SEMI-PARTISAN SUMMARY

CULTURE

Amanda Marcotte, writing at Slate magazine, makes a compelling case for movie scriptwriters and directors to show more condom use in their movies. She makes a fair point: “In the world of movies and TV, people seem to be having sex all the time, but they almost never talk about or are shown using contraception. Since so much of movie sex serves the plot, you get encounters that are much more spontaneous than they would be in real life, without any pause in the action to wrap it up. Young viewers could easily get the sense that the norm is to hop right in bed with someone without ever worrying about unintended pregnancy.” And it’s true – if realism is your aim (and admittedly this is not always the case), pretending that people hop into bed with each other without going through that awkward “fumbling in the bedside cabinet drawer” moment is a misrepresentation, and one that can be easily (and, if done well, humorously) corrected.

Jim Henson Studios, creator of The Muppets, is boycotting Chick-fil-A over that company’s president’s condemnation of gay marriage. In a stern rebuke, their statement reads: “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors”.

Proco Moreno, Alderman of Chicago’s 1st Ward, joined in the anti Chick-fil-A backlash, stating that he would block the restaurant chain’s attempts to open their second Chicago outlet in his district because of the aforementioned statement issued by their CEO. His statement is somewhat over-the top – “If you are discriminating against a segment of the community, I don’t want you in the 1st Ward” – it is hard to see how any discrimination is taking place, as the restaurant does not check the sexual orientation of its customers upon entry, or have any policies in place that discriminate against one or another. But the fact remains that needlessly coming out in favour of a regressive social policy position that has no direct impact on your business or bottom line, can cost you money.

Getting in on the act, The Onion reports on Chick-fil-A’s new homophobic sandwich. Reports The Onion: “In a press conference to reporters, company representatives said the homophobic new sandwich will include the national fast food chain’s trademark fried chicken filet wrapped in a piece of specially-smoked No Homo ham that would be topped with a slice of Swiss cheese and lathered in a creamy new Thousand Island-based Fag Punching sauce”.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The UK economy shrank by another 0.7% according to the latest figures released today. Iain Martin, writing in The Telegraph, thinks that George Osborne has six months to turn things around. I would guess that this estimate sounds about right, but I am not optimistic that Osborne will do anything differently, given his obstinate refusal to implement the needed supply-side reforms, and his obsession with trying to score cheap political points from Ed Balls, a diversion which should be beneath him.

The Guardian’s foremost education journalist twists herself in knots trying to explain why she is against private schools, and yet is sending her daughter to a private school. She takes a whole article, and many unnecessary words to explain what I can say in just three – she’s a hypocrite. She says: “I remember reading about Diane Abbott’s decision to send her son to the £10,000-a-year City of London school. She said she was a mother first and a politician second, a point that resonated strongly with me.” Precisely. She’s happy to inflict her left-wing social engineering on other people to make them conform to her ideal worldview (uniform standards, uniform people, uniform outcomes), but as soon as her own interests come in to play, she takes the conservative position.

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

Oh noes. The house of cards built by Grover Norquist has started to come crashing down as more and more elected officials repudiate his “tax pledge”. Whether you think the current tax burden in America is sustainable or not, I think most reasonable people can agree that Norquist’s pledge is overly restrictive on lawmakers, preventing them from closing unwarranted and discriminatory tax loopholes on the grounds that doing so would constitute a “tax increase”. Norquist, and his advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, are one of several significant hurdles standing in the way of a fundamental simplification of the existing byzantine tax code. We should all cheer its demise, and hope that similar obstacles from the American left fall by the wayside too, in the name of meaningful, lasting reform.

It is hard to disagree with this piece from Marbury, discussing the old-fashioned political art of persuasion, and the relative aptitudes of Obama and Clinton at using it. Through the lense of the Northern Irish “Good Friday” peace accord, Marbury looks at the way that President Clinton was able to flatter, cajole and reassure the key parties so that they reached a point where a deal could be signed, and how this skill is currently lacking in the Obama administration. Money quote: “Obama likes the big set-piece speech. But every policy he has backed, from the stimulus to healthcare, has declined in popularity the more speeches he made about it. His speeches explain things very well, very precisely. But they don’t change minds. This, it turns out, was the big hole in Obama’s campaign rhetoric of unification, of bringing red and blue together. He spoke about it eloquently, but he was never going to be the president who put it into action. Obama is a preacher, not a persuader. He’s terrific if you already agree with him, but doesn’t have much impact on those who don’t.”

