Saturday, February 11, 2012

GOP surprises

Newt addressed the  Conservative Political Action Conference, trying to rouse up their support of him by saying, "We need to teach the Republican establishment a lesson."   Meaning, of course, thumb your nose at the GOP establishment and vote for me.

After Santorum's stunning 3 state victory on Tuesday, Newt's only hope left is to become the candidate of the conservative wing and the Tea Party crowd, amply represented here in the CPAC.

All the pundit talk has been about how Romney couldn't connect with this crowd, about his stumbling, no longer being front runner, etc.   Just this morning, Public Policy Polling released the results taken since Tuesday -- and Santorum has a sizable lead nationally, well ahead of Romney.  If there was anywhere you wouldn't expect Romney to do well, it is at CPAC, the more conservative wing of the party.

So, today the delegates at CPAC took a straw poll.  And the results are stunning.

Romney 38%
Santorum 31%
Gingrich 15%
Paul 12%

If Newt can't do better than third place with this crowd, I think he's finished -- unless his obsessive revenge keeps him going.

Former ally, Jack Abramoff, said of Newt this week:   "He has turned a second rate campaign into a first rate vendetta."

How to understand Romney winning the CPAC straw poll?   I guess they really, really want to win the election.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Love it !!!

Callista Gingrich was qutoed as saying that "Newt golfs the way he does everything else."

Later, in an unrelated conversation, Newt said that he's "very bad at golf."

A little coordinating of message would be in order, methinks.


The bishops vs Obama

There is good reason to believe that Obama would prevail in court over the Catholic bishops and the Republican conservatives who are using the controceptive controversy as a political weapon.

None other than Justice Antonin Scalia himself wrote the majority opinion in what legal scholars say would be the relevant precedent:  the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith.   This case involved a man who had been fired for smoking peyote, which was against Oregon law.   The man sued on the grounds that smoking peyote is part of his Native American religious practice.  The court found that religious liberty is insufficient grounds for being exempt from generally applicable laws.

Scalia's opinion stated:
“To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
The court later created a "ministerial exception" that exempts religious organizations from certain anti-discrimination laws in its hiring ministers.   Orthodox Jews would not be forced to hire women as rabbis;  Catholics would not be forced to hire gay priests.  But UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler says this didn't change the precedent as it would apply to birth control.  “I don’t think there’s any real argument” about that, he added.

Obama might prevail in court -- but that is not the immediate concern.    How effective as a political weapon is this?   Can the Democrats reframe the issue and counter Republican demagoguery before it gets written in stone as evidence of Obama's "war on religious freedom?"   Will the majority of American people see it for what it is?

I'm not so sure about that.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

An honest man

The opportunity doesn't come often, but every once in a while I welcome the chance to say something good about a Republican.  Today, it's Paul Ryan, the numbers crunching Chair of the House Budget Committee.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention today, he said this:
I know there are people in this town who are terrified at the prospect of an election with real alternative visions at stake. “Make it a referendum. Win by default," they say. "Just oppose – we can win that way. Don’t propose bold ideas – that’s too risky." 

I'll admit, the easy way is always tempting. But my friends, if that’s all we stand for, then what are we doing at here CPAC – the place where so many giants of our movement came to advance their boldest ideas? The next President will face fiscal and economic challenges that are huge, almost unprecedented. He can’t resolve these challenges if he wins by default. He needs a mandate – not just to displace Barack Obama, but to preserve and strengthen the very Idea of America.
That's brave to say to a group that seems to have staked out its position as simply to defeat Obama by making him fail -- not by proposing any ideas that are better than his.  Take note, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.

So I admire Paul Ryan for saying this to this crowd.  It doesn't mean I agree with his ideas or would vote for him.  But think about it:   where we have come to if such a simple, straight-forward admonition is even controversial for a political party !!!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This must be what happened . . .

