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A South Dakota Fairy Tale

Aug
1
2008

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. – Gloria Steinem, The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.

Herewith a suggestion on how to improve the South Dakota Fairy Tale that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has approved for reading to women before they undergo abortions.

The case was Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, et al vs. Mike Rounds, et al. It pertained to a piece of legislation passed by the South Dakota legislature, a mostly male body that has, until now, unsuccessfully tried to tell women what they may and may not do with their bodies. Thanks to the court it has finally succeeded.

The essence of the case was that although women may continue to get abortions in South Dakota, the physician performing the procedure is required to read aloud to the prospective mother. Under section 7 of the statute a woman is required to receive oral disclosures about the procedure she is about to undergo. Some of the information must be given orally and in writing and other information only in writing although the language of the statute can be read to require that all information must be imparted orally by the physician.

Although the prescribed reading (and writing) is not the sort of thing the mother would read aloud to the child were the child to be born, it has a certain fairy tale like quality to it. Among the things the physician is required to tell the mother is that an abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being,” that the woman has an “existing relationship with that unborn human being,” that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States constitution and under laws of South Dakota” and that “by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”

It is patently absurd to describe the embryo has a “whole” and a “separate” human being since whatever else it may be, it is neither whole, having many months to go before it achieves that state, nor is it “separate” since ordinarily it cannot survive outside the mother’s body at the time the abortion is performed. It is equally absurd to say that the “relationship” “enjoys protection under the United States Constitution” since it does not.

Sarah Stoesz, president of the regional Planned Parenthood office, said the statute represents an “unprecedented interference in the doctor-patient relationship and unprecedented interference in a woman’s life.” She also observed that the law is “non-science”. But as we have been taught by none other than the president of the United States and his minions at the Environmental Protection Agency that science these days is an elective subject whose proofs one may accept or reject based on one’s personal biases.

Speaking of science, we are brought to the EPA most recent pronouncement which when added to the South Dakota statute, will bring the number of abortions performed in South Dakota to zero.

The EPA issued a report on July 19 pertaining to a matter with which few people knew it was concerned. The report said the value of a human life has gone down from $8.04 million to $7.22 million. That does not mean, as the report is careful to point out, that every reader of this column is worth that amount. Some readers will be worth more and others less and most readers know to which group they belong.

There’s a reason it is important to know the value of a human life. When when you have the answer to that question you can decide whether certain governmental actions are worthwhile. If a governmental agency’s proposal determines will save 50 lives and cost $500 million, the agency determines if the proposal makes sense by multiplying 50 lives times $7.22 million. If the product is less than $500 million, the project is abandoned and if more, it may be implemented. If, in that example, 200 people were affected, then the math would justify the cost.

Now that this information is available, the South Dakota legislature should promptly amend House Bill 1166 to include a requirement that the state fairy tale be refined to add a section that will inform the woman that not only is she “terminating the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” but she is also disposing of an asset that has a scientifically established value of $7.22 million.

Armed with that scientifically correct information most women will immediately spring for the cash and abortions in South Dakota will come to an end. There will, of course, be a modicum of disappointment when the kid hits college age and the parent goes looking for that $7.22 million. They will then find, to their dismay, that the $7.22 million was, like much of the rest of the language in the South Dakota Fairy Tale, made up by ignorant busy bodies more interested in controlling women’s bodies than in educating their proprietors.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 12:31 AM | Permalink

Savoir Faire

Apr
11
2008

‘Tis a pity she’s a whore. – Title of a John Ford play

Why can’t Americans be more like the French? The slightly mangled line from My Fair Lady is inspired by the fascination with which we in the United States have viewed the sexual peccadilloes of assorted leaders as compared with how such behavior is perceived by the French.

On June 18, 2007, France had an election featuring beautiful women and assorted men in the two parties competing for the presidency. On one side was Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal and her partner of more than 20 years, François Hollande. During their time together they had four children and to all outward appearances were to live happily ever after. Within hours after the polls closed, the end of their partnership was announced. Mr. Hollande said the separation was a private affair. A book published after the election quoted Ms. Royale as saying that: “I asked François Hollande to leave our home, to pursue his love interest, which is now laid bare in books and newspapers, on his own.” The whole parting seemed, at least from this side of the Atlantic, remarkably tasteful.

Not to be outdone, her opponent and his wife-followed suit. During the campaign Cécilia Sarkozy, wife of Union for a Popular Movement candidate Nicolas Sarkozy was noticeably absent. Following the election she briefly played the role of first lady of France visiting Libya where she participated in obtaining the release of six health care workers who had been detained in Libya since 2004. Following their release she concluded that the world of politics was not for her, ended her marriage to Nicolas and resumed her relationship with Richard Attlas.

