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Archive for November, 2007

Rights and the Hyde Amendment

[ 64 ] November 2, 2007 |

David Nieporent says:

But a right means the government can’t stop you from doing something; it doesn’t mean that you have some claim on anybody else’s wallet to give you that thing.

There are a number of potential misconceptions here. First, not all rights are constitutional rights. Second, there’s nothing inherent about rights that they be merely “negative” rights. Third, as Cass Sunstein and Stephen Holmes correctly point out, even the enforcement of “negative” rights requires substantial state expenditures (and hence claims on “other people’s wallets”), making the distinction between “positive” and “negative” rights itself problematic. And finally, leaving aside the fact that there are other constitutional traditions than the American one, even the primarily “negative rights” American framework recognizes positive rights. Most obviously. the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel has been construed to require that taxpayers provide legal counsel, even if libertarians would prefer that the law in its majestic equality merely prevent the state from denying rich and poor defendants alike access from the lawyers they have on retainer.

With respect to the issue under discussion, the Hyde Amendment, the issues of constitutional rights are more complex than they may appear at first glance. There are other cases in which the Constitution mandates a positive right in any plausible long-term political context; Brown v. Board, for example, does not require the state to provide public schools but does require that if the state does provide public schools that they be provided equally to whites and African Americans, which (at least if taken seriously) requires the spending of taxpayer money. The Hyde Amendment presents such an issue. There is not a constitutional right to medical treatment; however, if the state provides medical treatment it does have a constitutional obligation to provide such benefits impartially. It’s a difficult case, but denying funding to a medical procedure not for reasons logically related to the purpose of the program but to obstruct the exercise of a fundamental right does in fact raise a difficult constitutional question and at least arguably a violation of constitutional rights.

And lest you think this is some kind of crazy-left wing notion, the court’s conservatives — including Scalia and Thomas — have held that the state is obligated to provide money from taxpayer wallets to religious student newspapers if it provides funding for other publications. And this case goes further, in the sense that providing state funding to religious organizations arguably violates the Establishment clause, while nobody believes that current doctrines make Medicaid unconstitutional. At any rate, most people across the ideological spectrum accept that there are cases in which the state’s arbitrary use of its spending powers raises a constitutional violation, and hence Nieporent’s description of American constitutionalism is inaccurate. And it’s therefore perfectly reasonable for Ann to describe the Hyde Amendment as not only awful public policy but an interference with reproductive rights.

[ 12 ] November 2, 2007 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Krugman Takes Giuliani to the Mat

[ 17 ] November 2, 2007 |

Krugman body slams Giuliani (and the msm’s coverage of the candidate) today in his column. Feeling feisty, Krugman takes on Rudy’s claim that American men have much higher prostate cancer survival rates than the Brits because the Brits have socialized medicine. The claim is, of course, totally false. Where’d he get his data? The Manhattan Institute. A source of unbiased fact-based reporting if there ever was one. Here’s what Krugman has to say:

You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.

So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

Krugman takes care of the math. We take care of the eyerolling. WaPo’s Eugene Robinson gives us the numbers:

Okay, the math: Gratzer writes that his figures come from seven-year-old data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the numbers of men in various countries who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and, of those diagnosed, how many die from the disease. The latest official figures show a much smaller gap: Of men diagnosed with prostate cancer, about 98 percent survive five years in the United States vs. about 74 percent in Britain.

But even that is misleading, because — as even Gratzer acknowledges — a much higher percentage of American men than Britons are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the first place. The reason Americans are more likely to be diagnosed is that we are screened and tested much more often than our British counterparts. Doctors here are much more likely to diagnose, say, a slow-growing tumor in an elderly patient who will die of something else before the prostate cancer progresses to a serious state.

That’s why the more relevant comparison, experts say, is mortality rates — which are about equal.

