The start of the Presidential election season

First, I guess it really isn’t a season in the meteorological sense if it ever was but more like a year.

I’m not sure which of the Republican candidates I would want the Democratic nominee to run against since I find most of them pretty scary in the horror movie sense.  As far as I can tell none believe in climate change (even Bush and Rubio from Florida which is sinking fast); they don’t (even Rand Paul the doctor) believe in science; and they certainly don’t believe in what used to be called “the little people.”  They want the United States to be a “Christian Nation.”  I guess they just carry copies of the United States Constitution around in their suit coat pockets, but don’t read it.  It says something about “establishment of religion.”  My assumption that we long ago resolved to be a diverse society – including religious belief – must be incorrect.  At times they seem almost to be a Christian version of those fundamentalist Muslims they so oppose.  But most frightening of all is that all of them seem to want to control women and our bodies.  They appear to be opposed to regulation except of women.  So there really isn’t much to choose from on that side.  It should be fun to watch when they begin to squabble.

My problem is Hillary Clinton.  I’m not exactly sure why I am not enthusiastic about her.  I always liked her when she was First Lady, thought she represented New York well in the Senate, and she was a good Secretary of State.  But President?  I just can’t get excited.

Hillary

I took the Gail Collins quiz, “Take Your Hillary Temperature” the other week and my score was “ready for a primary.”  But who could be in the primary?

I like Elizabeth Warren and worked hard to get her elected to the Senate when I live in Massachusetts, but I think we should take her at her word that she doesn’t want to run.  If she stays in the Senate and things break for the Democrats she could be the first woman Majority Leader.  So leave Elizabeth alone, please.

There is my current Senator, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie might make a fine candidate, I think he would be a good debater, but I just can’t see him as President.  He was the mayor of Burlington, VT which in the scheme of things is not a very big town.  Bernie is like the opposite of Ted Cruz ideologically.  I think he’s going to run.

There are three governors who would be possible.  Deval Patrick (who has already said no), Tim Kaine (who is already supporting Hillary) and Martin O’Malley who appears to be running.  I also like Senator Amy Klobachar but I don’t think she has any thoughts about running.

So why can’t I just jump on the Hillary bandwagon?  I get many email from various people telling me to do just that.  I think, however, I am suffering from Clinton fatigue.  We know too much about her and Bill not all of which I like.  I’m also not sure she can attract the young, white, male voters who may well decide this election.  And maybe it is none of those reasons, but something I can’t yet put my finger on.  All I know is that I think a primary would be good for the Democratic Party whether Hillary gets the nomination or not.

Photograph: Justin Sullivan / Getty

The perpetual war on women

I’m baffled.  When a political party loses a large, important demographic in an election, I would think that they would change tactics so the same thing doesn’t happen again.  I’m not saying they necessarily need to give up a favored policy position but certainly they could maybe talk about something different.  They could follow the example of Pope Francis.  The Pope is certainly not going to change the Catholic Church position on abortion or ordination of women, but he doesn’t want those kind of issues to be the focus of Church teaching. I refer, of course, to the Republican Party.

I think that all of them need to go back and take Biology 101 again because starting with Todd Akin, they really don’t know how the reproductive system works.  The latest is from Mike Huckabee.  The Nation has provided the full quote via Yahoo! News.

Here are Huckabee’s comments in full, provided by Yahoo! News’s Chris Moody:

I think it’s time for Republicans to no longer accept listening to Democrats talk about a war on women. Because the fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war for women. For them to be empowered; to be something other than victims of their gender. Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do. Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say, Enough of that nonsense.

Maybe he should stick to playing the guitar.

Maybe he should stick to playing the guitar.

While his remarks are somewhat muddy and unclear I think the gist is that the Democrats are paternalistic.  Sorry, Mike, but I think that it is the Republicans who are paternalistic.  They assume that women don’t understand about birth control, abortion, and their own bodies.  Otherwise, why would they need to have a doctor do a vaginal ultrasound and explain to them about fetal development.  But I think that Gail Collins had the best response.

