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Contraceptives And Religious Freedom

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I have weighed in a few times on Facebook regarding the suddenly controversial contraceptive mandate and wasn’t going to go into it here.

After all, it’s the same old story of politicians on the right scrambling for a wedge issue to bash Obama with.

However, having read the magnificent piece by elder-statesman of the press Bill Moyers on Salon.com, I have to say —

Exactly:

Freedom of religion is freedom from religion

As Moyers details, Obama has responded brilliantly to the feigned outrage of the right by being — well — reasonable.

Now, Obama says insurance companies (not employers) will provide this coverage to those who want it for free. No employer will have sully their “conscience” by offering contraceptives to women in their health care plans.

This, of course, hasn’t satisfied the Catholic bishops, but the Republicans are mistaken if they think they have found in them a steadfast ally or a way to bring Catholic voters into their fold en mass:

But here’s what Republicans don’t get, or won’t tell you. And what Obama manifestly does get. First, the war’s already lost: 98 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraceptives. Second, on many major issues, the bishops are on Obama’s side — not least on extending unemployment benefits, which they call “a moral obligation.” Truth to tell, on economic issues, the bishops are often to the left of some leading Democrats, even if both sides are loathe to admit it. Furthermore — and shhh, don’t repeat this, even if the president already has — the Catholic Church funded Obama’s first community organizing, back in Chicago.

Just to point out how deeply felt this principle of contraceptives and religious freedom is to the earnest members of the GOP, they recently held a press conference — with humorous results.

From Talking Points Memo:

GOPers Only Enraged By Birth Control Rule When Obama’s Pushing It

The lawmakers called a press conference rolling out the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), a House version of the Roy Blunt bill. It’s aimed at making sure no objecting employer has to cover contraception in their health care plan (although it goes beyond that and lets them omit other services too).

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), a GOP leadership member, warned that the mandate will “reach in and manipulate the conscience of Americans.” He accused the President of “trampling precious First Amendment rights.”

After about 10 of them took turns issuing similar missives against the mandate, while dismissing Obama’s religious accommodation as a gimmick, I put the question to them: Would any of you refuse to support a presidential candidate who enacted a similar mandate?

You see, when GOP front-runner (who oddly keeps trailing at the ballot box) Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts he instituted RomneyCare, which mandates that ALL employers provide contraceptives as part of their employee plans.

If you couldn’t guess, none of these principled defenders of religious freedoms wanted to take a stand against Mitt, whose plan (following Obama’s recent modification) is now “worse” than the administration’s contraception provisions.

After pointing out that Republicans have already really lost this battle, and in a larger sense, the culture wars, Moyers brings it home:

So here we are once again, arguing over how to honor religious liberty without it becoming the liberty to impose on others moral beliefs they don’t share. Our practical solution is the one Barack Obama embraced the other day: protect freedom of religion — and freedom from religion. Can’t get more American than that.

Exactly.

-Chris

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February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What’s The Matter With Red States?

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I didn’t catch this until after I posted previously about parasitic Red States — Paul Krugman is on point:

Moochers Against Welfare

Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article referenced by the columnist is:

Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It

For my part, I point out these things to underline the hypocrisy of the right-wing position and to puzzle about why people vote against their own self interests.

I know why these states receive more than they pay out in tax dollars — they are poorer than the other states. I really don’t begrudge them the safety net that they pay into as individuals (despite my hyperbolic suggestion at the end of the last post).

Krugman again:

Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

But he also shares my confusion as to why people continue to vote for people who will screw them into poverty.

He offers three explanations:

1. The GOP exploits social issues like gay marriage, abortion and religion to whip people up.
2. The wealthy in red states tend to be very socially conservative, while the blue state affluent are socially liberal. These two groups drive the debate in their respective states.
3. Red state beneficiaries do not understand their place in the system, frequently stating in polls that they don’t benefit from the Federal government while at the same time receiving Medicaid/Medicare, Social Security, Welfare and Unemployment.

Regardless of the forces at work, the outcome is that a bunch of people are railing to end policies that they themselves benefit from; simply because they think these programs are only provided for the idle poor.

