Saturday, December 04, 2010

Abe Schwartz and "Miss Schwartz" (his daughter)

Romanian Doina and Sirba

Posted by Anthony McCarthy

Note: "Miss Schwartz" apparently had one of the most amazing tremolos I've heard. Makes you shiver.

The Infernal Commissions of Elites Should Give Way To One of Real People [Anthony McCarthy]

Government by a panel of wise men is an elitist dream going back to Plato. Its most notable feature is that from the time of Plato it has been in aggressive conflict with democracy. When it comes to elites of all times and places, “wise men” are invariably wealthy or having had a history of sharing the common received attitudes of the wealthy and/or a history of servicing the rich.

The catfood commission has failed to force a vote in congress on its abominable report, which is good.

What isn't so good is that Obama and Reid have both made sounds of trying to pass some of it into law. It would depend on what they chose but, considering their track record, it's likely some of its worst junk will be pushed.

The practice of appointing commissions has a bad enough history that it, rightly, inspires deep suspicion on the left that there's a sell-out or cover up underway. They always appoint large numbers of insider hacks and creeps who have records of service to elites to these things nowadays. I thought that Barack Obama's choice of David Cote, CEO of Honeywell and also a board member of Morgan Chase and who is also involved in Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts was disgusting. But he also appointed Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. The results are notably skewed in favor of sticking it to the middle class while benefiting the elite.

One of the reasons it failed was that Nancy Pelosi's appointments weren't the sell out type. But I think people here know enough of my great respect for her and her progressive colleagues in the House. Dick Durbin's endorsement of the catfood report pretty much ends whatever respect I used to have for him. I don't think he'd make a good replacement for Harry Reid. But that's for another time.

I would like Barack Obama to do something entirely uncharacteristic.

President Obama, appoint another panel of American citizens who have never had an income of more than $30,000 dollars, 18 or more of them. I'd require that they have a proven ability to read a budget and to not be afraid of mathematics. I'd require representation of public school teachers, first responders, non-profit health professionals and others with a professional or avocational experience in providing disinterested public service. Let them come up with proposals to make cuts and rearrange things. Make it regionally representative. They should be required to sign contracts to prevent them being bought off by the elites that would try to corrupt them. Give THAT commission a staff of real, non-DC insiders, an adequate budget AND THE AUTHORITY TO FORCE A VOTE IN CONGRESS THAT THE ELITE COMMISSION HAD.

I'm sure that the DC beltway elite would scorn and ridicule the very idea of a commission of those kinds of Americans. The idea would be attacked and mocked, their product discounted as the product of ignorant stupid people. Sally Quinn, David Broder and just about every one of the known presstitutes would attack them. The idea that a commission of modest, middle class professionals should get so close to writing legislation that has to be acted on by the House and Senate will horrify the connected elite and the media that serves them.

Of course, it would take real political courage and moral conviction to form a commission like that and there isn't much evidence that there is any.

I dare Barack Obama to do it. I dare the Democratic leadership of the Senate and House to propose it, now, before the Republicans take over the House.

Where Are The Would Be Saviors of Terri Schiavo Now? [Anthony McCarthy]

Remember 2005? Remember the Republicans who were in control of the entire federal government and the government of Florida propping up the animated corpse of Terri Schiavo as a political prop? And that was with the full help of the "pro life" industry, right wing Hollywood and the cable news cycle.

Remember how Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the Senate used his credentials as a doctor to whip up the right wing election stunt by saying that based on his brief video taped "examination" Terri Schiavo wasn't in a persistent vegetative state (after the autopsy he couldn't deny that she was and tried to backtrack). And there was also the House of Representatives under the control of Tom Delay's puppet Denny Hastert which kept up the political theater surrounding the case for months and months, Tom Delay threatening the Judges who kept ruling that her husband had legal authority to determine when to stop the measures that were keeping her body alive when her life had stopped shortly after she collapsed.

Probabaly most remarkable of all is that George W. Bush flew back to Washington, INTERRUPTING HIS VACATION, to sign one of the bills the Republican congress passed. It's not his signing a clearly unconstitutional bill in the matter, it's that he'd interrupt his vacation to do it.

The full history of the political use of a brain dead woman's body by the Republicans and their media would take up thousands of words. No cost was to be spared in the unhinged attempt to keep their political prop animate, not in maintainence, not in treatment. Including the use of her by Jeb Bush, who was governor of Florida, where, you will remember, the political use of Terri Schiavo and the massive slander against her husband began.

Where are they now that Arizona under the leadership of Republican Governor Jan Brewer is killing off poor, uninsured people by denying them transplants to cut the State budget? Transplants that are paid for by every other state?

