Tag: Social Issues

To Quarantine Or Not to Quarantine

As you may know, there is a brewing controversy over what to do with healthcare workers returning from the Ebola hot zone in West Africa. After Craig Spencer came down with Ebola, several governors imposed quarantines on returning healthcare workers. Controversy erupted and, I believe, we are down to home quarantine for 21 days.

A few thoughts:

First, it’s true that there has been a bit of an over-reaction. So far, we have only had two people infected while in this country and both of them were healthcare workers taking care of a dying man without adequate protection. Naturally, we need to be vigilant. The virus is unlikely to mutate to become airborne but it may mutate to become far more infectious. As Nobel Prize winner Bruce Beutler has noted, we don’t have as much information as we’d like about how infectious this strain is. But, even with those caveats, the policies being advocated in some quarters are unwarranted at this stage.1

Second, the most important thing about fighting Ebola is stomping it out in Africa. If we do not stop Ebola in Africa, it will spread. It will spread to bigger cities. It will spread to other countries. Right now, we only have to worry about people who have actually been in West Africa. If this goes on and blows up to hundreds of thousands of cases or millions, we will have to worry about everyone. A house in our neighborhood is on fire. We’ve had a few cinders land on our roof. But the most important thing is not that we spray water on our roof; it’s that we put out the fire before the whole neighborhood is ablaze.

Anything that discourages healthcare workers from going to West Africa to fight this thing is likely to make things worse. Quarantine sounds like an easy burden to impose. But, in The Hot Zone, Richard Preston describes the psychological trauma that quarantine imposes on workers at USAMRIID. This is not a light burden. And isolating them in hospitals is a good recipe for getting them sick with the opportunistic diseases that infest every hospital in the world.

That having been said, it’s not irrational to be afraid of this disease. It’s not irrational to think that healthcare workers — who are the most at risk and who have close contact with dozens of people very day — should back off until they are clear. We have been very lucky so far that this hasn’t erupted in a school or something. We’ve been very lucky that infected people have sought help immediately. We have been very lucky that this hasn’t mutated to be much more infectious. All it takes is one idiot to wait until he literally drops dead in the street for this to become a serious serious problem. All the reassurances about how we can contain this are going to be cold comfort to someone who gets infected by a returning healthcare worker.

The dilemma is that treating potential victims like pariahs increases the odds of that nightmare scenario. It encourages them to hide their symptoms and to lie. So what do we do?

To me, these problems are interlocked: getting more healthcare workers to West Africa and keeping them from spreading the disease when they return are the same problem. So here is what I would propose:

  • Healthcare workers who go to West Africa should be guaranteed early spots in the line for experimental drugs like ZMAPP. These drugs are difficult to produce and will come online in small quantities (you can read a great summary of this from the aforementioned Preston). The biggest worry healthcare workers have about Ebola is not that they will lose their jobs; it’s that they will die. Promise them that they will get the best possible care. They deserve it.
  • Congress should authorize a fund to give hazard pay to healthcare workers who volunteer to fight Ebola in West Africa. We have to be careful here to not undermine the volunteer organizations that are the frontline for these epidemics. But they are being overwhelmed. They desperately need reinforcements. This fund would also pay for healthcare, life insurance and maintaining their existing jobs. This in addition to the funds needed to provide medical equipment for them to work with.
  • This fund would will also pay volunteers to undergo a three-week home quarantine on their return, during which they will be monitored for symptoms and maintain a log of any contacts.
  • We have laws that protect military reservists from being financially or legally ruined when they are called up to active duty during a war. Extend those laws to healthcare workers who volunteer to fight Ebola or are in quarantine after their return.
  • If we are going to go to war with Ebola, we have to treat it like a war. Doctors and nurses are our soldiers in this war. Pay them, reward them, protect them. Treat them in a manner that is good for public safety but also recognizes the tremendous risks they are taking and the tremendous good they are doing. Whatever else one may think of Craig Spencer or Kaci Hickox, they have risked their lives to try to save people, most of whom are a different nationality and race from them. Let’s recognize that even as we move to secure our public health.

    1. Of course, the same media telling us we are over-reacting were also saying Ebola would never come here in the first place.

    Blaming Republicans Again

    I know you thought that the current Ebola outbreak was the result of dysfunctional countries with horrendous health care systems. Or maybe you thought it was the fault of organizations like the WHO to respond quickly enough. Or maybe you think it’s no one’s fault and that disease outbreaks are going to happen.

    But you’re wrong. The current Ebola outbreak is the fault of …. Republicans:

    “Republican Cuts Kill” is the message coming from The Agenda Project, a 501(c)4 organization that is placing ads in various battleground states. According to an email signed by the group’s founder Erica Payne and titled “If you die, blame them,” the group is starting a

    a multi-pronged blitzkrieg attack that lays blame for the Ebola crisis exactly where it belongs– at the feet of the Republican lawmakers. Like rabid dogs in a butcher shop, Republicans have indiscriminately shredded everything in their path, including critical programs that could have dealt with the Ebola crisis before it reached our country.

    The supposed proximate cause is “deep draconian cuts” in the budgets of the NIH and the CDC which hindered their disease response. Never mind that the US still spends a total of $8 billion on global health. Never mind that the CDC and NIH have nearly $40 billion in funding between them. Never mind that cuts to CDC/NIH and specifically cuts for disease control were included in the budget proposal of Barack Obama who, last time I checked, was not a Republican. Never mind that according to Daily Kos’s own graph, the steep budget cuts in PHEP started in 2006, when the Democrats controlled Congress. Never mind that the Republican increased CDC funding over the President’s budget.

    Conservatives, dammit!

