Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Responsibility (page 1 / 2)

Palm Oil, Child labor, Evil, and Deliberate Decisions

This story breaks my heart and makes me angry.

Child labor in palm oil industry tied to Girl Scout cookies

10-year-old Ima helped harvest the fruit that makes its way into a dizzying array of products sold by leading Western food and cosmetics brands.

Ima is among the estimated tens of thousands of children working alongside their parents in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. An Associated Press investigation found most earn little or no pay and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and other dangerous conditions. Some never go to school or learn to read and write. Others are smuggled across borders and left vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse. Many live in limbo with no citizenship and fear being swept up in police raids and thrown into detention.

The AP used U.S. Customs records and the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers to trace the fruits of their labor from the processing mills where palm kernels were crushed to the supply chains of many popular kids’ cereals, candies and ice creams sold by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and many other leading food companies, including Ferrero – one of the two makers of Girl Scout cookies.

… Ima led her class in math and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then one day her father made her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets on the palm oil plantation where she was born. Instead of attending fourth grade, she squatted in the unrelenting heat, snatching up the loose kernels littering the ground and knowing if she missed even one, her family’s pay would be cut.

She sometimes worked 12 hours a day, wearing only flip flops and no gloves, crying when the fruit’s razor-sharp spikes bloodied her hands or when scorpions stung her fingers. The loads she carried, sometimes so heavy she would lose her footing, went to one of the very mills feeding into the supply chain of Olivia’s cookies.

“I am dreaming one day I can go back to school,” she told the AP, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Child labor has long been a dark stain on the $65 billion global palm oil industry. Though often denied or minimized as kids simply helping their families on weekends or after school, it has been identified as a problem by rights groups, the United Nations and the U.S. government.

Let’s look closer at what’s going on. Above the story says that Ima’s father made “her quit school because he needed help meeting the high company targets”. The same thing is mentioned again, later in the article.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and, with a population of 270 million, there is no shortage of strong backs. Many laborers migrate from the poorest corners of the country to take jobs that others shun, often bringing their wives and children as helpers in order to meet impossibly high daily quotas.

The company executives who set those high daily quotas, will wash their hands of the child labor saying that “it’s the parents choice to bring their children to the fields” and “we can’t stop that”. Of course, they could. Lower the daily quotas to a level that one person can meet on their own. Keeping the daily quotas high isn’t about preventing laziness or motivating hard work or incentivizing creative ways to increase efficiency. It’s about forcing people into impossible choices, all for the good of your own bottom line. It is, in short, greedy and evil.

I wonder if the Bible has anything to say about giving people high daily quotas.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.

… But Aaron and Moses persisted. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us,” they declared. “So let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness so we can offer sacrifices to the Lord our God. If we don’t, he will kill us with a plague or with the sword.”

Pharaoh replied, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their tasks? Get back to work! Look, there are many of your people in the land, and you are stopping them from their work.”

That same day Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy. That’s why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to our God.’ Load them down with more work. Make them sweat! That will teach them to listen to lies!”

These workers end up in a repeating cycle of poverty, because they’re kept out of school as children.

But the biggest obstacles faced by Alex and other child workers in the two countries are lack of access to adequate, affordable education and medical care.

Some companies in Indonesia provide rudimentary elementary schooling on plantations, but children who want to continue their studies may find they have to travel too far on poor roads or that they can’t afford it. In Malaysia, the problem is even bigger: Without legal documents, tens of thousands of kids are not allowed to go to government schools at all.

It’s such an extensive problem that Indonesia has set up learning centers to help some of its children on plantations in the neighboring country, even sending in its own teachers. But with such heavy workloads on plantations, one instructor said he had to beg parents to let their sons and daughters come for even just a half-day of classes. And many children, especially those living in remote, hard-to-reach areas, still have no access to any type of education.

“Why aren’t companies playing a role in setting up schools in collaboration with the government?” asked Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian nonprofit group concentrating on migrant issues for more than two decades. “Why are they encouraging the children to work instead?”

And, yes, I use “kept out of school” deliberately. When children are prevented from going to school because they don’t have legal documents, presumably because no one will give them legal documents, someone is making a choice to deny them that which they need to get an education. And when companies are happy to pretend that they don’t see child labor even as they avoid setting up schools for the children that they know are on their plantations—well, that’s a choice too.

Are the companies which are buying and using palm oil acting responsibily?

The [Girl Scout cookies] bakers’ parent companies – Italian confectionary brand Ferrero and Canadian-based Weston Foods – would not comment on the issue of child labor, but both said they were committed to sourcing only certified sustainable palm oil.

Weston Foods, which owns ABC Bakers, would not provide any information about its palm oil suppliers, citing proprietary reasons, so the AP could not determine if its supply chain was tainted.

“Proprietary reasons”. I’m going to make my own decision. Weston Foods is guilty of using palm oil made by child laborers. That’s the most plausible explanation for why they won’t tell AP who their suppliers are.

Weston Foods is owned by George Weston Limited. It, in turn, is owned by the Canadian branch of the Weston Family. Galen G. Weston is the current chairman and CEO of George Weston Limited.

He sounds like a man who places profits far above people.

Weston has faced frequent criticism from the Canadian labour movement, including from unions representing his companies' workers and from organizations promoting workers' rights and poverty reduction more generally. On December 31, 2017 Galen Weston Jr. "won" labour organization RankandFile.ca's 2017 Scumbag of the Year award. The organization holds Weston responsible for opposing a $15 minimum wage, engaging in tax avoidance via offshore holdings, firing 500 workers and closing 22 stores in response to an increase in minimum wage, and being caught in a 14 year bread price fixing scam.