Where is the "pro-life" industry, where are the Bush family? Where are the Hollywood has-beens, the Cabloid clowns who repeated the Republican talking points, playing doctor on TV? Where's the multi-millionaire who wanted to adopt Terri Schiavo? Where's Tom Delay who crassly compared himself to Terri Schiavo and has said that his involvement in that circus was one of his "proudest moments in congress"? I mean other than awaiting sentencing for political corruption. I've looked and have found little evidence of protest by Catholic Bishops or Cardinals, though you'd think this would have already gotten massive criticism by them. They seem to regularly stick their noses into people's personal business when they don't welcome it, you'd think that people pleading for their lives might welcome their support.

These cases, placed side by side, demonstrate, conclusively the complete hypocrisy of the Republican Party, their media echo chamber, the second tier celebrities and the rest of the "pro-life" industry who are shown up as a fraud. Where's Sarah Palin of the nonexistent federal "death panels", now that there is one up and killing in Arizona?

Friday, December 03, 2010

WikiLeaks founder & consent (by Suzie)

What Julian Assange has done raises questions about what should be kept confidential and how our leaders behave. I’m not talking about WikiLeaks' dump of diplomatic cables; I want to examine the accusations of rape and other sexual misconduct against its founder, who faces arrest and extradition.

The champion of transparency in state affairs says what happened between him and two women in Sweden is a private matter, and he won't return to face his accusers. But sex crimes are crimes against the state. Assange may be innocent, but he has a responsibility to answer to prosecutors.

The attitude and behavior toward women by men in power is not a side issue, not merely a distraction, to the importance of their work. It informs their work. It helps explain why some male leftists hate government power, while ignoring the power that men in and outside of government hold over women.

Assange and his organization remain secretive so that they can carry out their work – like agents of the state. He promotes democracy, but he decides what's good for the public, with no accountability to the rest of us. I'm sure WikiLeaks has done some good, but I don't know enough to debate the current leaks. Nor is this post the place to do so. This post is about male hypocrisy and sex crimes.

Assange has said, or insinuated, that the sexual accusations are dirty tricks orchestrated by the Pentagon or that the women lied for revenge after finding out he had had sex with both of them. It’s no wonder that his supporters have been quick to pillory the women. They have speculated on the identity of “Woman B” online while leaking the name, phone number and email of “Woman A.” The former has been described as a nutty slut. The latter, a radical feminist, has been painted as a scorned woman, an anti-sex man-hater. But the guys can't use their usual descriptors of such a woman because "A" is a young, beautiful blonde.

Pity any woman who takes on a hero of computer hackers.

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair's Kate Reardon has made fun of Assange's looks, with the commenters all saying how awful she is. The media often dissects the appearance and style of prominent women, and then hordes of men comment on whether they’d hit that or not.

Many male leftists have rallied to his defense. Violet Socks, the Reclusive Leftist, points out the slant in a column by Glenn Greenwald, who thinks highly of WikiLeaks. He wrote:
I genuinely have no opinion of the validity of those allegations, but what I do know -- as John Cole notes -- is this: as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties. As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs). And now, the day after Julian Assange is responsible for one of the largest leaks in history, an arrest warrant issues that sharply curtails his movement and makes his detention highly likely. It's unreasonable to view that pattern as evidence that the allegations are part of some conspiracy -- I genuinely do not believe or disbelieve that -- but, particularly in light of that pattern, it's most definitely unreasonable to assume that he's guilty of anything without having those allegations tested and then proven in court.
How odd that Greenwald has no opinion on whether or not his hero committed rape. It's as if crimes against women were irrelevant, except when they get in the way of bringing down the National Security State. (Reminds me of guys who brush aside sex allegations against sports figures, bemoaning the timing before the Big Game.)

Like Greenwald, I don't know if Assange is guilty or not, and I'm all for the allegations going to court, but Assange promises to fight extradition. Ritter has been accused of, but not prosecuted for, attempting to have sex with minors. He faces trial on a charge that he masturbated in front of a police decoy he thought was 15. Damn, the National Security State keeps getting in the way of his Internet hookups. Prostitution is illegal, and Spitzer -- who had fought prostitution rings and human trafficking -- was astonishingly hypocritical.

Re: the timing. Maybe men who are all puffed up with their importance, who think the law no longer applies to them, become more reckless in their treatment of women and girls.

Assange says the sex was consensual. But it’s possible that his definition of consent differs from that of the women. Woman A reported that she wanted him to use a condom and that he tore it intentionally. According to a source, woman B also wanted him to use a condom, but one morning he didn't.

