Archive for the ‘religion’ Category
Various bits of religious news
Historians of the future may very well date the decline of the American civilization to the outcome of this Supreme Court ruling. I’m actually not kidding: remember this phrase? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. If the Roberts Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, they will have contradicted this amendment.
This week, the owners of two secular, for-profit corporations will ask the Supreme Court to take a radical turn and allow them to impose their religious views on their employees — by refusing to permit them contraceptive coverage as required under the Affordable Care Act.
The showdown will take place Tuesday when the Supreme Court hears arguments on two consolidated challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinetmaker, want to be exempted from the sound requirement that employer health plans cover without a co-payment all birth control methods and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
These companies are not religious organizations, nor are they affiliated with religious organizations.
(click here to continue reading Crying Wolf on Religious Liberty – NYTimes.com.)
How exactly will corporations practice their religion? Will this be a requirement on quarterly statements to Wall Street investors? Who decides which sect the corporation adheres to? Is it a shareholder vote? Set by the Board of Directors? By the CEO?
And what about the employees – are they automatically enrolled in whatever religion the corporation follows? What if the employee is a non-believer? Will they be fired? Burned at the stake? What about potential customers of religious-affiliated corporations? Will shoppers have to prove their loyalty to the deity-of-choice before being allowed to complete their purchase? to enter the establishment? What if a Mammon-worshipping Ohioan became president of a large news and entertainment conglomerate? Would he be able to forcibly convert his minions into evil creatures? Oh, wait, that already happened.
And another thing: there are all sorts of crazy commandments in the Christian Bible, can a corporation pick and choose which to follow? Maybe if they are granted this birth-control dispensation, they would also be required to follow all the rules suggested in Leviticus. Such as Leviticus 19:19
19:19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
or Leviticus 25:24
25:23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine, for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.
Hmm, that might change Hobby Lobby’s real estate plans…
What about Matthew 6:1, which seems to directly contradict the Corporate Christians public gnashing of teeth:
6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
6:2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
6:4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
More from the New York Times Editorial Board:
There are several reasons why the court should find that the law does not apply, starting with the fact that secular, for-profit corporations are not “persons” capable of prayer or other religious behavior, which is a quintessentially human activity. Also, as an amicus brief filed by corporate law scholars persuasively argues, granting the religious exemption to the owners would mean allowing shareholders to pass their religious values to the corporation. The fundamental principle of corporate law is a corporation’s existence as a legal entity with rights and obligations separate from those of its shareholders.
Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave that this is even being considered a question…
The Supreme Court inexplicably ruled recently that corporations are people when it comes to spending political money; now this same court is going to rule whether for-profit corporations have religious rights as well. Rights that then would trickle down to the employees, squashing the employee’s rights. If this law passes, the religious affiliation of businesses will have to become a factor for workers deciding where to work. Will the corporation have to disclose the religious affiliations of each and every shareholder? Just the C.E.O. and President? The Board of Directors? Who controls the “Corporate Personhood”? How does Hobby Lobby take communion wafers and confession? Does Hobby Wine only drink grape juice like some Protestants?
Buzzfeed needs to make a listicle: 23 Odd Religious Practices Your Boss Might Insist Upon. I can imagine some of them now, like what if your boss was a Rastafarian, and insisted you treat cannabis as a sacrament each and every day? A Christian Scientist? You couldn’t go to the doctor at all, only pray for God to intervene. Orthodox Jewish boss? Better keep kosher, including paying attention to Shatnez- meaning you cannot mix wool and other fibers in the same clothing. If you worked for Staples when Mitt Romney owned it, would you have to wear the magic underwear? And be forbidden from drinking coffee? How about if your company’s board has members of Digambara Jain? Would you have to be nude all the time after you reached a certain age? If you worked for a Jehovah’s Witness like Prince, could your boss prohibit you from getting a blood transfusion? A Scientologist boss would prohibit you from Prozac and other psychiatric drugs and treatment. A Quaker corporation might not want its taxes to go to support building of war machines, would that be ok for the Court? What about wearing ornaments? God has railed against the wearing of ornaments in Exodus 33.
These are jokes, almost, but depending upon how the Supreme Court rules, the joke might turn to ashes in our mouths. I know the prospect scares me, and I’m self-employed. I really don’t want to live in the Christian Theocracy these zealots are trying to create…
God Is Ugly
Some coverage regarding this scary, scary issue that I read today, including this overview from Adam Liptak, New York Times:
In June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver, ruled for Hobby Lobby (PDF), a corporation owned by a family whose members have said they try to run the business on Christian principles. The company, which operates a chain of arts-and-crafts stores and has more than 15,000 full-time employees of many faiths, objected to a requirement in the health care law that large employers provide their workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception.
Hobby Lobby told the justices that it had no problem with offering coverage for many forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. But drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are another matter, and make it complicit in a form of abortion, the company said.
The law presents companies with difficult choices, Hobby Lobby told the justices. Failing to offer comprehensive coverage could subject it to fines of $1.3 million a day, it said, while dropping insurance coverage for its employees entirely could lead to fines of $26 million a year.
The Tenth Circuit ruled that Hobby Lobby was a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and that its religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason.
Kyle Duncan, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Hobby Lobby, said he was pleased that the justices had agreed to resolve the split among the federal appeals courts. “We hope the Supreme Court will vindicate the rights of family business owners,” he said.
Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that “the right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions.”
“These for-profit companies,” she said, “are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”
In July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (PDF), which makes wood cabinets and is owned by a Mennonite family that had similar objections to the law. The Third Circuit concluded that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.”
David Cortman, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the company and its owners, said the ruling was misguided. “The administration has no business forcing citizens to make a choice between making a living and living free,” he said.
The Third Circuit rejected an analogy to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech. Though the First Amendment also protects the free exercise of religion, Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge panel, “it does not automatically follow that all clauses of the First Amendment must be interpreted identically.”
But a five-judge majority of an eight-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit, in the Hobby Lobby case, said that “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United” extended to religious freedom.
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.
(click here to continue reading Justices to Hear Contraception Cases Challenging Health Law – NYTimes.com.)