In June 2020, Weston confirmed the cancellation of an hourly $2.00 CAD wage premium to Loblaw workers, earning criticism from Unifor President Jerry Dias. The premium was paid to low-wage grocery store workers, who were deemed "essential" and required to attend work in dangerous conditions while most of Canada was shut down in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because evil is perpetuated by real people, specific people, who make specific decisions that make the world a worse place. And I may not be able to do much to change a man like Galen Weston, prick his conscience, or cause him discomfort. But I can do my tiny part to tell the truth.

Galen Weston runs a company that knowingly purchases palm oil that is produced with child labor. Galen Weston has the power, authority, and clout to make a real difference in the fight to stamp out child labor, to stamp out child illiteracy, to make the world a better place. And he chooses not to do it. He is not a good man.

Likewise, Girl Scouts of America chooses to contract with ABC Bakers, owned by Weston Foods, to make their Girl Scout cookies. They could make a different choice. So far they have chosen not to. They also share the blame for the child labor in Indonesia and Malaysia.

If you’ve read this far down, you now have a choice to make. Will you continue purchasing Girl Scout cookies? Or will you do your tiny part to make the world a better place?

Buffalo Police have no respect for law & order

Buffalo Police have no respect for law & order →

59 Buffalo police have declared that they have no respect for law & order. Two of them were responsible for shoving an elderly gentlemen to the ground, giving him a scalp laceration and a concussion. The other 57 have just resigned from their position on the Emergency Response Team to protest the fact that the police brass suspended the two guilty police.

If the police can't handle facing scrutiny, oversight, and the possibility of discipline, they are not fit to wear the badge. Publish their names and then fire every. single. one. of. them.

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild →

Unschooling is the opposite of everything you know about what school should look like. It's unstructured. It's giving children "self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests".

I read this article this morning and it really resonated with me. Ben Hewitt writes about his experiences unschooling his two sons. This part, about trust and responsibility, echoes what I want for my own daughters and what I've seen from them.

Our sons are not entirely self-taught; we understand the limits of the young mind and its still-developing capacity for judgment. None of these responsibilities were granted at an arbitrary, age-based marker, but rather as the natural outgrowth of their evolving skills and maturity. We have noticed, however, that the more responsibility we give our sons, the more they assume. The more we trust them, the more trustworthy they become. This may sound patronizingly obvious, yet I cannot help but notice the starring role that institutionalized education—with its inherent risk aversion—plays in expunging these qualities.

Then he talks about whether or not unschooling, the complete lack of traditional structure, will cripple his children for future "normal" careers.

Which brings us to the inevitable issue of what will become of my boys. Of course, I cannot answer in full, because their childhoods are still unfolding.

But not infrequently I field questions from parents who seem skeptical that my sons will be exposed to particular fields of study or potential career paths. The assumption seems to be that by educating our children at home and letting them pursue their own interests, we are limiting their choices and perhaps even depriving them. The only honest answer is, Of course we are. But then, that’s true of every choice a parent makes: no matter what we choose for our children, we are by default not choosing something else.

That, that right there, struck a chord. As an amateur economist-in-training, I've been learning over and over that every choice I make means that I've also chosen not to follow a different course, or a hundred different courses. There is no way to prepare our children for everything. They will, inevitably, be unprepared for many things in life. All we can do is make the best choices we can and prepare them for a life of learning and exploration, rather than settling for a few short years of imprisonment and drudgery.

This is what I want for my sons: freedom. Not just physical freedom, but intellectual and emotional freedom from the formulaic learning that prevails in our schools. I want for them the freedom to immerse themselves in the fields and forest that surround our home, to wander aimlessly or with purpose. I want for them the freedom to develop at whatever pace is etched into their DNA, not the pace dictated by an institution looking to meet the benchmarks that will in part determine its funding. I want them to be free to love learning for its own sake, the way that all children love learning for its own sake when it is not forced on them or attached to reward. I want them to remain free of social pressures to look, act, or think any way but that which feels most natural to them.

I want for them the freedom to be children. And no one can teach them how to do that.

I still haven't made the choice to unschool our children. But Mr. Hewitt has pushed me further in that direction than I've ever been before.

Why Women Really Demanded Diamond Rings

Why Women Really Demanded Diamond Rings →

David Friedman shares an interesting tidbit.

…In the early 20th century, a common pattern was for engaged couples to have sex with the understanding that if the woman got pregnant they would get married; evidence from several late 19th century European cities suggests that about a third of brides were pregnant. One problem was the risk of that the man, having gotten the sex, would dump his fiancee instead of marrying her. One solution to that, in U.S. law, was the tort action for breach of promise to marry. In a society where marriage was the main career open to women and the fact that a woman was known not to be a virgin substantially reduced her marriage prospects, seduction could impose substantial costs and result in a substantial damage payment.

Starting in 1935 in Indiana, U.S. states started altering their laws to abolish the action for breach of promise. Women responded, by Brinig's account, by requiring a down payment from their fiancees in the form of an expensive ring—which forfeited if the fiancee terminated the engagement. Think of it as a performance bond.

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law →

J.D. Tuccille, writing at Reason.com:

My wife and I used it as a starting point for telling our seven-year-old why we don't expect him to obey the law—that laws and the governments that pass them are often evil. We expect him, instead, to stand up for his rights and those of others, and to do good, even if that means breaking the law.

Read the whole thing.

