Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Moral Vacuum At The Top [Anthony McCarthy]

I agree with Echidne's post from last night so much that it's tempting to do what I've done several times when I find myself with something far lesser to offer than her or Suzie's Friday posts, wisely not present it to distract from theirs. But I'll add a few words, after advising you to read yesterday's posts.

Does Barack Obama have a moral center? Is there something that he, ultimately would be unable to compromise away because it is not a negotiable point? Is every value, every moral declaration fungible? An item of spiritual commerce to be bartered so he can, in the end, announce that he's not lost due to him agreeing to something with the Republicans?

The idea of morality has been made unfashionable in what we, by default, must consider the modern Western intelligentsia. That is the only success that what got called "liberalism" in elite circles has entirely succeeded in over the last century. In the quest for personal liberty morality has been progressively de-emphisized, then redefined, then ignored. Morality has come to mean, not only self-righteous nagging, but an attribute of the unacceptably old fashioned and uncool. The elevation of cynical "realism" as a replacement for the genuinely liberal virtues might be the most obvious evidence of a genuine moral vacuum, an absence of real morality. After more than two years of watching the presidency of Barack Obama, I can't believe he really believes in anything but his image as a savvy broker, a cool macho deal maker. Watching him trade away the enormous reserve of political power he was given by the voters in 2008, I have to conclude that the things he has bartered for the ability to say he won it seems as if the people who depend on those things aren't that big a concern to him.

A lot of that campaign against morality was an indiscriminate effort to get rid of the vestiges of 19th century prudishness, often by authors who wanted to cash in on sex and sensation, which, frankly, didn't take much in the way of intelligence or talent. The list of works championed by that effort are the most mixed of mixed baskets, most of which are garbage. But a lot of it was part of what has been identified as the centuries old effort to free fortunate individuals and families from the network of moral obligations to others, an abandonment of the perennial list of those in need of justice, the poor, the destitute, the sick, the prisoner, women and minority groups deprived of their needs and what is legitimately their right. While the habit of talking about that obligation is a tattered remnant among what gets called "liberalism", it is not seen as being the entire reason for liberalism to exist, the absolute essential requirements of democracy and a decent life. They have ceased to be a burning fire of conviction that can power liberalism to succeed on its own terms. It was in order to destroy the possibility of justice, of an informed electorate, of self-government and so equality and democracy that the slogan of "free speech" has been adopted by the Republican right.

I can't listen to Barack Obama's voice anymore. The bold confident presentation has become painful to hear. Listening to his stentorian presentations presenting the results of prolonged periods of capitulation as some kind of victory when, as Echidne says, he capitulated to start with, is one of the most infuriating experiences I've had in politics.

In a recent blog discussion someone pointed out that Barack Obama is to the right of Eisenhower on a number of issues. It came to me very suddenly that I couldn't imagine him calling out federal troops to enforce a desegregation order of the Supreme Court, as Eisenhower did. Would he? I don't know. But I find it impossible to imagine him doing it. Which is one of the most disturbing ideas I've had in a long time.

The problem for the left is that Barack Obama is what we've got. He is popular with enough people that no challenge from the left is going to deprive him of a nomination, not nominating him would alienate large numbers of people based on his symbolic position as the first black president, people who are an absolutely valued and essential part of our shared coalition. In Barack Obama we have about the worst of all possible dilemmas. He counts on us having no where else to go, though you would think that last fall's political disaster would have taught someone far less intelligent than he is that is a bad bet. I will, almost certainly, have to vote for Barack Obama next year. I won't like it but it is the least bad of the likely alternatives.

Personally, I take some lessons from this, one of which is that I will never trust someone who has never been to a public school, someone who is the product of the Ivy league, someone who doesn't have a long record of real courage in service to democracy and the common good. Barack Obama was a package, I think he consciously presented himself as one, the contents are not as advertised. I think he was always the product of an elite with the common ideas and expectations of that elite and never intended to extend his efforts past where that elite would be seriously inconvenienced and upset. He has certainly been a lot more concerned with pleasing his political enemies, those who represent the interests of that elite, than his supporters who are mostly the target of that elites' attacks.

You might want to read what Ezra Klein says about the deal that Obama announced had been reached and how it was announced. He implies that part of the problem is that Barack Obama isn't very politically skilled. I agree with that but the problem goes far deeper than that.

