Saturday, February 11, 2012

Every Dollar Is Created Equal?

So the CPAC panel of conservative attorneys seems to think:
Anonymous political speech. Foreign money in U.S. elections. The proliferation of super PACs. How grave a threat do any of things pose to American democracy? Not much, according to a panel of conservative attorneys, who gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
The high-profile legal minds on the CPAC panel largely agreed that the changes to the campaign finance landscape are grounds for celebration.
Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we've seen "more voices, more competition, and more accountability," said panelist Benjamin Barr, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.
"Without, the Republican nomination would have been sewed up weeks ago," added Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who co-founded the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that promotes First Amendment political rights. "And in 2010, we would have had fewer competitive races."
In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries on ads and other activities to influence the election or defeat of federal candidates so long as they are not coordinating with the candidates' campaigns.
A few months later, in v. Federal Election Commission, used the Supreme Court's reasoning and decided that limits on individual contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.
These rulings gave rise to the creation of what are called super PACs — political organizations that can receive unlimited corporate, union and individual contributions and make unlimited expenditures to advocate for the election or defeat federal candidates.

What the Citizens United ruling did was great for the political rights of corporations and unions. But those two institutions are not created equal. The Republicans are successfully strangling unions to death in this country and the laws about unionization are already draconian. Corporations, on the other hand, run this country already.

The outcome of the Citizens United ruling is to make each dollar equal in the political process. Those who have most dollars can determine who runs and on what platform. In extreme cases one person could bankroll a candidate, as seems to have happened with Newt Gingrich.

Anyone who cares about democracy should see why this is undesirable. But what is more undesirable is the difficulty a candidate would find in receiving funding if his or her platform does not cosset those rich corporations. Getting the money from thousands and thousands of twenty dollar contributions takes time and effort and can only be done by one or few candidates at a time. Finding one corporation to bankroll you takes little time. Provided, of course, that you are willing to play the corporation's tune.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Voices We Hear On Contraceptive Coverage And Religious Opposition

I truly want to write about something else but this particular topic just will not go away. Here's another interesting aspect of it:
President Obama’s regulation mandating that health insurance plans offer free birth control is an issue that most directly affects women. And yet, the cable news chatter over this controversy has been driven mostly by men, according to a new ThinkProgress analysis.
From Monday through Thursday evening, the leading cable news channels – Fox, Fox Business, MSNBC, and CNN – invited almost twice as many men as women onto their shows to discuss contraceptive coverage.
Actually, the issue affects men almost as much, given that birth control is used in heterosexual intercourse which sorta involves men. But women also need the contraceptive pill for the treatment of some medical conditions.

Still, the point is a pertinent one. It comes from those who usually mouth on those programs. The same faces will be invited, naturally, and the tradition is that those faces belong to men, mostly. And to a few ladies who frown upon feminism. -- I would have liked to see the Bishops vs. the Women! In a boxing ring (which is a square, by the way).

But here's one man who will always have access to the public, our kind patriarch Rick Santorum. He stuck his toe in the turbulent waters of feminism:
Speaking to CNN’s John King, the former Pennsylvania senator said: “That’s the Church’s money, and forcing them to do something that they think is a grievous moral wrong. How can that be a right of a woman? That has nothing to do with the right of a woman.”
Funny that. Insert the idea of "no woman priests" into that thoughtlet and I bet Santorum would say exactly the same thing. The church thinks women as priests would be a major sin, too.

And The Bishops Won

This battle. They are not going to win the war against the wimmenfolk but they will keep trying. Obama has figured out a way to let the bishops win without too much suffering:
U.S. health insurers said on Friday they feared President Barack Obama had set a new precedent by making them responsible for providing free birth control to employees of religious groups as he sought to defuse an election-year landmine.
Obama on Friday announced the policy shift in an effort to accommodate religious organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, whose leaders are outraged by a new rule that would have required them to offer free contraceptive coverage to employees.
Instead, the Obama administration ordered insurers to provide workers at religious-affiliated institutions with free family planning if they request it, without involving their employer at all. Insurance industry officials said the abrupt shift raised questions over how that requirement would be implemented.
I don't think we have heard the last of this yet.

