Saturday, January 21, 2006

We Have Always Been At War With Eastasia

The title refers to George Orwell's 1984 and is shorthand for telling you that I'm an ivory tower elitist latte-sipping liberal who has read at least one book in her long life. It's also, sadly, an extremely apt and short way of summarizing what is going on in this country right now, and it is the exploitation of the human fear of dying.

Karl Rove is back in the saddle because George Bush fears horses. All the rest of us will be made to fear and to fear and then to fear some more. We are going to be scared of those dark shadows hiding in the corners and of dirty bombs and of dark-haired men with beards:

What Rove underscored in his stripped-down presentation was the degree to which the White House is gearing up for another "He Protected Us Against Osama bin Laden Even If We Can't Find Him" election. For terrorism remains the most potent political argument for reelecting a Republican Congress.


Other presidents, particularly Bill Clinton, needed the Permanent Campaign to sustain them politically. As Rove demonstrated Friday in his first out-from-hiding speech since November, Bush and the Republicans are banking everything politically on the Permanent War.

Permanent War, against a shadowy enemy with no country, no government. An enemy we cannot find or kill, an enemy which might disappear from the book of the living and we wouldn't know that this had happened. An eternal world of war, with all peacetime laws suspended. How do you like that, my friends? But it's because of the terror, the possibility that right at this moment an evil terrorist might be building a bomb, might be putting it into a box and might be writing your name and address on the box.

What wouldn't we give up to be safe? How about everything that Osama bin Laden wanted to destroy? For that is where we seem to be heading.

Nature Blogging

The Comments-Gate at Washington Post

Jane Hamsher gives a good summary on recent events in this interesting and fascinating scandal, having to do with Washington Post's decision to side with the wingnuts and against real journalistic principles of truthful reporting.

I have two posts on this frontpage that list several of the supposedly disgusting comments. You can decide for yourself if you think that ALL the comments should have been deleted.

The Comments-Gate is just an attempt not to speak about the true scandal here: that reporters and pundits who should know better have decided to frame the Abramoff scandal of corruption and bribery as a fair one, a bipartisan one, one that equally hurts the Democratic party. When this cannot be done by facts alone then interpretation is added to make the outcome what was wanted. Hence we hear that "Abramoff and his clients" donated money to Democrats, when it was only the clients, the Indian tribes, who are known to have donated money to the Democratic party, not Abramoff himself, and when the donations of the Indian tribes to Democrats actually declined from the pre-Abramoff era!

It could be the case that future research finds more Democratic involvement in the scandal. Could be. But until there is evidence to support this argument the media pundits should not make such an assertion. It used to be called lying when I was a child.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Few More Comments From the WaPo Blog

So that you can decide for yourself if the commenters engaged in personal attacks and hate speech. Some did, sure, just as some do in my comments. But did enough people do so to justify taking down the whole thread? See the post after the next one for more explanation about this.

Here is a chunk, randomly chosen, from the thread:

Posted by: John Casper | Jan 15, 2006 11:20:44 PM | Permalink

The Post should be ashamed and issue a very prominent retraction for the charge that Abramoff contributed to Dems.

Posted by: Upper West | Jan 15, 2006 11:23:21 PM | Permalink

While disappointed with the Post's support of an obviously corrupt Presidency and Republic Party, may I say that I am proud of your readers?

Perhaps you should listen to them.

Posted by: Concerned Reader | Jan 15, 2006 11:24:08 PM | Permalink

Toward a Genealogy of Contemporary Propaganda

"It must be forbidden to publish papers which do not conduce to the national welfare."
From the Program of the National Socialist German Workers Party, 1920

I guess the WaPo (like the rest of the "mainstream media") got the updated, Bushist memo …

Sieg heel! (like a dog)

Payola, planted stories, "talking points," "access," "unnamed officials," "double super secret background,"
"fair and balanced," outright fabrication: so much press corruption, so little ink.

Posted by: Eddie Murrow | Jan 15, 2006 11:25:52 PM | Permalink

Come on, people. Are you really suprised by this? Newspapers have been slipping away for decades. We are now witnessing the fall of the few remaining heavyweights. Shitty business + bottom line thinking = easily corruptible hacks. The good news is that no one listens to these people anymore.

Who thought blogs would soon exceed newspapers in terms of credibility?

Posted by: Arthur Davis | Jan 15, 2006 11:28:59 PM | Permalink

Deborah, I am so impressed with your stellar fact finding. Hey, maybe for your next article you could delve into that mystery about Soylent Green. People? Or just Democrats?

Posted by: another deb | Jan 15, 2006 11:30:03 PM | Permalink

"Seriously, Deborah Howell needs to quit and just work for her republican paymasters instead of trying to pass herself off as a journalist. Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff? Where would the proof of that be exactly Deborah? Democrats took money from Indian tribes, which last I checked is hardly illegal"

My thoughts exactly.
If the WP is going to print the Lies fed to their "Journalists" (and I use the term in an entirely sarcastic manner) without checking the most basic facts of the story, then perhaps sacking the overpaid likes of Deborah Howell and employing a stenographer would be the ideal solution.
Deborah could then get the job in the Republican Party HQ she has alway's aspired to and the WP could just print the handouts from the GOP (minus grammatical and spelling mistakes) and pass them off as "News" to all their readers.

Posted by: Wess | Jan 15, 2006 11:31:05 PM | Permalink

Howell is going down Judy Miller Boulevard, not a pleasant road in the end. As we recall, Judy dealt a serious blow to the integrity and credibility of the NYT. Yet they kept her on, long after they should have loudly and publicly dumped her. Now we have WaPo and Howell, a lying ringer for Judy. How long will WaPo hold onto her as she does serious damage to the integrity and credibility of the paper? Will they keep defending the indefensible? Take umbrage at the "evil lefties" who are "out to get her"? The Abramoff matter is about facts. She needs to be fired. Do it quietly or do it loudly (preferred), but for god's sake do it! Act like any boss should when faced with an employee who is not only incompetent and a liar, but whose actions are seriously damaging your newspaper.

Posted by: Gary Morris | Jan 15, 2006 11:31:31 PM | Permalink

PS I think Arthur Davis is exactly right when he says we're witnessing the downfall of Big Media, thanks to the freedom (in every sense) of the Internet and their own consistently unethical, delusional, unpatriotic, and generally godawful behavior. Thanks for saying it so well, Arthur!

Posted by: Gary Morris | Jan 15, 2006 11:34:42 PM | Permalink

I am cancelling my online subscription. Not a big deal, but just a note to indicate that I have no interest in wasting my time with any publication that employs slobs and hacks like Deborah Howell.

RNC bootlickers are a dime a dozen these days - take comfort in numbers.

How far you have fallen. Sad indeed.

Posted by: Coloradoan | Jan 15, 2006 11:35:40 PM | Permalink

I have been quite dissappointed with WaPo's egregious violations of journalistic integrity.

I still haven't gotten over the way Dana Milbank treated John Conyers. This Deborah Howell is more of the same, but she seems even more loyal to Bush than Milbank was for so long.

I'm thoroughly disgusted with the media's complicity with Bush's treason and war crimes.

I've never felt this way about American media and government before in my life and I'm not alone. There will be hell to pay.

Posted by: Paul | Jan 15, 2006 11:39:20 PM | Permalink

Please provide proof that Abramoff gave money to Democrats, any Democrats, much less many. Otherwise, please fire Ms. Howell.

Posted by: drinkof | Jan 15, 2006 11:42:43 PM | Permalink

Maybe some of your liberal / progressive ADVERTISERS will feel the same way about the direction you're going with the GOP shilling? Maybe angry readers translate into angry consumers?

Posted by: consider this... | Jan 15, 2006 11:46:20 PM | Permalink

Ms. Howell:

Don't you think you owe us--the readers, your supposed clients--a public response? Why does everyone else at the Post come out from behind their bylines and you never have? Afraid of a little "Post On-Line Chat?" The NY Times ombudsman--who, by the way, puts you to shame--keeps a public weblog.

No doubt you will write these comments off as somehow orchestrated. You would be wrong. These posts are driven by genuine outrage over your abject incompetence and partisanship, and we won't stop until we have gotten some answers and some results.