And Obama Speaks

Here is an early snippet from his speech after a compromise (which compromised on previous compromises starting from the initial Obama administration's compromise position) which averted the imminent threat of the government shutting down. The president tells us that he got the best deal possible:

Do you notice what he calls women's health? "A social issue". That, my sweetings, is Republican framing.

So what did we get? We didn't get bridges or other infrastructure repaired. That must wait until a gigantic accident happens and the necessary blood sacrifices are made. We got the biggest possible spending cuts (which both parties apparently wanted so very badly) in a situation where recovery is still at most fragile. We made sure that Americans will have less money to spend on all those products that other Americans are supposed to make and thus get jobs! How many extra jobs will be lost because of this budget compromise?

Butbutbut... Planned Parenthood was saved! Until later, at least:
Despite the violent sturm und drang surrounding these negotiations -- including familiar, but tired accusations by Republicans of Democratic infidelity to U.S. troops -- the final deal looks uncannily like the framework the two sides have been working with since the middle of March.
It includes cuts to both mandatory and discretionary spending, and does not include a rider that would have defunded Planned Parenthood -- the final sticking point in the negotiations. Republicans have been promised up-or-down floor votes in the Senate on riders to defund Planned Parenthood and health care implementation.

Washington D.C. women were, however, not quite saved. Ezra Klein points out on twitter that:
The resolution includes rider prohibiting dc from using its own money to help women access abortions.
So the "social issue" of women's reproductive health did slip into the budget!

It was a dreadful speech, especially from a great orator. But I'm much angrier about its contents. Washington insiders live in a bubble and its walls are made of money.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Second Puzzle

At least two of Those Sites don't think that women deserved to get the right to vote. Guess why?

Because women didn't die for the vote. Or at least not in sufficient numbers.

You see, the opposition to women's suffrage is exactly the same now as it was originally! It goes like this: Only men were conscripted and only men died as soldiers in wars. Those deaths earned men the right to vote. Women, however, were not allowed to fight in wars and this meant that they didn't deserve the vote. Because they didn't die in wars. In which they were not allowed to fight.

This is circular reasoning, even assuming that the right to vote was based on nothing but war service. And in the latter case the argument could only apply to those individual men who in fact did participate in wars but survived. Other men had not paid for their votes. It doesn't matter if they were willing to die for their country or not, because they were not tested. Just like women were not allowed to take that test.

I never thought I'd get the chance to take part in the original women's suffrage battles!

The Government Shutdown. Who Would have Thought It Would Be About Forced Births?

Or perhaps it is pap smears which shut down the government?

One day future historians will get the equivalent of their PhDs trying to fathom out these medieval minds. They won't call them medieval, probably, but you get the point.

Atrios tells us that Senator Kyl of Arizona just informed the American people of a surprising "fact": Ninety percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions.

The true figure is three percent. And Senator Kyl knows that. His statement should be taken in a different light: He does not care what the facts are because this is about who gets to control women's fertility. Women's health? Senator Kyl and others like him don't care about that.

Here's A Good Project for A Statistician. Or on Wisconsin Elections

The project is this:

Go out and study all those American elections where earlier opinion polls and/or exit polls were seriously wrong, compared with final results. Do that for the last twenty years, say, and see if the way the results were wrong turns out random or not over the long haul. In other words, do these errors favor one party over the other or not, on average? If the errors are truly random we should be able to answer that question with a resounding no.

And of course this idea came to me because of what is happening in Wisconsin. Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus found lots of extra votes in the heated Supreme Court race in Wisconsin. The incumbent, David Prosser, is seen as one of governor Walker's Ringwraiths. He was challenged in the race by JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The race was very tight, with Kloppenburg appearing to have narrowly won it. But suddenly, after the elections are over, Nickolaus finds 7000+ extra votes for Prosser:
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said Thursday that she failed to save on her computer and then report 14,315 votes in the city of Brookfield, omitting them entirely in an unofficial total she released after Tuesday's election. With other smaller errors in Waukesha County, Prosser gained 7,582 votes over his challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, leaving the sitting justice significantly ahead for now amid ongoing official counting.


But Kloppenburg supporters reacted with alarm, pointing out that Nickolaus had worked in the Assembly Republican caucus during the time that Prosser, a former Republican lawmaker, served as the Assembly speaker and that Nickolaus also had faced questions about her handling of elections as clerk.

"Wisconsin voters as well as the Kloppenburg (campaign) deserve a full explanation of how and why these 14,000 votes from an entire city were missed. To that end, we will be filing open records requests for all relevant documentation related to the reporting of election results in Waukesha County, as well as to the discovery and reporting of the errors announced by the county," Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said in a statement.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) raised the possibility of an independent investigation over the recovery of the votes.

