Monday, June 29, 2009

Knife fighter

Oh, my. Mankiw's first point in this piece is one of the most vicious things I've seen in a long time but he's so incredibly polite it takes a slow 10-count to realize Krugman's been eviscerated.

The Arbiter of Ignorance

Less fun but more interesting are the links in point 2 to information about the Wyden-Bennett bill, an alternative health care proposal of which I have never heard - for reasons explained at the David Brooks link. Just looking at it briefly, Wyden-Bennett seems like it may be almost, oh, I don't know, effective and affordable. If I get a chance, I’ll do some more poking around and see what the bill says about pre-existing conditions and what happens if someone who is covered gets sick - my two big questions about any health care plan.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fire burn, and caldron bubble

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

For some reason, the news that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed the House last night has made me feel very sad and very defeated. The bill is so huge - both page-wise and impact-wise - how can anyone possibly know what they’re voting for, much less what the impact will be? I find the size of the bill particularly distressing since I do not believe that human beings pumping CO2 into the air is going to result in apocalypse within a hundred years. Thus to me Waxman-Markey is a huge, expensive, unpredictable Rube Goldberg machine created to fix a problem that would be better addressed through case by case amelioration than through universal prevention. Passing this bill, creating this monstrous structure, is exactly like using an elephant gun to kill a mosquito - without knowing exactly who the elephant gun is pointed at.

You can read Maxed Out Mama and the links she provides for thoughts on what I guess we can call the first-order dangers of Waxman-Markey. I’m equally concerned about another kind of danger: a bubble. I first worried about this back in November. In discussing how the (in my opinion necessary) long, slow economic recovery could be cut short, I wrote:

The other possible interruption of the economic doldrums period is a new economic bubble. I’m not sure how possible this is since a bubble apparently requires the ability to take on lots and lots of debt. However, the government has pumped a lot of money into financial institutions and that money may be ripe for bubbling. One excellent candidate for a bubble is carbon trading.

It’s pretty clear that the Obama administration wants to address Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming. Leaving aside what I think of the basic idea of AAGW (not much), we have to decide how to address it. If the country is stupid enough to go with a cap-and-trade system rather than a simple carbon tax, the bubble won’t even need the money already pumped into the financial system: it can form itself solely from all the new government “money” handed out in the form of carbon allowances. (I find it hard to believe the government is going to auction those off given the sad financial state of most corporations; it’s more likely they’ll be given away.) The markets can go crazy bidding them up - heck, someone will probably even create derivatives - and we’ll have another bubble.

Like massive Federal handouts, though, a bubble is a bad idea in the long run. By definition, a bubble creates imaginary profits and fake productivity. That means there’s always a day of reckoning. Do we really want to concentrate our hopes and our efforts on pushing that day off on our children and grandchildren? We created this mess. I think we should take the hit involved in cleaning it up.

A bubble of any kind would be great for Obama and the Democrats, provided they could get it cranked up quickly enough and maintain it long enough. If they time cap-and-trade just right, the economy can begin to heat up prior to the November 2010 mid-term elections. Obama and the Democrats can take credit for the “recovery” and the Democrats can retain their control of Congress. If the CO2 bubble continues to grow through the end of 2012, the economy will look good for Obama’s re-election and the Congressional races and that should keep the Democrats in power. If the bubble can manage to stay intact through 2014, the mid-term elections could go to the Democrats yet again. That’s four years for the carbon trading bubble which seems a decent run so it could then pop and leave Obama’s successor with a mess that will have us all yearning for the economy of January 20, 2009.

There could, of course, be problems. If Waxman-Markey turns out to be more expensive than the $175 currently promised, people might get restless. Inflation might rear its ugly head. People might come to believe that AAGW is not really a threat. Still, an overheating economy can make increased energy costs and inflation look less serious than they are and if Waxman-Markey starts making the economy look good I imagine few people will even remember that the cap-and-trade boom was originally supposed to address global warming - and fewer still will care. Yes, I’d say Waxman-Markey looks like a winner for Obama and the Democrats.

Still, this is just one piece of legislation so it took me a while to figure out why I felt so sad about it. It’s because this bill, more than any other passed or contemplated, makes me think that before too long - 25 years, 50, maybe 100 - the United States is going to look exactly like a Western European nation. Don’t get me wrong: many of them are nice places. But they seem awfully tame, awfully limited and I suspect the reason for that is their financial constraints. The Western European nations have built good lives for their citizens within the terms of their current circumstances but I don’t sense in them a vein of daring, a sense of limitless opportunity, a belief that more is always obtainable - all the faith in ambition that has always been the hallmark of the United States.

With Waxman-Markey, this country is putting its economic engine in Park and - if things don’t go perfectly - in Reverse. There will never be more; the best has already been. What could be sadder?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fourth Wave, Part 2: Women in the workplace

In Part 1 of my musings on fourth-wave feminism, I discussed my history of feminism, said I would address the issue of abortion in Part 2, and planned to address women in the workplace in Part 3. However, the issue of how women view work has popped up repeatedly in my recent reading and so I instead want to address women in the workplace now. I’ll get to abortion in the next episode.

In Part 1, I talked about women in the workplace in passing when I referred to reading Games Mother Never Taught You by Betty Lehan Harragan and Women’s Dress for Success Book by John T. Molloy:

To me, these were both “feminist” reading which I guess shows pretty clearly that I was not really interested in changing the game - I just wanted to play on equal terms.

I also pointed out that an article called The Feminist Awakening: Hillary Clinton and the fourth wave spent some time talking about women not knowing how to dress to run for President. About that I said:

If women had taken Molloy’s advice all those years ago, we’d have a standard “powerful professional woman” dress code established by now and we could all stop worrying about what to wear when running for President.

I also had a bone to pick with Amy Siskind’s article, How Feminism Became the F-Word:

Ms. Siskind wants to know where the outrage is over “the fact that women still earn 78 percent of what men do” or “the fact that our representation in politics, academia, and corporate leadership tends to hover around 16 percent.” Perhaps if women had taken Harragan more seriously and learned to play the games necessary to get ahead instead of expending energy demanding the rules be changed to suit us, we’d be earning more money and accruing more power. Furthermore, it’s been a while since I read Games Mother Never Taught You but I seem to remember that part of Harragan’s argument was that if women learned to play by the rules we would eventually amass enough power to change them.

I knew then that I wanted to cover this topic more fully and was even more interested in doing so after I found a Website called Kim Allen’s Online Presence. This popped up when I did a search for Games Mother Never Taught You and is owned by a woman who self-identifies as a third-wave feminist. I’m not sure the site is being updated any longer but I thought the book review section was a mother lode of jumping off points for discussions of feminism.

As I said, her site popped up when I did a search for Games Mother Never Taught You. In her review, Allen is quite dismissive of this book characterizing it as “a rare look at right-wing second-wave feminism” which “embodies the 1970's version of ‘make it on your own by playing within the system’-- ie, conservative feminism.” She finds the book “offensive in some sections” because “[i]t has nothing to do with making the obnoxious executive world better, and everything to do with twisting the age-old rules to your advantage, just as men have always done to get ahead.”

Obviously, I find her review somewhat naive: as I said in my quibble about Siskind’s article, if women had learned to play the corporate (and academic and political) game to our advantage we would have done much better over the last 35 years. And Allen herself concedes (emphasis hers):

But the general principles were actually sort of useful, I'm somewhat surprised to admit. Her frank assessment of how much of business is based on military and sports models is quite accurate, even in today's "horizontally-structured" small companies. Just because you don't have a direct chain of command and a drill-sergeant-like boss doesn't mean the basic principles have been totally abandoned. (In fact, assuming that they have been would probably be a big mistake).