Amelia Thomson-Deveaux notes that neither of these businesses are even Catholic, so why would they object to contraception?
Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer—deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The other—Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—hones in on a smaller, Mennonite-owned cabinet door manufacturer.
Neither of the plaintiffs’ arguments mention doctrinal objections to contraception. That’s because Protestants, unlike Catholics, don’t believe that birth control is immoral. In fact, the denominations’ divergent views on the two issues created a kind of intra-Christian culture war throughout much of the twentieth century. Haunted, in part, by neo-Malthusian fears about the world’s rapid descent into overpopulation, the Church of England officially moderated its stance on contraception in 1930. Over the course of the following decade, most American Protestant denominations followed suit. The Mennonite Church does not have an official stance on birth control.
When evangelical Christians decided to throw in their lot alongside the Catholic hospitals and schools seeking an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, their argument was, to put it mildly, a stretch. When Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school in Illinois, asked the Obama administration for an emergency injunction against the contraception mandate last year, it emerged that the college was not eligible because it had “inadvertently” been including emergency contraception in its student health plan.
It should also be noted that neither of the cases that will appear before the Supreme Court are founded on sound science; both allege that emergency contraception—and, in the Hobby Lobby case, the IUD—is a form of abortion. This relies on the notion that pregnancy begins when the egg is fertilized—not, as the medical community contends, when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall. This means that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the facts of the case will be based on junk science, not theology. The Catholic Church, whether you agree with it or not, has consistently maintained that birth control is a fundamental evil. Protestant attempts to overturn the contraception mandate aren’t about theological objections to birth control—they’re an effort to dramatically expand religious freedom rights for conservative Christians.
(click here to continue reading The Contraception-Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception.)
Jessica Valenti writes
Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)
Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?
There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”
(click here to continue reading Birth Control Coverage: It’s the Misogyny, Stupid | The Nation.)
“The corporations that brought these cases have views that are far outside the mainstream, and the outcome of these cases could have extreme consequences for millions of Americans,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in response to the news. “For the first time ever, the court could decide that corporations have the right to opt out of a legal requirement — based entirely on the personal beliefs of their owners.”
“The right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “These for-profit companies are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”
But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, suggested it believes that the Supreme Court will rule to protect the so-called religious expression of for-profit corporations, citing the 2010 Citizens United decision as an example of the court defining corporate personhood. “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the court wrote.
(click here to continue reading Supreme Court to hear cases challenging contraception mandate – Salon.com.)
The president of Hobby Lobby is a member of the Christian Taliban if there ever was one:
Among his more controversial beliefs: Gothard thinks he can determine a person’s character simply by staring into their eyes, that disease has spiritual causes and that men are the sovereign rulers of the household. His books provide detailed instructions on how women ought to stand, in addition to diagrams of the appropriate length of men’s pants and illustrations of suitable female hairstyles.
In 2002, Green, acting through his family trust, purchased and then leased a vacant college campus to Gothard’s ministry. A year later, Green, this time acting through Hobby Lobby itself, purchased a shuttered hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and donated it to Gothard for the purposes of building a local training center.
These weren’t mere business transactions, either. The website of one of Gothard’s many ministries features video of Steve Green describing Hobby Lobby’s “desire to share Christ and Disciple others.” And in a review of Gothard’s book, The Amazing Way, David Green, father of Steve Green and founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote that, “Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God s Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends.”
Objective courses about the Bible are permissible in public schools, but Sunday School lessons are a different matter entirely. Green’s past statements and Religious Right connections indicate that he’s actually trying to promote a specific perspective on the Bible: his own.
(click here to continue reading Curricular Controversy: Hobby Lobby President Proposes Bible Elective in Okla. Public School | Americans United.)
I know I’m never setting foot in a Hobby Lobby again:
Hobby Lobby, the giant craft retailer known for providing knitting wool, holiday trinkets, fake flowers, and just about any other craft-centric material one could need, balks at providing certain types of medical care for its employees. That is because the company, which has 559 stores across the country and brings in $3 billion in revenue each year, is owned by the Green family—devout Christians who believe that human life begins at conception and that using certain types of birth control violates their religious beliefs.
The Greens, who often have Hobby Lobby buy newspaper ads encouraging people to “know Jesus as Lord and Savior,” also think that their religious beliefs should be imposed on Hobby Lobby’s 22,000 employees. Because of their religious convictions, the Greens have asked a federal court, in a case called Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, to exempt their for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer health plans covering contraception.
In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that minimum standards for employer health plans would include preventive care for women, including mammograms, cervical-cancer screenings, prenatal care, and contraceptives—all services that are vital to women’s health and well-being. The Obama administration provided an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement for “religious employers”—churches and nonprofit religious organizations—but not for for-profit, secular corporations such as Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is one of 40 lawsuits filed across the country asking federal courts to exempt a for-profit corporation from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement. It is also one part of a coordinated effort led by conservative legal groups to undermine the Affordable Care Act and avoid complying with other laws.
(click here to continue reading Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius: Crafting a Dangerous Precedent | Center for American Progress.)
Iota Eta Sigma
So if a for-profit corporation is religious, is it based on its board members? Share holders? Founders? Who gets to decide what religion a company is?
Even if one assumes that the mandate represents a “substantial burden,” another problem with the argument being made against the mandate is that the free exercise of religion is an inherently individual act. As Sarah Posner argued, the idea that a secular, for-profit corporation can “exercise” religion is a strange concept that would be inconsistent with a substantial body of precedent. Some have argued that the Court’s Citizens United decision should be seen as changing the legal context, the issues involved are very different. Corporations must have some free speech rights because the dissemination of speech often involves corporate entities—Congress cannot ban the showing of Masters of Sex just because it’s distributed by Viacom. Religious exercise, conversely, is inherently personal. Some shareholders in the Hobby Lobby may have religious beliefs that contradict the religious mandate, but the corporation itself cannot.
What about closely held corporations?