Both support, or supported, his work. They say they never felt he was a threat. It’s quite possible that they didn’t feel violated until they met and compared stories. Perhaps then they thought he had used his power, as their hero, to have sex with them, not telling one about the other, using them for free transportation and lodging and then treating them like something he scraped off his shoe.

I’d say he sounds like a narcissist except the DSM just abolished that label.

In cases of acquaintance rape in which victims initially consent, women may not consider what happened rape, at least at first, because culture has taught them that once they say yes, they’re fair game. They may blame themselves for what happened. Some will want to see the man again because they want to convince themselves that what happened was some sort of accident, and that the man really does care for them.

Whatever the motives of the women who reported him, if the first woman made clear to him that she did not want unprotected sex, and Assange continued, knowing the condom was broken, then he might very well be prosecuted under Swedish laws. If the second woman told him that she didn’t want unprotected sex, but he had unprotected sex with her against her will or while she was sleeping, that seems to meet the definition of rape in Sweden, which requires informed consent.

I don't expect the state to win these cases, however, because it will be his word against theirs, and the media already has trashed them. In 2008, Amnesty International criticized Sweden for "an abysmally low conviction rate for rape cases."

It would take a lot of courage for any other woman to step forward now, considering how the Swedish women have been dragged through the mud. But it is possible that he has abused other women. His estranged son has written: “That man does have a way of making a lot of female enemies." ETA: He says he was speaking tongue-in-cheek in private.

It would be great if someone leaked emails and other communication that documented Assange's attitudes toward women.

Poco, feminism & intersectionality (by Suzie)

At the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA) last month, a friend presented a paper on a novel written in English by an American author born to Cuban-exile parents. Well-meaning people grouped my friend with two scholars of Latin American literature. One read her paper in Spanish, as my friend listened respectfully, even though she doesn't know Spanish. The other scholar had written his paper in English, but with long excerpts in Spanish. No one apologized to my friend for putting her on a panel in which she could not fully grasp the other two papers.

Of course, I understand that people who study and teach Latin American literature would read works in Spanish and write papers in Spanish.

But I'd like to see more of an interdisciplinary understanding -- what I consider a sort of intersectionality -- that recognizes that feminist and postcolonial analysis can cross many borders, and we can't expect those scholars to read and write in all languages.

This example also illustrates an issue I've mentioned before (6/26/09): We need to recognize that it's impossible to be perfectly intersectional, and we need to adapt our expectations to that fact. In the United States, my friend never gets to write or read papers in her first languages, even though one is among the most widely-spoken in the world.

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)

At the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, I kept urging my friends to stop, explaining that a century plant doesn't put up a spike like this every day. Have you seen anything amazing lately?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Income Inequality Revisited

The New York Times has an interesting series on economics. Honest. A recent article is by James Galbraith:

The premature and excessive deficit-cutting plans now being framed will almost surely hurt working and retired Americans: they will increase unemployment, decrease hours and overtime, place downward pressure on wages, and in all these ways make low-income workers worse off.

Their effect on the stock market is less clear. The plutocrats behind these plans apparently think that stocks will go up, increasing inequality (in their favor). They may be right but I'm not sure; Japan has discovered it can be hard to have a stock boom in a depression.

When you examine the specifics, ambiguity disappears. While there are progressive variations with better results, the main Bowles-Simpson proposal is an assault on the middle class, the working class and the poor.

Cuts in Social Security will gradually increase poverty and early death among the old. Cuts in the mortgage interest deduction will further drive down home values while hardly affecting those rich enough to pay cash. Killing the Earned Income Tax Credit will reverse a highly effective anti-poverty program for working people. Meanwhile Bowles and Simpson hold the line on the top rate in the income tax, and they say nothing about a financial transactions tax. This is most revealing.

Budget-balancing is crackpot economics, yet these proposals illustrate clearly the true underlying goal. Increasing inequality, it would appear, is the point.
Interesting, right? I immediately looked around to see what the conservative economists say about this and was richly rewarded:

The most important inequality is inequality of happiness or well-being, not inequality of income. Fortunately, most Americans have a reasonably high level of personal satisfaction in their lives, and if they don't, economic policy is not always the problem.

When it comes to fiscal policy, we would be ill-advised to focus too much on the inequality issue.

In modern society, inequality of happiness varies much less than inequality of income. It is quite plausible, for instance, that I am happier than Bill Gates or any number of other billionaires. We should improve the lot of the poorest Americans, but we have the luxury of not having to worry too much about across-the-board inequality.
So inequality doesn't matter because even quite poor people are happy? That logically means that redistributing income from the rich shouldn't matter, either. After all, the formerly rich can then be quite happy poor people.