A Washington Post Soon-To-Be-Former Subscriber

Posted by: Daisy | Jan 15, 2006 11:47:18 PM | Permalink

I'll add my name to the list of those who have found the recent turn of events at the Post disheartening. Deborah Howell is just the latest outrage.

It's ironic that the "old" print media is attacking the bloggers for a lack of integrity, and yet here is another example of how the once venerable news organizations are continually failing to live up to any real standards of reporting while they claim that only the traditional media can provide these standards.

The future is coming, and it doesn't look good for organziations like the Post if they can do nothing but act as stenographers and mouthpieces for those in power.

Posted by: Andrew Mayer | Jan 15, 2006 11:49:46 PM | Permalink

I anxiously await the WaPo's sarcastic and dismissive remarks to the numerous letters it has received pointing out, once again, deceptive practices the newspaper's employees have engaged in. I'm sure those of us who inform the WaPo that we are aware of Deborah Howell's misrepresentaions and her astounding lack of basic journalistic fact checking will be scoffed at and derided as members of the 'lefty blogosphere' by your editorial staff. After all, people who catch you disseminating blatant disinformation and who demand you correct this nonsense about the Abramoff affair being 'bipartisan' must be loonies, no?

Posted by: B Thwaithe | Jan 15, 2006 11:49:54 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howell is grossly incompetent.

Jack Abramoff did NOT make substantial campaign contributions to both major parties. In fact, he made ZERO contributions to Democrats.

Ms. Howell's job as Ombudsman is to make sure that the Post adheres to the basic
principles of sound journalism. She cannot do her job without conducting basic research--obviously in this instance she did not.

If Deborah Howell is incapable of doing her job, she should quit and go to work for the GOP spin machine. After all, they are the ones--not the Post, its subcribers and advertisers--who should be paying for her efforts on behalf of the GOP.

Posted by: John | Jan 15, 2006 11:53:47 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howl, and I do mean Howl, is as incompetant at her job as the Bush administration is at its job.

There is no evidence that any Democrat accepted campaign contributions from Abramoff. Whis is this fact so difficult to comprehend. Some people gave money to Democrats who also happened to hire Abramoff as a lobbiest. This is not a crime. It is not unethical.

Any attempt to portray the Democrats as in the same boat as the Republicans with Abramoff is a damnable lie, and the Repugnican motivation to do this is obvious to anyone who is not retarded.

Deborah Howl should go on the payroll of the REpugnican Party, she is such a good shill for their sneaky talking points. Unless she already is on the take from the Republicans, which would explain her lack of due diligence with respect to the known facts.

Posted by: c4logic | Jan 15, 2006 11:54:33 PM | Permalink

I am completely appalled by the writings of Ms. Howell. I'd suggest finding a new line of work, you know, one that doesn't involve thinking.

Posted by: Caroline Jones | Jan 15, 2006 11:54:38 PM | Permalink

Dear Washington Post Editors and Reporters,

When you're once again bemoaning the decline in readership and the rise of certain blogs, please read Howell's Sunday column. It will provide you with the answer.


Posted by: Mimi | Jan 15, 2006 11:56:19 PM | Permalink

You know it's bad when a newspaper needs to get an ombudsman to oversee its ombudsman. The folks who have commented in this blog are part of Howell's audience, and she needs to do her job and address the many legitimate concerns expressed here. I hope her bosses are reading the comments.

Posted by: pdaku | Jan 15, 2006 11:57:03 PM | Permalink

Is your ombudsman on the Abramoff take? There is certainly enough evidence to warrant a serious investigation. Given the editorial endorsing Alito, perhaps you will need to outsource the investigation.

Posted by: Jim White | Jan 15, 2006 11:57:21 PM | Permalink

Ms Howell:
What part of the Republican slush fund/money laundering system don't you understand ? This is just a modern rendition of the old grease the machine with ill gotten gains laundered through faux faith based charities and other fake nonprofits. It was and is a system invented by, run by, and run for the benefit of Republicans - and its center of power runs through the Rove/Nordquist axis.
Your reporting on this outrage looks more like a steno job done to assist the Repubican machine than real reporting/journalism.

Posted by: stephen Conover | Jan 15, 2006 11:57:52 PM | Permalink

There is no polite way to state this. Deborah Howell has demonstrated, through her outrageous reckless disregard for the truth with respect to Abramoff and the Democrats, that she is nothing but a whore.

Posted by: Hologlyph | Jan 15, 2006 11:58:16 PM | Permalink

One (or many) can only speculate why such an easily researched fact was reported in error by Ms. Howell. Most anybody with a pulse knows the facts about Ambramoff contributions, yet Ms. Howell seems intent on adopting the RNC's talking points as fact for her column.

Public Editor? How about a Public Editor for the Public Editor? I sincerely hope the Post is working on a correction tonight.

Posted by: Herbie | Jan 15, 2006 11:59:26 PM | Permalink

The Washington Post has been so contemptuous of bloggers and yet, it appears that blogs are the only place to get reliable news these days. When once great news organizations become shills and apologists, it occurs to me that you are just a bunch of dinosaurs that are too stupid to crawl into the nearest tar pit. Deborah Howell has just hastened your demise. Bye bye!

Posted by: MargaretPOA | Jan 16, 2006 12:02:09 AM | Permalink

Show us the evidence Ms. Howell. Where is the evidence to back your accusations up please ?

I have the thread copied up to 3 a.m. on the sixteenth, and it went on for another day or so. But even my file would be 118 pages long. So I have to be selective, but I have deleted or altered nothing in the time chunk I posted.


I'm working on the second installment of my gender gap series, but I have decided not to post it until Monday, to maximize the readership for it. Weekends have fewer readers as people are not in the office...

When I do post the second part I will link to the first one and I plan to do the same thing with the third part so that all three can be read together, in one large, indigestible lump!

And then there will be a test. Just kidding.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Remember the post below about the large number of angry liberal and progressive comments on the Washington Post blog? The Washington Post has decided to stop having comments because they were so horrible. From Atrios:

No matter how hard we try to kill them, they keep coming back to eat our brains. Kyra Phillips, just now on CNN:

The Washington Post turned off the reader comments feature on after it was flooded by what the Post describes as personal attacks, profanity, and hate speech. is a site dedicated to sharing news by and about the newspaper. What set off readers was a Sunday column by Post ombudsman Deborah Howell who wrote that corrupt former lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans. That's true but most of the money went to Republicans.

The bang-your-head-against-the-wall moment is because it is a lie that Jack Abramoff gave money to Democrats. But I want to focus on the earlier bit in the quote, the ones about the thread on Washington Post being flooded by personal attacks, profanity and hate speech.

To let you decide if this is so, I'm posting the first few comments from the thread that caused all the uproar. I have lots more.

Maryland's Legislature has just performed a COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS ACT, in attempting to increase the amount Wal-Mart spends on health care. They simply don't have the authority to do what they purport to have done. ALL State Legislatures have been completely pre-empted from injecting themselves into private sector health plans since 1974, when Congress passed ERISA. The most recent authority for what I am saying is AETNA vs. DAVILA, 542 U.S. 200, (2004). In DAVILA, a unanimous Court held that a Texas statute was pre-empted by ERISA. The Maryland statute is without any effect!!!

Posted by: Peter Parrott | Jan 13, 2006 3:00:26 PM | Permalink

The fact that ERISA pre-empts any attempts by any state legislatures to directly mess with a private sector ERISA plan is not in any way a close call. A recent published Opinion by the Ninth Circuit brushes aside the arguments made against an ERISA health Plan. Cleghorn vs Blue Shield 408 F3d 1222 (9th Circuit, May 23, 2005)(Relying on ERISA and Aetna vs. Davila). The only way for Maryland legislators to effect change in in the Walmart ERISA Plan is to lobby the U.S. Congress, and convince George W to sign the bill. Good luck with that effort!!

Posted by: Peter Parrott | Jan 13, 2006 3:29:32 PM | Permalink

What exactly are the qualifications for the job of public editor because I think I'd do great. I do whatever I am told by anyone in authority, regardless of the facts or reality. Oh, and I can tie my own shoes.

