is what we would want in their shoes, and rehabilitation makes the community stronger and safer.

Have I been fair in presenting the strict-father and nurturant-parent worldviews?

Why “Freedom of Conscience” Could Excuse Unprofessional Behavior

Many states, including my own, have considered bills to protect health care professionals who refuse to provide care they judge to conflict with their personal  religious, moral, or ethical views and to refuse to refer patients to where they could get care. The care in question usually is reproductive: abortion, contraception, etc.

Known as the conscience clause or healthcare freedom of conscience bills, such bills could endanger patients–especially those with medical emergencies or that have few medical providers in their areas.

Such bills also violate professional ethics. For example, the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, which I have promised to uphold as an NASW member, requires social workers to refer clients to a competent professional when terminating services. Furthermore, it requires that they smooth the transition to the next provider by, e.g., providing records the professional will need. (See 1.16(b) and (e) in the code).

Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self­determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. –NASW Code of Ethics 1.02

The code also requires social workers to “respect and support the rights of clients” to make decisions that affect their lives. It does not grant social workers license to end services without referral because a client wants something that conflicts with the worker’s personal values.

Because of the harm that refusing care can cause, such refusals could violate the Hippocratic Oath’s requirement to “first, do no harm.”

Because of the protection from potential ethical violations that such bills would provide, I call them Excusing Unprofessional Behavior acts. That is what they would do. This opposes the freedom-of-conscience frame with professional responsibility.

Professionalism demands placing the client’s interests ahead of one’s own when they conflict. Though it’s uncomfortable to be asked to provide a service that you don’t think is right, it’s part of being a professional. If you really can’t do it, refer.

What do you think of the Excusing Unprofessional Behavior Act?

Why Corporations Want You to Confuse Your Rights with Theirs

When the New York City Council approved a ban on sales of soft drinks in containers larger than 16oz, ban opponents used some ideological sleight-of-hand. It was so subtle that I noticed it only now!

Big Gulp cup--32 ounces
The issue should have been whether corporations should be allowed to tempt people to use too much of an unhealthy product, not individual liberty.
Photo Credit: Majiscup – The Papercup & Sleeve via Compfight cc

By framing the ban as an issue of individual liberty, they obscured a crucial fact: the ban would have regulated the behavior not of individuals but of businesses. Individuals would still have been able to buy all the soda they wanted.

Therefore, the real issue was whether irresponsible corporations would still be allowed to tempt customers to use too much of an unhealthy product. All the talk about government overreach, the nanny state, and personal choice was really about the City’s treatment of corporations, not people.

All the talk about government overreach, the nanny state, and personal choice was really about the City’s treatment of corporations, not people.

This case demonstrates what corporations gain from confusing the rights of individuals with those of corporations and the harm this confusion can bring the public. It will be very difficult to ban harmful products if the bogus individual-liberty frame is allowed to define future debates.

However wise or foolish this ban proposal may have been, governments have a responsibility to regulate commerce within their borders and also a responsibility to protect the health of the community. In similar future cases, Framologists should name who is really affected by the proposal and identify the real issue as corporate responsibility, not individual liberty.

Do you know if soda-ban defenders used this approach? I’d love to hear about it!

Giant Psychopathic Corporations with the Same Rights as You?

The legal status of corporations is in an interesting ferment. With recent corporate legal challenges to the Patient Protection Act’s requirement that health insurance cover birth control, the idea of corporate personhood is back in the news. For example, the owners of Hobby Lobby claim that the company has a religion.

Although its website has a Ministry Projects page, the corporation is a structure–a metaphorical building. Even though corporations can be established for religious purposes, their legal and physical structures do not themselves hold opinions, religious or otherwise. It’s the people that occupy that do, and their right to religious expression does deserve legal protection.

Like these corporate lawsuits, Mitt Romney’s famous statement that corporations are people blurs the distinction between corporations and human beings. (I do not believe that, as some have claimed, he meant that corporations ARE human beings, just that people inhabit corporations and benefit from them.)

Part 1 of 4 mindmaps of ideas in the documentary The Corporation. See them all at Photo Credit: Austin Kleon via Compfight cc
Part of a mindmap of ideas in the documentary The Corporation. See them al at by scrolling left.
Photo Credit: Austin Kleon via Compfight cc

This blurring is dangerous because, as the 2004 documentary The Corporation has argued, if corporations were people, many would be psychopaths. Giant psychopathic corporations with all the rights of citizens are the last thing we need!

Another important development is the dawn of benefit corporations (aka public benefit corporations). In states that have created this category of corporation, the corporation has a fiduciary commitment not only to its own bottom line but also to the community and the environment. Supporters of benefit corporations may call these the triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet.

When extreme conservatives talk of corporate rights and corporate personhood, I think Framologists should respond with corporate responsibility and the triple bottom line. When extremists say that corporations are persons before the law, we can point out that, although they do have the rights to advertise their products, enter contracts, own property, and sue, they are not and should be citizens. Citizenship is for Americans. Corporations created by American states have responsibilities to those states and to the people and natural world that make their business possible.

But what do you think?

Is Scrooge a Hero?

Although Scrooge spoils Christmas by refusing to help those less fortunate and by paying his worker poverty wages, he has a change a heart.
Although Scrooge spoils Christmas by refusing to help those less fortunate and by paying his worker poverty wages, he has a change a heart.

In American pop culture, we call someone that dislikes Christmas or spoils the holiday Scrooge. But the protagonist of the Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge, spoils  Christmas with more than his sour mood: he refuses to contribute to charity and pays his employee poverty wages, limiting his ability to care for his sick son and to celebrate Christmas.

The main way Scrooge has harmed society is by refusing to share his wealth.

Today, by trying to undermine or take away social insurance, public education, civil liberties, access to health insurance, access to meaningful participation in elections, public transportation, raises to the minimum wage, and long-term unemployment insurance, the radical conservative movement is behaving far worse than Scrooge. Rather than merely withholding their aid to vulnerable Americans, radical conservatives are trying to take rights and public goods away from us. This is wrong and spoils America, not just Christmas.

Because we don’t have time to wait for ghosts to do it for us, progressives should consider comparing the radical conservatives to Scrooge because it’s a story everyone knows. Progressives should point out that the radical conservatives are acting worse than Scrooge and that by the end, Scrooge does begin doing justice by sharing his wealth and giving his employee a raise. Will radical conservatives remain worse than Scrooge the villain, or will they rediscover America’s tradition of public-spiritedness and follow the example of Scrooge the hero?

Framing Climate Change

As with global warming, the phrase climate change fails to convey the urgency of the situation. Although it might be appropriate in scientific descriptions of climate, when used in politics, it sounds as if there’s nothing to be done except prepare for it. That false and morally wrong because we can respond more effectively to the climate crisis, and failing to do so would be irresponsible.

As discussed in the global warming post, two possible alternatives are to frame the issue as the climate crisis and the planet having a fever that we must treat.

What do you think? Is climate change a good phrase for progressives that want to protect ourselves and future generations? Or should we use a different one?