Increasing income inequality matters for all sorts of ethical, moral and economic reasons. If conservatives don't care about any of these, there's always the obvious selfish reason to oppose ever-increasing income inequality: Societies like that are dangerous places to live for all.

How's That Bipartisanship Working For You?

The Republicans have been busy practicing it:

House Republicans have temporarily blocked legislation to feed school meals to thousands more hungry children.

Republicans used a procedural maneuver Wednesday to try to amend the $4.5 billion bill, which would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier. First lady Michelle Obama has lobbied for the bill as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.

House Democrats said the GOP amendment, which would have required background checks for child care workers, was an effort to kill the bill and delayed a final vote on the legislation rather than vote on the amendment.

Because the nutrition bill is identical to legislation passed by the Senate in August, passage would send it to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature. If the bill were amended, it would be sent back to the Senate with little time left in the legislative session.
So much for the school lunches. The Republicans are not at all opposed to children eating, by the way. They simply don't want to pay for those meals, however poor the children happen to be.

Then Scott Brown, hobbling along in Ted Kennedy's shoes as the Senator from Massachusetts blocked the extension of unemployment benefits:

Scott Brown, the senator from Massachusetts who briefly captured the imagination of the tea party movement when he won Ted Kennedy's old seat, came under attack from his own constituents Wednesday after blocking a bill that would have extended jobless benefits due to expire this month.

Brown placed a hold on the $56-billion bill that came up on the Senate floor Tuesday, effectively preventing it from coming to a vote before the end of the lame-duck Senate session.

The result is that two million people currently collecting jobless benefits from the federal government will lose their benefits sometime over the next few weeks, depending on the state they live in. In Brown's home state of Massachusetts, an estimated 60,000 people are expected to lose their unemployment checks this month.
The Republicans quite like the unemployed, by the way. They just think that jobs are plentiful and only lazy people choose to stay unemployed.

But Hate IS A Family Value!

Remember those bumper stickers stating that "Hate Is Not A Family Value?" Whenever I saw them I used to mutter to myself that of course it can be. Just think of domestic abuse.

In any case, the Southern Poverty Law Center now calls the Family Research Council (a right-wing anti-women group) a hate group because of their rhetoric against Lesbians and gays:

The Family Research Council is an influential Washington-based advocacy group with deep roots in the religious right. Its annual political forum, the Values Voter Summit, has become a nearly obligatory stop for ambitious Republican office-seekers hoping to win the support of so-called values voters. In recent years, the council has given an increasing share of its attention to opposing marriage equality and open military service by gays and lesbians.


Last week, the law center added the Family Research Council to its list of more than 930 active hate groups, citing the anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders and researchers, which have included calls to re-criminalize consensual sex between individuals of the same gender. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as one with "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

The council's president, former Louisiana lawmaker Tony Perkins, reacted angrily to the designation, calling it "slanderous" and demanding an apology. "The left is losing the debate over ideas and the direction of public policy, so all that is left for them is character assassination," Perkins said, insisting that his group "will continue to champion marriage and family as the foundation of our society and will not acquiesce to those seeking to silence the Judeo-Christian views held by millions of Americans."
The Family Research Council has an interesting website (including an ad pushing a book called God, Capitalism and You) which I visited to find out what they have to offer to us women in general.

Oh boy! They actually think of us! They even have a segment entitled "Women's Health!" This must be all about breast cancer and heart disease and so on, I thought.

Well, not quite:

Women's Health

Family Research Council believes that abortion, far from empowering women, is a destructive force in women's lives. Women deserve to be fully informed before making decisions regarding their reproductive and maternal health. Maternal health is improved when women are fully informed about risk factors, prenatal development and care, and pregnancy and postpartum outcomes, including the physical and psychological effects of both medical and surgical abortion. Procedures and topics spanning the wide range of women's reproductive and maternal health, such as egg extraction and fetal pain, require full disclosure of accurate information and potential risks. FRC is opposed to the availability of the morning after pill (or Plan B) and other hormonal drugs over the counter without a prescription. Hormonal medications require the oversight of a physician or medical provider throughout the duration of drug usage, in order to screen for the existence or the subsequent development of contraindications. FRC supports the pregnancy resource center (PRC) movement, which seeks to come alongside women, men, girls, and their families during pregnancy with the provision of accurate information, education, emotional support, and critical resources and referrals. Motherhood in the context of marriage promotes positive health outcomes for women.
There you have it. Women's health is all about not having abortions and being a married mother. What happens outside those things is of no concern for the boyz of the FRC.

These guys are Patriarchs with a capital P. To find out how it works, read through the pdf available from here, especially pages 7 and 8. Or dip into the other source material the FRC site provides.

