Friday, November 30

Krugman on why Obama's Health Plan is Wrong

Mandates and Mudslinging

From the beginning, advocates of universal health care were troubled by the incompleteness of Barack Obama’s plan, which unlike those of his Democratic rivals wouldn’t cover everyone. But they were willing to cut Mr. Obama slack on the issue, assuming that in the end he would do the right thing.

Now, however, Mr. Obama is claiming that his plan’s weakness is actually a strength. What’s more, he’s doing the same thing in the health care debate he did when claiming that Social Security faces a “crisis” — attacking his rivals by echoing right-wing talking points.

The central question is whether there should be a health insurance “mandate” — a requirement that everyone sign up for health insurance, even if they don’t think they need it. The Edwards and Clinton plans have mandates; the Obama plan has one for children, but not for adults.

Why have a mandate? The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they’re currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it.

And it’s not just a matter of principle. As a practical matter, letting people opt out if they don’t feel like buying insurance would make insurance substantially more expensive for everyone else.

Here’s why: under the Obama plan, as it now stands, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance — then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. Insurance companies couldn’t turn them away, because Mr. Obama’s plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone.

As a result, people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn’t sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care.

In other words, when Mr. Obama declares that “the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it,” he’s saying something that is mostly true now — but wouldn’t be true under his plan.

The fundamental weakness of the Obama plan was apparent from the beginning. Still, as I said, advocates of health care reform were willing to cut Mr. Obama some slack.

But now Mr. Obama, who just two weeks ago was telling audiences that his plan was essentially identical to the Edwards and Clinton plans, is attacking his rivals and claiming that his plan is superior. It isn’t — and his attacks amount to cheap shots.

First, Mr. Obama claims that his plan does much more to control costs than his rivals’ plans. In fact, all three plans include impressive cost control measures.

Second, Mr. Obama claims that mandates won’t work, pointing out that many people don’t have car insurance despite state requirements that all drivers be insured. Um, is he saying that states shouldn’t require that drivers have insurance? If not, what’s his point?

Look, law enforcement is sometimes imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws.

Third, and most troubling, Mr. Obama accuses his rivals of not explaining how they would enforce mandates, and suggests that the mandate would require some kind of nasty, punitive enforcement: “Their essential argument,” he says, “is the only way to get everybody covered is if the government forces you to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, then you’ll be penalized in some way.”

Well, John Edwards has just called Mr. Obama’s bluff, by proposing that individuals be required to show proof of insurance when filing income taxes or receiving health care. If they don’t have insurance, they won’t be penalized — they’ll be automatically enrolled in an insurance plan.

That’s actually a terrific idea — not only would it prevent people from gaming the system, it would have the side benefit of enrolling people who qualify for S-chip and other government programs, but don’t know it.

Mr. Obama, then, is wrong on policy. Worse yet, the words he uses to defend his position make him sound like Rudy Giuliani inveighing against “socialized medicine”: he doesn’t want the government to “force” people to have insurance, to “penalize” people who don’t participate.

I recently castigated Mr. Obama for adopting right-wing talking points about a Social Security “crisis.” Now he’s echoing right-wing talking points on health care.

What seems to have happened is that Mr. Obama’s caution, his reluctance to stake out a clearly partisan position, led him to propose a relatively weak, incomplete health care plan. Although he declared, in his speech announcing the plan, that “my plan begins by covering every American,” it didn’t — and he shied away from doing what was necessary to make his claim true.

Now, in the effort to defend his plan’s weakness, he’s attacking his Democratic opponents from the right — and in so doing giving aid and comfort to the enemies of reform.

Wednesday, November 14

In Hollywood Hives, the Males Rule


In his new animated film, Jerry Seinfeld plays Barry B. Benson, a wisecracking, moony-eyed, charmingly petulant New York honeybee who doesn’t want to spend his days as a worker bee stuck on the honeymaking assembly line. “You know, Dad, the more I think about it,” Barry says, “maybe the honey field just isn’t right for me.” To which his father, a proud, lifelong “honey stirrer,” snaps: “And you were thinking of, what, making balloon animals? That’s a bad job for a guy with a stinger!”

Swell comeback, Pop, but your son has a point, starting with the posterior one he shouldn’t have in the first place. Isn’t Barry supposed to be a he bee? Well, male honeybees don’t have stingers, for the simple anatomical reason that a bee’s stinger is a modified version of an ovipositor, the distinctly feminine organ through which a female insect lays her eggs.

Barry is absolutely right, however, to doubt his fitness for the honey trade. In the real world, every job on a beehive’s spreadsheet — foraging for nectar and pollen, fanning nectar into honey, fawning over the queen, squirting out wax, battling off bears, tossing out the trash and dead bees — is performed by a cast of workers that is homogeneously female. Sterile, yes, with stingers where their egg-laying tubes should be, but female nonetheless.

By bowdlerizing the basic complexion of a great insect society, Mr. Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” follows in the well-pheromoned path of Woody Allen as a whiny worker ant in “Antz” and Dave Foley playing a klutzy forager ant in “A Bug’s Life.” Maybe it’s silly to fault cartoons for biological inaccuracies when the insects are already talking like Chris Rock and wearing Phyllis Diller hats. But isn’t it bad enough that in Hollywood’s animated family fare about rats, clownfish, penguins, lions, hyenas and other relatively large animals, the overwhelming majority of characters are male, despite nature’s preferred sex ratio of roughly 50-50? Must even obligately female creatures like worker bees and soldier ants be given sex change surgery, too? Besides, there’s no need to go with the faux: the life of an authentic male social insect is thrilling, poignant and cartoonish enough.

“It’s a pity they tell so much nonsense,” said Bert Hölldobler of Arizona State University, one of the world’s leading ant authorities, “when real insect societies are so full of little dramas.”