Seriously, Deborah Howell needs to quit and just work for her republican paymasters instead of trying to pass herself off as a journalist. Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff? Where would the proof of that be exactly Deborah? Democrats took money from Indian tribes, which last I checked is hardly illegal.

What is illegal is bilking the tribes of millions of dollars and then funneling it to all branches of the GOP noise machine. Hench the Abramoff indictments which will soon lead to more Republican congressman being indicted. How many FBI personnel are focusing on Democrats taking money from Abramoff?

If Ms. Howell needs work, I hear AccounTemps has some secretary and janitorial openings, positions much more suited to her skill level.

Posted by: Dave | Jan 15, 2006 5:26:13 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howell is a GOP hack. I cannot countenance the Washington Post getting any support from me while she continues to be employed.

Posted by: elliottg | Jan 15, 2006 5:32:56 PM | Permalink

Can somebody at the post please provide the factual basis for Ms. Howells assertion that Abramhoff gave money to Democrats? Because when I check his records with the FEC I can't find a single Democrat on the list. What kind of public editor is this? She consistently shillls for the GOP, and does not seem the least interested in what the actual facts are. It's shameful, and beneath the Post to have such an obvious partisan in a job that is supposed to be anything but.

Posted by: johnetta | Jan 15, 2006 5:36:22 PM | Permalink

Would you please do us all a favor and fire this broad Howell? We don't need anyone else glibly spouting GOP lies. You dig, Clyde?

Posted by: Frank Sinatra | Jan 15, 2006 5:37:34 PM | Permalink

I too would like chapter and verse on Abramoff supposedly giving money to the Democrats. Where would you find that primary source? Quoting others who are mistaken doesn't count. Where is the source???

Posted by: Cee | Jan 15, 2006 5:40:08 PM | Permalink

Could Ms. Howell please provide some evidence for her assertion that any Democrats have taken Abramoff money? Reid and Dorgan? Didn't the money they got come from the Indian tribes? Are the Indian tribes now considered agents of Abramoff? Does Ms. Howell have evidence that either Reid or Dorgan has committed a crime?

One last question. Whose cousin is Ms. Howell that she managed to get hired by the Post?

Posted by: Rusty | Jan 15, 2006 5:44:26 PM | Permalink

First, way to go Maryland Democrats! It's about time someone had the nerve to stand up to that un-American corporate turd Walmart. It is utterly reprehensible to not provide adequate health care to their employees, and completely unacceptable for them to dump the problem (and the cost), on to the state of Maryland.

Second, why on earth is the Washington Post allowing its ombudsman Deborah Howell to get away with allowing these GOP lies to masquerade as "news"? Does it not occur to an editor to actually check the facts in these outrageous stories? I have seen the FEC list of donations made by Jack Abramoff, and there is NOT ONE DONATION ON THERE MADE TO A DEMOCRAT. NOT ONE!

I expect this kind of nonsense from Fox News, aka GOP TV...but I really thought the WaPo was better than that!

Posted by: Kurt | Jan 15, 2006 5:47:40 PM | Permalink

Yeah, Deborah, find the list of campaign money to Congresscritters by Abramoff and post it! He only gave campaign money to Republicans, including GWB. Indian tribes can give money to any congresscritter they wish just as you could. The Tribes who gave money to Abramoff got ripped off. Do try to get some of the story right. This is a Republican scandal, my dear, whether you like it or not.

Posted by: meanoldlady | Jan 15, 2006 5:50:30 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howell wrote in her article "Getting the Story on Jack Abramoff" that Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties." This is false. In fact, Abramoff did not make any contributions to Democrats.

Worse, Howell fails to understand the context of the Abramoff scandal. Abramoff is a Republican lobbyist, pursuing Republican political interests. He is at the heart of the "K Street Project," a Republican initiative to integrate lobbyists into the political power structure. Thus, the Abramoff scandal is a distinctively Republican scandal.

Covering the Abramoff scandal as if it were a bi-partisan affair does your readers a disservice because the facts belie such an angle. It is bad journalism to search for false equivalency.

Please issue a correction.

Posted by: RatIV | Jan 15, 2006 5:53:28 PM | Permalink

Why does the Post persist in claiming that Abramoff gave money to Democrats? Name one.

The Republican Party is trying to share the guilt by claiming, among other specious concepts, that Democrat Brad Carson is somehow tainted by taking money from the Cherokee Nation. Guys, he IS a Cherokee. Anything wrong with that?

Posted by: egregious | Jan 15, 2006 5:58:42 PM | Permalink

"Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties."

Sadly, No! Checking facts must take too much time. :(

Posted by: Sadly, No! | Jan 15, 2006 6:00:50 PM | Permalink

According to the Federal Election Commission, Abramoff has given money only to Republicans. Is the Washington Post implying that Abramaff has lied to the FEC? Has given money under the table to Democrats? Isn't that a bit story? Shouldn't it be on Page 1?

2nd, according to the Washington Post, Abramoff has been a close friend of Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay for 20 years, and has been a key figure in Republican Party financing for most of that time. If such a person shovels 95% of his money to Republicans, is it really right to say he has given (or bribed) "both sides"?


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 15, 2006 6:01:57 PM | Permalink

Is Deborah Howell on the take? Has she gotten a sweetheart mortgage on her house? She seems to uncritically publish GOP talking points without ever considering that she might be repeating lies.

Abromoff is a GOP bagman. He has never personally given a dime to a Democrat, yet she has repeatedly parroted the GOP line that he is a lobbyist that works with both Democrats and Republicans. His Indian clients have given Democrats money, but that was true long before Abromoff began representing Indian gaming interests. Brad Carson has gotten money from the Cherokee Nation because he is a CHEROKEE. There is nothing nefarious in the 26K he received. Why would she possibly point to this as an example of dirty money unless she is GOP parrot? Abromoff is under indictment for screwing the Indian Tribes. She is pushing a story that is counter to the facts. Is it obvious to everyone except for her?

I need a paper I can trust. I need a paper that investigates and reports the truth. Blindly repeating information you are fed by political operatives doesn't cut it. Deborah Howell seems like she is on the take or just incredibly gullible.

Posted by: Kenevan McConnon | Jan 15, 2006 6:01:58 PM | Permalink

The Maryland law doesn't do a thing to WalMart's health plan; it simply says that those corporations that spend less than x on health care will be taxed.

Posted by: sj | Jan 15, 2006 6:03:38 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howell wrote in her article "Getting the Story on Jack Abramoff" that he "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties."

This is not true.

Please post a retraction for her error.

Posted by: RR | Jan 15, 2006 6:06:56 PM | Permalink

Taking money from Indian tribes is not the same as taking "Abramof money".

Please cite what "Abramof money" went to a Democratic candidate or stop saying it.

My 5th graders need to cite references for assertions but not a major metropolitan newspaper?

Tell us which Democratic candidate precisely has received "Abramof money". No need to vague it up.


Posted by: Charles Rice | Jan 15, 2006 6:08:49 PM | Permalink

Deborah Howell is lying.

Posted by: Gary Morris | Jan 15, 2006 6:09:02 PM | Permalink

Not only should Deborah Howell issue a correction, but she also needs to explain why she brought this disinformation to print.

Was she given this information by someone outside the Post? Did she research this herself?

Most anyone who's seriously following this story knows that Abramoff didn't money to any Democrat. How could she or the Post's editors not know this?

The next time you guys have a meeting about the decline in readership, refer to this whole business, I have a feeling it may be related to that somehow.

Posted by: GMF | Jan 15, 2006 6:09:31 PM | Permalink

The job of public editor is a sacred trust and the holder should uphold the highest principles. Alas, Ms. Howells seems to be little more than a shill for Ken Mehlman. Shameful. Just shameful. Fire this woman.

Posted by: John Chandley | Jan 15, 2006 6:09:57 PM | Permalink

Tell Ms. Howell that it's comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Glad I could correct that for you.

Posted by: Jerry Asher | Jan 15, 2006 6:11:19 PM | Permalink

These are angry, yes. But they have a point, and the point is not answered by the Post. Instead, it has decided to cover its ears and go "nanana I can't hear you". So grown-up.