Say what? Basically, Huckabee seems to be telling us that the Republican Party will not insult women by suggesting the federal government should require health insurance policies to include birth control pills in the prescription drug coverage.

He appears confident that women will find that an attractive proposition.

Huckabee was at a meeting of the Republican National Committee that was supposed to be pondering ways to close the gender gap. Instead, he laid bare a fact that the party has always tried desperately to hide — that its anti-abortion agenda is also frequently anti-contraception.

Back in 2011, Mississippi voted down a referendum that would define life as beginning at conception.  One reason it failed was because women came to understand that passage might outlaw certain kinds of contraception.  Women, as Collins points out, believe that the right to control their own reproductive schedules was long since established.  Most women find the idea that this might not be so beyond imagination.

Once upon a time, Republicans took the lead when it came to helping women get access to birth control. Now, the whole party is hostage to an anti-abortion movement that harbors a wide-ranging contempt for sex outside of marriage, combined with a strong streak of opposition to any form of artificial birth control, even for married couples.

“What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?” Rush Limbaugh said of Sandra Fluke, the law student who was lobbying for inclusion of contraceptives in health care plans. However garbled his language, Huckabee’s control-their-libido harks back to the same mind-set.

This is a super political strategy. Let’s target all the voters who waited until they were married and then practiced the rhythm method.

The Republican party continues to be tone deaf when it comes to women’s health.

And there was no backtracking after the “Uncle Sugar” speech. In fact, Huckabee sent an email to his supporters replaying his remarks. Then he asked for a donation.

Photograph from Wikipedia.

Healthcare confusion

Let’s start with Jen Sorensen

Jen Sorenson

A lot of people are confused about what the Affordable Care Act does and don’t seem to realize that their insurance will actually come from a combination of Medicaid (or Medicare (for those who qualify) and a private insurer or just from a private insurer.  This is  the kind of insurance many got (I understand there are fewer offered these days) when they retired and got Medicare Advantage from a private insurer through their former employer as I do.  My retiree’s Medicare Advantage is partly subsidized by the City of Boston but I pay a monthly premium just as I pay a monthly premium for Medicare.  The ACA changes none of this for me.  And it changes nothing about employees who get qualified plans through their employers.  But to hear some of the Republicans carry on you would think that some staffer from the Department of Health and Human Services – or maybe Kathleen Sebelius herself will be performing medical exams.

As Gail Collins explained in her New York Times column today

The Democrats are depressed. The Republicans enjoy pointing out that the Obamacare rollout has been a mess. But they obviously can’t pretend to be upset that people are finding it hard to sign up for a program their party wanted to kill, eviscerate and stomp into tiny pieces, which would then be fed to a tank of ravenous eels.

Well, actually, they can.

“I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public,” Representative David McKinley of West Virginia sternly told government contractors who had worked on the HealthCare.gov Web site. McKinley’s party recently shut down everything from the national parks to preschool programs, while costing the economy an estimated $24 billion. Nobody apologized. Perhaps they’ll write a note this weekend.

“I’m damned angry that I and 700,000 Texans I represent have been misled, misled and misled,” said Representative Pete Olson. The only thing that could conceivably make Olson angrier would be if the Obamacare site was working so well that Texans could get health insurance as easily as they can order a chrome scarf holder from Amazon.com.

I thought these guys would be happy that people couldn’t get insurance and that the whole enterprise was a flop.  But maybe it is just the technical failures with the website that they don’t like.  I’m very confused.  As Andy Borowitz posted ” I guess once the Obamacare website is fixed the Republicans will be totally on board.”

But I don’t think the news will be good in the long run for the Republicans who want to repeal the ACA even if access to the sign-up website gets fixed.  This post from Sarah Kliff on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog is likely just the start.