"This is a serious breach of election procedure," he said. "We're going to look further. She waited 24 hours to work this. And she waited until after she verified the results, making it that much more difficult to challenge and verify the results."
Just a big oops? So argues the Democrat on the Waukesha County Board of Canvassers.

Nickolaus certainly runs an odd and tight elections ship, as an article about her from last summer tells us:
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus' decision to go it alone in how she collects and maintains election results has some county officials raising a red flag about the integrity of the system.
Nickolaus said she decided to take the election data collection and storage system off the county's computer network - and keep it on stand-alone personal computers accessible only in her office - for security reasons.
"What it gave me was good security of the elections from start to finish, without the ability of someone unauthorized to be involved," she said.
Then there is this (via Firedoglake):
On Tuesday, shockingly-large turnout suddenly emerged from Waukesha County, which did not comport with either the results of previous spring elections, or even internal estimates from city officials mid-day. In fact, a Waukesha City Deputy Clerk said at 1:18pm that turnout was very typical, predicting somewhere between 20 to 25 percent. As Tuesday night wore on, reporting in Waukesha County stopped altogether for hours, leaving observers to wonder what was going on. Then suddenly, results suggesting massive turnout started to pour in rapidly with Prosser adding dramatically to his total by a 73-27 percent margin.

One Wisconsin Now estimates put overall turnout near 38 percent, a wild outlier to historical data and the earlier mid-day estimation of Waukesha’s own officials. In April 2009, turnout was 20 percent; April 2008, turnout was 22 percent and in April 2007, turnout was 24 percent. All of these elections had hotly-contested Supreme Court races as well.
On the other hand, Nate Silver compares the turnout figures of this election to the presidential election in 2008 and the gubernatorial one in 2010 and argues that the turnout rate looks about right from that angle.

The question clearly merits more analysis. Was this election like other April elections? Or was it more like the presidential election? And can we assume that the rest of the Wisconsin turnout rates are the same as before (as Silver seems to assume)? One could make a case that Democratic counties might have much higher turnout rates than in the recent past, what with the events in Madison.

Whatever happened in this particular Wisconsin election, the Wisconsin Republicans have shown us a very nasty side of the game they play in the recent months. For that reason alone I think an impartial investigation would be a very good thing. That Nickolaus seems to have run a tiny monopoly over the actual election results is another very good reason. Without something like that the rest of us will not have faith in the corrected results.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

On Orange Marmalade. A Fluff Post.

I'm wedded to orange marmalade. I don't love it but I have it almost every morning (on rye or wholewheat bread, with cheese), and because I wake up slowly (cold temperature of us snakish types), my ability to steer the marmalade loaded bread is often faulty. Did you know that orange marmalade in the hair stays sticky all day? And that marmalade on the mouse makes using it...stickier? And that any you drop and forget about gets fused into the floor for good?

Why eat it at all, you might ask. It's a bit like the Democratic Party. The alternatives are worse. I'm mildly allergic to peanut butter and I don't care for butter and the alternative "nothing" leaves the sandwich too dry.

But mostly it's habit. We all do lots of stuff because of that.

The Brazil School Killing

It is too early to tell decisively whether the killer went after girls, in particular. But ten out of the reported eleven victims who have died are girls.

Given this, it's odd that the only report I found which stressed the gender imbalance was the UK Guardian. All the other sources talk about "children" being killed, while mentioning that ten girls and one boy are currently counted among the dead.

Meanwhile*, in Texas

The terms "abortion" and "reproductive health care" are now regarded as synonyms. Or rather, it is more important to make abortions difficult than to allow poorer women mammograms or access to contraception:
Is "family planning" a euphemism for abortion? Many House Republicans seem to think so. In amendment after amendment during last weekend’s budget battle, they raided the Department of State Health Services' family planning money — which funds reproductive health services, but not abortions, for Texas’ poorest women — to divert money to other budget-whacked services, from autism to children’s mental health.
Some took a nuanced approach, saying they were simply prioritizing other programs — with the added benefit of sending far fewer state dollars to Planned Parenthood. Others were blatant, like Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who said his amendment would defund “the abortion industry.”
This is by far the most revealing quote in the article:
Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton and the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that handles health funding, said before the House debated the budget that the family planning program was funded at $99 million for the next biennium, already a roughly 20 percent cut from the current biennium. Over the course of several amendments, that funding was cut another 60 percent, leaving $38 million in the program.
For Zerwas, an anesthesiologist and former hospital administrator, the amendments presented an awkward balance. He’s fiscally conservative and supports preventative medicine. He knows how much unplanned pregnancies cost Medicaid. But at the end of the day, he’s also staunchly anti-abortion.
“There are important women’s health services that are provided here, many of which are very cost effective,” Zerwas said. “But when it comes down to it, these votes were about political philosophy, and I voted in favor of moving the money.”
What Zerwas means that it is more important for him to force women to give birth than to help them prevent unwanted pregnancies. Or to diagnose cancer early. This tells all I need to know about what's inside this man's mind.
*My "meanwhile" series is about bad things happening to women all around the world. You can search for that word if you need to get rapidly depressed.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Lack of Upward Mobility for British Men: The Fault of Feminism