Then remember that they are an "influential Washington-based advocacy group."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Crime. Women Do It, Too

And of course women commit crimes, too. But men committing crimes is not exactly news, whereas women committing crimes, be it ever-so-few, IS news, just because they are women. Stories about crime in general don't focus on the gender of the perpetrator if that gender is male.

The latest example is this one from Mexico:

Ramirez's arrest highlights a shift in the relationship between women and criminal groups; women now participate in kidnappings, extortion and even hits. And their roles go beyond simply being mixed up with the wrong crowd — as was alleged to have happened with a raven-haired beauty queen, Laura Zuniga, who was arrested in December 2008 with a posse of cartel toughs. (She was released five weeks later.)

The National Women's Institute (Inmujeres) reported a 400% increase in the number of women imprisoned for federal crimes — mainly drugs and guns — over the past three years.

Inmujeres put the number of women incarcerated for federal crimes at 4,292.
I tried to find the overall incarceration figures for federal crimes in Mexico, to see what percentage that 4,292 might be of the total, but my Spanish is nonexistent. In any case it's a very low total number, and the reason for that 400% increase is partly in the even lower starting point.

This wouldn't be worth writing about if I hadn't seen so many similar things in the past, and not only about crime: Ignoring the overall numbers and failing to place the stories into proper perspective.

Today Is One Of Those Days

When I wish I could crawl back into the cozy snake egg and sleep a few millennia. Maybe the world would then either not be here anymore or be more reasonable? Either way sounds excellent.

Here's what I have learned today: Nobody, but nobody is as oppressed as a white heterosexual man and nobody, but nobody, is as evil as feminists (who are, by the way, responsible for men dying in wars, responsible for all male victims of (male) violence and prime examples of the smaller brains of women in general).

To balance that, watch this wonderful Rachel Maddow video about the Twilight Zone, both the show and the one we live today. It will make you laugh, I bet.

Lessons from Blogging. Part III: Go To The Original

This is a good lesson for almost everything you hear. Go to the original: find the study if you can, find the actual quote in its original context, ask how people know what they say they know.

I don't do this always though I try to do it. It has saved me from writing on non-issues and it has revealed something to be even worse than it sounded! The most interesting example of that concerned a right-wing "study" fairly widely reported which turned out not to have been written up at all! I contacted the presumed author who told me that I can do my own calculations from raw data, even though that would have required at least a few months of work. This means that there was no actual way of verifying or falsifying his arguments!

An aspect relating to this lesson is never to respect authority too much. Always verify.

That's the ideal. I don't always get there, what with those pesky constraints of having only so many decades to live and so much in donation dollars and the desire to also sleep and go out carousing etcetera, but I keep this principle in mind.

The negative side-effect of it is that going to the original isn't exciting and fun and doesn't always provide the kind of scandalous findings which are fun to slurp up. But those are the rules.

Tax Cuts For All?

Temporary ones, at least, including the rich. That's nice to know, especially with the belt-tightening we are all told to expect.

The Republicans are fine with their temporary nature as they hope to be in power when the extension expires. Well, they are in power even when they are in the minority, which is one of those odd paradoxes I will never quite understand.

The Shadow Side Of The Contraceptive Pill

Is infertility! Or so Vanessa Grigoriadis tells us in a long article about the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill.

I find it tremendously hard not to write a snarky post on this topic because it's a lure for snarkiness like a pheromone trap is a lure for Japanese beetles. Just read the setup of this story:

On a cold night in mid-October, a couple hundred bejeweled women in gowns file into the Pierre with their dates for a very special 50th-birthday party. Before retiring to a three-hour lobster-and-steak dinner in the hotel's main ballroom, they collect oversize spoons of foie gras as Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" blasts from overhead speakers in a robin's-egg-blue reception room, with a bar festooned with the kind of miniature silver stars that teachers give exemplary students.
So we have foie gras and jewels! Nothing very serious can follow, right? Or rather, this beginning absolutely screams for those women to get their comeuppance: cold and childless old ages at least if not some awful disease.

The article isn't quite that bad, and that's why I try to keep my snarky alter ego quiet, though it does insist on pointing out that we seem to be offered either selfish and cold infertility with the pill or complete inability to control our fertility without it. These are naturally not the true choices or at least not the only possible choices*.

Now for my more moderate voice: Grigoriadis' article is mostly aimed at educated women, those, whose professional careers will be torpedoed if they have children at the wrong time in a culture which doesn't want to be bothered about the existence of future generations when designing the rules for work. It's also aimed at all those foolish (oh-so-foolish) women who just want to have fun like the boyz, without worrying about getting pregnant while totally not hearing that tick-tock of the biological clock.

