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Archive for March 2012

Mar/12

16

Big Government Rick (Again)

Here’s Josh Barro writing for Forbes with details of some Santorum plans for wasteful and intrusive government:

The Daily Caller flags a little-discussed position paper on Rick Santorum’s campaign website—his pledge to aggressively prosecute those who produce and distribute pornography. Santorum avers that “America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography.” He pledges to use the resources of the Department of Justice to fight that “pandemic,” by bringing obscenity prosecutions against pornographers.

I would note that this is very different from what the Bush Administration did. The Bush DOJ did establish an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in 2005, but this body focused on bringing prosecutions against small-time producers who made porn with extreme content. (Even so, it faced significant pushback from U.S. Attorneys, some of whom viewed such prosecutions as a distraction and a misuse of resources.) Many social conservative groups were disappointed with the task force, contending that more mainstream hardcore porn violates obscenity laws, and they urged the Bush Administration to bring obscenity cases against major producers.

Santorum promises that he would do exactly this. His statement references going after pornography that is distributed not just on the Internet, but also “on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV.” Perhaps I am not staying in the most interesting hotels, but my impression is that porn distributed through such channels is almost definitionally not extreme. Santorum’s statement also touts his work on this issue with “groups including Morality in Media, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, American Family Association”—many of which were among the groups calling on the Bush Administration to prosecute mainstream porn producers in 2007. And he says he “proudly support[s] the efforts of the War on Illegal Pornography Coalition,” which advocates the use of obscenity laws against mainstream porn.

Some of Santorum’s defenders have taken the tack of separating his personal views from his policy views. Santorum thinks contraception is “not OK” and he has announced his intention to use the bully pulpit to discuss “the dangers of contraception.” But he doesn’t think contraception should be illegal, and he voted for Title X contraception subsidies (though he said in a recent debate that he opposes Title X, despite voting for it.) On pornography, though, Santorum’s views can’t be written off as purely personal—he has stated a clear intent to use the levers of government to stop adults from making and watching porn.

And, of course to fritter away taxpayer money (and prosecutorial resources) while doing so.

Now that’s obscene.

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Mar/12

14

Best wishes to Bradlaugh

Talking about his recent health issues, and its effect on his life. Obviously I won’t be praying for him, but definitely hoping he’s back to 110% as soon as possible.

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Mar/12

11

On The Economics of the Pill (2)

In an article for Bloomberg News, Virginia Postrel asks why certain types of oral contraceptive require a prescription. Here is an extract:

Requiring a prescription “acts more as a barrier to access rather than providing medically necessary supervision,” argues Daniel Grossman of Ibis Reproductive Health, a research and advocacy group based in Massachusetts, in an article published in September in Expert Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Birth-control pills can have side effects, of course, but so can such over-the-counter drugs as antihistamines, ibuprofen or… Aleve. That’s why even the most common over-the-counter drugs, including aspirin, carry warning labels. Most women aren’t at risk from oral contraceptives, however, just as most patients aren’t at risk from aspirin or Benadryl, and studies suggest that a patient checklist can catch most potential problems.

To further increase safety, over-the-counter sales could start with a progestin-only formulation, sometimes called the “minipill,” rather than the more-common combinations of progestin and estrogen…Progestin-only pills, or POPs, have fewer contraindications. Unlike combination pills, they’re OK for women with hypertension, for instance, or smokers over the age of 35. The main dangers are fairly rare conditions such as breast cancer or current liver disease. “Not only are POP contraindications rare, but women appear to be able to accurately identify them using a simple checklist without the aid of a clinician,” declares an article forthcoming in the journal Contraception.

Aside from safety, the biggest argument for keeping birth- control pills prescription-only is, to put it bluntly, extortion. The current arrangement forces women to go to the doctor at least once a year, usually submitting to a pelvic exam, if they want this extremely reliable form of contraception. That demand may suit doctors’ paternalist instincts and financial interests, but it doesn’t serve patients’ needs. As the 1993 article’s authors noted, the exam requirement “assumes that it would be worse for a woman’s health to miss out on routine care than it would be to miss out on taking oral contraceptives.”

And let’s not forget how these requirements fit in with the even more interfering instincts of the nanny state.