Shakespeare's Sister links to a BBC article about the comments of Cabinet minister David Willets on what is slowing down the upward mobility of poorer men. Willet's answer (which Jennifer linked to in the comments of this blog earlier) is this:
Figures to be published are expected to paint a grim picture of the prospects for advancement for children from the poorest backgrounds dating back to the 1960s. Asked what was to blame for the lack of social mobility, Mr Willetts said: “The feminist revolution in its first round effects was probably the key factor. Feminism trumped egalitarianism. It is not that I am against feminism, it’s just that is probably the single biggest factor.”

Mr Willetts, who set out his views on feminism in his recent book, The Pinch, said that, as a result of better education for women, households now contained two people who were either both financially successful or struggling to get on.
“One of the things that happened over that period was that the entirely admirable transformation of opportunities for women meant that with a lot of the expansion of education in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the first beneficiaries were the daughters of middle-class families who had previously been excluded from educational opportunities,” he said.
“And if you put that with what is called 'assortative mating’ — that well-educated women marry well-educated men — this transformation of opportunities for women ended up magnifying social divides. It is delicate territory because it is not a bad thing that women had these opportunities, but it widened the gap in household incomes because you suddenly had two-earner couples, both of whom were well-educated, compared with often workless households where nobody was educated.”
Willets is a conservative so he sees the causes of a problem in certain places only. Thus, women, especially middle-class women, are pitted against working-class men. The people omitted from that story are the men who are, in fact, at the top of the societal ladders. Somehow they shouldn't step aside for their less fortunate brethren, but women of that class should, and the real reason, ultimately, is that Willets thinks women can piggy-back up the social ladder on their husbands' shoulders.

Does Willets have a point, the BBC article cleverly asks? Depends on what one means by point, I guess, but Karen Mumford explains why statistics do not support Willets' views:
Karen Mumford, professor of economics at the University of York, says it is "woolly-minded" to assume that the number of job opportunities has remained static.
In the days before feminism, she says, those working-class men who achieved upward social mobility tended to do so by moving through the ranks at their workplace.
But, Prof Mumford adds, the decline in manufacturing - which traditionally was a source of better-paid jobs for a predominantly male workforce - has meant that these opportunities are no longer available.
The number of jobs in manufacturing fell to 2.5 million in 2010, according to figures from business organisation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). This is equal to just 9% of the total workforce. In 1978 over seven million people were employed in the sector, equal to 28.5% of the workforce.
She points out, additionally, that the rise in the proportion of women attending higher education mirrored a huge increase in the number of places available for both genders. Government figures show an all-time high of 45% of young people going to university in 2008-09 compared with only about one in 20 in the early 1960s.
As a result, Prof Mumford says, there was never a pre-feminist golden age in which large numbers of working-class men attended universities.
However, now the same problem can be attributed to feminism.

On another level it is naturally true that if all women today were excluded from the British labor force and British universities there would be many more jobs and university slots for men. But the same thing would happen if all Tories or all people with blue eyes or all right-handers were excluded: The rest would have more jobs and places at universities.

So why single out one particular group among the many possible ones? Because traditionally women are not viewed as quite justified in having paid work or university education. Excluding women from those doesn't seem as bad as excluding, say, everyone who voted for Labor in the last election. The latter looks like random nastiness, the former somehow not quite wrong.

This links to Willetts' odd juxtaposition of the terms "egalitarianism" and "feminism" in "Feminism trumped egalitarianism." At first I thought he didn't understand that feminism IS about egalitarianism or that he assumed only egalitarianism among men mattered.