As stated in my previous post and as study after study has found, the beneficiaries of these programs are overwhelmingly elderly, poor and working folks who have paid into the system.

But with the economy starting to recover, unemployment slowly diminishing, and no ideas of their own to run on, Republicans are desperate for a boogeyman.

Like Reagan’s non-existent “Welfare Queens” of the 1980’s, the GOP needs a boogeyman to run against, and the strawman caricature of the secret Muslim socialist president has played out for most voters.

-Chris

February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Caused The Deficit?

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Here’s a nice, handy reminder at Visualizing Economics.

Originally published in July of 2009 in the New York Times, the graphic is a great illustration of how laissez-faire and trickle-down economics led to catastrophe yet again.

In summary, for policies alone, and not owing to economic downturns ($770 billion) and not even including Bush on policies he implemented but Obama later supported ($417 billion):

George W. Bush: $673 Billion
Barack Obama: $201 Billion

-Chris

January 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lies About Jobs

map for us unemployment numbers

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I am not the biggest fan of Barack Obama.

My leanings are more progressive, and his seem to be deeply rooted in the corporate boardroom.

That said, you have to give the man his due when it comes to the stimulus and job creation.

I am convinced by arguments by Paul Krugman and other Keynesians that the stimulus was much too small to have optimal effect, but the small package Obama was able to push through did create jobs.

This is, of course, the reality being mocked by the current meme being rolled out by the pack of jackals running for the presidential nomination on the Republican side.

Both Mitt Romney and Gingrich have calculated the number of jobs lost in the American economy from the date of President Obama’s inauguration and repeating that Obama’s policies have resulted in 1.9  million lost jobs.

In GOP-land, this proves that the stimulus was a complete failure.

Paul Krugman brings the inconvenient facts:

Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?

The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.

The Economist points out that even if you used the Romney-Gingrich metric, if the economy continues to grow at the current pace (and the jobs report was actually better than expected at the time of this response) the argument will be weak by the time election day rolls around:

A lot can happen over the next year, but for the moment the current recovery looks likely to continue. On Friday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics will report the latest employment data, for the month of December. The consensus forecast is for a gain of 170,000 private-sector jobs and a loss of 20,000 public-sector jobs, for a net gain of 150,000. (In the year to November, the economy added an average of 133,000 net jobs and 157,000 private-sector jobs per month, so this would represent a slight acceleration.) If we extrapolate those changes out through the election, then Mr Obama’s opponent will only be able to claim net job losses during the Obama presidency of just 55,000. What’s more, the net figure will entail government job losses of 833,000 combined with net private-sector job creation of 788,000. Given steady improvement in state and local finances, continued loss of 20,000 government jobs per month seems too high, so there is a decent chance that the Republican nominee will be unable to claim any net job loss during the Obama presidency at the time voters go to the polls.

This is what is on offer from the modern right-wing — solutions to problems that don’t exist and a willful ignorance of real problems and what can fix them.

Unfortunately, the person likely to receive the GOP nod is a serial liar who has spent a career destroying jobs for profit.

Krugman again:

The point is that Mr. Romney’s claims about being a job creator would be nonsense even if he were being honest about the numbers, which he isn’t.

At this point, some readers may ask whether it isn’t equally wrong to say that Mr. Romney destroyed jobs. Yes, it is. The real complaint about Mr. Romney and his colleagues isn’t that they destroyed jobs, but that they destroyed good jobs.

When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn’t destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.

And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.

We are living in scary times, where it is obvious that the real lessons of the utter and absolute failure of trickle-down economics that are plain to most literate people will never be recognized by a sizeable portion of the American populace.

So you get candidates like Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum who willfully lie and distort readily-available facts on a level and scale so blatant and egregious that it beggars the imagination.

And on the other side, we have Obama.

Sigh.

-Chris

January 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thomas Frank’s New Book!

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The always witty and insightful Thomas Frank has a new book coming out on January 3, 2012 called Pity the Billionaire.