One potential argument, recently made by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is that a corporation itself cannot exercise religion, but a corporation’s owners can. Since one argument made by Conestoga Wood is that the religious rights of the company’s owners have been violated even if those of the company cannot be, the case is presumably a vehicle for the Court to examine this legal question as well. In my judgement, this argument is no more convincing than Hobby Lobby’s. The owner of a business cannot obtain the advantages of a corporate form (including substantial insulation from personal liability) while remaining an individual when it is advantageous to do so. Nonetheless, it would not be surprising for the Supreme Court to split the baby by rejecting the Hobbby Lobby’s claim while accepting the ones raised by the owners of Conestoga.
(click here to continue reading The Affordable Care Act v. Supreme Court, Round 2.)
Jill Filipovic of the Guardian, U.K.
On its face, it seems odd to even consider the question seriously. After all, no one is forcing the owners of the company to take contraception or purchase contraception. The belief in question – that certain types of contraception are “abortifacients” – is also far from scientific fact. Also, the company owners issue their employees a pay check and have no say over how the employees spend it; they have no say over the activities their employees participate in on a vacation day.
It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use the money paid to them by the company for a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including buying contraception. It’s certainly not violating the company’s religious freedom for an employee to use a company-issued vacation day to enjoy a whole series of things that the company owner may find religiously objectionable, including, say, a full-day contracepted sex-fest, a trip to Mecca or a pork barbecue.
So why is it a problem for employees to use their health insurance for the care they and their doctors agree upon?
The cases the supreme court will hear were brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which bars the government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is justified by a “compelling reason”. Free religious exercise is burdened when the government forces an individual to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, but not every infringement on religious beliefs is a substantial burden. As the ACLU points out in their amicus brief to the supreme court, the contraception law doesn’t force the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store to violate their own religious beliefs. It requires them to cover health insurance, which may subsidize someone else’s activities that violate the Hobby Lobby owners’ religious values – but again, the same could be said for issuing a pay check.
By refusing to cover contraception, the Hobby Lobby owners (and the owners of the other companies claiming the healthcare law infringes upon their religious freedom) are in fact using their own religious beliefs to deny benefits to their employees who may not share those beliefs at all. That’s not religious freedom; it’s religious tyranny.
The company heads bringing these claims want to have it both ways. By incorporating, owners and shareholders create separate entities and are not personally liable for their employees’ salaries or health insurance costs – the entire point of incorporating is to create a legal entity separate from the individuals who created it. Yet these owners and shareholders want the court to consider their personal religious beliefs indistinguishable from those of the corporation, and allow those beliefs to dictate the kind of healthcare coverage their employees receive.
(click here to continue reading Get real: covering contraception doesn’t violate employers’ religious freedom | Jill Filipovic | Comment is free | theguardian.com.)
At least my corporation is atheist (because I am)
Sympathy for the Devil
The Christian Taliban has infiltrated everywhere, including the Supreme Court, as evidenced by this discussion regarding The Town of Greece vs. Galloway…
Standing before the court, the residents’ lawyer, Douglas Laycock, suggested that a nonsectarian prayer would be satisfactory. Justice Alito wasn’t so sure.
“How could you do it?” Justice Alito asked. “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … Wiccans, Baha’i.”
“And atheists,” Justice Antonin Scalia added. “Throw in atheists, too.”
Mr. Laycock reminded the justices that atheists were already out of luck based on the court’s prior decisions. Then, riffling through his documents, he suggested, “The prayers to the Almighty, prayers to the Creator.”
“To ‘the Almighty,’” Justice Alito said skeptically. “So if — if a particular religion believes in more than one god, that’s acceptable to them?”
Justice Scalia, often impatient in religion cases, couldn’t resist. “What about devil worshipers?”
Over the laughter of the courtroom, Mr. Laycock said meekly, “Well, if devil worshipers believe the devil is the almighty, they might be okay. But they’re probably out.”
And so it went, the justices trying in vain to determine what sort of prayer, if any, would be sufficiently nonsectarian, and who should be responsible for making that determination. None of them seemed to relish the idea of playing at prayer editor.
As the argument progressed it was increasingly difficult to discern any grounds on which to justify legislative prayer other than the fact that it’s something we’ve always done — which was the basis for the court’s ruling upholding such a prayer in the Nebraska legislature in 1983, when it last considered the question.
(click here to continue reading Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers? – NYTimes.com.)
Dance of the Devil Corn
and the only real solution that comports with our secular Constitution: don’t allow government sanctioned prayers at all! Why is this a difficult concept?
But there is an alternative to “eliminating” prayer — a moment of silence, which is what the town of Greece did for years without complaint. It allows everyone to pray exactly as they wish; it even makes room for the atheists and devil worshipers.
For some — including several members of the current court — a “silence only” policy is surely a step too far. But it would be a reasonable compromise in a pluralistic society, and for justices who don’t want to become de facto prayer editors, it’s a bright line on an otherwise blurry canvas of conflicting tests and standards that have rarely satisfied anyone.
Don’t these fools read their own sacred texts? You know, the Constitution and its amendments? Like the first one!
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
(click here to continue reading First Amendment to the United States Constitution – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
If the government sanctions a particular kind of prayer as being the “right kind” of prayer, who could argue with a straight face that this is not the government establishing a preferred religion? Only the Christian Taliban would be so bold. When is the last time you read about a city council mandating a Pastafarian chant before a city council meeting? Right, never. Only the Christians do this repugnant shit.
And Scalia and Alito ought to be impeached if they rule in favor of the Town of Greece, NY
Somebody Please Tell This Machine I’m Not A Machine
Carl Esbeck is much more knowledgeable about the subject, and writes:
Can government knowingly take sides in a matter of religious belief or practice? More to the point, can government actively support a practice that is explicitly religious, such as prayer? This is the issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway as it ought to be framed.
Quoting with approval from Marsh v. Chambers, the Town’s main brief states that the purpose of legislative prayer is “[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws.” The practice not only calls upon a God or gods, but to a Divinity interested and active in human affairs. Why else invoke guidance? This act of prayer is thus consistent with some religions but not others. Deists, for example, believe in an impersonal God. A policy of legislative prayer is doubtlessly taking a side, and no phony pluralism dressed up as “nonsectarian” prayer – a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone – can cover up that fact.
