Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oddities and annoyances

[Another post written a while ago, although it’s not really ancient - it was originally written within the last few months.]

Math is hard

A letter from to its members says in part:

Imagine if someone told you in 2008 that Barack Obama was actually thinking about signing legislation to extend the Bush tax giveaways for the rich. I wouldn’t have believed it.

Now more than ever, we need the Barack Obama we elected in 2008—the smart, tough, hopeful progressive champion who inspired millions of us—to stand up and say “no” to a millionaire bailout.

I’ve seen and heard this particular bait-and-switch before, where $250,000 suddenly becomes $1,000,000. Two-hundred fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money - but it’s not a million. If there are those who think we should raise taxes on millionaires then they should argue for just that: letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those making over $1,000,000 a year. I’ll be a lot more likely to believe someone has the right solutions for our economic woes if he first convinces me he knows his numbers.

Shoulda looked Left

(Because there’s nothing like a dead skunk in the middle of the road.)

In discussing Max Baucus’ rather sad polling number, Jennifer Rubin quotes a poll that says:

At this point pretty much all of his support from Republicans has evaporated with only 13% approving of him and although his numbers with Democrats aren’t bad at 70/21, they’re not nearly as strong as Jon Tester’s which are 87/6.

Baucus’ plight is similar to that of a number of other Senators who tried to have it both ways on health care, watering down the bill but still voting for it in the end.

Rubin’s interpretation of this is:

That is a nice way of saying that while they posed as “moderate” Democrats, they voted like liberals.

Nope. This is a nice way of saying that they refused to fish or cut bait and we ended up with the worst of all possible worlds: no fish and rotten bait. Just as people on the Right believed we needed government to restrict its role in health care to figuring out how to make the free market work better, people on the Left believed we needed government to step up and step in rather than just shoveling business to the insurance companies. ObamaCare did neither. It’s a “compromise” which furthers the worst of both approaches.

Whether you’re a Tea Partier or a Move.Oner, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that when Big Government gets in bed with Big Business bad things happen to the little people. It’s just that you’ll see different solutions: The Tea Partier’s solution is for government to get out of the way and let business do it; the Move.Oner's solution is for government to just do it. So, no, Democrats aren’t unhappy with Max Baucus because he voted like a liberal; they’re unhappy with him because he didn’t.

Trifles show character

One of the things that helped move me from leaning Left to leaning Right was hearing about George W. Bush from bloggers who didn’t hate him, especially The Anchoress. I discovered that his speeches were often remarkable* which was quite a surprise to me since I found his delivery of them so off-putting I never listened to what he said. And I discovered PEPFAR: the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. This program was started by President Bush in 2003 to provide funding from the United States to fight AIDS and related conditions, primarily in Africa. It was a source of amazement to me then that I had heard - as far as I could remember - absolutely nothing about this program from bloggers on the Left.

It was PEPFAR as much as anything that made me step back and take another look at Bush. Why would a man who was a racist, homophobic, stupid, war-mongering, isolationist, cowboy even know AIDS relief in Africa was necessary, much less set out to provide it - and in increasing amounts? Hercule Poirot teaches us that if we have constructed a theory and we find a piece of evidence that doesn’t fit, we cannot find the truth by doing what most people do: throw out the evidence that doesn’t fit our theory. Instead, we must develop a new theory that accounts for the new evidence. When George Packer treats Bush’s championing of PEPFAR as simply a weird aberration he does so at his own intellectual peril.



* I found Bush’s May 2008 speech to the Knesset very powerful; you can read it at The Anchoress. Bush’s Sharm El Sheikh speech won my heart by talking about women in the Muslim countries; you can download a pdf of that speech here.



I ran across the John Derbyshire/Peter Wehner discussion (to put it politely) regarding PEPFAR while writing this post. It simply confirmed my distaste for Derbyshire. Here’s Wehner; I’m not linking to anything from Derbyshire.

A [fill in desirable health care/insurance outcome] in every pot

[I wrote this in March of 2010. I was going to junk it - I’m cleaning up my computer files - but part of it still resonates so here it is with a nice new footnote.]

Movin’ Meat has up a post in which he cites the case of Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield paying claims late and says:

Actually, that's pretty much SOP for most insurers: deny and delay at will, and dare providers/consumers/regulators to punish them. Fines (when there are any) just go back to the insureds as increased premiums, and any time the providers/consumers are fatigued out of demanding the insurers actually pay, that's pure profit for the insurance company.

Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

As I said in the comments there, I don’t see how any of the three (perhaps soon to be four) health care reform bills that might be passed would eliminate this issue. The bills don’t get rid of insurance companies so the business models for the companies won’t change and bad insurance companies won’t suddenly become good ones. I suppose supporters can argue that Federal law will be better at regulation than State law but in rebuttal I would simply mention the Great Financial Crisis of Twenty-Aught-Eight. Whoever was at fault in that Crisis, no one can argue that having the Federal government regulating the financial industry made companies behave in a saintly manner. Incentives are incentives even for the best companies in any industry and every industry has some bad apples. All the Federal law in the world won’t change that.

What intrigues me about this is that it’s representative of a firm belief in some quarters: passing Obamacare will make all the problems with our health care and our health insurance magically disappear. Movin’ Meat believes Obamacare will make insurance companies stop delaying claim payments. Yet Obamacare doesn’t get rid of health insurance companies. Similarly, at the health care summit, Representative Louise Slaughter said:

I have a constituent that you won’t believe and I know you won’t, but her sister died, this poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit. Do you believe that in America that’s where we would be?

Yet according to The New Republic:

The Senate and House health reform bills are relatively silent about dentistry. (The word "dentist" appeared once in the 1,502-page Senate Finance committee draft bill.) Child coverage has been expanded. Provisions are included to strengthen the dental work force and to address other infrastructure concerns. Yet these bills do relatively little to ensure adult access or to apply a careful delivery reform lens to dental services. (The status of stand-alone dental plans within proposed insurance exchanges raises delicate concerns, for example.)

Based on that analysis, I don’t know why Slaughter would think Obamacare would magically produce dentures for her constituent.

A week ago, Movin’ Meat was claiming that we had to pass the health care bills in order to eliminate rescission. Yet the House health care bill still allows for rescission in the case of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud” subject to third-party review. The Senate bill is even more gentle, allowing for rescission in the case of fraud or intentional misrepresentation; this is not an improvement over most State regulations and existing Federal regulations. When the Exchanges are up and running in 2014, everyone will have to buy health insurance so there will presumably be no conditions under which rescission can happen. But until then passing Obamacare will not eliminate rescission.

This is really just another version of what puzzles me so terribly about the Left’s support of Federal government health care reform. The Left believes the Federal government constantly and chronically fails in its regulatory, moral, and fairness obligations: the financial crisis; the environment; the Wars; Guantanamo; enhanced interrogation; restricting campaign financing; hate crimes; education; lifting people out of poverty; protecting the rights of women and minorities; and on through the endless list. Yet the complaints that our national government is failing us at every turn are always accompanied by demands that the Federal government do more. How does this make sense? If the Federal government is doing things so badly, why will increased action on their part make things better?

My belief is that if the Federal government is doing something badly then either this is not a task that the government should be attempting or that imperfection is the best we can hope for. In the former category, I put education: the Federal government has no business in education. In the latter category, I put Guantanamo: it’s the best of a whole armful of lousy options. Sadly, my belief does not appear to be widely shared.*

My impression is that a lot of people never even consider that doing something badly means either that the Federal government shouldn’t be doing that thing or that doing it badly is sometimes the best we can do. Instead they cling to the conviction that if government is doing something badly then either it isn’t trying hard enough or it isn’t run by the right people. They seem to believe the government can do anything and do it very well, perhaps perfectly. All that is required to turn the government’s poor performance into perfection is more money, more effort, more laws, more regulation; the right people running things (this is crucial); and a way to make everyone else do what they’re supposed to. Reality-based, my foot.

If Obamacare passes, it will be interesting to see what happens to all the stories about people who suffer from denied claims, delayed claims, lack of dental care, and being dropped by their insurers because they left something off their applications. I don’t believe the problems will magically cease. I do believe it will no longer be those on the Left who are talking about them.



Except for polishing my concluding language, I wrote this post yesterday. This morning I read a letter from the Red Queen to President Obama (Via Blue Lyon). The whole letter is worth reading (language warning) but what struck me was the contradiction I see between the first and last sentences in this fragment:

Thank you, President Obama, for destroying any hope (or should I say delusion) that I had about our government's efficacy.

Thanks for giving me the change (and by change I mean the spare change I'm going to start asking for on street corners) I can believe in.