    This was partially stimulated by the head of the NIH saying that we would have an Ebola vaccine if not for budget cuts. Numerous people have responded by finding silliness in the NIH budget — such as $666,000 grant to find out why people like watching Seinfeld reruns — that they did have money for. I’m a bit loathe to play that game because often projects that sound stupid aren’t or are, at least, massively misrepresented.

    But I will take issue with the NIH’s claim that we’d have an Ebola vaccine if it weren’t for budget cuts (a claim they are slowly backing away from). Vaccine research is hard. We’ve been spoiled because most of the vaccines we’re used to — like measles — are cheap, effective and have minimal side effects. Such vaccines have wiped out smallpox and brought polio to the brink of extinction. But not all vaccines are that easy. We’ve been working on an AIDS vaccine for thirty years. Enormous effort has gone into finding a vaccine for malaria — which kills hundreds of thousands of people a year — with no success. Even some of the vaccines we do have are hideously expensive, come with significant side effects or have limited effectiveness. NIH might have an Ebola vaccine if they had more money. They might also have nothing.

    I’m a big fan of science funding, obviously. I like NIH to be well-funded. Public health is one of the few things we can all agree government should invest in. And I think basic science funding falls under Adam Smith’s description of something “which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain” but that benefits the public generally. But Ebola is not the reason to fund the NIH. They should be funded because of the outstanding research they do on everything else, especially the chronic common diseases that affect all of us. I especially want them to be working on antibiotic-resistant diseases, which, to my mind, pose the greatest healthcare menace for the 21st century. They should research Ebola as well. With a $30 billion budget, there’s plenty to go around. But Ebola research is only a tiny fraction of what they do. And I’d prefer they not try to pretend otherwise.

    As for the CDC, a bit less money on public health issues and a bit more money on infectious disease would be a good idea. And that, my friends, is squarely on the President and the man he appointed to head that agency.

    As a general rule, however, I would prefer that we keep Ebola and politics apart. This isn’t an excuse to grind your favorite political axe, be it immigration, budget cuts or single-payer healthcare. This is a time to calmly but decisively react to a potential health crisis. The main effort should be stomp this out in West Africa before it really does rage out of control. Because if this blows up to hundreds of thousands of people, if this spreads to South Africa or India or China, we will have a global epidemic on our hands.

    Planned Parenthood’s War on Women

    Over the last few weeks, a number of prominent Republicans have come out in favor of making the birth control pill available over the counter. This action has the support of the American Society of Obstetric and Gynecology. It would almost certainly bring prices down and obviate the need for women to make an expensive visit to the OB/Gyn to get birth control. It wouldn’t end the Culture War, but it would turn down the heat a bit.

    There are reasons to be concerned: the “standard” pill isn’t appropriate for everyone and the wrong prescription can create serious health problems (a friend of mine developed a pulmonary embolism because of a bad scrip). But opposition is also coming from an unexpected source: Planned Parenthood.

    Planned Parenthood opposes over-the-counter contraception, pushing back against a popular Republican argument being used in many Senate races this year.

    The nonprofit’s lobbying arm, which advocates for women’s reproductive health issues, argued that calls for allowing birth control pills to be sold without a prescription are “empty gestures.”

    The policy change would “force women to go back to the days when they paid out of pocket for birth control — which can cost upwards of $600 a year,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund wrote on its website.

    As has been pointed out, there are stores that sell birth control bills for as little as $10-20 a month. Furthermore, there is no power on Earth that can stop an insurer from covering birth control even if it is over-the-counter. In fact, there’s no reason the birth control mandate can not include reimbursement for OTC birth control (said mandate having been upheld for all but religious organizations and closely-held corporations). Going even further, the contraception mandate was justified by its supporters because some women need very specialized birth control or IUD devices. These would not be available over-the-counter as Planned Parenthood notes in their own statement. Nothing in this would destroy the Obamacare mandate. Nothing in this would stop women from getting birth control. All it would do is change how they get it.

    Then there’s this gem:

    The statement also noted that no prescription drug manufacturer has applied for their pills to be made available over the counter.

    As one of my Twitter followers noted, spot the paradox! We can’t make it available over the counter because no one is asking for permission to sell over the counter this thing they legally can’t sell over the counter.

    Of course, I’m sure this has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood themselves being a vendor of reproductive services and prescription birth control. Nothing whatsoever. And I’m sure it has nothing to do with the money they get from the federal government and state governments to provide birth control to poor women. And I’m sure it has nothing to do with their political arm wanting to maintain a “war on women” to raise money and campaign against Republicans. God forbid we should defuse that particular line of crap.

    It’s funny. Planned Parenthood is an organization I agree with on a number of issues. But the way they approach the issues fills me with revulsion. They are stewed in Culture War rhetoric and a deep hatred of everything Republican. In this case, it has massively warped their vision. Making birth control available over the counter would do a lot to increase women’s access (especially for those who are uninsured). Planned Parenthood’s position is that they oppose it because REPUBLICANS.

    If there’s a War on Women, Planned Parenthood is shooting at their own side.

    Going Dark For A Week

    So I’m off to the Land of the Big Sky tomorrow, heading out to Montana to visit some relatives. I will also be spending some time seeing Yellowstone and other national treasures before Obama leaves us all completely skint. That means I’ll go mostly dark for the next ten days: few if any posts or tweets. What little time I have for computers is going to be spent writing.

    The one topic I did not get into but wanted to was the growing crisis at our border. I can only say that I agree with a of what Doug Mataconis says here. This is not a club for the parties to beat each other with over the issue of illegal immigration. This is a refugee crisis: parents sending their children to America in the desperate hope of avoiding a growing horror of drug violence in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Most of these people are showing at border checkpoints and asking for asylum, not trying to sneak in. These are minors faced with the choice of joining in the violence or being a victim of it. There are no easy solutions to this. We simply can’t open our borders to hundreds of thousands of minors.