For male ants and honeybees, time is brief, their numbers briefer, and the patience of their sisters briefest of all. In a honeybee colony of, say, 40,000 bees, only 200 — half a percent — will be male, while among ant species like the harvesters, males may account for 10 percent or 15 percent of the total. Paradoxically, males are made through the withholding of sperm, hatching from eggs that the queen lays but does not fertilize with any of her stored semen samples, as she will to generate female workers. To compound the paradox, these genetic oddballs, these haploid mama’s boys born of asexual, semen-free means, will mature into what are really great big packets of sperm on the wing.

This is not to make light of the masculine charge. The resident queen may live half a dozen years or more and generate many millions of offspring, but the long-term success of a colony depends on its power to seed more colonies. It must send out young virgin queens to start new nests, and it must send out males to inseminate aspiring queens from other far-flung hymenopteran nations.

If worker bees and ants are thought of as the heart, lungs, liver and brain of a colony — the vital organs that keep the body alive — male bees and maiden queens are the colony’s gonads — the organs that are tuned to tomorrow.

The male honeybee’s form bespeaks his sole function. He has large eyes to help find queens and extra antenna segments to help smell queens, but he is otherwise ill-equipped to survive. On reaching adulthood, he must linger in the hive for a few days until his exoskeleton dries and his wing muscles mature, all the while begging food from his sisters and thus living up to his tainted name, drone.

Come the brief mating season and the entire hive pulses with hope. The males fly out and head far from home, the better to minimize the chance of mating with kin. They seek out “lekking spots” where scores or hundreds of eager drones congregate 20 or 30 feet in the air and await passing maiden queens. Should a queen fly by, she may be mobbed by a dozen or more males, each seeking the chance to love her to death: bee flinging, like bee stinging, is a lethal affair. After a male deposits sperm in the queen, his little “endophallus” snaps off, and he falls to the ground. In her single nuptial flight, the queen will collect and store in her body the sperm offerings of some 20 doomed males, more than enough to fertilize a long life’s worth of eggs.

A successful male is a dead male. A failure lives to stagger home and beg to be fed and to try again tomorrow. After a week or so of lekking, that’s it. The drone is deemed a drain, and if he won’t die for love, he must die for its lack. “The workers will start withholding food, the male gets weakened, and at some point the workers will grasp him and dump him out of the hive,” said Gene E. Robinson, who studies bees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A heartless ending, perhaps, but what a box office smash. Over 100 million years of evolution, the social insects have come to rule the insect world, forcing solitary species out to the edges and to make do with their scraps. Dr. Hölldobler observes that although ants, bees, termites and other hive-minded tribes account for only 1 percent of known insect species, “this 1 percent makes up 80 percent of all insect biomass.” The dry weight of ants alone, he said, already equals the dry weight of our own. Who knows whether by tomorrow the standard master of our domain won’t have a thorax, six legs and be best addressed as Mistress.

Pixar's always been a boy's club. The problem they have is that their preferred scriptwriters are boys and have no idea how to write women. It doesn't dawn on them to talk to their wives and female coworkers and daughters. The stories are still sweet, albeit gender impaired, and they make lots of money on their investment. The other studios act like those marine mammals that get trained by operant conditioning. They see Bubbles get a fish when he hits the red switch, so they assume Bubbles is getting the fish because he hits the red switch, not because he did a backflip and barrel roll before he hit the switch. The other studios see Pixar write juvenailia with an all male cast and assume that's a big part of the formula. I gave up on the Pixar/Disney Axis of Testosterone. I'm a big fan of Miyazaki, who has strong young ladies doing brave things in wondrous places. Each frame looks hand painted and just glows with magic, unlike the rubber boy dolls, toy fish, gender-confused insects and toy cars of Pixar/Disney.

— G H Waite, Anywhere But Hollywood

The gender disparity does matter, a lot. The audience for these films is in their formative years, and they watch these movies repeatedly. Like, daily, sometimes. They are absorbing all the messages these films portray, which include the message that society is mostly male, at least the important parts. They also act out scenes from their favorite films, and for whatever reason usually assign parts based on gender. So what does that tell girls? That there are not many roles for them to play. Boys have their pick; girls often get no more than one female role to choose. I hate A Bug's Life for its gender imbalance, and I'm now reluctant to see Bee Movie for the same reason.

We are Pixar geeks. We are uncomfortable with women. We choose to imagine a world with almost no women. It's just like Middle Earth.

— Amy B, SC


As a 40-something woman, my self-esteem suddenly soared when ten years ago I quit watching television and largely avoided movies. A discussion like this is exhausting because it exacts a real human price -- unfortunately, for those consuming Hollywood entertainment it colors our expectations and visions of life whether we know it or not (and most of us don't/won't admit it). I say, entertainment isn't worth this price. Spending nearly all our time in real life conditions us to so much more of the full range of human experience -- stories onscreen bore me to death now that I'm not used to them. To make a reference to another boy's club film, I took the blue pill. Advice to any depressed woman: try it, get a life without Hollywood, and it'll be the cheapest antidepressant you'll ever use.

— Hollywoodfree, Princeton, NJ


13th, 2007 8:29 am

I have long been disturbed by the gender imbalance in cartoons/animated films. Cartoons are directed at children, and I do not like that children are being exposed to entertainment that teaches them that the standard 'person' is male, that it is boys that get up to things, in a world full of boys and men. To those of you out there who have daughters, is that really what you want? I, for one, hope film makers could embrace a more socially responsible approach to the business. It's bound to pay off - a world that celebrates the common ground we all have as people rather than over-stress perceived gender differences is a far more interesting world to live in, and to watch.

— KK, London


To switch Hollywood for Oakland, "there is no there there". We don't write well for women because in truth we see them as tools. Their utility is based upon our needs and in story this turns them into vehicles. More often than not, when we do write strong female characters, they are us in drag rather than being in possession of true female voice. To remedy this we must begin to actually listen and redesign our inner world view. Just as we now do not notice all black NBA Teams or can see our gay friends as human first, women are funny, flawed, and speak of the human condition. We eliminate them from our work at the work's detriment.Were we to shut up long enough to become active listeners, we might learn to incorporate instead of sublimate and in the end, exchange artificial flavoring for organic truth.