Then I realized that he is just trying to pit class against gender here, by blaming the problems of working class men on upper-class women, not on upper-class men or the totality of the upper classes. It's the old idea of offering the previously excluded the crumbs off the dinner table and then watching them fight over those crumbs.

A much more interesting question for Mr. Willetts to answer would be what he thinks about the lack of upward mobility of British women and about the plight of working class women in general.
Added later: Damn how hard it is not to be taken by the conservative framing here. I completely forgot to point out that it's pretty debatable how large an impact feminism had on women's increased labor market participation rates in the 1970s. That had many causes.

And Even More Budget Blather

Jacob Weisberg agrees with David Brooks on the great courage of the Ryan budget proposal. When you read his ode to the proposal ("brave, radical and smart"), keep in mind these simple things:

1. A budget has two sides: revenues and expenditures. It's not smart to focus on just the expenditure side. The Ryan proposal does exactly that.

2. The expenditure side has three large items: Social Security, Medicare and military expenditure. It's not brave to almost completely ignore the military expenditure. The Ryan proposal does exactly that.

3. All government budget proposals have class issues, and so does this one. Look carefully who is asked to share in the sacrifices and who is asked to keep more money. The Ryan proposal doles out candy to the very rich and whips to the rest.

But the proposal is indeed radical. How odd that "radical" is read as positive when it applies to right-wing radicalism of the non-Islamic type. Otherwise it is read as negative.

As Scott Lemieux points out, Weisberg's arguments have other flaws:
First of all, we have the ages-old routine of conflating Medicare and Social Security spending, although one is a major potential problem and one isn’t. (It won’t surprise you, either, to find out that Weisberg seems to like the idea of “gradually raising the retirement age to 70″ — tolerable for well-compensated journalists, not so much for coal miners and people who clean restrooms for a living.) Second, we have the massive upper-class tax cuts of the aughts mysteriously excluded as sources of fiscal crisis. And third, there’s a failure to recognize the possibility that the alleged problems with Medicare and Medicaid might stem from the fact that America’s “free market” health care system covers fewer people at far greater expense with no better results than any other liberal democracy.
Here is where Weisberg reveals flashes of something which might charitably be called ignorance:
Ryan's alternative to Medicare hardly seems as terrible as Paul Krugman makes out. Seniors would enter the health care world the rest of us live in, with co-payments, deductibles and managed care. Eventually, cost control would require some tough decisions about end-of-life care and the rationing of high-tech treatments that have limited efficacy. But starting with a value of $15,000 per year, per senior—the amount government now spends on Medicare—Ryan's vouchers should provide excellent coverage. His change would amount to a minor amendment to the social contract, not a fundamental revision of it.
I have bolded the sentences with which I had the greatest trouble. Note also that the purchasing-power of the voucher would decline fairly rapidly as its value would be tied not to changes in the costs of health care but to the rate at which the Gross Domestic Product grows. Health care costs have risen rapidly in the past and are likely to continue doing so.

How did the seniors get to the wonderland of Medicare without entering the health care world the "rest of us" live in? Does Weisberg think that they have been enjoying Medicare all their lives? Does Weisberg think that he will never grow old himself? It's that feeling I get from reading the text that he views the elderly as a totally separate group of people, living in some sort of a cloud-cuckoo-land. Time for them to fall back into reality!

But of course almost all seniors used to be in the health care world Weisberg wants to return them to. They also paid for the Medicare expenses of previous generations.

Then notice that Weisberg suggests something which is not true: That the situation of the elderly would be just the same as the situation of those who are not yet elderly in terms of health care. But that is simply not true. The elderly are the main consumers of health care for a reason (and that reason has much less to do with the incentive systems of the current Medicare system than with the simple fact that illness tends to happen at the end of one's life span): Their risk of ill health is higher.

Finally, the current Medicare system already has certain deductibles for parts other than hospital care (thanks, Lyle, for reminding me of that in the comments of an earlier post).

It is, however, true that the costs of Medicare are very high and that these costs need to be tackled. How to do that requires a post of its own. But it might be worth thinking about the fact that the conservatives want to ration care by a person's ability to pay for it. They don't call this rationing but rationing it is.

Immature Men: The Fault of Feminism

There are days when I get so very tired of the long list of imaginary things which are the fault of feminism. The collapse of the Western Civilization, juvenile delinquency, alcoholism among women, anything (anything!) bad that happens to men. All the fault of feminism if you are an American right-winger of the misogynist type.