Divorced in October, Mr. Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, a singer and former model whom he met in November 2007, were wed on February 2, 2008. Upon learning of her former husband’s marriage, Cécilia and Richard were married on March 22 instead of marrying in June as originally planned. One paper described the wedding and the elaborate reception that followed as a “revenge”, wedding, the former Mme. Sarkozy having been annoyed that M. Sarkozy’s new wife was 10 years younger.

Both French partings were civilized. No prostitutes No sad spouses standing stolidly by, and no stoical statements by any of the parties. Compare similar events on this side of the Atlantic. There are more examples from which to choose space in a column such as this.

Kwame Kilpatrick had a bright future. He is the mayor of Detroit. If he lived in France he would still have a bright future because it would have been unnecessary to lie about the explicit emails he and another government worker exchanged. The city would not have negotiated the settlement of a whistleblower lawsuit that cost Detroit millions of taxpayer dollars. He and his wife would have said their private lives were their private lives and gone on to live them privately. Instead he may be going to jail, not for sex but for lying about sex.

From Detroit we move to New York where two governors have made the news. Upon becoming governor on March 17, David Paterson held a press conference in which he described the challenges facing New York. On March 18 he held a press conference with his wife, Michelle, in which he described challenges they faced during their marriage including their respective acts of adultery. The affairs were consensual and no one had to pay anything as a result of the companionship or its disclosure thus making it more French than American.

Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York is, of course, the pre-eminent example of how the French don’t do it. He was robbed of his dignity and because of that behavior lost a good post-mortem photo opportunity.

If Eliot lived in France he could have had as many lovers as he wanted and still prosecuted prostitution rings in his official capacity without being called a hypocrite. Instead of standing awkwardly with a stalwart wife by his side, confessing to the fact that he had to pay for the kind of friendship many people routinely enjoy, he would have said with great dignity that he had begun an affair but remained deeply in love with his wife and would/would not be divorcing her and would/would not marry his new friend.

But by consorting, instead, with prostitutes he deprived himself and his family of a dramatic post-death photo opportunity such as enjoyed by former French President François Mitterand.

It is impossible to forget the touching images published around the world at Mitterand’s funeral. Standing side by side, sadly viewing the coffin, were Messieur Mitterand’s wife, Danielle, and his mistress, Anne Pingeot and their illegitimate daughter, Mazarine. It was a touching scene, one Mr. Spitzer could not look forward to even if his nocturnal wanderings had not come to light. That’s because prostitutes don’t do funerals.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 10:42 AM | Permalink

Scrambling for A Tip

Nov
18
2007

Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of. No gossip ever dies away entirely, if many people voice it; it too is a kind of divinity. – Hesiod, Works and Days

Most United States voters spend hours each day contemplating things like taxes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the trade deficit, and other weighty matters. Fascinated by the complexity of these and endlessly in search of enlightenment, they are grateful that there are presently 19 Democrats who have announced their intentions to seek the presidency and 74 Republicans who have done the same, each of whom explains complex issues in a manner that enlightens. (Included among the Democrats are such well-known figures as Christine Gerasimos Billings-Elias and Emperor Caesar, and among the Republicans people like Jedidiah Elijah Wendell Kennedy Banks and Freddy Irwin Sitnick.

According to Project Vote Smart “announced” candidates are those who have formed or announced a Presidential exploratory or campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission or filed a statement of candidacy). Elucidation of complex issues by the candidates in debates and on the stump is done with such oratorical flourish that any day now one expects William Jennings Bryan to rise up from the grave and cry out in pleasure at the skill demonstrated by those seeking the office to which he thrice aspired.

Notwithstanding the pleasure the voter derives from the reasoned discussion by the candidates of serious issues, occasionally, exhausted by consideration of the substantive issues, the voter longs for a bit of fluff as a diversion that may also be useful in selecting a favorite candidate. And that is where some of the sites on the Internet come in.

In the 2004 election a group of know-nothings was supporting the Republican ticket, led by a man who was a deserter during the Vietnam War and whose sidekick avoided military service by staying in school. They created rumors about John Kerry’s war record by spreading lies on their website that, nurtured by the the nature of the Internet and ignored by the Kerry campaign were quickly disseminated world-wide. Faster than you could say “jack rabbit” the lies had been picked up and commented on by newspapers and television stations around the country. They were eventually accepted as true by some of the voters who had long labored to understand all the truly significant issues then confronting the country and had looked forward to casting votes informed by knowledge. Seduced by untruths, they voted on the basis of the lies.