The promotional notes on the Barnes & Noble website gives a preview of the narrative thrust of the book:

Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it’s supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession’s victims and that society’s traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. Republicans in Congress embarked on a bold strategy of total opposition to the liberal state. And TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics.

In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.

Salon has posted a fascinating interview with Frank, who argues that by 2008, the elite liberals in Washington had lost touch with their populist base across America. Following on the train-wreck that should have thoroughly discredited “free market economics” liberal leaders made little attempt to harness the outrage of the citizens bearing the brunt of the failure of utopian right-wing economic policies. This vacuum allowed the right to create a “Utopian Market Populism” to rally the disaffected Tea Party crowd:

I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it.

Later in the interview, Frank notes that the lessons of the extremely successful New Deal (and properly managed Keynesian stimulus) were completely forgotten, as was the understanding that this unprecedented mobilization came out of FDR’s successful run against Hoovers’ top-down government bailouts to banks – capturing populist anger and channeling it into building lasting change.

Now we are left with our discourse being hijacked by the Randian idea that the unfettered free market will cure every ill – when our historic experience provides ample evidence that it does no such thing.

In the interview, Frank notes one of the themes that has concerned me for some time — epistemic closure. He terms it “a cognitive withdrawal from the shared world” and shows that this is the model used by Rupert Murdoch:

This is the genius of Fox News. It is fun to watch, and if you agree with them, it’s very gratifying to watch — and on a level deeper than most TV entertainment. The message is “You’ve worked really hard. You played by the rules and now they’re disrespecting you. They won’t let you say the word ‘Christmas.’”

In the end of the interview, Frank holds out the hope that the Occupy movement will channel populist rage and restore order to the destructive chaos that our national affairs have become.

If you haven’t read any of Frank’s work, I suggest you get your hands on What’s the Matter With Kansas and The Wrecking Crew immediately. They are essential to understanding what happened to this country.

-Chris

December 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worst Socialist Ever!

SOCIALISM FOREVER

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson reviews Obama‘s record and finds his socialist credentials wanting:

President Obama: History’s Worst Socialist?

Thompson lays out the weak case for socialism likely to be raised by the likes of Newt Gingrich (and any right-wing knuckle-dragger with access to cable news, the internet or a radio):

To be very fair to Gingrich, the president’s agenda is not entirely devoid of socialism. No, really! After all, he defends Social Security, which is a forced savings program. He nationalized the troubled automakers in his first months as president — totally socialist. He signed a law expanding the health care regulations and requiring Americans to buy medical insurance, which I suppose you could classify as socialism-lite; although public decency and child abuse laws already require families to buy clothes and food, and nobody complains much about those.

The evidence against:

But when it comes to tax policy and redistribution, a not-insignificant part of modern democratic socialism, it’s fair to say that President Obama is in the running for worst socialist in history. Rather than raise taxes, he has inherited the lowest tax rates in a generation … and lowered them repeatedly while presiding over a period of exacerbating income inequality and a stupendous wealth comeback on Wall Street.

Facts:

  • Federal tax receipts, as a share of the economy, are at their lowest since the early 1950s
  • Marginal income tax rates are at their lowest since the 1930s, save for a brief period in the last 1980s

Thompson’s post is illustrated with great graphs from Business Insider.

The Business Insider link has a number of great graphs that to any sensible person would show incontrovertible evidence that tax policies have increasingly favored the very wealthy while leading to calamity for the rest of us.

I have repeatedly made the case that Obama is as far from being socialist as Christopher Hitchens was from being the Pope.

But facts have never been important to the idea-bankrupt Republican horde.

-Chris

December 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Continues Trampling On Civil Rights

English: White House from Constitution Avenue

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If you aren’t regularly reading Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com, you should be.

He consistently hold’s our president’s feet to the fire over his seeming disregard or unwillingness to fight for our civil rights.

The latest atrocity is Obama‘s announcement that he will sign the detention bill — despite claiming for months that he would veto it.

Obama to sign indefinite detention bill into law

The bill is, according to the ACLU and Human Rights Watch:

the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention).