That Giuliani is either dishonest or willfully blind is not a surprise to those of us who lived through his mayoralty. But Krugman is mad that the MSM is not doing its job to help the rest of the country realize that the GOP frontrunner just doesn’t care enough to check the facts. He’s more interested in using the scary specter of socialism to scare people into voting for him than in pretty much anything else. And news outlets let him; Krugman notes that there’s been some coverage of the Giuliani prostate lie, but that it pales in comparison to the amount lavished on Hillary’s hint of cleavage or John Edwards’s haircut. And, shockingly (not), Chris Matthews is giving air time to this crap. All while Giuliani tours with his ridiculous claim that the “liberal media” have redefined torture. At some point, we’re all going to have to stop being so serious and just laugh at it all.

More on Vouchers

[ 15 ] November 2, 2007 |

Laura McKenna:

OK, a little poking around found that the Cleveland voucher is now worth up to $5,000 per student, which is much closer to what the average per student funding is for public school students. And no schools have popped up.

It’s actually really expensive to run a school. The only way to break even with $5 – 7,000 is if you have packed class rooms. The church schools are able to function with low tuition levels and small classes, because they are subsidized by the church and they pay the nuns nothing.

To fill all those seats in the classroom, all the kids in a community would have to be eligible for vouchers and also use them. A education venture capitalist couldn’t make it in a community that had a competing public school system that drew away 50% of the population.

Right. And as I said in the previous voucher thread, even more problematic is that fact that the point is not to have private schools, but to have good schools. The invocation of private schools by voucher proponents can carry the suggestion that students will be able to attend high-performing, established private schools, but of course that won’t happen. It is much less obvious that newly formed private schools, with fewer resources to attract good teachers, provide facilities, etc. than both good private and good public schools in the metropolitan area and charged with educating mostly poor children will do a good job. Which, again, compels the conclusion that any remotely politically viable voucher program is likely to have an utterly trivial impact.

Dana has more. I’d be interested to know how many conservertarians purportedly defending the the interests of poor children oppose the funding of schools through local property taxes rather than through general state revenues, an obvious engine of inequality.

Slow News Day?

[ 0 ] November 2, 2007 |

I’m disappointed that my breakfast was photoshopped out of the picture, but for some reason this was on the front page of the local paper.

“I’ll put it this way: The things that have happened in November hang together in a weird kind of way,” Noon said.

Noon, a sixth-year teacher at UAS, will present a multimedia look at these 30 days of horror in “November is the Cruelest Month: A Misanthrope’s Historical Almanac,” a free Evening at Egan lecture at 7 p.m. Friday at the Egan Lecture Hall

The night will include an examination of the birth of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (Nov. 25, 1915); the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown (Nov. 18, 1978); and the bloody St. Brice’s Day Massacre (Nov. 13, 1002).

“There’s a lot about nuclear weapons and aerial warfare,” Noon said. “There’s also a number of things that have to do with the French Revolution.

“I feel like maybe I should bring a (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp for the side,” he said. “I can’t promise this will lift any spirits. My wife is constantly telling me, ‘You have to make this funny. There has to be some comic relief in there.’ And there is.”

Translation: I’ll be doing some prop comedy lifted from old Carrot Top videos.

I Can’t Say Whether the Rack is Torture; I Haven’t Been Briefed

[ 18 ] November 1, 2007 |

Clarification, please:

The president said it was not right for senators to press Mr. Mukasey about interrogation techniques on which he has not been briefed. When Mr. Bush was asked whether he considered waterboarding illegal, he said he would not discuss specific methods used in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. “It doesn’t make any sense to tell the enemy whether we use those techniques or not,” he said. “And the techniques we use by highly trained professionals are within the law,” the president said. “That’s what’s important for America to know.”

So I have to wonder, has Mukasey been briefed of the use of the rack? Thumbscrews? The iron maiden? Hot iron pokers up the ass? If not, then would it be inappropriate to ask him whether he thought such methods were torture? And is it the President’s position that asking whether or not we stick hot iron pokers up the ass of terrorist suspects is inappropriate, because it would “tell the enemy whether we use those techniques or not”?

