Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Do women still get paid "far less than their male counterparts"?

This was a claim made by Mika Brzezinski recently on "Morning Joe", MSNBC's morning program of news commentary.The basis for the claim is that women, on average, are paid 77% as much as men are, on the average. Assuming this is true, it in no way support's Mika's ridiculous claim.

First of all, equal pay for equal work has been the law for a long time now, and seems to be widely accepted. Any employer who does what Mika alleges would be in severe hot water legally.

Mika is a competent journalist, but she has her head way up her you-know-what on this issue. Studies have shown that, even among couples who are commmitted to sharing housework equally, once the first child is born, the equality is out the window, as the female takes vastly more responsibility for the child than the male. Obviously, this means the female spends less of her time and energy on her career, compared to men.

Another stat which is pertinent is one I heard many years ago, and never refuted, which is that never-married men and never-married women get paid about equally. This supports the notion that the problem is not any workplace discrimination, but rather, different choices that men and women make as to their priorities vis a vis family vs. career.

Choices of careers between men and women have a large role here also. Women tend to pick lower-paying jobs for their carers. Relative to men, there are very few women computer engineers, for example. How many women brain surgeons and rocket scientists are there?

By using the word "counterparts", Mika implies that women are paid less for the same work as men. Nothing could be further removed from the truth.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I don't believe in insurance

Like people who play the lottery, people who buy insurance are basically innumerate (i.e., mathematically illiterate). In both cases, what you are doing is paying a middle man who skims a portion of the proceeds off the top, and then distributes the remainder to the participants. In the case of the lottery, the amount skimmed off is 50% or more; with insurance companies it is somewhat less but the principle is the same.

A further problem with insurance is that you are placing a bet that something bad is going to happen to you. In the case of life insurance, you are betting that you're going to die; if you live, you've lost the best. With disability insurance, you are betting you are going to become disabled; if you don't, you lose the bet. With health insurance, you are betting you are going to get sick or injured; if you don't, you lose.

What this amounts to is that you are subsidizing those folks who engage in risky behavior, whether it be smoking, not wearing your seatbelts, or whatever. If you have the good sense to make a reasonable effort to take care of yourself, you are making a really losing bet, over and beyond what the normal person makes when he/she buys insurance.

The obsession with insurance which has developed since World War 2 represents the decline in community during this era. People who are part of a community do not need insurance, because they know that the community will step in to take up the slack. The essence of community is a group of people who are committed to the idea of bearing each other's burdens; hence, no need for insurance.

A recent book about the experience of the Hutterites in World War One, called "Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites in the Great War", describes an odd consequence of the sense of community existing among the Hutterites. The book describes the experiences of four Hutterite men who were conscripted into the military during WW1. As husbands and fathers, they could have easily avoided conscription by simply checking the box that they were the "sole support" of their families. But, with scrupulous honesty, they failed to check this box, because they knew that the community would take care of their families in their absence.

A particularly outrageous example of how insurance companies spend the money they skim off the top from our premiums is seen in the exorbitant amounts that car insurance companies are paying for advertising in recent years. The TV airwaves are saturated with this advertising, which is especially inexplicable in light of the fact that the requirements for a basic car insurance policy are mandated by state law in every state. Every day we see these ads: Progressive (Flo and her "name your price tool"), Geico ("fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance"), State Farm ("like a good neighbor, State Farm is there"), Allstate (you're in good hands with Allstate),  Farmer's ("we are Farmer's"), Safeco ("some people want more out of life"), The General ("Go to The General and save some time"), (esurance (poking fun at Geico's "fifteen minutes" jingle by saying it only takes seven and a half minutes with esurance), and, most bizarrely, USAA ("Once it's earned, USAA auto insurance is often handed down from generation to generation").

The purpose of this post is not political, but I can't help observing that Obamacare is a pathetic attempt at reform, relying as it does on the private insurance system. True reform will not come in the U.S. until Congress decides to join the rest of the developed world in providing health care to all.