I am just one little person in a sea of millions of little people all drowning in this financial crisis. I do not have the clout that say a few "savvy" banksters do. I'm just a mom, with no income, no health insurance and a kid who has a toothache and can't go to the dentist.

And what I need from my government is for it to work for me.



* In the year since I’ve written this, it’s been interesting to watch the Left’s position on Guantanamo now that it’s Barack Obama’ baby. They seem to either be ignoring it (no links, obviously) or still criticizing it (Glenn Greenwald is the obvious link here). Now, I can see that Greenwald’s continuing criticism of Guantanamo could be a sign of admirably steadfast principle. But I do wonder why no one on the Left is looking at the similarities between what the George W. Bush Administration did in the Global War on Terror and what the Obama Administration is doing in that same conflict, and saying to themselves:

Hmm. If two Presidents with such dissimilar world views are both doing the same things, maybe it’s the best we can manage to do.

Simply green

[I wrote this post quite some time ago but never put it up.]

Grim has up a post with some thoughts about Elisabeth Badinter. Grim is objecting to the use of the word “forcing” in the title and sub-title of the Telegraph’s article on Badinter’s views:

French feminist warns green movement forcing women to stay at home
Elisabeth Badinter, a leading French feminist, has warned the green movement is threatening decades of improvements in gender equality by forcing women to give up their jobs and become earth mothers.

and his thoughts on guilt are will worth reading.

Once you get into the article, however, Badinter’s view are characterized a little differently:

a "holy reactionary alliance" of green politicians, breast-feeding militants, "back to nature" feminists and child psychologists is turning Frenchwomen into slaves to green "fads" like re-usable nappies and organic food.

In her new book, Conflit, la Femme et la Mere (Conflict, the Woman and the Mother), Mrs Badinter contends that this politically correct cabal is burdening mothers with intolerable guilt unless they stay at home and breast-feed for as long as possible.

We can have a lively discussion about whether turning women into “slaves” is the same as “forcing” them but my interpretation of Badinter’s view is that women are experiencing great societal pressure to mother in a particular way. I’ve never had children but it seems to me that it is almost impossible to overestimate the extent to which women are susceptible to being told they’re parenting wrong, they should be doing it this way or that way or any other way than the way they’re doing it.

Interestingly, Badinter’s view reminded me of something I read years ago: a couple of brief essays on the Andrea Yates tragedy in the Newsletter of the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women's Caucus, an organization whose stated mission is to “support, educate, and celebrate Christian feminists from many traditions.”

[I feel compelled to stop and state the obvious: Andrea Yates is an extreme case and I do not in any way consider her typical of most women or most mothers. A series of bad decisions and vicious people cascaded down on her with monstrous results. I don’t seek to excuse what she did but neither do I believe she was cold and calculating or a vengeful wife. She was a very seriously mentally ill woman, if not when she met her husband, then certainly by the time she had her third child. The medical establishment, her family, and most especially her husband failed her miserably - and failed her children unforgivably.]

One of the EEWC essays echoes some of Badinter’s points. In discussing how Andrea Yates became so mentally ill that she committed a crime almost incomprehensibly horrible, Anne Eggebroten lists a number of factors. One is the decision to live a “simpler” lifestyle. Andrea and her husband Russell moved with their four children into a bus; six people living in 350 square feet. They eventually moved out of the bus but only because Andrea’s parents insisted. As Eggebroten puts it (emphasis mine):

The big attraction of the bus to Russell was that it represented a simpler lifestyle ... Russell's goal was to "travel light,"... "We just kind of lived," Rusty said to him. "We took it easy" (p. 46). Maybe this life was easier for him -- no lawn to mow -- but living with four toddlers in a bus was not easy for Andrea. When they were back in a normal home, Andrea confessed to Russell that "she felt she had 'failed' at the simple life in the bus" (p.47). Christian churches need to warn their members that simple living must be done in a context where both husband and wife are making choices and sharing the work. Otherwise it becomes just one more impossible ideal for a mother to live up to. [Ed. note: When the fledgling Evangelical Women's Caucus first met in 1974 (as a task force at the Second Thanksgiving Workshop of Evangelicals for Social Action), we drafted a list of proposals which included this statement: "We also urge that changes in economic lifestyles not be designed so that women are forced to make greater sacrifices than men."]