Worst Freedom Medal Ever

[ 18 ] November 1, 2007 |

President Bush today announced that he will award a Medal of Freedom to Henry Hyde…because Hyde is a strong defender of life. The Henry Hyde of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion (in case the implications aren’t clear, this means that many many poor women are prevented from getting abortions they badly desire, or that they are forced to choose between an abortion and the electricity).

I think Ann at Feministing put it well:

Because nothing says “freedom” like severely curtailing the reproductive rights of low-income women.

Don’t you just love Bush’s brand of freedom?

Air Force Roundtable

[ 0 ] November 1, 2007 |

The roundtable for the Air Force article is now up at TAP. Participants included myself, David Axe, Jason Sigger, Michael Goldfarb, John of Op-For, Sharon Weinberger, and Noah Shachtman. The subscription wall for the original article is now down as well.

Vouchers For What?

[ 0 ] November 1, 2007 |

As a follow-up to the debate that various TAPPEDers and ex-TAPPEDers are having with respect to conservertarian claims about the efficacy of school vouchers, this from Justice Stevens’s dissent in Zelman (although peripheral to the question of whether voucher programs that will cause funding to go almost exclusively to parochial schools are constitutional) seems worth quoting:

First, the severe educational crisis that confronted the Cleveland City School District when Ohio enacted its voucher program is not a matter that should affect our appraisal of its constitutionality. In the 1999—2000 school year, that program provided relief to less than five percent of the students enrolled in the district’s schools. The solution to the disastrous conditions that prevented over 90 percent of the student body from meeting basic proficiency standards obviously required massive improvements unrelated to the voucher program. Of course, the emergency may have given some families a powerful motivation to leave the public school system and accept religious indoctrination that they would otherwise have avoided, but that is not a valid reason for upholding the program.

The most obvious limitation on voucher programs, as both Matt and Ezra note, is that there’s nowhere for most students to go. A market in education wouldn’t function like other markets. Whereas more customers (within reason) for a department store mean more profits, more students for a school makes it harder to educate everyone, and places substantial demands om physical spaces that can’t be easily expanded. Even assuming that they provide enough money for students to have a genuinely wide theoretical range of private schools to go to, which in practice is unlikely, vouchers are only an effective solution for more than a tiny number of students if there are lots of spaces in good schools for children to go to. Or, in other words, they only work if you assume away the problem you’re trying to solve in the first place. The small numbers involved and the fact that schools are very far from being like markets in consumer goods also make large transformative effects created by vouchers exceptionally implausible. And, certainly, as Matt says to talk about vouchers in the abstract without any details about what level of funding is on the table, how we’re going to pay for it, and what slots are available for students given vouchers is entirely useless.

Burkean Rhetoric, Supply-Side Policies

[ 3 ] November 1, 2007 |

As a follow-up to the point that Mike Huckabee’s noblesse oblige rhetoric is not terribly meaningful given that his only significant domestic policy proposal is a massively regressive tax cut, although the article is no longer available online I think it’s worth returning to this from the New Yorker profile of Michael Gerson, often cited as the kind of Christian Democratic evangelical that Democrats can allegedly attract to the fold:

Gerson defends Bush’s tax cuts, which the President’s critics believe not only favor those with the highest incomes but have also left less money for important domestic programs; Gerson believes that free markets and free trade are the best means of lifting people out of poverty, and that lower taxes stimulate both. “The part of Mike I have the most trouble understanding, perhaps because we simply disagree, is how he can square his support for pretty substantial spending for the very poorest among us with a defense of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest people,” Dionne said. “Maybe Mike just buys supply-side economics in a way that I don’t, but most supply-siders don�t think like Mike.”

It’s entirely possible that Gerson has convinced himself that policies with a proven track record of increasing inequality will actually decrease it if tried again. But even if the arguments are in good faith, they point out that mere rhetoric about social justice is not enough for coalition-building. When more evangelicals actually start supporting progressive economic policies, then Democrats might have something.

