Saturday, September 24, 2011

GOP Scrapes Bottom over the HPV Vaccine (by Skylanda)

Struggling to regain her position as heir-apparent to the dubious legacy of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann took the opportunity at the recent Republican debate to let the crazy out of the GOP closet on topic of Gardasil vaccine. Bachmann railed at Perry for making the vaccine mandatory for sixth grade girls in Texas; Perry waffled on the issue, guessing that maybe he should have taken it to the Texas legislature before issuing the rapidly-rescinded edict. Hilarity ensued.

There are many good reasons to make a vaccine mandatory. It pushes insurance to cover the drug, it normalizes the process of opting out rather than opting in (which drives higher acceptance rates among those who don’t really care one way or the other, but wouldn’t go out of their way to get the injection), it gives uptake rates a hard shove toward the threshold needed for herd immunity. There is only one bad reason to make a vaccine mandatory, and Rick Perry managed to nail it: because the manufacturers donated $5000 (oops, or was that $30,000?) to your campaign coffer.

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, Bachmann went on record as stating that she opposes the vaccine in no small part because a woman came up to her after the debate and claimed that her child’s mental retardation was caused by the HPV vaccine. The most obvious guess on this gaff is that Bachmann was probably thinking of the MMR vaccine (also long exonerated as a causal factor in autism) when the letters “H-P-V” conveniently popped into her head, but no matter: this brings a new low to the quality of rhetoric in this country. The HPV vaccine is first given at age nine or later; it would be an extraordinary case if a nine year-old suddenly experienced new-onset mental retardation except by means such as surviving encephalitis. [I was able to pull up 203 adverse events for the HPV vaccines on the CDC's somewhat clunky Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS); this included a number of events like “broke out in a rash a month later” and the dryly amusing “adverse events: none.” Aside from these dubious contributions, I found two references to encephalitis – one of which was probably due to HIV and one of which may have been the real deal – and one reference to a severe central nervous system event that occurred several months after the vaccine was administered and could not be conclusively linked to the vaccine. I could find no references to mental retardation.] So unlikely is the veracity of Bachmann’s off-the-cuff claim that renowned bioethicist Arthur Caplan offered a rather substantial sum of cash to anyone who can produce the child (with medical records) that Bachmann was referring to with this statement. So far the cash has not been claimed.

Still, mental retardation is a difficult thing. So let’s examine the role of the HPV vaccine in mental retardation because – really – there actually is a connection. It goes like this.

Pre-term labor is the bane of obstetrics. There are many things that obstetrics has become quite good at, and many of those things border on heroic on any day of the week (if you’ve ever seen a baby with no measurable heartbeat on a monitor survive a crash c-section, you know this with a gut terror you’ll never forget). Many of these things are boring as heck but very quietly result in decreased morbidity or mortality for moms and babies that would have died in other eras; controlling diabetes in pregnancy is one of these areas.

Pre-term labor is not one of these areas. Despite decades of efforts to the contrary, obstetrics as a practice is piss-poor at predicting pre-term labor and – once it gets started – finding any way to stop the steam-roller progress of a baby coming into the world too soon, with lungs and eyes and a gut not ready for the outside world. Mortality in this group is high; so are complications like blindness, gastrointestinal disease, and cognitive impairment – that is, mental retardation.

There is one factor though that we know causes pre-term labor – a predictable risk, a known quantity in the preterm labor game: having your cervix frozen, cut, or cauterized because of HPV disease, also known as cervical dysplasia. The damage to the cervix from these procedures – which are done to stop the progress of high-grade lesions a couple steps short of actual cervical cancer – raises the risk of preterm birth and causes a somewhat undefined number of NICU visits in the US every year. In fact, this problem is a large part of why the latest revision to the Pap smear guidelines in the US dictate that no woman under 21 should even get Pap smears (except under special circumstances like known immuno-suppression): cervical cancer is vanishingly rare in this group – most women pick up one HPV strain or another in their teens (yup, guess what, sex happens), but young women clear even high-grade lesions extraordinarily well. The net impact of doing Pap smears in this group is the treatment of lesions that would have disappeared on their own, with the consequence of putting those women at life-long risk of preterm labor just as they are starting their reproductive years. Pap smears are best reserved for women in the age groups that do develop cancer: women in their 20s-60s, where the benefits of looking for abnormalities and treating precancerous lesions outweigh the risks of messing around with the cervix.