That probably omits the majority of women on the pill, those who use it to space their families and all that boring stuff, and, as is the prevailing custom, it fails to address the role of men as also perhaps desiring parenthood and as one half of those responsible for the birth of children in the first place (though the article does tell us why a pill for men is not in the works).

Grigoriadis' main point is that the pill lulls (how?) women into thinking they can delay pregnancy for far too long, and that's the road to fertility treatments and the despair of not being able to have children, after all. Or stated in reverse: If women couldn't control their fertility they would have gotten pregnant by accident much earlier and then their problems would be different. I guess. Though it's unclear how many women are infertile for this reason, and that makes it equally unclear what the actual shadow side of the pill might be.

As Lindsey points out, one way of interpreting this message is that women don't understand the existence of their biological clocks:

If you strip away all the gloss and the celebrity name-dropping you get to the ugly core of this article: Women's liberation is illusory because women are too stupid to know what's good for them. Female sexuality without reproduction is unnatural. Women who flout the natural order will be punished with barrenness.
An alternative (and gentler) interpretation is that Grigoriadis confuses the existence of the pill and the reasons why women wish to delay having children. The former is just a tool to be used in pursuit of the actual reasons. Those have much more to do with the economic rules, the cost of bringing up children, the negative consequences of having them at the wrong time in one's working life, the lack of proper parental leaves, the lack of good child-care and so on.

But you know all that, or at least I have written about it eleventy-seven times on this blog. It's like shouting into a barrel with one fish desolately swimming in it. Nobody else listens except that fish. On the other hand, write something about how the pill wrecks women's lives and we are all ears.
*Here's one picture of the alternatives: World's oldest reusable condom, dating to 1640 and made out of the intestines of a pig.

PS: There are so many other avenues to take in discussing this article, ranging from what women in different demographic groups in fact use for contraception, what knowledge women have of their "fertility window", what (if anything) feminism has to do with the whole discussion about the pill and so on. Feel free to take on those subjects in the comments.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Eat Your Spinach

It might be safe now, because your food may be inspected a little more closely in the future:

The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation's food-safety system, after recalls of tainted eggs, peanut butter and spinach that sickened thousands and led major food makers to join consumer advocates in demanding stronger government oversight.

The legislation, which passed by a vote of 73 to 25, would greatly strengthen the Food and Drug Administration, an agency that in recent decades focused more on policing medical products than ensuring the safety of foods. The bill is intended to get the government to crack down on unsafe foods before they harm people rather than after outbreaks occur.
Of course Tom Coburn opposed this overhaul, arguing that we need less regulation, not more. But saner people won, though the final bill may end up being one of the usual patchwork types.

But I will find my good news in these times wherever I can, and this qualifies. The article also hints at the impact of the last Bush reign on the problems which now beset us. Reminding us of that is also good.

The impact of globalization is also mentioned. Up to three fourths of all seafood consumed in this country comes from abroad, yet very little of that is inspected. But the most interesting part of the article may just be this:

Industry organizations backed the legislative push because of the high costs for many companies of the food scares of recent years. Egg sales fell nationwide after the massive egg recall this summer, even though only two producers were implicated. Several years ago, contaminated spinach from one small producer led the entire industry's crop to be destroyed.
This phenomenon is well-known in economics. Consumers cannot tell "good" eggs apart from "bad" eggs, so they react by not eating eggs at all whenever some of them contain salmonella, and that means the egg markets may collapse. It is in the interest of such industries to be regulated, despite Coburn's arguments to the contrary.


That's a new acronym I've invented (I hate them, by the way) along the lines of IOKIYAR which means It's OK If You Are A Republican. Mine means It's OK If You Are A Man.

That shorthand will make many of my posts obsolete, sadly.

This great creative invention happened when I was reading about the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit doing a program based on the Duke University F**k List. With added violence, naturally.

And I started thinking about the fact that no such show has been made on the basis of guys' similar lists. Or am I wrong? And if not, why are such lists newsworthy when a woman compiles them and not news when many men compile them?

Perhaps for just that reason. And because IOKIYAM.
Note: This is NOT a post on the original list but on the television adaptation.

Among The High And Mighty

I got linked to on a righty blog in such awe-inspiring company that I knew something must be off:

President Obama's call not to give federal employees a cost-of-living raise for the next two years (they will continue to receive longevity — step — increases and bonuses) has set off the Lefty Bloggers like nothing since the 2000 Florida election.

From TPMDC: "The early reviews of President Obama's plan to freeze federal worker pay are in — and it gets a resounding "F" from just about everybody outside of GOP leadership. Michael Linden, a budget expert at the liberal Center for American Progress, said the plan is small potatoes that risks driving away valuable civil servants with little budgetary upside."

