Saturday, July 23, 2005

For Your Enjoyment

For Your Enjoyment

Not gonna happen. Roberts will sail through as he's such a good lawyer. Never mind what his values are. He will interpret the Constitution as it was intended by a bunch of men in wigs, some of whom owned slaves.
Thanks to Morgaine Swann for the picture

On Roe

Note the absence of "v". This post is not about the current disgrace of our government, but about the future disgraces it plans which will be generations long, too. This post is about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States, and it is largely cribbed from Katha Pollitt's recent column.

Pollitt starts by saying what so many are saying, all over the blogosphere, too:

Should prochoicers just give up and let Roe go? With the resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor, more people are asking that question. Democratic Party insiders quietly wonder if abandoning abortion rights would win back white Catholics and evangelicals. A chorus of pundits--among them David Brooks in the New York Times and the Washington Post's Benjamin Wittes writing in The Atlantic--argue that Roe's unforeseen consequences exact too high a price: on democracy, on public discourse, even, paradoxically, on abortion rights. By the early 1970s, this argument goes, public opinion was moving toward relaxing abortion bans legislatively--New York got rid of its ban in 1970, and one-third of states had begun to liberalize their abortion laws by 1973. By suddenly handing total victory to one side, Roe fueled a mighty backlash (and lulled prochoicers into relying on the courts instead of cultivating a popular mandate). In 1993 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg caused a flurry when she seemed to endorse this view: Roe, she declared in a speech, had "halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and...prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue." It's not an insane idea, even if most of its proponents (a) are men; (b) think Roe went too far; and (c) want abortion off the table because they are tired of thinking about it.

Howard Dean was gently making a nod in the same direction recently, and many of the yuppy women I meet on my wanderings tell me the same thing: that it wouldn't really change anything if Roe no longer existed as the law of the land. Perhaps it wouldn't for them, as the tickets to London are not hard to acquire here, but it would make this country quite different. None of them have read any of the books about the pre-world Roe, none of them know someone who died of an illegal abortion, none of them have heard of the underground abortion mills run by people who used rusty farm implements for the surgery.

But this wouldn't happen, this nightmarish world you fanatic goddess describe, these women say. The question of choice would go to state courts and states would then decide to have abortion legal, except for the few wingnut once, of course. So that would be ok.

Ok? Pollitt tells us why it wouldn't be so:

But of course, if the Court overturned Roe, abortion would not be off the table at all. It would be front and center in fifty state legislatures. According to What If Roe Fell: The State-by-State Consequences of Overturning Roe v. Wade, a report published this past fall by the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion rights would be at immediate high risk in twenty-one states, moderate risk in nine and "secure" in only twenty.
Legislative control might be more "democratic"--if you believe that a state senator balancing women's health against a highway for his district represents democracy. But would it be fair? The whole point about constitutional protection for rights is to guarantee them when they are unpopular--to shield them from majority prejudice, opportunistic politicians, the passions and pressures of the moment. Freedom of speech, assembly, worship and so on belong to us as individuals; our neighbors, our families and our legislators don't get to vote on how we use these rights or whether we should have them in the first place. Alabamans may be largely antichoice, but what about the ones who aren't? Or the ones who are but even so don't want to die in childbirth, bear a hopelessly damaged baby or drop out of school at 15--or 25? If Roe goes, whoever has political power will determine the most basic, intimate, life-changing and life-threatening decision women--and only women--confront. We will have a country in which the same legislature that can't prevent some clod from burning a flag will be able to force a woman to bear a child under whatever circumstances it sees fit. It is hard to imagine how that woman would be a free or equal citizen of our constitutional republic.

Pollitt is right. If Roe falls, abortion will be the one topic in dozens of state elections. If Roe falls, those states which would still allow abortion will have all the Operation Rescue fanatics permanently camped within their borders. And if Roe falls, lots of women will die. But that is just being "inconvenienced", as the wingnut politicians tell us.
I have a related post on this on American Street.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Action of the Day

Have you written a "concerned" letter yet today? I just sent off about ten, expressing sadness and disappointment on the conservative bias of various programs, providing facts to support my opinion and ending with a velvet-gloved threat to tell all about it to my readers! It makes as much difference as shouting into a barrel but I must do something to release my inner demon.

The problem we progressives and liberals have is that we are like cats, walking alone. It's much more powerful if a tv station, say, suddenly gets a few thousand letters from a bunch of us than if some loony Echidne of the snakes bothers them on a regular but solitary basis. We really need to acquire more group discipline.

It's hard work, of course. And there are days, like today, when I wonder if I belong to the group of liberals and progressives. Some liberals and progressives want to get rid of us pro-choice folk, because they believe that they'd get more votes from the fundies. Even Howard Dean is saying things like this:

Democrats need to reach out to voters who oppose abortion rights and promote candidates who share that view, the head of the party said Friday.