(click here to continue reading Town of Greece symposium: Can government actively favor a religious practice? : SCOTUSblog.)
A related corruption is civil religion, the conflating of piety with patriotism. Civil religion is the confusion of religious faith with one’s love of country, an elevation of certain ceremonies, traditions, and habits of a nation to the level of the sacred. In Weisman, Justice Kennedy for the Court noted its false allure. After acknowledging the attempt by school officials to advance a “common ground” prayer, he said the Court’s precedents “caution us to measure the idea of a civic religion against the central meaning of the Religion Clauses . . . which is that all creeds must be tolerated and none favored. The suggestion that government may establish an official or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific creeds strikes us as a contradiction that cannot be accepted.”
Ultimately religion does not exist to sustain the political order. It’s not a program for municipal improvement or to bless those who take up civic duties. When government uses religion as a tool to achieve its political goals, the danger to religion is that it becomes a courtier in the halls of State.
As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…
The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.
The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.
The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”
…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2
(click here to continue reading Welfare for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)
Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:
This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.
Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.
This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.
For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) 
Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.
If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.
From USA Today last year:
Who gets food stamps?
The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:
••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.
••8% were age 60 or older.
••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”
••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.
••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.
Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.
For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:
•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).
Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.
(click here to continue reading Fact check: Gingrich’s faulty food-stamp claim – USATODAY.com.)
and then there’s this little bit of trickery:
Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”
You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.
- This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. [↩]
- “People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. [↩]
Personally, Eden Foods’ political stance gives Eden Organic beans a musty, old fashioned flavor, a flavor of the 15th century, a time when the Catholic Church decided for you what was legal or illegal, accepted or unaccepted.
The slogan for Eden Foods, which describes itself as the “oldest natural and organic food company in North America,” is “creation and maintenance of purity in food.” Its CEO and founder, Michael Potter, has been prominent in debates over labeling of organic food and GMOs. But the company has been quietly seeking in court another form of purity — to Catholic doctrine about sex being solely for procreation. That goes not just for Potter, but for all 128 of his employees.
That is, Eden Foods — an organic food company with no shortage of liberal customers — has quietly pursued a decidedly right-wing agenda, suing the Obama administration for exemption from the mandate to cover contraception for its employees under the Affordable Care Act. In court filings, Eden Foods, represented by the conservative Thomas More Law Center, alleges that its rights have been violated under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Eden Foods, which did not respond to a request for comment, says in its filing that the company believes of birth control that “these procedures almost always involve immoral and unnatural practices.” The complaint also says that “Plaintiffs believe that Plan B and ‘ella’ can cause the death of the embryo, which is a person.” (Studies show that neither Plan B nor Ella interfere with fertilization, which is the Catholic definition of the beginning of life, if not the medical one. In other words, not the death of an embryo. Also, at that stage, it’s a zygote, not an embryo — let alone a “person.”)
But once Potter became aware that the company’s plan had begun to cover contraception in accordance with the Obamacare regulations, he teamed up with Thomas More Law Center to sue. The Center focuses on violations of “religious freedom,” including in connection with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. They also represented Pastor Terry Jones, who became famous for his plan to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11.
They filed suit on March 20, 2013, against Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and other government parties, demanding an exemption, despite the fact that Eden Foods is a for-profit company. Two days later, District Court Judge Denise Page Hood denied an emergency motion to be exempted, writing, “Courts have held that the Mandate in question applies only to the corporate entity, not to its officers or owners, and that as to the individual owners, any burden imposed on them individually by the contraception mandate is remote[.]” She added, “The purpose of the Women’s Preventive Healthcare Regulations is not to target religion, but instead to promote public health and gender equality.” A hearing has been set for May 10.
(click here to continue reading Organic Eden Foods’ quiet right-wing agenda – Salon.com.)
Eden Foods: Another company that deserves to lose in the marketplace. I’ll no longer purchase any product of theirs, that’s for damn sure, and I don’t even have a uterus, pure or not.
Katie Baker of Jezebel adds:
Eden Foods, an independently owned natural food company, is just as interested in the “Creation and Maintenance of Purity in Food®” as the maintenance of purity in your uterus: the company is suing the Obama administration for exemption from the contraceptive mandate. Owner Michael Potter believes sex is for baby-making alone, and hopes to force his 128 employees to follow suit.
In court filings, the plaintiffs (Eden Foods and Potter) lay out the reasons why Potter’s personal and nonsensical beliefs regarding birth control and emergency contraception — which Eden Foods has historically referred to as “Lifestyle Drugs” (we hear all the It Girls will be popping Yasmin at Coachella this year!) — should take precedence over reproductive choice. Examples: the company believes that contraception and abortifacients “almost always involve immoral and unnatural practices” and that the morning-after pill “can cause the death of the embryo, which is a person.” (No, it can’t, and if an embryo is a person, I’m a bag of “organic whole leaf dulse.”)
It’s unsurprising when Christian publishing companies and craft supply stores fight the contraception mandate. (We covered the first 18 for-profit companies that fought to eliminate the birth control benefit earlier this year; now 25 have filed suit.) But doesn’t it seem rather misleading for Eden Foods, which says it’s the “oldest natural and organic food company in North America,” to hide its conservative agenda?
(click here to continue reading Organic Eden Foods Isn’t Progressive Enough to Pay For Its Employees’ Birth Control.)
Smirnoff in Space
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of those rare scientists who also has the gift of explaining complex scientific phenomena in clear language. I’ve long been a fan of his Nova shows on PBS. Granted, it is a little strange that his new show is going to be broadcast on climate change denying-Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network, but maybe it will be informative despite that constriction. I’ll certainly watch it.
He also makes a good point about the trend of Christian Taliban slowly taking over our government, escaped 12th century residents like Rep Paul Broun, who we ignore at our peril…
These days, Dr. Tyson is less focused on the planetarium than on creating a new iteration of “Cosmos,” the hit PBS series featuring Carl Sagan, which was first broadcast in 1980. This sequel, for the Fox network, is planned for early next year.