So what happened to Mitt Romney yesterday?    How did the recently reannointed front runner stumble so badly that he was bested by Rick Santorum by 30% in Missouri, came in third behind Santorum and Paul in Minnesota at 17%, and lost Colorado by 5% after winning it by a huge margin in 2008?   Further, InTrade had predicted a 97% chance that Romney would win Colorado.

Well, I have solved the mystery.  Here's what happened:
Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney
That was on Thursday.  The following Tuesday, Romney lost big time to Rick Santorum.  It must have been Trump's endorsement that did it.   In people's minds, "Trump" equals "You're fired!!!"  So that's what they assumed was happening when Romney and Trump appeared together on TV.  The visual association was the kiss of death, never mind what The Donald actually said.


The birth control brouhaha

The Obama administration has made it a requirement that employees of some Catholic owned institutions -- ones that are not primarily religious in their mission, like hospitals and schools -- must be provided with a birth control provision in their employee health insurance policies.  It has met with strong resistance from the Roman Catholic Church, as well as anti-regulation conservatives of other faiths -- and let's not forget the opportunistic politicians who just want another dart to throw at Obama.

Their point is best summed up by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  "To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable."

I strongly disagree with that characterization of the issue.  Cardinal Dolan is conflating apples and oranges.  No American, Catholic or otherwise, is being forced to USE birth control. 

In my opinion, the issue is utterly simple.  As we say, about another, similar issue:  "If you don't approve of gay marriage, don't marry a gay person."

They object because they say it violates their consciences to be forced to pay for others to have access.  I suppose they see it as forcing them to contribute to the sin of others.

Some religious groups have made the same argument about being required to serve same-sex couples in adoption agencies, and some agencies have shut down because of it.

They want to have it both ways.  They want to benefit from government grants that help them carry out their social service missions, and they want to be excused from the regulations that accompany financial support or that are legally imposed on everyone to benefit the general welfare.

Remember that they have already been exempted from such regulations for their institutions that are primarily religious in nature (churches, religious schools, for example).  We're talking here about teachers, administrators, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, technicians, janitors, etc. in schools and hospitals.

Well, get over it, I say.  As a tax payer, I am forced to violate my conscience and my moral principles every time our government starts an unnecessary war, every time they execute a death row inmate, and when House Republicans use $1 million of taxpayer money in a politically-motivatesd sham to defend the moribund Defense of Marriage Act that the Department of Justice has declared unconstitutional -- all of which I oppose on grounds of my conscience and my moral beliefs.

Bah humbug !!


PS:  Of course, the argument about birth control would become moot -- and many other problems solved as well -- if we eliminated employer-based health insurance and went to a single-payer, government-funded health care system, like Medicare-for-All.  Enough money would be saved in administrative costs alone to cover all the currently uninsured.


A "Mittastrophe" is how Huffington Post headlined the news of the Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado primary events.    I might also add that the evening was also a Newtastrophe, although he was not expected to do well and wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri.

But Romney losing to Santorum by 30% in Missouri, by 5% in Colorado (where Mitt was expected to win easily), and coming in third in Minnesota with a dismal 16.9% is something of a disaster and stops the all-but-inevitable status he had returned to after Florida.   It's even more stunning because it was unanticipated.   There were few advance polls and no exit polling -- so when the results began to come in, the reality stung extra hard for the Romney campaign.

What does it mean?    The voters still aren't happy with Romney.   This week they flirted with Santorum, so they don't like Newt either.  Santorum would be a cake-walk for Obama.

I think what it means is that the chances that someone else will wind up as the nominee just went up astronomically.    Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul will continue and battle it out for the rest of the primary season.  In the end, perhaps no one will have enough delegates for the nomination, and they will have a brokered convention.   My prediction:   either Christie or Jeb Bush will be persuaded.   Or maybe someone else.   Daniels?   Pawlenty?   Jindal?   Petraeus?


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Handel forced out at Komen

Bitterly stung by the furious backlash against its defunding of Planned Parenthood, the Komen director has accepted Karen Handel's resignation.

An insider informant revealed that Handel had been the major force pushing for this and that she had even made the statement that, if they said it was because PP was "under investigation," no one could blame Komen.