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a group of college Democrats that their party has to change its approach in the debate over abortion.

"I think we need to talk about this issue differently," said Dean. "The Republicans have painted us as a pro-abortion party. I don't know anybody in America who is pro-abortion."

Dean's approach echoed similar arguments advanced in recent months by former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

"We do have to have a big tent. I do think we need to welcome pro-life Democrats into this party," said Dean.

Fair enough. But what if you vote for the Democrats almost solely because their pro-choice platform? How many pro-life Democrats does it take to turn off that whole segment, and I believe that it's quite sizeable. After all, the Democrats have stopped about caring for the poor and appear every bit as eager to fill their pockets with corporate money as the Republicans, so there isn't that much else (other than the environment) where the Democrats make a separate appeal from the wingnuts. Would enough fundies shift over to make the policy change worthwhile in numbers? I very much doubt that.

No, it's just part of the same old same old. Women are sort of invisible and what their concerns might be is also invisible or unimportant. Remember how Bush and Kerry courted women? A couple of slapped-on infantile slogans, especially from Bush ("W" is for Women), but also from Kerry. No long-term attempt to attract female voters.

There are days, and this is one of those, when I think that the Democratic Party doesn't deserve its women voters.

Same-Sex Marriages Legal in Canada

It's the fourth country in the world legalizing same-sex marriages, and the first on this continent. Contrast this with the post below on Iran, and it becomes much clearer why multiculturalism has a lot of trouble; just imagine making one country out of Iran and Canada. Of course almost any discussion of women's rights shows the same paradox, paradox, because it is the liberals and progressives who support multiculturalism.

Sadly, the United States is probably closer to the Iranian values on women's rights and the rights of gays and lesbians than it is to the Canadian values.

Friday Dog Blogging -Courtesy of Helga Fremlin

Kelly Chatting With the Water Hose

This is what dogs do in Australia!

Horror in Iran

Two teenagers have been whipped and executed in Iran, apparently for the crime of homosexuality. This is what happens when religion is interpreted literally, when two thousand years old social codes are forced on people today. This is horror.

O'Connor Coming Clean

Sandra O'Connor, the retiring Supreme Court Judge, is talking! She is not happy about the direction of the federal judiciary:

Speaking at a conference of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, O'Connor cited the role of Ukraine's highest court in resolving the crisis over last year's presidential election as a ``transforming moment'' in the promotion of an independent judiciary in other nations.

``In our country today we're seeing efforts to prevent that, a desire not to have an independent judiciary,'' she said. ``That worries me.''

O'Connor said efforts in Congress to restrict federal court jurisdiction to decide particular issues were ``a new approach that's worrisome.''

Legislation introduced earlier this year would bar the Supreme Court from reviewing any government official's ``acknowledgment of God'' as the source of law or government.

You know, this sounds like a filthy liberal! I think the fundies may have overplayed their hand with the judiciary. Well, I hope that they have.

Rove and Libby

Bloomberg has an interesting article on the Plame investigations:

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Two top White House aides have given accounts to a special prosecutor about how reporters first told them the identity of a CIA agent that are at odds with what the reporters have said, according to people familiar with the case.

Lewis ``Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency operative Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, one person said. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didn't tell Libby of Plame's identity, the person said.

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of the CIA agent from syndicated columnist Robert Novak, according a person familiar with the matter. Novak, who was first to report Plame's name and connection to Wilson, has given a somewhat different version to the special prosecutor, the person said.

These discrepancies may be important because Fitzgerald is investigating whether Libby, Rove or other administration officials made false statements during the course of the investigation. The Plame case has its genesis in whether any administration officials violated a 1982 law making it illegal to knowingly reveal the name of a covert intelligence agent.

Heh! Double the heh. We needed a little beam of sunshine and here it is. Have the popcorn and the beer out.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bad Headlines on A Breast Cancer Study

The study in question followed women who had had biopsies on breast lumps which were found benign. What the study (covering 9,087 women) suggests is that most benign lumps are not correlated with higher breast cancer risk in the future:

About two-thirds of the women had benign lumps made up of cells that weren't actively growing. The good news is that this most common type of benign tissue didn't increase the risk of developing breast cancer much at all, over an average of ten years after diagnosis.

But, Senay points out, two other types of benign tissue did come with an increased risk. Thirty percent of the women had benign but actively growing cells, and about four percent had atypical, or abnormal-looking cells that were actively growing. Even though they're considered benign, these cells are important to identify because they do elevate the risk of developing breast cancer. They need to be monitored closely and preventive measures could be considered.