And that’s where the HPV vaccine comes in. Yes, Gardasil and its cousin Cervarix are “cancer vaccines,” but this a cancer we already know how to treat in its early stages. So this “cancer vaccine” prevents more than cancer – it prevents the sort of medical treatment for cervical dysplasia that can lead to very high morbidity in future pregnancies. In one of the stunning ironies of the great GOP race of 2011, mental retardation can actually be prevented with the HPV vaccines. (If you’re looking for other ironies in the vaccine debate, you’ll note that an autism-like cognitive disorder is one of the harms of congenital rubella that the MMR vaccine was designed to prevent. That’s always a fun one to bring up with the Jenny McCarthy-ite crowd.) Because a portion of pre-term babies die, there’s a certain pro-life tang in here too: remove all the sex-panic hypocrisy – as well as the known phenomenon of anti-abortion-ites caring about babies right up until the moment they are born – and what you have here is the world’s first pro-life vaccine.

But the best conclusion to this fiasco came from an unlikely source: Rush Limbaugh – not known for temporizing or thoughtful rhetoric – commented that it looked like Bachmann’s campaign might have finally “jumped the shark” with this debacle.

We can only hope.

Cross-posted from my recently re-located and re-launched blog, America, Love It or Heal It.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

A human couple watched a sandhill crane couple build a nest in the pond near their house. The cranes cared for an egg and then a chick. The humans fell in love with Chickee, and took many photos of its infancy.

Last night, during a tremendous thunderstorm, the humans told me that Chickee had been washed away in such a storm, and the parents had walked around for days, calling for their chick.

Last week, on a boat tour along the Tennessee River, a naturalist pointed out herons on the shore. We were not at all close. The experience made me grateful for living in Tampa near a pond regularly visited by cranes, ibises and various herons.

Can The Fish Taste The Water They Swim In?

Atrios makes an important point:
You can see how everybody starts to jump a bit when TEH MARKET starts to crash. The labor market crashed years ago and still hasn't recoverd.
He is naturally talking about the financial markets when he mentions "teh market." But it made me think of how accustomed we become to the way things are. Like little fishes swimming in the sea we probably don't think that water has a taste.

For instance, every news program gives us the financial news. There are specific programs focusing on nothing but the financial markets, and newspapers have whole sections covering them.

Yet it is rare, these days, for any media source to have a section focusing on labor news, and the nightly news certainly do not routinely cover labor issues. All this despite the fact that many more people are workers than stake-holders in the financial markets.

And sure, financial news are important and affect our lives. But surely labor news are also important and affect our lives?

You Know You Have Been Blogging A Long Time When

You go into your blog archives and find posts, including posts which clearly took quite a bit work, that you have no memory of writing.

Then you naturally wonder how many times you have said everything and if the number of repetitions is enough already.

SlutWalking & the new, improved feminism (by Suzie)

Tampa just had its first SlutWalk, and its message is vital: Rape victims should not be blamed because of what they wore, how many partners they've had or any other factor used to define a woman as a slut. But I have qualms about how the message was delivered and received.

"Slut" in a headline and photos of young, attractive women scantily clad will attract attention. I'm guessing more men attend these events than the more traditional Take Back the Night marches and other anti-rape actions that are less sexy fun. When I read the SlutWalk story on the online Tampa Tribune, it was among the most popular, along with two articles about men who killed their wives that week.

People who have no respect for women who wear skimpy clothes and have sex with different partners are unlikely to respect the SlutWalk women. These critics are unlikely to see the irony or the effort to reclaim an epithet. (See the comments on this St. Petersburg Times story.) But I'm hoping they reached others who have never given much thought to victim-blaming, as well as victims who blame themselves.

I heard about the Tampa event on progressive radio station WMNF, when the news director interviewed Charli Solis, the SlutWalk organizer. I was disheartened to hear it being sold as the new, improved feminism.

When the news director was in college in the 1970s, he said, the women he knew "wouldn't have envisioned any of this," and Solis agreed, laughing.

