Mitt’s Best Friend

is Rick Santorum!  Both Roger Simon writing for Politico.com and David Firestone writing in the New York Times Loyal Opposition column strike similar chords today. 

Simon writes in “Mr. Bumble vs. Mr. Scary”

Is it possible to stumble and bumble your way to a presidential nomination?

Certainly. And Mitt Romney is determined to prove it.

Still, Romney manages to screw up.

In December, at one of the innumerable Republican debates, Rick Perry accused Romney of having changed his position on something or other. Perry had about as much chance of getting the Republican nomination as getting Texas to secede from the Union and naming him king, but he got Romney’s goat nonetheless.

Romney angrily stuck out his hand and said, “Rick, I’ll tell you what, 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?”

Grand, Mitt. Just grand. Remind everybody that $10,000 is chump change to you.

And who can forget Romney telling us that “corporations are people” or that he made “not very much” money in speaking fees in a year in which he made $374,000 in speaking fees. He wasn’t lying. It’s just that $374,000 wasn’t very much to him.

POLITICO’s Reid J. Epstein has assembled a delicious list of all these gaffes that is worth wandering through.

What it shows is a man totally sincere in his isolation from average Americans. Except for his blue jeans — which one comic says that he wears over his suit pants — Romney doesn’t pretend to be average. He is a highly successful businessman, and he is proud of it.

Firestone put it this way in the New York Times

Mr. Romney doesn’t bother to play in the deep end. His speeches now are simply strings of slogans, spliced together at random, criticizing President Obama or his rivals. He never conveys the sense of having really thought hard about an issue and reaching a deliberate decision.

Now to Santorum.  Simon writes

But even with all this, Romney has one great thing going for him: Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum doesn’t flub. He speaks from his deeply held convictions. Some of which are very scary.

Speaking in Troy, Mich., on Saturday, Santorum said, “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

Had Santorum gone on to say that not everyone in America wants to go to college and that there is nothing shameful about manual labor, he may have had a point.

But that’s not all Santorum was saying. He added that he doesn’t want kids to go to college because if they do they are going to be “taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them.”

I am not entirely sure what Santorum was venting about or what Satanic ritual he was made to undergo in college — paddling? beer pong? — but it obviously affected him deeply.

So much so that he left college convinced that the First Amendment was not only hooey, but stomach-turning. Literally.

Santorum says that John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech stating there should be an “absolute separation” of church and state in America “makes me throw up and it should make every American.”

Santorum went on: “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

The Republicans are finally realizing they are in trouble.  I think that Mitt Romney will get his dream and be the nominee mostly because his best friend Rick is so scary, but he really has to step up is game if he is going to defeat President Obama.  I cringe at a debate between them.

Tonight we have Michigan and Arizona. It should be interesting.

 

Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Religion

The first Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  I don’t think that Rick Santorum has read the Constitution recently if ever.  Last night on Hardball  Chris Matthews tried to  referee a shouting match between Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican Party who tried to defend Santorum’s introduction of his religious beliefs into governing policy and David Corn who tried without success to explain why the introduction of religion was wrong.  All three of them missed the point.  The point is that we can have no established religion in this country and while those who govern as President can have personal religious beliefs, they cannot impose them on the country.

Karen Santorum says husband’s presidential run is ‘God’s will’

Kathleen Parker ended her recent column titled “The Trials of Saint Santorum” this way

Everything stems from his allegiance to the Catholic Church’s teachings that every human life has equal value and dignity. The church’s objection to birth control is based on concerns that sex without consequences would lead to men reducing women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (their) own desires,” as well as abuse of power by public authorities and a false sense of autonomy.

Within that framework, everything Santorum says and does makes sense, even if one doesn’t agree. When he says that he doesn’t think the government should fund prenatal testing because it leads to abortion, this is emotional Santorum, father of a disabled child and another who died hours after a premature birth. In both instances, many doctors would have recommended abortion, but Santorum believes that those lives, no matter how challenging, have intrinsic value.

Though Santorum’s views are certainly controversial, his biggest problem isn’t that he is out of step with mainstream America. His biggest problem is that he lacks prudence in picking his battles and his words. The American people are loath to elect a preacher or a prophet to lead them out of the desert of unemployment. And they are justified in worrying how such imprudence might translate in areas of far graver concern than whether Santorum doesn’t personally practice birth control.