And what are the actual risk numbers? According to the study, the average risk is equal to five women in a hundred. The risk in the first of the two groups mentioned above (those with cysts), the one that two-thirds of the study subjects fell into, was six in a hundred.

The risks for two other groups: those where the cells were actively growing though not cancerous and those regarded as atypical were ten and nineteen women in a hundred, respectively. But remember that far fewer women fell into these two groups.

And what does this all mean in ordinary English? Essentially, most benign growths in breast are not associated with any greater likelihood of later breast cancer (the five in a hundred versus six in a hundred difference is most likely not statistically significant), but cancer risk can be higher for certain rarer types of benign growths. The risk factors are simply the relative numbers of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer during the years that had passed from the benign biopsy in each of the three groups.

I scanned through the Google headlines on this topic, and found everything from:

Most benign breast lumps don't raise risk

which is correct, to many of this type:

Benign breast disease increases cancer risk

The way medical studies are reported in the popular press is often very bad. There really is no good excuse for it.

Another Attempt in London

From Washington Post:

Small explosions at three London subway stations and on a double-decker bus shut down part of the city's transportation system Thursday but caused no significant casualties or damage, and Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged people to resume their normal activities.

London's police commissioner, Ian Blair, described the explosions as "attempts" to cause more serious damage. British news media reported that detonators had gone off, but not major bombs, possibly indicating that a terrorist attack meant to be similar to a devastating series of blasts two weeks ago had failed because of faulty explosives.

Dark Thought for the Night

I was reading a Washington Post article pointing out that it's unlikely Bush will nominate a woman when Rehnquist retires, either. The Supreme Court has diversity in the wingnut eyes if it has one black man, one Hispanic man, one woman and six white men. So we are going to get the Hispanic man next time.

This is really sad, especially as all the debate with respect to John G. Roberts's nomination has been about women's reproductive rights. Not only will we lose those rights, we will most likely lose ground in the Supreme Court, too. Never mind that we are the majority. - If you think of the judges in the Supreme Court as representing their race and sex, white men are overrepresented by a gigantic amount.

One might argue that this doesn't matter; a good judge is a good judge. Yes, but the wingnuts believe that women and men are inherently different. Shouldn't we then have women representing the "women's views"? And if the "inherent difference" idea is rejected, shouldn't women be represented in the same proportions as their numbers in the legal profession?

I have already heard defenses of the Roberts choice as valiant stance against "political correctness". The real political correctness means munching on the dingleberries of the wealthy and powerful, of course, but as usual everything is turned upside down. So being "politically correct" in their sense really means "picking an incompetent woman/Hispanic/black judge". White conservative men are by definition not incompetent, you see.

I know loads of very competitive women and minorities, but they are invisible to George Bush's beady eyes, I guess.

If you see nothing wrong with what is happening, try this thought experiment: The SCOTUS consists of seven women and two men. One man retires and the president replaces him with another woman. We'd never hear the end of the yelling and shouting and breast-beating.


Ann Coulter, the rabidest of al rabid wingnuts, may have committed the grave sin of plagiarism or at least the somewhat smaller sin of copying-and-pasting. According to Raw Story:

Much of Coulter's Jun. 29, 2005 column, "Thou Shall Not Commit Religion," bears a striking resemblance to pieces in magazines dating as far back as 1985—and a column written for the Boston Globe in 1995.

A RAW STORY examination found Coulter's work to be at worst plagiarism and at best a cut-and-paste repetition of points authored by conservative religious groups in the early 1990s. These groups sought to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts, detailing projects paid for by the NEA they dubbed "obscene."

The campaign traces back to an assault on the NEA mounted by the American Family Association in 1989. After press conferences held by the group's leader Rev. Donald Wildon, then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) slipped an amendment into a Senate bill that would have axed federal funding for "obscene art." It never passed the House.

Coulter employs the same NEA talking points in her Jun. 29 column written in the wake of a ruling barring the Ten Commandments from public places. She lists various identical "obscene" projects she says taxpayers have funded. All of the excerpts below compare this column with earlier texts.

Check out the original Raw Story post for the examples. Then you can decide. I just report...

What is funny about this whole thing is that Coulter keeps saying the most atrocious things about groups which the mainstream media doesn't let defend themselves. She has also advocated hitting liberals with baseball bats and stated that she regards women to be more stupid than men. None of this can bite her back; all it does is fill her money bags. But plagiarism! Now that's a horse of a different color.

The reason is that ownership rights are tightly defined for various material things and ideas that can be sold, and anyone who violates these rights is a thief. But a person who smears you, belittles you or advocates violence against you is just an interesting and outspoken columnist. These things hurt at least as much as plagiarism does but we have no ownership rights to our emotional and mental well-being.