    The situation has has been exacerbated, as bad situations usually are, by idiotic laws. In this case a Bush-era law that, in an effort to combat human trafficking, decreed that unaccompanied minors could not just simply be sent back; and an Obama-era law that was targeted at Mexican children but has given Central Americans the impression that children can easily get asylum here. Those laws needs to be changed and more resources need to devoted to the problem. Our border patrol are simply overwhelmed. But I expect nothing to be done because Congress and the President would rather argue about unrelated issues.

    While I’m away, I expect the usual week from our political system: Obama will screw up again or some scandal news will emerge so that the MSM can ignore it; any good economic news will be attributed to Obama while bad news will be blamed on “austerity”; any setback in the Culture Wars — no matter what — will be attributed to the Hobby Lobby decision. Paul Krugman will say something smug and dumb. And Vox will there to Voxsplain how we really don’t understand the issues anyway.

    Such is life in the political blogosphere. It will be good to have a week to clean out my mental spark plugs.

    Day After Thoughts on Hobby Lobby

    So I’ve had a few days to digest the Hobby Lobby decision and wanted to put up some further thoughts.

    First, a lot of Leftists are claiming that this decision “proves” that we need single payer to make all these issues go away. Of course, the Left saw yesterday’s World Cup game as proof we need single payer. But the argument from the Hobby Lobby case is so poor that even Ezra Klein sees right through it:

    At the core of the case is the fact that Obamacare had to decide which health-care services absolutely needed to be covered and which services didn’t. One of the services Obamacare deemed essential was contraception. That’s what led to the Hobby Lobby case: prior to Obamacare, there was no federal law forcing employers who offered insurance to cover contraceptive care, and so no need for employers to seek exemptions to that law.

    A single-payer system heightens the stakes on this kind of decision. The assumption behind some of the Hobby Lobby-based arguments for single payer is that a single-payer system would cover contraception and that would mean everyone’s insurance covers contraception. But a Republican-led government could decide that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be going to cover contraception at all, and then a single-payer system means no one’s insurance covers contraception.

    An example comes from one America’s current single-payer systems: Medicaid. While Medicaid does cover contraception, Congress decreed years ago that it can’t, under any circumstances, pay for abortions. So while people buying private insurance can choose a plan that covers abortion if they want (and, in fact, about two-thirds of private health-insurance plans cover abortions), people in the Medicaid system have no option to choose a plan that covers abortion.

    Ding! It boggles my mind that people can claim single payer will “take the politics” out of healthcare decisions. I have to believe that the “this supports single payer” claimants really mean something else: with single payer, Obama will be able to force a liberal vision of health insurance on the rest of the nation. That’s fine … as long as he’s President. But what will they say when President Santorum strips out birth control coverage and mandates coverage for gay conversion therapy? This is what conservatives and libertarians warned about from day one: the further you involve the government in healthcare, the more politicized healthcare decisions will become.

    I oppose encroachments of government power. I oppose them even when I like the guy in office. The reason, as Lee pointed out endlessly, is because I know that he will not be in office forever. Eventually, someone I don’t like will be in. And he’ll have all the power we gave the last guy and take even more. See: Obama, Barack and Surveillance State.

    Second, I am amazed at just how silly some of the commentary has gotten. Many commentators have clearly not read the decision or even vaguely familiar with its contents. Megan McArdle deals with some of the silliest talking points here. Eugene Volokh explains the narrowness of the ruling and why it was a statutory not Constitutional decision here. I’m hoping Ann Althouse, who has read the entire decision and is an expert on Constitutional Law and religion, will do some more blog posts on it. One of her first posts is this one, taking on the talking point that businesses can now do anything if they say it’s in the name of religion:

    Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, when the federal government imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion, it must justify that burden by showing that it is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest. In Hobby Lobby, the compelling governmental interest is comprehensive preventive health care for women, and the majority said that requiring the employer to include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives in its health care plan was not the least restrictive way to to serve that interest. There are other ways the government could get the cost of contraceptives covered, ways that wouldn’t rope in the employer.

    So the government’s interest could be served without imposing the burden on religion.

    But when the government bans race discrimination, it is serving a compelling interest in banning race discrimination and there is no alternative way to achieve that end.

    Exactly. The RFRA is designed to apply a common-sense limitation on government action where religion is concerned. It’s not a blanket that can allow human sacrifice or a refusal to pay taxes. In this particular case, the Court decided that the government can make sure women have access to birth control without requiring religious people to compromise their beliefs. And that was all it could rule on at this time.

    Importantly, the Court did not decree that “corporations are people” or give them First Amendment rights (although they do have First Amendment rights in the context of free speech). They ruled that the people running closely-held businesses have First Amendment rights and that the RFRA requires the government to respect that. Don’t like it? All you have to do is revise the RFRA. Good luck with that.

    Third, what’s amazing about the commentary is the number of catch-22’s the liberal intelligentsia places the Court in. When the Court ruled that birth control coverage could be refused for religious reasons, they started screaming, “Well, what about blood transfusions! What about psychiatry? What about gelatin? Huh? Huh? Huh?” But when the Court declined to specifically address those issues — because they can’t — the liberals then accused the Court of foisting their own religion on the country and ignoring everyone else’s.

    They accused the Court of scientific illiteracy when they ruled on the methods Hobby Lobby believes are abortifacients (although, having poked around, I don’t the case that they aren’t is as ironclad as claimed). But when the Court clarified that coverage for all methods of contraception could be declined, they went ape again that the ruling was overly broad.