— tillzen, El Paso Texas


Men have no interest in women as people.It's quite natural in the animal world.Why should it be different in cartoons? We only exist for breeding. Men want to compete, whether in business, sports, or war.Society forces them to tolerate our presence beyond the bedroom.They will tolerate women in business as long as those women retain the accoutrements of their role as breeders, note the Las Vegas showgirl look of many female news anchors, the pouffed hair and thick makeup. Men watching other men, can occupy their minds with honing strategies for bettering those other men, real or X-men.

— Rozmarija Grauds, Pennsylvania


Sadly, the more difficult it becomes to continue to construct imaginery adult worlds without complex women characters because we women (who buy a lot of movie tickets) want to see our real flawed selves and our imaginery heroic selves reflected on the big screen, just as men always have, the more cartoons are being made that are populated pretty much entirely by boys and men. And they get to do all of the fun stuff.

Does it matter? Yes. Every boy grows up hearing countless versions of the Beauty and the Beast story. He can believe that no matter how ugly or horrible he is, there is a woman out there somewhere who will love him for exactly who he is, despite his flaws. Someone tell me where the Beauty and the Beast stories are for girls! It's not Shrek -- she is not the ugly one loved by the handsome prince, regardless of her size, color, and other obvious flaws. When we have a tradition as rich with stories where the flawed and misunderstood girl gets the prince as we have the reverse, then I'll stop noticing how pretty much the whole spectrum of girls and women characters are disappearing from our collective story-telling imagination, just like the honey bees are disappearing from our hives. The only difference is, in the movies we know the reason and can do something about it.

— Boston, Boston, MA

The same discrimination exists in schools. Boys do not choose to read books with female protagonists. Girls will read either, therefore this discrimination is often perpetuated by teachers in the selection of books for English and history classes. (Another way to asssure the silencing of half our history.) Number the Stars is one of the great exceptions.

I will consider women equal when I see little boys freely choosing to read about the lives of female historical and fictional characters.

— lrando, Massachusetts


Cartoons are focused at children. Children are highly susceptible to gender norms that are not fact, but fiction. If we start showing young girls and boys, early on, that women are prizes to be sought out for their accessibility, the inequality of the sexes will continue. It is more important to promote equity (not mere equality) in children's films than in any other aspect of society. To those of you who say, it doesn't matter because it's just a cartoon... When we are talking about children, there is no "just a cartoon." Anything that we introduce to children will linger in our society until long after we are dead. WAKE UP! Show some responsibility, instead of always making excuses for sexism, racism and bigotry.

— Conscious White Male, Denver


Yes, cartoons matter. They're one of the many ways children are socialized about gender (and race, sexual orientation, class, etc.). And American cartoons, for better or worse, are seen by kids all over the world.

I'm just waiting, impatiently, for the end of the princess parade onscreen. Lots of little boys want to be astronauts or race car drivers, but little girls often say they want to be princesses. When I was little (1970's) girls were starting to see more to life than nurse, secretary, or teacher (fine professions, but too limited a list), and now we've come to . . . princess. Sassy princesses, but princesses nonetheless.

Elizabeth A., Washington, DC: The many Japanese women I've worked with would say that they only have freedom if they don't marry. If they do, forget it.

— Tracy, Washington DC


It's not about being funny, it's about being able to get away with it. They are usually self deprecating heroes, bumbling (B movie) their way to the end. You'd have the NAACP, Women's rights groups, you name it, up in air if you didn't use a white male to poke fun at (Eddie Murphy/Bill Cosby exceptions). How about poking fun at a fat dumb women instead of Homer or the Family Guy? Alternatively, it could be a beautiful, thin, can do everything woman. But then again, their would be a problem with promoting the ideal unachievable woman. It's just not possible to do based on cultural insensitivities. The transition away from men superheroes will happen, but a for profit industry is not going to lead it. It will jump on the bandwagon and... take credit for leading (like environmental documentaries).

— David Doucette, Seattle


I love Hayao Miyazaki's movies. They are more than wonderful. And he's a man. From a conservative culture and generation. So there you go. It's not black and white. Unfortunately, it's a combination of our culture and marketing that lends to male oriented story lines. As a woman, I don't care for the "Lifetime" approach to balancing the scales. It has to be more fundamental. I hate Lifetime movies. I'd rather watch a male buddy cop movie any day. We need better stories, better writing in general. Get away from mediocrity. Hayao is creme de la creme. BTW, who doesn't love Starbuck on BG? What a terrific herione. It's live action, but a good example of good writing for women characters.

— Pam, New York

As a writer I am constantly flooded by ideas for stories where the lead is always a male. But I am a woman, a woman writer, how can this be? After I get the idea for a story with a male main character I spend some time to devise a way for the main character to become a woman. It is a fairly simple thing to do since most of the times in my stories both men and women can play the main character, both perfectly interchangeable. I then proceed to write the story with a main

female character or a couple of main characters, a female and a male. I always try for the female to be away from female stereotypes, passive, sweet, weak, housewife and the male away from the male stereotypes, active, always intelligent, always reasonable and logical, strong. Why I do this? To avoid adding to the overwhelming presence of males in the upper levels of everything, from stories, to power, to politics, to businesses, to CEOs. When J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, was asked why Harry wasn’t a girl she responded, “it came to me very clearly as a boy.” Of course it did, as it does to me every time, unless I need a pregnancy and then, of course, there

is no choice. Harry Potter is a male because sadly enough our societies’ role model is a white man, usually young and good looking. We women remain in the shadows, behind our men, taking care of the children, and this has to change if our societies really care for the basic human rights, and it is a right to be equal, women an men, equally present, equally important. Disney is a

wonderfully nasty company with too much power not used to better our societies but to

reproduce endlessly a model that discriminates against everything that is not this young good looking white male, with perfectly white teeth and an attitude of both being the savior and the only competent creature under the sky. It is not that difficult to create female characters appealing to both male and female viewers and readers, it only takes a little bit more of imagination, and this I am afraid, is a quality too many are lacking.

— Mar Valdecantos, Spain/Minnesota

Unfortunately it is not just Hollywood that is confused by the 50:50 sex ratio pervasive throughout most of nature. Most people tend to assume that an animal is male unless they see it in a motherly role or associate it with a "feminine animal" (e.g some people tend to think all cats are female!)

I thus challenge you all to refer to the next animal-stranger you meet--whether a duck in a pond or a mouse in your house, as a "she." Just try it--assume female unless given reason to think otherwise. You'll find, this is challenging at first, but over time you will adjust and hopefully begin to see the world in a more equitable manner. This exercise is especially important for those of us with kids, because it is kids minds that are most shaped (and perhaps misshaped) by assumptions about gender and which geneder(s) in the world is doing all the interesting stuff.

— Girl Scientist, Boston, MA


I've tried to make this point, that women are drastically underrepresented in movies and TV, for a long time. Sure, there are women, but they're almost always there exclusively as a foil for the male main
character. If you don't believe me, try this thought experiment (courtesy of Alison Bechdel). What was the last movie you saw where:

1) Two women...
2) ...had a conversation...
3) ...about something other than a man.

I don't care whether the conversation was about nuclear disarmament or hairspray -- what was the last movie you saw like that? It's a pitifully tiny requirement, but it's almost never met outside of "chick flicks" (which are annoying for their own special reasons).

To those pointing out that the leading men are often irresponsible doofuses, partnered with ultracompetent, put-upon women in secondary roles: That doesn't make it better. The main character, the person we're supposed to care about and identify with, is still always male. The comedy pattern used to be solid, sensible men and ditzy women we could laugh at. As feminist ideas became more broadly accepted, and flighty, dumb women were no longer as funny, the formula changed to men acting like children and women acting like their mothers (think "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Home Improvement," "Malcolm in the Middle" -- pretty much every family-based sitcom). It's not a big improvement.

— Sarah Stockwell, Upstate New York

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with new media, technology or Pixar being a "boys' club". Take a walk down the children's section of a library and you will find the same gender ratio disparity (humans, animals, insects and while we are at "it" - trains and other neutral gender mechanical objects), in spite of the fact that at least half the writers of children's books are apparently women. JK Rowling is only the most recent in a long line of female writers of children's book series with predominantly male protagonists. As a boy growing up in India, I remember being stunned to find out that Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton were women! I wonder what would be the reaction of American boys to the fact that many of the "Franklin W. Dixon"s writing the Hardy Boys books are actually women.

As far as comparing current US society with the rest of the world goes, a comment by one of the other writers reminds me of a poster by the Gorilla Girls from the late 80's. All it said was, "It's even worse in Europe.". All I can add is, "Still true.".

As Gloria Steinem exhorted long ago, it is not enough that we bring up our daughters well, the time is well past that we concentrated on bringing up our sons as non-sexists. Unfortunately, I see little effort along those lines even in this "third-generation".

— rstate, Amherst, NY

This movie's gender bias and the many other animated films reflects the gender disparity in the animation industry itself. On my animation production alone, I am the only female in my department (1 out of 5). It's hard to pass across better female representation in animation when a huge majority of the writers, directors, producers, story artists, and animators are male. They are putting on the screen what they know best: their own (male) perspective.


I'm currently in my early 20s, but I am from the generation that was assaulted with all the animated Disney movies where female characters were nothing more than pretty things to look at. But as JL so aptly put it, I learned to identify with the male characters and disregard the gender roles associated with the female sex. And as a young non-Caucasian woman, I never appreciated the exoticized tone of Disney movies depicting Jasmine, Pocahantas, etc.

It makes me so angry these days to see little girls fawning over characters who lack substance and strength, especially those generated by Disney and Pixar. And then of course, there are the likes of Paris Hilton and such, who further the

There are some wonderful animated movies, shows and comics/graphic novels, but usually few and far in between. Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel "Persepolis" is coming to the big screen in animated form, so hopefully this will provide girls with an introspective look at what females are made of.

— EKS, New York,NY

Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?


In 2005, a year after Ellie Grossman, a doctor, met Ray Fisman, a professor, on a blind date, she was talking to her grandmother about her guy.

“Never let a man think you’re smarter,” her grandmother advised. “Men don’t like that.”

Ray and Ellie “had a good laugh, thinking times had changed,” he recalled. The pair went on to marry — after she proposed.

But now, he says, “it seems like the students at Columbia University should pay heed to Grandma Lil’s advice.”

Mr. Fisman is a 36-year-old Columbia economics professor who conducted a two-year study, published last year, on dating. With two psychologists and another economist, he ran a speed-dating experiment at a local bar near the Columbia campus.

The results surprised him and made him a little sad because he found that even in the 21st century, many men are still straitjacketed in stereotypes.

“I guess I had hoped that they had evolved beyond this,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like that ‘Sex and the City’ episode where Miranda went speed-dating. When she says she’s a lawyer, guys lose interest. Then she tells them she’s a flight attendant and that plays into their deepest fantasies.”

As he recapped the experiment in Slate last week:

“We found that men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks.”

He continued: “By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter — but only up to a point ... It turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition — a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.

“When women were the ones choosing, the more intelligence and ambition the men had, the better. So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own.”

Hillary Clinton, who is trying to crash through the Oval glass ceiling, may hope that we’re evolving into a kingdom of queen bees and their male slaves. But stories have been popping up that suggest that evolution is moving forward in a circuitous route, with lots of speed bumps.

Perhaps smart women can take hope — as long as they’re built like Marilyn Monroe. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Pittsburgh have released a zany study on the zaftig, positing that men are drawn to hourglass figures not only because they look alluring, but because hips plumped up by omega-3 fatty acids could mean smarter women bearing smarter kids.