In recent days we have once again been momentarily excused from our assigned task of studying issues by a bit of trivia.

On November 8 it was reported that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, may have left a restaurant without leaving a tip. During the election of 1940 this would not have been reported on any radio station nor would it have been mentioned in the New York Times. Thanks to modern technology, however, this became really big news. Here’s what happened.

Clinton dined at a Maid-Rite diner in central Iowa. At the conclusion of the meal she and her retinue left the restaurant and may or may not have left a tip. That news was told to NPR’s David Greene by Anita Esterday, a waitress at the restaurant. Mr. Greene included it in an 8-minute report broadcast on Morning Edition on November 8.

No sooner was the tale told, than bloggers flashed the very important news all over the world. This very important news was then responded to by Ms. Clinton’s staff. It contacted news organizations to let them know that in fact a generous tip had been left and other news organizations then rushed to the Maid-Rite to interview people to see who was telling the truth. NPR then broadcast a much longer piece describing exactly what all the parties to this event had to say about it and the New York Times, not wanting to deprive its readers of this important news, published a 581-word piece describing the event and the campaign’s response.

In the meantime, sites opposed to Clinton’s candidate, led by long-time Clinton critic Matt Drudge, unearthed a 2000 Washington Times report adding the important news that in 2000 Hillary Clinton left a Village House Restaurant in Albion, N.Y. without leaving a tip. After that event was reported Ms. Clinton called the server to apologize and sent the server a $100 savings bond. In the Iowa event a staffer returned and although stating a tip had been left gave Ms. Esterday and another waitress $20 each. Momentarily, this incident erased from the mind of the thoughtful American public all concerns about weightier issues.

Asked about the affair, the affronted waitress said to an inquiring reporter: “You people are really nuts. There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now-there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.” Ignoring the fact that her complaint started the brouhaha, she has a point.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 11:31 AM | Permalink

Straight Sex

Sep
7
2007

Sex. The most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.
— Woody Allen, Annie Hall

One wonders what explains the Repubican Party’s differing responses to similar transgressions by its members. It may simply be suffering from PCSS (post-coital stress syndrome). Enough, it may be thinking, is enough, which given several of its members’ recent moral lapses, it clearly is. On the other hand, it might be that being the party of family values it believes more opprobrium attaches to one type of indiscretion than to the other.

The juxtaposition (not a sexual term) of David Vitter and Larry Craig is a coincidence. David Vitter is the United States Senator from Louisiana who went from private life to the House of Representatives and from there to the United States Senate. One of the stepping-stones on his path to the House was Bob Livingston, formerly one of the most powerful members of the House. In 1998 Mr. Livingston was slated to become the Speaker of the House when, in the midst of clamoring for Bill Clinton’s resignation and impeachment, he learned his own sexual indiscretions were about to become public. Confronted with embarrassing disclosures he resigned from the House, thus paving the way for Mr. Vitter.

Upon becoming a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Vitter donned the slightly soiled robe of virtue left behind by Mr. Livingston and became a prominent member of the House and subsequently the United States Senate.
In July 2007 it was disclosed that the client book of a Washington madam included among its clients, one of family values’ lead trumpeters, David Vitter. Mr. Vitter acknowledged his involvement and said: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible.” He then went on to explain that he had asked for and received forgiveness from God and his wife (presumably in that order) and offered his “deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”

The next day it was reported in the New Orleans’ Times Picayune that Mr. Vitter’s extramarital lust was not geographically limited and that he also frequented a house of prostitution in New Orleans. The proprietor of the establishment, Jeanette Maier, said he had been a client of the Canal Street brothel. Although his conduct, even though a historical rather than a current event, was a disappointment to those who wear family values like a suit of clothes, there were no calls for Mr. Vitter to step down from anything. That may have been because (a) his disclosed indiscretions preceded his advent to the Senate, (b) had he been removed a Democratic governor would have appointed his successor, or (c) heterosexual transgressions are not as offensive to Republicans as the other kind and only rarely attract criminal charges, they being perceived as more natural than the other kind and harder to initiate in a men’s room in an airport. And that brings us to the most recent affliction visited upon the Republican Party by the Lord.

While in the Minneapolis airport Senator Larry Craig of Idaho entered a bathroom stall; seated in the stall next to him was a law enforcement officer whose task for the day was to determine if people entering adjacent stalls were homosexual. (Although some might think a law enforcement officer would have better things to do than spend a day seated on a toilet in an airport restroom, they fail to understand what a threat the homosexual way of life is to the non-homosexual.)