Like Greenwald, I have detected a pattern in Obama’s decisions that show he is no defender of Civil Rights, and has done everything in his power to seize on and bolster the executive powers of the presidency:

Obama, as I documented last week and again below, is not an opponent of indefinite detention; he’s a vigorous proponent of it, as evidenced by his continuous, multi-faceted embrace of that policy.

Obama’s objections to this bill had nothing to do with civil liberties, due process or the Constitution. It had everything to do with Executive power. The White House’s complaint was that Congress had no business tying the hands of the President when deciding who should go into military detention, who should be denied a trial, which agencies should interrogate suspects (the FBI or the CIA). Such decisions, insisted the White House, are for the President, not Congress, to make. In other words, his veto threat was not grounded in the premise that indefinite military detention is wrong; it was grounded in the premise that it should be the President who decides who goes into military detention and why, not Congress.

This is indeed a dark time in America, and as I warned my Republican friends when George W. Bush launched the notion of the “unitary executive”, a dangerous one for democracy.

-Chris

December 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Obama Should Run On In 2012

 

President Barack Obama signs legislation in th...

Robert Reich takes Obama at his word regarding his recent speech in Kansas:

Reich lays out a great plan to restore stability to the economy, fight the deficit and put people back to work:

An Offer to the President

Bullet points:

  • Raise the tax rate on the rich to what it was before 1981
  • Raise capital gains taxes to the same level
  • Tax financial transactions
  • “Use the bulk of this money to create good schools, give our kids access to a college education, and build a world-class infrastructure, so all our children have a chance to get ahead”
  • Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act, that used to separate commercial from investment banking
  • Cap the size of Wall Street’s biggest banks and break up the biggest
  • Require the big banks that got bailed out to modify the mortgages of millions of Americans now under water, who owe more than their homes are worth

Says Reich:

The top 1 percent has an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s wealth and income yet the lowest tax rate in 30 years. Meanwhile, America faces colossal budget deficits that have already meant devastating cuts in education, infrastructure, and the safety nets we depend on. The rich must pay their fair share. Income in excess of $1 million should be taxed at 70 percent – the same rate as before 1981.

I agree with Reich. If he even does half of these things, my support of Obama would change from hesitantly pulling the lever for the less of two evils to actually encouraging others to vote for him.

I’m less convinced than Reich that Obama is willing to take on any of these proposals and fight for them.

-Chris

December 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perspecive On Unemployment

The bottom line is that Obama inherited a terrible economy and unemployment problem:

Here’s The One Unemployment Chart Obama Will Use To Win Reelection

Click here for the chart.

Starting in 2008, the Bush economy steadily lost more and more jobs until in January of 2009, over 800,000 non-farm jobs were evaporating on a monthly basis.

Then something happened. Job losses started going down, and starting in March of 2010 the economy started adding jobs.

We are still digging ourselves out of the hole dug by the previous administration, but over 100,000 jobs on average are being added to the economy each month.

Yes, I know that there are a number of discouraged workers who are no longer seeking jobs, but the overall trend is crystal clear.

Obama’s policies have added jobs to the economy.

December 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing Her Mind On Obamacare

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Her name is Spike Dolomite Ward, and she has written an apology to Obama about her previous stance on health care reform:

‘Obamacare To The Rescue

Ward is a 49-year old self-employed mother who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She could not afford health insurance:

Fortunately for me, I’ve been saved by the federal government’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, something I had never heard of before needing it. It’s part of President Obama’s healthcare plan, one of the things that has already kicked in, and it guarantees access to insurance for U.S. citizens with preexisting conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. The application was short, the premiums are affordable, and I have found the people who work in the administration office to be quite compassionate (nothing like the people I have dealt with over the years at other insurance companies.) It’s not perfect, of course, and it still leaves many people in need out in the cold. But it’s a start, and for me it’s been a lifesaver — perhaps literally.

It’s amazing what it takes for people to cut through the nonsense notion that America has the best healthcare system in the world.

There’s much to fault with the existing healthcare reform, but there are also a great many provisions that are essential and help a great many people.

-Chris

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Health Care, Health Care Reform, Obama, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments