Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 27, 2012

From: The New York Times

Step to the Center


By DAVID BROOKS

On May 23-24, 1865, the victorious Union armies marched through Washington. The columns of troops stretched back 25 miles. They marched as a single mass, clad in blue, their bayonets pointing skyward.

As Wilfred McClay wrote in his book, “The Masterless,” spectators were transfixed and realized that the war had changed them. These troops had gone to war as a coalition of states, with different uniforms in different colors. But they came back as a centralized unit, with a national identity and consciousness.

American history can be seen as a series of centralizing events — the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society.

Many liberals have tended to look at this centralizing process as synonymous with modernization — as inevitable and proper. As problems like inequality get bigger, government has to become more centralized to deal with them. As corporations grow, government has to grow to counterbalance them.

Many conservatives have looked at these inexorable steps toward centralization with growing alarm. Complicated problems, many have argued, are best addressed by local people on the ground. Centralized government inevitably leads to oligarchic government. The virtue of the citizenry depends on local control, personal initiative and intimate connections. These things are being bleached away.

The Obama health care law represents another crucial moment in the move toward centralization. With its state insurance exchanges, Obamacare is not as centralized as a single-payer system. Still, it centralizes authority in at least four ways.

First, while government has always had the power to regulate contracts and business activity, Obamacare compels people to enter into activity so that it can regulate them. This new ability to compel activity opens up vast new powers.

Second, Obamacare centralizes Medicare decisions — and the power of life and death — within an unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board. Fifteen experts are charged with controlling costs from the top down.

Third, Obamacare would continue the centralization of the nation’s resources — absorbing an estimated $1.76 trillion over the next 10 years.

Finally, it would effectively make health care a political responsibility. When you go to a campaign town hall in, say, Britain, you discover that many of the questions are about why somebody’s back or dental surgery didn’t go well and what the candidate can do to fix it. Once voters assume that national politicians are responsible for their health care, national politicians become more active in running the health system.

So this is a big moment. Obamacare forces us again to have an election about how centralized government should be.

Those of us in the Hamiltonian tradition sit crossways in this debate. Alexander Hamilton was not shy about concentrating power in Washington if he thought centralized authority was necessary to achieve national goals. On the other hand, he did not believe central decision-makers had the ability to direct an infinitely complex and changing world. He centralized goal-setting while decentralizing decision-making.

In that tradition, my own view is that the individual mandate is perfectly acceptable policy. We effectively have a national health care system. We all indirectly pay for ill, uninsured people who show up at emergency rooms. If all Americans are in the same interconnected health care system, I think it’s reasonable for government to insist that all Americans participate in the insurance network that is the payment method for that system.

But I think the Obama administration made a disastrous error in centralizing so many of the cost-control elements of the new health care system. I don’t care how many comparative effectiveness research studies are commissioned, there is no way centralized dirigistes can keep up with a complex, innovative system. There is no way government can adapt quickly to failure.

There is no way planners can know how many employers will drop coverage, how many doctors will refuse to see patients in expanded Medicaid, how to write uniform rules governing the state insurance exchanges, how many people will or won’t enter high-risk pools, how Congress will undermine any painful cuts the executive branch does make, how doctors will evade efforts to control their revenue, how doctor shortages will pop up, how spending is best controlled.

From a Hamiltonian perspective, the decentralized premium support model is a better way to control costs: government insists everybody has coverage but then encourages companies, families and Medicare beneficiaries to engage in a regulated process of discovery to find the best care at the lowest cost.

So, yes, let’s have another round in the debate about how centralized American government should be. Let’s watch liberals and conservatives duke it out. But remember there has always been a Hamiltonian alternative: centralize the goals, but decentralize the means people take to get there. Universal coverage is a worthy goal. Decentralized competition is the way to make it affordable.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What I Read Today - Friday March 23, 2012

From: The New York Times

The Relationship School


By DAVID BROOKS

Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.

When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.

The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.

Just another average résumé.

