Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekend Reading, 3/25/2015

I was going to title this post "For the bookworms," but what I recommend in this post are not books.  So what would the online equivalent be?

In any case, you could do a lot worse than reading Masha Gessen's article on the normalization of the abnormal, on our everyday thoughts on the unthinkable, on how our minds are trying to cope with the new form of the American government where the incompetent rule, where family members (accountable to no-one) wield the kinds of powers they wield in dictatorships and where every new horror ultimately helps in getting us accustomed to this era of the end of democracy.

Gessen urges that we not follow in Trump's footsteps, that we not decide to fight fake with fake, that we not participate in the death of honest information, "infocide."

Sarah Posner writes about the fornication between Donald J. Trump and the American religious right.  She argues that the white supremacist flavor of the Trump administration does not bother some among the fundamentalists, as it's a return to their roots.  I would add that the religious right is also about the subjugation of women, and Trump's views align with that goal much better than the views of Hillary Clinton.  Still, I lost any remaining  respect I had for the beliefs of those American fundamentalists who voted for Trump.  Pharisees, they are.

 Those two are serious reads.  For something more outrageous and/or silly,  you can learn why the sexuality of women is like spaghetti and the sexuality of men is like waffles, as explained by a Christian sex educator at a school.  Munch, munch. 

Note, by the way, that those terms are justified elsewhere by a pseudo-scientific approach:  Men can compartmentalize sex, women's brains get all mushy like overboiled pasta, and that is not meant to be seen as delicious and appetizing.

Oklahoma Republican lawmaker George Faught, famous for his anti-abortion views,  gives us another frightening religious opinion about reproductive rights:

Asked by fellow state Representative Cory Williams about whether he considered rape to be the “will of God,” Faught boldly, if not necessarily unabashedly, answered in the affirmative.
“Well, you know, if you read the Bible, there’s actually a couple circumstances where that happened,” said Faught. “The Lord uses all circumstances. I mean, you can go down that path, but it’s a reality unfortunately.”
Williams then asked Faught whether he considered incest to be the “will of God” as well.
“Same answer,” said Faught. “Doesn’t deal with this bill.”

As far as I can tell, he has no religious training.

The Gazillion Dollar Question: Who Hated The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

The brave new world of Trumpcare must wait a while, because the master of the Art of the Deal failed to get a deal.  Sad!*

The reasons for that failure are many, but one of them surely was the large number of citizens who contacted their representatives in the US Congress and told them they don't like to lose their health insurance benefits.  Politicians worry about getting re-elected.

A recent poll, and an earlier one, tell us that the support for repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a minority position:  Only 17% of those surveyed in that last poll were all gung-ho about the wonderful future of Trumpcare:**

Disapproval of the Republican plan is 56 - 22 percent among men, 56 - 13 percent among women, 54 - 20 percent among white voters, 64 - 10 percent among non-white voters, 80 - 3 percent among Democrats, 58 - 14 percent among independent voters and by margins of 2-1 or more in every age group.
But but but, you might say:  Haven't the Republican politicians ranted and raved about "Obamacare" since it was established?

Indeed, and the support for repeal and replacements is still higher among Republicans.

Still, why would Trump insist that one of the first real moves of his reign would be the killing of the ACA?  Who are in that 17% or so who really want to see the ACA dead?

I couldn't immediately find data on that, but I suspect that it would be the moneyed folks whose taxes pay for some of the ACA.  Those people, of course, run much of the Republican propaganda by paying for it and also, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, run much of the politics in this country.  Besides, they can afford to pay for their own health care costs out-of-pocket, if necessary, which means that they see the ACA as purely negative and harmful to their interests.

Finally, this clear failure to win by our Dear Leader (who promised that "we" would win so much we'd get tired of it) can also be attributed to earlier ignorance by far too many Americans*** and to that odd incompetence of the Republican Party:  Despite openly hating and criticizing the ACA they had no complete plan ready when the time would be right, but had to scribble up something in a few short weeks, and that something satisfied neither that part of their base which found the replacement not cruel enough nor those which found it too cruel.


*  The battle may have been won but the war is ongoing.  That means the next step for the Trump administration is to try to make the ACA implode.  Perhaps the website can be made impossible to navigate, perhaps bureaucracy can be increased, perhaps nobody will try to fix any problems.  Wait a few years, and then repeal!  Success and profit.

*  As an aside, have a look at this part of the poll results:

When it is explained that federal funding for Planned Parenthood is used only for non- abortion health issues, American voters oppose cutting federal funding to Planned Parenthood 80 - 14 percent, including 60 - 32 percent among Republicans. In a simple question, without the explanation, voters oppose cutting Planned Parenthood funding 61 - 33 percent.