Parker’s statement that “the American people are loath to elect a preacher of a prophet” is exactly right.  And he is definitely out of step with mainstream America.  Maureen Dowd was even blunter opening her column with

Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.

That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.

Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war, but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago. “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my über-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology”).

Rick Santorum wants us to be a Christian country and beyond that a fundamentalist Catholic one.  How different this is from President John F. Kennedy declaring that the Pope would not run the government.  Mullah Rick needs to read the Constitution. 

Rick Santorum talks to the media after Wednesday's debate. | AP Photo

It is too easy to make fun of him.  This is a dangerous man.  We need to take him seriously.

Who is really European?

I was reading Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times this morning and I started thinking.  The Republicans accuse President Obama of trying to make us more like European Socialists, but in reality it is they who want to make us European.  Think about it a minute.

Krugman writes

Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be.

And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s.

Worse yet, European leaders — and quite a few influential players here — are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.

What is that doctrine?  Basically you gut the retirement system, layoff workers, cut wages, and increase taxes.  Krugman puts it this way

Specifically, in early 2010 austerity economics — the insistence that governments should slash spending even in the face of high unemployment — became all the rage in European capitals. The doctrine asserted that the direct negative effects of spending cuts on employment would be offset by changes in “confidence,” that savage spending cuts would lead to a surge in consumer and business spending, while nations failing to make such cuts would see capital flight and soaring interest rates. If this sounds to you like something Herbert Hoover might have said, you’re right: It does and he did.

President Herbert Hoover.

Image via Wikipedia

 

Thomas Wright in a column published in the Financial Times brings in the Republicans.  He points out the while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich want to deal immediately with the debt crisis – like the Europeans – Democrats and, in particular the President, believe that the debt is a long term issue and not a near term crisis. 

I’m certainly not an expert, but it does appear that the European Hooverism is being largely driven by Germany.  It will be interesting to see how that works out for them in the long run.  What happens when the Greek economy continues to sink and they decide to pull out of the Euro? 

Back to Krugman again.

Meanwhile, countries that didn’t jump on the austerity train — most notably, Japan and the United States — continue to have very low borrowing costs, defying the dire predictions of fiscal hawks.

So what will it take to convince the Pain Caucus, the people on both sides of the Atlantic who insist that we can cut our way to prosperity, that they are wrong?

After all, the usual suspects were quick to pronounce the idea of fiscal stimulus dead for all time after President Obama’s efforts failed to produce a quick fall in unemployment — even though many economists warned in advance that the stimulus was too small. Yet as far as I can tell, austerity is still considered responsible and necessary despite its catastrophic failure in practice.

The big question:  Will the Congress pass the President’s new jobs bill?  Or will it stick to slash, slash, slash?  Increasing aid to local governments for police, fire, schools and programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) will prevent layoffs and enable hiring.  Take CDBG  for example.  The City of Boston uses the funds to assist human services programs like afterschool and youth recreation, to assist small businesses and nonprofits make repairs and improvements, and help low income homeowners make repairs.  There are rules about who can get assistance.  Jobs are ceated when the business or nonprofit hires staff or a contractor to make repairs and improvements.  Assistance to homeowners also creates jobs.  Many other localities use CDBG to improve roads and sidewalks.  I think everyone understand how keeping teachers, police, and firefighters employed helps local governments.  It also increases the tax base for all levels of government and will eventually help lower the debt.  Or am I being too simplistic?

Krugman ends this way

Look, I understand why influential people are reluctant to admit that policy ideas they thought reflected deep wisdom actually amounted to utter, destructive folly. But it’s time to put delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity in a depressed economy behind us.

So it seems that it is really the Republicans who are more European with their belief in continued austerity.  They need to look around and see what is happening in Europe and decide if they – and us – really want to be like them or continue to pursue the President’s American exceptionalism.

 

 

 

Wake Retires

I only got to see Tim Wakefield pitch once.  That was on September 2 last year against the Texas Rangers when he came in as the relief pitcher for some kid who had already given up a huge lead.  The Sox weren’t hitting – it was the beginning of the slide – but who knew that night.  Anyway, Wake had a decent night.  And as my husband says every time we talk about the game, “Wake should have started.”  Whatever.  The Sox lost that night and the rest of the season is history. 