Yet Alex Williams recently reported in The Times that the new income superiority of many young women in big cities is causing them to encounter “forms of hostility they weren’t prepared to meet,” leaving them “trying to figure out how to balance pride in their accomplishments against their perceived need to bolster the egos of the men they date.”

Professional women in their 20s are growing deft at subterfuges to protect the egos of dates who make less money, the story said, such as not leaving their shopping bags around and not mentioning their business achievements. Or they simply date older men who might not be as threatened.

Even though men and women in surveys often say that a salary gender gap doesn’t matter, in the real world it can play out differently — either because the man has subterranean resentment he can’t shed, or the woman equates it with a lack of male drive.

Evolution is lurching ahead unevenly at the office, as well. The Times’s Lisa Belkin wrote this month about the confusing array of signals for executive women that can leave them hamstrung.

Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace, found that women who behave in ways that cleave to gender stereotypes — focusing on collegiality and relationships — are seen as less competent. But if they act too macho, they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Ms. Belkin said that another study shows that men — and female secretaries — are not considered less competent if they dress sexy at work, but female executives are.

Women still tend to be timid about negotiating salaries and raises. Men ask for more money at eight times the rate of women.

Victoria Brescoll, a Yale researcher, found that men who get angry at the office gain stature and clout, even as women who get angry lose stature because they are seen as out of control.

That may be why Obama is trying to get “fired up,” in the words of his fall slogan, while Hillary calmly observes that she can take the heat and stereotypically adds that she likes the kitchen.

Monday, November 5

Wobbled by Wealth?

Wobbled by Wealth?

At just about every stop I’ve made so far on my book tour, what I’ve come to think of as The Question comes up. I talk about the origins of the long right-wing dominance of American politics, and the reasons I believe that dominance is coming to an end. Then someone asks, “How can you be optimistic about the prospects for progressive change, when big money has so much influence on politics?”

It’s a good question.

The public wants change. “If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country,” begins a new strategy memo from the polling organization Democracy Corps, “we have not witnessed it.”

Nor is the demand for change solely about Iraq: there has been a strong revival of economic populism. Democracy Corps asked those who believe America is on the wrong track to choose phrases that best described their views of what’s gone wrong. The most commonly chosen were “Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington” and “Leaders have forgotten the middle class.”

So much, by the way, for pundits who claim that Americans don’t care about economic inequality.

Longer-term studies of public opinion suggest a substantial leftward shift. James Stimson, a political scientist who uses data from many polls to construct an index of the overall liberalism or conservatism of the electorate, finds that America is now more liberal than it has been since the early 1960s. And the tactics the right has historically used to distract voters from economic issues, above all the exploitation of racial tensions, have been losing their effectiveness.

But the Democracy Corps memo warns that “Democrats have not yet found their voice as agents of change.” Indeed. What the memo doesn’t say, but is all too obvious, is that one big reason the Democrats are having trouble finding their voice is the influence of big money.

The most conspicuous example of this influence right now is the way Senate Democrats are dithering over whether to close the hedge fund tax loophole — which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.

Only a handful of very wealthy people benefit from this loophole, while closing the loophole would yield billions of dollars each year in revenue. Retrieving this revenue is a key ingredient in legislation approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to reform the alternative minimum tax, something that must be done to avoid a de facto tax increase for millions of middle-class Americans.

A handful of superwealthy hedge fund managers versus millions of middle-class Americans — it sounds like a no-brainer.

But as The Financial Times reports, “Key votes have been delayed and time bought after the investment industry hired some of Washington’s most prominent lobbyists to influence lawmakers and spread largesse through campaign donations.” It goes on to describe how Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, was “toasted by industry lobbyists” (and serenaded by Barry Manilow) at a money-raising party for his special fund to help Democrats get elected next year.

Is this the shape of things to come? My questioners fear that it is.

Fears of betrayal are often focused on Hillary Clinton. Some people who raise The Question cite an article in The Nation from last summer, which suggested that Hillary Clinton’s commitment to change is suspect. “Not only is Hillary more reliant on large donations and corporate money than her Democratic rivals,” warned the article, “but advisers in her inner circle are closely affiliated with unionbusters, G.O.P. operatives, conservative media and other Democratic Party antagonists.”

O.K., some perspective. I sometimes hear people say that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans; that’s foolish. Look at the fight over children’s health insurance, and you can see how different the parties’ philosophies and priorities really are. All of the leading Democratic candidates are offering strongly progressive policy proposals; the Republicans are, if anything, running to the right of the Bush administration.

Also, even history’s greatest progressives had to make compromises to win their victories. F.D.R.’s New Deal depended on the support of Southern segregationists. Compared with that, Senator Clinton’s acceptance of lots of corporate donations doesn’t look so bad — though I’d be reassured if she made her views on tax reform clearer, and matched John Edwards’s focus on corporate reform.

Still, I am worried.

One of the saddest stories I tell in my book is that of Al Smith, the great reformist governor of New York, who gradually turned into a narrow-minded economic conservative and bitter critic of F.D.R. H. L. Mencken explained it thusly: “His association with the rich has apparently wobbled him and changed him. He has become a golf player.”

So, how wobbled are today’s Democrats? I guess we’ll find out.

Friday, November 2

Bloomberg Calls for Tax on Carbon Emissions

By Sewell Chan

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg plans today to announce his support for a national carbon tax. In what his aides are calling one of the most significant policy addresses of his second and final term, the mayor will argue that directly taxing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change will slow global warming, promote economic growth and stimulate technological innovation — even if it results in higher gasoline prices in the short term.

Mr. Bloomberg is scheduled to present his carbon tax proposal in a speech this afternoon at a two-day climate protection summit in Seattle organized by the United States Conference of Mayors. (A copy of the speech was provided to The New York Times by aides to the mayor; the full text is below.) The summit’s other keynote speaker, former President Bill Clinton, on Thursday announced an effort by his private foundation and the mayors’ conference to help 1,100 American cities buy energy-efficient products as groups and qualify for volume discounts.

In calling for a carbon tax, Mr. Bloomberg is again speaking out on national issues, as he has on gun control and public health matters like smoking and obesity. The mayor, who was elected in 2001, left the Republican Party in June of this year and declared himself a political independent, fueling speculation that he might run for president. While the presidential talk has simmered down lately, today’s environmental address could revive it.

At the least, the tone and scope of Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal suggest that he is eager to maintain a national profile on major issues and determined not to be seen as a lame duck for the remaining two years of his term. (He is barred by term limits from seeking re-election in 2009.) Mr. Bloomberg’s speech accuses the federal government of failing to develop a meaningful response to global warming and asserts that both major political parties have dodged the issue.

In 1993, President Clinton persuaded the House to adopt a B.T.U. tax (a tax on the heat content of fuels), but the effort died in the Senate. Many American politicians have considered endorsing a carbon tax politically suicidal; among the few who publicly support the concept are Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate who has called for a corporate carbon tax, and former Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last month for his work on climate change.

The idea of a carbon tax has slowly been gaining support, not only among scholars and environmentalists, but also in an unlikely quarter: business groups and even the companies that emit carbon dioxide and would be the most directly affected. Earlier this year, several businessmen formed the Carbon Tax Center to argue for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Under that proposal, the revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce the deficit or to finance cuts in income taxes or the alternative minimum tax.

Most economists consider a carbon tax a more effective instrument for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the other major policy alternative, a cap-and-trade system that would require plant-by-plant emission measurements and could prompt companies to cheat. Mr. Bloomberg’s staff cited research by Gilbert E. Metcalf, a Tufts University economist who is on leave to work with the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in support of that argument.

Mr. Bloomberg’s speech calls on political leaders to make necessary if unpopular choices — citing, as an example, his call for a congestion pricing plan that would tax vehicular traffic in Manhattan during the busiest weekday periods. Despite the support of the Bush administration, which has offered to help finance the effort as a model for traffic mitigation, the plan has been controversial, and it is being studied by a commission made up of state and city lawmakers.

In today’s speech, Mr. Bloomberg calls for four key measures on climate change: a vast increase in energy-related research and development; an end to certain agricultural subsidies, especially that of corn-based ethanol; an increase in federal fuel efficiency standards for vehicles; and laws to make pollution more expensive for companies. He acknowledges that a cap-and-trade system is politically more feasible, but argues that it obscures costs and is less effective than a carbon tax. Based on his decades in Wall Street and as head of his financial services company, Bloomberg L.P., Mr. Bloomberg argues that “the certainty of a pollution fee — coupled with a tax cut for all Americans — is a much better deal.”

The full text of Mr. Bloomberg’s prepared speech follows. The mayor is scheduled to deliver the speech at 12:30 p.m. in Seattle (3:30 p.m. in New York).

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mayor Palmer, Mayor Nickels, Mayor Diaz — and many others in this room — through our coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which now includes more than 240 mayors from all around the country — Republicans, Democrats, and independents. If you haven’t joined yet, we’d love to have you — and I think illegal guns and climate change are two of the best examples of cities leading where Washington has not. On both issues, those in Washington prefer talk to action. On illegal guns, they extol the virtues of the Second Amendment, which is all well and good, but let’s get serious: protecting the Second Amendment does not stop you from keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals. It’s just a political duck-and-cover that allows legislators to escape responsibility for fixing a serious problem. And innocent people — and police officers — are dying as a result.

On climate change, the duck-and-cover usually involves pointing the finger at others. It’s China-this and India-that. But wait a second. This is the United States of America! When there’s a major challenge, we don’t wait for others to act. We lead! And we lead by example. That’s what all of us here are doing.

This conference has highlighted just how much local leadership there is on the issue of climate change and how many innovative new projects are going on in cities around the country: Seattle’s incentives for greening existing buildings, Los Angeles’s million tree initiative, Miami’s bus rapid transit program — and the list goes on. When we developed our long-term sustainability plan in New York, which we call PlaNYC, we made no apologies for stealing the very best ideas — and we came up with some of our own, including converting our 13,000 taxis to hybrids or high-efficiency vehicles. This will not only help clean our air and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, it will save each driver about $4,500 a year in gas costs.

Cities and states are both taking action, but the fact is, no matter how far we push the boundaries of the possible, there will be no substitute for federal leadership. Leadership is not waiting for others to act, or bowing to special interests, or making policy by polling or political calculus. And it’s not hoping that technology will rescue us down the road or forcing our children to foot the bill. Leadership is about facing facts, making hard decisions and having the independence and courage to do the right thing, even when it’s not easy or popular. We’ve all heard people say, “It’s a great idea, but for the politics.” And let me give you just one example from New York.

Last spring, as part of our PlaNYC initiative, we proposed a system of congestion pricing based on successful programs in London, Stockholm and Singapore. The plan would charge drivers $8 to enter Manhattan on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which would help us reduce the congestion that is choking our economy, the pollution that has helped produce asthma rates that are twice the national average, and the carbon dioxide that is fueling global warming.

Now, the question is not whether we want to pay, but how do we want to pay. With an increased asthma rate? With more greenhouse gases? Wasted time? Lost business? Higher prices? Or do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit and use that money to expand mass transit service? When you look at it that way, the idea makes a lot of sense, but for the politics, because no one likes the idea of paying more. But being up front and honest about the costs and benefits, we’ve been able to build a coalition of supporters that includes conservatives and liberals, labor unions and businesses, and community leaders throughout the city.