This might be a good place to note that this whole mess is caused by that odd and history-tied aspect of the American health insurance: It's mostly offered by people's bosses.

For several reasons that arrangement is undesirable, and what we learn here about the power of employers to determine what will be covered is just one of those reasons. Others include the fact that workers become locked in jobs which may not be the best matches for them, just because of that desperately-needed health insurance for a chronically ill family member, say.

Entrepreneurship is more costly in a country where health insurance for entrepreneurs costs more, by definition, than it would in an employee group plan, so fewer people will take the risks of starting a firm on their own.

Finally, offering health insurance through work biases the market towards covering healthy people with the lowest costs, leaving the less healthy to the mercies of the private health insurance industry which charges much more.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Spilled Semen Amendment

I love it, just love it.

More on the Spilled Semen Amendment here, by its creator, Constance Johnson.

Santorum, From The Weirdness Files, Again

Today's very funny post. Click and go straight to the video without reading the text first.

Hilarious. Too bad it's not meant as a joke but as a part of that Reality Show "Who's The Next Leader of The Western World?"

Added later, because even Santorum's funny jokes deserve analysis, given the context. Note that his revolutionary slogan would be "Liberty, Equality and Paternity," to replace the French Revolution slogan of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." So.

The "paternity" refers to Santorum's god. We can't rely on our fellow citizens to take care of us, as the French Revolution demonstrated with that guillotine. Because the so-called "Obamacare" would depend on the kindness of strangers, the obvious consequence would be guillotines here, too.

Instead, Santorum wants us to rely on what? For health care, I mean. Presumably health care provided not by his god but by the markets which, of course, are run by those same people who might guillotine us.

And as to religious revolutions being less violent??? History tells us otherwise.

And The Empire Strikes Back! Rubio on Contraception

Don't you simply love this threat by Sen. Marco Rubio* (R-Fla)?
On Friday the Department of Health and Human Services handed down the decision, sending shockwaves through religious circles that oppose the use of contraceptives. The rule exempts places of worship from providing such healthcare plans but does not make an exception for organizations like hospitals that are affiliated with religious institutions.

To the end of repealing HHS’s decision, Rubio said he and other GOP senators plan to introduce legislation, The Religious Freedom Act of 2012, that would simply compel the administration to provide exemptions for employers that object to providing contraceptives on moral grounds.
Oh please, please do it, Marco!

Because I'm pretty sure that if we start using moral grounds for exemptions, employers can also refuse to cover Viagra if they frown upon adultery and four-hour boners. Christian Scientist employers can refuse to provide any health insurance whatsoever except for someone to pray over the patient. Jehova's Witnesses can refuse to cover blood transfusions. And all employers could argue that moral grounds make it impossible for them to offer coverage for anything which might have been caused by immoral lifestyles. Venereal diseases, addictions to drugs, tobacco and alcohol. And the list goes on and on.

Or so it would be if "morality" wasn't equated with only the use of "lady parts."
*Rubio seems to be in the forefront of the new movement for Careless Sex:
When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation last week to repeal part of the Affordable Care Act requiring some religious institutions to offer their employees contraceptive services through their health insurance coverage, he found himself again at odds with two key constituencies: Catholics and Latinas/os.
Just a few weeks ago, the junior senator from Florida was the target of a campaign to raise awareness about his positions on immigration that are at odds with most Latinos. But, his latest policy proposal on birth control highlights yet another disconnection with two key constituencies this election year.
Rubio has always been known for his opposition to abortion, but he has started to heighten his involvement in reproductive health politics with a series of new statements. Last week, he told Politico: “I can tell you that none of my children were planned.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

F**k The Culture Wars

I've had enough of the mealy-mouthed mumblings about "culture wars." That is the worst euphemism of all euphemisms in American politics. Even worse than the Bush administration pollution initiative marketed under the label of "Clean Skies."

The "culture wars" are NOT about culture. By calling them that Serious People can ignore the issues. After all, they don't appear to be about money or civil liberties or anything else worthy of attention.