One of its producers is Seth MacFarlane. Yup, that Seth MacFarlane, the “Family Guy” guy and (to some viewers) the cringe-inducing host of this year’s Academy Awards show. Whatever one may think of his brand of comedy, “Seth MacFarlane is deeply committed to science literacy in this country,” Dr. Tyson said, and the two of them share a goal: reinforcing the idea that “science needs to be taken to people’s hearts in a way that they become better citizens for it.”
Is he saying that we treat science and mathematics shabbily in this country, where many people are all too proud to admit to a fear of all sums? Actually, Dr. Tyson said, “I don’t think the country’s less literate in math and science than ever before.”
…Pop culture, too, is part of “a positive trend line,” given science-themed blockbuster films like “Avatar” and the durable “Star Wars” series, and popular television programs like the “C.S.I.” and “NCIS” franchises and “The Big Bang Theory.”
“There was a day when we didn’t have science at all in television programming,” Dr. Tyson said between sips of his soda. “Now it’s there, without having to stereotype the lab-coated, wire-haired character.”
Here’s the real problem, as he sees it: “You have people who are not scientifically literate who have risen to positions of power and control,” whether on local school boards or in Congress. He mentioned Representative Paul C. Broun, a Georgia Republican (and doctor) who sits on the House Science Committee and who says the world is 9,000 years old and was literally created in six days.
Voters, Dr. Tyson said, need to grasp the consequences of their electoral choices, especially if they produce officials who “undermine the source of creativity for tomorrow’s economy.” Meddle with the citizenry’s understanding of science and technology, he said, and people “will emerge on the other side incapable of making the discoveries and innovations that the nation requires in order to stay economically competitive.”
When it comes to the Creation, “if you use the Bible as your science textbook, you will go astray — there’s no question about it,” he said, adding: “Galileo understood this. He can be credited with drawing a line in the sand with his famous quote that the Bible tells you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
(click here to continue reading To Planetarium Director, Siberia Meteor Showed Value of Science – NYTimes.com.)
Carl Sagan – US astronomer, hero
I’ve said often I’m a film school dropout, but the truth is, I’m also a physics student dropout1Footnotes:
- I was accepted at UT-Austin as a physics student, but was daunted by the lack of electives available to me, so eventually switched to the Liberal Arts college. I did continue to work for the Physics Lecture Demonstrations Office support staff for three years though – and would have continued working there if I could have. [↩]
I’ve used Dr. Bronner’s soap for many years, and still have not bothered to read the whole container. There is a documentary about him and his soap, but I’ve yet to see it. Sadly, Dr. Bronner passed away in the 1990s.
Cecil Adams gave the Straight Dope in 1988, including:
Talking to the doc on the phone is the audio equivalent of reading one of his labels. He can be pretty linear when he wants to be, but eventually always veers off into a rap about the Essene rabbis and whatnot, delivered in a nutty-professor German accent. Believe me, it’s an experience.
Bronner has had an eventful life. The son of a Jewish German soap maker, he emigrated to the U.S. and pleaded with his father to do the same when the Nazis came to power. The old man refused. One day Bronner got a postcard with the words, “You were right. — Your loving father.” He never heard from his parents again.
Initially settling in the midwest, Bronner married the illegitimate daughter of a nun, who eventually became suicidal and died in a mental hospital. (He says she was tortured by the hospital guards.) He also began devising his plan for world peace. Fittingly, he took to the soapbox to promote it. One of his listeners, Fred Walcher, was so inspired that in 1945 he had himself crucified in Chicago in order to publicize the plan. (He survived.)
Later Bronner was arrested while trying to promote his plan at the University of Chicago and was committed to a mental hospital. He escaped three times, finally fleeing to California in 1947. He’s been there cranking out soap and soap labels ever since.
(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Why the weird religious ravings on Dr. Bronner’s soap?.)
How Mike Huckabee Imagines the World
I wasn’t going to write anything about the horrific events in Newtown, CT, but Christian Taliban propagandist Mike Huckabee has really enraged me with his illogical bloviating.
Steve Benen of Maddowblog has the video and transcript:
Neil Cavuto said that many invariably ask after tragedies like this, “How could God let this happen?” Huckabee responded:
“Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? [...]
“You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of ways in which I think he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
So, by Huckabee’s reasoning, the separation of church and state is at least partially responsible for a gunman killing 26 people, including 20 children. There are a few problems with such a perspective.
Theologically, many Christians believe God is omnipresent, and can’t be “systematically removed” from anything. For that matter, there’s very little in the Christian tradition that suggests God punishes children when constitutional law hurts His feelings.
Politically, Huckabee’s comments — seeking to exploit a violent tragedy to push a bogus cultuyre war agenda — are reminder that the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate occasionally just isn’t a nice guy.
(click here to continue reading This Week in God – The Maddow Blog.)
According to Huckabee’s reasoning, if the children had sacrificed a virgin goat that morning, god would have taken time out of his busy schedule picking which football teams win, and whatever else he occupies his time with, and stopped the massacre. God may omnipotent, but he is apparently also petulant. “No goat sacrifice in my name today? Then thou shall die by the hands of a nut job with a high-powered gun.” As any student of history realizes, Christians, even devout Christians, are not immune to violence.
So nice of Mr. Huckabee to blame the victims for not praying harder, after they are shot to death. I blame the NRA instead. They are actually on this earth, and from my perspective, as culpable in the murders as any other entity.
which leads me to the second point I’d like to make: namely that the corporate media is complicit with their shameless and breathless reporting whenever a slaughter occurs. Where is the same sort of hyperventilating when ten people were shot just last night in Chicago? Unfortunately, a fairly typical number of shootings for 21st century Chicago.
Watch Your Damn Mouth
Roger Ebert said it more eloquently:
Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
(click here to continue reading Elephant :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews.)
Lots of verbiage has been spewed regarding the VP debates, and to be honest, there are very few voters who choose a president based on what a Veep says or doesn’t say. However, there was one statement that really bothered me, a secular person, and bothered others too, like The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik:
But beyond the horseshit something genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both men’s positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of “faith.” (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)
Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his boss’s policy may not seem so:
All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Our system, unlike the Iranians’, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.
(click here to continue reading Of Babies and Beans: Paul Ryan on Abortion : The New Yorker.)
The Founders of the United States were not infallible, they made several mistakes1 but one thing they were very clever about was removing religion from the state. I don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia, or 19th century Poland, or The Vatican, or anywhere where the law of the land is dictated by religious law. Paul Ryan very seriously intoned that if he were in charge, he would throw out 250 years of American tradition, and turn us into a Catholic-based theocracy, a scary place where the Pope would be in charge of our laws. If that isn’t a reason to vote for Biden-Obama, I don’t know what is.
one other thought, Mitt Romney’s religion is even more draconian – no alcohol, no caffeine, no contraceptives, etc. Is Romney ok with turning the US into a Mormon Republic?Footnotes:
- at least to our modern society’s norms – slavery, rights of women to vote, rights of non-property owners, etc. [↩]
If only I could report people for reading their bibles in public – there is a lot of violent, disgusting content contained in it. Just browse the Brick Testament for a moment…
Some legislators battle against public displays of pornographic content, at least on the roadways. A bill is pending in the New Jersey legislature to criminalize the playing of obscene material in cars — say, on seat-back DVD players or in party buses — that could viewed by, and distract or offend, others on the road. State Senator Anthony Bucco, who sponsored the bill, said people who view such videos in public “don’t care what anybody around them thinks.”
Similar laws have passed in the last decade in Tennessee, Louisiana and Virginia, and one failed last year in Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
An antipornography group, Morality in Media, has in recent months launched a “no porn on the plane” campaign, and has contacted most major airlines to argue that they should commit to policing what people watch.
The group took up the cause after its executive director, Dawn Hawkins, was on a flight in January and noticed a man in the row in front of her looking at images on his iPad of naked women whipping each other.
She complained to the flight attendant, who told her he was powerless to force the man to stop, she recalled. The man eventually turned off the images, but Ms. Hawkins continued to press him on why he was looking at those images in public.
She said a woman then came up to her and said, “Be quiet, nobody cares.”
(click here to continue reading Pornography in Public Causes Some to Gasp, Others to Shrug – NYTimes.com.)
So these assholes won’t be content until America turns into a Christian Taliban nation. How about you don’t look at someone else’s iPad? How’s that for a solution? These jerk-stores don’t even want you to be able to watch Pulp Fiction or Apocalypse Now while flying.
One reason the issue is so thorny is that not everyone agrees on what might be considered offensive. That is the case even within Morality in Media, where Ms. Hawkins said people should also be careful with public viewings of violent content.
I’ll say it again, free speech is a civil liberty enshrined in the laws of our civil, secular society; if these zealots want to destroy our country’s traditions, perhaps a better solution would be to start their own country. Maybe get Alabama to secede, and take Texas with it? Or buy an island somewhere? Anywhere but my country.
Fun for your May Day celebrations: pretend you are part of the black helicopter One World Cabal of Illuminati, as explained by The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams:
Just exactly what event are the Russians and Red Chinese commemorating on May 1 each year? I have yet to find any birthday or important event relating to communism/socialism that occurred on May 1. Someone once told me, though, that May 1, 1776, was the birth date of a group called the Illuminati, which was alleged to be a clandestine group devoted to one-world government. Is it so? Please enlighten.
— Bob B., Dallas
Better grab yourself a sandwich and a beer, Bobberino; this is going to take a while. The Illuminati play a leading role in what is without doubt the muthah conspiracy theory of all time, stretching back at least two centuries and probably as far as the Pleistocene epoch, to hear some tell it.
Adherents of the theory, who for the most part are right-wing fruitcakes, claim it explains every social upheaval from the French Revolution of 1789 through the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Illuminati are said to be the guiding force behind a vast international cabal involving the Masons, German and/or Jewish socialists, the Bolsheviks, and revolutionaries of every stripe, whose principal aim is either the establishment of a totalitarian one-world government, the destruction of Western civilization, or both. This ain’t no foolin’ around, apocalypse fans.
Let’s start with the easy part. May Day, an international celebration of worker solidarity observed principally in socialist countries, traces its origins back to the eight-hour-day movement in the U.S., and specifically commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, of all places. (We learn this, incidentally, from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.)
At an October 1884 convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, later to be reorganized as the American Federation of Labor, declared May 1, 1886, to be the date from which “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work,” as opposed to the nine- or ten-hour days then prevalent.
Why May 1 is chosen is not clear. Among other things, it happened to be the date of the traditional May Day spring festival, celebrated in Europe (and parts of the U.S.) since medieval times. But other American labor groups had earlier suggested other days, such as the Fourth of July.
(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Does May Day actually commemorate the birth of the Illuminati?.)
Coincidentally–although some would say it’s no coincidence–May 1 is also the date that a secret society called the Illuminati was founded in 1776 by a Bavarian university professor named Adam Weishaupt. Although the group’s precise aims are a little murky, the Illuminati were apparently dedicated to the abolition of organized religion and the nation-state–in short, they were anarchists. Such ideas were not uncommon at the time; Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau had vaguely similar notions.
By and by it occurred to Weishaupt that he could multiply his influence by infiltrating existing lodges of Masons. The Masons, themselves a secret society, seem to have originated in England, and by Weishaupt’s time were well established throughout Europe. Although they were decentralized and had no overriding political program, the Masons had attracted a fair number of freethinkers, who to some extent took advantage of the group’s clandestine character to discuss Enlightenment ideas. Masons were suspected of being anticlerical, and had been condemned on several occasions by the Catholic Church.
Weishaupt’s minions succeeded in gaining influential positions in many Masonic lodges in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. Characteristically, though, only the top leaders of the Illuminati knew the full extent of the group’s radical plans. Weishaupt, who claimed to have been inspired partly by the Jesuits, set up an elaborate hierarchy complete with secret signs, ceremonies, and codes in which members were gradually given additional knowledge as they rose in rank.
Eventually, though, some of the Illuminati quarreled, and disgruntled ex-members went to the authorities with lurid stories. In 1785, the alarmed Elector of Bavaria ordered both the Illuminati and the Masons suppressed. Numerous incriminating papers were confiscated and later published throughout Europe, creating a widespread panic that secret societies were plotting the violent overthrow of all civilization. This probably would have died down eventually, except for one thing: on July 14, 1789, the Bastille fell to a Paris mob, and the French Revolution began.
We now take leave of Reality, and enter the twilight world of Total Paranoia. Not much is known about what happened to the Illuminati after 1785. Some of them went underground, and several may have been involved in various plots over the following few years. Whatever the truth of the matter, rightists began churning out an immense volume of books and pamphlets blaming the Illuminati for . . . well, just about everything.
(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Does May Day actually commemorate the birth of the Illuminati?.)
Joan Walsh articulates what I wondered earlier - how can the Catholic Church claim non-profit, tax-exempt status when they are so overwhelming partisan? and joining the ranks of the Christian-Taliban Republicans? ewww. Social justice be damned I guess, the Church flock might be using condoms! The horror! The horror!
And at Sunday Mass, bishops and parish priests throughout the nation read aloud the stunningly political letters about the controversy they already had planned. Now, with the bishops’ blessing, Republican are hard at work on legislation that would force HHS to strip the contraceptive coverage requirement for all employers, not just religious employers. Sen. Roy Blunt would allow employers to decline to cover any service they deem objectionable; Sen. Marco Rubio would restrict the legislation to contraception coverage.
I have a couple of reactions to the bishops’ extremism. First of all, as someone raised Catholic, I wonder why they’ve never read letters about any of their social justice priorities: universal healthcare, increased protection for the poor, labor rights, or action to curb climate change? Why does this topic – not even the morally challenging issue of abortion, but the universally accepted practice of birth control – merit such a thundering reaction from the pulpit?
Second, as an American, I also wonder: How do they continue to demand tax-exempt status when they’re railing in their churches about blatantly political – and divisively partisan – public concerns? As the first writer on my remarkably sane Catholic tribalism letters thread remarked, their public support for the extremist GOP position makes me think they should register as a Republican political action committee rather than remain a tax-exempt religious institution outside the bounds of politics.
I’ve written repeatedly that my inability to quit the Catholic Church entirely comes from the fact that its social teachings formed my social conscience, and to this day some of the people doing the most good for the poor and the excluded are devout Catholics. But the bishops are impossible to defend. Today, they are working on behalf of the Republican Party. “They have become the Pharisees,” says Andrew Sullivan, a conservative practicing Catholic. “And we need Jesus.”
(click here to continue reading The bishops go off the deep end – Catholicism – Salon.com.)
The whole contraception kerfuffle is such an obvious, partisan position by cynical Catholic Church officials and their allies in Congress, I wonder how can the Church maintain its non-profit, tax exempt status?
Gail Collins writes:
These days, parish priests tend to be much less judgmental about parishioners who are on the pill — the military was not the first institution in this country to make use of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” system. “In most parishes in the United States, we don’t find them preaching about contraception,” said Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. “And it’s not as though in the Mass you have a question-and-answer period.”
You have heard, I’m sure, that the Catholic bishops are in an uproar over an Obama administration rule that would require Catholic universities and hospitals to cover contraceptives in their health care plans. The Republican presidential candidates are roaring right behind. Mitt Romney claimed the White House was trying to “impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.”
Let’s try to work this out in a calm, measured manner. (Easy for me to say. I already got my mother-in-law story off my chest.)
Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using pills, condoms or any other form of artificial contraception. A much-quoted study by the Guttmacher Institute found that virtually all sexually active Catholic women of childbearing age have violated the rule at one point or another, and that more than two-thirds do so consistently.
Here is the bishops’ response to that factoid: “If a survey found that 98 percent of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”
O.K. Moving right along.
The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.
The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.
(click here to continue reading Tales From the Kitchen Table – NYTimes.com.)
Right, if a Catholic women doesn’t want to use birth control, she doesn’t have to! Why make the rest of women follow the same rule?
Also worth noting, the loudest voices on this issue don’t seem to be as loud when discussing the Catholic Church’s anti-death penalty stance, or anti-war stance, or pro-immigrant stance. No, just the right of women to enjoy contraceptive options.
or as Markos “kos” Moulitsas puts it:
So to hear Republicans speak, President Barack Obama is waging a “war on religion” because of regulations requiring religious-affiliated hospitals to cover contraception for their employees. While the vast majority of denominations are cool with that, the Catholic bishops are throwing a hissy fit. You see, they are opposed to birth control because it encourages sex, and sex is only for procreation. Now most Catholics laugh at that nonsense, considering that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control. Yet that hasn’t stopped the out-of-touch bishops from pressing ahead, and it certainly hasn’t stopped opportunistic Republicans from rallying to their defense, because, you see, opposing the bishops on this issue means a war on religion!
Wow. Got it. Problem is, under those standards, Republicans are waging quite the jihad of their own!
Republicans are waging war on the Pope by supporting the death penalty, immigrants, and poor people.
Fact is, on all these issues, as well as poverty relief, the DREAM Act, and many others, Republicans are severely at odds with the Catholic Church. Yet there is no talk about a Republican war on religion. Why? Because that notion is idiotic.
Oh, and because Fox News and a bunch of Republican presidential pretenders aren’t opportunistically fanning the flames.
(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: The GOP’s war on religion (or ‘two can play that game’).)
Catholic leaders and the GOP presidential candidates have intentionally distorted the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health benefits at no additional cost sharing. Conservatives are seeking a way to politically unite Republican voters around a social issue and portray the regulation as a big government intrusion into religious liberties. In reality, the mandate is modeled on existing rules in six states, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of faith, and offers employers a transitional period of one year to determine how best to comply with the rule. It’s also nothing new. Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”
(click here to continue reading Many Catholic Universities, Hospitals Already Cover Contraception In Their Health Insurance Plans | ThinkProgress.)