There is no problem that can’t be solved if we have the courage to confront it head-on — and put progress above politics. Mayors around the country are doing it — and those in Washington can, too. I believe it’s time for both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to come together around a national strategy on climate change and to lead the way on an international strategy. And I believe that until they do, it’s our job as mayors to point the way forward. That’s why right after this conference, several of us will be testifying before a House committee that is holding a hearing on climate change here in Seattle. It’s why I’m pleased to announce that New York City has recently joined a new campaign being launched by The Climate Group called “Together.” It will unite businesses, think tanks, advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, and cities — and I urge all of the cities in this room to join, and to invite your neighbors. It will be a national effort to help all Americans make a difference in the fight against climate change. And it’s why next month, I will go to the U.N. climate change summit in Bali, in the South Pacific, as a guest participant, and to support our delegation.

It’s time for America to re-establish its leadership on all issues of international importance, including climate change. Because if we are going to remain the world’s moral compass — a role that we played throughout the 20th century, not always perfectly, but pretty darn well — we need to regain our footing on the world stage. That means ending the “go-it-alone” approach to foreign affairs that has never served America well. It didn’t work in the 1920s, when we tried to isolate ourself from the world, and it hasn’t work in recent years, when we’ve tried to stand above it, pretending that vital international treaties can simply be ignored. The fight against global warming is a test of America’s leadership — and not just on the environment.

Climate change presents a national security imperative for us, because our dependence on foreign oil has entangled our interests with tyrants and increased our exposure to terrorism. It’s also an economic imperative, because clean energy is going to fuel the future. Jobs are on the line here — good jobs of every kind: Farm jobs. Factory jobs. Engineering jobs. Sales jobs. Management jobs. If we don’t capture these jobs, they’ll just move overseas. Green energy is going to be the oil gusher of the 21st century, and if we’re going to remain the world’s economic superpower, we’ve got to be the pioneers — just as America always has been.

How do we do it? I think we need a strategy that embraces four basic principles, and I’d like to briefly outline them today. First, we need to increase investment in energy R & D. Right now, we’re spending just one-third of what we were in the 1970s. If we really want to be able to manufacture competitively priced biofuel and solar power, if we really want to sequester the carbon dioxide released from coal, we have to be willing to make the commitments that will drive private capital to these projects — and right now, we’re just not doing that.

Second, we have to stop setting tariffs and subsidies based on pork barrel politics. For instance, Congress is currently subsidizing corn-based ethanol at 50 cents a gallon — and you can argue that’s good agricultural policy, but you can’t argue that it’s good for consumers or the environment. Because it isn’t. Consumers pay more for food, and producing corn-based ethanol results in much more carbon dioxide than producing sugar-based ethanol. But are we subsidizing sugar-based ethanol? No! We’re putting a 50-cent tariff on it. Ending that tariff makes all the sense in the world, but for the politics. Everyone knows that politically driven policies are costing taxpayers billions while providing only marginal carbon reductions — but we need leaders who will do something about it!

Third, we have to get serious about energy efficiency — and the best place to start is with our cars and trucks. In 1975, Congress passed a law requiring fuel efficiency standards to double over 10 years, from 12 miles a gallon to 24, with incremental targets that auto manufacturers were required to meet. But since 1985, Washington has been paralyzed by special interests. If the same incremental gains had been adopted for the last two decades, think of where we would be now! We’d all be saving money at the pump, we’d be producing less air pollution and greenhouse gas, Detroit would be in a stronger competitive position and the “Big Three” may not have lost so many more jobs. (Just yesterday, Chrysler announced another 12,000 job cuts.)

Those job losses hurt hard-working Americans, and we have to ask ourselves: Do we want even more middle-class factory workers to be handed pink slips and left to look for service jobs at half the wages? Because that’s the direction we’re heading in if we continue to fall further and further behind other countries in producing fuel-efficient vehicles. The current Senate energy bill would raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards from 27.5 to 35 miles per hour by 2020. That’s nowhere near the leap we made from 1975 to 1985, and many foreign cars are already getting 35 miles to the gallon. Even so, U.S. automakers are trying to water down the Senate bill — and if Congress caves, you can bet the loudest cheers will be heard in Japan. Raising fuel efficiency standards is the best thing we could do for U.S. automakers — and it would’ve been done years ago, but for the politics.

Fourth and finally, we have to stop ignoring the laws of economics. As long as greenhouse gas pollution is free, it will be abundant. If we want to reduce it, there has to be a cost for producing it. The voluntary targets suggested by President Bush would be like voluntary speed limits — doomed to fail. If we’re serious about putting the brakes on global warming, the question is not whether we should put a value on greenhouse gas pollution, but how we should do it. This is where the debate is moving, and I’d like to briefly touch on the pros and cons of the two approaches that are most often discussed: creating a cap-and-trade system, and a putting a price on carbon.

Both of these ideas share the same goal: raising the cost of producing greenhouse gas pollution. If you want less of something, every economist will tell you to do the same thing: make it more expensive. Of course, none of us wants to pay more for electricity or gas or anything else. Rising energy costs, rising health costs, rising college tuition — the middle class is getting squeezed left and right. But raising the cost of pollution can actually save taxpayers money in the long run — and I’ll explain how in a minute. But first, you might be thinking: “Wait a second. Five years ago, oil was selling at $30 a gallon. Now it’s selling at more than $90, and we’re not buying any less of it. So why would raising the cost of carbon make any difference?” The answer is: It would and it wouldn’t. People are going to keep buying gas whether it costs $1 a gallon or $2.75 a gallon — or even more — because the demand for gas is inelastic. But the demand for coal is far more elastic than oil, and so if its price goes up, many power plants would likely switch to natural gas, which is much cleaner, and the 100 coal plants that are now on the drawing boards would likely convert to natural gas as well. Raising the cost of carbon would also make alternative energy sources more cost-competitive, which would lead more consumers and property owners to make the switch.

To raise the cost of carbon, we can take either an indirect approach — creating a cap-and-trade system of pollution credits — or a direct approach: charging a fee for greenhouse gas pollutants. The question is: Which approach would be more effective? I’ve talked to a number of economists on this issue, people like Gilbert Metcalf at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and every one of them says the same thing: A direct fee is the better approach — but for the politics. There’s that phrase again: “But for the politics!”