Which is a long way of saying that Ann Coulter is rubbish whether she copies or not.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


My local radio station which broadcasts Air America has the most awful commercials imaginable. It's probably a wingnut plot to get all liberal stuff off the airwaves.

There is this vacuum cleaner ad which consists of a letter from a satisfied buyer, a man, who starts by saying:

My wife is in heaven!

This is because his wife has this wonderful vacuum cleaner and when she thought that she had broken it the company sent a spare part in no time at all! So then the husband had to write how happy his wife is now.

Also telling us, in various covert ways, that a) women are the ones meant to push vacuum cleaners around, b) that women are filled with joy and happiness when the vacuum cleaner works so well and c) that it is the husbands of the women who must write in to report on all these astonishing events.

I have never met anyone who is in rapture over a vacuum cleaner, but if I have to hear this commercial another thousand times I might start believing that all women dance in the streets with their vacuum cleaners and all the husbands sit indoors in the freshly cleaned house penning fan letters to sellers of these machines.

Rove! Plame! Iraq!

Let's not forget how many people die each day in Iraw. Let's not forget Karl Rove and Bush's troubles with the Plame Game. The wingnuts want us all to talk about John G. Roberts and to spend all our energy on that issue, while everybody forgets about what someone in this administration has done, what the nasty games are they play and what the loss of life looks like in Iraq. This is the worst administration the country has had and they stick to power like leeches, without caring about the human costs of their policies.

Let's not forget this.

Mr. Roberts's Neighborhood

Remember how the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the radical cleric Pat Robertson, demanded that Bush not appoint a consensus candidate because that would mean compromising with us filthy lefties? Well, this is what the Center says about John G. Roberts:

Whether or not the Senate confirms the President's nomination of John G. Roberts, Jr. to the high court may actually be up to people like you and me. We must stand together and let our voices be heard! We must urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to do its work well - to strongly approve Judge Roberts and pass his nomination on quickly to the full Senate for a vote.

So they like him. Makes me queasy. And this is what Operation Rescue, the group of fanatics that demonstrates outside abortion clinics and worse, says about this nominee:

"A culture of life can never be built as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

"We appreciate President Bush being a man of his word by appointing a judge that will respect the Right to Life acknowledged by our nation's founding documents," said Newman. "We pray that Roberts will be swiftly confirmed."

"Our nation has suffered enough under decades of liberal activist judges legislating from the bench," said OR spokesperson Cheryl Sullenger. "After 45 million dead children, we are guardedly optimistic that the confirmation of Judge Roberts will be a step toward restoring protections for the pre-born that were stolen from them in 1973."

"Protections for the pre-born"... What about protections for the pre-dead which would be us who have already been born?

This joy and celebrating tells me that John G. Roberts is every thinking woman's worst nightmare.
Props to R.P.

Women in the Iraqi Constitution

The latest draft of a new constitution for Iraq has some bits which are worrisome for women's rights:

The draft chapter, circulated discreetly in recent days, has ignited outrage among women's groups, which held a protest on Tuesday morning in downtown Baghdad at the square where a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by American marines in April 2003.

One of the critical passages is in Article 14 of the chapter, a sweeping measure that would require court cases dealing with matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance to be judged according to the law practiced by the family's sect or religion.

Under that measure, Shiite women in Iraq, no matter what their age, generally could not marry without their families' permission. Under some interpretations of Shariah, men could attain a divorce simply by stating their intention three times in their wives' presence.

Article 14 would replace a body of Iraqi law that has for decades been considered one of the most progressive in the Middle East in protecting the rights of women, giving them the freedom to choose a husband and requiring divorce cases to be decided by a judge.

It's important to know that a Muslim cannot stop being one, as far as I understand. Thus, the rights a woman has would be completely based on the sect she happens to be born into.

Worryingly, the new draft also suggests to get rid of the one fourth quota for women in the parliament:

Ms. Arayess, the Shiite drafter, said some of the writers were considering keeping the quota for the next two terms of the parliament before allowing it to lapse. After that, she said, women should be able to stand on their own.

Right. And pigs do fly.

Nobody really cares about women's rights in Iraq, certainly not within the U.S. government. Bush wouldn't have attacked the country if he had cared about the rights of women. Iraq used to have one of the most egalitarian legal systems for women, and look what we have wrought! Oh, I forgot, no more rape rooms. Though, they don't matter much as many women don't dare to go out in any case, fearing kidnapping and rape.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Supreme Nominee

Ta-ram-tam-tam! I give you....John G. Roberts Jr., who has been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since June 2003. Who is this guy? It seems that he actually knows lawyering which is a nice change. But his opinions are wingnutty, of course:

Advocacy groups on the right say that Roberts, a 50-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., who attended Harvard Law School, is a bright judge with strong conservative credentials he burnished in the administrations of former Presidents Bush and Reagan. While he has been a federal judge for just a little more than two years, legal experts say that whatever experience he lacks on the bench is offset by his many years arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

Liberal groups, however, say Roberts has taken positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty that endanger those rights. Abortion rights groups allege that Roberts is hostile to women's reproductive freedom and cite a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion.