Even some suffragists in the 1870s would have gotten the concept, even if they disagreed with its execution. Prominent ones such as Amelia Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decried clothing that physically harmed women and promoted designs for more comfortable clothes. Suffragists gave up as fashions loosened up a bit, and because they felt the ridicule they received drowned out their message on women's rights.

Suffragist Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president in 1872, was the first woman to do so. She could appreciate a good publicity stunt, and she believed in free love. She wrote that women should have control of their own bodies and not feel coerced to have sex when they weren't interested in it.

In 1970, Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch" became an international bestseller. In 1973, Erica Jong published "Fear of Flying," making popular the idea of the "zipless f*ck." Feminists of that decade also had witnessed the sexual revolution, the Summer of Love, love-ins, and all sorts of protests. Do the young women of today not realize that the young women of the '60s and '70s also got grief for showing too much skin? I was a teen in the '70s, and I clomped around in platform shoes and skirts short enough that boys got a flash of my colorful underwear from time to time.

In the radio interview, Solis said feminism is all about choice. On 1/3/08, Echidne wrote an excellent post on:
... the idea that feminism somehow made all choices any woman made into feminist ones or at least immune from feminist criticism. If a woman chose to stay at home, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to be employed, that was a feminist choice. If a woman chose to relinquish all her rights and to subject herself to her husband's authority, well, even that was a feminist choice!
Joie wrote in ProcrastinatioNation:
Too often we see discussions of how if feminism is all about choice, then why can’t women choose to wear makeup (full disclosure: I’m wearing make up RIGHT NOW), or choose to stay at home and rely on their husband for full financial support, or choose to diet and lose weight or choose, choose, choose, choose, choose to perform actions that validate the patriarchy.
Angry and militant feminists sometimes give feminism a bad name, Solis said on WMNF.

"You're a feminist in a good way," one of the shock jocks on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show said. "You're not a bitch about it.'' Bubba Clem and his sidekick Spice did the interview, and there's no way that I'm going to listen again in order to figure out which man said what. In case you're not familiar with Clem, here are a few incidents that made the news:

In 2002, he was acquitted of animal cruelty for the on-air castration and slaughter of a wild boar. Last year, he opposed earthquake aid to Haiti, saying, "Haiti ought to tap the hooker market to get things back on track ... Haiti is just in shambles ... they need a cleansing. Maybe half a million Haitians that will end up not being around tomorrow ... it's a cleanse." He later apologized.

In 2006, a young porn model sued, saying Clem coerced her into sex with another woman on his show, and let the act continue, even though she complained the dildo was hurting her. His lawyer argued that the woman knew she was expected to perform sex acts. The suit was later dismissed, but the argument is a familiar one: If a woman consents to sex initially, she has no right to change her mind.

Spice complained to Solis that he had sex with a woman in a club owned by Clem, and the woman accused him of rape. She recanted, he said, adding that false rape accusations are just as bad as rape itself. The guys also griped about women who tease men. They dismissed critics who call them rude and sexist. They said they give money to a local domestic-violence shelter. They donated $500 to SlutWalk, and a caller matched it.

"I think you guys are feminists at heart," Solis said. While one continued to promote SlutWalk, the other yelled out, "No fat chicks." In a post titled "We LOVE Bubba & Spice" on the SlutWalk Tampa blog, Solis says:
... they are a group of men who deserve the utmost respect for their generosity and ability to bring serious issues to the table in a way that makes them fun and titillating.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Job Of The First Lady

Is to be a "lady", as well as to act as a symbol for the American Womanhood. I'm writing about the wife of the American president, for those who might not know. That she is traditionally called the First Lady is informative in itself.

Being the president's wife is a job. It's not something the country pays for, directly, but she does get bed and board at the White House. Her job has both concrete aspects, not dissimilar to those of figure-head kings and queens. In the United States she is expected to pick a cause to promote but the cause must be as bland and obvious as possible. The "don't-kill-kittens" type. Thus, First Ladies in the past have advocated increasing literacy or staying off drugs.

