Hear me roar

25 03 2014

I cannot fucking believe that the Supreme Court might rule in favor of Hobby Lobby.

It just. . . it’s. . . it makes no fucking sense what.so.ever.

One law. One fucking law for all. Is that so hard to understand?

You’d think Scalia would get this, he of the Smith decision who wrote that

We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs [494 U.S. 872, 879]   excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. As described succinctly by Justice Frankfurter in Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594 -595 (1940): “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities (footnote omitted).” We first had occasion to assert that principle in Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), where we rejected the claim that criminal laws against polygamy could not be constitutionally applied to those whose religion commanded the practice. “Laws,” we said, “are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” Id., at 166-167.

[. . .]

[re US v. Lee] . . . There would be no way, we observed, to distinguish the Amish believer’s objection to Social Security taxes from the religious objections that others might have to the collection or use of other taxes. “If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax. The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.”

[ . . .]

Precisely because “we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference,” Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S., at 606 , and precisely because we value and protect that religious divergence, we cannot afford the luxury of deeming presumptively invalid, as applied to the religious objector, every regulation of conduct that does not protect an interest of the highest order. The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind. . .

[. . .]

It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs. [emph added]

Now, yes, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed to counter the Smith decision, but when individuals tried to use RFRA to argue against paying taxes, the Court say, in effect, “nuh-uh”, that the requirement of tax payment met the “compelling government interest” test.

Ensuring that women have access to a full range of medical care, including that of counseling and advice regarding our birth control options, may not, however, be sufficiently “compelling”.

Taxes: yes! Control over one’s body and health? Nah.

As Dahlia Lithwick observes,

The rights of millions of women to preventive health care and workplace equality elicit almost no sign of sympathy or solicitude from the right wing of the bench today. Nor does the possibility that religious conscience objections may soon swallow up the civil rights laws protecting gay workers, women, and other minorities. Religious freedom trumps because we’re “only” talking about birth control.





This is your captain speaking

17 03 2014

So here’s my take on Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia: Read folks who, unlike me, actually know something about Crimea, Ukraine, and Russia.

What should the US do about C/U/R? Criminy. I’ll go with what has evolved into my default position on all matters in which the US is urged (often, but not always, by mouth-foamers) to do something: Ask four questions.

  1. What, practically*, can be done?
  2. If there is anything, practically, to be done, what among those options will make the situation better?
  3. What is “better”?
  4. What happens if the chosen action fails?

(*As in, what actually could be accomplished and what are the odds of success.)

There are other considerations, of course, including prior commitments and reputation management and allied relations, but it seems that amidst those other considerations, these four questions have gotta be answered.

I don’t know what those answers are in this situation, tho’ I do know I’m skeptical of aggressive action. As for those who think Putin is pwning our president, well, I’m skeptical that aggression is a sign of strength.

And  if Putin does end up getting his way and keeping Crimea? I guess he wins, whatever that means. A bad outcome, but probably not the worst.

Now, on to something about which I can know with 100 percent absolute super confidence: What happened to that Malaysian jet?

The Rapture, of course!

Duh.





Doctor doctor

8 03 2014

Psst, Ben Carson, I gotta tip fer ya:

If you don’t want people thinking you’re equating “Obamacare” to slavery, homosexuality to bestiality, and a liberalizing culture to Nazi Germany, then, maaayyybe you shouldn’t, y’know, compare “Obamacare” to slavery, homosexuality to bestiality, and a liberalizing culture to Nazi Germany.

Just a thought.





Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

5 03 2014

It’s too soon for Barack Obama to say “fuck it”.

I know it’s too soon for Obama to say “fuck it”—midterm elections and all that—but is it too much to ask that he stiff-arms any Republican whinging about his “weakness” on Ukraine, and directs his press secretary to laugh at any and all questions regarding that whinging?

Yes, yes, there is a role for Congress to play in foreign policy, and Republicans have the right, even duty, to criticize the president if they think he’s going awry, but if these motherfuckers can’t be bothered to come up with anything better than Obama sux! , then fuck ‘em.

And if it’s too soon for that, then an eye roll will do.





Free free, set them free

3 03 2014

I’ve banged on and on and on on the necessity of one law for all. Not this time.