Tim Wakefield, who for the past 17 seasons has been a mainstay on the Red Sox pitching staff, is retiring from the game. Over his career, the 45-year-old was 200-180 with a 4.41 ERA in 627 appearances. Scroll through the gallery to review Wakefield's career highlights.

Christopher Gasper has a wonderful column in today’s Boston Globe which sums up how wonderful and how painful it could be to watch Wake pitch. 

It’s not often in sports that you get to say with a reasonable measure of certainty, “Well, we’ll never see that again.’’ But it feels safe to say that we’ll never witness another Tim Wakefield. He has sui generis status in Red Sox history, Knuckleballer Emeritus.

Nudged out the door by the Red Sox’ nonroster (non-) invite to spring training, the noble knuckler called it a career yesterday at age 45 after 19 seasons, the last 17 with the Red Sox. He joined the Sox in 1995 as a reclamation project and exited as the longest-serving pitcher in club history. There is some cosmic mischief in a man who threw the knuckleball, the most asymmetrical pitch in baseball, ending his career with a tidy 200-180 record.

Wakefield is like a Boston sports time capsule. When he was plucked off the scrap heap by then-general manager Dan Duquette on April 26, 1995, Cam Neely was still playing for the Bruins, Curtis Martin, voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this month, had been drafted by the Patriots days earlier, Dominique Wilkins was the Celtics’ leading scorer, and TD Garden was five months away from opening.

But Wakefiled was more than a pitcher winner the Roberto Clemete Award in 2010.

The Roberto Clemente Award is given to the player who best combines outstanding skills on the baseball field with devoted work in the community. In Feb. 2010, Wakefield met with the kids at a school he supports, Space Coast Early Intervention Center, a nationally recognized not-for-profit preschool located in his hometown of Melbourne, Fla., for children with and without special needs.

Gasper again

Yes, sometimes watching Wakefield pitch was like getting a root canal without anesthesia, but if it was that tough to watch, imagine what it was like to be the one on the mound. People always got it wrong, the knuckler didn’t make Wakefield’s career easier. It made it harder. Throwing the knuckleball for a living should enhance Wakefield’s legacy, not diminish it.

The converted first baseman pitched his entire career with a chip on his shoulder because of his signature pitch, his successes attributed to the flukes of a fluttering ball and his failures presented as condemning evidence of why a knuckleball pitcher couldn’t be relied upon.

But even knuckleballers run out of gas eventually. 

Here are two of the best,  Wake and Phil Niekro. 

In Feb. 2000, Wakefield gets some instruction from knuckleball expert Phil Niekro at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.

Gaspae gets the last word.

Like the pitch he threw, Wakefield will be missed a lot.

 

Washington Makes Seven

Lots of news these days on the gay marriage front almost all of it good.  Washington State has joined Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Iowa (plus Washington, D.C.) in legalizing gay marriage.  Maryland and New Jersey are moving closer and the Appeals Court upheld the California ruling on Prop 8.  And polls now show that most Americans support the equal right of gays and lesbians to marry.  The tide has turned and the wave of gay marriage is coming in quickly now.

Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire signs legislation legalizing gay marriage in the state, in Olympia, Washington February 13, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo

On the day before Valentine’s Day, Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire signed the bill legalizing gay marriage in that state.  It will take effect in 90 days.  According to the Reuters story

Gregoire, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic, signed the measure to raucous applause during a ceremony in the ornate reception room of the Olympia statehouse, declaring, “This is a very proud moment. … I’m proud of who and what we are as a state.” It was the latest victory for the U.S. gay rights movement.

Anticipating the repeal campaign that lies ahead later this year, the governor added, “I ask all Washingtonians to look into your hearts and ask yourselves – isn’t it time? … We in this state stand proud for equality.”

Democrats, who control both legislative bodies in Olympia, accounted for the lion’s share of support for the measure. The stage for swift passage was set after Gregoire, who is in her last term of office, said last month she would endorse the law.

Several prominent Washington-based companies employing tens of thousands of workers in the state have supported the bill, including Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks.

Opponents were led by Roman Catholic bishops and other religious conservatives.