    (I also must keep harping on this point: insurance-provided birth control is not “free”. You pay for it with your work. And you pay for it specifically with money your boss gives to the insurance company instead of you. Mother Jones — always a good source of mathematical garbage — put up a calculator showing how much birth control will cost a woman over her reproductive life. But she’s going to pay that price whether she is insured or not. In fact, there are good reasons to believe she will pay more by getting it through her insurance. What happens is that people get birth control through their employer’s insurance … and then wonder why their insurance premiums went up $50 a month.)

    The one idea I keep returning to, however, is this: the Left should not be angry. Miffed a bit, sure. But they shouldn’t really be angry.

    They should be ecstatic.

    We now live in a country where insurance coverage of contraception is mandated by law for all but a small segment of employers. And those will almost certainly be covered when Obama expands the compromise that the Court gave their assent to (although he will probably let women swing in the wind until after the election). The conservative wing of the Court did not dispute that the government can provide birth control coverage. Nor did they dispute that insuring women have access to birth control was a compelling interest of the government. Griswold is in no danger of being repealed. A slight wrinkle has been thrown out in how birth control is paid for. And there are some states where Republicans are attacking programs that help pay for birth control for poor women. But overall, women are in a far better position with respect to controlling their reproductive systems than they have ever been.

    I know people want to see this in terms of absolutes: that women have an absolute right to birth control. But living in a country of 300 million people means none of us get everything we want. There are no absolute policies that will work for the entire country.

    And yet, with a near complete victory — the provision of almost “free” birth control; a goal they have wanted for decades — they are in hysterics because it wasn’t a complete victory. They are angry because a compromise was reached for people who have a moral objection to certain types of birth control. They are angry because they didn’t get everything they wanted. 85% of employers covered birth control before Obamacare. Nearly 100% will now and the remainder will get it through some kind of compromise. You can be a bit disappointed that it’s not 100%. But proclaiming that SCOTUS has now imposed Sharia Law and made women second-class citizens? Seriously?

    Damon Linker:

    Where once the religious right sought to inject a unified ideology of traditionalist Judeo-Christianity into the nation’s politics, now it seeks merely to protect itself against a newly aggressive form of secular social liberalism. Sometimes that liberalism takes the relatively benign and amorphous form of an irreverent, sex-obsessed popular culture and public opinion that is unsympathetic to claims of religious truth. But at other times, it comes backed up by the coercive powers of government.

    That’s how the Hobby Lobby case needs to be understood: as a defensive response to the government attempting to regulate areas of life that it never previously sought to control. Like, for instance, the precise range of health insurance benefits a business must provide to its employees under penalty of law. Hobby Lobby doesn’t oppose contraception as such, as some Catholic businesses do. It merely opposes four out of 20 forms of contraception that the Obama administration wants to force them to cover — because its owners believe those four to be abortifacients.

    From advancing an ideological project to transform America into an explicitly Catholic-Christian nation to asking that a business run by devout Christians be given a partial exemption from a government regulation that would force it to violate its beliefs — that’s what the religious right has been reduced to in just 10 years.

    Exactly. The Left Wing has been running up victory after victory in the Culture War. Gay marriage just became legal in fricking Kentucky. Colleges are so eager to make birth control available, they’ll shove it down throat if you sleep with your mouth open. Marijuana is legal in two states and the edifice of criminalization is imploding. Public prayer has been reduced to few non-denominational utterances. Their only conservative “wins” have been a few recent restrictions on abortion and public funding for birth control, policy changes that are likely to be short-lived.

    For a long time the Left has claimed that they are the side that wants to compromise and it is conservatives who are intransigent. Yet what is this but rejecting a compromise? What is this but going to tired “war on women” rhetoric at the slightest provocation? No one is being denied birth control. No one’s boss is interfering with their birth control. This is ultimate result of the Hobby Lobby decision: the Federal government will have to make a deal to provide birth control coverage for employees of a small fraction of businesses..

    That’s a War on Women? That’s treating corporations like people and women like second-class citizens?

    I humbly suggest the rhetoric over this decision needs to be toned down. Because if the Left shout down the heavens for something like this, who’s going to be listening when a state tries to outlaw abortion? Or repeal sexual discrimination laws? Or place heavy restrictions on birth control?

    When it comes to long political struggles, you have to choose your battlefields. As much as I oppose much of what the religious right is doing right now, this isn’t the field on which the banners should be unfurled. Accept the near complete victory and move on.

    Less Violence; More Hysteria

    This weekend, a couple of anti-government nuts engaged in a murderous act of domestic terrorism, killing two cops and one civilian who attempted to stop them with his own weapon. They claimed the revolution had begun before killing themselves.

    As is usual in these cases, the far Left is almost gleeful as they dig through the extremist politics of the killers. They are touting this as indicative of a huge surge in right-wing anti-government violence, supposedly caused by Sean Hannity and Fox News. Today, they are also touting a supposed surge in school violence since Sandy Hook. All of this is bent toward the ongoing effort to morally bully the American people into supporting gun control (and Democrats).

    They are also full of it. Jesse Walker, who has written a book on conspiracy theorists:

    As I’ve noted before when writing about the militia movement, violence on the far right often comes from hotheads who have been kicked out of the more mainstream militias. (Is “mainstream” the right word? It’s all relative, I suppose.) When actual organizations talk up non-defensive violence, they are often isolated and despised within the larger militia milieu. Yet these divisions are frequently missed in public discussions of the issue, which often lump all the “extremists” together—and, as a result, look in the wrong places for terrorist threats. Even when analysts argue that lone wolves acting on their own are a more likely source of violence than militias acting as groups, there’s a mistaken tendency to treat “radicalization” as the problem and to ignore all the cross-currents within a particular radical community. (J.M. Berger offers some strong arguments against that habit here.)