At the same time, the "culture wars" are NOT really wars in the sense the euphemism implies: As if the two sides in these wars are somehow balanced as enemies, as if the topic of the wars is of equal importance to both "extremes" and as if there is no way to tell who initiated those "wars" in the first place.

No. What is going on is very one-sided and initiated by the so-called social conservatives. That term is yet another euphemism. To see what I mean, think about the real agenda of social conservatives:

They don't want women to have access to abortion, many of them don't want women to have access to contraception and many of them don't want women to work outside the home. Some of them, at least, believe that men should be the heads of households and that women should gracefully accept the yoke of being their faithful helpmeets.

They oppose same-sex marriage, probably because it works against the hierarchical patriarchal traditional marriage.

There you have it. Or my interpretation of "social conservatism." It's not about the fashionable color this year or what artist or musician we are supposed to like. And it's not some war between two equal extremist groups while the rest of the country goes "duh, whatevah."

It's about the "social conservatives" trying to limit women's lives to certain carefully prescribed traditional roles. Here's where the economics enters, for those of you who rank political importance on the basis of money. If the "social conservatives" succeed in their demands, women will remain second class citizens with less access to good jobs, good income and good retirement benefits. Not to mention less ability to decide over their own lives.

And if the term "war" applies at all here, then it's in the sense of a defensive war from the other side of the political aisle and against the "social conservatives" whose attack consists of trying to force the rest of us to live our lives according to the tenets of "social conservatism."

Money Is Fungible?

I had to look up the definition of fungibility, to make sure that we all start from the same base. Here it is:
Fungibility is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution, such as crude oil, shares in a company, bonds, precious metals or currencies. For example, if someone lends another person a $10 bill, it does not matter if they are given back the same $10 bill or a different one, since currency is fungible; if someone lends another person their car, however, they would not expect to be given back a different car, even of the same make and model, as cars are not fungible.
Get it? Bloggers are not fungible, for instance. Which is a good thing.

But money is. Nevertheless, that's not quite the way the term is currently used in politics, mostly by people who argue that any money given to Planned Parenthood will contribute to abortions because, you know, money is fungible. We've all heard the same about how tax-payers shouldn't have to subsidize abortions. This is interpreted as meaning that the government must never fund abortions, even if the money for them would come from some other source than the taxes of those who oppose abortions. Because, once again, money is fungible.

What these people mean is something slightly different. Not fungibility, after all. What they perhaps mean is that increasing an organization's (or an individual's) income in any way whatsoever will let them spend more of the rest of their income on Bad Things. For instance, one of these types of folk might argue against Food Stamps because getting them for food might let poor people spend the rest of their money on alcohol.

I'm not sure if that's the right interpretation*. But if it is I'd like to complain about my taxes going towards killing people in all these wars. Why aren't the so-called pro-life people up in arms (pardon the pun) about that anti-life part?

Even something like those ineffective abstinence programs of the Bush era were partly funded from my taxes! Money thrown down the well it was, or rather pork to the Christian fundamentalists. I want my fungible money for that back so that I can donate to the anti-war groups instead.

So why is this concept of fungibility seemingly used only when it's about forced birth issues?
*The other one is naturally that certain groups wish to completely control the federal government or Planned Parenthood or the behavior of poor people.

But What Do The Ordinary Catholics Want?

I have written quite a bit about the demands of the American Catholic bishops when it comes to insurance coverage for contraceptives. But what do the ordinary Catholics want?

A new survey tells us:
• A majority (55%) of Americans agree that “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.” Four-in-ten (40%) disagree with this requirement.
• There are major religious, generational and political divisions:
◦ Roughly 6-in-10 Catholics (58%) believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception.
◦ Among Catholic voters, support for this requirement is slightly lower at 52%.
◦ Only half (50%) of white Catholics support this requirement, compared to 47% who oppose it.
Fascinating. Overall Catholics are at least as likely to support contraceptive coverage as the majority of Americans.

But then what a religion requires is not determined by its ordinary members. I think they would do a better job of it.