The consequences are predictably malign:

Going to the doctor is costly in time, money and sometimes in dignity. Not surprisingly, the prescription requirement deters use of oral contraceptives. In a 2004 phone survey, 68 percent of American women said they would start the pill or another form of hormonal birth control, such as the patch, if they could buy it in a pharmacy with screening by a pharmacist instead of getting a doctor’s prescription. Two-thirds of blacks and slightly more than half of whites and Latinas surveyed said they chose their current, less-effective method of birth control because it didn’t require a prescription.

If you think that the costs involved in all this are incurred solely by those looking to get obtain oral contraceptives, you are a very trusting soul.

And, as I discuss in a different context over on the Corner (the availability of the emergency anti-allergy EpiPen), unnecessary insistence on prescriptions is not confined to contraceptives.

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Mar/12

10

On the Economics of the Pill

Interesting report here in the New York Times:


The recent controversy over contraception and health insurance has focused on who should pay for the pill. But there is a wealth of economic evidence about the value of the pill – to taxpayers, as my colleague Motoko Rich writes, as well as to women in general.

Indeed, as the economist Betsey Stevenson has noted, a number of studies have shown that by allowing women to delay marriage and childbearing, the pill has also helped them invest in their skills and education, join the work force in greater numbers, move into higher-status and better-paying professions and make more money over all.

One of the most influential and frequently cited studies of the impact the pill has had on women’s lives comes from Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz. The two Harvard economists argue that the pill gave women “far greater certainty regarding the pregnancy consequences of sex.” That “lowered the costs of engaging in long-term career investments,” freeing women to finish high school or go to college, for instance, rather than settling down.

The pill also helped make the marriage market “thicker,” they write. By decoupling sex from marriage, young people were able to put off getting married and spend more time shopping around for a prospective partner.

Those changes have had enormous impacts on the economy, studies show: increasing the number of women in the labor force, raising the number of hours that women work and giving women access to traditionally male and highly lucrative professions in fields like law and medicine.

A study by Martha J. Bailey, Brad Hershbein and Amalia R. Miller helps assign a dollar value to those tectonic shifts. For instance, they show that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50.

Such trends have helped narrow the earnings gap between men and women. Indeed, the paper suggests that the pill accounted for 30 percent – 30 percent! – of the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.

Interestingly, the study also found that the pill had the greatest economic benefits for women with average IQ scores. “Almost all of the wage gains accrued to women in the middle of the IQ distribution,” the paper said. For this group, it said, women with early access to the pill “enjoyed greater hourly wages throughout their twenties and the premium grew to a statistically significant 20 percent at ages 30 to 49.” Why? The pill helped “middle ability” women in “planning for and opting into paid work,” the researchers theorized.

The above article focuses on the economic value of the pill to women generally (and, I suppose, through increased earning power, to the taxpayer), but here’s the specific Brookings Institution paper (“Policy Solutions for Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy” by Adam Thomas, Georgetown University) on the direct value to the taxpayer of certain forms of government-subsidized pregnancy prevention programs.

Here are some extracts:

The research also shows that each dollar spent on these policies would produce taxpayer savings of between two and six dollars…Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and the parents and children involved in these pregnancies tend to be disadvantaged in a number of ways. For example, Figure 1 shows that unintended pregnancies are disproportionately concentrated among women who are unmarried, teenaged, and poor. Some studies have used sophisticated statistical techniques in an attempt to determine the extent to which pregnancy intentions have a causal effect on maternal and child outcomes. These studies generally suggest that unintended pregnancy and childbearing depress levels of educational attainment and labor force participation among mothers and lead to higher crime rates and poorer academic, economic, and health outcomes among children.

In addition, unintended pregnancy has important implications for public sector balance sheets. For instance, Emily Monea and I estimate that taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care related to unintended pregnancy totals more than $12 billion annually. This figure is substantially more than the federal government spends on the Head Start and Early Head Start programs each year. Unintended pregnancies are also much more likely than intended pregnancies to be terminated. Unintended pregnancies account for more than 90 percent of all abortions—and a substantial majority of Americans of all political stripes support the goal of reducing abortions.

Just one paper, of course, and the Brookings Institution comes with its own institutional bias, but intuitively it makes quite a bit of sense, and, as a taxpayer, leaves me less than thrilled by the direction of some of the rhetoric coming from some sections of the GOP. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

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Mar/12

10

Shocking News

Via the Washington Post, but even so this is not, perhaps, the most surprising news:

The fragile gains Republicans had been making among female voters have been erased, a shift that has coincided with what has become a national shouting match over reproductive issues, potentially handing President Obama and the Democrats an enormous advantage this fall.

