Saturday, September 5, 2015

Best quote yet on being jailed for religious beliefs

Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul should stop pandering to opponents of marriage equality long enough to think about this.

The best, most succinct statement yet is this tweet from Rachel Held Evans.   Thanks to my daughter Barbara for passing it along:
"No one's being jailed for practicing her religion.   Someone's being jailed for using the government to force others to practice her religion."
And the corollary for them to ponder is this:   What if the clerk were a Buddhist, who refused to issue gun permits, because it was against his religion to kill?


The Iran nuclear deal is a "done deal."

Secretary of State John Kerry is very optimistic about the success of the Iran nuclear agreement, now that Sen. Barbara Milkulski's support makes 34 senators -- enough to sustain President Obama's veto of the Republican's resolution of disapproval.

There are enough senators left who have not declared a position that it is still possible that the resolution may not even be approved and not require a veto.   Now that the deal's survival is assured, I would think those who are wavering would want to be on the winning side.   On the other hand, some who may have wanted to vote the other way can now do so, knowing they will not be blamed for killing the deal.   We'll see.

Beyond this initial victory, however, Kerry is also confident that the people's perception of the deal will dramatically improve, such that by the 2017 inauguration of a new president, the country “will be 90 percent supportive,” and thus making it very difficult for even a Republican president to kill.

“I cannot see a president willfully taking the United Nations, five other nations who supported us in this negotiation and saying, 'Sorry, we're just going to walk away from this and create a more dangerous situation in the Middle East.' I just don't see that happening,” Kerry said.


UPDATE:   As of late Friday night, three more senators have signed on to support the deal, making 37.   This is just four short of what it would take to deny Republicans' effort to pass their disapproval resolution.   If we get there, Obama won't even have to veto it.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Same-sex marriage license issued by deputy clerk in Rowan County, KY

Soon after the County Clerk's office opened this morning, with County Clerk Kim Martin still in jail, her deputy clerks issued a marriage license to James Yates and William Smith, one of the couples that had previously been repeatedly turned away by Ms. Davis.

From her jail cell, Davis had yesterday insisted that she still had the authority to prevent this from happening.   But the clerks did it anyway.

Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC pointed out that only three of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. have refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples.   There are other counties that have so few residents that they only get two or three heterosexual couples a year seeking licenses.   So, of course, not all counties have been tested by actual applications.

That fact is, however, that the compliance with SCOTUS's June ruling, is astonishingly good.   Think back to the 1954 Brown v Board of Education, when there was massive resistance to desegregation of schools by governors and angry crowds yelling at little black kids going for their first day of school.   Think George Wallace standing defiantly to block the entrance to his white state university in Alabama.

This is nothing like that.    Our age of instant news everywhere with social media, internet, and 24/7 television blows it all out of proportion.   Kim Davis became a recognized name within minutes all over the country.    Conservative politicians lost no time in warming up their denouncing megaphones.

Here's a question for Mike Huckabee and his ilk:    What if Kim Davis, instead of an evangelical Christian, were a Muslim or an orthodox Jew and wanting to impose some particular belief that failed to carry out her official duties?    What would you say then?   Would you defend her right to ignore a law that went against her "sincerely held religious belief?"   What if a Quaker clerk refused to issue gun permits because guns violated the sincerely held, passivist beliefs of his religion?


Latest in religious liberty martyr. Even Scalia says she should issue the licenses or resign the job.

 U. S. District Court Judge David Bunning sentenced County Clerk Kim Davis to indefinite detention in jail for refusing multiple orders to carry out her duties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.    His original August 12 order applied only to those couples who had sued Davis.   Yesterday, Judge Bunning extended the order to cover "other individuals who are legally eligible to marry in Kentucky."
                                                                                                                              Photo by Associated Press
Saying that "The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order," Judge Bunning pointed out that Ms. Davis took an oath. . . .  I myself have genuinely held religious beliefs . . . but I took an oath" to uphold the law, he said.

In the same court hearing on Thursday morning, Bunning -- a George W. Bush appointee -- also polled the six deputy clerks.   Except for one who is Ms. Davis' son, the other five said they are willing to issue the licenses.  However, Ms. Davis made a statement through her lawyer that she would not allow the licenses to be issued under her authority.