At first, he had trouble getting a principal’s job because people weren’t sure how a guy with a beard, kippa and a black suit would do in overwhelmingly minority schools. But he revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.

He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country. For the grandly titled New American Academy, he didn’t invent new approaches, as much as combine ones from a bunch of other schools.

Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. Like Phillips Exeter Academy, students are less likely to sit at individual desks than around big tables or areas for teacher-led discussions.

The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. The subjects in the early grades (the only ones that exist so far) are interdisciplinary, with a bias toward engineering: how flight, agriculture, transportation and communications systems work. The organizational structure of the school is flattened. Nearly everybody is pushed to the front lines, in the classroom, and salaries are higher (master teachers make $120,000 a year).

The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.

The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student. By insisting on constant informal contact and by preserving that contact year after year, The New American Academy has the potential to create richer, mentorlike or even familylike relationships for students who are not rich in those things.

It’s too soon to say if it will work, especially if it’s tried without Waronker and the crème-de-la-crème teachers he has recruited, but The New American Academy is a great experiment, one of many now bubbling across the world of education.

What I Read Today - Friday March 23, 2012

From: Inc. Magazine

Why Working More Than 40 Hours a Week is Useless


Research shows that consistently working more than 40 hours a week is simply unproductive.

By Jessica Stillman
Mar 22, 2012

For many in the entrepreneurship game, long hours are a badge of honor. Starting a business is tough, so all those late nights show how determined, hard working and serious about making your business work you are, right?

Wrong. According to a handful of studies, consistently clocking over 40 hours a week just makes you unproductive (and very, very tired).

That's bad news for most workers, who typically put in at least 55 hours a week, recently wrote Sara Robinson at Salon. Robinson's lengthy, but fascinating, article traces the origins of the idea of the 40-hour week and it's downfall and is well worth a read in full. But the essential nugget of wisdom from her article is that working long hours for long periods is not only useless – it's actually harmful. She wrote:

The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision….

Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white paper he wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. 'Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,' writes Robinson; 'and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.'

What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day.

Robinson does acknowledge that working overtime isn't always a bad idea. "Research by the Business Roundtable in the 1980s found that you could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline," she wrote. But Robinson stressed that "increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output...In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time."

The clear takeaway here is to stop staying at the office so late, but getting yourself to actually go home on time may be more difficult psychologically than you imagine.

As author Laura Vanderkam has pointed out, for many of us, there's actually a pretty strong correlation between how busy we are and how important we feel. "We live in a competitive society, and so by lamenting our overwork and sleep deprivation — even if that requires workweek inflation and claiming our worst nights are typical — we show that we are dedicated to our jobs and our families," she wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal.

Long hours, in other, words are often more about proving something to ourselves than actually getting stuff done.

Are your 55+ hour weeks really productive and sustainable?

Copyright © 2012 Mansueto Ventures LLC. All rights reserved.

Inc.com, 7 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007-2195.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I Read Today - Thursday March 22, 2012

From: TaxVox - The Tax Policy Center's tax blog

Ryan’s Mystery Meat Budget


Howard Gleckman

Posted on March 20, 2012, 4:25 pm
http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/2012/03/20/ryans-mystery-meat-budget/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+taxpolicycenter%2Fblogfeed+%28TaxVox%3A+the+Tax+Policy+Center+blog%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

I am weary of mystery meat. The latest serving was dished out today by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who released a fiscal plan that airily promises both trillions of dollars in tax cuts and a nearly balanced budget within a decade, but never says how he’d get there.

Ryan isn’t saying that his budget implies cuts of $4.6 trillion in popular tax deductions, credits, and exclusions over 10 years, according to new estimates by the Tax Policy Center. And that ignores the $5.4 trillion in revenue lost from permanently extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts.

Ryan proposes big, specific spending reductions such as cutting Medicaid in half and slashing other federal spending (except for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) by nearly 75 percent from current levels by 2050. But his budget still can’t add up without eliminating or sharply scaling back those popular tax preferences. Which ones, it seems, remain a state secret.