Hundred Bucks Per Head

A good hunting fee. This is not for some vermin but for leftist professors in California, though the wingnuts surely think of such creatures as vermin:

An alumni group dedicated to "exposing the most radical professors" at the University of California at Los Angeles is offering to pay students $100 to record classroom lectures of suspect faculty.

The Web site of the Bruin Alumni Association also includes a "Dirty Thirty" list of professors considered by the group to be the most extreme left-wing members of the UCLA faculty, as well as profiles on their political activities and writings.

UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale on Thursday denounced the campaign as "reprehensible," and school officials warned that selling or distributing recordings of classroom lectures without an instructor's consent violates university policy.

News of the campaign prompted former Republican congressman James Rogan, who helped lead impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton in the U.S. House of Representatives, to resign from the group's advisory board.

Nice to see the market incentives being used for doing good! I really don't like this, because it brings to my mind echoes of past eras when fascism was on the rise.

But if we are going to start paying hunting fees for finding something that professors say we don't like how about some of these comments that I or my friends heard during our university education: "Women should not take seats from men in college." "Women should be educated but not in specialist fields. They need general education to bring up their children but they don't need to know law or medicine." "No knitting allowed in this classroom. I have to teach women but it's a waste of time and money." "Why aren't you at home having children?"

The last one was a question my economics-of-banking professor asked me when I was serving as his teaching assistant. At this time I didn't even have a boyfriend.

And I haven't even mentioned the offers to spend a weekend in a hotel, with no mention to the little wife at home. I turned them all down, including the ones that came from students later on, and I soldiered on. Or soldered on.

But these wingnut alumni are little whiners, little victims, scared of the shadows on the wall. And hundred dollars is a disgustingly low price for being a mole.
Link via Eschaton.

A Public Service Announcement

On rates of growth. I just heard something on an old Al Franken show about Zen Buddhism being the most rapidly growing religion in the U.S.. If you think about this a little, you will most likely remember lots of other religions that are the most rapidly growing ones, and also lots of illnesses and lots of political associations and so on.

The problem with that argument is the following: Think about echidneism, the religion that I'm trying to start. It currently has one believer (me). If I add another one today, my religion has just grown by 100%! So growth rates are always high when we start from a very small base. New infectious diseases always have high growth rates initially for this reason, if they grow at all.

High growth rates can be meaningful, of course. But check what the base is before you get excited or worried.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

God's Campaign in Ohio

Politics has entered religion, no way around it. In Ohio the radical right-wing clerics had a little gettogether:

Against a large U.S.-flag backdrop and flanked by large projection screens, Ohio Restoration Project founder Russell Johnson brought his 10-city Patriot Pastors tour to the Akron-Canton area Tuesday.

A choir and a gospel quartet brought the audience to its feet with praise songs as images of American landmarks, heroes and troops moved across the screens.

Johnson warned that Christians have allowed a ``secular jihad'' to remove prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Bible from public places.

He likened it to Nazi Germany, where church congregations would sing so that they could not hear the passing of trainloads of crying Jews headed for a nearby concentration camp.

Too many Christians lead ``Neville Chamberlain lives,'' Johnson said, referring to the British prime minister who signed a neutrality pact with Adolf Hitler.

A picture of Hitler and Chamberlain flashed on the screens.

``We're calling God's people to pray, to serve, to shine and to be salt and light,'' he said.

Johnson criticized the ``handful of our religious friends on the left who have formed an unholy alliance with the secular left'' to challenge the religious exemption of his organization.

And guess who spoke at this shindig, too? No-one else but the one and only Kenneth Blackwell, the man who gave us George Bush. What did he say? This:

Blackwell spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to be more than observers. He said Christians must ``define, fortify, help shape, influence the mores'' of the culture.

He said Christians must be on the front line, causing change. They must bring behavior in line with what they say they believe.

"They must bring behavior in line with what they say they believe"? Whose behavior? Their own or our behavior?

Now do you believe me when I say that we are on the road to Margaret Atwood's Gilead?

The Long Post

Can be safely skipped if you don't feel like reading a lot of economics. I have made it as short as I possibly could. That's the problem with us liberals: we don't know how to do soundbites. But I hope that those of you who do wade through the post see why soundbites are so very dangerous.

The Gender Gap. Part I: Theories

This is the beginning of my series on the gender gap in earnings. It turns out that I can't write about this topic except in the academic style. My apologies for that.

The first post in this series gives you a concentrated summary of the economic explanations for why men earn more than women, on average, all over the world. The next post will look at actual evidence about the gender gap and how that evidence fits with the theories. The last part of the series explains why the right-wing's explanation for the gender gap in earnings is misleading and mostly incorrect.

The theories I describe here are just that: theories, and that they are discussed does not mean that they have proven to be true. The question of their value in explaining real world gender differences in earnings will be thoroughly investigated in the next part of the series. It's unfortunate that the theories need to be talked about before the fun stuff, but that's life for you.

A good place to start is to define the concept of an earnings gender gap. In most statistical sources this takes the average earnings of women who work full-time and compares it to the average earnings of men who work full-time. The gender gap is the ratio of women's average earnings to men's earnings, both defined for full-time workers. If men and women on average had the same earnings this ratio would equal one. The lower women's earnings are as a proportion of men's earnings, the lower the figure we arrive at. In the United States the recent gender gap, defined for full-time workers only, has hovered around 0.75 or 75% in percentage terms. (The term "gender gap" is a clumsy name for this ratio. It would have been better to find the actual gap (say, 25% in the case of the U.S.) and to talk about that directly. But what is done is done and I will apply the common clumsy concept in this series.)

Most studies don't include part-time workers' earnings in the calculation of the earnings gender gap. When these are included the gender gap increases dramatically, because most part-time workers are women and because part-time work tends to pay less well than the otherwise equivalent but full-time positions. The existing numbers on the gender gap underestimate the actual earnings differences between the sexes.

Fringe benefits, things like retirement benefits and health insurance, are usually also omitted from the gender gap calculations. These benefits tend to go up with earnings, though, so it's fairly safe to argue that if they affect the size of the gender gap it will be in the direction of making the gap bigger.

The gender gap is found all over the world but its size varies greatly from the smallest gap of 0.9 (meaning that women earn 90% of what men earn, on average) in countries such as Sweden and Australia to as large a gap as 0.4 in Russia. That the gender gap is not the same size in all countries means that it is at least partly affected by the laws and labor market customs of the countries. It is not some sort of a Biblical constant that cannot be altered, in other words. This is also reflected in the fact that the gender gap changes over time. In the United States, for example, the gap narrowed from the 1960s to the 1980s and then slightly widened during the 1990s. The gap can narrow not only when women's earnings rise but also when men's earnings fall, and at least some of the narrowing in the U.S. has been due to the worsening of men's earnings in blue-collar occupations which have been especially hit by newer production methods using less workers and the outsourcing of the labor the developing countries.

How does this read so far? Academic and technical and not fun, but I can't really write it much better. I know too much, sadly.

Before I tackle the theories themselves, a few more words on the definition of the gender gap: Note that the earnings concept that is used is the gross pay of workers. This means that it depends not only on how much the worker is paid per hour or per week or per month but also on how many hours, weeks or months the worker is toiling at the job. The reason why the gender gap is usually measured only for full-time workers is that doing this controls for differences in how much people work as a reason for income differences. The control is not complete, as some full-time workers work more hours than others. But the studies I discuss in the next part take this into account by adjusting the gender gap measure to reflect actual reported working hours. The rest of this first part assumes that we have taken into account the variation in hours worked so that the gender gap can be viewed purely as a measure of higher wages or salaries for men than for women.

Note also that the gender gap is calculated across all jobs. Men and women often work very different types of jobs. This is called labor market segregation, and it may be voluntary (chosen by the workers) or it may be involuntary (chosen by the firms through steering workers to certain jobs). What this segregation means is that we may be comparing the earnings of men and women in quite different occupations. Luckily, it turns out that the empirical methods we use can control for at least some of these differences.