As an example, take the Catholic church belief that artificial contraception is sinful. Who decided that? As far as I know it was celibate men and celibate men only. The one group which will never have to think about the practical consequences of that decision.

Now that is weird.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tallulah Bankhead And Blogger's Block

I was trying to write about the former, got the latter for my pains and now try to write through the latter. Makes sense, right?

The backstory: Some time ago I read on the net the old story about one of the Marx brothers going to a party Tallulah Bankhead gave and asking, in the greeting line, whether he could f**k Tallulah that night. Her answer presumably was "So you shall, you old-fashioned boy, you."

Here's the cleaned up version of that story.

So I got interested in Bankhead, an American actor better known for her scandalous life and outrageous quips than her career. Because here was a woman who seemed to go through men (and women) in sex the way someone like James Bond might have.

I wanted to know more about her, from a feminist point of view, and for that I needed a good source. But, alas, the two books I found on her don't seem quite trustworthy. One is written by a woman who later made a living by forging letters from famous people and the other is written by a man, presumably a close friend of Bankhead, whom her relatives characterized as an annoying hanger-on and no friend at all.

That's the time to toss an idea into the divine garbage bin. But somehow I have not been able to do so. Probably because of quips like these:
Tallulah herself was not very interested in making films. The opportunity to make $50,000 per film, however, was too good to pass up. She later said, "The only reason I went to Hollywood was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper."
She did f**k that divine Gary Cooper, it seems:
Tallulah didn't waste any time jumping into a new project. After beginning rehearsals for Jezebel in August of 1933, she suddenly experienced excruciating abdominal pains and was rushed to a hospital. Her condition worsened and nine weeks later, after considerable bed rest and the halting of Jezebel, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of gonorrhea. An emergency hysterectomy had to be performed to save her life. It has been widely speculated that Tallulah got gonorrhea from Gary Cooper. However, she had so many sexual partners at the time that it is impossible to know the truth.
I wanted to understand how the media and the public treated someone like Bankhead as opposed to someone like Gary Cooper, purely on the basis of their private lives. And I wanted to know how much of Bankhead's reputation was a commercial creation and how much was based on her real behavior.

But the aspect of her I found most interesting was the fame and following she developed among young working class women while acting in London:
Tallulah's most fervent fans were young working class women. To them, Tallulah was the embodiment of their fantasies - a fashionable, beautiful girl living a glamorous life. The fans became somewhat of a cult, copying and emulating Tallulah's dress, hair and personality. They waited outside the theater forty-eight hours in advance of a new Tallulah opening. They attended her plays several times a week and never missed a premiere or a closing. They would become ecstatic when Tallulah appeared on stage, cheering wilding and chanting "Tallulah, Tallulah" or "Tallulah Hallelujah". The press wrote about them frequently and even gave them a name - "gallery girls".

Tallulah herself was an "accessible" icon. She reveled in her fans' idolatry and always acknowledged them, on-stage or off. She would blow them kisses from the stage and utter "thank you, dahlings", which would result in even more cheering. After a performance, Tallulah would greet her fans, sign autographs, chat with them and inquire about their family and loved ones. Sometimes, she would even invite them to her dressing room or to her home for a visit. One of the devoted gallery girls, Edie Smith, became a Tallulah employee and was with her for over thirty years.

I have bolded the statement I disagree with in that quote. Those women could have identified with almost any female star of that era if they simply wanted to emulate "a fashionable, beautiful girl living a glamorous life." That's what female stars did. My own theory is that the fans loved Tallulah because of her refusal to live according to the traditional code for women and because she was independent and assertive.

There you have it. The post that never quite came to life but kept blocking all the other posts up in that queue.