    We are being shown a lot of footage of these two terrorists at the Cliven Bundy Ranch. What’s being ignored is that they were kicked off the ranch because Bundy and his supporters thought they were pushing a violent anti-government agenda instead of focusing on the issues at hand. And the Bundy supporters wanted no part of that.

    One last thought: I see The Washington Post is already tentatively tying this to other “slayings…linked to hate movements.” So it’s wise to remember the sociologist Joel Best’s comment that “crime waves” often turn out to be “waves in media attention: they occur because the media, for whatever reason, fix upon some sort of crime, and publicize it.” Shortly after Obama’s election, a flood of stories suggested that right-wing violence was on the rise; a few years later, a study from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point indicated that incidents of that sort actually declined in that period. So don’t assume that a new age of domestic terror is dawning. The Vegas killers seem to have believed they were the vanguard of an uprising, shouting “This is the start of a revolution!” before they opened fire. But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they were wrong.

    It bears repeating: violence is way down in our society. Gun killings are down 40% over the last twenty years. Gun assaults down 70%. Our cops are safer than they have been in over a century. School shootings are down, as well, to half the level they were in the 90’s. And no, mass shooting are not “rising” no matter how much Mother Jones tries to cherry-pick the data.

    So why is there suddenly all this hysteria about “rising” gun violence? Several reasons. One, people are naturally prone to panics especially when goaded by a media that has no interest in objective reality. One thing you’ll notice about the school shooting map is that these occurs somewhat regularly but the media coverage tends to cluster whenever there is a high-profile shooting

    Second, the biggest declines in violence have been in our inner cities and among minorities. This seems to matter less to our media and our commentariat than two vile people shooting up a Walmart.

    Third, the current anti-government violence may pale in comparison to that of the past. But that past violence from the Left Wing. So our commentariat are more than happy to sweep it under the carpet to the point where the perpetrators can be … I dunno … friends of a future President. I recently read The Skies Belong To Us, a very good book about the “golden age of hijacking” in the 1970’s. What astounded me was how often even violent left-wing terrorists were hailed as heroes by left-wing media. I defy you to find any mainstream right-winger expressing admiration for right-wing terrorists.

    But mostly it’s because these facts do not conform to the agenda. The agenda is that we are in danger, that we are under assault, that we could be shot when we step out of our door and it is all the fault of the evil Republicans, the evil NRA, the evil Fox News and the evil Rush Limbaugh. These are the villains who stand between us and “sensible gun control”. (Well, them and the vast majority of the American people, the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court as well as a body of research indicating that gun control does not curb violence).

    Never mind that you’re safer today than you’ve been in fifty years. Never mind that today’s right-wing political terrorism is far less common, far less deadly and far less excused than the left-wing political terrorism of the 60’s and 70’s. Never mind that your child is safer in a school than they are just about anywhere else. You have to panic! Because cracking down on “right wing” groups and seizing guns is something will only happen if the American people take leave of their senses.

    The Avalanche Has Already Started; It Is Too Late for the Pebbles to Vote

    The dam has broken. No matter what our opinions might be of it, gay marriage is becoming a fact of life. On the heels of recent decisions by either judges or legislatures in Hawaii, Oklahoma, Nevada, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Idaho and Oregon, a judge in Pennsylvania today struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. That’s the fourth court victory for gay marriage advocates just this month. And this one, complete with a long and forceful opinion, was issued by a Bush 43 appointee whose appointment to the federal bench was approved by none other than Rick Santorum. (Judge Jones also wrote a long and stirring opinion against teaching creationism in public schools in Kitzmiller v. Dover). That makes 19 states where gay marriage is either legal or has won a recent court victory.

    There is simply no putting this genie back in the bottle. Some of those overturns may be reversed by higher courts. Some may be turned over to referendums again. But even those are unlikely to pass. As I said when the Republican Party was pushing a wave of anti-gay-marriage amendments in 2004, their urgency was because they could see that they were losing support. It was then or never. The tide stopped in 2012 when Minnesota turned back an amendment in a tough battle. Now it has turned and is roaring back out to sea. California’s Prop 8 would not pass now. Some of the redder states would be able to keep it illegal, but even there, support is crumbling. Within ten years, gays will be probably be able to marry almost everywhere in this country. Maybe even less. This issue is basically dead (although, as I argued with the Brendan Eich case, I would prefer that people not gloat about it).

    There is one question that sill lingers in mind however: whether this issue will haunt the Republican Party down the road. I’ve spoken of this before:

    Back in the 1970′s, the GOP stepped back from their previous support for civil rights to support the so-called “Southern Strategy”: an effort to woo segregationists from the Democrats. The idea was not to embrace segregation, per se, but to jump on racially sensitive issues like welfare to build a power base in the South.

    While it managed to get a few politicians to defect (Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond), it never really helped their electoral prospects. In Presidential races, they won the whole country in 1972, lost the South in 1976 and 1980, won the whole country in 1984 and 1988, split the South in 1992 and 1996. It was only in the mid-90′s that the South turned and, by that point, no one gave a crap about segregation issues. The turn was over economic issues. And by 2008, Barack Obama was able to dominate the South in the primaries and compete in the general election, winning three states.

    Just to clarify this point: the Republicans took the South because the South was always conservative. The only reason the South hadn’t voted Republican up until the 90’s was because of the Democratic Party’s century-long history of racist politics. Growing up in Atlanta, I knew people whose family had never voted Republican. When George Allen was elected to the Virginia legislature, he was one of only a handful of Republicans. When the South went red in 1994, Republicans were winning elections in Southern states for the first time since the Civil War. The South was always conservative. They were going to go Republican eventually. It was only Johnson’s management of the Wallace faction that kept it blue for so long.

