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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

America Is Losing The Mantle of Liberty

 
 

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley has a nice piece in this Sunday’s Washington Post on an issue most American’s really aren’t paying attention to.

10 Reasons The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free

His list:

  1. Assassination of U.S. citizens – Obama has affirmed the right to assassinate any US citizen he feels is in league with terrorists. Really.
  2. Indefinite detention – Under the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act, the president has the right to indefinately detain American citizens that are accused of terrorism.
  3. Arbitrary justice – “The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)”
  4.  Warrantless searches –  Companies and organizations can be compelled to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations, including searches of library records, through the use of “national security letters” which require no probable cause and no requirement that the subject of the search receive any notification whatsoever.
  5. Secret evidence – Used to detain and try the accused in military tribunals. Taking the additional step of classifying evidence, “…allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.”
  6. War crimes – In 2009 the Obama Administration gave blanket immunity to CIA agents who waterboarded detainees. “This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries.”
  7. Secret court – Being used increasingly, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court‘s jurisdiction has been extend to include searches of people not associated with known terrorist groups, and is not restricted by Congressional limits on surveillance.
  8. Immunity from judicial review – “Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy.”
  9. Continual monitoring of citizens – The government can use GPS devices to track a target’s movements without any intervention from a court.
  10. Extraordinary renditions – Essentially, the US can send any citizen or non-citizen to other countries to avoid our pesky bans on torture. “The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.”

Each point is punctuated with a blurb about how each of these policies tracks nicely with such paragons of human rights as China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Turley takes politicians to task for helping to create all the makings of an Orwellian police-state:

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Ironically, many of these powers were extremely popular following 9/11, cheered and promoted by the very people who now fear that Obama is a Socialist dictator.

Time will tell if American will come its senses, but for the time being, our reputation as a shining example of liberty and freedom is tarnished.

-Chris

January 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Government As A Corporation? Nope.

I’ve heard this meme over the past three decades, and the emptiness of it never diminishes.

Paul Krugman apparently agrees:

America Isn’t a Corporation

If business and the free market really could meet all of our needs, government wouldn’t exist.

It is because government steps in to moderate the excesses of the market and set the rules and create a level playing field that capitalism can thrive.

Unfortunately, the idea that government should be run like a government is part of the conventional wisdom — of people who don’t think too hard about it.

Krugman remarks:

But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.

Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.

In fact, running government as a business has some terrible consequences:

Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line.

But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.

Currently, it is Willard MittGordon Gekko” Romney who is claiming that his extensive portfolio of firing people makes him uniquely qualified for the presidency.

Poppycock.

He’s even tried to compare his actions at the now-infamous Bain with Obama’s bailout of the automobile industry.

Like many observers, I was somewhat startled by his latest defense of his record at Bain — namely, that he did the same thing the Obama administration did when it bailed out the auto industry, laying off workers in the process. One might think that Mr. Romney would rather not talk about a highly successful policy that just about everyone in the Republican Party, including him, denounced at the time.

But what really struck me was how Mr. Romney characterized President Obama’s actions: “He did it to try to save the business.” No, he didn’t; he did it to save the industry, and thereby to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost, deepening America’s slump. Does Mr. Romney understand the distinction?

In an era when huge private corporations have led to the largest economic calamity in our lifetime, you would think politicians would be leery of drawing comparisons.

The major problem with this mindset is that it misses the real issue:

We’re in the mess we’re in BECAUSE government got too cosy with business and let corporations remove regulations and determine government policies.

It failed.

And if we are to learn from the example of Europe, cutting spending and jobs to save “the bottom line” is a self-inflicted wound to our economy and the stability of the nation.

-Chris

January 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Caused The Deficit?

English: Former President George W. Bush looks...

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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

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

English: President Barack Obama's signature on...

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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