Voters also oppose 74 - 22 percent, including 54 - 39 percent among Republicans, cutting federal funding for Medicaid

Wow and wow.  Most Americans don't want to de-fund Planned Parenthood  or starve Medicaid to death, assuming the poll is representative.  We would never know this if we got our information from Fox News, and other sites in the conservative media buble.

**  From last month:

A sizable minority of Americans don’t understand that Obamacare is just another name for the Affordable Care Act.
This finding, from a poll by Morning Consult, illustrates the extent of public confusion over a health law that President Trump and Republicans in Congress hope to repeal.
In the survey, 35 percent of respondents said either they thought Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were different policies (17 percent) or didn’t know if they were the same or different (18 percent). This confusion was more pronounced among people 18 to 29 and those who earn less than $50,000 — two groups that could be significantly affected by repeal.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words. Or Who Needs Mammograms.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say*.  This one is about today's meeting between our Dear Leader and the so-called Freedom Caucus, an arch-conservative wing of the Republican Party which wants freedom for themselves only.  A central topic in the meeting:

Whether or not maternity care and mammograms should be considered "essential" treatments covered by all health insurance policies under the Republican proposal. ("I wouldn't want to lose my mammograms," quipped Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who supports scrapping the requirement. He apologized.)

The probability of breast cancer in that particular room is, of course, lower than the probability of prostate cancer.

It would be hard to find a better example why diversity in the corridors of power is important.

* We are so inured seeing men as the default humanity that a picture of a large demonstration or protest in the Middle East, say,  showing nothing but men is routinely captured as "people protesting/demonstrating."  And we are certainly extremely accustomed to seeing only men in most pictures depicting people in power, with a few exceptions (such as Angela Merkel) who stick out because of being exceptions.

In the US this homogeneity also has a racial and ethnic characteristic.  But women tend to be absent in most countries of the world when power is depicted.  A few examples:

From China:

And from Saudi Arabia (about the founding of an organization to help young girls be their best):

How The Conservatives View Childbirth And Its Costs: Lessons from the Trump Care Debacle

The approach conservatives of all stripes take when it comes to having children is extremely weird, and I do mean extremely.  They interpret childbirth from three utterly and completely different angles:

1.  The race and religious wars angle, which demands that white and/or Christian women maximize the number of children they can possibly have.  The Quiverfull movement is an example of that line of thinking in the religious context:  Children are arrows in the man's quiver, of course prepared by their women.  Women are part of the war artillery and must keep shooting out babies. 

2.  The forced-birth angle, which values the lives of people extremely highly before they are born but pretty much not at all after they are born.  Because of the immense value of fetuses, women, in general, have the value of containers for the fetuses.  Decisions about children, before birth, are socialized.  Decisions about children, after birth, are privatized, and even that is viewed narrowly as the obligation of only their mothers.

3.  The children as ice-cream cones angle.  This is the one which comes up whenever people debate whether firms should provide maternity leave for childbirth or paid parental leave.  It also crops up whenever there's discussion about how the reason why women earn less, on average, is related to their childbirth and child-rearing duties.

In those situations you will hear conservatives pipe up about "choice."  If women "choose" to have children, well, they must expect to bear the costs of that choice all alone, just as others are not expected to pay for their BMWs.  From this angle childbirth is something private,  like buying a new pair of shoes, something which has nothing to do with the reproduction of the next generation.  There's certainly no need for the employers to coddle women by providing them with maternity benefits!  What are they going to demand next?  BMW vacations?

From that third angle, children are conceived through parthenogenesis and all costs and burdens of childbearing should fall on only their mothers.

I may have exaggerated a little here, but not a lot.  The basic rule in all of them is an attempt to socialize the benefits of children (as the conservatives view them) but to privatize all costs of children.  The women giving birth are regarded as the only people truly responsible for the costs of children.

The most recent example of 3.  can be found in what White House secretary, Sean Spacer, said:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday defended a newly promised provision in the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare by saying that older men "can generally say" they will not need coverage for maternity care.
Republican leaders on Thursday signaled to hardline conservatives that the Senate may add a provision to the bill gutting Obamacare's Essential Health Benefits (EHB) rule, which mandates that insurance plans cover a basic minimum of health care services, including maternity care.
"A lot of people buy insurance not knowing what they're going to need," RealClearPolitics reporter Alexis Simendinger noted to Spicer during his daily briefing.
"Well, I think if you're an older man you can generally say you're not going to need maternity care," Spicer replied.
Such fun.  Unless that older man in the example is one of us divines, he was once born and needed obstetric care.