Why would men on average receive higher wages (or salaries, but I will use wages for simplicity from now on)? At the risk of tremendous oversimplification, I offer three basic explanations:

1. Men are better workers than women, on average.

2. Women want to work in jobs which pay less.

3. Women are treated unfairly at work.

The first of these reflects the simple idea that more productive workers will be paid more. Are men more productive workers? How would you try to find out about this for, say, systems analysts or physicians? Productivity is really hard to measure except in the simplest of cases, especially if we want something very objective and easily countable as the measure.

Because of this lack of good productivity measures, economists usually replace them with what might make someone a better worker: education and work experience. The guess is that less educated and less experienced workers would earn less. If there was a big difference in the average education and experience levels between the sexes then we might have explained the wage gap. Too bad that this isn't what works in explaining the current gender gap in the United States, because if it did I could stop writing this post now. But women have at least as much education as men do, these days, and although the average work experience of men is a little higher than that of women the difference is too small to account for much of the gender gap in earnings.

The second theory is the absolute most favorite of the wingnuts. For them the idea that women "choose" jobs which pay less would be great, because it would mean that we need to do nothing about the gender gap. Everybody is happy! Everybody is doing their own thing!

Why would women want to have work which pays less? The answer lies in the idea that jobs offer not only income but a whole bundle of job characteristics, such as safety/riskiness, dirtiness/cleanliness, flexibility/rigidity and so on. If women, on average, value things like safe and clean working conditions and lots of flexibility they might be willing to accept a lower wage rate in exchange for all these goodies. The same would be naturally be true for men, too, which means that this theory only explains the gender gap if we assume that the sexes are, on average, different in what they want from a job.

This theory is mostly used to argue that women "choose" jobs which allow them to care for their children and to do household chores more efficiently. The idea is that it is the women who are responsible for childcare and household management, and that these extra tasks take away from the energy that women can give to their jobs. Thus, women, on average, might choose jobs which offer less stress and thinking and more flexibility in terms of telecommuting or flexible working hours. Because of all these desirable goodies the jobs are acceptable to women even when they don't pay very much. But they are not acceptable for men, on average, as men are expected to provide for the family.

To apply this theory, one doesn't have to decide whether women "choose" lower earnings because of biological differences between the sexes or because of social indoctrination that makes women feel responsible for all the nonmarket work. The conservatives tend to jump to the biological argument right away. Because they'd like that one, I guess. But in practise quite a lot of social indoctrination goes on and at least some of it is likely to have an impact over and above any biological differences.

I have noticed this explanation misused a lot recently, by combining what I have written here with the idea of women who quit working as an explanation of the gender gap. But that is nonsensical. Women who are no longer in the labor force are not affecting the gender gap as they have no earnings. Neither are the women who work part-time, because the gender gap is measured for full-time workers. Indeed, as women who feel the burden of family responsibilities strongly are quite likely not to work full-time the power of this general explanation is considerably weakened.

The way to test this theory is by finding out if the jobs that are predominantly female indeed have flexibility, and all the other things that the theory assumes that women find desirable but that men don't. Then one would also somehow test that women actually "choose" these jobs rather than being steered into them by career counselors, parents, teachers and the clergy. That is pretty hard to do.

This is a good place to say a few words about "choice". The wingnuts use "choice" as a codeword for things which require no meddling by the government. If something is "chosen" and turns out to be a mess, the chooser should suffer the consequences unaided. This trivializes choice. It makes the choices a mother makes no different from the choices I make when I decide which chocolate bonbon I will eat next. Yet the choices women make about working or not have repercussions elsewhere in the society and on themselves. A woman who takes a job that pays less in order to care for her children or her partner will also end up with less retirement benefits when she is old, and this is because of the way we have decided to determine retirement benefits.

More generally, when we make choices we make them under constraints. If I am sentenced to death and offered the choice between hanging and being shot you could argue that I'm choosing to die in a certain manner, but I'm not choosing the death part. Likewise, the choices women make about their working circumstances are not totally free choices; they are made under constraints: a husband who earns more and will not adjust his hours for this reason, in-laws that scold you for being a bad mother if you take that job with traveling and so on.

Note also that a woman might "choose" a job that pays less because at an earlier time in her life she was excluded from getting the right kind of education for better-paying jobs by her family or by the school system. This may not be common today in the United States but continues to be a severe problem in many other parts of the world.

The third and final theory has to do with the idea that women are treated unfairly by the labor market or by the wider societal institutions, and that the combined effect of these unfair treatments is to make women earn less. I'm talking discrimination here, but in a slightly different sense than the word is commonly employed, and I need to define the term in a little more detail. I'm going to start with direct wage discrimination.

Direct wage discrimination is what we usually think of as sex discrimination in employment: a man and a woman do the same job and the woman gets paid less for it. Doing this is illegal since the 1963 Equal Pay Act (which Alito might destroy), but in reality it is very difficult to find out if somebody else is getting paid more for the same job. This is because earnings are often kept secret. It is also possible to adjust one of the jobs ever so slightly and then call it a different job, though the Equal Pay Act is supposed ot ignore such fine-tuned differences.

But direct wage discrimination is not the only way in which women, on average, might end up being paid less than men. Consider hiring and promotions. If women are not hired or promoted into the best-paying occupations they cannot earn the high wages, even without any direct wage discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act therefore bans sex discrimination in hiring and promotions (and Alito might get rid of that one, too). A worker needs to at least suspect that she has been the victim of discrimination to use this Act, though, so the number of actual cases filed does not measure the whole extent of possible hiring and promotion discrimination. I talk about some alternative ways of measuring this in Part Two.

Labor market segregation, the pattern of finding certain jobs mainly male and other jobs mainly female, may also be caused by discrimination, not just by free "choices" by the workers based on what they want from a job. A famous discrimination case against the AT&T company in the 1970s showed that the company used different hiring literature for men and women, and different jobs were described in the leaflets, and once it used to be common to advertize a job for either men or women. If such steering happens, women may be steered into the female jobs in such large numbers that the wage rate in these jobs drops. Usually a dropping wage rate would make job-seekers turn to other occupations. But discrimination against women might make this unfeasible. There is lots of anecdotal evidence that men in some blue-collar occupations use sexual harassment as a way to keep female competition for the same jobs down.

Why would sex discrimination exist in the first place? Economists have three major groups of explanation for its existence, and all of these would also apply to, say, race discrimination. These groups are

1. Bigotry or hatred as held by either employers, coworkers or consumers in a society

2. The fact that discriminating can actually be income-increasing to the discriminator


3. Explanations based on lack of information or biased information, such as prejudice.

The oldest of these explanations is the first one, the idea that some people just are sexist. Remember the idea that workers might pick jobs not just on the basis of the wage rate but also on the basis of other job characteristics, such as risk or dirtiness? Well, one job characteristic that might matter to a bigot would be whether the other workers are women or men. A misogynist would refuse to work with (or under) a woman, unless he or she was paid a lot more than in alternative all-male jobs. This will not happen in a well-functioning market place, but if there were enough misogynists (so that the firms needed to hire them to get enough workers) then firms would start segregating women from men at the workplace, to keep things peaceful. This is one example of the way that sex-segregation might not be by female choice.

If employers dislike working near women they would treat female job applicants in a similar manner to the previous explanation: The woman would have to be either a lot better to be paid the same wage rate as a comparable man or she would have to agree to work for less. This so that the mental suffering being near women would cause the owner or manager gets compensated.

Consumers can also discriminate. Think of the patrons of a restaurant who refuse to be waited on by a woman, say. If such patrons are many, women might find it hard to get jobs at this restaurant, unless they are willing to work for less than otherwise comparable men. Because hiring them means losing some business. This example also shows how hard productivity might be to measure if consumers are bigots themselves.

All these types of bigotry could exist at the same time, which means that the overall effect would be to lower the wages women can get and to enforce sex-segregation at work. But this theory is almost always applied in the form where the only bigots are the owners or managers of the firm. This particular type of discrimination, it is said in Wingnuttia, can't survive in the long-run (meaning a time period long enough for new firms to enter the market and for existing firms to leave) if competition works, and therefore discrimination doesn't exist. The argument goes like this: Suppose neutral and nice people start new firms in the market. They immediately spot that the bigots are paying women a lot less, and these women are every bit as productive workers as the more expensive men. So these new firms go out and hire all women. Their total wage bill is less than that of the bigot firms and their profits higher. Over time the bigot firms will be outcompeted and must leave the industry, and both men and women end up earning the same wages. End of story.