First Ladies are also supposed to dress in clothes designed by American designers and to use American labor in any beautification project of the White House and so on. What's so interesting about the fuzzy but ultimately required job of the First Lady is how very conservative it is, even in the case of presidents who themselves might not hold socially conservative values.

The job of a First Lady is not something I'd ever want to perform or could perform. First Ladies must be sweet like sugar, maternal like madonnas and totally beyond reproach. Because they model Wifehood for the rest of us, everything they do will be interpreted within that framework. Hillary Clinton learned her lesson after some years.

And of course the job is an impossible one, because nobody is ever beyond reproach. Still, the criticisms First Ladies get tell us often more about the gender views of the criticizers than of the woman criticized.

This background is to clarify what is expected of Michelle Obama. She has the additional burden of modeling all this within the context of the First Lady of color and the burden of being a lightning-rod for conservative criticisms of Obama in general.

Hence the treatment of this traditional chore of First Ladies: To promote American designers' work:
That was no ordinary bling on the wrist of First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC fundraiser in New York Tuesday night. Those fancy diamond cuffs were the creation of 23-year-old Katie Decker, whose namesake jewelry line has been making a serious splash since her graduation from Texas A&M two years ago.
The native Houstonian is over the moon with the fab pub that photos of the first lady in Katie Decker are already providing. Michelle Obama's stylist picked up the bracelets at Katie's showroom in Fragments in Soho. The bracelets were on loan for the evening; a common practice in the fashion industry.
Emphasis added.

Right-wing sites then ran with this after removing the bit about the bracelets being on loan. It was naturally intended to be all about the Obamas not following the belt-tightening Barack Obama advocates.

But if you dig one level deeper into the feminism, you realize that the jewelry a married woman wears is supposed to reflect her husband's views, her husband's expenditures and so on. She is studied in terms of being an appendage to him.

Michelle Obama may well have enough money of her own to buy whatever jewelry she wishes to wear. The media, however, do not give her the right of being regarded as an individual. She, like all First Ladies, is an appendage.


Things Fall Apart. A Closer View on Ron Paul's Health Care Ideas

Skylanda wrote extensively on the case of Ron Paul's staffer, Kent Snyder, who died uninsured. The case has returned to news because of Paul's comments in one of the Republican debates about an imaginary healthy thirty-year old man who becomes comatose and has no health insurance. What should happen to him?

Some in the audience wanted him to die without medical care, Paul advocated charity as the source of funds. But in Snyder's case charity may have only covered ten percent of the costs billed for his care.

Now Paul has elaborated on his views:
“Well first off, people do get care, even under this terrible situation we have in medicine today,” Paul told reporters when asked about his former aide. “Kent, my campaign manager, wasn’t denied any care at all.”
Tut, tut, Ron. That's a free lunch you advocate there, and Libertarians are not supposed to advocate those. Besides, how can you tell if Snyder got all the care he medically required? Could it not be the case that he sought help quite late because of not having health coverage? Might it not be the case that his care became so expensive (and ultimately futile) for that very reason?

Perhaps not. But it's simplistic to assume that the uninsured get the same medical care than those who have coverage or at equally appropriate stages in the disease process. Even if emergency care is not denied to patients who cannot pay.

Who is going to pay for that care, in Paul's Libertarian utopia? His answer in the debate was charity. You know what would be a fun piece of research? To look at overall charitable giving in the field of health and to see what percentage of the unpaid care it could cover. One would have to remove charitable giving for research purposes and such, naturally, before drawing any conclusions about the adequacy of such giving as a working method of health care funding.

But given the size of the unpaid expenses in Snyder's case I see little chance that charity could be a viable general alternative to funding currently unpaid care.

Let's see whom Ron Paul blames for this situation. It will come as no surprise to you that he blames the government:
Paul blamed government interference and regulation designed to benefit insurance and pharmaceutical companies for shooting up medical prices for people like Kent, which he said explained why health care was no longer as affordable as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when he said he charged $3 for an office visit.
“If you look at your cell phone or TV or computer the prices have crashed, they’re real low and we get higher quality,” he told reporters. “Except in medicine it has pushed prices up because there’s no market there, there’s no competition.”
He also blamed the government for regulating medicine: “The federal government comes in and closes down shops that try to sell nutritional medicine and vitamins because the drug companies don’t want competition. That drives the prices up.”
Now that's a real muddle! It's government regulations which drive up prices, but then it's the drug companies who don't want competition which drives up prices. To let those drug companies (often global oligopolies with market power) loose in an unregulated markets would certainly not help the shops which sell vitamins and such! Talk about sharks and sprats in the same waters.

Or put in other terms, if Paul is correct about the impact of government regulation and interference in general, then we should see much higher prices in other countries where the governments have much larger roles. But we see the opposite.

As even blind chickens sometimes find the worm, Paul is quite correct that the competition in health care markets is severely and chronically ill and that regulation can be captured by those to be regulated in a way which is bad for competition.

But his remedy would not help at all, because the reasons why competition works so differently in health care than in the case of cell phones or computers are in inherent differences between health care and those other products he mentioned.

To keep using bad animal analogies, if computers and cell phones are fishes and the market for them is a giant aquarium, recommending more water in it makes sense. But health care services are more like, say, horses, and keeping them in a giant aquarium (with grass) would not make the idea of filling it up with water a good one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Housekeeping Stuff

1. I lost about twenty e-mails from my inbox. If I have not answered something please send the message again.

2. Echo is acting up again and apparently eating some comments. They may or may not come back, based on past experience. Sorry about that.

3. A thoroughly crummy day. Which is not housekeeping stuff but an explanation for the sudden and inexplicable shortage of erudite and funny and otherwise wonderful posts on this blog.

More on Tove Jansson

I have written about this writer of the Moomin books before. The books are for children but adults get something from them, too. Try Tales from Moominvalley for wise stories. The Summer Book is absolutely wonderful, written for adults and not about Moomins but about humans.

But that's what the Moomin books also are about, ultimately. I re-read the short story "The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters" (from Tales from Moominvalley), and wanted to give a gist of it here because it is a deeply feminist story even as it is also a story about many other questions: fears, traditions, loneliness, disasters and materialism.

But I cannot condense it. That may well be because it is such a good story.

Still, if you never met the Moomin books as a child you can make up for it now by reading either of the two books I mention here. Or all the rest of her books.

Elizabeth Warren on Class Warfare and Why Have Governments

What is so good about that is her way of framing. As skillful as the Republican framing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Job Creators Vs. The Micromanagers, Manipulators and Meddlers

"Job Creators" is the new Republican term for capitalists as opposed to labor*! Such fun.

I read through Rep. John A. Boehner's recent speech on such topics, and I learned that we now have one important class of people: The Job Creators:
Private-sector job creators of all sizes have been pummeled by decisions made in Washington.
They’ve been slammed by uncertainty from the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.
They’ve been hurt by a government that offers short-term gimmicks rather than fundamental reforms that will encourage long-term economic growth.
They’ve been hampered by a government that offers confusion to entrepreneurs and job creators when there needs to be clarity.
They’ve been undercut by a government that favors crony capitalism and businesses deemed ‘too big to fail,’ over the small banks and small businesses that make our economy go.
They’ve been antagonized by a government that favors bureaucrats over market-based solutions.
They’ve been demoralized by a government that causes despair when we need it to provide reassurance and inspire confidence.


Job creators in America are essentially on strike.

And so on. It reads as if the only people in the whole country have it bad are those fabulous (as in a fable) job creators. If only the government let them free ("let my people go"), we would no longer have a recession!

I would have thought that the lack of buyers is the real problem. People are not buying much because the unemployment rate is up, wages are not rising and those who have jobs are afraid of losing them so they keep working and working until there is no time left for shopping. The money they make is saved in case it is later needed to tide the family over a bout of unemployment. And because people are not buying much, firms are not hiring many new workers.

But it looks like I'm wrong. If only there were no "unnecessary" regulations, low taxes and complete certainty about the future, the risk-takers would be so happy that they would right away hire lots of the rest of us.

I do hope that you noticed that inherent paradox of demanding certainty for the risk-takers, those who are paid for taking risks.