More than 330,000 people have managed to get deep enough into new government health insurance Web sites to learn how much financial assistance they will receive purchasing coverage, the Internal Revenue Service said Saturday.

That figure is arguably the most robust measure released to date by the Obama administration of how many Americans are successfully applying for financial help in purchasing a private insurance plan.

Calculations of financial assistance is a step that follows filing an application and tells applicants how much of a tax credit–if any–they can use to purchase a private health plan. This figure does not include shoppers who were found to likely qualify for Medicaid earlier in the shopping process.

The IRS said it has also received and responded to more than 1.3 million requests from the marketplace for personal data used to apply for Affordable Care Act programs, such as household income and family size.

The IRS said it is currently receiving about 80,000 such data requests each day. It is one of about a half-dozen agencies that send information to a federal data hub, along with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

“Our IT systems are working well and providing both the historical tax data and the computation service accurately and quickly through the government’s data hub,” IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. “The requests are being processed within seconds.”

This federal data hub determines eligibility for premium tax credits for the 36 states using the federal insurance marketplace and also for some, but not all, of the state-based exchanges. California, for example, opted to use its own technology to determine who qualifies for which programs.

The federal data hub was built by the contracting firm QSSI. The Obama administration announced Friday that QSSI would take on a new role as HealthCare.gov’s general contractor, overseeing efforts to fix the Web sites’ problems.

HealthCare.gov pings this federal data hub to verify a consumer’s identity and also when shoppers indicate in their applications that they would like to apply for financial assistance with coverage. Health and Human Services has said that, as of Thursday, 700,000 applications have been filed through the federal and state insurance exchanges.

People were slow to sign up when Massachusetts rolled out Romeycare and now there is close to universal coverage.  ACA sign-up, despite the problems is going even faster.

mass_enrollment_blue

Trying to made sense of it all

I think I may be ready to retreat to my cocoon to read trashy books and watch baseball and reruns of NCIS before my head explodes from trying to make sense of what is going on out there.

Yesterday, Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker had a little anecdote from my Congressperson, Mike Capuano.

…Capuano said he was in an airport last weekend flying home from Washington when a TSA screener stopped him and said, “You really need to cut our taxes!” Capuano was incredulous to hear that from a federal employee, though he probably shouldn’t have been.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know taxes pay your salary?’ ” Capuano said with a laugh.

I wish I knew what the silly TSA screener said then.  It is an example of how divorced from reality so many people are.  Maybe we should expand the shut down to include furloughs for half of the screeners.  This would cut flights so many of the members of Congress would have trouble getting home.  I don’t think this would be a bad thing.  Maybe if they stayed in Washington more, they would figure out how to talk to each other informally over a beer.  That could only help.  Maybe some of them would get a grip on reality.

As I was getting ready to write this, I Googled  both “Republican Alternate Reality” and “Republican Alternate Universe”.  Turns out people have been writing about the topic for a number of years now.  It is one thing to talk sans facts, but another to act.  And what is happening now is the action that they have all wanted:  a government shutdown.  I think they are hoping that a few weeks without government will show people they can live without it.  Maybe a good plan except that there are already Republicans complaining that monuments in Washington are closed so veterans can’t visit them.  Duh!

Back in August 2012 (2012 not 2013), Michael Cohen wrote a piece in the Guardian about the Presidential campaign.  If you recall, they had a slogan “You didn’t build that”.

On 17 July, President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a typical event for an incumbent president who is seeking a second term. In his remarks, he offered his vision of government’s role in spurring entrepreneurship and creating jobs in the United States:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.”

This is all fairly boilerplate rhetoric – a basic recitation of how Democrats view the role of government and its interplay with the private sector. But in this statement, there was one phrase that Republicans have grabbed on to like a famished dog with a new bone:

“You didn’t build that.”

That single phrase, taken out of context by Republicans, has become the GOP’s symbol of Obama’s supposed contempt for the free market and entrepreneurship, and for his socialist assault on America.

