Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just for the record

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters. - Albert Einstein

As you may know, Foster Friess, a generous financial supporter to Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, appeared on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show and made a widely-reported comment on birth control.

Here’s the exchange between Friess and Mitchell:

Mitchell: Do you have any concerns about some of his comments on social issues, contraception, about women in combat, and whether that would hurt his general election campaign would he be the nominee?

Friess: I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are. And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's such inexpensive. Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.

Mitchell: Excuse me, I'm just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly.

That’s all I could find. Perhaps there’s a longer transcript available somewhere; if so, I’d like to read it. But that’s the exchange that’s being reported: my link is to the Wall Street Journal; the Journal’s link is to TalkingPointsMemo.

This past Sunday, David Gregory brought this comment up on Meet The Press; Andrea Mitchell was one of the panelists on the show. Here’s Gregory’s description of what Friess said (emphasis mine):

MR. GREGORY: This aspirin business, Foster Friess, who's a Santorum supporter, said to you on your program that the best means of birth control is putting a Bayer aspirin between your legs, which is kind of an old joke.

Here’s Mitchell correcting Gregory’s mischaracterization:


Just for the record.



Re: Re: Bad Jokes - Michael Potemra, writing at The Corner. I like this post partly because Potemra is very clear on the problems with what Friess said, which is refreshing coming from someone writing from the Right.

I like this post even more because Potemra sees Friess as a living, breathing person, with all the complexity that entails, all the potential for missteps, all the potential for opening mouth and inserting foot, all the potential for reconsideration and apology. I’m very tired of people attributing earth-shattering - and always horrifying - significance to every word uttered by those with whom they disagree. It’s confirmation bias on steroids. People aren’t just cherry-picking facts to fit their preconceptions; they’re hypervigilant for incidents they can use to prove how terrible their opponents are. If someone who disagrees with them politically says a thousand decent things and one questionable one, they seize on the latter to prove that those who disagree with them are monsters.

Robert F. Kennedy said:

What is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.

It seems to me that our country - at least the part of it that pontificates about politics - today contains very few people who aren’t extremists. This state of affairs is scary; bodes ill for the future of the nation; and raises serious questions about the viability of our form of government. It’s also incredibly tiresome.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A simple solution

I had pretty much already decided what I thought the Catholic church - and all other affected religions - should do in response to the HHS mandate that they provide their employees with insurance that covered contraception. However, I thought my preferred solution was awfully intemperate. Then I read Wendy Kaminer’s essay on the topic and I decided my preferred course of action wasn’t intemperate at all.

Kaminer believes that having ones employer provide insurance that covers contraception and abortion is a civil right that trumps any “moral” considerations regarding those services. (The idea that those “moral” considerations are themselves aspects of a “right” never occurs to her - much less the idea that the latter right is actually in the Constitution, unlike the former.) She compares the refusal of contraception and abortion to manifestations of slavery and racism (then says she is not doing so). The heart of her argument is:

Still, while the fate of American civilization doesn't depend on this debate about the obligations of church-affiliated institutions to abide by secular law, the stakes are relatively high. As government workers are laid off and government programs shrink, the public role of private, tax-exempt non-profits expands. The stronger their right to dispense public funds and deliver public services according to sectarian religious dictates, the weaker our rights to a non-sectarian public sphere. It's a zero-sum game.

I find her inability to envision a rich hodge-podge of private non-profits tiresome. Nonetheless, under the terms she has laid down - the only good non-profit is a secularized non-profit - she is correct about this being a zero-sum game. However, her solution - forcing “sectarian” non-profits to bend to secular law - is not the only solution, and I think she and all who think like her will prefer my proposal:

The Catholic Church - and any other religious organization which is subject to the HHS mandate and has principled objections to it - should simply shut down every hospital, college, adoption agency, charity, foundation, and other “public role” service it runs. Schools covering K through 12 could stay open but it seems unwise. Not only would they have to hire only Catholics and admit only Catholic children, they would also - if I understand the wording of the mandate correctly - have to spend a significant portion of their school day teaching religion, thus leaving less time for other subjects. The quality of the education they provide would suffer and so it seems wiser to close them as well.

Problem solved. No more having to allow “private, tax-exempt non-profits” to “dispense public funds and deliver public services”. Instead, all services will come from the government. Religious organizations can subside into their proper role: a place people visit once a week and pay lip service to when running for public office. At least until the emerging “coherent non-theist movement” is finally strong enough to make them completely unnecessary.



Should the Church Have To Dispense Birth Control? - Megan McArdle. Read the whole thing; here’s a sample

I've seen several versions of Kevin's complaint on the interwebs, and everyone makes it seems to assume that we're doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public. Why, we're really coddling them, and it's about time they started acting a little grateful for everything we've done for them!

These people seem to be living in an alternate universe that I don't have access to, where there's a positive glut of secular organizations who are just dying to provide top-notch care for the sick, the poor, and the dispossessed.


Let’s leave aside for a moment the First Amendment aspect of the HHS mandate that all employers provide their employees with insurance that covers contraception. I know that sounds weird but, frankly, I just find that entire topic awfully upsetting and have a couple of other, rather intemperate posts in the works about that.

Instead, let’s look at this from a slightly different angle. If I understand the law behind the HHS mandate, this is happening solely at the discretion of the Executive branch. That is, HHS was empowered by Obamacare to decide what services must be covered by any employer-provided insurance plan. So far as I know, that decision doesn’t get made once and set in stone. (I could be wrong about that but given the continuing development of new treatments, it would seem that HHS must have the ability to change what is required.) That would seem to mean that a different Administration could impose different requirements. So future Administrations could - depending on their political viewpoint - do any of the following:

Rescind the requirement that employer-provided insurance cover contraception.

Require employer-provided insurance to cover treatment to “cure” people of homosexuality, including psychiatric, drug, and religion-based approaches.

Require employer-provided insurance to cover children born to or adopted by married employees but not those born to or adopted by unmarried employees.

Not require employer-provided insurance to cover pre-natal testing designed to detect the sorts of birth defects that often lead to abortions.

Not require employer-provided insurance cover anything more than palliative care for children born with birth defects that could have been detected early enough for an abortion.

Not require employer-provided insurance cover whatever conditions a particular Administration considers preventable: sexually transmitted diseases; lung cancer in smokers; Type 2 diabetes or heart failure in the obese; pregnancy out of wedlock; accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Employers could, of course, still choose to provide coverage that is not required but since (as I understand it) the Executive branch will have at least some say in how insurance companies are allowed to set their rates, an employer might find it difficult to locate an insurance company willing to provide a policy that an Administration would prefer not be written. And, of course, the more limited coverage will be cheaper so ...

It should be quite a ride.