 The absurd situations which arise when the private insurance system and private employers are involved is represented by the Hobby Lobby case, which was recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby argued that its religious liberties were being violated by being forced to cover contraception in the health insurance plans provided to its employees. This position is laughable on a number of grounds.

But consider the larger question, presented by the thrust of this post. Why should health insurance plans cover contraception? Insurance, if it has any legitimate role at all, should be used to protect us against catastrophic events. Just as we don't expect our car insurance to pay for routine oil changes, neither should we expect our health insurance to pay for routine body maintenance. When I learned that the contraceptive coverage in question was available for as low as $9 a month, this made the Obama Administration's position seem awfully weak on the coverage issue.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Review of "The Nine", by Jeffrey Toobin

The author is one of the most respected commentators on the Supreme Court, and he has written an extremely readable and informative book.

Toobin undertakes to discuss four eras in the Supreme Court since 1980. First is the one initiated by the Reagan years; then there is the disastrous Bush v. Gore case in 2000, which resulted in the Court losing much of its prestige due to its blatantly political decision. Third is the four-year period after Bush vs. Gore, and finally the three years after that, when George W. Bush got to appoint two new justices.

Toobin discusses individual cases, but only as a way of illustrating the trends occurring in each of the four eras he discusses. Similarly, he discusses the personalities of the individual justices, and the nomination and confirmation process for justices during this time period; but all this is for the purpose of illuminating how the court works and trying to explain the reasons for the trends he sees in the evolution of the court over the years. All the while the prose flows along smoothly, and Toobin never gets lost in the weeds.

It is clear to me that Toobin has a lot of admiration for the centrist justices, like O/Connor, Breyer, and Kennedy, and he praises the way these justices work hard at finding a sensible middle ground on which to decide cases. In a case involving the display of religious figures on public grounds, Justice Breyer came up with a middle-of-the-road decision, about which Toobin states: "As a political compromise, if not constitutional jurisprudence, it made total sense."

One comes away from the accounts of many cases like this with the feeling that Toobin feels the Supreme Court is more of a political institution than a legal institution. In other words, reaching a common sense conclusion is more important than coming up with sound legal reasoning to support that conclusion. And in many cases the Court's reasoning is indeed tortured and even incomprehensible. Yet, the Court somehow retains our respect, even though at times it has not been worthy of it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MLB Predictions for 2014

Here we go for the upcoming 2014 season.

AL East:  Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles

Yankees will suffer through the season-long distraction of Jeter's farewell tour. Also a problem is C.C. Sabathia's missing fastball.

NL East:  Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Marlins

AL Central:  Tigers, Indians, Royals, White Sox, Twins

Usually a team that has a breakout season like the Indians did last year will slip back the next year. But Nick Swisher came to camp with T-shirt's for everyone saying "Unfinished Business", and under the steady leadership of Terry Francona the Tribe should be fine this year. Tigers might stumble if one of their ace starters goes down.

NL Central:  Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Brewers, Cubs

I've learned never to bet against the Cardinals, who have the best organization and the best fans in the country. Reds should be solid again.

AL West:  Angels, Rangers, A's, Mariners, Astros

Angels should finally gel under the steady leadership of Mike Sciosca. I don't like the Rangers' trade of Kinsler for Fielder, and neither do I think much of their manager, so I'm picking them second although they should compete.

NL West:  Dodgers, D-Backs, Giants, Rockies, Padres

Dodgers should be ready for a good-sized run at the top with all their high-priced talent. I like Kirk Gibson, so I'm putting D-Backs second.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rand Paul's Idiocies

Rand Paul assets that the Democrats have no right to accuse Republicans of waging a "war on women", because Bill Clinton "took advantage of a 20-year-old girl". This is patently false. More accurate is to say that "a 22-year-old woman took advantage of him". She sought him out, he did not seek her out. She is on record as saying that "I'm going to the White House to get my presidential kneepads."

Far from backing off from his original false statements, Rand Paul has recently doubled down on his falsities by repeating that Clinton took advantage of a "20-year old college girl". In actuality, Lewinsky had graduated from college when she got the intern job at the White House.