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate magazine, effectively deconstructs the Romney campaign’s attempts to smear President Obama with the “Chicago machine politician” label. Says Weisberg: “Of course, Romney isn’t interested in this kind of nuance. ‘Chicago-style politics’ is mainly just a way for him to call Obama corrupt without coming out and saying so”.

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Arizona Joins ‘The List’

I have a partly tongue-in-cheek list of US states that I am currently ‘boycotting’, or have no intention of visiting in the immediate future, either because of unfortunate things that have happened to me there, or most usually because of particularly stupid and offensive laws that have been either proposed or actually voted on and passed in their legislatures.

Arizona was already strongly competing to join this exclusive list (it is difficult to join and even harder to be removed from the list) with the signing by Gov. Jan Brewer of their famous anti-illegal-immigration law, allowing state police to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (quite how you tell such a person from a natural US citizen by their appearance or behaviour is anyone’s guess, but I think we all know the criteria they have in mind):

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html?_r=1

But then came this gem that I was alerted to by a friend on Facebook – now, the Arizona State Senate Judiciary Committee (a pompous title for a pompous group of individuals) has endorsed a controversial bill that will, if passed, allow Arizona employees to exclude contraception coverage from the healthcare plans that they offer to their employees, if their religious beliefs or moral convictions encourage them to do so. Furthermore, the bill would also allow employers to demand proof of a medical prescription (for non birth-control related reasons) if an employee wishes to claim for contraceptive pills on their health insurance policy.

http://www.statepress.com/2012/03/12/senate-judiciary-committee-endorses-controversial-contraceptive-bill/

Let me count the ways that this is an offensive and idiotic proposal.

The author of the bill – one Debbie Lesko, Republican of course – says that:

“So, government should not be telling the organizations or mom and pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs.”

Okay, well guess what. Maybe I’ll set up shop in Arizona and start a small business. But I am from a small and little-known religion that doesn’t believe in mammograms or cervical cancer screening. I don’t know why, my particular interpretation of my hypothetical holy book just tells me that to test for these diseases to allow early intervention would be an affront to God. So none of my female employees will get to benefit from these forms of healthcare as part of the insurance plan that I provide them. Oh, and my new religion also thinks that heart disease and erectile dysfunction are punishments from God that should be meekly accepted rather than treated, so no Viagra or anti-cholesterol medication for the gents. If you need Viagra to treat some other ailment not connected with erectile dysfunction we can maybe talk about coming to an agreement, but I’ll need a signed letter from your doctor explaining your precise medical history and needs.

Can you imagine the uproar?

Let us be quite clear. This is not about freedom of religion. Many states have been living under an expressed requirement that employers include birth control coverage in their healthcare plans for many years with nary a whisper of complaint until a Democrat named Barack Obama occupied the oval office. This is about slowly trying to establish a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in America, one in which even the overwhelming majority of Christians, myself included, would not wish to live in were it fully implemented. Republicans – who once criticised Obama because of the type of Christian church that he attended and the pastor who preached there – have decided that it would now be more politically fruitful to fan the embers of suspicion that he is in fact a muslim, and that he is launching an all-out assault on “Judeo-Christian” principles.

And while we’re on the topic, can someone please initiate a sensible conversation about moving away from the current employer-based health insurance system in America? Aside from the damage it does to the economy in terms of issues such as impeding mobility of labour (especially important during the current fragile recovery with unemployment so high), if individuals purchased their own health insurance rather than relying on the employer to do it for them, we could sidestep this whole argument about coercing employers to act against their moral beliefs. If Debbie Lesko ever chose to leave her political career and return to the private sector, she wouldn’t have to stay up all night worrying about what naughty things her employees might be doing with the healthcare coverage that she paid for, because the employees would be paying the premiums and taking their chances that they won’t be struck down by lightning for daring to use a condom, or the pill. And I think everyone would sleep better at night as a result.

Arizona, you have been teetering on the brink for a long time now. But congratulations,  you have officially made the list.