The End of Higher Education

[ 126 ] November 1, 2007 |

I just finished teaching an upper-division US history course in which my students read — and I swear I’m not making this up — Kim Du Toit’s repellant 2003 essay on “The Pussification of the Western Male”. The class had just finished Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization (1995), a marvelous examination of the cultural transformations of gender between the 1880s and World War I. We used du Toit as a companion piece to the chapters on Teddy Roosevelt and the psychologist G. Stanley Hall — each of whom were, in their own ways, as anxious as du Toit about what they perceived to be the devaluation of masculinity.

Roosevelt, for example, was distressed by the tendency (as he saw it) for modern men to “shirk from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil.” In his famous 1899 speech on “The Strenuous Life,” Roosevelt proclaimed that the vigor of “the race” depended upon men being “glad to do [men's] work, to dare and endure and to labor.” Women, he added, “must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children.” Any other arrangement would have risked what sociologist E. A. Ross termed “race suicide.” Roosevelt was particularly animated about the imperial demands of his age; he could not look kindly upon those men who feared “the strenuous life, the only national life which is really worth leading.” He commended England for taking hold of its colonies — especially its rule in Egypt and India — and called upon the US to do the same in the Philippines and elsewhere. He did not refer to his opponents as “pussies,” but he came frightfully close.

Hall, for his part, was preoccupied not with adult masculinity but rather with the incipient manhood of youth. Believing that developing children rehearsed the cultural evolution of the human race, he insisted that young boys should not be deterred from expressing “the instinct of the savage.”

Boys are naturally robbers; they are bandits and fighters by nature. A scientific study has been made of boys’ societies . . . . In every instance these societies have been predatory. All of the members thirsted for blood, and all of their plans were for thievery and murder

Allow the young boy to beat the shit out of his companions, Hall suggested, and his mental and physical development will proceed in a smooth and healthy fashion. Divert him from his natural course Hall warned, and you will produce “a milk-sop, a lady-boy, or a sneak.” Such a child “lacks virility, [and] his masculinity does not ring true.” Perhaps he will — as Hall himself did — grow up to be a chronic masturbator, a helpless slave to “the lonely vice.”

And then there’s du Toit — in one of his essay’s better milk-through-the-nose moments — working himself up into a roiling, gibbering mess over the lineup on Bravo:

Finally, we come to the TV show which to my mind epitomizes everything bad about what we have become: Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. Playing on the homo Bravo Channel, this piece of excrement has taken over the popular culture by storm (and so far, the only counter has been the wonderful South Park episode which took it apart for the bullshit it is).

I’m sorry, but the premise of the show nauseates me. A bunch of homosexuals trying to “improve” ordinary men into something “better” (ie. more acceptable to women): changing the guy’s clothes, his home decor, his music—for fuck’s sake, what kind of girly-man would allow these simpering butt-bandits to change his life around?

Yes, the men are, by and large, slobs. Big fucking deal. Last time I looked, that’s normal. Men are slobs, and that only changes when women try to civilize them by marriage. That’s the natural order of things.

To be brief, my students were howling with laughter over this; they were also moved by his anti-Cheerio rant, about which the less said the better. Several of them simply refused to believe that du Toit had not, in fact, written this as a parody. I assured them of his pathetic sincerity — I even told them about the Worst Blogger Award he’d received a few years back — and they laughed even more.

But my students and I noticed something interesting. Speaking in April 1899 — just a few months after the Spanish-American war ended — Roosevelt condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to suppress the Philippine insurrection; over the next few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would die as the country learned what “the strenuous life” was all about. Writing in November 2003 — just a few months after the Iraq War had supposedly ended — du Toit similarly condemned the “pussification” of American men while calling upon them to drive fast, get drunk, and emulate Donald Rumsfeld (who, he insisted at the time, could have laid nearly every woman in the country over the age of 50); over the past few years, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, in large part so that men like Donald Rumsfeld would not have to wake up in the morning and see a “pussy” staring back at them in the mirror. Kim du Toit, I suppose, should be so fortunate.

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