    However, the Southern Strategy did have one palpable effect: both on its own and through liberal harping about it, the Southern Strategy alienated black voters to the point where the GOP is lucky to poll in single digits. This is despite a fair amount of conservatism among blacks, who are heavily pro-life and pro-school choice. P.J. O’Rourke said that Clinton’s popularity among blacks was because he allowed them to vote for a Republican without throwing up.

    In the 40’s and 50’s, Republicans routinely drew support among black voters in the 20-30% range. If that trend had continued, more than a few elections would have gone differently.

    I’m afraid the GOP is going down the same path again with their stance on gay issues. The country is shifting rapidly on these issues, especially among young voters — much more rapidly than it did on racial issues. Huge majorities oppose DADT, including a majority of conservatives. Gay marriage is closing in on majority support and large majorities favor at least civil unions. And barring gay adoption or gay sex simply isn’t on the radar for any but the most ardent cultural conservatives. Yet the entire GOP field supports DADT and DOMA, most favor the Marriage Amendment and Santorum favors just about every anti-gay measure you can think of.

    Some of this support is in name only — the FMA, for example, has zero change of happening. But their vocal support for these policies is going to come back to bite them and probably not too far in the future. As more gays come out of the closet, as more people have gay friends and relatives, as more gays get married and have kids and as the world fails to end despite this, people are going to remember where the GOP was on this. People with gay kids are going to remember that the Rick Santorum wanted to deny their in-laws and take away their grandkids. People whose lives were saved by gay soldiers will realize they would have died had DADT been in place.

    We are going to pay for this crap. And we are going to pay and pay and pay (literally, given the spending habits of the Democrats).

    My fears have only strengthened in the three years since I wrote those words. While a number of Republicans have broken ranks — showing much more political courage than any Democrats, incidentally — I still fear that gay marriage will go down in history as a faint echo of the Southern Strategy debacle. A faint echo because the Republican opposition was at least partially built on principle. It was clear in 2004 that many Republicans were uncomfortable with their gay marriage position (you may remember a leaked phone call where Bush talked about how much he disliked taking the position) and that this was, at least in part, a cold political calculus from Karl Rove who thought opposing gay marriage would win a tough election. But most of the opposition was a principled opposition to changing one of the pillars of our civilization.

    (The echo should be even fainter because Democrats opposed gay marriage until it became politically safe not to. But Democrats are never held to any standard, let alone the ones that Republicans are held to. Republicans still get beat up over their short-lived Southern Strategy; Democrats are absolved from their century-long embrace of Jim Crow.)

    Still, I think the analogy holds. It will not be forgotten that Republicans were the face of the opposition to gay marriage and that the remaining opposition is from Republicans. Will this hurt them enough to matter in an election? There are a lot fewer gays than there are blacks and they are not as unified electorally. But considering how close some elections have been, it’s entirely possible that this will hurt us down the road, especially as the young people who support gay marriage today become the political force of tomorrow.

    Upscale Seattle

    Seattle is about to raise its minimum wage to a staggering $15 per hour. The deal is being touted as a cooperation between labor and business. However, that deal was basically extorted by the local government:

    With his Income Inequality Committee failing to reach a decision at its final scheduled meeting April 23, and business and labor representatives still at odds over core issues on a deal for a $15 minimum wage, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray gathered the business members of the committee the following day.

    Unless they reached an agreement with labor, he told them, he would announce a plan worse for them — and more closely resembling Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s pro-worker initiative.

    But Murray didn’t announce his own proposal April 24. He stood before a room packed with local and national media and said while there was broad agreement, there were unresolved issues.

    One week later, Murray returned to the same conference room in City Hall to announce a historic agreement between business and labor to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over five to seven years.

    The negotiated deal calls for a three- to seven-year phase-in, with large businesses — those with at least 500 workers — required to reach the $15 wage first.

    As you can imagine, the usual suspects are crowing, claiming this will inject half a billion dollars into the local economy (since we all know that wages can be raised with money grown on trees). I find this claim to be ridiculous. All the minimum wage will do — as the minimum wage proponents themselves so often note — is redistribute income. It will not create income on its lonesome.

    But even that comes with a price. With this wage hike, Seattle will have a higher minimum wage than any country in the world.

    Any plan that makes hiring a worker more expensive than in France should be cause for concern. We know that businesses in high-wage countries are especially eager to replace workers with software. Fast-food restaurants in Europe, for instance, have been some of the earliest adopters of labor saving technologies like digital kiosks where customers can order. Those innovations are already beginning to make headway in the United States. But by passing a $15 minimum, Seattle would risk speeding the process up within its city limits.

    Liberal rag the New Republic, while supporting the minimum wage hike, is honest enough to note at least three negative consequences: employers will hire fewer workers; employers will replace employees with computers and employees will be priced outside of the city.

    That last point should really be unpacked. Reihan:

    It is entirely possible that as Seattle’s new minimum wage proposal takes effect, the poverty rate within the city limits will decrease. What remains to be seen, however, is if the new proposal decreases the poverty rate by raising the market incomes of low-wage workers currently residing in Seattle or if it instead prices some number of less-skilled women and men out of Seattle’s housing market by reducing their market incomes, either by forcing them to exit the city’s formal labor market to seek lower-wage employment in neighboring jurisdictions or by encouraging local employers to reduce work hours.

    A question for the class: what businesses pay the minimum wage? The discount and low-price businesses that the working poor and middle class utilize most often, such as fast food restaurants. So what’s going to happen when the minimum wage is raised? The cost of living for Seattle’s lower classes will go up massively. It won’t go up for Seattle’s upper class since their preferred stores are expensive anyway and pay high wages.