I admit that I had a somewhat hazy concept of how executives advance, and now that I've tried to spot some of the patterns in my own company-- I was shocked to see that some of the principles apply. Not all, but some. I also learned a few things about salary negotiation and general professional behavior that help one to be fairly compensated in the world of work (an area where women persistently get the short end of the stick, partly because they don't know how these things work).

No women often don’t know - or don’t understand - how these things work which is probably part of the reason - although not the whole reason - women do in fact make less than men and hold only 16% of leadership positions.

What led me from her review to this post, however, was the phrase “obnoxious executive world”. At first I assumed she was referring to continuing grossly sexist behavior but in fact Allen says later in her review:

(Aside: one chapter was out-of-date, but not hilariously so. That is the one on sexual relations in the workplace-- you know, butt-grabbing and tasteless jokes. If the world was really like what Harragan describes in 1977, I have newfound respect for 2nd wave feminists who wanted to kill all men).

So I was left somewhat perplexed by what is so “obnoxious” about the executive world. Then TigerHawk put up a (ridiculous) video of Dr. Helen Smith interviewing Dr. Richard Driscoll about the role of fathers and said:

If you've watched the interview, I would respectfully suggest that Drs. Smith and Driscoll do not mention one of the big sources of female rage, the continuing preponderance in the workplace of men, male values (such as they are) and male behavioral impulses. That anger needs to come out, and the male partner is the most probable recipient. Inside more than a few marriages, therefore, husbands and therefore fathers take some of the blame for the suppressed frustrations of the day job, perhaps just because they are also men. That transference is as sexist, or more so, than the underlying outrage, but there is no corporate compliance program to deal with it.

Now we have a committed third-wave feminist and a guy on the conservative side both in agreement that women believe there is something deeply distressing about the workplace. It’s not that I don’t understand that the workplace can be difficult for women. Although sexism is not usually as overt as it once was, it does linger. Furthermore women still often bear all or most of the responsibility for childcare: balancing that with work can be difficult and even heartwrenching. Even given these problems, though, I was struck by the oddness of the term “obnoxious” and the intensity of the term “rage”. I don’t know exactly what either Allen or TigerHawk means but it brought into focus something that bothers me about the view many feminists - and perhaps many women who don’t think of themselves as feminists - have about the working world.

A certain set of feminists has always believed that existing social and business structures - corporations, universities, politics, even religions - were created largely by men (a belief I do not share, by the way). Being male-created, those structures are clearly, perhaps even definitionally, sub-optimal at best, dysfunctional most likely, and awful almost certainly. It never seems to occur to this set of feminists to look around and realize that most of those structures work remarkably well. Of course they don’t work perfectly: violence, poverty, war, discrimination, the whole laundry list of ills do exist in our society. But it seems to me that those ills - in fact the full and fervent expression of those ills - is the natural state of human beings. To ameliorate those ills at all is a condition devoutly to be desired and the simple fact is that such ills are least apparent in those societies where the supposedly male-created structures are most firmly in place. The history of the world is one of hideous brutality interrupted by stretches of relative peace and prosperity. I’m more grateful than I can say that I live in one of the best stretches of history.

This is why I view with skepticism some feminists’ insistence that the existing structures must be changed to fit their ideal of how society should look, should work, should hang together. I don’t know of any society that has done better than the ones currently forming the First World. Does that mean we can’t do better? Of course not. But the existing system puts food on my table and a roof over my head; warms me when it’s cold and cools me when it’s hot; cures my ills and delays my death; lavishes me with goods and experiences undreamed of 100 years ago; and affords me and other women in First World societies greater freedom from and freedom to than at any other time in history. I’m simply not happy about the idea of trying to dismantle a system that works in order to replace it with one that may or may not do a better job, may or may not do even as good a job. My goal for women is to be full participants in these endeavors, not to stand outside and throw brickbats.

Equally important, I do not consider the existing social and business structures to be masculine so much as simply human. One of the common feminist complaints is that such structures should be, as Allen puts it, “’horizontally-structured’ small companies”. This preference for non-hierarchical structures is common in feminism and is usually wrapped in references to the communal, co-operative nature of women and of the activities women historically participated in, like quilting bees and cooking large dinners together. This ignores the fact that women have always organized themselves around the concepts of status, hierarchy, and deference just as much as men have. Some woman had to organize those quilting bees and communal dinners, decide what color the quilt backing would be and whose dining room would host the dinner. Odds are it was the woman considered the leader of the community, probably the woman married to the highest ranking man. And the inverse is true also: men involved in a barn-raising or a community harvest were neither more nor less co-operative, neither more nor less hierarchical than women in quilting bees and kitchens. Given the opportunity, humans organize themselves in whatever way most efficiently allows them to achieve their goals.

Furthermore, women have always embraced more formal aspects of status, hierarchy, and deference. A woman may have taken her status from her husband in the past but that doesn’t mean she didn’t avail herself of it to the greatest extent possible. When Lord Whosis rode off to fight for the king and Lady Whosis was left behind to run the castle, she didn’t sit down with their serfs and discuss who would do what: she gave orders and she expected them to be obeyed. In more modern times, the factory owner’s wife expected deference from the men who worked for her husband and from their wives. The image of Colonels and Colonels’ wives required to dance attendance on the General’s lady is an enduring one.

In a great irony, some of the most compelling evidence that the concepts of status, hierarchy, and deference are important to all humans and not just to men comes from within feminism itself. In another of Allen’s book reviews, she writes about Manifesta, a book about third-wave feminism written by two third-wave feminists. In summarizing the book’s discussion of relationships between the younger feminists and their older counterparts, Allen says:

In particular, young women have begun to speak up about abuse at the hands of the elders in the movement-- being ignored or patronized (I use that term deliberately). The young women make coffee and play the supporting roles while being expected to worship the divas and icons of the Second Wave. This relationship sounds a lot like how men in general expect the women around them to behave.

Oddly enough, Allen does not draw from this what seems to me the obvious conclusion: the organizing principles of status, hierarchy, and deference are as meaningful for women as they are for men. She cannot see that the young feminists’ dislike of their role is not a matter of some feminist ideal of community but of the universal rebellion of the young against elders who hold the status the young want, command them through the hierarchy established by that status, and demand deference. The young feminists’ reaction to their elders is no different from the reaction of male junior executives to their bosses: compliance mixed with resentment.

Furthermore, by pointing out that the elders in the feminist movement expect the same behavior from their juniors that men expect from women, Allen makes an important point although again she does not see it. The problem with the way men treat women (or at least have historically treated them in the workplace) is not that status, hierarchy, and deference is intrinsically wrong; it is that tying status, hierarchy, and deference to gender is wrong. Failing to make this distinction is a problem for many feminists and perhaps for many women in the workplace. The goal often seems to be to create communal, co-operative enterprises where women think they will feel comfortable and get a better deal. When enterprises are competitive instead, women react badly. Far better for women to understand that the only realistic goal is to achieve more status and demand more deference within a hierarchy: flat social structures are not the human way.