Sorry, Folks: One Way or the Other, You'll Never Be Able to Completely Count on Retirement

Sorry, Folks: One Way or the Other, You'll Never Be Able to Completely Count on Retirement →

From Megan McArdle, at the Daily Beast:

But in the end, they're the same package.  There's no way to take the risk out of betting on the future; by the time you can predict the future accurately, it's already the past.  

We're just picking how we want to take our risk, not whether we want to take it.  And if there's one thing we should have learned form the financial crisis, it's this: the minute we decide that we don't have to make that choice--that we have figured out some way to get rid of the risk altogether--is generally the moment that the universe decides to give it to us, good and hard.

It doesn't matter whether you choose a defined benefit plan (pension), a defined contribution plan (IRA or 401(k)), Social Security, or something else. There is no guarantee that you'll have the retirement of your dreams.

How Much are Misaligned Incentives in Health Care Costing Tax Payers?

How Much are Misaligned Incentives in Health Care Costing Tax Payers? →

From Dr. Elizabeth Dzeng, at The Health Care Blog:

The social worker informed him that Medicare would not pay for home care nurse visits or supplies. BUT, Medicare pays for inpatient rehabilitation, which he would be eligible for to receive these antibiotics. Given the choice of paying $7000 for home administration versus $0 for inpatient rehabilitation, naturally he chose inpatient rehabilitation.

The problem is, is that his inpatient stay costs taxpayers approximately $21,000. $350 for room and board plus additional costs for antibiotics and supplies, totaling approximately $500 a day. Furthermore, although he was well enough to be discharged home before Christmas, he needed to stay until he could be placed in rehab. Because of holiday scheduling, most rehabilitation facilities were not accepting admissions. Thus, he had to stay in the hospital an extra four days in the hospital over the weekend and holidays. Given that the average cost of a hospital stay is $2338 in Maryland that added an additional $9352 or so of unnecessary expenses.

In sum, because financial incentives encouraged my patient to spend $0 rather than $7000 out of pocket, Medicare spent an unnecessary added $30,000 on his hospitalization and care.

This is the problem with third party payment. When someone else is paying for your medical care, you have to follow their rules. And their rules will often force you to make dumber decisions than you would make if you were spending your own money.

This entry was tagged. Responsibility

The 10% President

The 10% President →

Mr. Obama's suggestion that he is "only" responsible for 10% of what the government does is ludicrous. Note that in addition to his stimulus, what he calls "emergency actions" include his new health-care entitlement that will cost taxpayers $200 billion per year when fully implemented and grow annually at 8%, even using low-ball assumptions.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page analyzes a recent Obama statement about the deficit ("90% of that is as a consequence of [things I'm not responsible for]."). The results are not pretty.

How Should Pediatricians Help?

After reading my last post on parenting and responsibility, two people raised the same objection: what about parents who don’t know about proper safety or about the resources that area available to them?

[T]here are many parents out there who are ignorant of the statistics on bike helmets, car seat, proper gun storage etc. AND many parents may not know that there are organizations to help needy families obtain safety items for free / reduced cost. If a doctor isn't allowed to ask questions, how can the information reach the parents who may need it?

It’s a fair question. How should society balance the desire to help people against the tendency to annoy people who don’t need help?

I think we need to start with respect. A pediatrician who questions parents, on their first visit, about their parenting skills risks appearing condescending and disrespectful. A pediatrician who claims that it’s his job to protect my children, implies that he doesn’t think it’s my job and that he doesn’t trust me to keep them safe.

I think the default assumption should be that parents are concerned about their children’s welfare and want to do what’s best. When a pediatrician starts by asking parents “do you do this?”, it communicates disrespect and distrust. From what I’ve read in recent articles, and from what pediatricians are defending, it seems that the normal approach is to grill parents with an invasive and potentially judgmental checklist:

  • Do you own a pool? Is it kept covered and locked when not in use?
  • Do you own a gun? If so, you shouldn’t. If you insist on doing so, here are the rules that you must follow so that your children don’t suffer from your obstinacy.
  • Do your children ride bikes? Do they wear helmets all of the time or do you actually want them to die?

Now, I’m well aware that doctors aren’t quite that confrontational and insulting when they’re talking to parents. On the other hand, that’s often how parents perceive their questions. Especially when they’re asking those questions without first getting to know them and without first learning what their level of parenting competency is.

What should they do instead? Well, riffing off of a comment from a nurse I know, how about a general presentation of what they can do to help?

Hi, I’m Doctor Smith, your daughter’s pediatrician. I hear that your daughter has an ear infection today. We’ll make sure you get some general antibiotics to clear that up as quickly as possible. Since this is the first time we’ve met, I’d like to tell you a little about what we do here at the office. Obviously, we’re here to help you anytime your children get sick or have an injury.

We’ll also help you to keep your children up to date on vaccinations and immunizations—the immunization schedules can be confusing, so don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions. We’re also available to answer any questions you might have about general parenting topics. If you’d like, we can help you with understanding childhood nutrition, recommended diets, learning styles or disabilities, or other topics related to childhood development.

Surprisingly, the biggest risks your children face today aren’t from sickness or disease but from accidents. Nearly 30% of all childhood fatalities result from either motor vehicle accidents or drownings. We’d love to help you learn about the best way to prevent these accidents. We can talk to you about car safety, pool safety, bike safety, firearm safety, etc.

More than just medicine, we want to do everything we can to help keep your children safe. Is there anything you’d like help with today? If not, feel free to call or email the office anytime you have a question, day or night.