The Affordable Care Act is a prime example of government overreach and socialism even though it is built on private insurance companies.

“You didn’t build that” became “We built that”

And so, the Republicans made “We built that” the theme of Tuesday’s convention proceedings. Speaker after speaker hammered on this theme, accusing Obama of disrespecting small business. But they did so with almost a wilful sense of hypocrisy. For example, Delaware lieutenant governor candidate Sher Valenzuela attacked Obama for the line despite the fact that, just a few months ago, she gave a detailed speech to a business group about how they could do a better job getting government contracts.

Cohen goes on to detail a number of instances where the speakers at the Republican Convention ignored facts and concludes

But all of this is at pace with a conservative worldview that considers government to be nothing more than malevolent interference with the smooth operation of the private sector – except when it’s not. “Jobs don’t come from government,” said Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz last night, a view that basically sums up GOP economic thinking. But if you listened to Republican governors on Tuesday, you might have found yourself surprised to discover that, in their states, the government has played an oddly integral role in spurring job creation. If you listened to Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, extol the virtues of the energy industry in her state and bemoan “more government, bigger spending and more regulation”, you might never know that the oil and gas industry is deeply reliant on – and spends millions lobbying for – tax breaks from the federal government.

One can believe that government should play a less direct role in the workings of the private economy – clearly, this is a defensible notion. But to listen to Republicans harping on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line is to hear a party that views “government” in the most simplistic imaginable terms. This isn’t a governing philosophy; it’s a caricature of how the economy actually works.

To be sure, it’s hardly unusual for political rhetoric to take liberties with the truth, or to stretch an argument to breaking-point, but with Republicans today, the issues runs much deeper. Very simply, the way they talk about what the federal government does or should do, and about the role of spending, taxation and regulation, is more than just a compendium of lies: it describes an alternate reality.

In the GOP’s defense: at least they can argue they built that.

So now they have shutdown the federal government which was a goal all along.  They built it.  And in their alternate universe, President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership should negotiate with them.  Nancy Pelosi has tried to explain what she calls “regular order”:  The Senate passes a bill.  Then the House passes one.  Then there is a conference committee.  Budget bills were passed back in March, but the House declined to appoint members to a conference committee.  Contrary to what some members of Congress seem to believe there are rules and conventions as to how to proceed.

Gail Collins has a response in the New York Times.

On Wednesday, House Republicans pushed to refund bits and pieces of the government that the members particularly like, such as veterans and the National Guard. Also anything that lends itself to a dramatic press conference, such as national parks and cancer treatment for children. Since the House proposals are never going anywhere in the Senate, there’s a limit to what you want to know about what went on during the debate. Let’s summarize:

Democrats: “Meaningless political theater!”

Republicans: “Come to the table!”

Coming to the table has now replaced strangling Obamacare as the most popular G.O.P. war cry. There is a longstanding political rule that when all else fails, you demand more talking. If you’re running for office against a guy who’s got 70 percent in the polls, it’s time to call for a debate. If you’re already having four debates, it’s time to call for six.

“Why don’t we sit down and have a conference committee about how we’re going to fund the federal government?” demanded Representative Ander Crenshaw of Florida. Republicans have posed this question a lot, and it would be an excellent one if they were not the same folks who have spent the last half-year refusing to sit down and have a conference committee about the federal budget.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

I’ll give the final word on reality to Elizabeth Kolbert in her New Yorker posted this morning.

…Shuttering the government is a dumb idea under pretty much any circumstances. Still, the objections that Republicans in Congress raise to the health-care law might be worth considering if they bore any relationship to the law in question. Rarely do they.

Some lawmakers’ comments have been so off the wall that they defy parody. A few months ago, for example, Representative Michele Bachmann announced on the House floor that Obamacare needed to be repealed “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

“Let’s not do that,” she added helpfully. “Let’s love people.”