For a final dose of irony, we need only look at the very recent NOW election. First, the fact that there is an election at all should give anyone enamored of the flat, communal, co-operative ideal pause. If the most powerful self-identified feminist organization in the world feels the need for leaders who hold ranked offices, exercise real power, and get paid serious money, why on earth would anyone believe that entities dedicated to making profits and crushing their rivals would see - or in fact derive - any benefit from exchanging their hierarchies for a more egalitarian model?

Second, the stories that are coming out about how the NOW election unfolded seem to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that women are just as willing to fight for power, just as willing to use whatever means are necessary, just as willing to destroy their opponents as any man clawing his way up the corporate ladder at Really Humongous Corp, Inc. These are not women sitting around a quilting frame discussing how to make everyone feel good about the outcome. These are ruthless competitors determined to end up on top. Although I can’t say I approve of some of the tactics used, I can point out that these women embraced the reality of their workplace and went after what they wanted with all guns blazing.

Would that more women in corporations, universities, politics, and religious organizations followed their leads. While women sit back and sigh that their working lives would be much better if only the working world would embrace its feminine side, the guys who work at the next desk over are plotting to take over the world and thanking their lucky stars women aren’t doing the same. As far as men are concerned, the less competition the better and if women are willing to take themselves out of the running without men having to so much as lift a finger, that’s fine with them.

And this, to come full circle, is where I think Allen made her biggest mistake in her review of Games Mother Never Taught You:

I called this book sexist because it is by 90's standards. Harragan unabashedly declares that men and women are at war in the corporate setting, and we will triumph by beating the men at their own game--gathering arsenals, performing espionage, strategically moving around, and always keeping our friends close but our enemies closer.

It’s not that men and women are at war with each other in the corporate setting; it’s that so long as women want to advance in the corporate setting they are at war with - competing with - everyone else in that setting. There are a hundred entry-level positions; 25 managers; 5 VPs; and one CEO. If a woman wants that one top position, she is going to have to compete for it with men and, yes, now with other women.

Does that mean a woman can’t be a feminist and still climb the ladder in corporate - or academic or political or religious - organizations? Of course not. Let’s say Sally is a feminist and is competing for a job against Bob and Nancy. Sally can feel free to make sure her boss knows Nancy is an incompetent idiot who couldn’t do a financial forecast if her life depended on it - provided she’s willing to say the same about Bob. Heck, Sally can even tell her boss that Nancy shouldn’t get the job because she has small children - provided she’s willing to say the same about Bob.

What Sally can’t do is attack her female competitors on sexist grounds - or stand by while others do so. If someone else says Nancy shouldn’t get the job because she has small children, Sally will either point out that the same is true of Bob or point out that Nancy is the best judge of how to balance her work life with her children. If someone refers to Nancy with any of the hundreds of sexist - and often sexual - slurs reserved for women, Sally will call them on it. Sisters may fight with each other but when it really counts they have each other’s backs.

And after the dust settles, Sally and Nancy can go out for a drink and talk about how they really need to get going on standardizing that “powerful professional woman” dress code.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why tell the world?

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has copped to having an affair for the last year. Not a total surprise: I figured he was having marital problems given his wife’s disinterest in his whereabouts.

What I don’t understand is why he decided to make a public admission of this. He seems to be saying that he wants to be reconciled with his wife - although I’m not sure he was really definite about that - and if I were her, I’d find such a reconciliation much easier if my husband didn’t spread our personal life all over the media. Even if he doesn’t want to reconcile with his wife, I’d think that part of what he owes her when seeking her forgiveness is helping protect her privacy. A play by play of his affair doesn’t really pay that debt.

Perhaps he didn’t think things through before disappearing for five days, was taken aback by the firestorm of speculation that had arisen while he was away, and felt only the truth could provide a believable explanation for his absence. Even so, I would argue that if his first loyalty is to his wife - or his children - he would have done better to fall on the sword of “I have no excuse, I just needed to get away” rather than to expose their family life to the type of scrutiny it’s going to get. Unless, of course, he believed confessing the affair would give him a better chance to maintain political viability. In which case, his first concern isn’t really his wife and children.

Perhaps he believed that once his visit to Argentina was public knowledge it would only be a matter of time before someone figured out what he was doing there and the best course was to reveal the truth on his terms. Or perhaps someone who knew - it sounds like quite a few people did know - was going to blow the whistle on his affair.

I imagine he’ll eventually explain why he held a press conference to announce his affair. But I sure do wish someone at the conference had asked him for that explanation now.

Only men and childless women

This has nothing to do with anything currently going on (at least not directly) but I was poking around doing some reading for my next post on feminism and ended up reading a March 13, 2009, article at Viva La Feminista called “What Should Sarah Palin Do?” I have to say something about this article or my head is going to explode.

The author, Veronica, is distressed about how Sarah Palin is handling the media attention given to the break-up of her daughter, Bristol, and Bristol’s fiance, Levi Johnston. After a few jabs at Sarah Palin, Veronica asks:

Is there a way for a mother to hold a public job like Palin does AND respect your daughter's privacy in a tough time?

Based on the rest of her post, I can only assume her answer to her own question would be:

No. And that’s why only men and childless women should hold public jobs.

And these are the voices that claim to represent authentic feminism. May the goddess preserve all women.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Medicare, cutting costs, and magical thinking

Investor’s Business Daily has up an article (via The Corner) comparing the increase in per patient costs for Medicare with the increase in per patient costs for private insurance from 1970 through 2007. The article concludes that:

The results are clear: Since 1970 — even without the prescription drug benefit — Medicare's costs have risen 34% more, per patient, than the combined costs of all health care in America apart from Medicare and Medicaid, the vast majority of which is purchased through the private sector.

Since 1970, the per-patient costs of all health care apart from Medicare and Medicaid have risen from $364 to $7,119, while Medicare's per-patient costs have risen from $368 to $9,634. Medicare's costs have risen $2,511 more per patient.

Fine, but there’s one problem with this: Medicare is for old people. Old people tend to be sicker than young people. If rising medical costs are driven largely by improved diagnostic tools and improved treatment, we would expect that more of those diagnostic tools would be used and more of that treatment provided to older people than to younger people. Thus Medicare costs would rise more than non-Medicare costs.

This doesn’t mean letting the government run all health care is a good idea. It’s just that I’d like to see the same study done controlling for age and/or showing the figures for Medicaid (although there may be age issues there, also).

And as long as we’re on the subject, I have one other thought about Medicare and costs. Part of the ongoing sniping over what to do about health care revolves around the Medicare paradox:

I completely fail to grasp this magical argument whereby Medicare is unreformable now, but adding even more patients to the rolls will create the incentive for exactly the sort of cost-cutting reforms that people hated when the HMOs were doing them in the early '90s, and got laws passed to prevent.

This has evolved into the rallying cry of “let the government show it can cut costs in Medicare and then we’ll let it run the rest of health insurance.”

However, there is a logical reason why the Obama Administration believes it can control costs by developing a universal public option, a Medicare for the non-old. Let’s start by looking at some numbers. There are about 253.4 million people in the United States with health insurance. About 45.2 million of them are enrolled in Medicare. At the end of 2006 (I cannot seem to find more current data) there were about 42.1 million people enrolled in Medicaid. This leaves 166 million people with private insurance. In other words, the number of people with private insurance is about twice as great as those with Medicare and Medicaid combined.

So here’s how the argument for instituting a universal public option to control costs goes (all numbers hypothetical):

Let’s say a doctor charges $100 for a procedure.
An uninsured patient will pay $100 for that procedure. There are so few of these I ignore them for the rest of this discussion.
A patient with individual insurance will pay what his insurance company has negotiated; let’s say $65.