In the 2010 congressional midterm elections, Republican candidates ran evenly with Democrats among women, a break with long-established trends. That was a major reason the GOP regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now, female voters appear to be swinging back to Democrats.

A number of polls show that Obama’s approval among women has risen significantly since December, even as it has remained flat among men. The same trend, which began before the controversy in recent weeks, is also showing up further down the ballot.

When a Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey asked in the summer which party should control Congress, 46 percent of women favored Democrats and 42 percent preferred Republican control.

But in a survey released Monday, compiling data since the beginning of the year, that figure had widened considerably to a 15-point advantage for the Democrats, according to polling by the team of Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff. Fifty-one percent favored Democratic control; only 36 percent wanted to see the Republicans in charge…

Both sides have tried to shape the narrative in this battle for and about women. But many Republicans are beginning to wish they had never waded into what has become a heated conversation over contraception, who should have it and what it says about people who use it.

GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign, said Republicans need to return to pocketbook and fiscal issues. “We know what works,” she said, “and we need to get back to it.”

Quite.

And even those who saw the “contraception” controversy as being over religious freedom rather than contraception should have realized the political dangers of the territory into which they were sailing, and navigated it with distinctly more skill than they have shown.

Terri Schiavo, part deux? We’ll have to see, but there can be no doubt that, under these circumstances, choosing Santorum, a character with strongly-held views on the , uh, perversity of contraception (“a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”), as the GOP’s nominee would both drown out any argument over religious freedom and be an extraordinary act of electoral self-destruction.

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Tax Cheats Become Italy’s Public Enemy:

In addition to banning cash transactions, the effort has included an ad campaign comparing tax evaders to parasites. There have been headline-grabbing controls focusing on stores, hotels and restaurants in affluent Italian cities. For good measure, tax officials have also been stopping luxury cars and asking drivers to show their licenses, along with their most recent tax returns.

This sort of behavior on the part of public officials is not going to happen in the USA. We have “rights.” But, I think those rights can only exist because the USA has enough social capital that the government receives a sufficient amount of taxes from an honest citizenry. Rights are not abstractions or axioms, but derive from concrete realities.

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Mar/12

6

Olympic Fun

Cross-posted on the Corner.

Well, here’s a shocker, the Saudi theocracy (and like-minded Brunei and Qatar) will not be sending any female athletes to the 2012 Olympics.

As Time’s Nina Burleigh points out:

It’s not because Saudi women athletes don’t exist. They do, but they are few and far between, and face enormous social and legal pressure to sit down and stop moving.

Women in the Kingdom are legally prohibited from breaking a sweat over anything more strenuous than wearing the burka in 120 degree desert heat. To exercise publicly is to risk being smacked with the sticks of the religious police, or worse. Girls don’t expect to learn to swim, ride a bike or, god forbid, do gymnastics.

For a while in the 1990s, Saudi women had gyms where they could exercise, but in 2009 the government decided that Stairmasters and their ilk were gateways to female licentiousness and shuttered 153 women’s gyms…

The ban on gyms came at a time when rates of obesity and diabetes have risen significantly in Saudi Arabia, especially among women and girls, according to HRW. Between two-thirds to three-quarters of adults and 25% to 40% of children and adolescents are estimated to be overweight or obese. A disproportionate number of women also suffer from osteoporosis, also associated with inactivity and lack of Vitamin D (you don’t get much sunlight on your skin under a black blanket or indoors).

As Ms. Burleigh asks:

Imagine, for a moment, a world where your daughter was not just discouraged from playing soccer or swimming or doing gymnastics but prohibited from running in public. Is there a nation in the world that would single out a male minority for similar treatment, and not face diplomatic complaints or sanctions?

But don’t worry, the bureaucrats of the International Olympics Committee are on the case:

“The IOC strives to ensure the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement are universal and non-discriminatory, in line with the Olympic Charter and our values of respect, friendship and excellence. National Olympic committees are encouraged to uphold that spirit in their delegations. The IOC does not give ultimatums or deadlines, but believes a lot can be achieved through dialogue.”

Good luck with that.

In the meantime, this is just another reason to have nothing to do with the grotesque display of extorted-from-the-taxpayer excess that the Olympics represent. Is it really too late for Pyongyang 2012?