Meanwhile on the East Coast bills were advancing in Maryland and New Jersey.  Taking Maryland first, Reuters reported

A joint panel of the Maryland legislature approved on Valentines’s Day a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, adding to national momentum for gay nuptials following advances in California, New Jersey and Washington state over the last week.

Committee approval of Governor Martin O’Malley’s bill on Tuesday moves Maryland closer to becoming the eighth state to legalize gay marriage.

The House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee and the Health and Government Operations Committee approved the measure 25-18 in a joint vote, a judiciary panel spokeswoman said. The measure is expected to go to the full House on Wednesday, she said.

Interestingly the opposition in the Maryland legislature – and in the state –  is coming from African Americans.  Rev. Al Sharpton is lobbying black ministers to support the bill.  Anyone who wants to characterize the black community as monolithic is mistaken as when the Massachusetts bill passed some of the most passionate supporters were African American legislators like Dianne Wilkerson. 

New Jersey is, unlike Washington and Maryland, facing opposition from Governor Chris Christie who believes that civil rights issues should be referendum issues.  The New York Times reported

The New Jersey State Senate voted on Monday to legalize same-sex marriage, a significant shift in support from two years ago, when a similar measure failed.

The legislation faces a vote on Thursday in the State Assembly, but even if that chamber passes the measure, as expected, Gov. Chris Christie, who favors holding a referendum on the issue, has said he will veto it.

But advocates hailed the Senate vote as a huge advance, noting that they won 10 more votes than they did two years ago. And both supporters and opponents said they were surprised by the margin: the bill needed 21 votes to succeed and passed 24 to 16.

“The margin brought the notion of an override out of fantasyland,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group. “Before today, I would have said the chances of an override were one in a million. Now I’d say it’s about one in two.”

Mr. Christie, a Republican, has said the issue should be put on the ballot in November as a constitutional amendment. Some polls have found that a slight majority of New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage. Advocates note, however, that in 31 states where same-sex marriage has been put to a referendum, it has failed.

On Monday, Mr. Sweeney [Senate President] said there was “not a chance in hell” that he would support the legislation required to put the question to a ballot, which he said would mean allowing “millions of dollars to come into this state to override a civil right.”

New Jersey already has legalized civil unions.

Watch to see if Rick Santorum makes gay marriage repeal an issue if he gets the nomination.  Likewise Mitt Romney.  The Republicans are, I think, swimming against the tide.

 

 

A sign of spring

Snow is/was predicted for Boston today.  When I went to bed it was 2 to 4 inches which is excititing in a year with warmish temps and no snow, but now the forecast is for less than an inch.  But whether or not we actually get any white stuff, this picture makes me feel all warm and happy.

BP021012.jpg

Yes, it is the early arriving Red Sox at spring training.

I haven’t seen any robins yet, but this is almost as good.  Time to wipe out memories of last year’s slide and see if Bobby Valentine can make me a fan.

 

The War on Women: Part 2012

I have a book from 1996 on my shelf  “The Republican War on Women” by Tanya Melich.  Melich outlines the Republican strategy to outlaw abortion, curb contraception, cut funding for child care programs and otherwise control women’s choices by limiting them.  This was the start of the culture wars, code for a war on women and the poor.  Now it is 2012 and the war is heating up again.  There is the Komen Foundation v. Planned Parenthood.  And you have Affordable Health Care and the President v. the Catholic Bishops and all the Republican Presidential Candidates.  Rick Santorum who just won three primary contests is the culture war candidate who thinks the contraception is evil and would do away with it all together.  All of this is being framed as an assault on regligious freedom. by the President.

Zack Beauchamp writing in the Daily Dish put it this way

2012’s great birth control debate is far from over. The Catholic Church is threatening all-out war against the Obama Administration until it caves on the decision to require contraceptives without co-pays. One popular framing of the debate is religious liberty versus women’s health, but that’s not quite right. The Administration’s requirement isn’t a threat to liberty, religious or otherwise. It’s a sally in an ongoing debate about the character of liberal rights – and one on the right side, to boot.