Medicare has to decide how much to pay for that procedure. It would like to pay only $20. But at that low a rate of reimbursement, too many doctors will simply refuse to take Medicare patients: there are lots of privately insured patients who will pay more so why should the doctors take Medicare patients who will pay so little? It’s just not worth their time so long as they can fill up their practices with the privately insured. Thus, grudgingly, Medicare agrees to pay $45. Doctors still don’t like it but the payment is close enough to the private insurance rate so that most doctors will accept it.

This all changes if the Obama Administration gets their universal public option. It is estimated that up to 70% of the privately insured may end up in the public option: 70% of 166 million is about 116 million. That would mean about 203 million people would be in a government run plan - universal public option, Medicare, or Medicaid - and only about 50 million privately insured. At that point if the government wants to pay only $20 for that $100 procedure, doctors would have little choice but to accept it: there simply wouldn't be enough privately insured patients to fill up their practice. And, of course, the tipping point for doctors would probably come much sooner. It seems reasonable to assume that if half of Americans were in a government-run insurance program doctors would find it difficult to limit their practices to the privately insured. Achieving the 50/50 point would require that only about 40 million of the privately insured move to the universal public option - roughly 25% of those who currently have private insurance.

Furthermore, the movement to the universal public option would feed on itself. Let’s say the option goes into effect and 40 million people who are currently privately insured - the uninsured, those buying individual policies, small businesses and their employees - join that option. Now doctors have no choice but to take government-insured patients and to accept payments from them that are below cost. To make up the difference, doctors will have to raise their rates and insist on higher reimbursement from private insurance companies. If the insurance companies refuse, doctors will go out of business. If the insurance companies agree, they will have to raise their own rates. This will make private insurance less affordable and drive more people into the universal public option. Rinse and repeat.

This is doable for a while although it will get very interesting when there are too few privately insured patients to make up the losses doctors will take on the government-insured patients. Still, it does seem clear that while those who insist a universal public option will allow the government to cut medical costs may be short-sighted, they are neither illogical nor indulging in a magical argument. The fact that they appear so may have more to do with their unwillingness to fully specify how the cost savings will come about rather than with any uncertainty on their part about how the process will unfold.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fourth Wave, Part 1: My history of feminism

Over at Reclusive Leftist, they (formerly “we”) are discussing how to define the fourth wave of feminism. I have to admit I was a little out of my depth over there. My view of United States feminist history pretty much goes like this:

First, there was Abigail Adams who wanted her husband to help the ladies out a little when the Constitution for the new country was written. He didn’t.

Then, way back before the Civil War, there were women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stoner who thought it would be nice if women could at least vote and, hey, maybe even own their own property and not be beholden to men for every single thing in their lives. They made the mistake of diverting some of their attention from the struggle for Women’s Rights to the Abolition Movement and boy did they get the short end of that stick. Women finally got the right to vote in 1920, fifty-five years after abolition. This is now called “first-wave” feminism although I have a sneaking suspicion those involved sincerely hoped it would be “only wave needed” feminism.

In the early part of the 20th Century, we had flappers, who were independent young ladies but seemed to be mostly about drinking in speakeasies and dancing on tables. Then came the Great Depression when men and women were equally poor. This was followed by Rosie the Riveter who did everything a man could do and more but when the War ended she was consigned to suburbia and told to have 3 children and buy a station wagon. This is how we got the 50’s.

In 1963, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published and the phenomenon I personally know as The Woman’s Movement began. I was too young in 1963 to understand what had happened but the echoes of the book rang down through my teenage years. Then the first issue of Ms. magazine appeared in January, 1972, halfway through my freshman year in college and I was in.

I did consciousness-raising groups, one all-woman, one men and women together. Since I came within an inch of marrying one of the guys in the mixed group, I think in retrospect that the group did not exactly do what it was supposed to. The all-woman group, however, was a fabulous experience and whatever fourth-wave feminism turns out to be, I hope consciousness-raising groups are once again part of the the movement. Anyhow.

I was seriously, actively feminist all through my college years, reading, agitating for the Equal Rights Amendment, rejoicing at Roe v Wade, all the usual stuff. Then came graduate school and feminism faded into the background. I was still a feminist but feminism wasn’t really front and center in my life. My time and my mental energy were more than accounted for by my class work.

Somewhere in here I read Games Mother Never Taught You by Betty Lehan Harragan and found it amusing, helpful, and fascinating. I also read John T. Molloy’s Women’s Dress for Success Book and it made perfect sense to me. Men had a uniform - suit, tie, shoes - that signaled they were to be taken seriously in the business world. Molloy’s thesis was that women should develop their own uniform that signaled the same thing. To me, these were both “feminist” reading which I guess shows pretty clearly that I was not really interested in changing how the world worked - I just wanted to play on equal terms.

After graduate school came my first serious full-time job which also took all the time and energy I had, then being a partner in my own company, ditto. I was still a feminist but I didn’t read about feminism, interact with other feminists, or participate in feminist causes. It was just what and who I was. I didn’t even know that the era of feminism I personally experienced and participated in was known as “second-wave” feminism.

As I said, I remained a feminist through all this. The core of my feminism consisted of two pretty simple ideas:

1) Women’s professional, political, social, and personal lives should be a consequence of their circumstances, interests, and abilities - not their gender.

2) Women should have each other’s backs. That doesn’t mean women should never criticize each other. It means sexist criticism, sexist slurs, sexist attacks against any woman should be unacceptable to all women. Situations pitting one group of women against another for the benefit of a man or men should be unacceptable to all women. When one woman is attacked, insulted, denigrated, or shamed because she is a woman or because she is a particular kind of woman, all women suffer. Sisterhood is powerful.

Sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s I found myself involved professionally with Incredibly Large Megacorp and it occurred to me, looking around, that it might be a good idea to sort of brush up on my feminism. I accordingly bought an issue of Ms. magazine. Imagine my shock at discovering that while I hadn’t been paying attention, the magazine had switched its focus from supporting women’s rights to supporting Third World peoples who had been oppressed by the Western European patriarchy. It had apparently escaped the notice of the editors at Ms. that an uncomfortably large number of oppressed Third World countries were run quite ruthlessly by men who not only oppressed their fellow countrymen but treated their fellow countrywomen far, far worse than any Western European patriarch would dream of doing.

Recovering from my shock at what had happened to Ms., I started taking notice of the wider feminist arena. Some feminists no long considered pornography or even prostitution anti-woman. I promptly swooned. When I revived, I noticed that a number of professional women - especially the female news anchors on cable TV - had clearly abandoned any type of universal female professional dress code. (Or, as an extremely liberal friend of mine put it, “Why do all the women in cable TV news shows dress like hookers?”) Much of feminist discussion now seemed to revolve around including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered concerns as an intrinsic part of feminism. Much of the rest of it seemed to revolve around, “Oh, goody. Sex!”

The idea that supporting pornography and prostitution had a place in feminism was anathema to me. The fact that large numbers of professional women were dressing to accentuate their sex appeal rather than their professional standing was disturbing. Sure, the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being attractive and people should be treated with respect regardless of how they dress sounds great. But I didn’t see lots of male newsmen showing up on camera in tight white T-shirts and tighter black jeans.