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

Update

Many thanks to the commenter who notes that there are gyms for women in Saudia Arabia. In her article, Nina Burleigh appears to suggest that that is not the case, but here’s what Human Rights Watch has to say:

A few women in Saudi Arabia do play sports, but they are limited to exercising at home or in a few expensive gyms, or playing in underground leagues that are segregated by gender. Saudi Arabia may be the only country in the world where girls, unlike boys, do not receive physical education in government schools, and that has no state programs for supporting competitive female athletes. Besides facing discrimination in schools and competitive sports, Saudi women also encounter obstacles when exercising for their health or playing team sports for fun. No women’s sports clubs exist, and even exercise gyms have to masquerade as “health clubs,” usually attached to hospitals, in order to receive a commercial license, which men’s gyms do not have to do.

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In the wake of the conference, where I presented my own vision for conservatism from the perspective of an atheist/secular humanist:

- The audience was overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, Left-liberal

- The age distribution was bimodal. There was a minority of students around the age of ~20, and many older people around the age of ~65.

- The attendees were overwhelmingly white. There were a smattering of African Americans, I was one of two South Asians, and both of us had to represent all of Asia from what I could tell.

- These demographic notes are of interest because secularism increases monotonically down the age distribution. So the bimodality is peculiar, though explainable (e.g., these are the two age groups with the most time to go to conferences).

- Additionally, Asian Americans are more secular than white Americans. In particular East Asian Americans. But none attended the conference.

- After my presentation several people approached me, some of relative prominence within the “secular community,” and admitted that they agreed with the “conservative position on immigration.” Some from a population growth perspective, and some from a law & order perspective.

- The talk was well received, and to my surprise Ron Bailey’s argument for libertarianism drew more audience ire. My surprise was due to the fact that I positioned myself as firmly not a liberal, while Ron implicitly argued that libertarianism is just a variant of liberalism.

- I had great discussions with young progressive/liberal students who were totally amazed to meet someone outlining conservative positions (e.g., the coherency of the nation-state, the value of collective identities, etc.) in a manner comprehensible to them. There are two major things that I think are notable in this:

1) A great deal of elite mainstream political discussion is not Left/Right but insider/outsider. I tend to take an outsider position, and this is appealing to populist progressives. When viewing the “other side” people naturally emphasize the insider aspects of their enemies and the outsider aspects of their own coalition. Both the main street Left and Right therefore have a selective hostility toward elites.

2) But at the level of the masses the discussion tends to be cartoonish. Many of the people I met only knew non-elite conservatives in the context of their family, and political arguments obviously degenerated into insults which are easy to dismiss (many of them were dissenters from the religious and political norms of their extended families).

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Mar/12

5

It’s not easy being a foodie

A California assemblyman wants to ban food trucks from parking close to schools, on the ground that the vast majority of them peddle fattening fast foods to school children.   The foodie community in Los Angeles is up in arms, because the proposed regulation would hinder their access to the cutting-edge food trucks which have exploded in the city over the last decade. 

“It’s a shame the state would … deny people the opportunity to do what they are passionate about,” said . . . an administrator at a local charity. “So many of the food trucks are doing such good things with fresh foods and ingredients.”

I’m just going by the seat of my pants here, but how many of those incensed gourmets are all for environmental or banking regulations to counter corporate greed?

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Mar/12

5

It’s not easy being green

California might have to decide between saving the desert tortoise and promoting its anti-global warming agenda: a major solar power project in the Mojave Desert keeps disturbing the ancient reptiles. 

 

BrightSource has spent $56 million so far to protect and relocate the tortoises, but even at that price, the work has met with unforeseen calamity: Animals crushed under vehicle tires, army ants attacking hatchlings in a makeshift nursery and one small tortoise carried off to an eagle nest, its embedded microchip pinging faintly as it receded.

. . .

The company made its first concession to the tortoise during planning, giving up about 10% of its expected power output in a redesign that reduced the project footprint by 12% and the number of 460-foot-tall “power towers” from seven to three.

BrightSource also agreed to install 50 miles of intricate fencing, at a cost of up to $50,000 per mile, designed to prevent relocated tortoises from climbing or burrowing back into harm’s way.

The first survey of tortoises at the site found just 16. Based on biological calculations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued BrightSource a permit to move a maximum of 38 adults, and allowed a total of three accidental deaths per year during three years of construction. Any more in either category and the entire project would be shut down.

The limit put the company under enormous pressure, as more and more tortoises began cropping up and BrightSource’s project came closer to the federal thresholds.

At least it’s not the Kennedy’s objecting to windmills off their Nantucket compound, but the tortoises may be almost as well-connected.  Nuclear power, anyone?

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