Beyond that, the doctor’s office could have posters prominently displayed, advertising proper safety or offering to counsel parents about safety. They could have posters and handouts, advertising local organizations that offer free / low cost car seats or safety devices. They could offer instructional DVDs (or link to online videos) that teach parents about proper safety and available resources.

There are many ways that pediatricians could offer help and resources without taking responsibility away from parents or without defaulting to a confrontational style of questioning. My post about parenting and responsibility wasn’t saying that pediatricians can’t offer advice. Far from it. The responsible parent will seek out advice from many sources. But there’s a large difference between solicited and unsolicited advice.

If you wait to be asked, you’ll communicate that you respect your patients and trust them to be responsible. If you freely give unsolicited advice, you risk communicating that you look down on your patients and don’t trust them to be responsible without your help.

That’s Not Your Job, It’s Mine

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle lately, about a new Florida law that prevents pediatricians from asking parents about guns in the home.

There’s one customary question, though, that I’m no longer allowed to ask. In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law barring Florida doctors from routinely asking patients if they own a gun. The law also authorizes patients to report doctors for “unnecessarily harassing” them about gun ownership and makes it illegal to routinely document firearm ownership information in a patient’s medical record. Other state legislatures have considered similar proposals, but Florida is the first to enact such a law…

The measure was introduced in the state Legislature after a pediatrician in Central Florida dismissed a mother from his practice when she angrily refused to answer a routine question about whether she kept a gun in her house. The doctor, Chris Okonkwo, said at the time that he asked so he could offer appropriate safety advice, just as he customarily asks parents if they have a swimming pool and teenagers if they use their cellphones when they drive. He said that he dismissed the mother because he felt they could not establish a trusting doctor-patient relationship.

Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician, explains why he’s asking these questions.

I ask parents regularly if they have a gun in the home. If they tell me they do, I ask how it’s stored. I recommend that they think about not having a gun around children. If they must, I recommend that they keep it unloaded, locked up, with the bullets stored separately.

Why? Because in 2005, guns were were in involved in almost 85% of homicides and more than 45% of suicides in children aged 5-19 years, not to mention many accidents. I ask about guns because they are a major mechanism of childhood death. I’m trying to prevent that from happening.

I’m not judging my patients or harassing them, any more than when I ask them whether they use bike helmets, or whether they use car seats, or whether they let their kids cross the street unaccompanied by an adult. I’m trying to keep them from getting killed. That’s my job.

Dr. Carroll says that it’s his job to keep my children from being killed. That it’s his job to ask questions about how I instruct my children and what precautions I take. That it’s his job to oversee the general safety and security of my home and possessions.

I think that, in effect, makes him my parent. It puts me in a position of being answerable to him, of needing his approval of how I live and act. It takes away the responsibility that I have, for my children. He’s making them his responsibility.

This reminds me of the “Oath of Responsibility” that Residents of Grainne take, in the book Freehold.

I,, before witness, declare myself an adult, responsible for my actions, and able to enter contract. I accept my debts and duties as a Resident of the Freehold of Grainne.

It’s a simple oath, but a very deep one. Simply, it declares that I’m responsible for my own actions. Deeply, it means that I agree to accept any and all consequences for my actions—good or bad. There’s no one I can blame if things go disastrously wrong. There’s no one backstopping me if I start to veer into a ditch. There’s no one hovering over me, waiting to snatch me back from the brink of disaster.

It’s a sobering oath. If I take it seriously, it would mean that I have to slow down and carefully think through all of the potential consequences for the decisions I make. It means that I need to be sure, quite sure, before I act.

This is what being responsible looks like. This is what it means to be an adult. And this is the oath that I implicitly took when I moved away from home and, especially, when I got married. I did both of those things years before I read Freehold and read this oath. But this oath resonated with me, the first time I read it. It explicitly stated what I’d always implicitly assumed and lived by.

That’s why I resent these pediatricians who think it’s their job to look out for my children and who think that it’s their job to question and second guess my decisions. I took responsibility for my children long before I had them. I retain responsibility for them now. And I am not going to outsource that responsibility to anyone, no matter how well intentioned they may be.

No, Dr. Carroll, keeping my children safe and alive isn’t your job. It’s mine. You are not responsible to monitor whether (or when) my children wear bike helmets, when they stop using car seats, or when I let them cross the street unaccompanied by an adult. It’s my responsibility.

I have a dual responsibility: to protect them from harm and to teach them how to live responsibly. I have a responsibility to teach them how to distinguish something that’s truly dangerous (riding a motercycle on the highway without a helmet) from something that’s merely occasionally a little risky (riding a toddler bike on the sidewalk without a helmet).

I have a responsibility to teach them how to safely cross the street. Eventually, that will result in me letting them walk to the park unaccompanied by an adult. In doing so, they’ll cross one or two streets, unaccompanied by an adult. I have to teach them how to do that. Invevitably, they’ll end up doing it sooner than I think, at a time when I’m not prepared for them to do so. When that happens, I want them to already know how to do it safely—not to be completely unprepared because their pediatrician thought it was reckless and dangerous.

Dr. Carroll, if I ever come into your office, it’s because I want you to do the job I cannot do: the job of knowing which medicines and treatments will heal my kids after they get hurt or after they get sick. If you can do that, we can have a good, strong, relationship. If you try to take responsibility for my household and try to take authority that I haven’t given you, we’re going to have problems.

Why are voters angry about President Obama's spending?