Sharing GLBT concerns is one thing but including those concerns as an intrinsic part of feminism gave me pause. Were women once again making the mistake of diverting some of their attention from their own struggle to that of another disadvantaged group? Or, given Ms. magazine’s current focus, the even worse mistake of diverting all of their attention to the struggles of every single disadvantaged group on the planet except women? As for sex, my generation of feminists liked sex, too. We just didn’t think that the single most important thing the Women’s Movement accomplished was letting women screw around as much as men did.

So all in all, it never occurred to me that what I was witnessing was third-wave feminism. It didn’t really seem to have anything to do with feminism and to the extent I gave it any thought, I viewed it as young women kicking over the traces - something they had the freedom to do because my generation of feminists had knocked down so many barriers for them and, beyond that, because Susan B. Anthony’s generation of feminists had knocked down the most important barrier for all of us. After all, I was old(er) and rather curmudgeonly and if this was what women wanted to do with their lives, so be it. If they wanted to call it “feminism”, perhaps that was an homage acknowledging their debt to those who had gone before.

Then came the Clinton administration. I’ve written before about my distress with women who were happy to support a man who facilely divided women into his own modern Madonna and whore groups: well-educated professional women who were honestly respected as colleagues and and less-educated pink-collar women who were sexual prey. Sisterhood was indeed powerful but now that power was mobilized against other women to benefit one man. Not exactly what I had in mind all those years ago.

As far as I was concerned feminism was dead, killed by the Clintons and the legions of women who were perfectly happy to attack other women, provided those women could somehow be labelled as “other”. I was still a feminist but my feminism had little to do with what I came to think of as Institutional Feminism, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. Instead it was just me and my beliefs.

Then came the 2008 Presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton’s grace and grit in the primaries awakened the more tribal aspects of my feminism and watching other women rally around her made me hope that perhaps my version of feminism had merely been sleeping rather than being dead and gone. Unfortunately, that hope didn’t last long, killed by (mostly) young women who thought the misogyny directed at Clinton by the Obama campaign and by Obama’s lickspittles in the media was just fine because, OMG, Barack Obama is just so dreamy. My distress soon turned to horror as I watched the blitzkrieg of misogyny unleashed against Sarah Palin by women young and old who did the bidding of their Democratic masters, brutally attacking a woman simply because their men told them she was the enemy, not really their kind, “other”.

My heart broke. When I first became a feminist, we fought a fierce battle against the idea that women could be divided into two groups. One group, the good girls, were protected by society, treated decently, and allowed to live well. The other group, the bad girls, had no claim on society’s protection, were treated like dirt, and lucky to be allowed to live at all. Feminism would sweep that all away. We understood this division was just a way of keeping women in their place: bad girls were a warning of what would happen to women who didn’t toe the line. In order for women to be free to choose their own path, we had to protect bad girls as well as good girls. After all, bad girls were just good girls who didn’t do what they were told and every feminist on the planet was not doing what she had been told.

Madonnas and whores, the pedestal and the gutter. With the attacks on Sarah Palin we were right back where we started and once again being a good girl meant being a woman who did what she was told by men - in this case the men running the Democratic party - and being a bad girl meant being a woman who had the guts to forge her own path. Little Miss Attila put this better than anyone else I’ve read. She begins by writing about the Letterman attacks on Sarah Palin and her daughters but is making a broader point (emphasis hers):

They will rationalize what they are doing, and say that this is not American Sharia law: after all, we only enforce our notions of sexual purity when it comes to Republican women, or women and girls related to Republican women. [snip]

This is American Sharia, assholes. The practitioners of Sharia in Muslim countries are at least consistent in their contempt for women and in their practice of gender apartheid: you, on the other hand, want sexual slavery for some women in this country; others, whose opinions you prefer, can live in relative peace and freedom. You will allow it.

If you are giving women and girls the “gift” of not being badgered for being female, and threatened with misogyny and sexual assault, they are not truly free—only living in a state of grace, contingent upon performing the right tricks, spouting leftist verbiage like seals at Sea World, balancing balls on their noses in the hopes of getting fish thrown into their mouths.

This is what feminists knew all those years ago when we fought to so hard to support all women. In 2008 women claiming to be feminists, claiming to wear the mantle of their foremothers, tossed that hard-learned knowledge aside in their eagerness to please their owners; in their willingness to sell their souls for a seat at the table; in their fear that if they spoke up, talked back, didn’t play along, they’d be treated just like Palin and any other woman who dared deviate from Democratic political orthodoxy: thrown off the pedestal and into the gutter.

I had been correct back in the 90’s: feminism was dead.

Now it seems there is stirring in the underbrush. Fourth-wave feminism is lurking, not quite visible but clearly closing in. The problem is, no one seems to know exactly what’s out there. This is the question Reclusive Leftist is trying to answer: How would you define the fourth wave of feminism? Since she states firmly that the fourth wave “started last year with the auto de fe of first Hillary Clinton and then Sarah Palin” I hope, of course, that the fourth wave will re-establish the principle that women do not participate in or consent to misogynistic attacks on other women. I also hope that the fourth wave will be more inclusive, more willing to detach itself from liberalism, no longer tied to the Democratic party. A large part of this will be acknowledging that a vast array of positions, on everything from equal pay to abortion can be viewed completely differently by feminists who are also liberals than by feminists who are also conservatives.

I’m not sure what the final outcome will be with regard to reconciling the views of liberal and conservative feminists; sadly my experience in the discussion at Reclusive Leftist has dimmed my hope with regard to abortion. But that’s a story for the next episode.



The Feminist Awakening: Hillary Clinton and the fourth wave: This whole article is interesting - note that it was written before Clinton finally lost the primary campaign and long, long before Palin appeared on the scene. I was particularly struck by the discussion of how to dress on page 4. If women had taken Molloy’s advice all those years ago, we’d have a standard “powerful professional woman” dress code established by now and we could all stop worrying about what to wear when running for President.

How Feminism Became the F-Word: By Amy Siskind, one of the founders of The New Agenda, an attempt to define the fourth wave as uncoupling feminism from the Democratic Party and from a hard-line pro-choice stand. This is worth a look just for the contrasting Ms. magazine covers but do read the whole thing.

One small quibble: Ms. Siskind wants to know where the outrage is over “the fact that women still earn 78 percent of what men do” or “the fact that our representation in politics, academia, and corporate leadership tends to hover around 16 percent.” Perhaps if women had taken Harragan more seriously and learned to play the games necessary to get ahead instead of expending energy demanding the rules be changed to suit us, we’d be earning more money and accruing more power. Furthermore, it’s been a while since I read Games Mother Never Taught You but I seem to remember that part of Harragan’s argument was that if women learned to play by the rules we would eventually amass enough power to change them. (I expanded on this topic and ended up with about a gazillion words. This current post is long enough so I’ll leave that expansion for a future episode.)

How Will We Know When The Fourth Wave Has Begun?: Written in response to Siskind, this piece explicitly rejects any move away from “the Democratic, pro-choice agenda that has furthered the movement in many substantial ways.” To which I am inclined to reply: For what is a woman profited, if she shall gain the whole world, and lose her own soul?

A Fourth-Wave Manifesto: A fairly random selection to give a little flavor of how much the idea of what fourth-wave feminism should/will/can be varies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From there to here: Cast adrift

I said previously that my conversion from a (mostly) liberal to a (mostly) conservative state of mind began with the realization that the sources I trusted to tell me the straight story - Huffington Post, MSNBC, and most of all Andrew Sullivan - were so biased that no hint of evenhandedness existed. In my last post, I talked specifically about my disenchantment with the Huffington Post as I realized it committed the very sins it regularly accused the Republicans of: silencing dissent and believing dishonesty was justified as long as HuffPo was “right”.