Eating The Seed Corn

Via Atrios, this news from Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania's state universities would take another big funding cut under Gov. Corbett's 2012-13 budget proposal to be released Tuesday morning, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, including West Chester and Cheyney, would see their state funding cut 20 percent under Corbett's proposed budget as of Monday, sources confirmed.
The four state-related universities - Temple, Penn State, Lincoln, and the University of Pittsburgh - would be cut 30 percent, sources said.
The proposed cuts follow a substantial decrease in funding to the state universities in the current year that led to tuition increases at all 18 schools, as well as a recently announced midyear, 5 percent retraction of funding.
"For the second year, we're going to force universities to raise tuition at a time when we should make access to education affordable," said Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) of the Republican governor's budget.
The governor last year proposed a 50 percent cut in funding to the state-related universities; ultimately a 19 percent cut was adopted after negotiations with the General Assembly.
"I don't know if the governor will do what he did last year - come out with a large number hoping he gets half of it," said Art Hochner, president of the 1,350-member Temple faculty union.

The governor probably expects smaller cuts than that. But it's still eating the seed corn and at a time when all this turns into another suck to keep the economic depression going. Besides, many young people can't find jobs right now so consider college as an option. The cuts make that less available.

I don't get the Republican thinking on this. First they tell us that the U.S. must stay competitive against China and India and so on. Then they decide to cut back on spending on higher education which makes it pretty hard for the U.S. to stay competitive with those countries. Unless the plan is to really lower wages here. Hmm.

A Winter View. Without Snow.

The tree in the foreground grows horizontally because that is the only space it had. The lake visible behind the tree is on an island in the Baltic Sea. Which makes it all a conundrum. Is this a seascape or a lakescape? Or both?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Domestic terrorism (by Suzie)

A man trying to burn his wife alive caught fire himself and is now in critical condition. The woman was unhurt.

That's the gist of newspaper articles that quoted sheriff's deputies in Hillsborough County, Fla., where I live. They said: He had covered windows in a rental car that held gloves, tape and a gasoline can. When his estranged wife left home this morning, she said, he was waiting with bottles of gasoline. He chased her through the apartment complex, trying to splash her, but getting gas on himself instead. A neighbor took her in, and he splashed gas outside the apartment and sparked a fire, but he went up in flames, too. Neighbors rescued him.

He had been arrested in 2000 for domestic battery, but the charges were dismissed. Deputies responded to a call at the home where the couple lived in 2010, but no one was arrested.

How many times have we read stories about controlling and abusive men "distraught over ... marital problems" who kill their wives and girlfriends, maybe even their children, once the women leave? What a relief that this woman survived.

In comments, readers have joked about the man, prompting a couple of people to ask for a little sympathy for the guy. But I can think only of the woman. Her youngest son is 18 -- did she wait until he reached adulthood to leave her husband? The man is suffering now, but how long did she suffer?

I hope the Associated Press doesn't classify this as Offbeat News.

Ooops. It's the Onion, Mr. Forced-Birth Congressman.

Congressman John Fleming (R-La) took an Onion article for a real one.

For those of you who don't know it, the Onion is a spoof site which, among other jokes, makes fun of American politics. Because of the Komen debacle, the site re-published its old Abortionplex story from last May. It begins like this:
Planned Parenthood announced Tuesday the grand opening of its long-planned $8 billion Abortionplex, a sprawling abortion facility that will allow the organization to terminate unborn lives with an efficiency never before thought possible.

During a press conference, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told reporters that the new state-of-the-art fetus-killing facility located in the nation's heartland offers quick, easy, in-and-out abortions to all women, and represents a bold reinvention of the group's long-standing mission and values.
"Although we've traditionally dedicated 97 percent of our resources to other important services such as contraception distribution, cancer screening, and STD testing, this new complex allows us to devote our full attention to what has always been our true passion: abortion," said Richards, standing under a banner emblazoned with Planned Parenthood's new slogan, "No Life Is Sacred." "And since Congress voted to retain our federal funding, it's going to be that much easier for us to maximize the number of tiny, beating hearts we stop every day."

Now if Mr. Fleming was for reproductive choice I'd understand the reason behind his tweet. But he is not.

Why bother writing about this? Well, it's pretty funny. But it also shows that at least some forced-birthers really do think that women slot abortions regularly in between pedicures and picking up the dry-cleaning and that abortions are a giant money-making industry where organizations such as Planned Parenthood can create new American wealth. But who the people are who supposedly get rich that way is never stated in the forced-birth propaganda I've read.