    The result will be, as Reihan has documented, poor people moving to areas that have lower minimum wages so that they can afford to live, then commuting long ways to areas of higher minimum wage. I don’t see that having to maintain a car and commute a couple of hours every day improves their lifestyle.

    But it’s worse:

    However, while this is an even trade of money from one group to another, one specific source of money actually shrinks.

    The lost money is federal government benefits that low wage workers lose thanks to the increase in the minimum wage. In fact, many of these workers will lose food stamps, some or all of their earned income tax credit, and other means-tested federal benefits. This money is currently spent in the local economy, but after the minimum wage is increased the money will revert to Washington, D.C., to be spent on something else.

    As I showed in an earlier column, low wage workers can lose as much as half of any new income to increased taxes and lost benefits. Given the percentage of low wage workers that live in low income households (around 30 percent) and that eligibility for the earned income tax credit extends to about $50,000 for a family of four, the loss to the Seattle area economy is likely on the order of $75-100 million.

    We’ve talked about this before: how the federal tax and welfare systems have created massive effective marginal tax rates for those attempting to climb out of poverty. So the notion that this is a straight-up cash dump into the wallets of poor people is incredibly misinformed. At least half and probably more of that money will swirl right out of the bottom of their wallets in the form of reduced government subsidies. And the rest will vanish with increased prices and long commutes. Reducing people’s dependence on government is a good thing, of course. But let’s not pretend they’ll have more money.

    Some people are saying that this will be an interesting economic experiment to test the effect of raising the minimum wage. I’m dubious of that. First, people are not economic lab rats and shouldn’t be treated as such. Second, I am sure that the books will be cooked on this experiment. When poor people flee Seattle to live in places they can actually afford, this will give the appearance of a more prosperous city. It’s the same logic by which a city reduces its poverty rate by using imminent domain is used to force poor people to sell their homes to rich people.

    Oh, well, could be worse. Down in California, some fools want to raise the minimum wage to $26 an hour.

    I wish that was a joke.

    Eich Out

    A few days ago, OKCupid’s website tried to persuade people to stop using Firefox. Contrary to reports, the site did not “block” Firefox. If you browsed there, you got a message saying they did not want people to use Firefox because Firefox’s CEO — Brendan Eich — had given $1000 to the Proposition 8 campaign. But you could still click through. Today, he resigned under intense pressure.

    You guys know that I support gay marriage and opposed Proposition 8. But this action makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    It’s odd. In isolation, none of the elements in this particularly bother me. Mozilla is a private company and can fire their CEO for whatever reason they want. I seem to have to repeat this every time someone is fired for a dumb remark, editorial or tweet, but Eich’s first amendment rights have not been violated. If Mozilla wanted to stay away from the controversy, that’s their right and, one might argue, their duty. OKCupid can refuse to do business with a company they don’t like and can call out people who advocate views they disagree with.

    But the combination of events here is bothersome. The more I think about it, the more I dislike hounding out political opponents like this and dislike a company caving in so fast. Eich was not spearheading the Prop 8 campaign. He wasn’t a politician opposing gay marriage and supporting DOMA (as the President did until relatively recently). He’s just someone who doesn’t think gays should be allowed to marry and gave some of his own money to the cause. There are probably millions in the country who have given money, time and effort to advance views I disagree with or even find repugnant. I don’t think they should be publicly shunned for it.

    It’s not like Eich was advocating rounding up gays or sending them to pray-away-the-gay camps. He was supporting a cause that the majority of the people, the entirety of the Republican Party, the vast majority of the Democratic Party and the future President of the United States agreed with. He wasn’t even remotely outside the mainstream. He’s still not outside of it as opposition to gay marriage is still the majority view in parts of the country and a very strong minority in the rest.


    Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.


    The trends on same-sex marriage are quite obvious to everyone. In the polls, at the ballot box, and in the Courts, the argument for marriage equality is winning the day and it is only a matter of time at this point before same-sex marriage is recognized in every state in the nation. Given that, one does have to wonder just how much of a victory dance those of us on the winning side need to do. Is it really necessary to make everyone who disagreed with us pay the price for that disagreement?

    I understand that the Prop 8 fight was demoralizing and hurtful to many gay people and their supporters. I understand that they might want to hold responsible those who pushed it forward. Fine. But going after a man who gave $1000 to the cause seems an odd place to start holding people responsible.

    Look, in an open society, people can be held responsible for their political views. I get that. But where does this end? Tens of millions of people opposed and oppose gay marriage. Thousands, perhaps millions, donated time and money to support laws and amendments against it. Are they all to be called out like this? Are we to check all the CEO’s to make sure they are ideologically pure?

    I’ve never liked boycotts even when the company involved is doing something I don’t like. But now we’re supposed to boycott companies because of the political beliefs of their employees? I seem to keep saying this but must we politicize everything? Must we dig through every company and make sure they didn’t give a donation to Slay the Whales or something? Must we, like Mother Jones laughably did, pore through a company’s 401k options to see if there are companies there we don’t like or that disagree with their views? (I’ll pause a moment for you to stomach the hypocrisy of Mother Jones — recently called out for paying their interns sub-minimum wage — complaining about someone else’s labor practices).

    Screw this. No one should live their life in fear that their political views will fall out of favor and they’ll be hounded out of public life. And no one should spend their life checking every app to make sure it wasn’t written by Obamacare supporters. If you want to do some good in the political world, concentrate on what is going on right now. Concentrate on those who hold power right now. Gay marriage is still illegal in most of the country. I think gay rights activists would be far better off focusing their energy on that than on shaming those who have already been defeated.