We usually think of religious liberty as an individual believer’s right to worship and practice freely. That’s of course not at issue here – the feds aren’t marching into Catholic bedrooms and making everyone take Plan B on Sunday morning or requiring Catholic hospital administrators to pass out free birth control in the lobby. The regulations instead require they indirectly subsidize birth control use, which several faiths believe means being forced to participate in evil. But opponents worry about a much broader problem than religious freedom. Check this from Ross Douthat last week:

Critics of the administration’s policy are framing this as a religious liberty issue, and rightly so. But what’s at stake here is bigger even than religious freedom. The Obama White House’s decision is a threat to any kind of voluntary community that doesn’t share the moral sensibilities of whichever party controls the health care bureaucracy.

Ross is arguing that government regulations “crowd out” private associations that perform valuable societal functions. Forcing members of those associations to adhere to legal rules they find repugnant puts them in a devil’s choice: do something they believe fundamentally wrong or, more likely, get out of providing public services entirely. Government thus guts the ability of private, voluntary organizations to do good. See David Brooks and Kirsten Powers for similar arguments.

The problem with this argument is, as Beauchamp goes on to point out, we are not talking about voluntary organizations but employers – often large employers who employ many persons who are not Catholic.  The Guttmacher Institute posted a summary the other day.  It turns out that 28 states already require insurers to cover FDA approved contraceptives.  20 of those states have some form of opt-out provision ranging from just churches to broader provisions for church affiliated institutions like universities.  Interestingly among the twenty states that have exceptions those exemptions are extremely limited for hospitals. 

The latest polling supports the Obama Administration regulation.  The only group that does not are white evangelical.s

Finally, Think Progress has posted this story about DePaul University which offers contraception coverage.

“The employee health insurance plans include a prescription contraceptive benefit, in compliance with state and federal law,” DePaul University spokesperson Robin Florzak confirmed to ThinkProgress. “An optional insurance plan that covers such benefits is available to students, also due to previously established state and federal requirements.” The University notes, however, that it is disappointed with the Obama regulation and hopes to engage in an “effective national conversation on the appropriate conscience protections in our pluralistic country.” Other Catholic colleges and hospitals, including Georgetown and the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts, have also admitted to offering birth control benefits.

Notice that DePaul talks about conscience protections not doing away with the requirement all together. 

So who does this really hurt?  It hurts a woman’s ability to control her own body.   Here is Zack Beauchamp to sum up.

Birth control is for 98% of womenthe principal means of protecting a right central to their own liberty – the right to choose when to create a family. Chances are most women employed by Catholic universities and hospitals are part of the 98%. For these women, not having access to birth control renders a crucially important right meaningless.

Full insurance coverage is a critical part of the picture. Birth control is an expensive product – $81 a month is considered a steal with no contribution from your insurance, but that number still prices out many women. Even insurance plans that have copays can be prohibitively pricey. Cheaper alternatives like condoms have significant failure rates. Insurance, overwhelmingly provided by employers in the American system, that covers birth control with no copays is a woman’s best bet.

The Administration’s critics are saying that, in the currently existing health care system, protecting that right would create a grave threat  to equally important rights of free association. Seems like a classic rights conflict. However, churches and institutions that serve only co-religionists are exempt from the requirement. The only institutions covered by the birth control mandate have chosen to participate in the broader market, a zone of private life governed by political rules.

I think that the Catholic Bishops, the Republican Presidential Candidates and John Boehner are really the ones who want government to interfere in the lives of women.  Just because an insurer offers a benefit does not mean you have to take advantage of it.

Gail Collins puts it this way in today’s New York Times

The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.

The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.

And they don’t seem in the mood to compromise. Church leaders told The National Catholic Register that they regarded any deal that would allow them to avoid paying for contraceptives while directing their employees to other places where they could find the coverage as a nonstarter.

This new rule on contraceptive coverage is part of the health care reform law, which was designed to finally turn the United States into a country where everyone has basic health coverage. In a sane world, the government would be running the whole health care plan, the employers would be off the hook entirely and we would not be having this fight at all. But members of Congress — including many of the very same people who are howling and rending their garments over the bishops’ plight — deemed the current patchwork system untouchable.

The churches themselves don’t have to provide contraceptive coverage. Neither do organizations that are closely tied to a religion’s doctrinal mission. We are talking about places like hospitals and universities that rely heavily on government money and hire people from outside the faith.

And if you want to see what this is all about in a nutshell click on this link to the Ann Telnaes animated cartoon.

I hope the President sticks to his decision.