In the interest of not repeating myself on purpose (I do enough of it by accident), I’m not going to outline yet again why broad religious exemptions from laws of general applicability are a bad idea, and simply jump to the conclusion: Religious institutions and their affiliates which hire and treat/educate/work with solely their fellow co-religionists? Fine: clear First Amendment exemption. Places of general accommodation? Nuh-uh.

Anyway, these proposed laws based on “sincerely-held religious beliefs” seem like a very bad idea for a very basic reason: who the hell is to determine what is a “sincerely held religious belief” and how is it to be determined?

Courts generally don’t want to have to deal with this, not least because they don’t want to be in the position of having a government body determining what is a religion, much less sincerely held beliefs about them. Yes, there are cases in which this occurs—conscientious objectors from the draft, IRS tax-exempt status, rights of prisoners—but beyond that, not so much.

More to the point, if I sue you for denial of service and you claim a s.h.r.b. defense, then my attorney is going to question you about your beliefs, how consistent you are in their application, your level of knowledge about your religion, and on an on. State legislators might think they’re handing you a get-out-of-court-free card, but if you get that card due solely to the sincerity of your belief, well then, that gives me incentive to challenge both the sincerity and the belief.

If you are in any way inconsistent—which is to say, human—it’s just possible that a jury of your peers will find that you don’t, in fact, believe what you say you believe. And even if you win, you and your beliefs will in the process have come under sustained official scrutiny.

It’s tough to see how that in any way advances the cause of religious liberty.





Money for nothing

1 03 2014

Let us compare two votes, shall we?

One authorizes war; another authorizes benefits* for veterans of war. How well do these votes match up?

Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL, voted in favor of the Iraq War; Senator Jeff Sessions voted against benefits for veterans of war.

Senator Richard Shelby, R-Al, voted in favor of war; Senator Shelby voted against benefits

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, voted in favor of war; Senator Murkowski did not vote on benefits.

Representative Jeff Flake, R-AZ, voted in favor of war; Senator Flake voted against benefits.

Senator John McCain, R-AZ, voted in favor of war; Senator McCain voted against benefits.

Representative John Boozman, R-AR voted in favor of war; Senator Boozman voted against benefits.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, voted in favor of war; Senator Nelson did not vote on benefits.

Representative Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, voted in favor of war; Senator Chambliss voted against benefits.

Representative John Isakson, R-GA, voted in favor of war; Senator Isakson voted against benefits.

Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID, voted in favor of war; Senator Crapo voted against benefits.

Representative Mark Kirk, R-IL, voted in favor of war; Senator Kirk voted against benefits.

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA, voted in favor of war; Senator Grassley voted against benefits.

Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS, voted in favor of war; Senator Roberts voted against benefits.

Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY, voted in favor of war; Senator McConnell voted against benefits.

Representative David Vitter, R-LA, voted in favor of war; Senator Vitter voted against benefits.

Senator Susan Collins, R-ME, voted in favor of war; Senator Collins voted against benefits.

Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS, voted in favor of war; Senator Cochran voted against benefits.

Representative Roger Wicker, R-MS, voted in favor of war; Senator Wicker did not vote on benefits.

Representative Roy Blunt, R-MO, voted in favor of war; Senator Blunt voted against benefits.

Representative Richard Burr, R-NC, voted in favor of war; Senator Burr voted against benefits.

Representative Rob Portman, R-OH, voted in favor of war; Senator Portman voted against benefits.

Senator Jim Inhofe, R-OK, voted in favor of war; Senator Inhofe voted against benefits.

Representative Pat Toomey, R-PA, voted in favor of war; Senator Toomey voted against benefits.

Representative Lindsay Graham, R-SC, voted in favor of war; Senator Graham voted against benefits.

Representative John Thune, R-SD, voted in favor of war; Senator Thune voted against benefits.

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT, voted in favor of war; Senator Hatch voted against benefits.

Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY, voted in favor of war; Senator Enzi voted against benefits.

Those who voted for the war and for benefits:

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA
  • Senator Thomas Carper, D-DE
  • Representative/Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
  • Senator Mary Landrieu, D-LA
  • Representative/Senator Ed Markey, D-MA
  • Senator Harry Reid, D-NV
  • Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY
  • Senator Tim Johnson, D-SD
  • Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA
  • Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WV

Those who voted against the war and for benefits:

  • Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA
  • Representative/Senator Mark Udall, D-CO
  • Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-MD
  • Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD
  • Senator Carl Levin, D-MI
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-MI
  • Representative/Senator Bob Menéndez, D-NJ
  • Representative/Senator Tom Udall, D-NM
  • Representative/Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH
  • Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR
  • Senator John Reed, D-RI
  • Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT
  • Representative/Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT (sponsor of benefits bill S.1982)
  • Senator Patty Murray, D-WA
  • Representative/Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-WI

If you don’t want to pay for the consequences of war, then DON’T VOTE FOR WAR.

And, goddammit, if we do go to war, then you pay to take care of those who fought the war.

Even soldiers in a stupid, shitty, pointless war deserve care.

*Technically, this was a cloture vote (requiring 60 votes to succeed), which is to say, a vote to stop a filibuster; voting yes on cloture would end debate and allow a majority vote on the legislation to proceed. The vote failed, 56-41.

~~~

According to Alan Fram of the Associated Press,

Republicans criticized how most of Sanders’ bill was paid for — with unspent money from the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the winding down of American military involvement in Afghanistan. The GOP says those are not real savings because no one expected those dollars to be spent as those wars ended.

I’d go back and see how many of these. . . statesmen voted in favor of war-time tax cuts, but I really don’t have the heart.





They say the best things in life are free

6 02 2014

I am not a subscriber.

I expect that I’ll become one; I’m kinda surprised and I haven’t ponied up already.

The Daily Dish. I’m talkin’ ’bout Andrew Sullivan’s Dish.

I read it every day, and often click over to one of the sites Sullivan links to. I like very much that he pays his interns and that he provides health insurance to his workers. And given my general “fuck you-pay me” ethos (tho’ that doesn’t quite match the situation, here), it makes sense that when someone whose work I read asks that he be paid for that work, that I pay him.

But I haven’t.

A big part is that I’m still able to read the bulk of his posts without clicking through. I know he reduced the number of free hits from 10 to 5 in any given month, but there’s still a lot that’s free. If he were even stingier with the words, I’d probably already have cracked open my wallet.

There are other reasons for my procrastination. Every time this past year I was thinking, Yeah, I should sign up already, he’d offer up some bullshit post (What’s the big deal with expecting retail/hospitality workers to fawn all over me? I’m so so brave for publishing Charles Murray’s shit-work on race and IQ, etc.) and I’d think “Fuck if I’m rewarding that.”

It’s not that I won’t pay to disagree or that I have to like everything he publishes. I don’t care about beards and his posts on his religious beliefs could be nominated for his own Poseur Alerts, but, whatever. And I do like the shots of his beagles. No, it was more a specific response to a specific post, as if sending electronic cash his way just after he posted something terrible was a kind of reward for that specific terrible post.

That may not make sense, but when you’re lookin’ for reasons to say procrastinate, just about anything’ll do.

Which leads me to my next point: I don’t think he’s a very good political analyst. He can’t separate out his own concerns from those of the candidate or of the exigencies of either a campaign or governance. He kept banging on about the debt and deficit—which, fine: his blog—but in arguing that Obama could make great political gains by tackling D&D he was just. . . wrong.

And, of course, he’s by turns amusing and irritating with his semi-regular emotional collapses  (alternating with the “meep meep” nonsense) regarding the daily fortunes of this president.

Then there’s the–uck–Clinton-spazzing. Jesus Christ. He barely held it together while Hillary was Secretary of State, but now that she’s no longer a part of the Obama administration he’s reverted to Bill&HillAreSatan and already frothing about 2016. *Looooooong sigh*

Finally, I am still deeply, deeply angered over the fact that those who supported and exhorted and castigated on behalf of the Iraq war have paid no price whatsoever. They’ve kept their jobs,  their t.v. gigs, they’ve made money on books and in speaking fees, and they’re still available to opine on the next new thing.

They helped to shove us into disaster and the worst that has happened to any of them is that they’ve had to say “Sorry”.

Sullivan has, of course, said “sorry” and made a great show of repentance—but as you can tell by the way I worded that last phrase, I don’t fully believe him. He says he feels bad, and maybe he does, but that’s because he should. He was part of a terrible venture, and he should carry that until the end of his days.

Oddly, it is in part that anger over his Iraq war advocacy that will lead me to subscribing: I want to read his “Deep Dish” piece on how he got it all wrong. I generally don’t bother with contempt-reading (hence my drawing back from Dreher), but I expect the experience of reading the piece to be grim.

I’m angry just thinking about it.

Still. And so what. Whatever else I think of Sullivan, I do think he’s honest, or at least that he strives for honesty. I like a lot of what he does, dislike some, and skip past the rest with an “Eh”. I don’t know if I’d enjoy sitting down to a meal with him—maybe, maybe not—but I don’t need to be besties with someone to appreciate what they do.