From Echidne of the Snakes: "So why pick one particular group only? Or is this a beginning of some larger cutbacks of freezes in, say, Social Security payments? Is Obama courting the tea-party section of the Republicans?"

Apparently Echidne is unaware that Social Security has been frozen for two years.

From Steve Benen: "For all I know, this might poll well. The public in general may like the idea of freezing these workers' pay, and the move will likely generate at least tepid praise from congressional Republicans. But it's exceedingly annoying anyway, and I wish the White House wouldn't do stuff like this."
You know how it goes in this blogging business? You write post after post after post of extremely careful and decisive analysis and nobody links to it? Then you spit something out after a night of two hours of sleep, with a typo as well, and THEN you get linked? Even distantly linked by Glenn Reynolds?

It's enough to make a goddess start hurricanes. -- Anyway, that "cutbacks of freezes" was supposed to be "cutbacks." "Cutbacks of freezes" doesn't make any sense in the first place. Mmm.

Mea culpa, naturally. But what is not my fault is the way that quote was cut. To understand it properly you need to read the previous paragraph in my post, because the first sentence refers to that one:

What about the pay freeze in itself? Perhaps not a bad idea if it is extended to the Congress and if it is extended to Wall Street and if it is extended to the health care sector and so on, and if the money saved will then be spent to employ more of the unemployed. I don't see any of that happening.

So why pick one particular group only?
And so on. The point was about pay freezes and their impact on the economy in general and on the labor markets in particular.

Besides, the reason why us high-and-mighty (heh) don't like this move is because it is a form of anti-stimulus, even if intended as a symbolic gesture. When more stimulus is needed and we get signs of the so-called "belt tightening", we start worrying about a deepening depression where nobody is willing to spend money and thus nobody gets hired to make things.

Monday, November 29, 2010

That Cato Institute Study On The Humongous Civil Service Pay

It is referred to in the New York Times article about the federal pay freeze:

The federal workforce is an obvious first target, if one fraught with political risk for a president who relies on union support. Critics have said the federal workforce has been protected from the ravages of the economy. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute referred to federal workers, in a study in June, as "an elite island of secure and high-paid workers, separated from the ocean of average American workers."

Mr. Edwards found that federal civilian workers had an average annual wage of $81,258 in 2009, compared with $50,464 for the nation's private-sector workers. Average federal salaries rose 58 percent from 2000 to 2009, compared with 30 percent in the private sector, according to his study.
I have been unable to find the actual study (just a lot of summaries) but this article refers to some of the issues*:

The dispute over how well federal workers are paid zigzags on. An early-October opinion poll by The Washington Post shows the public apparently has been influenced by the news media and possibly by the reports the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation released this summer. Three-fourths of the Post's respondents think federal workers "get better pay and benefits than people doing similar work outside the government."

But analyses by the Office of Personnel Management continue to show that federal employees are underpaid. OPM's compensation team leader reported to the Federal Salary Council on Oct. 29 that the gap actually widened during the past year and now stands at 24 percent. That is a statistical estimate because many federal employees do not have counterparts in nonfederal organizations.

The fact is, the data relevant to this comparison have not been assembled for almost 20 years. So the public can be reacting only to the vague generalizations that have dominated this debate now for months. Both sides have claimed they have completed analyses confirming their argument, but actual data for actual workers "doing similar work" have not been produced.
If this is correct then it's impossible to carry out the kind of study Mr. Edwards argues he has completed. The same article continues:

There is, however, a significant discrepancy in the benefit cost data Cato and Heritage report. It is not clear why they differ from the federal budget data. Cato reported the total compensation -- the combination of salary, bonus awards and benefits -- as $123,045 in 2009 -- or 51 percent more than the average salary.

For that year, the executive branch expenditure for benefits, as shown in the current budget, was 36.7 percent and essentially the same in 2010. When that percentage is added to the base salary, the total compensation is $98,455 -- or 20 percent below the Cato figure.

The U.S. Postal Service's benefits were higher, as were the military's benefits. The budget shows the cost of benefits for the entire government was 42 percent of aggregate salaries. Those numbers do not include the additional expenditures for retirees. It would be misleading to include those expenditures in a comparison of total compensation for today's public and private workforces.
Does Mr. Edward's study cover the military compensations and the increases in them over time? The pay freeze will not apply to military pay.

The crucial point, of course, is to compare apples to apples and the overall benefits packages. It looks like this is not something that can be done with recent data.
*Thanks to some guy at Eschaton for the link.

Freezing Times

No raises for federal workers for two years, then.