“All of this would be funny,” President Obama noted the other day, after bringing up the Bachmann line, “if it weren’t so crazy.”

The crazy list goes on and on. As the economist Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out in his Times column, congressional Republicans these days seem to think that they can override not just the laws of physics but also the rules of arithmetic. They insist that the federal budget is so bloated it could easily be cut by hundreds of billions of dollars. But when a transportation bill was drafted this summer that would have actually reduced spending, they refused to vote for it. (The bill had to be pulled from the floor.) It’s hard to cut the federal budget if you’re not willing to reduce the amount of money the government spends. “What Republicans really want to do,” Krugman wrote recently, is “repeal reality.”

It’s been so long since reality has made much of a difference on Capitol Hill that it sometimes seems it genuinely has been repealed. But the thing you can always count on with reality is that it has staying power.

I hope I can hold out until reality and fact make a comeback.

Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Impasse?! We should look at the Progressive Caucus Budget

President Obama met with the Republicans in the House yesterday.  I think Politico had the best take on the meeting.

After years of pining for more face time with the president, House Republicans  found out Wednesday that Barack Obama looks and sounds the same behind closed  doors as he does on TV.

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

I think they are finally learning what many of us have known for a while:  what you see is what you get with Barack Obama.  Michelle has been trying to tell everyone this for years.  So he has his line and the Republicans led by Paul Ryan have theirs.  But where does that leave the rest of  us?  How to deal in a meaningful way with the sequester and the budget?  I see two paths:  One, those affected by the cuts start putting on the pressure and two, we begin looking at alternatives to either the Republican or White House budget proposals.

On the first, the lobbying has begun.  The New York Times reports

Construction companies are lobbying the government to spare their projects from across-the-board cuts. Drug companies are pleading with the White House to use all the fees they pay to speed the approval of new medicines.

And supporters of Israel have begun a campaign to make sure the Jewish state receives the full amount of military assistance promised by the United States.

A frenzy of lobbying has been touched off by President Obama’s order to slice spending this year by $85 billion, divided equally between military and civilian programs. The cuts have created new alliances and strange bedfellows.

Hunter R. Rawlings III, a historian of ancient Greece who is the president of the Association of American Universities, joined Wesley G. Bush, the chief executive of Northrop Grumman, the maker of surveillance drones and B-2 bombers, in a news conference in which they denounced the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

Health care and education groups, advocates for poor people, and state and local officials who fought in the past for bigger budgets are now trying to minimize the pain.

How much money do you think will be spent on lobbying?  I don’t even want to begin to add it up.  What a waste of money.  But I guess some people will still have jobs.

For an alternate budget we can look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal.    The Economic Policy Institute assisted in putting the budget together and scoring it.  Dean Baker from the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls it “A Serious Budget That the Serious People Won’t Take Seriously”.  The Progressive Caucus has been proposing budgets for a number of years now and takes the position that if their proposals had been adopted, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

So what exactly are they proposing?

Direct hire programs that create a School Improvement Corps, a Park Improvement Corps, and a Student Jobs Corps, among others.

Targeted tax incentives that spur clean energy, manufacturing, and cutting-edge technological investments in the private sector.

Widespread domestic investments including an infrastructure bank, a $556 billion surface transportation bill, and approximately $2.1 trillion in widespread domestic investment.

Ends tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans on schedule at year’s end

Extends tax relief for middle class households and the vast majority of Americans

Creates new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires

Eliminates the tax code’s preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends

Abolishes corporate welfare for oil, gas, and coal companies

Eliminates loopholes that allow businesses to dodge their true tax liability

Calls for the adoption of the “Buffett Rule”

Creates a publicly funded federal election system that gets corporate money out of politics for good.