At the same time I was reading - and becoming disenchanted with - the Huffington Post, I was also watching a little MSNBC and reading a lot of Andrew Sullivan. My gradual awareness that they also were not entirely straightforward completed my alienation from the liberal side of the political process.

I never spent as much time with MSNBC as I did with HuffPo. I was terribly upset about the telecomm immunity in FISA (you remember - that immunity Obama swore he’d filibuster) and I found Keith Olbermann’s views about that right up my alley. Still, though, he always yelled too much and Chris Matthews always seemed awfully sure about topics I felt were more a matter of opinion than fact. In these aspects Olbermann and Matthews also exhibited that unwillingness to believe there could possibly be any “virtue or truth” on the other side I found so distressing in Jean Rohe’s HuffPo post.

At the same time, there was the whole Bush thing. MSNBC loathed Bush and considered him stupid and evil or - in their more sophisticated moments - merely stupid and thus a pawn of the evil Cheney. As I’ve said, I was not - and am not - happy with Bush’s attitude toward the Constitution. Nonetheless, he was the President and some part of me - perhaps those same long-buried attitudes that made me unable to see police officers as the enemy - wasn’t entirely comfortable with the level of vitriol being heaped on him. In particular I cringed every time Olbermann insisted Bush was a fascist. Still all my friends were convinced Bush was a cross between the village idiot and the ultimate evil so my discomfort never really surfaced; it just pricked me a little when the guys at MSNBC would start frothing at the mouth about the President. Between MSNBC’s certainty that all virtue rested on their side and their viciousness toward the President, I could never become a big MSNBC fan but I still thought myself enough in sympathy with many of their positions to feel both horrified and betrayed when they jumped on Obama’s misogyny bandwagon.

Once I’d left HuffPo behind and realized I was not entirely comfortable with MSNBC, my primary blog read was Andrew Sullivan. I suppose this fit with the shifts taking place below the surface of my world view: when I began reading him he presented himself - with some justification - as a conservative. Plus he was already anti-Bush and anti-Iraq War when I first encountered him and I agreed with him there. His admission that he had supported both Bush and the War before realizing his error helped me believe he was someone who would honestly present both sides of an issue regardless of how he felt about it. Stupid of me I know.

It’s not like the signs weren’t there. I figure I agreed with Sullivan about 60% of the time but even when I didn’t agree with him, I found his arguments rational and I could understand why he believed what he did even though I believed differently. Or at least that was the case most of the time. There was always that 10% of his arguments that made no sense. Then it was as if he had a huge blind spot and simply, literally could not see something directly in front of him. The clearest example of this was his attitude toward the Catholic Church’s decision that homosexuals were not to be priests, period. I could certainly understand Sullivan’s distress over this decision but his writing never so much as hinted at the fact that there was an even larger group of people who were banned from the priesthood by inborn characteristics: women. His blindness reached its apex when he posted a letter from a reader whose partner was losing his Church because of its decision that homosexuals could not be priests (emphasis mine):

And so Benedict, supposedly a man of God, pushes away good people from this church. I have no doubt in my mind that what Benedict is doing now is a crime, a crime against God. If this were discrimination against Jews or blacks or any other group, it would be classed as fascist bigotry, and eventually the perpetrator would be brought to task by society in an appropriate way and exiled from their institution. Pope Benedict cannot get away from this crime against humanity. Whatever his or others' personal views against homosexuality, to discriminate against a group in an institutional form is apartheid, is Nazism, is fascism, and nothing less.

Unless, of course, the group being discriminated against is women. So long as we were the group banned from the priesthood this reader’s partner’s “love for his religion [was] great.” And so, apparently, was Sullivan’s.

Still, as maddening as I found Sullivan’s ten percent worth of blind spots I didn’t stop to consider that the rest of his writing, which I believed to be thoughtful and even-handed, might also suffer from blind spots, in those cases blind spots to which I myself was subject. Then came Barack Obama.

I don’t remember becoming suddenly aware that Sullivan was heaping a lot of praise on Obama. Through most of 2007 everyone thought Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination and I was unhappy enough about that so any slaps Sullivan took at Clinton in favor of Obama would have seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Two things happened at the beginning of 2008 to change my perceptions. First, I was without access to a computer from early January until about mid-March. That meant I was getting my news primarily from a daily newspaper in the South. While the news was much the same, the editorials tended conservative. So I was both removed from Sullivan’s filtering of events and exposed to a slightly different filter. I wasn’t aware of it as it happened but those different filters meant I was getting not just different viewpoints but somewhat different facts.

Second, I began to feel more supportive of Clinton and thus became more sensitized to the way so much of the media was out of line in their depiction of her. And when I returned to my computer and started reading what I’d missed while I was away it became clear that no one was more out of line than Andrew Sullivan. The contrast between my reaction to Clinton crying and his floored me. I knew there were those who claimed her tears were fraudulent but Sullivan’s sheer ugliness was breath-taking.

From that point on, Sullivan became literally unbalanced: everything Clinton did was at least wrong and probably pathological; everything Obama did was right - and if Sullivan couldn’t make it right, he just ignored it. Most distressing to me was Sullivan’s willingness - eagerness - to misrepresent the views of others to further his agenda. This wasn’t just a blind spot; it was deliberate data drop-out.

Some examples of this were small. Sullivan quoted Dave Barry in a way that made it sound like Barry was making fun of Clinton crying. Read Barry’s full article and the picture looks different. Sullivan quoted a snippet of a John Derbyshire article but only as far as the line that reads:

By this standard, this campaign has offered us two inspirational political futures: Barack Obama’s, and Ron Paul’s.

Read Derbyshire himself and you find the next line is:

Obama has nothing for a conservative to like, and the passions he has aroused are inexplicable to me.

On the other hand, some of Sullivan’s judicious editing was not small at all. The most egregious example involves Clinton’s RFK/June comment. On May 25, 2008, Karl Rove appeared on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. When Stephanopoulos referred to Rove as an informal adviser to the McCain campaign, Rove denied that level of involvement but Stephanopoulos insisted “informal adviser” was in fact the correct label. Andrew Sullivan created a post called, “Keeping Them Honest” which thanked Stephanopoulos for making sure Rove was correctly identified. Sullivan’s post contained a brief clip from This Week containing the relevant exchange.

What Sullivan’s post did not mention was that immediately preceding the introduction of Rove, Stephanopoulos was interviewing David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign manager. In that segment, Stephanopoulos hammered Axelrod over the Obama campaign circulating Keith Olbermann’s contemptible Special Comment about Clinton’s RFK/June comment to the press corps at the same time Obama was “forgiving” Clinton for the remark.

It wasn’t just Clinton about whom Sullivan was unbalanced. There was also the way he wrote about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism versus the way he wrote about Obama’s ties to the Reverend Wright. As Ed Morrissey put it:

Let’s make this clear. [According to Sullivan] Romney had a responsibility to explain the racism of the Mormons, which they themselves repudiated in 1978, including “self-criticism” for being a Mormon during that period. However, with Obama belonging to and supporting a church in which his self-described “moral compass” preaches that the US created the HIV virus to commit genocide and calling the nation the “the US of KKK-A”, Obama gets a pass because … he writes so beautifully of the faith he found through Jeremiah Wright?