Ryan rolled out a 2013 budget that promises to replace the current individual rate structure with just two rates– 10 percent and 25 percent. He’d repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax and abolish the tax increases included in the 2010 health law. For business, he’d lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and shift to a territorial tax system, where multinationals would owe no U.S. tax on foreign earnings.

All of this would reduce tax revenues by trillions of dollars over 10 years. The Tax Policy Center estimates that a similar corporate rate cut, AMT repeal, and a two-rate individual system would reduce revenues by about $4.5 trillion through 2022, even after accounting for the $5.4 trillion cost of extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts. In 2022 alone, a Ryan-like plan would reduce revenues by about $600 billion.

To put it another way, TPC figures such a tax package would generate revenues of about 15.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2022. His budget aims to collect about 18.7 percent. That means he’d have to find about $700 billion in new revenues by cutting tax preferences.

Keep in mind that TPC did not model the actual Ryan plan, since it is not specific enough to estimate. Instead, we looked at a plan with the elements of his proposal.

But the rough numbers are stark. And Ryan, who knows better, studiously avoids naming names when it comes to eliminating tax preferences. Oh, his budget includes a convincing and articulate explanation about what’s wrong with a tax system with high rates and a narrow base. He just doesn’t say what he’d do about it.

There is a disquieting echo here of President Obama, who so recently did such a great job explaining what’s wrong with our corporate tax system. The president happily proposed a politically popular cut in corporate rates to 28 percent, but identified offsetting tax increases that would cover only a fraction of the cost.

All of the major GOP presidential candidates have played the same black box game—promising huge rate cuts without ever saying how they’d pay for them.

Ryan asserts there is “an emerging bipartisan consensus for tax reform that lowers rates, broadens the tax base, and promotes growth and job creation.” Actually, he’s wrong. There is an emerging bipartisan consensus to embrace lower rates without ever saying how to pay for them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 21, 2012

From:  TaxVox a tax blog from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution

Gas Prices Are Too Low


Howard Gleckman
Posted on March 13, 2012, 3:47 pm

GOP presidential candidates are blasting President Obama for not lowering the price of gasoline. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) doesn’t stop there. He claims Obama is deliberately driving prices to $4 a gallon.

He’s not. But he should.

In an election year, Obama may be the last guy who wants gas prices to rise. However, if we want to reduce our need for foreign oil, slow climate change (yes, Virginia, the planet is warming), and encourage development of new energy technology, we ought to be raising taxes on fossil fuels. A lot.

I know that this sounds like elitist left-wing heresy. But in the dim past (2008), GOP presidential candidate John McCain embraced the system known as cap-and-trade, which was effectively a tax on carbon-based fuels. Greg Mankiw, a former top economic aide to President George W. Bush and now an adviser to Mitt Romney, says its reasonable to boost the 18.4 cent a gallon tax to $2. As Mankiw recently wrote, “by taxing bad things more, we could tax good things less.”

Newt Gingrich used to support cap-and-trade. So did both presidents Bush. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney initially backed the idea though he eventually abandoned it.

Carbon taxes, in any form, have become exceedingly politically incorrect. But they were a good idea when McCain and Gingrich supported them. And they still are.

Sensible energy policy goes beyond just taxing fossil fuels. It also means dumping competing subsidies for oil and gas on one hand and alternative energy on the other. As it is, these tax preferences reflect a policy chasing its own tail: Congress first subsidizes fossil fuels. Then, in an effort to make alternatives cost competitive, it subsidizes windmills, solar panels, and the like. When all is said and done, the relative cost may not change very much but the deficit does. And not in a good way.

Ditching all these tax subsidies would have two other advantages.

It would allow government to eliminate mandates and other regulations that would be unnecessary in a well-functioning energy marketplace. For instance, there would be no need for complex, costly, and easily manipulated fuel economy standards. The high price of gasoline alone would encourage many consumers to buy fuel efficient cars instead of gas-guzzlers.

As Ted Gayer, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s economic studies program, notes, higher prices for fossil fuels also would get government out of the business of providing grants and other direct assistance to favored industries or businesses. The Solyndra mess is strong evidence of what goes wrong when government tries to pick winners and losers.

The left often complains that carbon taxes are regressive. And so they are. But a well-designed tax (or cap and trade program) can generate enough revenue so some could be used to assist low income households.

Interestingly, carbon taxes enjoy the support of nearly all mainstream economists, regardless of ideology. But most Americans, who seemingly love their cars more than their spouses, are unconvinced. For them, fuel, like healthcare, ought to be plentiful and cheap.

As Gayer writes, the next administration will have a chance to consider a carbon tax, perhaps in the context of broad-based tax reform.

He might be right. But, first, politicians of both parties are going to have to stop their pandering.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What I Read Today - Saturday March 10, 2012

From: The New York Times

Hey, Mets! I Just Can’t Quit You.


By DAVID BROOKS

In 2005, I wrote a column saying that maybe it was time to abandon the New York Mets and become a fan of the Washington Nationals. My reasoning was sound. We were raising our kids in Washington. We had Nats season tickets. We were acquiring Nats paraphernalia. It would be so easy to join the fold.

Since then, the reasons to leave the Mets and follow the Nats have become even more compelling. The Mets have suffered a pair of bone-crushing late-season collapses that have changed the personality of the franchise. The team is mired in financial turmoil. It is expected to be mediocre for the next several seasons, at best.

The Nats, meanwhile, have a set of astoundingly talented young players and should be thrilling to watch for the next decade.

Yet the project to switch to the Nats has been a complete failure. Apparently, when writing that column seven years ago, I was suffering from the Rick Blaine Illusion (named for the character in “Casablanca”): the illusion that we are autonomous individuals who have the ability to shed and form our attachments at will.

We don’t. I’ve since come to accept that my connection to the Mets exists in a realm that precedes individual choice. It is largely impervious to calculations about costs and benefit. It is inescapable.

Since I am me, I’ve read a bunch of social science papers on the nature of sports fandom, trying to understand this attachment. They were arid and completely unhelpful. They tried to connect fandom to abstractions about identity formation, self-esteem affiliation and collective classifications.

It’s probably more accurate to say that team loyalty of this sort begins with youthful enchantment. You got thrown together by circumstance with a magical team — maybe one that happened to be doing well when you were a kid or one that featured the sort of heroes children are wise to revere. You lunged upon the team with the unreserved love that children are capable of.

The team became crystallized in your mind, coated with shimmering emotional crystals that give it a sparkling beauty and vividness. And forever after you feel its attraction. Whether it’s off the menu or in the sports world, you can choose what you’ll purchase but you don’t get to choose what you like.

The neuroscientists might say that, in 1969, I formed certain internal neural structures associated with the Mets, which are forever after pleasant to reactivate. We have a bias toward things that are familiar and especially to those things that were familiar when life was new: the old house, the old hometown, the people, smells and sounds we knew when we were young.

I’d say my attachment to the Mets is more like an old friendship. It’s not as intense as it used to be. I watch about 40 games a year, mostly on TV, and read blogs like Amazin’ Avenue and Metsblog.com. I’d like the team to thrive and win championships. But I really just want them to continue to be one of the allegiances that enrich life. I want them to continue to provide vivid moments.

A Mets at bat is more vivid to me than an at bat not involving the Mets. A Mets prospect is more consequential than any other prospect. Hustling players like Daniel Murphy, charming players like Ike Davis, and funny players like R.A. Dickey are more endearing because they happen to be Mets. I was in the media center of the Mets spring training facility in Florida this week when Ron Darling, the excellent pitcher from the great teams of the 1980s, sat down at the table next to me and started reading The Times. That was a vivid moment, evoking all sorts of memories, though I didn’t try to talk with him.