    Jim Crow in Pink?

    Last week, the Kansas House passed a bill that would basically provide legal protection for religion-based anti-gay discrimination.

    On Wednesday, the Kansas House passed HB 2453, which offers legal protection to individuals and businesses that refuse service for same-sex couples, specifically those looking to get married. Under the bill’s language, individuals, businesses and government employees would be immune from legal reprisal for refusing service if they have “sincerely held religious beliefs” opposing customers’ orientation. HB 2453 was approved by the Kansas House 72-49 and is set to move on to the state senate.

    Note: it has died in the Senate. For now. Religious institutions themselves have always enjoyed a ministerial exception to anti-discrimination law, an exception that SCOTUS recently upheld 9-0. This law and others like it would be the first to grant the exception to private individuals and businesses.

    According to the text of the bill, HB 2453 would prevent any legal action against groups or individuals who “provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits” to couples.

    This measure was cast by its supporters as a move against discrimination. Specifically, discrimination against those with religious objections to homosexuality. In fact, a number of states are now considering these measures.

    A few thoughts:

    First, I don’t buy the idea that anti-LGBT-discrimination laws are themselves a discrimination against people of faith. There is no law that forbids someone with anti-gay beliefs from living anywhere or doing business with anyone. They aren’t confined to anti-gay ghettos. They are being forced to do business with someone whose lifestyle they object to. That’s bad enough; let’s not pretend that not being allowed to discriminate is a form of persecution.

    Supporters of the bill argue that they are being forced to “celebrate” a union they see as immoral. But Kristin Powers picks that part:

    It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.

    Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.

    Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, the largest church in Kansas, pointed out to me what all Christians should know: “Jesus routinely healed, fed and ministered to people whose personal lifestyle he likely disagreed with.” This put Jesus at odds with religious leaders, who believed they were sullied by associating with the “wrong” people.

    Now you can argue that laws forbidding discrimination against gays violate people’s right to freedom of commerce and association. I’m sympathetic to that argument. I have never been completely comfortable with anti-discrimination legislation in the context of private transactions. I think it was justified in the context of the Civil Rights movement for reasons explored by James Joyner: the institutionalized government-supported edifice of racial discrimination was so massive that it was unfair to expect blacks to patiently wait for generations until “market forces” brought it down (assuming they ever did).

    Is the institutionalized discrimination against gays that severe? Gays would probably say it is; but I’m not convinced. Take the recent case in New Mexico: the court decided that a photographer could be forced to work a gay wedding despite her moral objection the union. Does she not have the right to decide what and whom she will photograph? And, as a purely practical matter, do you want your wedding photographed by someone who thinks what you’re doing is wrong? Are there no wedding photographers who will do a gay service? When my dad was growing up in Atlanta, there were people who wouldn’t do Jewish events. But there were enough who would that it wasn’t a problem. Must we decree universal tolerance?

    All that having been said, the idea of encapsulating a “right to discriminate” into law makes me nervous. If someone proposed a law to give people a right to discriminate against interracial couples, it wouldn’t fly. If someone proposed giving Catholic photographers the right to discriminate against couples who were remarrying after a divorce, it wouldn’t fly. If Muslims petitioned to be allowed to refuse to service non-Muslims, we’d be screaming about sharia. But because it is gays and because not being allowed to discriminate is now being cast a form of oppression, these bills are popping up all over the place.

    Religion can not be a duck blind for bad laws because, very quickly, almost anything will be swept into it. There were many people who cast slavery in religious terms, arguing that God himself had wrought slavery because black people were inferior and because they were being punished for the sin of Ham. Jim Crow segregation was supported in religious terms for the same reasons. Pharmacists claim they shouldn’t have to fill prescriptions for birth control if they have a moral objection. Economic issues are frequently cast in religious terms — from both right and left.

    I really feel like we’re opening a can of worms here. Indeed, several bills have been hastily withdrawn and rewritten because people realized they were far too broad (Arizona’s law, for example, could have been interpreted to let non-Christians refuse service to Christians). How does someone show that their refusal is based in religion and not just bigotry? Does this only apply to Christians or does it apply to Muslims as well? What if people have religious objections to re-marriage or marriage after pre-marital sex or inter-religious or inter-racial marriage? And how far does this extend? Can you refuse to rent an apartment to a gay person because he might bring his gay partner over? Can you refuse to serve a gay couple in your restaurant because giving them a salad would be “celebrating” their union? Can government grants be withdrawn from businesses that invoke this religious exemption? These are all issues that will come up if these bills pass.

    (The gripping hand here is that the Republicans have to know that — whatever your opinions of the laws’ merits — these laws will never hold up in the courts. The courts have traditionally upheld anti-discrimination legislation even in private transactions. At the very least, no lower court will allow this; it would have to go to SCOTUS. Given that, it’s possible this is all just pandering to the conservative base. If so, it’s stupid pandering. Poll after poll shows that young people — the future voters — are much more supportive of gay equality and that anti-gay legislation turns them away from the GOP. The fraction of Americans who oppose gay marriage has been falling steadily for ten years. In red state Missouri, thousands of people — including many devout Christians — turned out to support Michael Sam against the Westboro Baptist “Church”. So the GOP might gain something in the short term. But they will lose more in the long term. Still … I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt and assume there’s an actual principle behind this.)

    The more I turn this over, the more I think it’s a bad idea. No matter how much supporters dress these laws up up as a religious freedom bills, they are still designed to give official legal protection to discrimination. I don’t think that’s a place we want to go, not unless you’re willing to challenge the entire basis of anti-discrimination law. It’s one thing to defend people’s freedom to transact business with whom they wish; it’s a bit more to provide official sanction for a very specific discrimination.