You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
President Obama will lay out a budget blueprint on Monday that amounts to an election-year bet that a plan for higher taxes on the rich and more spending on popular programs like infrastructure and manufacturing will trump concerns over the deficit.
The new budget proposal contrasts with the deficit-cutting promises that attended the budget rollout last year and the debates that followed. Figures released on Friday indicate that the White House foresees a slightly higher deficit in the current fiscal year than the $1.3 trillion deficit of the 2011 fiscal year, even after the budget battles that dominated Washington last year.
The deficit is projected to fall to $901 billion in the fiscal year that starts in October, the first time since 2008 that the red ink would be below the $1 trillion mark. But last year, the White House had projected the 2013 deficit dropping further, to $768 billion.
Under White House projections, the deficit would reach $575 billion in 2018, or 2.7 percent of the economy, before rising again to $704 billion in 2022, or 2.8 percent.
The highlights of the plan for the 2013 fiscal year may not be those bottom-line figures but the spending inside.
A senior administration official on Friday evening framed the budget as the third act in a three-act play, which started with the fiery populism of Mr. Obama’s December speech in Osawatomie, Kan., continued with his State of the Union address and ends with a politically freighted budget rollout on Monday at a community collegein the electoral battleground of Northern Virginia. Budget unveilings are usually handled in Washington by White House staff and cabinet members, with a brief message from the president.
The budget document distributed on Friday on Capitol Hill was permeated by the language of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address and his call “to construct an economy that is built to last.” But the words and the policies hark back to the first year of Mr. Obama’s presidency and his call for a “New Foundation.”
In essence, Mr. Obama will campaign on a vow to stay the course.
“We must transform our economy from one focused on speculating, spending and borrowing to one constructed on the solid foundation of educating, innovating, and building,” the document states.
As Democrats promote the revival of manufacturing, the president will call for an additional $2.2 billion for advanced manufacturing research and development, a 19 percent leap over the current year. In all, Mr. Obama will seek a 5 percent increase in nonmilitary research spending.
For more immediate job programs, the White House will urge $350 billion in short-term job spending, as well as a six-year transportation and infrastructure program that would cost $476 billion. He will ask for $60 billion to refurbish at least 35,000 schools and help state and local governments hire and retain teachers, firefighters and police officers.
Tens of billions of dollars have already been spent on such efforts through the stimulus program passed in 2009, and Republicans in Congress — intent on calling the first effort a failure — are not about to embark on a new round.
But the latest budget document can be seen as more a platform for the president’s re-election campaign than a legislative proposal for budget debates that will begin next week. The budget will call for a 10-year, $61 billion “financial crisis responsibility fee” to hit the largest financial companies and a tax overhaul referred to as “everyone pays their fair share.”
Congressional leaders of both parties have vowed to pursue an overhaul of the tax code to make it simpler and fairer. But Mr. Obama’s version includes proposals that have been partisan flashpoints. His version pushes for the elimination of “unfair tax breaks for millionaires.” The current alternative minimum tax — which hits some middle-class families— would be scrapped in favor of the president’s “Buffett rule,” named after the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett and devised to ensure that households earning more than $1 million a year pay no less than 30 percent of their income in taxes.
The budget document calls for a simpler tax code with lower rates, but the president also wants a tax overhaul to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion through 2022 and allow President George W. Bush’s tax cuts to expire for families earning more than $250,000 a year.
New spending and targeted tax increases seem far more gaudy than the $638 billion in spending cuts the White House is claiming over 10 years from health programs like Medicare and Medicaid, agriculture subsidies, federal worker retirement funds and other programs.
In all, the White House is boasting of more than $4 trillion in “balanced deficit reduction” in the package over 10 years, a figure that includes $1 trillion in spending cuts agreed to last year after a series of confrontations with Congressional Republicans.
But the document’s numbers will show Mr. Obama has failed to meet his pledge to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term, and for Republicans, that will be the bottom line.
“President Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term,” said Stephen Miller, spokesman for the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee. “Their optimistic projection is that next year’s deficit will be almost a trillion dollars — after four straight trillion-dollar deficits. So the White House is bragging about a broken promise?”
But deficit reduction may be beside the point. Mr. Obama appears to be laying out a campaign document that pits jobs programs paid for with tax increases on the rich against the deep spending cuts that will be the heart of the Republican Party’s economic program, rebuilding versus austerity.
House Republican leaders have already promised to follow the president’s plan with a budget document of their own that is largely based on last year’s blueprint drafted by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The new Ryan plan may temper his proposal to replace guaranteed, government-paid Medicare with vouchers that would be used to purchase private health insurance plans. Instead, Mr. Ryan is likely to propose a new version that offers traditional Medicare as an alternative to vouchers, mirroring the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan as well as the one Mr. Ryan drafted with Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon.
As Republicans drive toward deeper spending cuts without tax increases, the president’s budget plan appears to have been drafted to maximize the contrast between the two parties, and to raise the stakes of the November election.
Yesterday, 49 states joined the federal government inannouncing a $26 billion settlement with five of the nation’s biggest banks over the banks’ foreclosure fraud abuses. The money from the settlement is meant to aid homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure or who find themselves underwater, meaning they owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth.
However, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — whose high profile assault on workers’ rights has prompted a recall effort against him — isn’t planning to use the money to help homeowners. Under the terms of the settlement, Wisconsin is set to receive $140 million, $31.6 million of which comes directly to the state government. And Walker is planning to use $25.6 million of that money to help balance his state’s budget:
Of a $31.6 million payment coming directly to the state government, most of that money – $25.6 million – will go to help close a budget shortfall revealed in newly released state projections. [Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen], whose office said he has the legal authority over the money, made the decision in consultation with Walker.
“Just like communities and individuals have been affected, the foreclosure crisis has had an effect on the state of Wisconsin, in terms of unemployment. … This will offset that damage done to the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
A memo from Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau released yesterday notes “it is anticipated that Wisconsin will receive $31.6 million. Based on discussions between the Attorney General and the administration, of the amounts received by the state, $25.6 million will be deposited to the general fund as GPR-Earned in 2011-12, and the remaining $6 million will be retained by the Department of Justice to be allocated at a later date.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) criticized Walker’s move, saying “not one dime [of the settlement] should be used to fund the unbalanced state budget.” Adding insult to injury, Walker has previously criticized using one-time settlement money to fill budget holes.
The settlement money already doesn’t come close to addressing the depths of the nation’s housing problem, though it will provide real relief to the people whom it does reach. But the money was certainly not intended to paper over state budget problems, particularly in a state whose governor assured everybody up and down that busting his state’s public unions was the key to fiscal solvency.
[…] Lucas, who arrived here at age 16 from Guerrero, Mexico, and helped found the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), is the first kind of hero, too. At great personal risk—sweating, he says, through his fear—Lucas was the driver for a daring 2001 rescue of four Florida farmworkers who were brutalized and effectively enslaved by growers. He played an important role in convicting those responsible: brothers Juan and Ramiro Ramos, who’d made millions holding workers against their will by, according to the FBI, “threaten[ing] them at gunpoint, promising torture and death if they tried to escape.”
[…] Since then, CIW has grown to 4,000 members. Its work encompasses advocating for better working conditions and wages for the fieldworkers of Immokalee, Fla., and elsewhere, fighting against modern-day slavery, and working to bring justice to the American food system.
Early on, CIW decided to focus demands for change beyond the growers themselves, targeting instead the centers of corporate power on which the growers depend. Yielding to a four-year, CIW-organized boycott, Yum! Brands (Taco Bell) agreed in 2005 to meet all the workers’ demands. For the first time in history, a corporation paid money down the supply chain, directly to farmworkers. The corporation also used its leverage to force growers to provide better working conditions. Two years later McDonald’s followed suit;Burger King and Subway have also signed “Fair Food” agreements guaranteeing better working conditions, a complaint-resolution procedure, health and safety programs, and worker-to-worker education.
Today CIW and Lucas are focusing their energies on the supermarket industry. Only Whole Foods Market has stepped up to sign the Fair Food agreement, so they’re ramping up the pressure on Trader Joe’s and Publix.
Lucas says his goal is making “the Florida tomato industry a model of social accountability.” His effectiveness, I believe—showing up in a string of critical alliances with
Church and student organizations as well as remarkable victories by the CIW over two decades—lies in a steady, understated leadership style that exudes moral conviction. He embodies the dignity, grounded in clear purpose, that he seeks to enable all farm workers to experience. Lucas’ life proves that courage is contagious.
LINDSTROM, Minn. — Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.
He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.
Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.
There is little poverty here in Chisago County, northeast of Minneapolis, where cheap housing for commuters is gradually replacing farmland. But Mr. Gulbranson and many other residents who describe themselves as self-sufficient members of the American middle class and as opponents of government largess are drawing more deeply on that government with each passing year.
Dozens of benefits programs provided an average of $6,583 for each man, woman and child in the county in 2009, a 69 percent increase from 2000 after adjusting for inflation. In Chisago, and across the nation, the government now provides almost $1 in benefits for every $4 in other income.
Older people get most of the benefits, primarily through Social Security and Medicare, but aid for the rest of the population has increased about as quickly through programs for the disabled, the unemployed, veterans and children.
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
The expansion of government benefits has become an issue in the presidential campaign. Rick Santorum, who won 57 percent of the vote in Chisago County in the Republican presidential caucuses last week, has warned of “the narcotic of government dependency.” Newt Gingrich has compared the safety net to a spider web. Mitt Romney has said the nation must choose between an “entitlement society” and an “opportunity society.” All the candidates, includingRon Paul, have promised to cut spending and further reduce taxes.
The problem by now is familiar to most. Politicians have expanded the safety net without a commensurate increase in revenues, a primary reason for the government’s annual deficits and mushrooming debt. In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.
The recent recession increased dependence on government, and stronger economic growth would reduce demand for programs like unemployment benefits. But the long-term trend is clear. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.
Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes. Fifty-six percent supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Forty-four percent favored both.
5 More Pages>>>
In another sign that Democrats have embraced income inequality as a cause célèbre, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the subject today. The committee’s ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, managed to look concerned during two hours of testimony about the kneecapping of the Middle Class—not that it should have been all that difficult. Here are some of the hearing’s most striking charts:
Mother Jones readers have seen this one:The Philippe Dauman chart:
The 1 percent hasn’t controlled such a large share of the economy since the eve of the Great Depression:
But as the rich have earned a larger share, they’ve paid a smaller and smaller share in taxes:
A major source of inequality in the tax code comes from how it treats investment income. Just ask Mitt Romney, who paid 13.9 percent of his income in taxes in 2010. Most of his earnings came from capital gains, which only get taxed at 15 percent. Proponents of the loophole argue that it helps spur investment, but it also disproportionately helps the rich:
Though America’s wealthy are supposed to pay a higher tax rate than the poor (what’s known as a “progressive tax code”), they now benefit from so many loopholes that the tax code has, in practice, become increasingly regressive (the Gini Index is a common measure of income inequality):
The White House believes it has figured out how to get more money for clean-energy programs touted by President Obama without having it become political roadkill in the wake of the Solyndra controversy: Put it in the Pentagon.
While details are thin on the ground, lawmakers who work on both energy- and defense-spending policy believe the fiscal 2013 budget request to be delivered to Congress on Monday probably won’t include big increases for wind and solar power through the Energy Department, a major target for Republicans since solar-panel maker Solyndra defaulted last year on a $535 million loan guarantee.
But they do expect to see increases in spending on alternative energy in the Defense Department, such as programs to replace traditional jet fuel with biofuels, supply troops on the front lines with solar-powered electronic equipment, build hybrid-engine tanks and aircraft carriers, and increase renewable-energy use on military bases.
While Republicans will instantly shoot down requests for fresh spending on Energy Department programs that could be likened to the one that funded Solyndra, many support alternative-energy programs for the military.
“I do expect to see the spending,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, when asked about increased investment in alternative-energy programs at the Pentagon. “I think in the past three to five years this has been going on, but that it has grown as a culture and a practice – and it’s a good thing.”
“If Israel attacks Iran, and we have to go to war – and the Straits of Hormuz are closed for a week or a month and the price of fuel is going to be high,” Kingston said, “the question is, in the military, what do you replace it with? It’s not something you just do for the ozone. It’s strategic.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sits on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said, “I don’t see what they’re doing in DOD as being Solyndra.”
“We’re not talking about putting $500 million into a goofy idea,” Graham told National Journal. “We’re talking about taking applications of technologies that work and expanding them. I wouldn’t be for DOD having a bunch of money to play around with renewable technologies that have no hope. But from what I understand, there are renewables out there that already work.”
A senior House Democrat noted that this wouldn’t be the first time that the Pentagon has been utilized to advance policies that wouldn’t otherwise be supported.
“They did it in the ’90s with medical research,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
In 1993, when funding was frozen for breast-cancer research programs in the National Institutes of Health, Congress boosted the Pentagon’s budget for breast-cancer research – to more than double that of the health agency’s funding in that area.
Politically, the strategy makes sense. Republicans are ready to fire at the first sign of any pet Obama program, and renewable programs at the Energy Department are an exceptionally ripe target. That’s because of Solyndra, but also because, in the last two years, the Energy Department received a massive $40 billion infusion in funding for clean-energy programs from the stimulus law, a signature Obama policy. When that money runs out this year, a request for more on top of it would be met with flat-out derision from most congressional Republicans.
Increasing renewable-energy initiatives at the Pentagon can also help Obama advance his broader, national goals for transitioning the U.S. economy from fossil fuels to alternative sources. As the largest industrial consumer of energy in the world, the U.S. military can have a significant impact on energy markets – if it demands significant amounts of energy from alternative sources, it could help scale up production and ramp down prices for clean energy on the commercial market.
Obama acknowledged those impacts in a speech last month at the Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. “The Navy is going to purchase enough clean-energy capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year. And it won’t cost taxpayers a dime,” Obama said.
“What does it mean? It means that the world’s largest consumer of energy – the Department of Defense – is making one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history,” the president added. “That will grow this market, it will strengthen our energy security.”
Experts also hope that Pentagon engagement in clean-energy technology could help yield breakthroughs with commercial applications.
Kingston acknowledged that the upfront costs for alternative fuels are higher than for conventional oil and gasoline. For example, the Air Force has pursued contracts to purchase biofuels made from algae and camelina, a grass-like plant, but those fuels can cost up to $150 a barrel, compared to oil, which is lately going for around $100 a barrel. Fuel-efficient hybrid tanks can cost $1 million more than conventional tanks – although in the long run they can help lessen the military’s oil dependence, Kingston said Republicans recognize that the up-front cost can yield a payoff later. “It wouldn’t be dead on arrival. But we’d need to see a two- to three-year payoff on the investment,” Kingston said.
Military officials – particularly Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has made alternative energy a cornerstone of his tenure – have been telling Congress for years that the military’s dependence on fossil fuels puts the troops – and the nation’s security – at risk.
Mabus has focused on meeting an ambitious mandate from a 2007 law to supply 25 percent of the military’s electricity from renewable power sources by 2025. (Obama has tried and failed to pass a similar national mandate.)
Last June, the DOD rolled out its first department-wide energy policy to coalesce alternative and energy-efficient initiatives across the military services. In January, the department announced that a study of military installations in the western United States found four California desert bases suitable to produce enough solar energy – 7,000 megawatts – to match seven nuclear power plants.
And so far, those moves have met with approval from congressional Republicans.
Even so, any request for new Pentagon spending will be met with greater scrutiny this year. The Pentagon’s budget is already under a microscope, due to $500 billion in automatic cuts to defense spending slated to take effect in 2013.
But even with those challenges, clean-energy spending probably won’t stand out as much in the military budget as it would in the Energy Department budget. Despite its name, the Energy Department has traditionally had little to do with energy policy – its chief portfolio is maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Without the stimulus money, last year only $1.9 billion of Energy’s $32 billion budget went to clean-energy programs. A spending increase of just $1 billion would make a big difference in the agency’s bottom line. But it would probably be easier to tuck another $1 billion or $2 billion on clean-energy spending into the Pentagon’s $518 billion budget. Last year, the Pentagon spent about $1 billion on renewable energy and energy-efficiency programs across its departments.
I understand President Obama is going to announce an “accommodation” to the demands of the Catholic Church and media regarding US health care. I’ll wait and see what he says, and if I have time today I’ll try to figure out how this accommodation might affect me and mine. I don’t know that I’ll be around at 11 for the announcement.
I’m not really surprised he’s compromising. The church planned the political campaign 7 months in advance of the (alleged) “firestorm”, so there was always an end game here.
I am grateful to him for making the public health argument on my behalf. As far as I’m concerned, he was the only person operating out of a genuine concern for women’s health, rather than treating women’s health as a political football or proxy for some other, unrelated, larger moral or political crusade.
He did his job, and he acted in good faith, which is more than I can say for the bishops and their multi-millionaire media mouthpieces. On that, I have to say, I haven’t seen the multi-millionaire cable tv stars and media personalities this incensed in years, back since they were selling the invasion of Iraq. Who knew they were so vitally concerned with limiting access to contraception? Eye-opening, to say the least. Do you think we get them on board to lobby this hard to help working people? They’re impressive when they join together and link arms in a campaign like this. I see a lot of potential for good there.
Here are some facts that might be useful if you are not a bishop or multi-millionare pundit or media personality, and rely on employer-provided health insurance for prescription drugs. Despite misty-eyed and nostalgiac notions of priests toiling in storefront clinics , the Catholic Church plays a huge and growing role in the mulit-billion dollar industry that is US health care. They are the very definition of a large employer that the health care law was intended to regulate.
Catholic Healthcare West, one of the nation’s largest hospital systems, is ending its governing board’s affiliation with the Catholic Church and changing its name, two steps intended to help the system expand throughout the states in which it operates — California, Arizona and Nevada — and beyond.
The changes, which executives announced today, underscore the unique challenges facing Catholic hospitals in the marketplace, where there are tremendous financial pressures for hospitals to merge or form formal alliances with other health care providers in order to survive and thrive. The change will have no effect on any patients or the medical care provided at the 25 Catholic and 15 secular hospitals in the system. But executives hope it will make it easier to merge or affiliate with other hospitals, doctors’ practices and other health care providers.
In the past few years, proposed mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals in Louisville, Ky., and Sierra Vista, Ariz., have collapsed in part because of concerns about the church’s bans on abortions, in-vitro fertilizations and sterilizations. Other mergers have succeeded only with the help of unusual contortions, such in Troy, N.Y., where a separately licensed maternity ward free from Catholic doctrine was created on the second floor of a secular hospital taken over by a Catholic system. In Seattle, Swedish Medical Center last fall agreed to fund a Planned Parenthood office next door to quell objections about its planned affiliation with a Catholic system
The San Francisco-based system, which has $11 billion in revenues, making it the fifth largest in the country, is seeking to triple in size and build a national footprint. It treated 6.2 million patients last year.
Catholic Healthcare West leaders said the change has been in development since 2009, when it was raised by the sisters. They said they consulted with Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco and he determined the governance change was consistent with the church’s teachings and that it could proceed. Future secular hospitals added to the system will be required to adhere to the “Statement of Common Values” that apply to Catholic Healthcare West’s secular hospitals. In addition to elective abortions, those rules prohibit in-vitro fertilizations but not sterilizations such as tubal ligations.
The system’s Catholic hospitals will continue to adhere to Catholic directives and have relationships with the religious orders of nuns that governed the system. Those orders will retain final authority should Dignity want to sell a hospital, change its name or make other substantial alterations. In addition, the secular hospitals will continue to adhere to some rules based on church doctrine, such as a ban on abortions except when a mother’s life is in danger.
“It’s more like two families under one roof as opposed to ‘you have to join our family,’” said Martin Arrick, a managing director at the rating agency Standard & Poor’s. “If this proves to be successful—and I have no reason to think it won’t be—I think you’re going to see a wave of Catholic and non-Catholic partnerships.”
How big is this regulatory exception church leaders and pundits are demanding? How many working people will it involve? When a multi-billion dollar Catholic health care business merges with a multi-billion dollar secular health care business, are all of the people employed there now subject to the restrictions on access to contraceptives?
If the church and their media allies blow a hole in the regulatory scheme of the PPACAcan we expect other large employers to demand waivers? The church’s lawyer said yesterday that he was lobbying to remove contraception from the list completely. If he succeeds at that, what other provisions related to women’s health might he succeed in removing? Any other anti-regulatory campaigns they’re cooking up? People out here in the cheap seats might need this information.
None of these questions were even asked. Ordinary working women had no role, at all, in a debate that was just conducted on their health care, but we did have the President of the United States and his HHS director working on our behalf, and that’s heartening.
Regardless of race, age, or religion, virtually every American woman who’s ever had sex has also used some form of birth control. Yet efforts to block millions of women’s access to contraception have reached new heights. Below, a quick reality check on just how widespread (and uncontroversial) contraception use is for the overwhelming majority of American women.
Contraceptive use among American women who have had sex (2006-2008). Note: Excludes natural family planning
American women ages 15–44 who have had sex and used contraception, by race (2006-2008)
Contraceptive methods used by American women ages 15–44 who have had sex (2006-2008)
Dem VIDEO: “Who do you think should make decisions about contraception? You, or your employer?”
In 2008 in Colorado, a rebel faction of antiabortion activists decided to pursue a “personhood” initiative. Over the objections of the mainstream antiabortion movement, they proposed amending the state’s constitution to redefine the word “person” to include zygotes. Under the proposal, “from the moment of fertilization,” a woman would be considered two people under Colorado law. When the initiative went before voters, it failed by more than 40 points.
The same activists brought up the measure again in 2010. They changed the “moment of fertilization” language to “the beginning of biological development,” but the intent — and the electoral result — were the same. Even with that year’s conservative electorate, Colorado voters said no to “personhood” by more than 40 points. Again.
The mainstream antiabortion movement opposed the Colorado effort because its members believed a challenge to it might have the unintended effect of reaffirming Roe v. Wade. They also worried that a blunt effort to ban all abortion might cause a backlash that would set back their incremental chipping away at abortion rights.
But voters seem to have rejected “personhood” for a different reason — legally redefining a “person” would not only criminalize all abortion but would probably outlaw hormonal forms of birth control as well. Hormonal contraceptives generally prevent an egg from being fertilized in the first place, but the at-least-theoretical possibility that they might also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus was enough to raise the specter of birth control pills being viewed as an instrument of homicide.
In Colorado’s U.S. Senate election in 2010, the Republican candidate, Ken Buck, endorsed the “personhood” initiative during the primary. He later backed off that position, but Democrat Michael Bennet hammered Buck for it throughout the campaign. As the rest of the political map turned deep red that year, Buck lost — and lost the vote of Colorado women by a whopping 17 points.
Undeterred, the “personhood” folks tried again, getting their measure on the ballot in Mississippi last year. There were national predictions that any antiabortion ballot measure could pass in Mississippi, but it failed there, too, and by double digits. After a grass-roots campaign that included a “Save the Pill!” rally and billboards saying the measure would make “birth control a lethal weapon,” Mississippians voted it down by 16 points.
After Mississippi rejected “personhood” and its threat to contraception, after Colorado rejected it twice, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul attended (Paul by satellite) a Personhood USA candidates forum in South Carolina. All signed a pledge to pursue “personhood” at the federal level. Mitt Romney did not attend the event, but when asked on Fox News before the Mississippi vote last year whether he would have supported such a measure as Massachusetts governor, he replied, “Absolutely.”
This is critical context for understanding the national media scrum over health insurance and contraception. Taken together — Republicans’ condemnation that birth control be a required benefit of health insurance, their insistence that Planned Parenthood lose all federal funding, their threat to cut federal Title X support for birth control and their support for “personhood” measures that threaten the legality of hormonal birth control — today’s Republican candidates are all Ken Buck now.
There is no constitutional infirmity in requiring religious institutions to follow the same insurance and labor regulations as other employers. Twenty-eight states already require that health insurance plans cover contraception; eight states do not even exempt churches from that requirement, as the Obama administration’s rules would, even before the president announced an expanded religious exemption on Friday. New York, whose Catholic archbishop has railed so vehemently against the administration on this issue, already lives under the rule he decries — it’s state law. The rule is also partially enshrined in federal law thanks to a December 2000 ruling of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. More than a dozen congressional Republicans proposed that this same rule become federal law in 2001, to a furious outcry from precisely no one.
The right has picked a fight on this issue because religiosity is a convenient partisan cudgel to use against Democrats in an election year. Despite that, some Democrats and even some liberals have embraced their logic. The thinking inside the Beltway seems to be that religious voters will turn against Democrats unless the White House drops the basic idea that insurance should cover contraception.
Time will tell on the political impact of this fight, but the relevant political context here is more than just a 2012 measure of Catholic bishops’ influence on moral issues. It’s also this year’s mainstream Republican embrace of an antiabortion movement that no longer just marches on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to criminalize abortion; it now marches on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, holding signs that say “The Pill Kills.”
Well, we now have the details of the “accomodation” that President Obama has made over the contraception issue. Institutions affiliated with the Catholic church will be able to opt out of contraceptive coverage completely, so the bishops are said to be completely satisfied. TheLA Times explains the rest:
The change essentially shifts the responsibility for providing and discussing contraception from the religious employer to the insurers. Any employer who has a religious objections to providing contraception will not have to provide that service to employees,but in those cases the insurer will be required to reach out directly to the employee and offer contraceptive care free of charge.
I’ve been laughing about this over email with a friend, who writes:
Further according to them, “Policy experts within the administration believe that there is effectively no cost to providing contraception, because use of it prevents much more expensive care they would otherwise have to provide.”
Catholic bishops are reportedly thrilled. Insurance companies not heard from yet.
You think these things don’t turn on the number of angels on the head of a pin? Apparently, they really do.
Not clear to me why they think there’s “effectively no cost” and the insurance companies won’t object, since if that were the case, they would have been offering this from the beginning of time.
If this gets everyone to sing Kumbaya, who am I to object? But really, this is just idiocy. If insurance companies are required to provide contraceptive coverage “free of charge,” they will, of course, simply raise rates elsewhere to cover all these “free” contraceptives. And Catholic hospitals and universities will all pay these slightly higher rates, which means they’re paying exactly as much for contraceptive coverage indirectly as they would be if their healthcare plans covered it directly. Just as Catholic bishops who pay income taxes already pay indirectly for contraceptive care subsidized by tax dollars. (Which they do. That’s life in a pluralistic democracy. We all pay for stuff we disapprove of.)
Still, I guess this accomodation means the bishops can convince themselves their money isn’t going toward paying for the evils of contraception. Kumbaya!
POSTSCRIPT: I just want to add that it’s possible that this is a cunningly brilliant move. Obama gets to show — again! — that he’s always willing to meet his critics halfway, and if the insurance companies play along with the “free of charge” charade then the critics really don’t have a leg left to stand on. If they continue to object, then they’re exposed as simply opposed to birth control, not merely standing up for religious liberty.
On a broader note, I don’t think there’s single person in the world who has a consistent opinion on the fungibility of money. And you know what? As silly as that is from a purely technical point of view, it’s probably not a bad thing. We all need ways to fool ourselves into making compromises we otherwise wouldn’t make, and in the grand scheme of things, inconsistency over the fungibility of money is a small price to pay for a better lubricated society.
See that? That’s what your health insurance brochure is going to look like starting Sept. 23, 2012. Earlier today, the White House finalized a key consumer-oriented provision of the health reform law: Standardized labels for health insurance plans. Think of them as nutrition facts for a health insurance plan that outline a health plan’s deductible, out-of-pocket limits and costs for visits to the emergency room or primary care doctor. What you see above is one part of a four-page document that insurance companies will have to provide to potential subscribers. You can see the full thing here.
These labels have been in the works for over a year now and, in the past month or so, got caught in some tussling between the insurance industry and consumer advocates. Most of it was about when the labels kick in and what information they will include. In today’s final regulation, the big thing is probably the implementation date: Consumers wanted the labels to come online as soon as possible; insurers lobbied for a January 2014 start date.
HHS sided with the consumers, and the labels will come online in September 2012, early enough to kick in before many open enrollment periods this fall. I’m already hearing insurance industry sources raise this timeline as their biggest concern: They’re not sure if they can meet the deadline.
As for the information, that got slightly pared back. The summary no longer contains information on a health plan’s premium, although the administration argues that’s easily available elsewhere. “People get premium information, they will have that,” Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told reporters this morning. “The goal of this provision was to focus on coverage, benefits and how they interact.”
The administration also pared back some information on the sample cost of a given course of medical treatment, such as having a baby or managing diabetes. Insurance companies only need to provide two examples now, rather than three.
Consumer groups that were panicking last month about big changes are now pretty happy with the final product. And in about seven months, American consumers will get a chance to decide what they think about it, too.
President Obama’s regulation mandating that health insurance plans offer free birth control is an issue that most directly affects women. And yet, the cable news chatter over this controversy has been driven mostly by men, according to a new ThinkProgress analysis.
From Monday through Thursday evening, the leading cable news channels – Fox, Fox Business, MSNBC, and CNN – invited almost twice as many men as women onto their shows to discuss contraceptive coverage.
Out of a total of 146 guests who discussed contraception, the cables invited 91 men compared to 55 women as commentators. In other words, males comprised 62 percent of the total guests who commented on contraception. Fox was the most gender stratified network – on the Business network, 10 of 11 guests were male; on the News side, male pundits took up 65 percent of the guest lineup (28 men vs. 15 women). Sixty percent of MSNBC’s lineup was male (44 men vs. 31 women). And while CNN was more evenly balanced, it was still slightly tilted in favor of male perspectives (9 men vs. 8 women).
A note on methodology: The survey did not include male or female hosts of shows who happened to comment on the controversy. Some guests, like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), appeared more than once during this stretch, but on different programs and networks. Each appearance was counted separately.
Contraceptive coverage is an issue where female perspectives should be heeded and understood. When it comes to contraceptive coverage, adding women’s voices on everything from their experiences with insurers to the decision’s impact on women voters can only make for a richer conversation. Hopefully, those individuals responsible for booking television guests will be more cognizant of gender sensitivities going forward.
Wannabe kingmaker Roger Ailes is facing an open revolt.
More and more despondent conservatives are expressing alarm over the unfolding Republican primary season and what they see as the party’s dwindling chances of defeating President Obama in November. Spooked at the general elections prospects facing frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (especially Gingrich), members of the so-called Republican Establishment seem to want to reboot the election season and try their nominating luck again.
Sorry, it’s too late.
If the current state of concern transforms into a larger, enveloping blame game, Fox News chairman Ailes ought be a looming target. True, conservatives in recent years have shown virtually no interest in critiquing, let alone trying to reign in, Ailes’ empire. Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Fox’s programming and the radical, fear-based agenda it’s setting for Republicans is now doing lasting damage to the Grand Old Party.
That’s because Fox News isn’t simply offering a rightward take on the day’s events, or innocently providing Republican-friendly commentary, of course. It’s leading an exhausting, day-in, day-out attack campaign against Obama, Democrats and all their liberal allies. (Real or imagined.) Its relentless, paranoid crusade falls well outside the mainstream of American politics, which is why the Republican primary season, so proudly sponsored by Fox News, is shaping up to be such an embarrassment.
Make no mistake, kingmaker Ailes has made sure his channel’s profoundly un-serious stamp permeates this year’s GOP contest. For more and more spooked Republicans though, it’s a stamp of failure and looming defeat.
For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It’s not working. At all.
As Fox News has moved in and essentially replaced the RNC as the driving electoral force in Republican politics today, and with Ailes ensconced in his kingmaker role, candidates have had to bow down to Fox in search of votes and the channel’s coveted free airtime. That means campaigns have been forced to become part of the channel’s culture of personal destruction, as well as its signature self-pity.
The truth is, the Republican Establishment all but ceded control of the party, or at least the public face of the party, to Fox News (and Rush Limbaugh) in January, 2009. Party leaders, demoralized by John McCain’s electoral landslide defeat, faded into the background and obediently followed Fox News’ often-hysterical lead as Rupert Murdoch’s cable channel unveiled an unprecedented effort to demonize and delegitimize the newly elected president. (In the Fox-led world, it’s conventional wisdom that Obama’s a foreign, race-baiting Marxist who undermines Israel and is determined to destroy the American way of life.)
With Fox News at the irresponsible helm, the conservative movement in America, including the emerging Tea Party, became first and foremost a media movement, and one that gleefully cut ties with common sense and decency. (See: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh.)
As blogger Andrew Sullivan noted this week:
The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP’s own “news” channel, Fox.
With media outlets setting the conservative agenda, as well as raising campaign funds and boosting GOP candidates, it was Fox News that quickly transformed itself into the Opposition Party. It was Roger Ailes who, officially or unofficially, began to wear two hats: Program Director at Fox News, Chairman of the RNC.
In terms of whipping up bouts of anti-Obama hysteria, the crass Fox approach enjoyed some short-term success. However, that same media movement is now three long and rhetorically repetitive years into its Obama crusade and trying to nominate a presidential candidate via an extended national campaign. According to more and more worried conservatives, the results on display are disastrous.
Of course, conservatives should have thought that through before handing over the reins to Ailes and his misinformation minions. Indeed, none of this is unexpected. It’s all entirely predictable. It’s what happens when a mainstream political movement embraces a radical media strategy like the one being promoted by Fox News; the movement marches itself off a cliff.
Conservative leaders themselves have freely adopted Fox News’ profoundly un-unprofessional rhetoric about Obama, claiming just this week he’s “pro-poverty” and his politics are “almost un-American.” That’s the Fox-ification of the GOP.
As Andrew Sullivan noted this week, the current GOP “purges dissidents, it vaunts total loyalty, it polices discourse for any deviation.” That sounds a lot like Fox News.
Two years ago, despondent conservative and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, noting the sweeping power that Ailes was accumulating, observed that, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”
As the Republican primary unfolds, I wonder if more and more poll-weary conservatives would like to fire their new boss.
Through 11 presidential elections, beginning with the Democrats’ nomination of George McGovern in 1972, Republicans have enjoyed a presumption of superiority regarding national security. This year, however, events and their rhetoric are dissipating their advantage.
Hours — not months, not weeks, hours — after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, vicious political factionalism and sectarian violence intensified. Many Republicans say Barack Obama’s withdrawal — accompanied by his administration’s foolish praise of Iraq’s “stability” — has jeopardized what has been achieved there. But if it cannot survive a sunrise without fraying, how much of an achievement was it?
Few things so embitter a nation as squandered valor; hence Americans, with much valor spent there, want Iraq to master its fissures. But with America in the second decade of its longest war, the probable Republican nominee is promising to extend it indefinitely.
Mitt Romney opposes negotiations with the Taliban while they “are killing our soldiers.” Which means: No negotiations until the war ends, when there will be nothing about which to negotiate. “We don’t,” he says, “negotiate from a position of weakness as we are pulling our troops out.” That would mean stopping the drawdown of U.S. forces — except Romney would not negotiate even from a position of strength: “We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban.” How could that be achieved in a second decade of war? What metrics would establish “defeat”? Details to come, perhaps.
The U.S. defense budget is about43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if thedefense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.
Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?
Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama “is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran’s closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”) GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good.
Critics say that defense cuts will limit America’s ability to intervene abroad as it has recently done. Well. Even leaving aside Iraq and Afghanistan, do Americans want defense spending to enable a rump of NATO — principally, Britain and France — to indulge moral ambitions and imperial nostalgia in Libya, and perhaps elsewhere, using U.S. materiel and competence?
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says that the Army should contract from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 in a decade. Romney says that the military should have 100,000 more troops than it does. (The Army is 88,000 larger than it was before Afghanistan and Iraq.) Romney may be right, but he should connect that judgment to specific assessments of threats and ambitions.
Romney says: “It is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” that if he is elected, Iran will not get such a weapon, and if Obama is reelected, it will. He also says that Obama “has made it very clear that he’s not willing to do those things necessary to get Iran to be dissuaded from” its nuclear ambitions.” Romney may, however, be premature in assuming the futility of new sanctions the Obama administration is orchestrating, and Panetta says Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is “unacceptable” and “a red line for us” and if “we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps necessary to stop it.” What, then, is the difference between Romney and Obama regarding Iran?
Osama bin Laden and many other “high-value targets” are dead, thedrone war is being waged more vigorously than ever, and Guantanamo is still open, so Republicans can hardly say that Obama has implemented dramatic and dangerous discontinuities regarding counterterrorism. Obama says that, even with his proposed cuts, the defense budget would increase at about the rate of inflation through the next decade. Republicans who think America is being endangered by “appeasement” and military parsimony have worked that pedal on their organ quite enough.
Attention, women of America — the Republicans will never allow you to have affordable access to birth control. Ever.
Not satisfied with President Obama’s new religious accommodation, Republicans will move forward with legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that permits any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday.
“If we end up having to try to overcome the President’s opposition by legislation, of course I’d be happy to support it, and intend to support it,” McConnell said. “We’ll be voting on that in the Senate and you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible.”
Women hold a demographic majority in America and the Republicans have declared war against them. This is the latest shot. I sincerely hope electoral retaliation will be in order this November.
In my column Friday, I note that the weak economies in the swing states could help or hurt Obama’s reelection campaign. Hurt, if they stay bad. Help, if they improve faster than the national average. Ryan Avent says the White House has reason to be optimistic:
At right, you can see the new figures. As was the case in June, the labour-market improvement in swing states is, on this measure at least, a bit better than that for the nation as a whole…Manufacturing states, which suffered very heavily in the downturn but bounced back relatively quickly, feature prominently on the list. And it’s interesting that some of the largest and most electorally important swing states — including Ohio and Florida, have seen large drops in the unemployment rate both overall and in just the past 12 months. That’s important; the political science literature suggests that it is the change in key economic variables in the 9 to 12 months prior to an election that is most impactful.
By Greg Sargent
On a conference call with reporters just now, senior Obama administration officials announced the outlines of the “accommodation” the White House has settled on with regard to the contraception controversy.
The gist is that women who work for religious institutions that object to offering birth control coverage will get contraception for free, directly from their insurers. The institutions won’t have to pay for it. The White House argues that this preserves both the “liberty” of those institutions and the core, inviolate principle that all women will have equal access to birth control, no matter where they work.
Insurers “will be required to reach out directly and offer them contraception coverage, free of charge,” one senior administration official says. “All women will still have acess to preventive care, and that includes contraceptive sevices, no matter where they work.”
More on the policy implications of this in a bit, but for now, the politics.
Obviously you can argue over whether the administration should have reached any accommodation at all, and the politics of this, as Kevin Drum notes, could still prove a morass for the administration. Some on the left will see the administration’s efforts to appease the U.S. Conference of Bishops as unnecessary appeasment. Meanwhile, it seems all but certain that the Conference of Bishops, which had previously insisted that the rule be scrapped altogher, will not be mollified in the slightest, and Republican officials and the 2012 GOP candidates will still continue attacking the Obama administration over this, pushing not only the “war on religion” line but also the subtext, i.e., that Obama is forever looking to expand the reach of government.
But the Obama team is betting that any further objections to this policy will unmask opponents primarily as hidebound foes of birth control at any costs, a politically difficult position to sustain, rather than as defenders of religious liberty. Indeed, this looks like an effort to reframe the debate to Obama’s advantage: If Team Obama has its way, the argument will now be about whether all women should have access to contraception, and not about whether these institutions are having their religious freedom impinged upon.
Will it work? We’ll see, but it’s an interesting move. And the policy implications will now get hashed out.
UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women. She says she’s optimistic that the change the White House outlined will preserve full access to birth control for the women affected by it, though she says implementation will have to be watched closely.
“The president is making a statement that women are entitled to have birth control,” O’Neill says. “Birth control is an essential part of health care for women, and the president is standing strong for that policy.“
She said that the way to judge the policy is to see if it the experience of a woman who work for religious organizations remains as follows: “She goes to the doctor, gets her prescription, goes to the CVS, gets it filled, and the doctor and the prescription are covered by insurance.”
This experience, O’Neill says, will have to be “seamless.” She added that the administration had assured her that the policy will preserve this experience, and while she said implementation bears watching, she’s optimistic that it will work.
Angry Black Lady:
The contraception coverage debacle has been nothing short of ridiculous.
For the past couple weeks, we’ve been treated to scores of Republican men (primarily — and even a couple Democrats) using women’s health as a political football. Suddenly a decision to permit women free access to birth control became a War on Religion, as the GOP decided to up and move to Crazytown (population: them) in order to avoid talking about the issues that people actually give a shit about — jobs and the economy.
Today — whether by design or brilliant post-Crazytown strategery, President Obama “accommodated” the Catholic Church and the bishops who had been trying to convince us all that permitting women free access to contraception was a harbinger of the end of days.
Initially, I thought that the Administration, after instituting the rule, was taken aback by the right-wing freak out, but managed to strategize and negotiate its way around it. Others have since convinced me that this was the plan all along — to force the Republicans to show their asses thereby demonstrating to Democratic and Republican women alike (as well as those crucial independents) that what Republicans really want to do is install a tiny government in to every women’s vagina and arrogate complete control over women’s sexuality and health.
Either way, once again, President Obama stood up for American women (as he has done time and time again) and made Republicans look like jackasses. The “accommodation” (which, actually, is no accommodation at all because the Church’s position was nonsensical to begin with) is brilliant:
From Raw Story:
The “accommodation” being made will remove the burden of paying for contraceptives from religious employers, placing it entirely on health insurers instead.
“Women who work at these institutions are going to have access to these free contraceptive services, that’s guaranteed,” the official said.
The Catholic Church, which considers use of contraceptives a sin, had been pushing back against the new rule, calling it an attack on their religious liberty.
The Obama administration had initially given Catholic non-profits a one-year grace period to implement the rule, whereas all other private health insurance plans will begin offering free contraception by August 1.
An exemption for religious non-profits that hire exclusively within their faith remains in the rule, officials said. Religious groups that receive an exemption must also provide their employees with information on how to obtain contraceptive coverage.
It’s a win for women. Hands down. Even Planned Parenthood thinks so. And you know what they say, “As Planned Parenthood goeth, so goeth the Uterati”:
“In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women’s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.
“We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits.
“However we will be vigilant in holding the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy, which does not compromise the essential principles of access to care.
“The individual rights and liberties of all women and all employees in accessing basic preventive health care is our fundamental concern.
“Planned Parenthood continues to believe that those institutions who serve the broad public, employ the broad public, and receive taxpayer dollars, should be required to follow the same rules as everyone else, including providing birth control coverage and information.
“As a trusted health care provider to one in five women, Planned Parenthood’s priority is increasing access to preventive health care. This birth control coverage benefit does just that.
“The birth control benefit underscores the fact that birth control is basic health care, and is fundamental to improving women’s health and the health of their families.
“That’s why women have consistently applauded the Obama administration for one of the greatest expansions for women’s health in decades.
“Unfortunately there are significant and immediate threats to women’s health and access to birth control in the House and Senate that would completely take away access to birth control and severely undermine women’s health.
“One bill, the Rubio-Manchin bill, would allow any business or corporation, on the basis of personal religious belief or moral conviction, to take away birth control coverage from their employees.
“Employers should not be allowed to impose their personal beliefs on employees regarding birth control coverage or basic health care.
“Another bill, sponsored by Senator Blunt (R-MO), would drastically undermine women’s health and allow any employer or health plan to refuse to cover any health care service they object to on religious or moral grounds.
“That’s why Planned Parenthood, and women across the country, won’t let up for one minute in our fight to protect the birth control benefit and women’s health.”
This is a victory for women. Without question.
WH “compromise” totally bogus. Now just tramples on religious liberty of insurance companies instead. It’s a travesty.
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) February 10, 2012
Obama’s “compromise” is totalitarianism on hormones. Now jackbooted thugs are ordering insurance companies around.
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) February 10, 2012
My God! Think of the insurance companies! Who will speak for them? (Besides, like, everybody.)
Oh, and by the way? Insurance companies aren’t going to be mad at the president. But it’s good to know that god-fearing Christians are on the side of big business and not on the side of women. Hey Bryan — Jesus’s mom was a woman! Think about that!
There is something wrong with conservatives. Seriously and deeply wrong with them. Luckily the Uterati escaped unscathed — this time.
The White House has support from a key Catholic health group on its compromise birth control policy.
Sister Carol Keehan heads the Catholic Health Organization. She says the compromise “has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.”
Senior administration officials tell The Associated Press the compromise policy says religious employers won’t have to cover birth control for their employees, after all.
Instead, insurance companies will be directly responsible for providing free contraception.
Keehan says the resolution “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”
And Planned Parenthood Federation of America says the approach “does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits.”
[…] Insurance companies are down with the plan, because as Matt Yglesias explained at Moneybox, contraception actually saves insurance companies money, since it’s cheaper than abortion and far cheaper than childbirth. Because the insurance companies have to reach out to employees directly, there’s very little danger of women not getting coverage because they are unaware they’re eligible.
That’s the nitty-gritty. The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.) With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they’ve been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they’ll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.
My guess is that they’ll take their knocks and go home, but a lot of the damage has already been done. Romney was provoked repeatedly to go on the record saying negative things about contraception. Sure, it was in the frame of concern about religious liberty, but as this incident fades into memory, what most people will remember is that Republicans picked a fight with Obama over contraception coverage and lost. This also gave Obama a chance to highlight this benefit and take full credit for it. Obama needs young female voters to turn out at the polls in November, and hijacking two weeks of the news cycle to send the message that he’s going to get you your birth control for free is a big win for him in that department. I expect to see some ads in the fall showing Romney saying hostile things about contraception and health care reform, with the message that free birth control is going away if he’s elected. It’s all so perfect that I’m inclined to think this was Obama’s plan all along.
According to the former Pennsylvania senator, because the Obama administration rejected the Keystone pipeline, it “knows” America will need oil. And where will the U.S. get that oil? Iran. And how will the U.S. get access to Iranian oil? According to Santorum, Obama will throw “Israel under the bus” and allow Iran to get nuclear weapons:
SANTORUM: They know that oil is drying up. And they know that not building that pipeline we’re not going to have access to oil reserves. And they know they’re going to be more dependent upon OPEC and so what are we doing? We’re throwing Israel under the bus because we know we’re going to be dependent on OPEC. We’re going to say ‘Oh Iran, we don’t want you to get a nuclear weapon, wink, wink, nod, nod, go ahead just give us your oil.
While Santorum’s accusations that the president is allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon at Israel’s expense is a serious allegation, Obama’s track record on Iran sanctions and Israel simply don’t match up with the former senator’s harsh rhetoric.
Neither the IAEA nor U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon and last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Members of Congress that economic sanctions were the best strategy to weaken the government in Tehran. The IAEA and the Obama administration have expressed concern over possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.
And on Monday, Obama tightened sanctions, freezing assets of any entities that do business with Iran’s central bank.
Indeed, a nuclear weapons possessing Iran would pose a security threat to Israel but accusing Obama of being a weak ally to Israel has become a right-wing talking point as Republican presidential candidates struggle to attack the administration’s national security track record, which includes killing Osama Bin Laden and participating in NATO operations that brought the end of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s 42 years in power.
While Santorum may claim that Obama “threw Israel under the bus,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in May that Obama made an “iron clad commitment to Israel’s security. [...] And he has backed those words with deeds.”
Mitt Romney’s week from hell has revived the most enduring fantasy of political junkies
Rick Santorum’s three-state sweep this week has revived speculation that the Republican primary season will end without a candidate securing the magic number of delegates needed for a first ballot nomination, resulting in a deadlocked convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer. (“Deadlocked,” and not “brokered,” is the proper description for this scenario, as Jonathan Bernsteinrecently explained.)
On CNN this morning, Sen. Jim DeMint said that the GOP race “could very well go to the convention,” while former RNC Chairman Michael Steele on MSNBC pegged the chances of a deadlock at “52-48.” Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics makes a solid case for why they could be right. The basic idea is that there seem to be clear geographic and cultural divisions in the results so far — with Mitt Romney doing well in the Northeast and West, Santorum cleaning up in the Midwest, and Newt Gingrich faring well in the Bible Belt. If those divisions persist and Ron Paul manages to gobble up a chunk of delegates, the primary season just might fail to produce a clear winner.
But as fun as the scenario is to imagine, there’s a good reason to be skeptical of the deadlocked convention talk: We’ve heard it many times before in the modern campaign era, without anything ever coming of it.
The last time there was true post-primary season suspense on the GOP side was in 1976, when Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both emerged from the last wave of contests in early June short of the magic delegate number. But there were still a number of state conventions scheduled before the August national convention in Kansas City, and because it was a genuine two-man race, there was never any doubt that someone would win a first ballot nomination. Still, the drama in Kansas City was real, with Reagan trying to expand his support by anointing Pennsylvania moderate Richard Schweicker as his running mate — a move that unsettled conservatives and helped Ford secure a 1,187-1,070 victory on the first ballot.
That was the last truly unpredictable convention that either party has staged. But at various moments in primary campaigns since then, we’ve heard the kind of deadlocked convention chatter we’re now hearing. Here’s a look at our brushes with convention excitement:
1976, Democrats: This was the race that changed the way the political world understood the nominating process. As the Democratic race began, it was a common assumption that there would be a deadlocked convention, which is why there was no rush to crown Jimmy Carter as the inevitable nominee despite his weekly victories in primary states — and why two candidates, Idaho Sen. Frank Church and California Gov. Jerry Brown, both felt comfortable entering the race months after the first primaries began. And when Church and Brown enjoyed immediate success, it only strengthened the view that the Democratic convention would turn to a non-Carter candidate — maybe someone in the race already, or maybe Ted Kennedy or Hubert Humphrey. This was how Democrats were used to doing business. But the primary season had been radically expanded under new party rules, and when he won Ohio in June, Carter claimed to have a delegate majority. It steadily dawned on party leaders that he was right and that there’d be no deadlocked convention.
1980, Republicans: Reagan entered as the clear favorite, but there was considerable trepidation among party leaders (and the GOP’s then-vibrant moderate/liberal wing) about his general election prospects; his far-right rhetoric called to mind Barry Goldwater, who just 16 years earlier had suffered an epic defeat against LBJ. Reagan was upset by George H.W. Bush (who ran as the moderate wing’s candidate) in Iowa, recovered in New Hampshire, then struggled in a series of contests in New England — where liberal Republican John Anderson fared surprisingly well. This stirred talk of a deadlocked convention — one in which former President Ford, then seen as the party’s most bankable national face, would either play the role of savior or kingmaker. Here’s how Godfrey Sperling presented the Anderson and Ford scenarios in a March 1980 Christian Science Monitor column:
Just off his “impossible dream” in New England — and with his new momentum, Representative Anderson wins in his home state on March 18 and follows that by picking up enough crossover votes to take the Wisconsin primary on April 1.
Mr. Anderson then finally gets to the national convention with about 400 delegates, but with Messrs. Reagan and Bush deadlocked and Gerald Ford, now in the contest, having only enough votes to help another but not himself.
At that point, Mr. Ford gives his support to his old friend and sidekick in Congress, John Anderson, who marches toward the 998 delegates he needs for the nomination.
With the current inability of any one candidate to take command, former President Ford may well decide to get into the race — even though he has already missed the opportunity to enter more than half of the primaries.
The Ford rationale is one in which he gets enough delegates to become the beneficiary of a deadlock at the convention.
But if Mr. Ford could “decide” the nomination by turning his delegates over to another, would his choice be Congressman Anderson? The former President is also a very close friend of George Bush.
But none of this ever materialized. Soon thereafter, Reagan won a solid victory in Illinois that sidelined Anderson (who then bolted the party to run as an independent), rolled it into the next wave of states, survived a surprise Bush win in Pennsylvania, and cruised to the nomination with a massive delegate majority.
1980, Democrats: This was essentially a two-man race between Carter and Kennedy, with Brown making some early noise but amassing few delegates. So, as with Reagan and Ford in ’76, it was clear the race would be settled on the first ballot at the convention — and Carter, boosted by the rally-around-the-flag effect of the Iran hostage crisis, emerged from the primary season with a clear majority. But Kennedy had closed strongly and Carter’s poll numbers were declining. So Kennedy made a last-minute push to change the convention rules and free delegates from their commitments. It was a long shot, but it provided for at least some suspense at Madison Square Garden. When it was rejected, the race was officially over.
1984, Democrats: The primary season opened with expectations that Walter Mondale would wrap up the nomination in record time. Instead, Gary Hart scored a surprise (if very distant) second place finish in Iowa, rolled it into a shocking New Hampshire win a week later, and soon had Mondale on the ropes. But Mondale bounced back with some key Southern wins, and the two men spent the spring traveling the country and trading wins — with a third candidate Jesse Jackson, picking up a few hundred delegates of his own. A deadlock seemed possible, as this Joseph C. Harsch column from March ’84 made clear:
There is now a visible chance that Mr. Mondale will not get a first-ballot nomination. If the delegates committed to Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson, and the uncommitted delegates, should pool their resources, they might be able to head off a quick Mondale victory. If so, then what happens?
The Democratic convention could at that point be blown wide open. Almost anything could happen. Suppose a lot of delegates are by that time disenchanted with the three existing candidates and start looking around for a possible alternative. One already hears talk of Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas or Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York. Both are mentioned as possible running mates for Walter Mondale, but also as possible alternatives for the top of the ticket
But when the final primaries were over in June, Mondale declared himself the winner, thanks to strong support from a newly created class of convention participants — the superdelegates. (It also helped Mondale that party rules at the time awarded Jackson a small number of delegates relative to his strength in many states.) But Hart refused to quit. “Welcome to overtime,” he declared the morning after the last June primaries. He spent the next five weeks pointing to polls that showed him running better against Reagan than Mondale and pleading with superdelegates to change their minds, but they wouldn’t budge, and when the convention opened it was obvious Mondale would win on the first ballot.
1988, Democrats: It looked like Democrats had an epic mess on their hands when Jesse Jackson unexpectedly crushed Michael Dukakis in the March 26 Michigan caucuses — a result that put Jackson in the lead in the national delegate count. Dukakis was a weak (accidental, really) front-runner, and by that point several other candidates and former candidates (Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore) were sitting on piles of delegates. Suddenly, it seemed like Jackson — who was demonstrating surprising support among white voters — might parlay his Michigan triumph into more victories and emerge from the primary season with the most delegates (but not enough for a first ballot nomination). From R.W. Apple Jr.’s March 29, 1988, New York Times story:
Democratic Party leaders expressed astonishment today at the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s landslide victory in the Michigan caucuses Saturday and confessed that they found it hard, after weeks of surprises, to predict how or when the party’s Presidential race would be decided.
For the first time, party professionals began actively contemplating the possibility that Mr. Jackson could emerge from the primary season, which ends in California and New Jersey June 7, with the most delegates.
One said that it was ”remotely, barely, distantly conceivable” that the party might actually end up by nominating Mr. Jackson. Others agreed that outcome was possible but, although they would not say it for attribution, almost none believed that a black candidate can be elected.
Paul Maslin, a highly regarded Democratic poll taker in Washington, commented: ”The party is up against an extraordinary end-game. If this guy has more convention votes than anyone else, how can we not nominate him? But how can we nominate him?”
It turned out they had nothing to fear. Party leaders closed ranks around Dukakis, who quickly beat Jackson in Connecticut, Wisconsin and New York, then rolled through the rest of the primaries without breaking a sweat.
1992, Democrats: Bill Clinton seemed to have the nomination wrapped up when he posted giant wins in Illinois and Michigan in the middle of March — this a week after Clinton had racked up a big delegate lead with a series of Super Tuesday wins. When his chief rival, Paul Tsongas, then suspended his campaign, the race seemed over. And then, out of nowhere, Jerry Brown won Connecticut, stunning Clinton in what remains one of the biggest primary season upsets ever. The result sparked genuine panic among Democratic leaders: Clinton had already weathered several scandals (Gennifer Flowers, Vietnam) and it was widely believed that Republicans would (in the words of Bob Kerrey) open him up “like a soft peanut” in the fall. The Connecticut result prompted some loud and public soul-searching: Is there anything we can do to stop this guy?
This set up the next contest, in New York, as a pivotal test for Clinton: Win and his campaign would be back on track; but lose again, and the floodgates might open. Already, names of potential white knight candidates (Mario Cuomo? Bill Bradley?) were being circulated, and Tsongas put out the word that he’d reenter the fray if Clinton lost again. Here’s how David Von Drehle summed it up in the Washington Post:
Yet while the Republicans are busy closing ranks around a candidate they despise in great numbers, the Democrats are furiously ripping the wings, legs and antennae from a front-runner they feel, well, squeamish about. They are unable to produce, halfway through the primary season, anything more than a crippled front-runner, an empty chameleon and sad hopes of a brokered convention.
But Clinton then won New York, and that was that.
1996, Republicans: There was a very brief window of deadlock talk after Bob Dole lost to Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire, casting doubt on Dole’s viability. But Buchanan was an unacceptable choice for most party leaders, which gave Lamar Alexander (who finished just behind Dole in New Hampshire) hope of emerging as the establishment’s preferred vehicle to take down Buchanan. But Steve Forbes, who was pouring tens of millions of his own dollars into the race, also hoped to play that role — and gained new credibility with wins in Delaware and Arizona after New Hampshire. The muddled picture that all of this created led to this kind of talk, captured in a New York Times story from late-February ’96:
Another possible result is that every victory by a candidate in one state will be canceled out by another candidate’s win somewhere else, and no candidate will amass enough delegates to avoid a brokered convention in San Diego in August.
“The scenario that’s emerging is the one that says, gee, maybe we’ll be deadlocked in San Diego,” said Mr. Ginsberg, the former Republican Committee official.
“That’s the one that captures the imagination. Deep in our heart of hearts, all of us would love to live through a brokered convention.”
Dole then won South Carolina by a convincing margin, killing Buchanan’s momentum and marginalizing the rest of the field once and for all. The Dole/Buchanan race that ensued wasn’t much of a contest.
2008, Republicans: Deadlock talk seemed sensible as the ’08 primary season opened; five candidates — Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani — were all bunched together in national polls, and all sorts of outcomes were plausible. Writing in the Boston Globe, Republican strategist Todd Domke summed it up this way:
If five candidates each win a fraction of delegates – 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent, 35 percent – there could be a deadlocked convention.
That would be like the GOP convention of 1860, when there were many factional, regional favorites. After three ballots, they settled on an Illinois attorney named Lincoln, a local “favorite son” since the convention was in Chicago. Once elected, he tried to achieve national and party unity by appointing his defeated foes to the cabinet.
We won’t be electing a political genius this time, but the campaign will be historic. And we best savor it by taking it seriously and humorously – as Lincoln once did.
But when January ended with McCain wins in South Carolina and Florida, the deadlock talk quieted.
Speaking to a group of 900 business leaders this morning, Mitt Romney was quoted by The Washington Post as saying, “I know it seems like government doesn’t like you. I love you.” This is just the latest latest example of Mitt Romney offering up an all-too-easily-spun quote to a media that loves to make him sound like an out-of-touch C-suite suit.
The purpose for the Northern Virginia Technology Council breakfast this morning in Reston, Va. was for Romney to talk about tax policy and other economic proposals with businessfolk. But with headlines like “Mitt’s Love for Business Has Always Been Real” and “Romney to business leaders: ‘I love you’” that didn’t end up being the focus of reports on the event. Sure, it’s a Romneyism similar to many others, such as:
- “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
- “Corporations are people, my friends.”
- “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake. I can’t have any illegals.”
- “10,000 bucks? A $10,000 bet?”
Each of these were used by critics to make the candidate seem inaccessible, robotic, merely very rich. But Romney, like the even more wonderful gaffemachine that is Rick Perry, should have learned like now to make his soundbites less susceptible to being spun. Then again, maybe Romney really does just love business.
What Republican war on women? The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2005 by unanimous consent in the Senate and with 415 votes in favor in the House, and signed by George W. Bush. It’s up for reauthorization again now, and of course, this time, Republicans have a problem with it. The bill—which is actually cosponsored by Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo—received no Republican votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Oh, they’ll tell you they want to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act … but of course, they want to do it their way. “The Republican opposition seems driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda,” a New York Times editorial explains:
The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.
It’s not just that, though. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, not only wants to eliminate those provisions, but has his own version of the bill that contains “a huge reduction in authorized financing, and elimination of the Justice Department office devoted to administering the law and coordinating the nation’s response to domestic violence and sexual assaults.” Grassley’s funding cuts are above and beyond the $135 million reduction in funding from 2005 levels already contained in the bill the Judiciary Committee Republicans unanimously rejected.
Nothing to see here! It’s all just a coincidence that Republicans are going to the mat both to cut funding to protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault and to protect employers from having to offer complete preventive health care to women if that means women might have sex without being punished for it.
[…] I agree with him on this and I would add that I think all the kow-towing to the hypocritical socially conservative churches on human rights has been really bad for … humans. I would go even further and question why I should care about the delicate sensibilities of these allegedly liberal Catholic elites who hypocritically use birth control themselves and yet insist their Church be able to use it as a political cudgel on behalf of the most retrograde reactionaries in our political system. Their position on this is completely incomprehensible to me. One can only wonder what would happen if they had the courage of their contraception instead of carrying on this absurd charade.
As I said earlier, this particular policy “accommodation” isn’t a bad thing. I don’t have the same concerns about accounting and paperwork processes as the very pious believers apparently do. As long as women can easily obtain the coverage they are entitled to, it’s fine with me. But on the politics, I think the whole flap has allowed the Churches to obtain more authority in the realm of women’s rights and I think we’ll come to regret it.
As people have said over and over again this past week, everyone has issues of conscience with how their money is spent by the government. Every Catholic is forced to pay taxes that are used for capital punishment, for instance. Every evangelical Christian is forced to pay taxes that pay for teachers to teach evolution. Every anti-war liberal is forced to pay taxes to support wars. This is the cost of living in a pluralistic society. And everyone accepts it. It’s only when it comes to the most personal matters of sex and sexuality of other people where suddenly “conscience” is allowed to trump individual rights.
The Bishops, working hand in hand with their GOP allies, have spoken now and here’s what they’ve said:
The Conference, after earlier calling the change a “first step in the right direction,” issued a lengthy statement overnight blasting the plan. And they joined others in calling for legislation in Congress to reverse the policy, something Republicans said they were not abandoning despite Friday’s announcement.
“We think there needs to be a legislative fix to protect our religious liberties,” Bishop William Lori, a member of the Conference, told Fox News on Saturday. “I think that our First Amendment religious rights are far too precious to be entrusted to regulatory rules.”
Lori and the rest of the Conference said they want to see the “mandate” rescinded altogether. They pointed out several lingering concerns. They said the change appears to make no consideration for religious insurers or self-insuring religious employers — or for religious for-profit employers and secular nonprofit employers.
The statement from the Conference, more broadly, expressed concern that the requirement would still facilitate contraceptive coverage even if an employer objects to it.
“And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns,” the statement said.
The Conference went on: “But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. … The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
Obviously, if this GOP gambit were to pass, the president would veto it. (Right?) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that he does. This fight for “conscience” exemptions has now been engaged not just on abortion or Plan B, but on all contraception going forward. And individual employers will join this fight for “religious liberty” now that the “consciences” of religious institutions have been given special moral standing to object to the law.
Kevin Drum wrote an excellent post this week about this subject, explaining how he had once thought that making these kinds of exeptions for religious institutions was harmless and changed his mind in recent years. Here’s the essence of it:
The answer goes back a few years, to the controversy over pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions for the morning-after pill. I was appalled: If you’re a pharmacist, then you fill people’s prescriptions. That’s the job, full stop. If you object to filling prescriptions, then you need to find another occupation.
But of course, the entire right-wing outrage machine went into high gear over this. And it was at that point that my position shifted: if this was the direction things were going, then it was obvious that there would be no end to religious exemption arguments. The whole affair was, I thought, way over the top, and yet it got the the full-throated support of virtually every conservative pundit and talking head anyway. This was, in plain terms, simply a war on contraception.
So I changed my mind.
Yes, this is a war on contraception. And perhaps the good guys won this skirmish, which is very good for women. But the other side took some ground they didn’t have before and they’re holding on to it, as you can see by that statement by the Bishops. “Conscience” exemptions to Birth Control in the name of “religious liberty” are now a standard part of the political playbook. Perhaps that was inevitable, but I continue to believe that the President should have either quietly allowed the exemption in the beginning if he was going to do it or gone ahead and fought these people back on the principle once he’d made the decision. Putting up a short fight and then ostentatiously coming up with an “accommodation” may make him the only grown-up in the room, and I’m sure that’s a truly terrific thing, but in the end, it empowered a group of morally suspect religious elites to continue their war on women.That’s why I’m not high-fiving this the way everyone else is.
We’ve seen how this works in my lifetime. Here’s a chart that shows public opinion on abortion rights since 1975.
You can see that public opinion has held pretty steady for 37 years. And yet, inexplicably, abortion has gotten harder and harder to obtain and the social conservatives have turned it into a political industry. No longer do both political parties contain pro-choice and anti-choice representatives. Only one does — the Democratic party. (We saw how that works out in practice the health care negotiations.) And I think everyone agrees that when John Roberts believes the Supreme Court has the right case, it’s highly likely they will overturn Roe vs Wade. I only point this out to illustrate the public opinion is no guarantee that the reactionary right will not be successful. This is fundamental to their belief system.
I’ve quoted this numerous times, but it’s very apropos for this discussion. From Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind
The most profound and prophetic stance on the right has been John Adams’s. He believed: cede the field of the public, if you must, stand fast in the private. Allow men and women to become democratic citizens of the state but make sure they remain feudal subjects in the family, the factory, and the field. The priority of conservative political argument has been the maintenance of private regimes of power—even at the cost of the strength and integrity of the state.
This is the fundamental nature of the battle between enlightened liberalism and reactionary conservatism, always has been. In this case it’s a very explicit battle for women. But it’s not confined to women. Everyone should be concerned that this understanding of “liberty” is going to expand to allow any elite property owner whether religious or simply wealthy to opt out of community responsibility whenever it threatens their hegemony in their “private” sphere.
This isn’t just about the lady parts.
Long read, but people are talking about this:
James Fallows, The Atlantic:
AS BARACK OBAMA CONTENDS FOR A SECOND TERM IN OFFICE, TWO CONFLICTING NARRATIVES OF HIS PRESIDENCY HAVE EMERGED. IS HE A SKILLFUL POLITICAL PLAYER AND POLICY VISIONARY—A CHESS MASTER WHO ALWAYS SEES SEVERAL MOVES AHEAD OF HIS OPPONENTS (AND OF THE PUNDITOCRACY)? OR IS HE POLITICALLY CLUMSY AND OUT OF HIS DEPTH—A PAWN OVERWHELMED BY EVENTS, AT THE MERCY OF A SECOND-RATE STAFF AND OF THE REPUBLICANS? HERE, A LONGTIME ANALYST OF THE PRESIDENCY TAKES THE MEASURE OF OUR 44TH PRESIDENT, WITH A VIEW TO HISTORY.
Americans believe China is the leading economic power in the world today, by a significant margin over the United States. This is the second consecutive year the majority of Americans have viewed China as economically dominant; previously, China held a smaller lead. By contrast, in 2000, Americans overwhelmingly believed the U.S. was the leading economic power.
[…] Seniors View U.S. as Leading Economic Power
At least a plurality of Americans in all key subgroups believe China is the leading economic power today, with one notable exception — senior citizens. Among Americans aged 65 and older, 50% say the United States is the leading economic power and 41% say China. Americans under 50 are particularly likely to believe China is the leading economic power.
[…] Officially, the United States still has a larger economy, based on gross domestic product, than China. However, if China sustains its current economic growth rate, it will surpass the United States’ economy as the largest in the coming decades.
Americans clearly acknowledge the growing influence China has on the world economy, and believe it is already the leading economic power in the world. That view likely has been affected by the economic downturn in the United States in recent years, which means opinions could change if the U.S. economy starts to recover.
RASMUESSEN: Obama opens 10-point lead over Romney
President Obama has opened up his largest lead of the campaign, according to a Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll, taking a 10-point lead in a hypothetical matchup against Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.
Obama is the choice of 50 percent of voters in the Rasmussen poll, while Romney wins 40 percent of those likely to head to the polls. It’s the first time Obama has won at least half of voters in a direct matchup against Romney.
Rasmussen credited Obama’s improvement in the polls to positive economic news.
“The president’s job approval ratings for handling the economy have improved lately, and it’s no coincidence that perceptions of how he’s handling the economy have improved as well,” Rasmussen wrote in a blog post accompanying the results. “The economy remains the most important issue of Election 2012, and voters are a bit more likely to trust Republicans than Democrats on handling the economy.”
Rick Santorum, surging off a trio of surprising wins Tuesday night, is now outperforming Romney in hypothetical one-on-one matchups with the president. Obama leads Santorum by just 4 percentage points, holding a 46 percent to 42 percent advantage.
Those numbers will be of some concern to the Romney team, after their candidate has struggled to put away the Republican nomination. Santorum, speaking Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, argued that Romney’s tepid support among conservatives would hurt in a general election.
“We always talk about appealing to moderates,” Santorum said. “Why would an undecided voter vote for the candidate that the party’s not excited about? We need conservatives to rally for a conservative, to pull with that excitement moderate voters, and to defeat Barack Obama in the fall.”
We’ve had a lot of people asking us this week if we’ve done any polling about the birth control issue. We did a national survey for Planned Parenthood last weekend. Here are the key things we found:
-56% of voters generally support the birth control benefit, while 37% are opposed. Independents strongly favor it, 55/36, and a lot more Republicans (36%) support it than Democrats (20%) oppose it. Women are for it by a 63/29 margin.
-Only 39% of voters support an exemption for Catholic hospitals and universities from providing the benefit, while 57% are opposed to one.
-There is a major disconnect between the leadership of the Catholic Church and rank and file Catholic voters on this issue. We did an over sample of almost 400 Catholics and found that they support the benefit overall, 53-44, and oppose an exception for Catholic hospitals and universities, 53-45. The Bishops really are not speaking for Catholics as a whole on this issue.
-Republican agitating on this issue could cause themselves trouble at the polls this year. 40% of voters say Mitt Romney’s stance makes them less likely to vote for him, while only 23% consider it a positive. With the Catholic oversample it’s 46% less likely and 28% more likely. And Congressional Republicans are imperiling themselves as well. 58% of voters oppose them trying to take the benefit away, while only 33% are supportive.
Republicans will win this fall if they can convince voters that the economy stinks and it’s Barack Obama’s fault and putting them in power will fix the problem. If they want to make it about social issues and making it easy and affordable for women to access birth control, Democrats win.
The Obama administration is already facing lawsuits challenging its requirement that insurance plans cover birth control as a violation of religious freedom. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has flatly called the regulation unconstitutional. But although it’s unclear how much traction the legal challenges will gain, especially in light of the White House adjusting the mandate Friday, the President and his backers have one unlikely man to thank for helping their cause: Justice Antonin Scalia.
“One thing I think is crystal clear — there is no First Amendment violation by this law,” Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, told TPM. “The Supreme Court was very clear in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, written by none other than Antonin Scalia, that religious believers and institutions are not entitled to an exemption from generally applicable laws.”
The Reagan-appointed conservative justice authored the majority opinion in the 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, a critical precedent to the birth control case, decreeing that religious liberty is insufficient grounds for being exempt from laws. The Supreme Court said Oregon may deny unemployment benefits to people who were fired for consuming peyote as part of a religious tradition, seeing as the drug was illegal in the state.
“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,” wrote Scalia, an avowed Catholic and social conservative, quoting from a century-old Supreme Court decision and giving it new life. His opinion was cosigned by four other justices.
Thanks to this decision more than any other, Winkler said there’s no reason to believe the constitutional argument against the rule has any legs. And while the high court later ruled to create a ministerial exception in anti-discrimination laws (to shield the Church from liability in forbidding women to become priests), it has not altered the Smith precedent insofar as it applies to the birth control rule. “So it would seem extremely difficult” for the courts to overturn it on that basis, Winkler posited. “I don’t think there’s any real argument.”
Critics have posited that the application of drugs in Smith was a motivating factor in the decisions of Scalia and the other conservative justices. “Sure, I think there’s something to that argument,” Winkler said. But ‘stare decisis’ (court-speak for judicial precedent) applies all the same. And it wouldn’t even be the first time Scalia has handed down a decision that the Obama White House can use against conservatives.
Sadly for liberals, though, the legal basis for a challenge doesn’t end there. Apart from the First Amendment option, there’s another, more substantial judicial route that opponents of the birth control rule can take. After Smith was handed down, Congress passed a law to push back on the ruling, which Winkler said “attempts to provide more protection for religion than the Supreme Court was willing to give.”
The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act said any law that burdens religious freedom must satisfy strict scrutiny. The Supreme Court later said it cannot apply to states (which is why the 28 states that already have the birth control rule the White House wants to take nationwide are in the clear), but held that those requirements shall apply to federal laws. First, the law may not be a “substantial burden” and can only be an “incidental burden” on religious practices; second, it must be justified by “compelling government interest”; third, it must be narrowly tailored to pursue that interest.
Although it was an open question whether the original birth control requirement would pass this level of scrutiny, the White House’s announcement Friday allowing religious nonprofits to opt out (in which case the insurer would be forced to pay for birth control without a copay) appears to restrict the RFRA argument to overturn it.
“This neuters the RFRA arguments entirely, it seems to me,” Winkler told TPM after the announcement. “Now that religious institutions are no longer required to [pay for employees’ birth control coverage], it’s hard to make the argument that the contraception mandate substantially burden religious beliefs.”
Conservatives are less than satisfied with the White House accommodation and it’s unclear how the entities suing over the birth control requirement will react. But either way, one of their two possible routes to pushing back has had a huge impediment thrown in its path by none other than Antonin Scalia.
Labor’s division over the bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has helped clear the way for President Obama to sign it.
Unions are split in their opposition to the measure, with some fearing its provision on union election rules endangers organizing.
Union officials say they were kept in the dark about the negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that helped pass the bill.
The resulting compromise changed the Railway Labor Act (RLA) so that the percentage of a company’s workforce needed to vote for holding a union election was increased from 35 to 50 percent.
Some unions, worried by another FAA shutdown, supported the deal; some remained neutral; while others are campaigning for the bill’s veto.
That uncertainty has given political cover to Obama, who is counting on labor support in his bid for re-election later this year.
The president originally threatened to veto the bill because of the concerns about union organizing but said the compromise took care of that.
“While it is unfortunate that Republicans in Congress have injected extraneous ideological measures into this important legislation that will create jobs and improve air traffic safety, the provision referenced in our veto threat has been removed and the president will sign the compromise bill,” a White House official told The Hill.
If he does, the FAA bill will be the first multi-year funding appropriation that has been passed for the aviation agency since its last authorization expired in 2007. The string of short-term extensions the agency was given stretched five months longer than the four years the recently-approved legislation would last.
Obama has until Friday to end that streak by signing the measure.
Do two weeks of dismal headlines for social conservatives mean the religious right is losing the culture war? Far from it—despite Komen and Prop 8, the right has built a sturdy political infrastructure that could drag out the fight for decades.
[…] But despite these unfavorable shifts in the cultural ground, social conservatives have proved to be tireless political organizers, willing to run for seemingly insignificant offices and fight every battle that comes their way at the local level. With a savvy blend of right-wing populism and religious social conservatism, they’ve made themselves relevant even as voters are focused primarily on the economy. By understanding the importance of every skirmish over sex education and public-school curricula, they’ve built a network of civic-minded warriors who at last have made their way to the center of national policy in Washington.
The 2010 midterm elections were an unprecedented victory for conservative politicians with little to no political experience but long resumes in radical social-conservative activism. They were elected on economic populism but immediately got to work pushing their social agenda, working to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding every time the federal budget is under consideration. The 2011 legislative session was marked by one extreme bill after another, including one that attempted to hold women “responsible” for being raped so that they could be prohibited from getting an abortion.
Social conservatives have enjoyed an even more successful run in state politics. In 2010, they changed 19 state assemblies to Republican from Democrat. Nebraska passed a groundbreaking “fetal pain” bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks on the scientifically dubious grounds that fetuses can feel pain at that gestational stage. Five states—Kansas, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma—followed suit in 2011. South Dakota extended its abortion waiting period to 72 hours, effectively banning the procedure for rural residents who must already travel seven to eight hours to the state’s lone clinic. According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, 55 percent of the 916 state laws introduced in the first quarter of 2011 attempted to restrict reproductive rights. In its annual Roe v. Wade issue, published in January, the evangelical conservative magazine World heralded 2011 as a “year of progress,” and touted 65 new anti-abortion laws passed last year.
Demographic trends offer a preview of decades to come, but they give a complicated forecast. Indicators suggest the religious right has failed to pass down its hostility to gay marriage: young evangelicals mostly have abandoned their religion’s conservative position on homosexuality; they are twice as likelyas evangelicals as a whole to support gay marriage. But on abortion, the generation gap vanishes. A 2008 study by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that they are “just as solidly pro-life on abortion as older evangelicals,” with 74 percent saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. This pocket of social conservatism among young evangelicals happens to reflect the culture at large: studies show that millennial Americans (ages 18-29) are less supportive of abortion than their demographic profile—their overall social liberalness—suggests they should be.
As soon as social issues appear to have slipped into the background of American politics, they come back more ferociously than ever. Amid the conservative furor over the administration’s contraceptive ruling—which theObama administration walked back Friday—and a day after the Ninth Circuit’s gay-marriage decision last week, Rick Santorum swept three GOP presidential primaries by gigantic margins. The tone of the race turned sharply back to religious freedom and abortion, and Santorum went so far as to compare Obama’s policies to the guillotine of the French Revolution. New York Timescolumnist and social conservative Ross Douthat writes that’s because divisive cultural issues have a stronger influence on how an era is remembered than the unemployment rate or a president’s economic policies.
Whatever the reason, the furor of the past two weeks reveals how close beneath the surface the culture wars lurk and how powerful a tool they remain in firing up the Republican Party’s religious base. However bad the headlines are for the religious right, and they will always tend to be bad, liberals would be naïve to underestimate their passion and their political clout where it matters. Social conservatives may be fighting a losing battle, but they are armed to make it long and bloody.
Catholic Dems Enabled Bishops in Contraception Battle
[…] To permit religious beliefs to “excuse compliance with otherwise valid laws regulating matters the state is free to regulate,” would, the California Supreme Court wrote in its 2004 decision, quoting from a U.S. Supreme Court case, “‘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.’”
Neither Obama nor his surrogates ever publicly defended his administration’s rule on these grounds. And because the ensuing media firestorm over the rule was not just driven by the usual conservative suspects, but by a handful of Democratic and liberal pundits, it took on a different hue. What made it a man-bites-dog story, and subject to the more scintillating horserace coverage the media adores, was that “even progressive Catholics” like E.J. Dionne and Michael Sean Winters were up in arms about it.
Burns Strider, the political strategist who, as an aide to Nancy Pelosi, launched the House Faith Working Group and later advised Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, complained to Politico, “There could have been a more inclusive conversation that included more members of the faith community” over the contraception coverage. He warned, “Electorally speaking, you can’t deny that we’re a nation of faith. In the public sphere, you ignore that at your own peril.” Another, anonymous strategist said, “They [the White House] don’t seem to have their finger on the pulse of the modern religious, Democratic-leaning voters, which is problematic.”
I would love to see the polling data which shows “modern religious Democratic-leaning voters” who planned to abandon Obama over this, like Winters pledged he would, or even opposed to the Obama policy. Where’s the evidence? It may be that Strider and his allies are grasping at straws; after all, two years ago they were miffed that the party didn’t contract with them to advise on congressional races. Later, Strider’s business partner, Eric Sapp, baselessly argued that it was the lack of religious outreach that caused the party’s losses in the 2010 midterms.
Nonetheless, the Young Democrats of America are relying on Sapp and Strider, along with the anti-choice, anti-gay marriage DNC faith outreach director the Rev. Derrick Harkins, to serve as “leading experts in Democratic religious outreach” for its 2012 Leadership Summit in March.
Time contributing editor Amy Sullivan has been critical of Obama for being “tone deaf” on the contraception issue and castigated liberals for their lack of “gratitude” for the Catholic Health Association’s role in passing health care reform. The CHA’s supposed heroism in the legislative battle would not have been necessary, however, had Democrats like Bart Stupak not insisted on holding up the legislation at the behest of the Bishops in the first place, based on false claims that it required taxpayer funding of abortion coverage. In the wake of this week’s events, though, former Congressman Stupak also complained to Politico, “Why do they [the Obama administration] keep stepping on these land mines? Talk to us—that’s all we’re asking.”
After Obama announced the accommodation Friday, Sullivan tweeted that her book, The Party Faithful, would be helpful for “political institutions in recent firestorms.” In her book, Sullivan argued that Democrats needed to pay more attention to religious and anti-choice voters to win elections, charging that Democratic elites ignored this advice at their peril. One supposedly cautionary tale she related was how damaging it was that then-Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe didn’t recognize megachurch pastor Rick Warren when introduced to him at a social gathering.
After Obama won the election, though, he asked Warren to deliver the invocation at his inaugural, a gesture that somehow has eluded his critics who claim he is waging a “war on religion.” This week, at the height of the frenzy over the contraception rule, Warren demonstrated his “gratitude” to Obama when he tweeted, “I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a govement [sic] mandate that violates what God commands us to do.”
White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew defended the president’s compromise plan on mandated insurance coverage of contraceptives in multiple appearances on Sunday talk shows.
From his comments, it was unclear whether the White House was trying to end the controversy or keep it front and center in the national conversation. Either way, Lew stood by President Barack Obama’s compromise.
“He has a very deep belief of every woman’s right to all forms of preventative health care, including contraception,” Lew said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He also has a very deep belief that it’s one of the core principles of our country that we have [to] respect the religious liberties that this country is built on. The solution that we reached is consistent with those core principles, that’s why it got the support of a range of groups,” Lew said.
On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops slammed the compromise and called on Congress to pass legislation to amend the Affordable Care Act with a broader conscience exemption on issues like birth control.
The group said the new Obama plan “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” Lew acknowledged there were going to be people who didn’t like the new plan, but he stood by it.
“We didn’t expect that there would be universal support, but we do think this is the right way to go, and it’s a plan that we’re going to pursue,” he said.
On Fox, Lew seemed to leave wiggle room for the White House to revise the policy a second time.
Host Chris Wallace asked whether the White House might change the compromise again, given the bishops’ vehement objection.
“Our policy is clear,” Lew said.
“Meaning no revisions to the revisions?” Wallace asked.
“We have set out our policy,” Lew replied, enigmatically.
“And that’s it?” Wallace tried again.
“We are going to finalize it in the final rules, but I think what the president announced on Friday is a balanced approach,” Lew said.
On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would support a proposal from Sen. Roy Blunt(R-Mo.) to allow any employer or insurance plan to not cover procedures they find morally objectionable.
“Yeah, if we end up having to try to overcome the president’s opposition by legislation, of course, I’d be happy to support it,” the Kentucky Republican said.
He said the Senate will vote on the proposal “as soon as possible.”
“This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down,” he added.
[…] Without further ado, let’s look at some of the offerings (Leah Burton has addressed Sarah Palin’s bizarro performance yesterday) from this year’s CPAC, care of Right Wing Watch:
Nothing like doubling down on the hate. You’d think this would be something any decent human being would condemn. After all, James Lafferty no doubt does not want to see churches or synagogues attacked. Shouldn’t all places of worship be equally sacrosanct? Unsurprisingly, he was proud that most of the mosques attacked have been in the South. It is difficult to say which is more despicable- Lafferty or Austin Rose, who is upset about efforts to put a stop to violence against the LGBT community.I will make them joint winners of the “Hate Crimes R Us Award”.
This is hands-down the winner of the “Most Asinine Statement of the Year Award”. Republicans love to appeal to a false ideal of Founding Fathers-based patriotism but this is so over the top it’s difficult to even make a response. Where do you begin?
You know the GOP has reached a new low when they are openly embracing White Supremacists. I’ll let Right Wing Watch introduce these two: Peter Brimelow and Bob Vandervoort both appeared at CPAC on February 9. This is what RWW has to say about Brimelow:
VDARE is a White Nationalist website, run by Brimelow, which frequently publishes the works of anti-Semitic and racist writers and is named after Virginia Dare, who is believed to be the first child of English parents born in the Americas. Brimelow, an immigrant from Great Britain, expresses his fear of the loss of America’s white majority, blames non-white immigrants for social and economic problems and urges the Republican Party to give up on minority voters and focus on winning the white vote. He also said that a New York City subway is the same as an Immigration and Naturalization Service waiting room, “an underworld that is not just teeming but also almost entirely colored.”
And this is their take on Vandervoort:
Vandeervoort is currently the head of ProEnglish, which supports making English the official language of the US, but previously he was the leader of the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of theAmerican Renaissance…American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor wrote in the magazine that “the greatest threat to whites today comes from immigration.”
These two clowns are the winners of the “Adolf HitlerChurch of Nazism Award.”
[…] [A]nyone who comes out against the proposal Obama outlined today will be asked a simple question: Are you saying that employers should dictate to female employees whether they should or shouldn’t have access to birth control coverage?
The policy announced today would remove religious institutions from any role in providing coverage for birth control for female employees. The transaction would occur directly between women and insurers. Yet here’s how Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the first to oppose today’s announcement, explains his opposition:
“This is about religious freedom, and anything short of a full exemption is no compromise. …The backlash surrounding the White House’s decision to force religious institutions to act against their beliefs lays that fundamental fact that the President’s health law is unconstitutional to its very core.”
By “full exemption,” is Hatch saying that employers at Catholic hospitals and universities should have the power to dictate to employees that they cannot have any access to contraception coverage? He doesn’t quite say it that way, but it’s unclear how else you would read his statement. And if Dems have their way, officials like Hatch will be pressed to clarify whether this is their position.
Separately, GOP Rep. Roy Blunt recently introduced a measure that would give insurers the right to deny women contraceptive coverage.
These are not stances that will be easy for Republicans like, say, Scott Brown to take. The GOP could very well end up divided on these core issues.
There’s been a ton of commentary to the effect that Obama’s stance on contraception could damage him among Catholic swing voters. For all I know, it’s possible, particularly among church-going, as opposed to secular, catholics. But this is clearly bad politics for Republicans, too.
All the GOP presidential candidates will be expected to double down in opposition to Obama’s new policy. Yet multiple recent polls have shown Obama opening up a sizable lead against Romney among women. What kind of impact do you think GOP opposition to free contraception for female employees of these institutions will have on that gender gap?
By the way, a new poll came out just today illustrating how perilous this position may be among Americans overall. It found that a big majority, 61 percent, approve of “requiring employer health plans to cover birth control for women.” Only 34 percent disapproved. Independents approve 58-34; women, 67-29. Republicans, conservatives, and Tea Partyers all oppose it.
The polling organization that published these findings? Fox News.
The Raw Story:
The bankruptcy hearings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have revealed more than 8,000 previously unreported instances of alleged sexual abuse of children, according to one attorney representing the victims. The charges cover a span of 60 years and implicate a group of 100 alleged offenders, including nuns, church workers and some 75 priests.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Annysa Johnson writes that 570 “victim-survivors” have filed claims in the case, which is currently before U.S. bankruptcy judge Susan V. Kelley.
At a press conference on the federal courthouse steps in Milwaukee, Peter Isley, director of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests said, “This is a public safety crisis, a child safety crisis that needs to be investigated. We need to know who they are and where they are. How can there be 8,000 crimes committed by over 100 offenders and there be no accountability?”
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
[…] Competition in poodles is especially fierce. “There is nothing that takes more work or money than poodles,” famed former handler Pat Hastings told me. “The average owner simply cannot compete against professionals when it comes to scissoring and coat care. People have real lives.” I don’t know if this is the main reason the breed has become a magnet for wealthy backers, or if poodles just have cachet. Probably, both things are true. As is this: Poodles win more dog shows than any other breed. That’s what attracted Ron Scott.
Scott’s background was in Yorkshire Terriers, a breed he fell into through his ex-wife. One dog turned into a breeding and showing hobby that very quickly consumed both of them. Scott came to love the competition, and especially winning, but soon winning breed ribbons wasn’t enough. He wanted Groups, and then Bests in Show. And he found that it was very difficult to win Best in Show with Yorkshire Terriers.
If Scott wanted to compete for titles, the choice seemed rather obvious. “Poodles do very well,” he explained. “There are probably more Bests in Show in one weekend by poodles than all the Flat-Coated Retrievers would have in an entire year. And you could say that about a lot of breeds. It’s just the way it is.”
Scott didn’t tiptoe into the poodle waters—he cannon-balled. In the late 1990s, he threw his money behind a new arrival from Japan: a toy poodle named Spirit, handled by the master Kaz Hosaka. “I loved his ability to transform a dog into something so beautiful and train it so well,” Scott says. “I had the best of all possible worlds—a really good dog and a person to make that dog the best it could be.” Spirit didn’t disappoint. He won 25 Bests in Show as well as Best of Variety at the 1998 and 1999 National Poodle Specialty shows.
Spirit’s success got Scott hooked on poodles, leading him to comb the world for the absolute best stock. Scott won Westminster, in 2002, with a Miniature Poodle named Spice Girl that Hosaka bred. Their standard poodle Justin was the No. 1 non-sporting dog in America in 2005, and then the two men discovered Vikki, “this little Toy Poodle bitch at Smash Kennels in Japan.” Vikki went on to be the No. 1 dog in America, all-breed, in 2007, and then the top toy poodle of all-time, with 108 Bests in Show. “She was just an extraordinary little animal to watch,” Scott says.
Scott had found his poodle source. “Our deal is simple,” he explains. The proprietors of Smash Kennels, a mother-son team in Fuji City, Japan, offer Scott first pick of every litter and send the dogs off to America to be campaigned by Hosaka. Scott pays nothing for a dog, but picks up all the expenses, and then returns it home to be bred once retired. By charging nothing for a dog that comes back to them a year or two later, the breeders have, in essence, shorted the dog like a stock. And while Scott pays nothing for the dog, he pays plenty to campaign it. This arrangement, he says, is ideal. “I get to pick the best dogs, show them, and send them back to be reintroduced to the breeding program, where hopefully a better one comes out. We’ve been doing that for 10 years.”
All told, Scott says the range of campaigning a dog over a year varies: “You’re dealing with $100,000 to half a million.” Some people, of course, campaign multiple dogs.
And even then, you don’t know.
“People have spent millions and millions to win the Garden and have never won. Lots of people,” Scott said. “The stars have to align. The year we had Vikki we won 69 Bests in Show but the judge we had was going to put the beagle up, and he did.” That beagle was Uno, the 2008 champion who is probably the most famous Westminster winner in history. So in retrospect there’s little shame in that loss. The year they did win, with Spice Girl, “that was the year the gods lined up well.” A Kerry blue terrier named Mick was “by far the No. 1 dog, almost unbeatable. And we beat him that day.” For Scott, that was the ultimate rush. “It’s all about winning,” he says. “Most people who show dogs or have racehorses or play golf or do whatever they do in sports, they do it to win.”
Once you have a conversation with Ron Scott, you start to wonder if a regular person, with a great dog, could ever have a chance at competing for show wins. Hastings, the handler and trainer who knows as much about dog shows as any human, could recall just a few recent dogs that did well despite lacking a wealthy backer. She remembered a Yorkie, owned by a family that wasn’t rich, and shown by their daughter, that won Westminster.
I looked it up. That was in 1978, when Higgins became the first and still only Yorkie to win at Madison Square Garden. Handled by Marlene Lutovsky, Higgins’s care was indeed a family affair. Marlene’s mother Barbara reported that she was the one who got up every morning at 5 a.m. “to clean his teeth, brush and oil his coat, change the wrappers and give him clean booties.”
If you have someone like Ron Scott behind you, it means that you don’t have to rise before dawn, let alone brush your dog’s teeth. But more important than that, having a backer allows potential champions to be trained by the best professional handlers and to be advertised in all the major show dog magazines—week in and week out, for however long it takes.
I asked Scott if he thought it was possible to win without having someone like him pay the bills. He thought about it for a second. His reply: “It would be very difficult.”
I hope you’ll pick up the phone, send a tweet, write an email, and tell your representative that they should get this done before it gets too late. Tell them not to play politics again by linking this debate to unrelated issues. Tell them not to manufacture another needless standoff or crisis. Tell them not to stand in the way of the recovery. Tell them to just do their job. That’s what our middle class needs. That’s what our country needs.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
― Edgar Allan Poe