Uh, sure.

I wasn’t the only person who was beginning to wonder about Sullivan. During a liveblog of the April 16, 2008, debate, Commentary’s John Podhoretz referred to him as “Andrew ‘Someone Give Me Barack Obama’s Shoe So I Can Lick It’ Sullivan. By August 31 (as the Palin wars began) a reader at The Corner expressed what I had been thinking for quite a while:

at this point I can't see him [Sullivan] as anything other than a total Obama partisan. His blog's purpose has gone from discussing politics from a conservative perspective to simply trying to get Obama elected. I can't see any other explanation for his recent contradictory posts. Conspicuously absent from his blog have been any posts devoted to analyzing Obama's policy proposals - e.g. can we really pay for everything that Obama is promising in domestic entitlements by simply taxing "the rich" a bit more? It's simple questions like this one - and the answers may even be in Obama's favor - that have no place in his posts anymore. Instead, we get vacuous posts praising Obama's rhetoric and oratory skills. It's been sad, actually, because he is a really intelligent guy. I'm amazed he has allowed himself to lose all his credibility as a conservative writer simply to get Obama elected.

I had stopped reading Sullivan before that fateful weekend so I didn’t see firsthand his eagerness to spread the truly hideous rumors about Governor Palin, Bristol, and Trig. For that I am profoundly grateful.

Still, I had hung in there for quite a while. It’s difficult and more than a little embarrassing for me to admit just how very much I wanted Sullivan to come to his senses, start treating Clinton decently, and stop worshipping at the feet of Obama. I don’t think I consciously acknowledged to myself that if Sullivan was as biased and unbalanced as he now appeared then I would have to re-evaluate a lot of what I believed but I’m pretty sure my subconscious was well aware of that. I can remember feeling almost ill when I read Sullivan, hoping each time that he would finally do a post admitting he’d been blind and biased and would now play fair with Clinton and with anyone else who had the misfortune not to be Barack Obama. After one particularly egregious post about Clinton - I think it was one of the ones where he quoted from Animal Farm - he suddenly announced he was taking a vacation, he needed a break. Thank goodness, I thought. His editor or his spouse or his friends have managed to make him see that he’s gone off the deep end. He’ll chill out for a while and come back sane. Needless to say, it didn’t happen.

The last straw for me with regard to Sullivan came in June of 2008. It was a small matter, perhaps hardly worth noting, but it did two things. First, it finally convinced me there was no hope Sullivan would return to his senses. The Andrew Sullivan I had been reading either was gone for good or - more likely - had never really existed. Second, it made me face the fact that the vitriol Sullivan heaped on Clinton was the same vitriol he had heaped on Bush. And if I knew he wasn’t playing fair with Clinton, how could I now believe he had ever played fair with Bush?

Sullivan was talking about Obama’s proposal to jack up Social Security taxes on those making more than $250,000 and concluded:

There's no point in disguising this: Obama will punish those who succeed in order to funnel benefits to those who haven't. Yes: he's a liberal. But Bush never dealt with the fiscal reality - preferring to borrow the money from the Chinese. In that sense, these hikes are Bush's hikes as well.

In other words, the Devil made Obama do it.

I had hit my limit.: Sullivan was now clearly, undeniably, irredeemably irrational. I was going to have to accept that everything I thought I knew about the politics of the last seven years was - if I had learned it from him or MSNBC or HuffPo or anyone who agreed with them (and that’s a lot of anyones) - open to question.

I was adrift on the sea of world views without so much as a compass. I started paddling.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dangerous politics

Inspired by Octogalore’s recent comment, I decided to resuscitate my “From there to here” series and actually finish up the next post in the series. Wanting to put off actually diving back into it for as long as possible - Part 3 deals largely with my disenchantment with Andrew Sullivan - I instead re-read the two posts I’ve already done in the category. In the second one I wrote:

That change by the media, that willingness to attribute bad will and worse motives to government has now spread through our political discourse and in far too many people has mutated into a willingness to believe the worst about all those who do not think as they do.

This seemed particularly appropriate when I read Leon Panetta’s musings on Dick Cheney in The New Yorker:

Panetta, pouring a cup of coffee, responded to Cheney’s speech with surprising candor. “I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

I know that Panetta - or at least his office - has now “clarified” the statement, saying:

“The Director does not believe the former Vice President wants an attack,” a spokesman told CNN. “He did not say that. He was simply expressing his profound disagreement with the assertion that President Obama’s security policies have made our country less safe. Nor did he question anyone’s motives.”

To me this almost makes it worse. If Panetta does not actually believe that Cheney was playing politics - “dangerous politics” - with our nation’s security and our own lives then why did he say what he did? Has attributing bad will and worse motives to a political opponent become so much the currency of political discourse that Panetta was unable to think of any other way to express disagreement?

Who's crazy now?

The second point in this brief note on Iran from Ezra Klein (via The Corner) seems to me at best incomplete and at worst backwards. After conceding that the government’s handling of the election undermines his argument that the Iranian regime is fundamentally rational and “says something very unsettling about the mental state of the regime”, Klein goes on:

The second is that it is likely to disrupt what was, to my mind, a very positive trend in the United States: the long-overdue effort to pressure Israel on the settlements. Among America's points of leverage was that Israel desperately needed our help to handle Iran. Among the trends freeing our hand was the apparent quieting of Iran's drumbeat of provocations. Now that Iran appears to be more of an independent problem and less likely to fall into a period of relative quiet, it's hard to imagine either Israel or America spending too much time worrying about their relationship with each other.

If I follow Klein’s argument, he’s saying that it’s too bad the Iranian government is crazy as a loon because that means the United States won’t actually be able to handle Iran which means we can’t use the offer of handling Iran to pressure Israel into shutting down their settlements so, rats, we’ll have to leave pressuring Israel for another better time.

I don’t think Klein has really thought this through. If the Iranian government is crazy as a loon then there’s a good chance Iran - and its clients - really do want to literally destroy Israel and thus Israel’s refusal to give one more inch unless it gets recognition of its right to exist and demilitarization of Palestinian territories is, well, perfectly rational.

In other words, the lunacy in Iran hasn’t cost us a golden opportunity to pressure Israel about the settlements. The lunacy in Iran has made it clear we shouldn’t be looking for such an opportunity in the first place.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Neither wise nor convincing

I generally like Victor Davis Hanson’s writing but I have to take exception to his recent post at The Corner called “Something Is Not Quite Right Here.” In it, Hanson says:

A disinterested observer would conclude that Justice Sotomayor is race-obsessed. In her now much quoted 2001 UC Berkeley speech she invoked “Latina/Latino” no less than 38 times, in addition to a variety of other racial-identifying synonyms. When one reads the speech over, the obsession with race become almost overwhelming, and I think the public has legitimate worries (more than the Obama threshold of 5% of cases) over whether a judge so cognizant of race could be race-blind in her decision making.

Well, yes, but there’s one problem. Sotomayor’s speech was entitled “A Latina Judge’s Voice” and was the Honorable Mario G. Olmos Law & Cultural Diversity Memorial Lecture. It was presented at a University of California at Berkley School of Law symposium co-hosted by the La Raza Law Journal, the Berkeley La Raza Law Students Association, the Boalt Hall Center for Social Justice, and the Center for Latino Policy Research. The symposium was entitled "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation."