That was not only a wrong-headed policy decision, but it was just plain stupid as a public relations and political tactic.   It may very well have inflicted irreparable harm to the reputation of a non-profit that has done immeasurable good in the fight against breast cancer.

Beware of hiring politicians to work in non-profit organizations.   They have the wrong sensibilities for it.  At least the conservative ones do.   Al Gore and Bill Clinton seems to be doing all right with their non-profit work -- not to mention Jimmy Carter.


Prop8 Unpropped

A three judge panel for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has declared California's Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.

This is the first time a federal appeals court has made such a ruling.  Prior court rulings have been in state courts.   The defenders of Prop8 can now appeal the ruling to a hearing by the full 9th Circuit Court or they can appeal directly to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Either way, it will likely wind up before SCOTUS within another year.

I am increasingly hopeful that this SCOTUS might actually agree with this decision.   Why, given their rightward tilt of late?

1.  Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for two important decisions on homosexuality (Romer, which overturned a draconian Colorado anti-gay rights law, and Lawrence, which overturned sodomy laws).   He wrote eloquently about equal rights and about the obvious animus of those who wrote the sodomy laws.
     Whether he would balk at expanding marriage to same-sex couples remains to be seen.  Some people champion all gay rights except the actual marriage.  But the case against Prop8 is so strong, it will be hard to deny.

2.  Antonio Scalia predicted, when Lawrence was decided, that this would lead eventually to same-sex marriage.   But he seemed to imply that, if the court could make the decision it did about that, there would be no way to decided against marriage too.

In the meantime, gay marriage in California has to wait until this case goes all the way and is decided by SCOTUS -- probably another couple of years.

But . . . very good news today, that's for sure.


PS:   I hope our side doesn't push too hard for Obama to declare himself on this.   He's been saying for 3 years that his view on gay marriage is evolving.   But everything he has said up to that point suggests that he will give his support -- as soon as the November election is over.   Don't push him to make it a campaign issue.  Just let him wait and accept the political reality of how Repubs would use it as a weapon.

Besides, his support isn't going to influence the SCOTUS decision.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Handel pushed Komen to defund Planned Parenthood

Huffington Post has learned from a Komen insider that it was indeed Karen Handel who pushed for severing ties with Planned Parenthood and who originated the idea of creating this new policy about "investigations" as a way of obscuring the real reason.

For anyone who hasn't been following this, Karen Handel ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia in 2010.  One of her campaign promises had been to end the state's grants to Planned Parenthood if she became governor.  She was named Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the Komen Foundation last year.

The inside source told HP that Komen has been under pressure from anti-abortion donors and right wing groups for years but that Handel racheted up the rhetoric.  "It was apparent to everyone in the organization that Karen was doing everything in her power to defund Planned Parenthood," was quoted as saying.

"Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria. . . .She said, 'If we just say it's about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.'"

HP reports having been shown emails between Komen officials that confirm that Handel had the sole "authority" in crafting the policy, which she presented to the leadership in November.  It was approved by the Board in December, resulting in the immediate resignation of one Board member who was the top public health official.

When will public officials learn?    Especially in the digital age -- the cover-up of bad deeds will always be what gets you in trouble.

Of course, there's more blame to go around than just of Handel.  First of all, the Komen leadership hired her;  and then they approved her plan that was designed specifically as a way to defund PP.  And they knew that.

It hurts Komen immensely to have this political hot potato tarnish its good image and to undermine its good works.   They should have stood firm on the facts that none of the money from Komen went to PP's abortion activities.   But that's never good enough for the right-wingers.  They want to wipe out the whole PP organization, even though only 6% of their work is abortion-related.    Just the way they got rid of ACORN.

The other lesson to learn here is just how pervasive the anti-abortion forces have become and the tactics they are employing to ultimately make abortion illegal again.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Does God care who wins the Superbowl?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has for years run a weekly column, "Faith and Values," by Lorraine Murray.  To be candid, it is a weekly sermon on "Christian Faith and Values."  There is no comparable Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian, Quaker -- or any other form of faith and values commentary.