"The court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion ... finds no support in the text, structure or history of the Constitution," the brief said.

Or, as an e-mail from NARAL states:

Some of the lowlights of Judge Robert's background include:

As Deputy Solicitor General, Roberts argued in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court (in a case that did not implicate Roe v. Wade) that "[w]e continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled…. [T]he Court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion… finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."

In Rust v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court considered whether Department of Health and Human Services regulations limiting the ability of Title X recipients to engage in abortion-related activities violated various constitutional provisions. Roberts, appearing on behalf of HHS as Deputy Solicitor General, argued that this domestic gag rule did not violate constitutional protections.

Roberts, again as Deputy Solicitor General, filed a "friend of the court" brief for the United States supporting Operation Rescue and six other individuals who routinely blocked access to reproductive health care clinics, arguing that the protesters' behavior did not amount to discrimination against women even though only women could exercise the right to seek an abortion.

The Court was so accustomed to the Solicitor General and the Deputy Solicitor General arguing for the overturn of Roe that during John Roberts's oral argument before the Supreme Court in Bray, a Justice Asked, "Mr. Roberts, in this case are you asking that Roe v. Wade be overruled?" He responded, "No, your honor, the issue doesn't even come up." To this the justice said, "Well, that hasn't prevented the Solicitor General from taking that position in prior cases."

I'm cutting and pasting like mad because I don't know anything about Mr. Roberts. Have to find out how corporate-friendly he is. Probably very.

Well, the wingnuts must dance happily tonight. They got their way and the number of women in the Supreme Court dropped by fifty percent.

More Harry Potter

I should be speculating on whom Bush will nominate to a perch among the Supremes but I don't want to. Though it might be Edith Jones if he has felt especially bad yearnings towards the bottle.

But let's talk about something more pleasant. I went out on Sunday night and bought all the Harry Potter books except for the latest one, and I have now read books 2-4 in addition to the first one I read years ago. I have to eat some of my earlier comments: The ideas about class and race do become more complicated and more interesting, and the black-and-whiteness of the thinking more realistic. And Rowling is very skilled in the way she shows the slow effects of more years on the main characters' world views. Not bad, at all, though reading all those books in a day or so (well, during the nights, actually) has left me a little muddled on the plot lines.

There are some fairly serious gaps in the plots, though. This isn't necessarily as bad as it might be in a different type of book because we are expected to suspend our disbelief about magic and so on to begin with. But the little slips are still annoying, and they affect the background, too. For example, the whole idea of Muggle technology being banned doesn't extend to anything older like newspapers or photographs or listening to the wireless, it seems, and it is not yet clear (at the end of book 4) what the wizards largely live on. The only employment seems to be the Ministry of Wizardry, but Harry's parents didn't work for it or did they? Where does all the gold in the goblin vaults come from? Alternatively, why don't the wizards just conjure everything they need, why is there money at all or servants? Perhaps these omissions are because children and teenagers don't care about the source of money or who makes their beds; they just want more money from their parents, usually, and someone else to make the beds, but as an economist goddess I'd like to know.

I've gone all critical again, and should add that I'm quite enjoying the books. But they don't have the same effect on me as Ursula LeGuin's series does, say. The kind of effect where your emotions, intellect and the spiritual bits get all going at the same time and transport you into some other place for a while. Or Sheri Tepper's The True Game and the other books relating to that field of chess pieces. Or Tolkien's books. Still, if lots of children read Harry Potter Rowling has succeeded in something very important, and I sincerely applaud her achievement. Though she could have made book 5 a little thinner. It will fall apart in the bath tonight, I fear.

Clinton in Aspen

Via American Prospect, we learn about Bill Clinton's words at the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival, a gettogether for the Washington insiders but with a fairly liberal audience. Though perhaps "liberal" in a way that the so-called regular liberal on Fox News would appreciate. The idea of the Festival seems to be to say things which are usually said by the opposite side of politics, and to astonish everybody into great admiration for such unbiased and frank utterances.

Bill Clinton shows us how this is is done:

The great triangulator's point was that Democrats can't win the presidency if they don't campaign earnestly among churchgoing Christians—he noted that he got 75 percent more Evangelical votes in 1996 than John Kerry did in 2004. He suggested that Roe v. Wade was the unfortunate beginning of the end of civility between left and right. He said the Democrats are wrong to deny that malpractice suits don't drive up medical costs. And about the current war he said, "This is not Vietnam. I wouldn't set a deadline [for the withdrawal of troops]. I agree with the president." If anyone but him had said the same thing about Iraq, there would have been boos and hisses, as there had been the night Evan Thomas said he thought the administration had sincerely believed Saddam had WMD stockpiles.