Linda Greenhouse, in the middle of a good, long article, points out:
An obvious starting point is with the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who, just like other American women, have exercised their own consciences and availed themselves of birth control at some point during their reproductive lives. So it’s important to be clear that the conscientious objection to the regulation comes from an institution rather than from those whose consciences it purports to represent. (Catholic women actually have a higher rate of abortion than other American women, but I’ll stick to birth control for now.) While most Catholics dissent in the privacy of their bedrooms from the church’s position, some are pushing back in public. The organization Catholics for Choice, whose magazine is pointedly entitled Conscience, is calling on its supporters to “tell our local media that the bishops are out of touch with the lived reality of the Catholic people” and “do not speak for us on this decision.”
But suppose the counter-factual – that only half, or one-quarter, or five percent of Catholic women use birth control. The question would remain: Whose conscience is it? The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control. It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws. (Of the other states that require such coverage, 15 offer a broader opt-out provision, while eight provide no exemption at all.) Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.
These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces. Just ask Alfred Smith and Galen Black, two members of the Native American Church who were fired from their state jobs in Oregon for using the illegal hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony and who were then deemed ineligible for unemployment compensation because they had lost their jobs for “misconduct.” They argued that their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion trumped the state’s unemployment law.
In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, which was joined by, among others, the notoriously left wing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
(click here to continue reading Whose Conscience? – NYTimes.com.)
Digby reminds us:
October 1, 2007
The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down a request by Catholic Charities of New York to review a state court decision requiring insurance companies to include contraceptive coverage in drug benefit packages. The Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves in place a law that promotes women’s health and addresses gender discrimination while appropriately protecting religious freedom.
“Religiously affiliated organizations, such as Catholic Charities, that employ and serve people of diverse beliefs should not be able to discriminate against their female employees by refusing to cover basic health services,” said Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. “Religiously affiliated organizations that provide nonreligious services to the public must play by public rules.”
The law at issue, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, requires insurance companies to cover women’s preventive health care, including mandating that insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not exclude contraceptives from that coverage. The law exempts religious employers such as churches, mosques, and temples, whose main purpose is to promote a particular religious faith and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.
“This law ended the practice of treating birth control, which only women use, differently than other commonly used prescription drugs — a practice that contributed to disproportionately high health costs for women,” said Galen Sherwin, Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Rights Project. “The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case ensures that the state of New York can continue to protect women from this form of discrimination.”
(click here to continue reading Hullabaloo – Borgia Catholics.)
and also this:
Among other things, I am morally opposed to money being spent on wars and capital punishment. And yet I am inexplicably forced to pay for these things through my taxes. And when I hire someone to work for me, I must pay a share of taxes for these things on their behalf as well. I demand that I be allowed a “conscience” exemption.
It truly does pain me to participate in these activities. I’m not kidding. But for some reason I’m forced to pay for many things the government does that appall me. But my conscience isn’t given any special dispensation. And the funny thing is that Catholics who believe as I do — and there are many — aren’t given any dispensation for those beliefs either. The only area where religion trumps citizenship is when it comes to private sexual behavior. Isn’t that odd?
(click here to continue reading Hullabaloo- ICYMI.)
and finally, Paul Waldman
Let’s stipulate at the outset that almost everyone on the right you hear talking about the issue of contraception coverage is cynically adopting this position for no other reason than they believe it to be a handy cudgel to bash the Obama administration. (One notable exception is Rick Santorum, who genuinely believes that contraception is wrong, since it unleashes our dirty, dirty thoughts and allows people to have sex without being punished for it. But Santorum is also pro-Crusades, so make of that what you will.) They may be right or wrong about the political wisdom of taking up this fight—a lot depends on whether the administration stands firm and makes sure everyone remembers that what we’re talking about is birth control, for goodness’ sake, something that outside the ranks of the celibate old men who run the Catholic Church is accepted by just about everyone, Catholics included. But we should keep in mind the principle for which conservatives are now arguing.
Their argument is that a large institution like a hospital or university, if it has a religious affiliation, should be able to pick and choose the laws it follows. In this case, remember, they aren’t being asked to use birth control or dispense birth control; all that’s required is that the insurance coverage they provide their employees include birth control (free of charge). That’s the law, as it was passed in the Affordable Care Act. But the Catholic bishops don’t like the law, so they don’t want to follow it. According to this principle, religiously affiliated hospitals or universities would be able to ignore any other law as well. Let’s say they decided that they didn’t like minimum wage laws. They could say that their “conscience” forbids them from paying the janitors and cafeteria workers they employ more than $2 an hour, and it’s their prerogative to ignore the minimum wage if they like. After the hospital paints its exterior, it could dump the leftover paint in a nearby river in violation of environmental laws—hey, our scriptures say God gave us dominion over the earth, so too bad.
(click here to continue reading What the Anti-Contraception Conservatives Really Want.)
Wow, Susan G Komen Anti-Choice Cure’s new agenda is very clear. No need to even debate the topic any more, they have outed themselves as just another partisan, evangelical organization, like the disgusting Westboro Baptist Church, like Newton Leroy Gingrich, Randall Terry and their ilk. Science be damned, there are partisan points to score!
In addition to pulling funds from Planned Parenthood for The Susan G. Komen Foundation also decided to stop funding embryonic stem cell research centers making it fully transparent the organization has evolved from non-political non-profit to a partisan advocacy organization.
That means the loss of $3.75 million to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, $4.5 million to the University of Kansas Medical Center, $1 million to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, $1 million to the Society for Women’s Health Research, and $600,000 to Yale University. That’s a loss of nearly $12 million dollars in research money to eradicate breast cancer this year alone.
This is a new position for the organization which had previously supported all sorts of scientific research targeted at finding a cure for breast cancer and saving women’s lives. It’s new position is that the organization will categorically no longer support any embryonic stem cell research.
(click here to continue reading Susan G. Komen Foundation Also Stops Funding Embryonic Stem Cell Research | Care2 Causes.)
a mostly silent protest
In July 1999, Communist Party of China (CPC) leadership initiated a ban on Falun Gong and began a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization."
Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believe to have been imprisoned extra-judicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, severe torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.
In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.
On Erie and Clark, Chicago