Provides a Making Work Pay tax credit for families struggling with high gas and food cost 2013-2015

Extends Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit

Invests in programs to stave off further foreclosures to keep families in their homes

Invests in our children’s education by increasing Education, Training, and Social Services

It would also end the war in Afghanistan and do selective, not blanket cuts to the military budget.  It basically spends money to put people back to work and stabilize the economy.  This assumes that people who work pay taxes and put money back into the economy.  It also achieves deficit reduction.  All through government spending.  As Dean Baker poinst out

For those upset that the budget debate is getting ever further removed from the real world problems of an economy that is suffering from a deficit of 9 million jobs, there is good news. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has produced a budget that is intended to make the unemployment situation better rather than worse.

The story of course is that we are still in a situation where we need the government as a source of demand in the economy. This is independent of how much we like the government or the private sector. The private sector does not expand and create jobs just because governments want it to, as is being discovered now by leaders in the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Spain and everywhere else where deficit reduction is now in vogue. In the current economic situation, loss of demand from the government is a loss of demand to the economy. That is why recent steps to reduce the deficit, such as the ending of the payroll tax cut (which put money in consumers’ pockets) and the sequester, will lead to slower growth and higher unemployment.

Would this happen with the adoption of the progressive budget?  I don’t know, but I know that what is going on now isn’t working either.  And what is worse, people are tuning out and shrugging their shoulders assuming nothing can be done.

Gail Collins has this fantasy.

White smoke poured from the Capitol today and crowds of onlookers broke into shouts of jubilation, crying: “We have a budget!”

Inside, where the nation’s legislators had been walled off in seclusion, the newly chosen tax-and-spending plan was garbed in the traditional brass staples for its first public appearance. Insiders said it planned to take the name of Budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

I guess that is alternative number three.  Maybe we should try sequestering Congress.

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.

 

Still fighting the Civil War

I’ve heard people chuckle in amazement at factions in other countries who still feud over “ancient” injuries, but we have our own on-going civil war.  It appears that for many, the Confederacy was never defeated and the South can rise again.  Two smart women, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Gail Collins have written about this phenomenon each using the Virginia Confederate History Month as a starting point.

Harris-Lacewell writes of the “Two Virginias” in the Nation

Governor Robert McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month in Virginia. In his declaration Governor McDonnell called for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”

In his original declaration, McDonnell made no mention of slavery as a root cause for the Civil War. His insistence on remembering only “leaders, soldiers, and citizens” refuses to acknowledge the existence of black people in the South. There were some black soldiers who fought in the Confederate army, but the vast majority of African Americans contributed to the Confederate effort through the violently coerced, unpaid labor that was part and parcel of the their dehumanizing, totalizing, intergenerational, chattel bondage. McDonnell seems to believe that this reality is unworthy of remembrance.

It’s taken me nearly two days to respond to the Governor’s declaration of Confederate History Month and his flip erasure of black life, suffering, and struggle because this particular news story is profoundly personal.

On my father’s side we traced our family tree as far as we could follow it and discovered we are descended from an African woman sold into slavery on a corner in Richmond, Virginia.

Harris-Lacewell continues

My father and his siblings grew up in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond. They attended racially segregated schools. Despite being nearly starved for school resources by the state, my father and his twin brother became the first in the family to attend college. Both became college professors. My uncle had a distinguished career as a student at the University of Virginia. My father went on to become the first Dean of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia in 1976.I grew up in Virginia. I had social studies teachers who referred to the Civil War as “the war between the states” or “the war of Northern aggression.” My interracial family experienced harassment and abuse during the two decades we made our home in the Commonwealth. But Virginia is also the place where I made lifelong friends, found spiritual communities and was educated by many tough and loving teachers. I came to political consciousness in Virginia and distinctly remember listening to every word of Douglass Wilder’s inauguration address as the first black governor. I cheered on election night 2008 when Virginia turned blue just moments before Barack Obama’s presidential win was announced.