The most interesting part of this speech to me is the way it uses emotional and nifty framing. Take, for instance, this sentence:
They’ve been slammed by uncertainty from the constant threat of new taxes, out-of-control spending, and unnecessary regulation from a government that is always micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating.
Note the two lists in that, each containing three items. Note the repetition of the ems. Note the use of emotional terms: "slammed," "out-of-control" and "threat." Note how the three terms beginning with "m" all really mean the same thing but increase their power through repetition on several levels.

Republicans are very good at that sort of framing. You have to stop reading and spend time deconstructing the messages they send. When you do that, you might notice -- just as an example -- that Republicans are, in fact, all FOR "micromanaging, meddling, and manipulating" when it comes to the reproductive lives of women.

Freedom from government for some, no freedom from government for others.
*My intention is not to slam (!) entrepreneurs here but Boehner's views on what motivates them and what they most desire.

A Snakelet Post

I spent the last weekend in the wilderness, on a mountain, doing exercise. On the first day I came across a tiny snakelet, quickly slithering across my path. I take that as a good sign. We are tiny snakelets but we are growing and our fangs are developing!

Snakes are a good metaphor for the change of the seasons here and for the clarity which is the characteristic of autumn. Also for the skills we need in the political game: Agility, venom and the ability to use obstacles to advance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fun With The Gini Coefficient: Where In the World Is The United States?

The Gini coefficient is one measure of income inequality in a country. Its end-points are zero and one. Zero would be a case of perfect income equality, one the case of complete income inequality. The lower the value of the Gini coefficient, the more equal the income distribution of a country is.

It is an imperfect measure as are all the other inequality measures. Nevertheless, the maps in this piece are pretty fascinating, even if the piece itself gets the end-point of the Gini coefficient wrong and seems poorly edited otherwise.

Take a look at the second map which shows the relative income inequality of the United States when compared to other countries. The blue countries have more equal income distributions than the United States, the red countries less equal income distributions (data is missing for the gray countries).

Sadly, I cannot write "We Are Number One!" here, whatever "number one" might mean. The United States does somewhat better than many troubled countries, true. It does loads worse than most other developed economies.

It could be that the rankings would look a little different if we measured income distribution after social transfers (assuming that the map is based on incomes earned). My own guess is that the US would do better with a post-social-transfers measure (though just you wait until the Ron Pauls of this world get their hands on the government!), but would still lag far behind most other developed economies.

What's the fun in all this, you might ask. Well, the Republican presidential contenders all wish to increase income inequality in the United States and the Republican state governors are busily doing just that. Indeed, nobody much seems to be bothered by the tendency of this country to roll towards a Banana Republic, because even poor Americans can afford cell phones.

It's a certain kind of American exceptionalism, I guess.

Stepping Into The Anthill. Is the Obama White House a Hostile Workplace for Women?

Picture of an anthill taken by me.

Have you heard that Ron Suskind has come out with a new book about the Obama administration? Stuff like this:
A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.
“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.
In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.
“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn declined to discuss the specifics of the book. But in an interview Friday she said she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”
“The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to house full of very strong women,” Dunn added. “He values having strong women around him.”
The book, due out next week, reveals a White House that at times was divided and dysfunctional.
It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.

Read the whole column as they say. Then read more about the counter-arguments:
Allegations of a hostile workplace for women also surface in the book, with former communications director Anita Dunn saying, “Looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace ... Because it actually fits all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.”
But now some people quoted have told news sources that their words were either embroidered or simply not quoted correctly. Summers told The Washington Post that “the hearsay attributed to me… is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context.” Dunn also denied her quote, saying to Politico, “This is not what I told the author, this is not what I believe and anyone who knows me and my history of supporting this president as a candidate and in office knows this isn’t true.”
Mmm. I haven't read the book. It's coming out tomorrow, I think.

This means that I can't really say anything informative about the White House as a possibly hostile workplace for women, except to suggest that it most likely has always been one, to some extent, from the very first president.

But what I can do is step right into the anthill we all prefer to ignore, the one which some of us poked with sticks during the previous presidential elections and the Democratic primaries which preceded them. Let me get my socks off first.