According to these wingnuts the world would be a better place if women stuck to their place (which is in subjection, pregnant and in the kitchen). That this wouldn't be a better place for women doesn't matter because women don't count as human beings to these folks.

This strident prelude is because Monica Potts went to listen to Kay Hymowitz, the misogynist, talk about her new book. The book, naturally, is about how feminism destroyed something of great value. In this case it allowed men not to grow up. It is the job of women to help men grow up by refusing to grow up themselves, ultimately. Monica writes:
At a March luncheon celebrating the release of the new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, it wasn't long before things got really personal.
"Before [today], the fact is that primarily, a 20-year-old woman would have been a wife and a mother," author Kay Hymowitz told the crowd of about 100 for the Manhattan Institute in New York City. Men would have been mowing lawns and changing the oil in their family sedans instead of playing video games and watching television. In previous decades, adults in their 20s and 30s were too busy with real life for such empty entertainment, Hymowitz says. "They didn't live with roommates in Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Dupont Circle in D.C."

Interpretation: If only women let themselves be mothers and wives by the age twenty, men wouldn't be out there playing computer games but changing the oil in their cars and mowing the lawn. That men are not mowing the lawn is therefore the fault of women who forgot to get married and pregnant as teenagers.

But take a closer look at that comparison: On one side we have being a mother and a wife. On the other side we DON'T have being a father and a husband. Instead, the man is portrayed as changing the oil in the car or mowing the lawn, both jobs which happen rather infrequently and which are also coded masculine in the 1950s manner.

Why would Hymowitz juxtapose something like taking care of a child, a very time-intensive affair, with men doing chores which are at mostly an hour a week or so?

I think it's because her reference is a big fail. Under those 1950ish imaginary conditions the men would have had loads and loads of time to play computer games after work. Loads! Because almost all the work in the house was assigned to the female role the men could have played to their heart's content. That they did not was because computer games were not yet invented.

It's hard for me to understand the gals' auxiliary to the Misogynistic Brotherhood. Do they expect to be included in the Brotherhood, to be taken as honorary men, as the few who get to wear false testicles? If so, they are sorely mistaken, because the basic nature of sexism is that it applies to all individuals of a certain gender, not just those "other nasty women."

On the other hand, I completely understand why the Misogynistic Brotherhood loves to have the gals' auxiliary. If even other women think women are mostly crap, surely that has to be true?
*As an aside, I have recently been reading about medieval views on women. You might be surprised how close they come to today's wingnut views. Honest.

The medieval writers (mostly clergy who knew little of real women) saw the value of women in two things: 1. They were (lamentably) necessary for the procreation of the species and in particular for the provision of male heirs, and 2. If their weak, irrational and bestial behavior could be properly controlled they could exert a benign influence on their controllers, mostly through providing marital sex on demand and by refusing to provide extra-marital sex.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


The Republican budget proposal includes the major changes in Medicare:

a) Medicare: Privatizes Medicare. Future beneficiaries will choose from a menu of private options. They won’t have the choice of the standard Medicare plan. Wealthier beneficiaries will get a small voucher and poorer beneficiaries will get a larger voucher. Vouchers grow at GDP+1%, whether or not Medicare does the same.

The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. The Republicans are proposing means-testing, combined with a denial of the current standard Medicare plan. What they are offering is less coverage. And that smaller coverage is to be picked by the elderly from a long list of most likely confusing alternatives.

Note also the stipulated growth rate in the vouchers. Medical care costs have risen faster than the general rate of inflation for decades and nothing suggests that this wouldn't continue. All this means that the coverage Ryan offers will not only start smaller but will get even smaller at a rapid rate.

Past attempts to do something of this sort with health maintenance organizations and Medicare recipients were not successful. The elderly are the most expensive patients of all, for obvious reasons, and the average size of those vouchers would have to reflect that. Would it? Given those other rules in the Republican budget, I doubt it.

Turning the current Medicare system into vouchers would not be quite the same as total privatization, because even the current system uses private health care organizations to deliver the care. What it would do, though, are potentially two things:

1. It would make the total removal of government funding easier: Just make the vouchers disappear over time!, and

2. It would probably remove the ability of the government to hold down medical care costs by its gigantic-buyer market power.

This is so bad. It ultimately leaves elderly people on their own, struggling with various options, trying to balance medications and food and having to accept extra suffering.