While seated in the stall next to the federal officer, Mr. Craig did some things that are highly offensive to those who promote family values. He tapped his foot, he may or may not have reached down to pick up a piece of paper and at one point he extended his hand underneath the divider three times, palm up although it is not clear whether it was his left or right hand. He insisted it was his right hand but the arresting officer insisted it was the left hand since it had a ring on the finger. Mr. Craig ultimately pled guilty to the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct.

When this information became public there was an immediate reaction. Senator John McCain said anyone who pleads guilty to a crime (even if only a misdemeanor apparently) should not serve in the Senate. If Mr. McCain actually believes that political claptrap, he should resign from the Senate. Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota said Mr. Craig’s conduct was unbecoming a senator and Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, said his conduct was “unforgivable.” Whether they were referring to the foot tapping or extending the hand beneath the stall divider was unclear.

Senator Vitter continues to serve in the senate. Senator Craig may resign from that body. He should not. His continuing service as a senator would prove that occasionally the hypocrites in Congress, though in the majority, nonetheless come out second best.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:49 PM | Permalink

The Tax Collector Cometh

Aug
10
2007

A New Way to Pay Old Debts
— Title of a play by Philip Massinger

It is just as everyone feared. No sooner do the Democrats take over Congress than they begin to undo some of the legislation so carefully crafted by the Republicans when they were in control. A recent example of this distressing state of affairs manifested itself on July 18 when repeal of one of the best parts of the American Jobs Creation Act was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee.

The American Jobs Creation Act (AJCA) became law in 2004. It will be remembered by most of my readers as an international tax reform bill that eliminated the extraterritorial income exclusion that had been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. (I will say no more about that part of the Act since most of my readers are more informed about its provisions than I.) Tucked away in a little noticed corner of the Act, however, was a provision demonstrating the Republicans’ belief that whatever government can do, someone in the private sector can do better. The Act provides that the Internal Revenue Service may use private debt collection companies to locate and contact taxpayers owing outstanding tax liabilities of any type and to arrange payment of those taxes by those taxpayers. The AJCA was a brilliant move by Republicans since any time one can privatize something the government has long done, that is of obvious benefit to the country.

Outsourcing collection procedures was expected to generate about $1.4 billion in revenue between 2005 and 2014. That is money that the IRS would not have collected because Congress refused to give it adequate funds with which to undertake collection efforts. Reporting to the IRS Oversight Board in 2002, Charles Rossotti, the former IRS commissioner in the Clinton administration, said that if more revenue agents were assigned to debt collection, every $1 invested in the effort would yield $30 in revenue. That would, of course, make the government bigger.

The joy of those who like anything that shrinks government was unbounded when the private tax collection provisions became law. Their joy was not diminished by the knowledge that the new program would cost the taxpayer $350 million out of the expected $1.4 billion it would collect, a figure eight times higher than what the cost would be were collection efforts undertaken by the IRS. That’s because the IRS set commission rates for private contractors at between 21% and 24% of the revenue collected by them. Similar efforts by existing IRS employees cost three cents for every dollar collected. Mark Everson, IRS commissioner under George Bush until May 4, 2007, has also said that IRS employees could undertake collection at less expense than collection agents.

The program flourished until the 2006 election when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. One of the things they did was begin efforts to free the taxpayers from the clutches of private debt collectors.

On June 28, the House passed the IRS appropriations bill by a vote of 240 to 179. Democrats tried to get rid of the IRS’s private debt collection program by reducing its budget from a little more than $250 million to $1 million. The effort failed. Deterred but not defeated, efforts to get rid of the offending provision in the AJCA continued.

On July 18, the House Ways & Means Committee took action on H.R. 3056 that had the catchy name of the “Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007.” An amendment to that act introduced by the chairman and approved by the committee on a 23-18 vote repeals the use of private debt collection companies to collect federal income taxes, thus restoring to the IRS the right to collect that which it is owed

If this amendment becomes law it will be a sad day as far as private debt collectors are concerned since it removes from their possible stable of clients one of the better ones. (A knock on the door from a private collection agency mouthing the mantra “I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you” is more intimidating than a knock on the door from a collection agent representing a friendly credit card company.) It is a sad amendment for those who like to see more of the taxpayers’ dollars flowing into the hands of the private sector than into government coffers. It is a sad amendment for those who like to see the ranks of government employees shrink even if the shrinkage actually costs the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a welcome amendment for those who think that the federal government should do those things that it can do more efficiently and less expensively than the private sector. That is such a peculiar idea, however, that it is only believed in by Democrats.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 7:42 AM | Permalink

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