Well, they are wrong, even within the narrow submodel they have chosen to apply. The reason is that the eradication of discrimination in the long-run would only take place in very competititive markets which are quite rare in the real world, and only if large existing firms had no specific advantages from being large (such advantages could keep the good guys entering with small new firms from ever getting established). More generally, they are wrong because both coworkers and consumers can discriminate against women, and because the models we have looked at so far ignore other reasons why discrimination might exist. Most importantly, they assume that information on workers' productivity is perfectly known to everybody.

The second group of explanations argues that discrimination may be the right thing for firms to do if they want to make as much profits as possible and if they have at least some market power in hiring. This means that there are few alternative places where the workers could find jobs. Mining towns are sometimes used as an extreme example of this situation: if you don't work in the mine you don't work, but university towns might also offer a good example of something similar.

Men and women might have different labor supply elasticities. What this rigmarole means is that women might be willing to work for less money than men for reasons that have to do with family arrangements. Think about dual career academic couples. If such a couple decides to accept a job offer for one of them in a small college town the other one is likely to be very restricted in the kinds of jobs he or she (but usually she) can find. The college knows this and may be able to get the following spouse for very little money.

This model is an example where the firm makes more money by discriminating than by not discriminating. Its application may not be very wide as the college town type examples are not too common, but it's a good one to present, just to remind the wingnuts that markets don't necessarily self-correct away from discrimination. There are other models in this group which concentrate on not how income can be increased by discriminating but on how punishments can reduce the income of a non-discriminating firm. To get a flavor of these, think about what might have happened to a firm which employed women in the Taliban-era Afghanistan.

The third group of explanations lumps together various theories which apply the idea that information often has large holes in it and that we may think we have truthful information about something when we do not. This esoteric stuff turns out to explain labor market discrimination, too.

One example of it is plain old prejudice. Prejudice here would mean holding incorrect (perhaps outdated) or no information about the true skills of some group of people, say, women. An employer with prejudice would not want to hire women, because he or she would fear that they turn out to be bad workers. It's irrelevant that this might be untrue; as long as the employer dislikes taking risks the women will not be hired, unless something forces the employer to do so. One such force is wartime. Women broke into many occupations during the World Wars because the firms had not alternative but to hire them. In the case of pure prejudice just seeing that the women could do the jobs would change the employer's attitudes and stop the discrimination against women.

Another example of the information theories is what is called statistical discrimination. This consists of using the average group characteristic as a proxy for any one individual in that group. Thus, all young men might be assumed to drive with the same care as the average young man, for insurance purposes. Because on average young men have a poor accident record the premia that all must pay are high. This discriminates against the careful drivers in the group of young men and favors the most reckless ones.

The insurers do this because they don't know how to get good information on any one individual's driving habits, but it's discrimination nevertheless.

The same principle may apply to women in the labor market. People who are hiring or promoting workers in a large firm may treat all women as if they are going to be just like the average woman. Add to this something like the belief that women are more likely to quit a job than men (which is not necessarily true, by the way), and you can see why firms would choose to train and promote men rather than women. But they would be discriminating.

This is not a thorough overview of the relevant economic theories, just a quick walk-through. The amount of words I give per theory is not an indication of the importance of that theory but dictated by how much background I believe my readers have. I stress the discrimination theories not because I would find them to be of overwhelming importance but because the recent onslaught of conservative arguments that there is no discrimination, that there can be no discrimination.

The next post will look at one study in greater detail, to see how the various theories perform and what proportion each explanation can account for out of the total gender gap in earnings in the United States.

Time For Self-Pity

But only the funny kind. I got the broadband installers in the Snakepit Inc. yesterday. They were paralyzed by the snakes and Henrietta decided to play with them, too, which didn't go down too well. All that dominance stuff.

In any case, the installers decided that it was too dark and too rainy to start work and that they had head colds. They promised to come back today, early in the morning.

Then they left and then my telephone was cut off because I had transferred the telephone service to the broadband people. Right.

This morning one installer came back but something was wrong and so a truck had to be called in to fix the connections outside the house. Except the truck didn't come because, you know, the rain. And the head colds, probably. I couldn't connect to the Internet at all, and finally did a snake goddess act. This got me another nice installer who climbed up the pole and all but it turns out that I still need the truck which is coming tomorrow, perhaps. But at least this installer was able to jiggle the system so that if I don't type too hard I can stay connected! At least for five minutes in a row.

Why do I always expect these things to work as promised? They never do, and I have penned down two weeks for the broadband fight now.

This is an apology why I haven't posted my first gender gap article yet, and an article it is and full of boring academic verbiage. I can't seem to be able to write about my specialty without going all jargony. But what is, is. The post should be up by tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Go Read Phila

He has a great post on exactly what feminists are now being blamed for by the wingnut hacks of this world. He gives such an excellent example of the paradoxes I talk about in the next post, though Gallagher, the hack he dissects, is unusually nasty and cruel in her stupidity.

More On Paradoxes

Read that title aloud. This post is about the fascinating paradoxes in the way people like me: feminist, leftist (and divine), are portrayed by the opposition: the anti-feminists, misogynists and wingnuts. These descriptions are paradoxes, but few seem to notice that.

Take the most obvious one first: how to smear leftists (though I'm really a middle-of-the-Olympus goddess). One does this by calling all leftists piglets sucking on the teats of the welfare state, unable to get a job, too lazy to get off the couch, whiners and losers. Then again, all leftists are elitist, latte-sipping East Coast billionaires driving around in their limousines. It's not possible to be both of these things at the same time, except in the crazy imagination of Wingnuttia, and the job of course is not to provide accurate descriptions but to smear, to make the opposition into something undeserving of human understanding or compassion, to take real living people and to make them into a caricature of Evil.

What is laughable about these descriptions is that most rich people vote Republican and probably listen to Rush while cruising around in their limousines, and most people on welfare don't vote at all. I'm not sure about the latte-sipping part. Is there a ban on wingnuts when it comes to latte?

That was the first moron paradox. The second has to do with the right's hatred of educated people and of intelligence. Hence, liberals are called ivory-tower professors and the academia is portrayed as one vast gigantic worm factory; the nest from which all liberals slither outwards. It's a bad thing to be smart in this country. This is where the Republican party funnels the subconscious hatred based on class: not against the true powers of the society, the corporations, but against those scruffy academics. How dare they make fifty thousand a year teaching! How dare they! And the wingnut answer is to destroy the universities and to replace them with trade schools where students will not be upset by anything they learn.

But at the same time liberals are really, really stupid. That is why they are liberals! I keep getting this one from trolls all the time, but even Tom deLay agreed with this idea in a radio interview I heard. Liberals are thick. They just don't get it that human nature is unalterably whatever the current conservative powers believe it should be and that only the few worthy ones can rule the masses which will be held down with religion.

The third paradox I want to write about is the all-powerfulness and insignificance of feminism. Feminists, those evil, hairy and manless shrews. They are all-powerful. They have destroyed everything that we hold dear: the family, the military, the labor markets, the Western civilization. Their power is felt everywhere, though hidden from sight. Even when conservatives run this country they are really just abject slaves of feminists. Pick any crime you can think of, and feminists are the guilty party. They are even to blame for blow jobs! Scary, scary feminists! Tremble, you poor wingnuts.

But at the same time feminists are nothing! Nobody takes them seriously! They are a sorry lot, manless and ugly and nobody invited them to the prom. And they haven't gotten laid for centuries.

Besides all that, feminism is deader than the doornail. NO! It's all over the place, swarming upon us, drowning out the the strong voices of masculinity, weakening and corrupting the culture! Making Men into Mice! NO! Feminists are the laughing-stock everywhere. Nobody takes them seriously. Nature is not a feminist and nature can't be denied! God is not a feminist and God can't be denied! The feminist experiment is therefore doomed to failure but never stop fighting it, because if you do they might win!