Did he wet his finger first and stick it up in the air? He's probably working to place Hillary into the center for the next presidential campaign, though "center" these days is so far to the right that one can balance nothing on it.

Sadly for Bill, the things he confesses here are silly ones to confess. Take the malpractice suit effects on medical costs: Of course they increase medical costs. So does bandaging someone's finger or sending physicians to the Caribbean islands by pharmaceutical companies or advertising painkillers on television. The important question is the amount by which malpractice suits increase the costs, and here all studies are quite clear. Malpractice suits are not a major cause of higher health care costs. What is driving up those costs is high-technology medicine, especially in the end-of-life treatments which don't have a great succcess rate. Another important cause is the way medical markets don't function well in general: the firms can set prices quite high without causing any great drop in usage because patients are often insured and don't care about high prices and because there aren't that many choices for treatment when one is very ill.

George Bush attacks malpractice suits for two reasons, and neither one of them has anything to do with health care costs. The first one is his hatred of trial lawyers because they give more money to Democrats, and the second is his desire to make it harder and harder for ordinary workers and consumers to sue anyone on the business side for anything. And we pure rabble go along with it, as does Bill Clinton.

If political acumen depends on crossing the gaping chasm to the wingnut side this is probably a fairly easy way to do it. But I always said that Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we ever had.

Monday, July 18, 2005

George and the Condoms

What does president Bush think about contraception? Is he for it or opposed to it? Will he find a Supreme Court nominee who will one day ban our access to condoms? This sounds fairly far-fetched, Echidne in the tinfoil hat again, you mutter. But is it really that far-fetched?

On May 26, 2005 reporters asked McClellan about the president's views on contraception. McClellan's answer:

Q There are news reports this morning that parents and children who were guests of the President, when they visited Congress, wore stickers with the wording, "I was an embryo." And my question is, since all of us were once embryos, and all of us were once part sperm and egg, is the President also opposed to contraception, which stops this union and kills both sperm and egg?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views known on these issues, and his views known –

Q You know, but what I asked, is he opposed -- he's not opposed to contraception, is he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and you've made your views known, as well. The President –

Q No, no, but is he opposed to contraception, Scott? Could you just tell us yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that this question is –

Q Well, is he? Does he oppose contraception?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think the President's views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life –

Q If they were clear, I wouldn't have asked.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and if you want to ask those questions, that's fine. I'm just not going to dignify them with a response.

Now I find this very scary. McClellan usually plays the clam when the answer is controversial or could cast Bush in a bad light. Why is the question of contraception controversial in the United States of America, anno Domini 2005?

A repetition of the same question today caused this exchange of informative comments:

Q I have one follow up. Nineteen members of Congress from seven states have written a letter to the President saying that they are still waiting for an answer to a May 26th question: Is the President opposed to contraception. And my question is, could they now have an answer to my question? Or do you regard them, too, as not to be dignified with a response?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think we've talked about these issues before and these issues when it comes to the federal government and programs aimed at promoting abstinence and how those ought to be funded on at least equal footing with other programs, so I think we've addressed the President's views in that context.

I hate to say this but you might want to start stocking up not only on ducktape but also those little plastic penis bags. For the access to contraception is indeed a controversial topic for the wingnuts who run this country right now.
Information via NARAL.

Today's Action Alert

This alert is from the National Women's Law Center:

Senate set to vote on estate tax before the end of July.
Tell your senators to reject more tax breaks for millionaires!

Say NO to yet another reckless tax cut! The Senate is planning to vote in the next two weeks on a proposal to permanently repeal the estate tax and/or a proposal to drastically reduce the estate tax. Repealing the estate tax will cost nearly $1 trillion over the first ten years of full repeal, and some proposals to "reform" the estate tax cost almost as much. At the same time, Congress is considering cuts to vital supports for women and their families.

TAKE ACTION NOW! Click here to email your Senators! Tell them to vote NO on permanently repealing the estate tax and on so-called "reform" proposals that would lose hundreds of billions of dollars in federal revenue. And call your Senators at 202-224-3121 or find their D.C. office numbers here on the NATIONAL CALL-IN DAY on WEDNESDAY, JULY 20th.


The federal estate tax currently affects only estates larger than $1.5 million for an individual, $3 million for a couple; only the largest one percent of estates pay any estate tax at all. The estate tax is scheduled to be completely repealed in 2010 and then reinstated in 2011.