There’s a core American debate between “On the Road” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “On the Road” suggests that happiness is to be found through freedom, wandering and autonomy. “It’s a Wonderful Life” suggests that happiness is found in the lifelong attachments that precede choice. It suggests that restraints can actually be blessings because they lead to connections that are deeper than temporary self-interest.

The happiness research suggests that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is correct and “On the Road” is an illusion. So I’ll die a Mets fan, exaggerating their potential, excusing their deficiencies. This week, in Florida, I even detected new virtues in the team. In the early days, the Mets were lovable losers, then miraculous winners, then, in the 2000s, big-spending disappointments. Now they are young and frisky, enthusiastic and charming. I’ll enjoy following this team and exaggerating its promise. I have no choice but to love the Mets. Just as I have no choice but to hate the Phillies.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 7, 2012

From:  The New York Times -March 6, 2012

Israel’s Best Friend


By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

The only question I have when it comes to President Obama and Israel is whether he is the most pro-Israel president in history or just one of the most.

Why? Because the question of whether Israel has the need and the right to pre-emptively attack Iran as it develops a nuclear potential is one of the most hotly contested issues on the world stage today. It is also an issue fraught with danger for Israel and American Jews, neither of whom want to be accused of dragging America into a war, especially one that could weaken an already frail world economy.

In that context, President Obama, in his interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and in his address to Aipac, the pro-Israel lobby, offered the greatest support for Israel that any president could at this time: He redefined the Iran issue. He said — rightly — that it was not simply about Israel’s security, but about U.S. national security and global security.

Obama did this by making clear that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons and then “containing” it — the way the U.S. contained the Soviet Union — was not a viable option, because if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb, all the states around it would seek to acquire one as well. This would not only lead to a nuclear Middle East, but it would likely prompt other countries to hedge their commitments to the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The global nuclear black market would then come alive and we would see the dawning of a more dangerous world.

“Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States,” the president told The Atlantic. “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. ... It would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation. ... If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, ‘We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.’ And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.” In sum, the president added, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”

Every Israeli and friend of Israel should be thankful to the president for framing the Iran issue this way. It is important strategically for Israel, because it makes clear that dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat was not Israel’s problem alone. And it is important politically, because this decision about whether to attack Iran is coinciding with the U.S. election. The last thing Israel or American friends of Israel — Jewish and Christian — want is to give their enemies a chance to claim that Israel is using its political clout to embroil America in a war that is not in its interest.

That could easily happen because backing for Israel today has never been more politicized. In recent years, Republicans have tried to make support for Israel a wedge issue that would enable them to garner a higher percentage of Jewish votes and campaign contributions, which traditionally have swung overwhelmingly Democratic. This has led to an arms race with the Democrats over who is more pro-Israel — and over-the-top declarations, like Newt Gingrich’s that the Palestinians “are an invented people.”

And it could easily happen because money in politics has never been more important for running campaigns, and the Israel lobby — both its Jewish and evangelical Christian wings — has never been more influential, because of its ability to direct campaign contributions to supportive candidates.

As such, no one should want domestic electoral politics mixed up with the Iran decision, which is why it was so important that the president redefined the Iran problem as a global proliferation threat and grounded his decision-making in American realism, not politics.

Reports from the Aipac convention this week indicated that those advocating military action were getting the loudest cheers. I’d invite all those cheering to think about all the unintended and unanticipated consequences of the Iraq war or Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. That’s not a reason for paralysis. It’s a reason to heed Obama’s call to give diplomacy and biting sanctions a chance to work, while keeping the threat of force on the table.

If it comes to war, let it be because the ayatollahs were ready to sacrifice their whole economy to get a nuke and, therefore, America — the only country that can truly take down Iran’s nuclear program — had to act to protect the global system, not just Israel. I respect that this is a deadly serious issue for Israel — which has the right to act on its own — but President Obama has built a solid strategic and political case for letting America take the lead.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 6, 2012

From:  The Wall Street Journal -Opinion Page March 6, 2012

Limbaugh and Our Phony Contraception Debate


A student demands that a Catholic school give up its religion to pay for her birth-control pills
By CATHY CLEAVER RUSE

Last week Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown University Law Center, went to Congress looking for a handout. She wants free birth-control pills, and she wants the federal government to make her Catholic school give them to her.