Under these circumstances it would have been remarkable if Judge Sotomayor had not spoken extensively of her experiences as a Latina and of the role of Latinos and Latinas in the judiciary.

This is not to say that Judge Sotomayor’s remarks about the superior wisdom of women or of Latino/as are not a cause for concern. As Hanson correctly points out, she has repeated variations on that theme many times over the years and I think it is an avenue which should be explored in her confirmation hearings. But claiming that her use of “racial epithets” in a speech which is supposed to be about ethnicity is somehow suspicious is neither wise nor convincing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Make it so

In an essay about Barack Obama’s May 21 remarks on national security, Byron York says:

It’s often said that Obama is learning what it means to be commander in chief, now that he bears the burden of the nation’s security. Governing, it is said, is different from campaigning. But do you really believe Obama didn’t know what was involved in closing Guantanamo back when he was giving all those campaign speeches? It is simply not credible to argue that Obama, during the campaign, didn’t know that our foreign allies would not take Gitmo prisoners, didn’t know that transferring them to our domestic prisons would involve significant risks and didn’t know that American communities would not welcome terrorists as neighbors.

I’m sure that Obama was aware of all the difficulties York lists and understood quite well that they made closing Guantanamo difficult - perhaps impossible - for the Bush Administration. However, I’m also sure that Obama believed those difficulties would not be problems for him: he was certain the Guantanamo situation would resolve itself as he wanted it to when he decreed that it would do so.

I first put my interpretation of this belief on Obama’s part into words as a comment in response to TigerHawk wondering what on earth Obama could be thinking in proposing his new tax structure for overseas profits. The more I see Obama in action the more accurate I think my interpretation is so - for future reference - here’s a self-citation:

Obama believes the world will arrange itself as he wants. I know there are people out there speculating that he has some type of narcissistic disorder or something but I think his belief is based partly on his conviction that he himself is Good with a very capital “G” and partly on past experience. Heaven knows he’s had millions of people telling him he’s practically the Second Coming and I imagine that his combination of intelligence (however facile); symbolism; and charm (although it’s lost on me) have generally meant much of the world *has* arranged itself as he wants.

Thus Obama believes corporations not paying lots and lots of taxes is Bad and he therefore is going to tax them. He assumes our allies will want to do whatever they can to help him and it never occurs to him that they may react badly to one of his policies.

There’s been a pattern of this: Closing Guantanamo is Good and the issue of what to do with the prisoners there will simply resolve itself. Trashing big financial institutions is Good and it never occurs to Obama that those same institutions may not thereafter be champing at the bit to go into business with the government in the PPIPs. Stress-testing the banks is Good and it never occurs to anyone that if banks “fail” there may be a crisis of confidence; surely if Obama says “All is well” everyone will believe him. Releasing the OLC memos is Good and Obama seemed to assume he could then just say, “And now we’re done with that” and everyone would say, “Good job, glad that’s over with.”

This is actually pretty funny when you consider that the term “reality-based community” comes from an account a reporter gave of his discussion with a Bush aide:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

The hubris of an Administration that believed it could create the reality it wants is nothing compared to the hubris of a President who believes the rest of the world will create the reality he wants.

In the case of Guantanamo, however, the rest of the world did not respond as desired to his hand-waving, make it so approach. That is, no host nations sprang forward to take the terrorists off his hands; the Congress had the temerity to ask for a detailed plan before providing the funds for Obama to do as he saw fit with the prisoners. So now Obama has been forced to make “remarks” and propose an actual plan. Or, more accurately, a plan for a plan: he’s told us more about what he’s going to do but he still hasn’t actually told us exactly how he’s going to do it.

I have fewer objections to Obama’s remarks than many other commenters on the right and the left. There were some odd elements such as Obama insisting that some Republicans wanted Guantanamo closed and that Guantanamo had done more harm than good. Those references belong in an environment where closing Guantanamo is not a done deal, where people need to be convinced about this decision. Maybe this is just more evidence that Obama cannot get out of campaign mode but it seems, well, odd.

It’s also odd that went out of his way to emphasize this:

Meanwhile, over 525 detainees were released from Guantanamo under not my administration, under the previous administration. Let me repeat that: Two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantanamo.

I’m not sure what point Obama is trying to make. Perhaps he’s saying that since Bush released prisoners there’s no reason for him not to do so. Perhaps he’s saying that those unlikely to be dangerous have already been released but that seems an unlikely point from a man who wants to close Guantanamo. Perhaps he’s simply trying to argue that there are so few people left, no one should care if they all get out. Again, it’s odd - and perplexing.

The Bush-bashing is unnecessary of course and I wonder if it’s beginning to be counter-productive. Imagine if Obama had simply said that the previous Administration took actions that seemed reasonable to them but that he, Obama, disagrees and believes we are better served by trying something else. In fact, if Obama was half as smart as people think, he should go further than that. He should be saying that because of the former administration’s unceasing efforts to keep us safe, the country is now in a position to close Guantanamo. That would take a lot of the wind out of Dick Cheney’s sails - although it would also make it harder for Obama to insist Guantanamo is “a mess”, a characterization which will serve as a nice cover if closing it doesn’t go smoothly.

Once you get past those problems, though, Obama is trying to establish a set of procedures for dealing with the prisoners at Guantanamo that goes beyond just looking them up until the President says they can go. I applaud this effort but I don’t think he’s been very successful - and in my darker moments I think it’s because there simply may not be a better system given the situation we’re in.

The heart of Obama’s speech is his division of the inmates at Guantanamo into five groups (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres...):

1) Try some in criminal court.

2) Try some via revamped military commissions.

3) Release the ones the court has said must be released. This is where it gets interesting: where are we going to release them? Are we going to put them back where we found them? Open the gates at Guantanamo and let them wander out? Find foreign hosts? Or - and this is the $64,000 question - are we going to release them into the United States? Obama didn’t say.

This situation is complicated by the fact that it is against the law. to admit to the United States “any alien who has received terrorist training or has belonged to an organization that promotes terrorism — against anyone.” I don’t think the sheer fact of illegality would deter this Administration but the law will do nicely for nervous Congressmen who don’t want to let prisoners live in their districts but need legal cover for their refusal to arrange things as Obama wants.

4) Send some overseas. Obama says his administration “is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation.” Here again Obama is relying on others to order the world as he desires. It will be interesting to see if they comply - and if so, what their price is.

5) Keep some indefinitely without trial. This is the Bush policy but Obama wants to make it more legal by establishing Congressional and judicial oversight of the executive’s decision to hold onto the prisoners. Ace of Spades has outlined the Constitutional issue with trying to create “legal” indefinite retention and argues the Bush’ system is more justifiable than the one Obama is trying to create. I’m very much afraid that he is correct.

At the same time, Obama’s review process is almost certainly meaningless: if the President says the country needs to hold onto someone because he’s a terrible threat, what Congressman is going to oppose him and take the risk of being the person who released the next Osama bin Laden? Even when so many Democrats were screaming that Guantanamo was another Bush disaster, I suspect it would have been well nigh impossible to find a member of Congress willing to actually take responsibiity for turning any of the prisoners loose. (Depending on how Obama structures this - there’s that lack of detail again - the judicial part may be more interesting.) Obama will be able to go right on doing what Bush was doing while looking like he’s not.

I’m not sure if this makes Obama smarter than Bush or just less honest. I am sure it makes me a lot more nervous.