While the Senate is considering making repeal of the estate tax permanent - granting the very wealthiest Americans yet another costly tax cut - it is also debating cutting Social Security benefits. Yet, with just part of the revenues from preserving the estate tax, we could close 25 to 50 percent of the long-term shortfall in Social Security.

Meanwhile, the Senate is looking to cut billions of dollars from Medicaid, Food Stamps, and other vital supports in the budget reconciliation bill this fall. The Senate is also beginning to vote on its annual spending bills which grossly underfund critical priorities such as education and child care. Eliminating or significantly shrinking the estate tax for the wealthiest individuals while proposing to take basic supports away from those Americans who need help the most is unfair and irresponsible.

Bush Redefines

His language! He earlier said that he'd fire anyone who outed a covert CIA agent. Now he says that he meant something different:

President George W. Bush said he would fire any member of his administration who broke the law as prosecutors focus on White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove in their investigation of the disclosure of a covert intelligence agent to reporters.

``If somebody committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration,'' Bush said today during a White House news conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. ``It's best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions.''

Bush's statement offers more protection for administration officials who may have discussed agent Valerie Plame with reporters, said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. On June 10, 2004, Bush answered ``Yes'' when asked whether he would fire anyone who leaked Plame's name.

``He's certainly backing off,'' Gillers said. ``Before it didn't seem to matter whether or not the revelation would be a crime.''

That's significant because the parameters for breaking the 1982 law about exposing an undercover agent are very narrow, Gillers said. A person would have had to reveal the name knowingly and with the awareness that the government was trying to conceal it. And it's only illegal if the agent worked overseas in the past five years; Plame has lived in the U.S. since 1997.

So did the leakers wait until exactly five years would be gone since Plame's last foreing assignment? The whole mess smells to high heavens.

But of course the wingnuts find the smell on the other side:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert sent out a press release assailing Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for failing to focus on policy.

``The Democratic leadership has revealed that their agenda is a cynical playbook of partisan politics, which only poisons the well for members who are working together this week in a bipartisan way to move America forward,'' Hastert said.

Ha ha ha. Laughs she in a cold and hollow voice. Turn the mirror at your own face, Dennis. And do tell me where you have been acting in a bipartisan way. Unless you mean the Republicans and the Republicans.

There are lots of blog posts on the details of the Plame Game, discussions on Ari Fleischer and Colin Powell, on whether Matthew Cooper's statement is now that Rove was the outer and on this memorandum that might have been the source of the outing information, and on and on. I just don't want to follow all the ins and outs. My interest in the legal game is deficient, something to do with having lived on the Olympus where there were no laws, I guess. I agree with Billmon that we might as well play our own Plame Games.

The New Wife

Ms. musings has an excellent post about a Today Show on the "new wife". It turns out that this is the old 1950's stereotype of a wife: one who desires to stay at home while the husband brings in the bacon. Astonishingly, it turns out that the new one is highly educated and has decided that feminism didn't work, that it is impossible to have both a career and a family, and that the family must come first.

The show was really a way for Susan Barash to sell her book about this topic, and as far as I can ascertain there is no real evidence on the prevalence of this "new wife". But talking about a return to the 1950's is a popular thing these days, like it has been repeatedly during the last thirty years. As celebrated as the repeated funerals of feminism. The most recent trumpet blower of the stay-at-home engineers, lawyers and physicians before Barash was Lisa Belking in 2003. But talking about this has been going on almost continuously as far back as I remember.

Thus, it is hard to judge how real the most recent trend is, or if it exists at all. The female labor market participation rate (the percentage of adult women who work outside the home) has been rising for the last thirty years, and may now have peaked. This means that the relative number of women with jobs may not change very much in the future. It doesn't necessarily, or even probably, mean that the percentages would start going down. For one thing, the vast majority of people can't afford to have just one breadwinner in the family.

Maybe this is why these shows and books always focus on the small number of families who indeed can afford to live on one salary. This is pretty elitist, as the ruminations and doubts and happiness or boredom presented in these scenarios is unattainable for most. It is also dangerous: if educated women stop working outside the home who is going to be out there demanding that work is made more suitable for people with families, for two-earner families or for single parents? If educated women stop working outside the home, how long will it take before we will read demands about limiting the number of women in higher education, in medical, law and business schools? Will we, once again, hear laments about all those societal dollars spent educating girls who will just then stay at home? Will we, once again, decide that it is safer not to promote women because they will leave soon anyway? There were reasons why the 1950's stereotypes died a relatively quick death, and one important one is that equality of men and women is unlikely to be realized under this scenario.* Another one is, as I already mentioned, that having just one breadwinner in a family has historically been an anomaly, not something that has been routinely practised.