The political furor over this case has already started.  Rand Paul called it “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties.”  Mike Huckabee said Davis' jailing “removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

One of Davis' lawyers, Roger Gannam, said “Today, for the first time in history, an American citizen has been incarcerated for having the belief of conscience that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and she’s been ordered to stay there until she’s willing to change her mind, until she’s willing to change her conscience about what that belief is. . . .  This is unprecedented in American law.”

Despite the hysteria and demagoguery, let's remember that the court is not trying to force her to change her "belief of conscience."   It is demanding that she obey a court order -- or get out of the way so others can carry out the order.   That's all.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has not publicly commented on the Davis case.    But he wrote this in 2002 about what a judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral should do:
[I]n my view the choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation, rather than simply ignoring duly enacted, constitutional laws and sabotaging death penalty cases. He has, after all, taken an oath to apply the laws and has been given no power to supplant them with rules of his own. Of course if he feels strongly enough he can go beyond mere resignation and lead a political campaign to abolish the death penalty” and if that fails, lead a revolution. But rewrite the laws he cannot do.
The principle seems the same, true;  but the example, for me, really strains the application.   Is he talking about a trial judge?   How often, anyway, is it the judge who decides on the death penalty and not the jury?   Or is he talking about a panel of appeals court judges or even SCOTUS?

Frankly, I think Scalia is a bit off base here.  But that's another argument for another time.   For now, I'm just going to take his reasoning as an argument that Ms. Davis should either comply or resign.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Jail for Kentucky county clerk

By sending country clerk Kim Davis to jail this morning for refusing to obey a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Kentucky, the federal judge played right into the hands of anti-gay conservatives who want a martyr for their campaign to make "religious freedom" a defining issue during the presidential campaign.

The judge rejected suggested compromises of appointing a deputy to handle the marriage licenses, or of imposing a financial penalty.   Imagine the headlines and the political ads, showing Davis being taken away to jail "for standing up for her religious beliefs."

It's an opportunity for moderates and progressives to educate people about the responsibility of elected officials to uphold the law -- but the other side will yell the loudest and demagogue the most wildly.


Trump could take some votes from Democrats

Brian Beutler, writing in The New Republic:

"In a better-controlled environment, Trump would be a less potent force. As the frontrunner, though, he is steering the policy debate . . . . [and] forced out into the open genuine policy debates among Republicans that had previously been shrouded in vagueness or imprisoned within party orthodoxy.

"Right now, Trump has his hand on the third rail of Republican politics. He’s arguing that wealthy people shouldn’t get a pass on paying regular federal income taxes. 'The middle class is getting clobbered in this country. You know the middle class built this country, not the hedge fund guys, but I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing . . . .'

"For almost any candidate, promising to reduce taxes on rich people is the price of admission into the Republican primary. Trump, by contrast, is poised not only to survive this apostasy, but to singe any of the more orthodox rivals who challenge him.

"Senator Marco Rubio’s tax plan represents the most pointed contrast to Trump’s middle-class populism. Rubio proposes not just to lower the top marginal income tax rate, but to completely zero out capital gains taxes. To escape scrutiny for offering such a huge sop to the wealthy, Rubio plans to fall back on his origin story -- as the son of a bartender . . . . 

"This might be an effective diversion against a Democratic politician promising to increase people’s taxes, but against a rapacious developer like Trump, it falls completely flat.  Trump would love nothing more than for a career elected official like Rubio to lecture him about the impact tax rates have on investment and growth."

Beutler then explains that:  "Republican base voters aren't as doctrinaire about taxes as Republican elites are, but they still support cutting taxes by a significant margin. In a smaller field, Rubio might be the standard bearer. Instead, the standard bearer claims to want to raise taxes on the rich."

Progressive blogger Digby, commenting on this article says:

"Here's something to ponder, however. If Trump keeps on this path of taxing the rich and defending social security, what are the chances that some white Democrats who are deeply distrustful of a woman in leadership and don't care much for immigrants themselves start to look at Trump and think he's talking some truths for them too. I don't know how many of those there are, but I have to assume there are a few. . . .