Eggebroten’s concerns echo those of Badinter: changes in lifestyle that are decreed to be better in the eyes of God or better in the eyes of Gaia often end up placing heavier burdens on women than on men. Women need to understand that an approach that urges them to sacrifice for the greater good while the men doing the urging skate is an unacceptable approach, regardless of how wonderful someone is saying that greater good is. If it’s that wonderful, the people doing the urging can do the sacrificing - or at least their fair share of it. There is a particular cruelty in taking someone’s desire to nurture, to help, to do what’s best for others, to make the world a better place, to live up to a higher ideal, and using that desire as a means to make her - or his - life worse.

The second EECW essay addresses Grim’s statement that:

Guilt comes from the inside. Someone may wish to make you feel guilt, but all they can actually do is bring the guilt you already feel to your conscious attention. If it isn't there, they can't create it.

What Grim is describing is how it should be; unfortunately, it’s often not how it is and it seems that it is particularly not how it is for women. Pat Gundry talks about Andrea Yates’ inability to say “No”, her inability to stand up for herself. Gundry believes there is something we can do to help make sure other women don’t end up where Andrea Yates did:

We can teach our girls, and all the girls we meet, to say no. We can teach them how to decide when to say no and when to say maybe and when to say yes for now, but it's open to change. We can give them practice saying no and making it stick. We can model saying no and making it stick, without remorse, without guilt. We can teach all the ways to say no graciously--and the few they'll need to say it not so graciously.

I don’t know if learning to say “No” could have saved Andrea Yates and her children. Maybe it could have. Maybe she would have said “No” to marrying Russell or “No” to having child after child or “No” to being left alone when she knew it was dangerous. Or maybe she was too emotionally and mentally ill even before she met Russell to protect herself.

Be that as it may, learning to say “No”, to stand up for themselves can help women who are encouraged to doubt their own wisdom, their own knowledge, their ability to stand on their own two feet. Learning to say “No” is crucial if women are going to stand up to the kind of societal pressure Badinter is talking about and decide for themselves the best way to raise their children and the best way to live their lives.

I'll take Feminism for $200, Alex

Kathleen Parker is writing about “hard-core” women:

The feminist woman of the left, who burned her bra and insisted that all hear her roar, is today a taupe-ish figure who wonders where things went wrong. The daughter she begat may well be a Republican - a gun-toting, breast-feeding supermom of several who condemns government for being a "nanny" and tells men to man up.

So far, so good. Looks like it’s going to be an interesting discussion of the shifting face of feminism. But then she comes up with this (emphasis mine):

We needn't name the queen of this emerging bevy of can-dos, who wouldn't deign to call themselves feminists even though they certainly are.

It’s pretty clear that “the queen” Parker isn’t naming is Sarah Palin. So what is it about Palin that causes so many people to simply assume that what they believe to be true about her - or want to be true about her or need to be true about her in order to make their world view work- is, in fact, actually true? Because Palin most certainly does call herself a feminist and based on her remarks last May it appears that the “emerging bevy” doesn’t object to calling themselves feminists right along with her (emphasis mine):

In May of last year, Sarah Palin told an audience of more than 500 pro-life women at a Susan B. Anthony breakfast that they represented an “emerging, conservative, feminist identity” with a growing ability to influence policy.

But perhaps Parker doesn’t consider Fox a news source. How about Newsweek from last August (emphasis mine):

The fact that Sarah Palin wants to call herself a feminist is astonishing. It’s not that she is conservative—there have been plenty of conservative, eccentric, and outlier feminists in history. It’s that it has been such an unloved, if proud, term for so long that it is odd to watch it being fought over, as though it were a political asset and not something women used to have to pretend not to be so they didn’t upset any voters.

Maybe this is relatively new, maybe Palin has embraced feminism only after her defeat as Vice-President and Parker just didn’t notice. Nope (emphasis mine):

Feminists for Life's policy is that all memberships are confidential. However, since Governor Palin has been public about her membership, we can confirm that Palin became a member in 2006.

I wish Parker had read Meghan Daum’s May 2010 LA Times piece, entitled “Sarah Palin, feminist”. From her wide-open definition of feminism; to her pointing out that liberal women who object to Palin calling herself a feminist are often reluctant to apply the term to themselves; to her admonition that we “think hard about who or what is to blame for increasingly narrow definitions of feminism”; Daum’s article is a must-read. Her bottom line (emphasis mine):

If [Palin] has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she's entitled to be accepted as one.

Amen, sister.