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law and former chief counsel of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution. Based on her testimony, I wonder how much Ms. Fluke really knows about the university or the Constitution.

As a law student 20 years ago, I wasn't confronted by crucifixes in the classroom or, in truth, by any religious imagery anywhere. In that respect the law school has a different "feel" than the university. The law school chapel was an unadorned, multipurpose room in the basement used for Mass when it wasn't used for Gilbert and Sullivan Society rehearsals and club meetings. Among the clubs while I was there, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance was particularly vigorous.

I was not Catholic when I attended Georgetown Law, but I certainly knew the university was. So did Ms. Fluke. She told the Washington Post that she chose Georgetown knowing specifically that the school did not cover drugs that run contrary to Catholic teaching in its student health plans. During her law school years she was a president of "Students for Reproductive Justice" and made it her mission to get the school to give up one of the last remnants of its Catholicism. Ms. Fluke is not the "everywoman" portrayed in the media.

Georgetown Law School has flung wide its doors to the secular world. It will tolerate and accommodate all manner of clubs and activities that run contrary to fundamental Catholic beliefs. But it is not inclined to pay for or provide them. And it has the right to do so—to say "this far and no further."

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, testifies during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on February 23.

When congressional committee counsels plan hearings, they look for two kinds of witnesses: "experts" and "victims." The experts are typically lawyers or law professors who can explain the constitutional authority for the new law and its legal impact, and the victims illustrate why the law is needed.

At the hearing of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee chaired by Nancy Pelosi, Sandra Fluke testified as a victim. Having to buy your own contraception is a burden, she said. She testified that all around her at Georgetown she could see the faces of students who were suffering because of Georgetown's refusal to abandon its Catholic principles.

Exactly what does the face of a law student who must buy her own birth-control pills look like? Did I see them all around me and just not know it? Do male law students who must buy their own condoms have the same look? Perhaps Ms. Fluke should have brought photos to Congress to illustrate her point.

In her testimony, Ms. Fluke claimed that, "Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school." That's $1,000 per year. But an employee at a Target pharmacy near the university told the Weekly Standard last week that one month's worth of generic oral contraceptives is $9 per month. "That's the price without insurance," the employee said. (It's also $9 per month at Wal-Mart.)

What about Rush Limbaugh? I won't defend his use of epithets (for which he's apologized), but I understand his larger point. At issue isn't inhalers for asthmatics or insulin for diabetics. Contraception isn't like other kinds of "health care." Yes, birth-control pills can be prescribed to address medical problems, though that's relatively rare and the Catholic Church has no quarrel with their use in this circumstance. And the university's insurance covers prescriptions in these cases.

Still, Ms. Fluke is not mollified. Why? Because at the end of the day this is not about coverage of a medical condition.

Ms. Fluke's crusade for reproductive justice is simply a demand that a Catholic institution pay for drugs that make it possible for her to have sex without getting pregnant. It's nothing grander or nobler than that. Georgetown's refusal to do so does not mean she has to have less sex, only that she has to take financial responsibility for it herself.

Should Ms. Fluke give up a cup or two of coffee at Starbucks each month to pay for her birth control, or should Georgetown give up its religion? Even a first-year law student should know where the Constitution comes down on that.

Ms. Ruse, senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council, received her J.D. from Georgetown Law in 1989.

A version of this article appeared Mar. 6, 2012, on page A19 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Limbaugh and Our Phony Contraception Debate.



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Sunday, March 4, 2012

What I Read Today - Sunday March 4, 2012

From: The New York Times

Have You No Shame, Rush?


By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

AS a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun.

At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way?

Then, once you accept the fact that he has become the puppet master of the Republican Party by stirring bloodlust (earning enough to bribe Elton John to play at his fourth wedding), you still cringe at the thought that your mom might hear the ugly things he said.