"This combination of bashing elites and minorities alike is a very potent argument for some people. Very potent. And I don't think they're all tea partyers."

What a roller-coaster ride we're on in this political drama.   But do keep in mind that we're still over a year from the election, and 4 months before the Iowa caucuses.   In politics, a lot can happen in less time than that.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Religious liberty vs. equal treatment II: County Clerk says she's acting "under God's authority."

Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis
AP photo by Timothy Easley

Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined the appeal from Kentucky Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis that would have allowed her to continue refusing to issue marriage licenses.   But she remains defiant, saying that she is acting "under God's authority."

The plaintiffs then filed an injunction to hold her in contempt, and the federal judge promptly ordered Ms. Davis and her entire staff to appear before him on Thursday morning.    If the judge finds Ms. Davis in contempt of court -- which seems a foregone conclusion -- either jail time or fines could be imposed.

Ms. Davis is not alone in this.   I'm reasonably sure that she is being backed by conservative groups who are making this a test case of "religious liberty" -- and very likely making Ms. Davis a martyr to their cause.     If so, this is a very poor test case.   They already lost several better cases that involved private businesses refusing services for same-sex weddings (photographers and cake bakers).

This is an elected official not performing an official duty , which has been affirmed by a recent SCOTUS decision.   Perhaps they are really seeking a political martyr rather than victory in court.

In contrast is another woman of firm religious belief, the Rev. Emily C. Heath, who once decided not to apply for a job in a prison system because the death penalty goes against her religious beliefs.

Heath's perspective is this:  "Religious liberty is guaranteed in this country. But that does not mean that every job needs to bend to your particular interpretation of your faith, . . .  If you really believe doing your job is violating your faith, then stepping aside would be a small price to pay" for adhering to that faith. 

Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, himself an attorney, said that he agrees with Davis' personal beliefs, but she must abide by the law.   “I appreciate her conviction, I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job in which she has to apply the law to everyone,” he said. 

Stay tuned.   A showdown is coming.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Religious liberty vs. equal treatment

Has there ever been a time in history, I wonder, when we were more in need of a course in Civics 101 for all citizens?  -- as well as some conservative politicians running for president.  You hardly go a day without a politician claiming he would do something that the president lacks the power to do, or some news story involving disputes about the meaning of this or that clause in the Constitution, with a lot of misinformation being thrown about.

There's the flap about the 14th amendment and "birthright citizenship."   And the conflict between "religious liberty" and the right to equal treatment under the law, which raises questions about whose rights trump whose?

The latest comes from Rowan County, Kentucky, where the County Clerk has been refusing to issue marriage licenses ever since SCOTUS' June decision for marriage equality.  Clerk Kim Davis says it would force her to violate her sincerely held religious beliefs.   So, rather than be accused of discriminating, she stopped giving out licenses to anyone, gay or straight.

Ms. Davis has already lost a law suit to require her to issue licenses;  and she lost on appeal. Now she wants the Supreme Court to hear the case.

This case is somewhat different from the photographers and bakers who don't want to provide services for gay weddings.   (1) Those are private businesses and (2)  They do not have a monopoly on the services.   Ms. Davis is a government employee not performing her official duty.  Apparently she is either the only one in the county who does this or else she has the authority over the office to make the decision that no one else will issue licenses either.

There is a little wiggle room in my ambivalence about private businesses being able to choose their customers.  But I am 100% against allowing an individual to block a legal service  that is her duty to provide for qualified citizens of that county.

Is there even an argument on the other side?   The U. S. Constitution did not set up a theocracy.   To me, the answer is simple.   Ms. Davis' continuing insistence on putting her personal religious beliefs above the legal rights of citizens to obtain marriage licenses makes her unqualified to hold the office and to wield the power that she has usurped.   She should resign immediately or be fired for refusing to perform her duties.

She can hold those beliefs as strongly as she wishes, but she cannot impose them on someone else, especially in her capacity as a government official.   What she claims as her religious liberty right is violating the rights of other citizens to marry.    It's not like this is an antiquated law that arguably should be changed.   A decision has just been rendered less than three months ago by SCOTUS itself.   No individual may set herself up as higher than the Supreme Court.