That anthill has to do with these questions and others very much like them:

Who are our sister and brothers, in the political sense? Is a liberal/progressive man always going to be a feminist? Is an upper class feminist, whether a woman or a man, always going to represent the poor? Is a white woman a good representative for women of color, just because she is a woman? Is a man of color a good representative for women of color, just because he is a person of color? And so on and so on. They ultimately boiled down to those fights over Hillary Clinton's possible racism and Barack Obama's possible sexism.

I used to stay awake through nights while thinking about the rifts in the political movements, trying to decide on what small space might remain for my type of feminist writing, if any, trying to understand why feminists I respected chose their policies so very differently from other feminists whom I also respected. Going on like that for weeks, until my eyes developed a permanently lovely shade of red, the same shade of irritated red which colored my own conscience after all that scraping and poking and self-examination I undertook during those long nights.

Then I settled on the way I always write which is not as much from the activism angle as it is from the theory angle. And yes, it is a partial cop-out reflecting the fact that I'm not an activist goddess by nature.

But I also believe that my approach has value, because it spells out one way we create inequality in the society. Some people have multiple types of inequality piled on them, others only suffer from few types or none. It is possible to acknowledge all this while still looking at the basic channels we use to construct inequalities of various types.

What this approach allows for is this: It is quite possible for someone oppressed to also oppress in his or her turn. The underlying channels I write about change over time, differ in different places, and sometimes the past victims become the current victimizers and vice versa. The kinds of identity politics which ignore all this can lead us to unexamined assumptions about who might have feminist values. Or any other kinds of progressive values.

The shortest summary of all this is to study the values of an individual politician by what they have actually done, how they have actually behaved, and not on the basis of how they look or what group they belong to. Then demand that your concerns will be taken into account. Do not assume that they will be taken into account. Watch like a hawk, complain like a squeaky wheel and organize like hell.

It isn't quite that simple, I know. The Firsts of any previously ignored group have great symbolic value and also wield an influence on societal views concerning that group. But ultimately we should not assume that Michele Bachmann, say, would run the government in a way which would benefit women, just because she is a woman. At the same time, the way others criticize Bachmann can tell us quite a bit about the channels of sexism in this country. What this means for me is that I will not defend Bachmann's policies just because she is a woman. I will, however, attack criticisms of Bachmann which are based on her being a woman.

I'm going all over the place with this post. My apologies for that. Time to tie it all together and get out of the anthill:

Is the Obama White House a hostile workplace for women? Who knows? But stating that it cannot be because he goes home to strong women is irrelevant. Women's domestic roles are a different kettle of fish. Traditionally, women have been allowed some say and some strength when it comes to the rearing of children and the running of the household. All that tells us nothing about how a man might respond (or not to respond) to his female work colleagues or subordinates.

This is a good place to remind all feminists that women are still often invisible in the public space, that ignoring women makes good political sense if has no real costs and that "the othering" of women is not just something Republican crackpots do. I have seen liberal men do exactly that. I have even seen liberal women do that. Thus, whether the White House is a sexist place or not, we do have a more general problem.

So it goes. But before we lose all sense of proportion, remember that a Republican in the White House is much more likely to turn the whole country into a hostile workplace for women. Republicans are opposed to reproductive freedom for women, opposed to any interference with business, including regulations about gender discrimination, parental leaves and such. And the religious fringe of the Republican Party wants women at home, under the yoke and ruled by their husbands or fathers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Karma: A bitch (by Skylanda)

You never want to point fingers and say I told you so when someone up and dies all young and tragic-like on you. But then, every once in a while, ya know, you do.

The spectacle of Ron Paul’s performance at last week’s GOP debate was chilling, to say the least. To Wolf Blitzer’s questioning, Paul implied that an uninsured 30 year-old man without insurance should be let to die rather than rely on any kind of public funding for his care (nevermind that all insurance relies on collective funding, whether by government or for-profit institutions). Blitzer cornered Paul on this answer, who hedged, bobbled, yammered about friends, neighbors, churches taking over. Meanwhile, the audience roared their approval of when Blitzer asked, “Are you saying that society should just let him die? (The little-spoken but eminently more ridiculous part of the question was that Blitzer’s scenario included the hypothetical 30 year old’s option to get health insurance for $200-300 per month – a truly false offering that blunted the force of Paul’s response by implying that cheap, easy-to-obtain health insurance is somehow a norm.)