President George W. Bush was the biggest spending U.S. President since President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He "he presided over an 83-percent increase in overall federal spending, which includes defense, domestic, entitlements, and interest. Even without TARP and Fannie/Freddie, spending was up a huge 70 percent under Bush over eight years. By contrast, total spending under eight years of President Clinton increased just 32 percent."

Voters were justifiably angry about this massive increase in government largesse. In reaction, they threw out the sitting political party and vote en-masse for the candidate who promised a return to responsibility, a turn away from reckless credit card fiscal policies and a return to fiscal discipline. Voters wanted government spending reined in and they were determined to get it. Both the 2006 Congressional elections and the 2008 Presidential election were about spending, to some degree.

So why are voters now so angry at President Barack Obama? Surely they don't blame him for the high levels of government spending? Well, why shouldn't they? Since taking office in January, 2009, he's proposed massive amounts of new spending: a stimulus bill, a cap and trade energy bill, a massive expansion of healthcare, a "cash for clunkers" stimulus, a housing stimulus, and more. For voters weary of out of control spending, the Obama administration's first year has looked remarkably like a left turn into an all-you-can-eat spending buffet.

But don't believe me. Believe the Congressional Budget Office and the Washington Post, who put together this informative little graphic.

The Bush Deficits vs the Obama Deficits

Note the $400 billion line, that President Bush's deficits barely managed to creep over. Note that President Obama's deficits aren't projected to get anywhere near this low a level over the next 10 years.

With all of the voter anger about President Bush's deficit spending, why shouldn't the voters be angry about President Obama's much higher levels of spending? Voters don't need to have a short-term memory to be first angry about President Bush's spending and then angry about President Obama's spending. They just need wide open eyes. Apparently, it's President Obama and Congressional Democrats that have the short memory.

A Good Husband's Guide

Men and women are always arguing over who has the tougher role to play. Obviously, it's the other gender.

Leanne Bell offers an interesting take, called the Good Husband's Guide. Refreshingly, she takes the men's side of the argument.

In May of 1955, a magazine called Housekeeping Monthly ran a short point-form article called "The Good Wife's Guide." The article is unaccredited, but I am sure that like many other articles written in 1950's women's magazine, it was probably written by a woman. This article was sent around by email to all the workstations in my office, and probably visited many other inboxes around the world as well.

  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

  • Prepare yourself. Take fifteen minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

  • Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his personal comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

There's more.

Now, most modern men would say that such a guide is sexist and demeaning to women. Asked privately, perhaps after a few beers and promises of confidentiality, most men would also say that such a home sounds darn appealing. And, it is. Mostly because we're not the ones working to make it.

But men aren't the only ones guilty of looking to enjoy the good life. Ms. Bell happily recognizes that and presents the opposite guide. The Good Husband's Guide.

  • Always make getting and keeping a full-time job with regular raises, benefits, bonuses and the potential for prestigious advancement your number one priority in life. Remember always that you have a wife and children who need your financial support, and that it is your responsibility to provide for them to the best of your ability.

  • Always arrive home refreshed and happy - put your bad day or your confrontation with your boss, the traffic, the crowds or the physical exhaustion you might feel aside and try to arrive home as cheery and lighthearted as you possibly can. Your wife has been struggling with the children and the housework all day, she does not need to hear about how bad your day was.

  • Be prepared to help with household chores when you get home - let your wife relax or talk on the phone since she has been dealing with these problems all day. Make supper for her often, and offer to clean up afterwards so that she may rest and feel appreciated.

  • Do not bore your wife with stories of the troubles you faced at work today. Remember that you are lucky to have a job and that many other men would be happy to trade places with you. Remember that it is not masculine to complain or let worries trouble you. Your job is to provide, and whatever you must go through to achieve this is part of your lot in life. A good husband knows that he is lucky to have a wife at all, and that a woman wants a strong, silent man she can depend on.

There's more of that too. Note how normal it all sounds? What husband hasn't heard his wife, or his wife's friends, express similar sentiments?

Let's leave that thought there and turn to Matt Patterson for a moment: Men, the Gender Wars Are Over -- We Won.

Men, our long twilight struggle with the opposite sex is over. Our victory is total.

Can you believe the way things used to be? Remember when our fathers and grandfathers would drag themselves to mind-numbing jobs every day, having the sole responsibility for the feeding, clothing, and housing of their entire family?

And things were no easier before marriage, when men's quest for sexual satisfaction was all too often hampered by the widespread moral code which taught women not to give out the "milk" for "free."

Well, that state of affairs just wouldn't do. So we men came together and did what we do best -- formulate and implement a plan. First step, design the perfect world, the perfect male world. We decided such a world would consist of two things: less responsibility and more -- and no-strings -- sex.

Brothers, have we succeeded.

The amazing thing, really, is how easy it was, how fast the old world of obligation and responsibility dissolved. The first, crucial step, of course, was convincing women that they had it bad, that our jobs were "intellectually stimulating" and not the soul-crushing monotony that they in fact were.

There's more of that too.

What's my point? Well, I was entertained by both Leanne and Matt. And both reinforced my personal opinion: "life is pain" and the grass is the same shade of green on both sides of the fence. We're just capable of deluding ourselves into believing that it's less rote, less monotonous, and more stimulating on the other side.

That's it, really. I'm not sure I have a broader point to make here. Except, you know, thank your spouse for handling whatever crap that they go through each day.

Don't be an intellectual drunk driver

Sheldon Richman on "Proposers versus Producers."