Addendum:   I've learned some additional things since I first wrote this.  (1) In Kentucky, the county clerk is an elected official, so it would take impeachment to remove her from office -- unless she is charged with a crime, which could be if the judge finds her in contempt.  (2)  Ms. Davis has become a symbol for a wave of  anger from anti-gay marriage zealots, holding rallies, etc.   Apparently they are more interested in hyping this up as an election issue than in actually winning, which they know they can't do.     The whole legal process will take time and will probably be ongoing hot issue during the campaign next year.

Late, late bulletin:   The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal to remove the stay.  This means that Ms. Davis is now under court order to issue marriage licenses -- while waiting for the trial of the original suit against her.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Defaming PP tapes are proven to have been altered

Three teams of forensic experts, using special video software, have examined the video tapes used by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) to defame Planned Parenthood. Their report concludes that:
"CMP edited content out of the alleged 'full footage' videos, and heavily edited the short videos so as to misrepresent statements made by Planned Parenthood representatives.   In addition, the CMP transcript [of one tape] differs substantially from the content on the tape. . . .

"[T]hey have no evidentiary value in a legal context and cannot be relied upon for any official inquiries . . . .  The videos also lack credibility as journalistic products."
For this, Republicans want to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood -- funds that support the 93% of non-abortion health care that, for some women, is the only health care they receive. 


Does Jeb Bush really want to be president?

photo:  Washington Post/Getty Images 

Athena Image 
Does Jeb Bush really want to be president?   His repeated inept to mediocre performance suggests either a deep ambivalence or a lack of political skill.  

First was his awkward mishandling of the inevitable question about his brother's Iraq invasion, which took him a week to dig himself out of, sorta.   Then he undid his forthright declaration that he would "be my own man" by bringing on board as advisers people like Paul Wolfowitz, who helped brother George get the Iraq war started.

In various gaffes, he has managed to insult women, Hispanics, and Asians -- even though that was obviously not what he intended.  One gaffe about "women's health" led reporters to dig up the fact that, as governor of Florida, he redistributed Planned Parenthood funds not to community health centers, as he claims, but to abstinence only education programs.

His mediocre debate performance was overshadowed by at least four other debaters.  And now rumors suggest internal problems as three of his top fund-raisers abruptly left the campaign.

From presumptive front-runner, Jeb has dropped in the latest Quinnipiac poll to single digits (7%) in a three-way tie for third place with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. 

So far, Jeb Bush has shown nothing much to recommend him.  Maybe the family should have listened when the wisest Bush of them all, matriarch Barbara, said:  "We've had enough Bushes in the White House."

So I wonder:   Is this the best Jeb can do?    Or does he really not want it?


Sunday, August 30, 2015

BusinessWeek shoots down Republicans' plans to replace Obamacare

Bloomberg BusinessWeek examines various Republican presidential candidates' claims and proposals for replacing Obamacare.   Whether it is the somewhat worked out plans of Walker, Rubio, and Jindal or Trump's boastful claim that he would replace it with "something terrific," the editorial concludes that none is likely to maintain Obamacare's current level of coverage.

As to costs, the article cites the Congressional Budget Office:  "Repealing Obamacre would add to the deficit, because the law's tax increases and cuts in Medicare raise or save more money than its new benefits cost."

The conclusion from BusinessWeek about replacing Obamacare:
"If a candidate can devise a better way to provide the same level of coverage to the same number of Americans at equal or lower cost, in a package that is likely to pass Congress and survive court challenges, great.   Something that accomplishes less wouldn't be progress."
Let me underline this opinion from the editors of this center right business journal.   So far, no one running for the Republican presidential nomination has come up with a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act that would work as well while also reducing the federal deficit.

Now, if we want to consider the Democratic side, there is a simple solution -- but it's not yet politically feasible:   A single-payer system or, simply, expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

As one who has been on Medicare for 18 years, I recommend it.    The administrative efficiency, the lack of advertising expenses, and the ability to exert some control over both pharmaceutical and medical costs make it unbeatable.   It's my belief that, given a receptive Congress, all of the Democratic candidates would agree.