Cap-and-trade is an easier political sell because the costs are hidden — but they’re still there. And the payoff is more uncertain. Because even though cap-and-trade is intended to incentivize investments that reduce pollution, the price volatility for carbon credits can discourage investment, since an investment that might make sense if carbon credits are trading at $50 a ton may not make sense at $30 a ton. This price volatility can also lead to real economic pain. For instance, if 100 companies release higher emissions than they had planned for, they all have to buy more credits, which can create a very expensive bidding war. That’s exactly what’s happening in parts of Europe right now, and it’s going to cost companies there billions of dollars.

There are also logistical issues with cap-and-trade. The market for trading carbon credits will be much more complex and difficult to police than the market for the sulfur dioxide credits that eliminated acid rain. And there are political issues — because the system is subject to manipulation by elected officials who want to hand out exemptions to special interests. A cap-and-trade system will only work if all the credits are distributed from the start — and all industries are covered. But this begs the question: If all industries are going to be affected, and the worst polluters are going to pay more, why not simplify matters for companies by charging a direct pollution fee? It’s like making one right turn instead of three left turns. You end up going in the same direction, but without going around in a circle first.

A direct charge would eliminate the uncertainty that companies would face in a cap-and-trade system. It would be easier to implement and enforce, it would prevent special interests from opening up loopholes and it would create an opportunity to cut taxes.

I was in England a month ago talking to the Conservative Party, which has proposed a series of revenue-neutral “green taxes” that would be offset by reductions in other taxes. I believe that approach merits consideration — and the most promising idea I’ve heard is to use the revenue from pollution pricing to cut the payroll tax. After all: Employment is good, pollution is bad. Why shouldn’t we lower the cost of the good and raise the cost of the bad? Studies show that a pollution fee of $15 for every ton of greenhouse gas would allow us to return about $500 a year to the average taxpayer. And a charge on pollution would be less regressive than the payroll tax, because the more energy you consume, the more you would pay. That would give us all of us an incentive to reduce our energy use — whether that’s buying a more fuel efficient appliance, or making the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, as we’ve done in New York’s City Hall – and as I’ve done in my own home. Under this approach, even though energy costs would rise, the savings from tax cuts and energy efficiencies could, over the long run, leave consumers with more money in their pockets.

Creating a direct charge for greenhouse gas pollution would also incentivize the kinds of innovation that a cap-and-trade system is designed to encourage — without creating market uncertainty. To do this, a portion of the revenue from the pollution charge would be used to create an innovation fund, which would finance tax credits for companies that reduce their greenhouse gas pollution. As a result, companies would have two big incentives to reduce their pollution: minimizing the charges they would have to pay and maximizing their tax savings. And unlike a cap-and-trade system, the certainty of tax credits would be more likely to lead companies to make the long-term investments in clean technology that will allow us to substantially reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Both cap-and-trade and pollution pricing present their own challenges — but there is an important difference between the two. The primary flaw of cap-and-trade is economic — price uncertainty. While the primary flaw of a pollution fee is political, the difficulty of getting it through Congress. But I’ve never been one to let short-term politics get in the way of long-term success. The job of an elected official is to lead – not to stick a finger in the wind. It’s to stand up and say what we believe — no matter what the polls say is popular or what the pundits say is political suicide.

From where I sit, having spent 15 years on Wall Street and 20 years running my own company, the certainty of a pollution fee — coupled with a tax cut for all Americans — is a much better deal. It would be better for the economy, better for taxpayers and — given the experiences so far in Europe — it would be better for the environment. I think it’s time we stopped listening to the skeptics who say, “But for the politics” and start being honest about costs and benefits. Politicians tend to prefer cap-and-trade because it obscures the costs. Some even pretend that it will lower costs in the short run. That’s nonsense. The costs will be the same under either plan — and if anything, they will be higher under cap-and-trade, because middlemen will be making money off the trades. (I happen to love middlemen. They use Bloomberg terminals and support my daughters. But what’s right is right!)

For the money, a direct fee will generate more long-term savings for consumers, and greater carbon reductions for the environment. And I don’t know about you, but when the economists say one thing and the politicians say another, I’ll go with the economists.

Of course, I also understand that you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Whether it’s a direct fee or cap-and-trade, we can’t be afraid to try something — to do something — to act. As mayors, we’re all familiar with those who respond to every problem by saying, “Do another study,” or by scaring voters with doom-and-gloom predictions. That approach is why we have health care costs that have spiraled out of control, it’s why we have public school systems that were allowed to collapse, and it’s why we’re still fighting poverty with the same old programs that haven’t worked.

But remember, this is America! We can’t be afraid to lead, to innovate, to experiment. Cities aren’t afraid. We’re showing that we can do better, we can make progress, and we can do it in a way that is good for the environment and the economy. It’s time for Washington to do the same and to show the world that America is ready to be a leader. When our representatives run for re-election or higher office, they talk about “a chicken in every pot.” But why not tell us who’s going to pay, how it’s going to work, when it’s going to be implemented, and if it doesn’t work, what’s Plan B? We need our leaders to have the courage to talk about and implement real climate change solutions, not just because it’s good for the world, but because it’s good for America, our environment, our national security and our economy. Make no mistake: Real jobs are on the line here — because cleaner energy sources are going to be a cornerstone of the 21st-century economy.

If we’re going to remain the world’s economic superpower, we have to create predictable incentives that will drive technological innovations and allow us to lead the world in developing clean, reliable and affordable energy. We can do it! If we stop saying: But for the politics!

In the weeks and months ahead, our job is not just to continue innovating — but to demand that those in Washington join us. Tell them that it’s O.K. to stand up and be honest about the costs and benefits of real solutions. We’ve done it — and we’ve not only lived to tell the tale, we’ve won support and respect from our constituents. They can, too. And we’ve got to hold them accountable for doing it. So let’s get to work.