OK, so we know the AJC caters to the lowest common denominator on things like this.  They cut out reviews of the Atlanta Symphony concerts;  and when I complained they said they just didn't have enough readers who were interested to justify the space.   For one small review of about 30 concerts a year?  Less than one a week.  No space available?  They have a whole section on sports every day.  So much for being a proactive community resource that tries to raise the level of culture in Atlanta.

Ms. Murray writes for the 12 year old level of moral maturity -- to be fair, she occasionally is a bit more advanced than that, but not much and not often.  She sticks pretty close to fundamentalist Biblical teaching, and she writes a lot about praying.   Her concept of God seems to be an inscrutable, authoritarian father who decides capriciously whether to answer your prayers -- but you need to just keep right on praying anyway.

I grew up immersed in the same atmosphere, but in high school I started thinking on a different level, and through the years I have increasingly felt irritated by that childlike combination of compelled supplication and obedient passivity.  At the same time, I still respect what faith and prayer may mean in an individual's life, without believing it myself literally -- so long as others don't try to force their beliefs and practice on me.

Ms. Murray's God is all-knowing, all-wise, and has a greater plan for our lives than we can understand.   Just as the religion of my childhood had no answer for my questions of why, if God was all-powerful, he was so capricious in letting bad things happen to good people, even when they prayed diligently according to instructions.  Why did God let the corrupt man prosper in good health and let the innocent child die of cancer, even though a whole church-load of people were praying for her to be saved?

You have to pray, really really hard -- and then God may seem to favor the one who didn't pray at all.  Yet even then you aren't supposed to question God, just keep on praying harder.   The stock answer I received, and rejected, at age 17:  "We just aren't meant to understand everything."   That about covers it, I guess -- except that it doesn't answer anything at all.

OK.  So that's the definition of faith:  the belief in that which cannot be seen or proved or understood.

So, back to Lorraine Murray's column and Superbowl Sunday.   This question of God's capriciousness (Murray would likely say his inscrutable wisdom) reaches its silliest expression when rival teams both pray to win the same game.   Ms. M. brings up Tim Tebow (whose team won't be playing today in the Superbowl).  He has made headlines for kneeling in prayer on the field just before an important play.  And then several times, he made some remarkable play.   Hoo-Hah.   Didn't the prayer people eat that one up !!   But then, what about the time he knelt and prayed before a whole stadium full of people -- and then he didn't win the game?

By the way:  Didn't Jesus say something derisive about the Pharisees who make a big show of praying in public?  And he advised instead to "go into your closet and pray in secret to God who hears you in secret"?  Yes, he did.   Lorraine Murray's Bible says so.

Ms. M.'s column reached its usual heights of inanity yesterday.  In all seriousness, she writes: 
"Does God care about the Super Bowl?   Well, he sees the sparrow fall, so why wouldn't he watch the football flying across the field?  On Super Bowl Sunday I'm guessing that players on both sides will be praying silently to win -- and I trust the Lord will be well aware of this."
[Intrusive thought:   Does God watch the game on TV, or can he just see it with divine vision?]
ARRRGHHHHH !!!   So which team will God favor?   All she had to offer on this question was this lame conclusion:   "God hears all our prayers, but sometimes he says no."

Right.   We aren't meant to understand everything.

Gee, thanks, ma'am.   I guess that justifies your four-column space each week for your little sermonette -- taking up room that could have been devoted to a review of our world class orchestra and chorus, which just gave the best performance of Mahler's 2nd symphony I have ever heard.  The Atlanta Symphony Chorus is celebrated by musicians and critics in New York and Berlin when they have sung there, and the newspapers there review them, very favorably I might add.   But the Atlanta paper had no space to let the people of Atlanta know about this magnificent performance by this home-town treasure -- and instead let Ms. Murray dither on about God and the Super Bowl.

Bah !  Humbug !!