My head is swimming just from writing this all down. I no longer know if I'm a powerful piglet who just destroyed the world or a puny weakling billionaire who can't get laid. But I think you get the point.

Today's Action Alert

From the National Women's Law Center. Call your senators today to tell them not to vote for Alito's nomination.

More Fun Stuff

From Guerrilla Girls:

I'm Gonna Regret This!

Because I'm sending you off to my beautiful, handsome and brilliant feminist competition. The broadband installers are coming this afternoon, and I don't know if I can get a new post in until this evening. So I will offer some alternative suggestions, so good that you probably will never come back.

You already know about Alas, a Blog. And Shakespeare's Sister. I'm linking to her suggestions on what other blogs to tour, which makes this a meta-metapost. Included among her suggestions is pinko feminist hellcat's funny story, which I had picked anyway. So it gets recommended twice, once by me and once by the Sis. Weird, huh?

Then you can read about Kurdish women at Roxanne, and get to know the inimitable twistyfaster at I Blame the Patriarchy. Or become Amanda's fan and leave me for good... Or go to feministe and say goodbye, too. Or the Or Stone Court. Or Bitch PhD. Or...

See how I'm baring to you all my evil aspects? My envy and small-mindedness and desire to rule the roost all alone? It's awful, isn't it? And there is no end to the good competition...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More on Kate O'Beirne's New Book

O'Beirne is an anti-feminist who would love other women to go back and live in the middle ages. She herself would go on as before, though, taking advantage of all the improvements in women's lives that feminism has offered while pissing on the feminists. In a dainty and ladylike fashion, natch.

I still haven't read her book. In fact, I need to be paid to do that and none of my dear readers has offered to buy me the book and give me, say, hundred smackers, for reading it. I may be a masochist but I'm not crazy, so no money, no review. But I can write about what others are doing with the book.

Jane Hamsher:

And it was a worse day to be Kate O'Beirne. While I'm sure her publisher was screaming at Amazon to delete all the one-star reviews like they did for Malkin, Amazon obviously felt Kate was too B-list to bother with, hence they now have some paid, thick-witted trolls churning out 5-star reviews. It also looks like somebody dropped a huge chunk of change buying back books to try to prop up sales. That is just awesome. Every dime some wingnut welfare think tank spends trying to save Kate's wreched face is money they don't spend wiping out condom use in Africa or finding new ways to snatch food out of the mouths of the homeless. Digby reminds us of just what a beast Kate and her ilk are, and C&L documents the amusing position Kate now finds herself in vis-a-vis Brokeback Mountain.

Pardon me while I go and laugh. I'm so happy not to feel all alone when it comes to the bashing of anti-feminist tomes.

And Digby reminds us of something I didn't know: that Katie was mesmerized by our Dear Leader's codpiece:

O'BEIRNE: When I heard that he grew up jumping rope with the girls in his neighborhood, I knew everything I needed to know about Bill Clinton. There's no contest between Clinton and Bush on masculinity. Bill Clinton couldn't credibly wear jogging shorts, and look at George Bush in that flight suit.

Hilariously funny.

As I mentioned, I haven't read the book but in an interview about the book O'Beirne said that the wage gap between the sexes is a myth. How nice for me. I spent years studying economics to be able to analyze the wage gap and its constituent parts, and O'Beirne solves the problem with just a few words! Puff! No more wage gap, because Katie has told us so. Who needs economists? Just kick them all out.

If you'd like me to do so I can write about the gender gap in earnings and about why it exists. But O'Beirne is wrong in saying that all of it can be explained by women having children. Indeed, most studies leave the majority of the gap unexplained by this.

Snoopgate: Onwards and Upwards

That title is stolen from something in gardening literature. I'm scraping the bottom of my quote barrel; soon I need to take a break from writing and go on a reading spree.

I wish our politicians could take a break, too, like a few centuries. That would let this country rest and heal a little. But it ain't gonna happen. Instead we still have the Snoopgate which has been channeled and converted into another "Either you are with the President or you are a terrorist" story by the wingnut pundits. I have never seen so much purposeful obfuscation by this lot: the real problem, just to remind them, is that the president probably broke the law, not that the NSA spied on terrorists, but that we have no idea who the NSA spied on and whether they are terrorists at all. All because the law was ignored.

This gives the president fairly absolute powers. I would think the wingnuts would find that scary, too. Remember a guy called Bill Clinton? Didn't he use to president this country? Someone like that could be in the power again, and Bush is making it easy for him (or her...) to rule the country as a dictator.

That the wingnuts don't seem to worry about this makes me worried about what else they are cooking. But time to take my tinfoil helmet (with horns) off and to talk about the Snoopgate a little bit more seriously.

Lowell Bergman and others write in a New York Times article that the FBI grew frustrated with the wholesale spying operations of the NSA:

In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.

As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants, one government official said. Mr. Mueller asked senior administration officials about "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a "vital tool" against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved "thousands of lives."

The article goes on to mention that Cheney's argument about saving "thousands of lives" may not hold. The man who planned to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge by blowtorching it, for example, was caught in this net, but he was already known to authorities. And I can't stop imagining him standing there, blowtorching, day after day, year after year, and nobody stopping to ask what he was doing. But perhaps the vacuuming of information did prevent something horrible from happening. That is the wingnut argument, at least. So would insisting that everybody stays at home after working hours, but I don't see the same argument being used to defend such a policy, not yet at least.

The ACLU is suing the administration for snooping on purported innocents, reports Claudia Parsons for Reuters:

Two U.S. civil liberties groups filed lawsuits on Tuesday challenging the legality of President George W. Bush's domestic eavesdropping program and demanding the practice be ended immediately.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended Bush's authorization of domestic eavesdropping as legal, saying it was aimed at detecting and preventing attacks by al Qaeda.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency on behalf of scholars, attorneys, journalists and nonprofit groups that regularly communicate by telephone and e-mail with people in the Middle East. The Council on American-Islamic Relations joined the lawsuit.

The suit filed in U.S. district court for eastern Michigan also names NSA Director Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander as a defendant. It seeks a court order declaring the spying program is illegal and ordering its immediate and permanent halt.

Separately, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has provided legal aid to people detained or interrogated in Washington's declared war on terrorism, said it had filed a suit in a federal court in New York.

That suit, naming Bush and the heads of security agencies, challenges the eavesdropping program and seeks an end to it.

One of the journalists in the ACLU suit is Christopher Hitchens. Yes, the same Hitchens who has walked over to the side of darkness. But he likes the occasional flashlight:

Although I am named in this suit in my own behalf, I am motivated to join it by concerns well beyond my own. I have been frankly appalled by the discrepant and contradictory positions taken by the Administration in this matter. First, the entire existence of the NSA's monitoring was a secret, and its very disclosure denounced as a threat to national security.

Then it was argued that Congress had already implicitly granted the power to conduct warrantless surveillance on the territory of the United States, which seemed to make the reason for the original secrecy more rather than less mysterious. (I think we may take it for granted that our deadly enemies understand that their communications may be intercepted.)

It now appears that Congress may have granted this authority, but without quite knowing that it had, and certainly without knowing the extent of it.

This makes it critically important that we establish an understood line, and test the cases in which it may or may not be crossed.

Let me give a very direct instance of what I mean. We have recently learned that the NSA used law enforcement agencies to track members of a pacifist organisation in Baltimore. This is, first of all, an appalling abuse of state power and an unjustified invasion of privacy, uncovered by any definition of "national security" however expansive. It is, no less importantly, a stupid diversion of scarce resources from the real target. It is a certainty that if all the facts were known we would become aware of many more such cases of misconduct and waste.

The wider issue in all this has to do with presidential powers and the threat to the checks and balances between the different branches of the government. Does George stand above the law? Does that keep us safe? From what? And at what cost? But that is a different post.