Budget Blather

David Brooks is the gift that keeps on giving. Here he goes on about the new Republican budget proposal:
The country lacked that leadership until today. Today, Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate.
His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion. It will become the 2012 Republican platform, no matter who is the nominee. Any candidate hoping to win that nomination will have to be able to talk about government programs with this degree of specificity, so it will improve the G.O.P. primary race.
The Ryan proposal will help settle the fight over the government shutdown and the 2011 budget because it will remind everybody that the real argument is not about cutting a few billion here or there. It is about the underlying architecture of domestic programs in 2012 and beyond.

Bolds are mine, to point out how our David tries to hoodwink us. Note that a budget has two sides: The money coming in and the money coming out. We are asked to ignore what is supposed to happen to the revenue side of the Ryan proposal altogether. Thus, "serious" and "courageous" people will only study the expenditure side!

And only the domestic expenditure side! War budgets are not to be touched. And no, the defense cuts the Ryan proposal includes are not real ones. They are cuts compared to what was at first asked. Thus, "courageous" people will ONLY discuss cuts in domestic programs, nothing else!

What a good thing that I'm a non-serious coward, because then I can point out that the defense budget is also humongous and could easily be pared down, what with most of the world not being able to match the current US spending. And I can point out that the Ryan budget benefits the top one percent of earners in this country, asking nothing from them in terms of austerity and in fact offering them permanent tax reductions. It's the rest of us who are asked to tighten our belts.

I certainly hope that Brooks is wrong about all this reframing the conversation on future budgets. Unless Americans really want a feudal society where upward movement is impossible and where the richest of all are given the kind of freedom form taxes the European aristocrats used to have.

The Ten Ringwraiths

It should be nine, to match the story in the Lord of the Rings but one guy is semi-hidden:

This is a snapshot of the Republican news conference where their new budget proposal was unveiled. Steve Benen notes something about the picture:
What we saw was a House press conference held by 10 people who look remarkably similar to one another: 10 powerful, conservative, white men in dark suits, who make more money in a year than the vast majority of the American people.
Well, that is how power looks in this country. Ringwraithy.

When I look at that picture I of course notice the "planet of the guys" aspect of it: how we fail to see that the groups is not at all representative because we are used to seeing that group as representative of all, but more than that I notice the "punitive authoritarians" aspect. These guys have come to whip us into some order. Austerity! Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (or toes if you can't afford shoes)!

Except, of course, that their budget proposal gave lots of money to the rich. They want the top tax rate to be lowered to 25% and they want the Bush tax cuts to be permanent. The cost of that can be borne by the rest of us, especially by the poor.

If we were to use the argument (which I don't agree with) that the Republican Party is the authoritarian daddy party (while the Democrats are all for the nanny state), then this particular bunch of daddies is going to leave the children starving while increasing their own beer allowance.

More about the Medicare and Medicaid aspect of the proposal in a later post.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Supremes Sing on the Arizona Religious School Tax Credits

The case:
The disputed Arizona law gives tax credits up to $500 to people who donate money to "school tuition organizations" that then provide scholarships to students for private schools, including religious institutions. The taxpayers who challenged the program, who were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, claimed most of the money has been funneled to organizations that provide grants only to religious education.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had ruled that the challengers had legal "standing" to sue and had presented a claim under the First Amendment guarantee that government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
In most situations, people cannot challenge government policies simply based on their status as taxpayers. A 1968 Supreme Court case, however, carved out an exception to that rule when tax dollars might be used to support religion.
In Monday's decision, the high court majority more narrowly interpreted the 1968 precedent, Flast v. Cohen. Kennedy drew a distinction between a tax credit and an actual governmental expenditure that might benefit religion. He declared that the challengers "cannot take advantage of Flast's narrow exception to the general rule against taxpayer standing" in the Arizona case.

Note that the phrase "religious education" is probably misleading. I suspect that it's Christian education rather than, say, Buddhist education those donations ended up supporting.

Kennedy's distinction between "a tax credit and an actual governmental expenditure that might benefit religion" got this response from Kagan:
"Suppose a state desires to reward Jews — by, say, $500 per year — for their religious devotion," Kagan said. "Should the nature of taxpayers' concern vary if the state allows Jews to claim the aid on their tax returns, in lieu of receiving an annual stipend? Or assume a state wishes to subsidize the ownership of crucifixes. It could purchase the religious symbols in bulk and distribute them to all takers. Or it could mail a reimbursement check to any individual who buys her own and submits a receipt for the purchase. Or it could authorize that person to claim a tax credit equal to the price she paid. Now, really — do taxpayers have less reason to complain if the state selects the last of these three options?"
The case went five to four to the state of Arizona. That was to be expected, of course, given the Republican bent of the Court. A more interesting case might be one which pits religious (say, ahem, Catholic) causes against corporations.