A week goes by, and someone did a little homework and trotted out a formerly under-publicized fact: in 2008, one of Paul’s staffers was hospitalized with pneumonia. The staffer – Kent Snyder was his name – was uninsured, and apparently uninsurable; an undisclosed pre-existing condition precluded his ability to obtain covered. He died. His mother inherited the bill - a whomping $400,000. She couldn’t pay it, and the word went out to friends and family to help out, just the way Paul says it happened in the good old days: apparently, you’re now on the hook not only for your own bills, but you should also kick down every time a friend gets sick. Needless to say, generosity only goes so far (especially if the benefactor is deceased and funds are going to pay post-mortem debts); best guess says less than 10% of the bill was eventually paid through these fundraising efforts.

Trotting out this ironic moment was, I believe, supposed to be a play on the sympathies of Americans: the insurance crisis is so large that even the libertarians are not immune. Unfortunately, this Kent Snyder guy is probably the only person in the history of the American health insurance clusterfuck that I do not have great sympathy for. Because he was the instrument of Ron Paul’s rise, and if his overblown obit is to be believed, one of the prime movers behind one of the libertarian ilk’s most enduring caricatures. He reaped what he sowed in spades, and in fact, he reaped what he was trying to heap on the rest of us. He was a firm believer in the libertarian way – including the belief that heath coverage is due only those who can obtain it on the open market – and was credited with Ron Paul’s meteoric return from obscurity in 2008.

Tea party rhetoric to the contrary, folks in my profession answer to a different set of standards than to cheer at the thought of the uninsured man dying from a treatable disease and leaving his family and friends to go bankrupt with the bill. We answer, for one, to our own consciences and morals; and while doctors are a popular whipping boy in the health care reform debate, most of us did not go into the profession to sanctimoniously withhold care based on the color of your insurance card – we went into the profession to ply our trade, and that’s what we do. But we also are bound by a legal mandate, a law called EMTALA.

EMTALA is the anti-dumping law that was passed in the 1980s in response to practice of emergency rooms turning out critically ill but uninsured patients onto the street. Under EMTALA, unless a patient is lucid enough to say they refuse any further care, hospitals are obligated to continue to treat an acutely or critically ill patient (or find a facility that will) regardless of who will pay or who will not pay the final bill. (Honestly, I have seen many direly ill people try to walk out of the ER out of terror of the bill they know they will receive, but I have yet to see a single one gallantly refuse care out of high-horse anti-government welfare mores.) EMTALA is the secret socialist of the American health care system: everyone is guaranteed access through this back-door channel, and once you go bankrupt someone will foot the bill for you. It’s our very American way of making sure that universal access exists, but in the most inefficient, ineffectual, and painful way possible. EMTALA is what let Kent Snyder in the front door of the hospital when he fell ill and let him run up a $400,000 bill he would never pay. EMTALA is essentially unpaid socialized medicine – the public dole without the cash behind the mandate, paid generously by hospitals biting the non-payer bullet, providers providing unvolunteered charity hours, tax collection structures eating the loss at income that was never garnered on patients who never pay half-million dollar bills they ran up. Welcome to universal coverage, American-style.

The real irony of Kent Snyder’s death, of course, is not that sometimes people fall on the sword of their own idiotic making. The irony is that public funds will likely pick up the slack for the $400,000 in services that were generously afforded to him on his way out the door. Because nurses, janitors, lab techs, orderlies, scrub techs, and doctors don’t work for free even for the self-appointed bloody fool nobility known as the American white libertarian male, someone gets to pay that nearly half-million dollar bill, and it will likely look like this: his momma; his friends and family solicited over the website set up for this purpose; the hospital in the form of yet another loss to a non-payer patient; the local, state, and federal tax structures that will take a hit from the income loss they couldn’t tax on yet another non-paying patient.

That’s right, Mr. Snyder: you might have lived your ideals, but you died on the dole. And I’d really like to see Ron Paul and his ilk (and every GOP candidate who stood silently by without a word of objection to this exchange) taken to the table for that inevitable fact.

Cross-posted from my recently re-located and re-launched blog, America, Love it or Heal It.