That's the bipartisan message of president Obama to the Republicans. The way this kind of bipartisanship works is that Obama will lie on the floor and hold the knife at his throat BEFORE the Republicans get around to the attack attempt.

I don't get it but I'm just a minor goddess. In any case, perhaps this is part of that n-dimensional chess game I've heard so much about. Perhaps the Republicans will now have to give in on the tax concessions to the very wealthy?

Obama said the pay freeze would save approximately $2bn over the current fiscal year and up to $28bn cumulatively over the next five years.

That is still a drop in the ocean of the deficit, which reached $1.3tn, but is a symbol of the president's willingness to give concessions to the newly empowered Republicans as Congress returns from the Thanksgiving break. He said that he had not made the decision to impose the freeze lightly.

"These are people's lives. The doctors and nurses who care for our veterans; scientists who search for better treatments; men and women who care for our national parks, borders and skies."

But he said these were times when "all of us are called upon to make some sacrifices". He added: "I'm asking civil servants to do what they have always done: play their part."

The move will require congressional approval for it to come into effect. It will not apply to military personnel, though it will hit civilian employees at the defence department. The announcement of the pay freeze is a pre-emptive move by Obama as he prepares to confront the Republicans.

Tomorrow he will meet Republican leaders to discuss the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which is likely to be an area of intense political contention.
I don't think the Republicans work like that. They think he's the enemy.

What about the pay freeze in itself? Perhaps not a bad idea if it is extended to the Congress and if it is extended to Wall Street and if it is extended to the health care sector and so on, and if the money saved will then be spent to employ more of the unemployed. I don't see any of that happening.

So why pick one particular group only? Or is this a beginning of some larger cutbacks of freezes in, say, Social Security payments? Is Obama courting the tea-party section of the Republicans? By punching the greedy bureaucrats in the nose? Including the fairly low-paid ones among them.

And how is all this belt-tightening going to provide economic stimulus?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Damned If We Spend Ourselves Into Destitution, Damned If We Don't [ Anthony McCartny]

Ruth Calvo at Firedog Lake was listening to Washington Journal the other day and noticed something that neither Washington Post economics writer Ylan Mui nor Peter Slen, the C-Span fixture conducting the interview, noticed,


Or, as she put it:

Dear CSpan,

Thank you for your continuing wide coverage.

Just heard Ms. Mui say; If you don’t come out and buy you might see an increase in unemployment.

So, it’s all back to consumer ‘confidence’ from the professional business reporter, which ignores that there cannot be consumption without disposable income. Making this a which is first, the chicken or the egg, and the professional chooses consumer/egg to crack open. However, for accuracy; business has prospered and should be the chance-taker, to open up the economy.

As Ruth points out, the idea is that people are to blame for unemployment because they don't spend themselves broke. Which apparently makes perfect sense to the DC echo chamber, odd, isn't it, that it's never those who really have money and the power to get more of it who are to blame in these things?

The answer is pretty much that we are chiselers because we won't spend the last of our money to stimulate the economy. But, as we've seen before, if you do spend yourself broke, and beyond, you're then to blame as well. Pretty much we're to blame for it all, according to the lackeys of oligarchy. Big surprise, huh?

GOP Legislator Stalking His Girlfriend While Armed [Anthony McCarthy]

What would you make of a 58 year old Republican legislator being caught on a surveillance camera at a Planned Parenthood Clinic with a holstered gun? Of course, the clinic had been the target of anti-choice activity.

And what would you make of that legislator, when detained by police who had been notified by understandably concerned clinic workers saying that he was looking for his girlfriend and that it was "a jealously thing"?

Hackbarth had only known "Linda" for two months and they had gone out only a couple of times, according to the report. He told one officer that "he was mad because she might be out with another man."

He said he parked his truck along Ford Parkway so that he could walk down to the shopping and restaurant area. He was under the impression that the woman was meeting another man in one of the cafe's.

An alcohol breath test revealed Hackbarth was not drinking, according to the report. His handgun was turned over to a crime lab for a routine analysis.

The police report referred to the case as being closed. Hackbarth was reelected in November, and will begin his eighth term in office in January. His district, 48-A, convers parts of Anoka and Sherburne Counties.

And then add that he didn't know his "girlfriend's" address since he'd met her online and he was he was "mad because she might be out with another man."

So, that's what happened in St. Paul, Minnesota where State Representative Tom Hackbarth was briefly handcuffed and questioned by police. They also took his gun overnight because they were concerned by his "stalking behavior" and released without so much as a ticket.

What do you make of that in this year of 2010 with its "open carry" events, "2nd Amendment remedies" and other signs that the Republicans really mean that they are ready to start killing people? Feel the terror?