Go Read Joseph Stiglitz

He has written an excellent piece on the growing income and wealth inequality in the United States. He touches on every base I can think of.

I want him to hatch my snake eggs, I do.

Katha Pollitt on Budget Cuts and Women

Katha points out the ways in which women are disproportionately affected by the Republican policies on both the federal and the state levels:
Remember “shared sacrifice”? Like the rain, the budget cuts were supposed to fall on all alike. But somehow men seem to be ending up with more than their share of umbrellas, and women are getting soaked. Attacks on reproductive healthcare are openly aimed at women and have gotten a lot of attention—like the House vote to defund Planned Parenthood and eliminate the Title X family planning program, which has fortunately been blocked in the Senate. Less visible are the ways federal, state and local government cutbacks, touted as neutral and necessary belt-tightening, will fall disproportionately on women.

The cuts will affect women in three ways. Partly as a legacy of private sector discrimination, a huge proportion of working women are employed by government or government contractors, and they tend to work in the very areas slated for the most drastic slashes—education, healthcare, social services, libraries, legal aid, secretarial and other office work. Moreover, because they are more likely to be poor, old and caring for children or relatives, women are the major recipients of social services. Thus, when a senior center is closed down, not only is the elderly person deprived of care likely to be female, the staffer who prepared her lunch or organized her group activities is probably a woman too—and so is the relative who now must take up the slack.

We are beginning to see the impact of this on unemployment figures:
Heavy job losses in public sector employment disproportionately affected women and contributed to the dismal employment picture for women throughout the recovery. While women represented just over half (57.0 percent) of the public workforce at the end of the recession, they lost virtually all (99.6 percent) of the 257,000 jobs cut in this sector during the recovery. 4
Is all this part of the Republican war against women? Probably not on the surface level. What goes on beneath that is for you to figure out.

It's a weird coincidence that during my recent travels on Those Sites I found this very argument proposed as a way to get women back into the kitchen where they belong. Keep the policemen and the firemen, cut the make-work wimminz jobs and voila, the wimminz must go back home and menz can then be happy again. In control as they are intended to be by both god and evolutionary psychology.

I'm not saying that the Republicans are all misogynists. But it's sorta worrying that their policies align perfectly with the policies of misogynists.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Michala Petri

Variations on Mads Dos

Multiple Baby Daddies!

They can make you poor. That's the title of a Forbes blog post about a new study. I think that the "they" in the title refers to women.

The study itself:
Twenty percent of US mothers have children with different biological fathers, a study presented at the Population Association of America meeting revealed today. Cassandra Dorius, from the University of Michigan Institute of Social research added that mothers of multiple children of different biological fathers tend to be less educated, under-employed, and have lower incomes.

Meaning: Multiple partner fertility defined as having children with more than one partner.

When Dorius examined patterns in families with more than two children, she discovered that 28% of them had different birth fathers. "It's pervasive.", Dorius added.

Dorius said that having multiple fathers had consequences for both the children and the mothers - they tend to be disadvantaged compared to other mothers in the country. A mother whose children had different biological fathers tends to spend approximately three times longer in poverty during adulthood, and had about 1 to 2 years less formal education than other females.


Because of the greater number of variables for both the mother and the children, Darius said this type of family structure tends to be more stressful.

Dorius said:
"Everyday decisions are more complex and family rules are more ambiguous. Families need to figure out who lives with whom and when, who pays for things like clothing, who is responsible for child support."

This is the only study to look at a wide section of the community. Previous ones concentrated on very young mothers or those located in inner-cities.

Although a considerable number of such families have lower incomes, they exist in every socioeconomic level. 43% of women who have children from more than one biological father were married when they had their first child.

All the write-ups of the study are somewhat weird. For one thing, given the divorce and remarriage rates in the US, one would expect a fairly high percentage of families where all the children don't share both the same father and the same mother. I mean just by thinking about it. For another thing, it's not clear to me why the causality is assumed to run in only one direction, i.e., from multiple partner fertility to poverty. It could well be the case that the causality runs in the other direction. Or both ways. After all, poverty itself is stressful.

But perhaps the study could control for that?

I bet you know what I'm going to ask next. Where is the study about male multiple partner fertility and its impact on children's poverty? Or where is the study about multiple baby mummies? If we wish to use that tinted phrasing.