Krugman on Health Care

Paul Krugman's latest column sums up Bush's new health care ideas as more of what got us into the trouble in the first place. He uses the example of diabetes, and points out that it makes a lot more sense to cover 150 dollar charges for podiatric care, to stop the need for foot or leg amputations later on than it is to cover only the 30,000 dollar amputations. Yet it is the latter policy which appeals to the administration which is considering making insurance only really available for big charges like amputations. This discourages preventative care, of course, and causes more suffering. It also leaves people without coverage for any more routine care, but the Bush administration has a plan for that, too: just save the money:

To encourage insurance companies not to pay for podiatrists, the administration has turned to its favorite tool: tax breaks. The 2003 Medicare bill, although mainly concerned with prescription drugs, also allowed people who buy high-deductible health insurance policies - policies that cover only extreme expenses - to deposit money, tax-free, into health savings accounts that can be used to pay medical bills. Since then the administration has floated proposals to make the tax breaks bigger and wider, and these proposals may resurface in the State of the Union.

Critics of health savings accounts have mostly focused on two features of the accounts Mr. Bush won't mention. First, such accounts mainly benefit people with high incomes. Second, they encourage wealthy corporate employees to opt out of company health plans, further undermining the already fraying system of employment-based health insurance.

But the case of diabetes and other evidence suggest that a third problem with health savings accounts may be even more important: in practice, people who are forced to pay for medical care out of pocket don't have the ability to make good decisions about what care to purchase. "Consumer driven" is a nice slogan, but it turns out that buying health care isn't at all like buying clothing.

The focus on savings accounts also completely distracts us from the real problem which has to do with health insurance. Savings are not insurance. The reason why we have insurance is because it would be impossibly expensive or impractical for people to save enough for all future unanticipated health care costs, just as it is impossibly expensive and impractical to keep enough money in the bank to replace your house if it burns down.

The problems of health insurance are tough ones to understand or to explain in a short post like this, and one reason is the fact that "buying health care isn't at all like buying clothing". When you don't even know if you need a particular operation and you don't know how to judge it's quality, how do you know if the price is right? It doesn't make any sense. Compare that to buying, say, a new shirt. Most adults know when they need to buy a new one, and many also can judge the quality of the material and the construction. Then we can try the shirt on to see if it fits. All this before we commit to buying it. An emergency appendectomy isn't bought like that. On top of that, we don't ask the sales clerks whether we should buy a shirt or not, but that is exactly what we do when it comes to appendectomies.

For all these reasons and many, many more, the health care markets (in the sense wingnuts use the term "markets", as something wild and wooly) just don't work very well in keeping quality high and prices low, and consumer vigilance is not a good cost-containment tool. We need regulation and oversight, and we have always needed that.

Madam President

In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated. Her country is war-torn and her task enormous. I have a theory that women are more likely to be given or elected into positions of power when the job is to clean Augean* stables; impossible, in other words. But I hope that Johnson-Sirleaf is a good shoveler.

In Chile, a woman was also elected to run the country. Michelle Bachelet is a leftist, a feminist and an atheist. Yet she won in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. She even intends to have a cabinet with equal numbers of men and women.

On the other hand, the United States of America is not ready for a female president, I just read on the net. We are too fragile for such an experiment and it's against family values to let women have equal lives. I hope such naysayers are wrong, but I can see where they are coming from: fragile red state egos.

And a tiny speck of feminism: My eagle's eye caught something about the way these new female presidents were introduced. At least a few sources do it this way:

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been sworn in as Liberia's new president, becoming Africa's first elected female head of state and vowing to lead the country away from its turbulent past.

Sirleaf took the oath of office Monday at an inauguration ceremony in the capital of Monrovia attended by dignitaries and leaders from around the world.

The 67-year-old grandmother, who was elected in a run-off vote in November, has promised to unite Liberia by ending political corruption and rebuilding her country after civil war between 1989 and 2003 left some 200,000 dead.

The Chilean President-elect, Michelle Bachelet, has pledged to name a cabinet with an equal number of men and women.

The mother-of-three also told a news conference on Monday that she would strive to root out Chile's embedded social divide.

Bolds are mine. Have you ever read George Bush described as the father-of-two?
*Augean stables, because my original spelling of Aegean stables was voted down in the comments. Heh.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Birthday Dream

It is my birthday today. Not Echidne's birthday but the birthday of her current incarnation. Just to clarify, no, we are not having a national holiday in my honor, and no, you don't have to buy me pressies today or congratulate me or anything of that sort. I'm not much into rituals...

In any case, I fell asleep this afternoon and had a dream about my grandmother. In the dream she walked into her house, clad in an apron and carrying a broom. I asked her why she wasn't dead as she was supposed to be. She said that she had been dead and will be dead again but that right now she was coming to clear up my mess. Then she said: "Girl, pay attention, because I'm going to give you important advice."

And that is all I can remember. Grrr.

Al Gore's Speech

It is an important one, though no doubt we will be told what to think about it by luminaries such as Novak and Coulter. It will be something about Al having gone off his lithium. Still, until they get their prescriptions ready, you might scan through the original.

Messages from Martin Luther King

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Selected from this website.

There Are Progressive Readers of the Washington Post? Gulp!

Check out this comments thread to the Washington Post's blog. It is a readers' revolt after the Post ombudsman wrote an extremely incorrect article. Heh.

Italy Marches

Two protest marches took place this weekend in Italy, one in Milan where fifty thousand women were marching to keep the current Italian abortion laws intact, and one in Rome where people were marching for the legalization of of same-sex civil unions. The opposition (the Italian wingnuts if you will) was not happy:

"These demonstrators are really nauseating," Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, a member of the right-wing Northern League, was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA. "Family is a serious thing, based on love between a man and a woman."

Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione, who is close to the Vatican, told reporters that people's energy should be spent on pro-family efforts like finding jobs and housing.

"These are the political problems you should put the spotlight on, because without children, Italy dies," Buttiglione said.

Right-o. Let's just force women to have more children. Let's not ask them why they have so few. Let's not learn that Italy has changed and most women now must hold a paid job but that most Italian men have not changed. They still largely don't lift a finger at home. And mothers get mommytracked in no time at all. How many children would you have if it meant not just a double work shift but a triple one, and maybe even a lower salary?

This is one of the topics that truly pushes my buttons: the idea that women either don't have "enough" children (in Italy) or "too many" (in India), and that they will be made to do the right thing for the society. Never mind what the women themselves think. They don't count, except as instruments for bearing children, preferably sons.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Feinstein on Filibustering Alito

Diane Feinstein doesn't plan to filibuster Alito:

"I do not see a likelihood of a filibuster," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "This might be a man I disagree with, but it doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the court."

She said she will not vote to confirm the appeals court judge, based on his conservative record. But she acknowledged that nothing emerged during last week's hearings to justify any organized action by Democrats to stall the nomination.

So. The same article later quotes an editorial in the Washington Post:

The Washington Post, in an editorial Sunday, said Alito is "undeniably a conservative" but that nominees should not be opposed on ideology alone.

"To go down that road is to believe that there exists a Democratic law and a Republican law - which is repugnant to the ideal of the rule of law," the newspaper said. "While we harbor some anxiety about the direction he may push the court, we would be more alarmed at the long-term implications of denying him a seat."

Repugnant to the ideal of the rule of law? I wonder what the writer of this editorial would say about the way the Republicans have been running the country these last few years? Does anybody really believe that it has not been on the basis of a Republican law? Does anybody believe that Bush really thinks of himself as the president of all Americans, as someone who is supposed to think of the welfare of all of the citizens? New Orleans, hello?

Utter crap. The Republicans are running the country for the benefit of their base: the corporations and the extreme radical clerics. Everybody else can go to hell, as far as they are concerned, and their nominations to the Supreme Court match this thinking. But the Democrats are supposed to be gentlemanly and chivalrous and to think about the greater common good, while all the time we are being taken closer and closer to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

I also wonder what the writer of this editorial would say about the way in which elections are now run in this country. Isn't the "ideal" of elections to have paper trails and adequate machines for all voters and such? Why are Republicans so opposed to this particular ideal?

In principle I agree with all that good stuff about ideals. But the wingnuts have not been honoring any of those wholesome ideals for a long time. Why this pretence that they have? Fear? Payments to writers of editorials? Naivete?

Of course the correct answer is that I'm a radical extremist myself, out of touch with the heartlands of this great country of ours and totally wrong otherwise, too. Because I am defined as such. And there is a Memory Hole in the wall, too.