P.S.  If you are interested in knowing the parts of health insurance that I am never going to use, check out my two earlier posts on this topic.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Neil Gorsuch Hearings

They should not have taken place at all, given that Merrick Garland was appointed by a lawfully elected president and never got a hearing.  If being a lame duck president is a valid excuse for something like that, then surely we have much  more valid excuses for refusing to give Gorsuch a hearing, what with the Russian connections, under investigation, and the possibility that Vlad "the Impaler" Putin put a finger or two on those election scales?  Whose candidate IS Gorsuch, after all? 

Well, we know that he is the candidate of the corporations and the extremely wealth handful of extremist right-wing families which fund most of our politics now:  The Koch brothers, the Mercer son-and-daughter, and so on.  But did any foreign power affect that particular choice?

That's preposterous from me.  Of course it is, but we live in an era where sarcasm is impossible, because what is happening is so much more extreme than most things I can create in the sick part of my brain.

Back to Gorsuch.  He is also the candidate of the forced-birthers, of course.  Then there are the questions how he views the rights of pregnant women, based on a law class he held.

One of the students who were present in that class, Jennifer R. Sisk, stated this:

H]e asked the class to raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and then left right after having a baby. Judge Gorsuch specifically targeted females and maternity leave. This question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having children. It was solely focused on women using their companies.
I do not remember if any students raised their hands, but it was no more than a small handful of students. At that point Judge Gorsuch became more animated saying “C’mon guys.” He then announced that all our hands should be raised because “many” women use their companies for maternity benefits and then leave the company after the baby is born.

When one student objected that employers can’t ask about family plans during a job interview, Sisk said Gorsuch denied that this was true: “Instead Judge Gorsuch told the class that not only could a future employer ask female interviewees about their pregnancy and family plans, companies must ask females about their family and pregnancy plans to protect the company.”
The university later confirmed to the committee that Sisk had raised these objections with them shortly after the class discussion.

Gorsuch, when asked about this incident at the hearings, insisted that his point had been the reverse:

Instead, Gorsuch said, he asked for a show of hands of how many students had been asked “an inappropriate question about your family planning” in an employment context.
“I am shocked every year how many young women raise their hand,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch also dodged questions from Durbin about whether he thinks it’s legally inappropriate to ask questions like these, and whether a company should be able to take a woman’s family choices into consideration during the hiring process.
Nor did Gorsuch address Sisk’s claims that he had told his law class companies must ask women these questions out of protection.

Hmm.  Won't it be wonderful when Gorsuch removes his hearings-mask and reveals his true opinions about whose side he might take in a legal case where the two sides are corporations and pregnant women?  I can hardly wait, sigh.

P.S.  I have earlier written about  parental leaves as a reason for firms not to hire young women.  Some of those problems could be removed or reduced by requiring new fathers to take some parental leave, too, and in those countries where the employers pay some of the costs of parental leave, requiring that the employers of the man who fathered the child chip in half the money.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Comey, Redux

This matters:

It's hard to think of another explanation for the different treatment of the Republican and Democratic emails except for Putin's desire to see Republicans and Trump in power.  His desire not to see Democrats and H. Clinton in power boils down to the same thing.

I have sometimes wondered how Comey sleeps at night, given that at least one analysis suggests that he gave us Trump by insinuating some dreadful law-breaking on Hillary Clinton's part, only about a week before the elections.

But then I remember that if one feels no particular love for democracy or peace or suffers from any other soppy values, well, that one can probably sleep sweetly.
And imagine his fame if Trump starts WWIII!  Comey would be in every history book or their future equivalents, assuming there would be a future.  Other than for cockroaches.

About Draining That Swamp...

Of lobbyists, which our Dear Leader promised to do:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump adviser, said the president needs to dispatch political allies to the agencies to monitor a bureaucracy that’s being targeted for reduction.
“If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich said. “These people are actively trying to undermine the new government. And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”
At the Transportation Department, former Pennsylvania lobbyist Anthony Pugliese shuttles back and forth between the White House and DOT headquarters on New Jersey Avenue SE, according to an agency official. His office is just 20 paces from Secretary Elaine Chao’s, the official said.


Many of the senior advisers lack expertise in their agency’s mission and came from the business or political world. They include Trump campaign aides, former Republican National Committee staffers, conservative activists, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.

Bolds are mine.

The linked article is not about draining the swamp, though of course Newt must  mention the alligators!  It's about having political aides patrol the various departments to see if everybody sings from the same songbook and if everybody is faithful to the Dear Leader!

Still, I found the bits I quote fun.  As fun as the way Trump has leapt into bed with the Wall Street while accusing Hillary Clinton of that all through his campaign.  Well, the pre-election part of his campaign.  He keeps having victory rallies even now...