Now he’s brutalizing a poised, wholesome-looking 30-year-old Georgetown law student as a “slut,” “a prostitute” and “round-heeled” simply for testifying to lawmakers about wanting the school to amend its health insurance to cover contraception.

Sandra Fluke “goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her?” Limbaugh coarsely ranted. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.”

Isn’t this the last guy who should be pointing fingers and accusing others of taking pills for recreational purposes?

He said insuring contraception would represent another “welfare entitlement,” which is wrong — tax dollars would not provide the benefit, employers and insurance companies would. And women would not be getting paid just “to have sex.” They’d be getting insurance coverage toward the roughly $1,000 annual expense of trying to avoid unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and to control other health conditions. This is something men and conservatives should want too, and not just because those outcomes actually do cost taxpayers money.

Limbaugh leeringly suggested that were taxpayers to be stuck with the bill, Fluke and other “feminazis” should give them something back: sex videos. “We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” he said.

Fluke was lobbying Georgetown University to change its policy for three years before she became a cause célèbre outcast when the Republican congressman Darrell Issa barred her from an all-male panel on contraception. But her conflict with her Jesuit school did not stop its president, John DeGioia, from eloquently defending his student (who ended up testifying for Nancy Pelosi’s all-Democratic panel).

“She provided a model of civil discourse,” he said in a letter to the school. “This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression.”

He branded the reaction of Limbaugh and some other commentators as “misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”

Given this season’s lava spill of hate, it was fitting that DeGioia evoked St. Augustine: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth.”

It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, Bob Dole, the former G.O.P. leader and presidential nominee, was a spokesman for Viagra. (Mother Jones pointed out that Rush, a Viagra fan, might be confusing the little blue pill and birth control, since “when and how much sex you have is unrelated to the amount of birth control you need.”)

Rush and Newt Gingrich can play the studs, marrying again and again until they find the perfect adoring young wife. But women pressing for health care rights are denigrated as sluts.

On Thursday, the Senate narrowly voted down a puritanical Republican attempt to let employers and insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives on any religious or moral grounds they could dream up.

Only a last-minute media glare caused Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, and its Republican-led Legislature to modify a shockingly punitive law aiming to shame and in many cases penetrate women seeking abortions. The version that passed on Thursday is still harsh enough to damage McDonnell’s vice presidential prospects.

By Friday, President Obama, who had started out fumbling the contraception issue, and the Democrats were taking gleeful advantage, raising $1.6 million to combat the G.O.P.’s “war on women.”

Mitt Romney reacted to Limbaugh for days with craven silence before finally allowing on a rope line on Friday night that “it’s not the language I would have used.” Is there a right way to call a woman a slut?

Rick Santorum, whose views on women are medieval, said “an entertainer can be absurd.” Speaker John Boehner offered a tepid comment through a spokesman that Limbaugh’s words were “inappropriate.”

President Obama called Fluke and bucked her up, probably hoping to get Limbaugh to double down. El Rushbo, as he calls himself, obliged. “Did you ever think of backing off the amount of sex you’re having?” he demanded of Fluke on Friday’s broadcast as some advertisers were fleeing: Sleep Train Mattress Centers, Quicken Loans, Select Comfort and AutoZone.

The law student got the call from the president as she was about to go on Andrea Mitchell’s show on MSNBC. She darted into an empty office to talk to Obama and closed the door; soon Chris Matthews was wondering who was inside and sending a staffer to check it out.

“The president just wanted to make sure I was O.K.,” she said. “And I am O.K. I’m pretty level-headed.”

The childless radio yakker wondered snidely how Fluke’s parents, who live in rural Pennsylvania, would feel about her crusade. Fluke, a Methodist Democrat, said she was particularly touched that the president told her, speaking as the father of two daughters, that her parents should be proud.

“My parents and I don’t always agree politically,” she said, but about the issue of insuring contraception, “we see eye to eye.”

Update: On Saturday evening, Rush Limbaugh posted a statement on his Web site, which can be read here.