"The dynamic leader who gives impassioned speeches and sponsors legislation on behalf of social justice is portrayed as heroic in part because few people can find the logical flaws in the program. As a result, all that counts are presumed motives. But motives divorced from understanding are worthless — even dangerous. In a more sensible world, proposing ends while oblivious to means would be a sign of irresponsibility, the intellectual equivalent of drunk driving."

(Tip 'o the hat to Art Carden at Division of Labour.)

This entry was tagged. Quote Responsibility

Safeway's Employees Take Responsibility

The Safeway grocery store chain created its own health plan for its employees. That's not unique -- many employers do that. Over the past four years, the average U.S. company has seen per-capita health care costs rise by 38%. Over the past four years, Safeway's per-capita health care costs have remained flat. That's a tremendous accomplishment and a great competitive advantage.

They did it by giving their employees responsibility over their own health and their own healthcare costs.

Safeway's plan capitalizes on two key insights gained in 2005. The first is that 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior. The second insight, which is well understood by the providers of health care, is that 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity). Furthermore, 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is preventable, 60% of cancers are preventable, and more than 90% of obesity is preventable.

... As with most employers, Safeway's employees pay a portion of their own health care through premiums, co-pays and deductibles. The big difference between Safeway and most employers is that we have pronounced differences in premiums that reflect each covered member's behaviors. Our plan utilizes a provision in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that permits employers to differentiate premiums based on behaviors. Currently we are focused on tobacco usage, healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Safeway's Healthy Measures program is completely voluntary and currently covers 74% of the insured nonunion work force. Employees are tested for the four measures cited above and receive premium discounts off a "base level" premium for each test they pass. Data is collected by outside parties and not shared with company management. If they pass all four tests, annual premiums are reduced $780 for individuals and $1,560 for families. Should they fail any or all tests, they can be tested again in 12 months. If they pass or have made appropriate progress on something like obesity, the company provides a refund equal to the premium differences established at the beginning of the plan year.

Not only have these incentives saved employees a lot of money, they've also dramatically improved employee health.

Our obesity and smoking rates are roughly 70% of the national average and our health-care costs for four years have been held constant. When surveyed, 78% of our employees rated our plan good, very good or excellent.

Safeway would like to make their program even better. But the Federal government won't let them.

Today, we are constrained by current laws from increasing these incentives. We reward plan members $312 per year for not using tobacco, yet the annual cost of insuring a tobacco user is $1,400. Reform legislation needs to raise the federal legal limits so that incentives can better match the true incremental benefit of not engaging in these unhealthy behaviors. If these limits are appropriately increased, I am confident Safeway's per capita health-care costs will decline for at least another five years as our work force becomes healthier.

That's reform that won't cost taxpayers anything. That's reform that will actually "bend the cost curve" and reduce the cost of insurance. That's reform that will improve health not just finances.

Why isn't Washington working on that kind of reform? Why does Washington prevent insurance companies and employers from offering more of those incentives?

Responsibility Lowers Healthcare Costs

Last week I said that "my health insurance reform plan would involve shifting healthcare spending from large premiums and all-inclusive health "insurance" plans to small premiums and plans that only offer catastrophic insurance coverage. Patients would have more money left in their pocket, to allow them to pay more money out of pocket".

Two days ago, while driving to work, I saw a gentlemen standing by the side of the road holding a sign. It proclaimed "Doctors support affordable healthcare for all". Great! I'm glad to hear it. We need more people on board with affordable healthcare.

But affordable healthcare isn't always what you think it is. Paradoxically, charging people more -- paid directly, out of their own pocket -- can actually lead to people paying less. And this isn't just pie-in-the-sky ivory tower theory. The savings effects of higher out of pocket costs are real.

The paper contends that, contrary to recently recommended policy changes by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that exclude incentives through copay or co-insurance for chronically ill beneficiaries and high-value medications that target chronic conditions, the effectiveness of such incentives in driving business-based results is documented: At Caterpillar, for example, generic statins for cholesterol management were moved to a $0 co-pay; brand-name statins, to $35 per month or no benefit paid, depending on the dose. The plan, which covers 90,000 people, saw increased medication compliance, contributing to a $750,000 per month savings to the company and $175,000 savings per month to employees.

"These barriers to the implementation of incentives actually reduce their impact and have the potential to reduce any measurable progress," the report says of the CMS recommendations.

At Caterpillar, patients were given a financial incentive: the cheaper drugs cost them less and the expensive drugs cost them more. Normally, these price differences are hidden behind a one-size fits all copay which is supported by the monthly premiums. Normally, the cost of individual healthcare treatments is obfuscated by the overcall cast of the healthcare "plan".

Caterpillar brought some of those costs out into the light -- and reduced them. Obama and the Democrats have been discussing healthcare "reform" for the pat several months. They're desperately looking for a way to "bend the cost curve" and hold down the cost of healthcare. I think Caterpillar found a way. It's simple: charge patients more and they'll pay less.

I hope everyone who supports "affordable healthcare for all" will support my plan.

Healthcare Responsibility

Health Reform's Savings Myth, by Arnold Kling:

Anyway, what I was looking for on the web was a link to this article, which says that modern doctors are too beholden to insurance companies, rather than to patients. Nowhere does the the author mention that in 1960 fifty percent of personal health care expenditures were paid for by patients themselves, whereas now it is only ten percent. Instead, he writes as if modern doctors are greedier than they used to be.

Doctors have bills to pay into. But most patients expect their doctor to ignore the person paying the bill and listen to the person demanding that they (the doctor) do something that might reduce the payment. And then the patient gets angry when the doctor does no such thing.