I share this personal history because it is not exceptional. Black Americans are, by and large, Southerners. Our roots, our stories, our lives, our struggles, our joys have a distinctly Southern flavor. Slavery and Jim Crow are part of our experience, but so are church picnics, HBCU football games and jazz music. There is no Black American history that is not deeply intertwined with Southern history. It is extraordinarily painful to watch an elected official in the 21st century engage in an act of willful and racist historical erasure of our very selves.

I also lived in Virginia for many years.  My first job with the Commonwealth of Virginia was enforcing Executive Order Number One issued by a former segregationist governor, Mills E. Godwin.  E.O. 1 which was issued by every governor until Bob McDonnell forbids discrimination in state employment.  I had the day off for Lee-Jackson Day every January.  (That’s Robert E. and Stonewall.)  When Martin Luther King’s birthday was made a national holiday, the day became Lee-Jackson-King Day.  Virginia has always been different, but McDonnell seems determined to really turn back time.

Harris-Lacewell concludes

Without a hint of irony McDonnell suggested that he hopes to profit from Confederate inspired tourism. Clearly he hopes that the racial anxieties brewing in America will serve as a tourist boon for the former Confederate capital. Having profited for centuries from the forced labor of enslaved black Americans, Virginia seeks to further commodify black suffering in the 21st century. McDonnell is welcoming Rebel flag waving whites from rural Pennsylvania, downstate Illinois, and Southern California to come spend their money and steep themselves in Virginia past when white citizens, determined to keep black people as non-humans, fought back against the federal government.

Virginia has other histories that we can use to resist this false and frightening narrative. We must insist on remembering Jefferson’s Virginia that called us to be better than ourselves, to defend freedom, and to hold together our union. We must remember the histories of all the black families like my own whose struggle and strength cannot be erased from Southern history.

I have visited all the Civil War battle sites in Virginia.  I spent my honeymoon visiting the Shenandoah sites, Harper’s Ferry and Gettysburg and most of the national parks try to recognize the role of blacks, free and slave, mostly on the side of the Union.  If the Governor really wants to promote tourism there are a lot better ways to do so.

Gail Collins writes in her New York Times column

April is the cruelest month. Or, if you live in Virginia, Confederate History Month.

The state is buzzing over Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation urging citizens to spend the month recalling Virginia’s days as a member of the Confederate States of America. Although since McDonnell had previously turned April over to child abuse prevention, organ donation and financial literacy, perhaps it was O.K. to just pick your favorite.

The original Confederate History proclamation was a miracle of obfuscation. It did not even mention slavery. On Wednesday, the governor apologized for that and said that slavery “has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”

People, what’s our bottom line here. The governor of Virginia has decided to bring slavery into his overview of the history of the Confederacy. Good news, or is this setting the bar a wee bit too low?

The love affair with all things Confederate is way more worrisome. Once again, it’s in to talk secession. The Republican attorneys general are lining up to try to nullify the health care bill.

“Many issues of the Civil War are still being debated today,” said Brag Bowling of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which led the push to get that proclamation in Virginia. That seems extremely depressing, as if we were Serbs stewing about what the Turks did at the Plain of Blackbirds in 1389.

Actually, a national discussion of Civil War history sounds fine — as long as we could start by agreeing that the whole leaving-the-union thing was a terrible idea. In the proclamations, it generally sounds as if everything went swimmingly until the part where the South lost and grudgingly rejoined the country.

I have been accused by at least one commentator on this blog of seeing everything in racial terms.  I think just the opposite is true.  People like Governor McDonnell and Representative Joe Wilson and, in fact, the entire “just say no” to anything proposed by President Obama is based on the President’s race.  We need to have a serious discussion about race.  I don’t know how that can happen as President Clinton tried to initiate one and failed and President Obama can’t initiate it.  Maybe Clinton tries again.  Maybe Clinton and President Carter together.  But no matter how much the McDonnell and Republicans want to go backward, the fact remains:  We have elected a black man as President and the population of the United States will soon have a majority population of people of color and there isn’t much they can do about those two things.