If this is the quality of Paul's pronouncements, his presidential aspirations will end soon.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Michael Dunn Case

The jury has spoken in the case of Michael Dunn, the Florida man who shot and killed a black teenager who was playing his music too loud in a convenience store parking lot. So many issues here to discuss.

The idiot media insists on comparing this case to the George Zimmerman case, when, from a legal standpoint, there are no significant similarities. The similarities that do exist are that in both cases a white adult shot an unarmed black teenager, and both incidents happened in Florida. To the idiot media this makes the cases similar, and the media insists on pandering to the basest instincts in all of us, which want to see everything in terms or race.

The two cases actually could not be more different. Mr. Dunn was not attacked, nor was he threatened with attack. Mr. Zimmerman, by contrast, was attacked, thrown to the ground, and had his head repeatedly pummeled into the concrete. Mr. Zimmerman called the police, and waited for the police to get there, hardly consistent with someone who had just killed a man in cold blood. By contrast, Mr. Dunn left, and drove 2 and a half hours home, leaving the police to have to track him down.

The idiot media also likes to obsess about Florida's "stand your ground" law. In actuality, that law was not an issue in either the Zimmerman or the Dunn cases.

One of CNN's resident idiots, Chris Cuomo, repeatedly said, after the Dunn verdict, that Florida needed to change its law on self-defense, without ever articulating what exactly his objections were  about the law as written. In fact, Florida's law is similar to that of every other state, and the law has nothing to do with the perceived problem which the idiot media has, which is consternation over the fact that that the Dunn jury was unable to reach a verdict on the most serious charge, that of killing Jordan Davis. They did convict Dunn of three attempted murder charges, which under Florida law will get him a minimum of sixty years in prison, i.e., a life sentence.

The Florida law says that "a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: (1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another." The issue is the same in every state; i.c., did the defendant believe he was in danger of "imminent death or great bodily harm", and, if so, was that belief "reasonable". The fact that at least one juror felt that Dunn met this test does not mean the law is flawed, it simply means the jury did its job and could not come up with a unanimous verdict on the murder charge.

And yet, the media continues to wring its collective hands over the hung jury on the murder charge. Why? Dunn will be in prison for the rest of his life. And it is not just the media; the head prosecutor, Angela Corey, immediately said Dunn would be retried on that one charge. What a waste of taxpayer dollars! 

Corey (and the media idiots) repeatedly talk about "justice for Jordan Davis". This shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of our justice system. It is not the victim vs. the accused. That case would be pursued in civil court, which is where two citizens go who have a dispute that they cannot resolve between themselves. In the criminal court, it is the government pursuing a case against the accused because of the offense against society.

Monday, February 17, 2014

More Heat than Light on Minimum Wage Issue

Both sides are guilty of sloganeering rather than careful analysis on this issue. Just to be clear, I favor raising the minimum wage to what it was, in real terms, in the '60's and '70's. It worked well then and would do so again. I also favor indexing the minimum wage to inflation, like everything else is these days.

First to the pro side. We hear that "you can't live on minimum wage". This is hogwash. I live perfectly fine on just over $1,000 a month, and this is less than the take-home pay for someone making minimum wage. (Don't forget the Earned Income Tax Credit kicks in.)

We also hear "You can't support a family on minimum wage". Well, duh! It used to be that people didn't get married and start a family until they were financially stable. We have completely lost the sense of personal responsibility and personal character that we used to have. If you don't have a stable career, don't get married and don't have kids!

On the con side, we have equally false and/or silly arguments. We hear that it will cause a loss of jobs. No study has ever supported this notion, and we have plenty of evidence from past raises in the minimum wage demonstrating the falsity of this notion.

We hear that most of the people making minimum wage are teenagers. Sudies have completely debunked this myth as well.

The people who oppose minimum wage laws are cut from the same stripe as those opposing child labor laws, workplace safety laws, workers' right to organize into unions, and on and on.