That's why my health insurance reform plan would involve shifting healthcare spending from large premiums and all-inclusive health "insurance" plans to small premiums and plans that only offer catastrophic insurance coverage. Patients would have more money left in their pocket, to allow them to pay more money out of pocket.

Do that and you'll discover that doctors are suddenly more responsive to patient needs and desires.

Baldwin Blames the Feds

As you may have heard on the news, Wisconsin experienced some pretty severe flooding last month. Shortly after the rains subsided, I received Congresswoman Baldwin's monthly e-mail update. She included this quote:

Our entire state Congressional delegation sent a letter to President Bush last Friday asking him to respond quickly to any requests Governor Doyle makes for federal aid for flood relief.

In this type of crisis, the federal government takes guidance from local authorities as to where help is most needed. Our municipal, county, and state agencies are responding magnificently to this wide-spread disaster.

(Emphasis added by the editor).

It's gratifying to see that Congresswoman Baldwin recognizes that state and local governments have a role to play in disaster relief. Nearly three years ago, she blamed the slow response to Hurricane Katrina exclusively on the the President.

I have heard from dozens of you who are outraged, as I am, by the slow response of the federal government and there will be questions raised and answers demanded of those ostensibly in charge of our homeland security and federal emergency management, but first we must focus on the crisis at hand.

Somewhat surprisingly, I don't recall hearing Congresswoman Baldwin lament any of the many mistakes that Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco made.

In summary then: when a state's government is on top of diaster relief, she calls on the President to respond to their magnificent efforts. When a state's government is lost, confused, and unprepared, she berates the President for not overriding their efforts. According to Congresswoman Baldwin, although "the federal government takes guidance from local authorities", ultimately only the federal government bears any responsibility at all. Thus, the federal government becomes a convenient whipping boy and the states are encouraged to minimize preparedness.

A Borrowers Responsibility

Two months ago, I wrote about the sub-prime mortgage "crisis". Specifically, I wrote about Mrs. Audrey Sweet and her troubles repaying a loan from Countrywide. Two days ago, Mrs. Sweet stopped by our humble blog to plead her case.

Countrywide forged my loan documents, they lied about the tax amount and my income to get the loan approved then gave me a different set to sign, they broke the law. That is why I was invited to testify before congress regarding my situation. The proof of what they did is in black and white. Because of my interest rate I had already paid back 27% of the amount I was loaned in a mere 30 months.

Mrs. Sweet, I looked up your Senate testimony. It was very enlightening. Let me begin by saying that Countrywide is not a bank I would ever want to do business with. Like you, I find them completely untrustworthy. Like you, I find their lack of accountability and their lack of accessibility to be completely appalling. Unlike you, I'm not sure that I find their conduct illegal, although certainly distasteful.

This is what I learned about your home buying experience.

  1. You knew you couldn't afford a large monthly payment
  2. You knew you had been turned down by multiple lenders in the past
  3. You desparately wanted your piece of the "American Dream".
  4. You were shocked at the total amount of the monthly mortgage payment
  5. You took the verbal assurance of a loan officer that your high interest rate could be renegotiated, but didn't ensure that that promise was in writing with specific terms.
  6. You failed to notice that your loan agreement specified that the interest rate "can only go up never down!".
  7. You testified that "In the excitement of the moment, I did not focus" on the amount of your total monthly payments.
  8. You continually fell behind on the mortgage and seriously neglected your property taxes. You left it up to Countrywide to step up and pay the back taxes out of their own funds.
  9. You admit to signing loan papers that were different from the loan papers that you were given 10 days before closing.

Mrs. Sweet, from what I can see you did not pay enough attention to what was going, what you were signing, or what you could ultimately afford. It was your responsibility to reread the loan papers before signing them. It was your responsibiliy to total up the monthly mortgage and tax payments and realize that it was more than you could afford. Ultimately, it was your responsibility to look out for your own investment rather than assuming that the mortgage company would place your interests above their own.

Growing up, my dad taught me to always assume that I was the only one looking out for myself. When I bought my own house a year ago, I approached both the lender and the real estate agent with that lesson in mind. I knew that they had their own agendas, just as I had my own agenda. I triple-checked every piece of paper I signed and didn't sign the loan documents until I had a clear understanding of exactly what I was committing myself to. I did my own research on the type of loan I was taking out. I did my own research on current interest rates. I asked other people about whether or not the loan made sense. I thought that was the only prudent thing to do.

Countrywide is not responsible for your misjudgments and inattentiveness. They are only responsible for their own sleazy behavior. That sleazy behavior wouldn't have mattered if you had taken more time to research the loan and double check your responsibilities. I'm sorry you had to learn these lessons the hard way, but I sincerely hope that this is the last time you have to go through an experience like this.

How the Police Destroy Justice

Even the King is under the law. That's one of the fundamental ideas behind the British and American system of government. No one in power -- not the king, not the president, not the judges -- is allowed to break the law.

That idea has a strong corollary: those who enforce the law are also under the law. After all, who is the king if not the chief enforcer of the law? And if the king is under the law, shouldn't those who work for him also be under the law?

That's why I reacted with anger and outrage when I saw this site. Cops Writing Cops - Where's the Professional Courtesy? Law Enforcement and Police Officers help each other.

This is a site for officers getting traffic tickets that ANY normal civilian could get a warning on, verbal or written. This is a site for cops, about cops, and designed by cops. Needless to say, we are fed up with hearing about this and think something should be done. There's always another ticket down the street. We are all family and maybe someday you may need one of us to get out of our car and save your sorry ass. But odds are you're the cop that doesn't do anything to begin with.