And, for the most part, I do.

So I will—subscribe, that is.

Tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow.





Across the river to the Jersey side

5 02 2014

I’m still unwilling to weigh in in any sustained manner on the 2016 presidential race—let’s get thru the midterm elections first, shall we?—but I’m not not paying any attention whatsoever.

We’re at the stage that Jonathan Bernstein calls the “invisible primary”, when all of the action is behind-the-scenes and limited to a comparatively few people: potential candidates, fundraisers, high-level organizers and would-be staffers. If you’re not one of those folks, and if you’re not a political scientist, there’s no reason other than sheer cussedness (or masochism) to pay attention now.

Still, things do pop up. Or just plain ‘pop’.

I’m talking, of course, about Chris Christie.

I didn’t/don’t take him seriously as a 2016 candidate because I’m not taking anyone seriously: I’m not a part of the invisible primary and while I am a political scientist, American politics ain’t my field. Still, I’m not willing to poke out my eyes, so I have noticed one or two items about his possible candidacy.

I know some Dems were/are worried about him, but I think they were/are foolish to do so. It’s not that he wouldn’t be (or wouldn’t have been) a strong general-election candidate, but that the main work of shredding him would be performed by his fellow Republicans.

Yes, any decent Dem is going to do all of the opposition research and analysis, but chances are any dirt would be dug by the GOP, specifically, those who would run against Christie in the primary. Ted Cruz would be the one to ferret out corruption and Rand Paul would bring up issues of government spending; Rick Perry would talk about the difficulties of doing business in the Garden State and Scott Walker would hit him on union issues. And Rick Santorum. . . , well, christ, he’d do his Rick Santorum thing.

Could Christie make it through that gantlet?

I don’t know. It’s possible—primary voters have to pick the best available candidate, not the theoretically-best candidate—and it’s not as if Christie’s skills have suddenly disappeared. But his weaknesses have become manifest, and magnified, since the bridge scandal broke, and it’s not at all clear that his skills will be enough to overcome those problems.

Especially if his fellow Republicans insist upon drawing attention to those problems.

In the meantime, Christie’s problems shouldn’t matter to you if you’re not a) a New Jersey resident; b) an invisible-primary actor; c) a political scientist; or d) cussed and/or a masochist.

We now resume our regular programming.





I want a new drug

14 01 2014

I need a new conservative.

I’ve been reading Rod Dreher for years. He’s a “crunchy con”—localist, traditionalist, religious—and I’ve enjoyed him in about equal measure as he’s pissed me off.

Now, however, he just pisses me off (I’ll spare you the litany of why and how), so if I am not to retreat inside my leftist-commie-hippie-Brooklyn bubble, I need some fresh meat new columnist who with ideas and a viewpoint worth taking seriously.

Reihan Salam is probably worth a look, and maybe I’ll start reading First Things again. I already read Tyler Cowen regularly for the market-libertarian view (although I think Alex Tabarrok is an idiot), and stroll through Christianity Today a couple of times a week. I should probably add Front Porch Republic more regularly to the mix (tho’ those guys never use 10 words when 100 are available), and maybe there’s someone or two on Patheos who can expand my eyeballs.

What of conservative women who aren’t a) mere culture warriors or b) shills for the Republicans? Hm, anyone on Secular Right who’s particularly good?

I’m serious about all of this. I’m a leftist for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is that I think it’s the correct approach for understanding the world, but it ain’t the perfect approach, and I am liable to miss all kinds of things if I hold only to this view. I also don’t want to fall into mere warrior mode, and miss the fact that those who are conservative may also be funny and profound and share a taste in whisky, sci-fi, and assorted bad habits.

I had that with Dreher. I’ll keep reading him, as well as the other folks at American Conservative, but I am just. . . tired.

I need a new conservative.





Bridge over troubled water

9 01 2014

Since I haven’t formally embargoed any and all 2016 presidential discussion. . . .

I have no idea if this bridge-bollixing will do any long-term damage to Chris Christie, but if I were a Republican operative working for, say, Ted Cruz or Rick Perry, I’d be paying very close attention to the goings-on on the other side of the Hudson River.








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