How to take care of children is truly complicated in this country. The societal options are extremely limited except for the wealthy, and the labor markets punish career interruptions mercilessly. This is at least partly because of the prevailing cultural norm that it is the mothers, and pretty much the mothers alone, who are responsible for hands-on childcare. And many mothers want to do exactly that. Others may be forced into making a Solomon's choice because of external constraints, and in all these cases the costs are borne by the mother and her family, not the rest of the society. Maybe this is why the whole job-family balance is viewed as a women's issue, and tends to cause sleepiness in all the powers-that-be (with the exception of people like Rick Santorum who prefer to tell women to get themselves back into the kitchens and fast). So for educated women with well-earning husbands the choice is between their brain and their uterus. Other women have no choices at all, really. But this is just girl stuff.

Bitter. I am bitter. I truly thought that we would have solved this all by now. But there is no willingness to go there. "There" being the need for not a "new wife" but a "new society" and a "new husband"**, all new in the sense that they feel the same draw and pull as the educated mothers appear to do today. The books and programs about the "new wife" say pretty much nothing about the ("old"?) husbands of these women and not much more about the society's role in all this. No, the problem is a women's issue. Oops, make it educated women's issue. No, what I meant to say that there is no problem here at all! So.
*An erudite article on this is in the works!
**I know that there are men already who feel these effects, that there are men who take time off to stay with their children. These (relatively few) men suffer from the same cost consequences as the women who made the same choices, though, and that is not the answer we are looking for.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

On Harry Potter

I must start by confessing that I have only read the very first Harry Potter. It wasn't interesting enough for me to try to acquire the others but I may yet do so, if that will let me understand why these books are so very popular. They have made their author, J.K. Rowling, a billionaire, and perfectly sane (and adult!) people into mad fans willing to stay in line in the middle of the night just to get the newest book a few hours earlier.

Maybe I'm deficient in some deep and substantive way for not getting the Potter appeal. Or maybe my reaction is the normal one for someone who has read cartloads of books in this particular genre. From that angle the Potter book I read was well-written and plotted but not earth-shatteringly different or new. It isn't as good as Tolkien's The Hobbit, for example, and the female characters in it are few and tokenishly good. The later Potter books may be lots better, but the craze began with the very first one. Hence, any explanation of it should be possible by using information only from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

This is my try at such an explanation: Harry Potter is a wizard, a boy with magical powers. His parents are conveniently dead and he is brought up by his extremely nasty aunt and uncle, both nonmagical. He must constantly battle their own son who gets privileged treatment while Harry is given nothing but scolding, old clothes and a bed in a closet under the stairs.

Suddenly all this is over, and in a male-Cinderella-goes-to-the-party reversal Harry gets a place in a school of magic, run along the lines of a very genteel British boarding school. There he makes both enemies and friends, turns out to be excellent in sports and by the end of the book has had adventures which have made him into a hero.

This is almost any child's secret nasty dream: to be able to openly hate the adults in the house for being unfair, ungenerous and unloving, to be able to openly hate all those siblings that compete for the same scarce resources. But such hatred can't be openly admitted, for children love their parents and siblings, too. Walt Disney knew the solution a long time ago when he had Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse take care of nephews. Hating someone not-parent is acceptable for most mothers and fathers, as Rowling appears to know.

Add to this the dream of being better than others, of having secret powers while the others are nothing but common nonmagical rabble! And then to be allowed into a school of magic with wonderful unending food and games played in the air on broomsticks! And to be the best player of the whole lot! It isn't even really necessary for Harry to have any further adventures. If I were eleven years old I'd love this book, too.

But it's not only the eleven year old that love the Potter books. A large number of adults adore them, too, which suggests either that we don't mature quite as much as I used to think or that the later books are more interesting for mature readers than the one I read. Or both.

Whatever the reason, there is something about the first Harry Potter book that I intensely disliked: the sense of an accepted hierarcy which places wizards and witches above the ordinary people, called Muggles. Not only that, the wizards and witches live in an essentially segregated society from that inhabited by the Muggles. Given the recent questions about the impact of alienation on Muslim youth in Europe I wonder how wise it is to depict segregated societies of this kind as unproblematic. The whole two-tier imaginary world just might encourage some sort of racist thinking.

The other thing that makes me less than happy about these books is the fact (and I don't believe you if you argue otherwise here) that if the hero had been called Harriet Potter the Potter craze would never have materialized. This is not the author's fault, but I'd be remiss as an angry feminazi not to make a note of it.

I feel a little guilty for such a negative review of a phenomenom based on reading but one of the books, and also because I seem to be on the same side as Pope Ratzo with this. The latter is only an illusion, of course, I strongly recommend everyone to take an interest in witchcraft and wizardry, whereas the Pope wants people not to read these books at all. But to atone for these and any other criticisms I might provoke I promise to read the other Potter books during this week.