If you are a police officer, trooper, court officer, correction officer, telecommunicator, highway patrol, federal agent, or any other type of police (peace) officer either full-time, part-time or retired that has been disrespected or insulted by another police agency (officer) by not receiving some sort of professional courtesy, please email staff (at) copswritingcops.com with the information.

They have all kinds of nifty features like "DICKS OF THE MONTH", dedicated to exposing cops who have the absolute gall to actually write up another cop for breaking the law. Personally, I think that feature should be renamed "HEROS OF THE MONTH".

The entire idea that cops -- by virtue of their job -- should be immune from "minor" tickets is utterly offensive. They shouldn't be granted special privileges just because their job has a certain element of danger. Despite what they seem to think, they are civilians just like the rest of us. They are no more or no less under the law as a result of enforcing the law.

Many people believe we live in a Christian society. Well, the Bible had some pretty specific things to say about treating everyone justly.

[esvbible reference="Deuteronomy 16:19" header="on" format="block"]Deuteronomy 16:19[/esvbible]

These officers aren't accepting bribes, but they sure are showing partiality. That never works out well for society.

[esvbible reference="Proverbs 11:1" header="on" format="block"]Proverbs 11:1[/esvbible]

A false balance: sometimes traders would have one scale to measure goods and money for friends and another (false) scale to measure goods and money for people they didn't know. What better way to cheat somebody? These officers are cheating society by using one standard for "brothers" and another, harsher, standard for everyone else.

[esvbible reference="Proverbs 20:10" header="on" format="block"]Proverbs 20:10[/esvbible]

I don't like that kind of a double standard. And neither does God. Non-Christian officers aren't expected to follow God's standards -- they're not His, after all. But Christian officers had better beware if this is the standard of justice that they're using.

Thoughts on the Mortgage "Crisis"

The New York Times published a long story last week on the sub-prime mortgage "crisis". Can the Mortgage Crisis Swallow a Town? - New York Times. As I read through it, there were a few points that jumped out at me.

One of those loans belonged to Audrey Sweet, a Maple Heights resident and a first-time home buyer who borrowed $118,000 from Countrywide in late 2004 without putting any money down. Because of Mrs. Sweet's poor credit history and lack of assets, the adjustable loan's rate was 10.25 percent, but she says she was told that if the couple "just proved themselves," they could quickly refinance at a lower rate.

Mrs. Sweet says Countrywide advised her that the monthly property tax bill would be $100, but it turned out to be $230 and the Sweets quickly fell behind. Countrywide stepped in and paid $3,493 in back taxes in March 2007, and the next month raised the Sweets' monthly mortgage bill to $1,713 from $1,055.

That was far beyond the budget of the couple, so ... working with a local lender, Third Federal Savings and Loan, the Sweets managed to refinance the loan at a fixed rate of 7.2 percent, and the original $1,055 monthly payment now covers the property taxes the Sweets couldn't afford before.

Notice the main points of this little sob story. The Sweets did not put any money down on their house. In effect, they were on a rent-to-own plan with their house. Even if they had defaulted on the mortgage, they would not have lost any money -- they never put any down in the first place. They were only making monthly payments, no different from paying monthly rent.

Note also that the couple had a poor credit history and no assets. Countrywide took a big risk in loaning money to them. For this, Countrywide is demonized throughout the article. (What a great way to encourage companies to take risks!)

It is also clear that the Sweets bear some responsibility for their predicament. "I do blame myself a little bit," Mrs. Sweet acknowledges. "I feel dumb." She explains that she was focused on the monthly payment when she borrowed from Countrywide, not the interest rate or taxes due. "Once we got the loan documents at the closing, I just came home and stuck them in a drawer."

Wow. Just ... wow. I just took out a mortgage recently. I know for a fact that you have to sign a stack of documents that state in very plain language exactly what your monthly payment covers and exactly what the terms of the loan are. The Sweets don't just bear "some responsibility" for their predicament. They bear all of it. They signed the paperwork, the saw the terms, they chose to ignore the terms. End of story.

They had a lender give them a chance, even though previous evidence (and this story!) shows that Countrywide was taking a huge risk. They very nearly threw that chance away.

[Mr. Stefanski, CEO of Third Federal Savings and Loan] never offered no-money-down loans, piggyback mortgages, exploding adjustable-rate mortgages or the other financial exotica that ultimately tripped up the Sweets and millions like them.

[Mr. Stefanski] does not hide his feelings about just what went wrong in places like Maple Heights. "The whole system was based on raping the public," he says, matter-of-factly. "Not everyone should own a home -- just those who can afford it."

Mr. Stefanski is just dead wrong. The system was not out to "rape the public". Indeed, I find it hard to see how someone can "rape" another person by giving them free money and risking not getting any of it back. How, exactly, does the lender make out in that situation? If any "raping" is going on, it seems to be that the borrower is raping the lender.

Secondly, Mr. Stefanski's attitude is 100% discriminatory. He only favors giving loans (and taking chances) on borrowers who are supremely well qualified and well-off. In other words, existing middle-class Americans. If everyone had the attitude he did, no one would ever move up from the low-income ranks to the middle-income ranks.

I'm grateful that lenders across the country chose to take risks on low-income, high-risk borrowers. Many people proved unable to handle those loans. Many other people were able to get ahead, thanks to those loans. I'd rather focus on the people that got ahead instead of shutting down lenders because of the people that didn't. Wouldn't you?