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Susan “Lucy” Collins: The Tragic Death Of “Centrism” In Washington

As I’ve been noting here, one of the key things to watch for in today’s vote on the Blunt amendment is how many Republicans defect from the party’s support for it. On the Senate floor just now, one of the key “centrists” that Dems were watching, Susan Collins, announced she will vote for it.

“I feel that I have to vote for Senator Blunt’s amendment, with the hope that its scope will be further narrowed and refined as the legislative process proceeds,” Collins said, vaguely accusing both sides of “playing politics” with the issue.

Collins had been undecided, and the reason she offered for supporting the Blunt measure is that she had asked the Obama administration for further clarification on how Obama’s contraception mandate compromise — which would be undone by Blunt — would impact self-insured religious organizations. She claimed the answer provided by the administration was insufficient.

The question, of course, is whether any answer would have been sufficient. Given Collins’ repeated role as Lucy to the Dems’ Charlie Brown, it’s fair to ask whether this was merely an excuse to cast the Yes vote on Blunt that she would have cast no matter what reassurances the administration offered.

And this goes to the heart of another debate that’s been raging of late. Olympia Snowe’s  announced retirement has prompted a great deal of hand-wringing about how supposed “centrist” politicians no longer have any meaningful role to play in Washington. The demands for ideological purity on both sides, we’re told, have grown so strident that the possibility of bipartisan compromise has vanished.

But here you have a case where one of these “centrists” decided not to opt for the compromise position, and instead is going with the extreme one. Obama’s compromise is supported by six in 10 Americans, including 62 percent of independents, according to a new Kaiser poll. The Blunt position, by contrast, is the ideologically rigid one.

If there is no longer any “center” in Washington, it’s because “centrist” Republicans are not embracing solutions that are actually centrist. If bipartisan compromise is no longer possible in Washington, it’s because “centrist” Republicans are embracing the uncompromising positions, rather than the ones that represent genuine compromise.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Second Coming”: Women Don’t See GOP’s War On Contraceptives As About Religion

Some Republicans thought the fight over birth control coverage would cost President Obama the election. Instead, it may have unleashed a second coming of the Anita Hill controversy, alienating women who otherwise might be attracted to a fiscally conservative, small government message.

The Obama administration looked weak at first when the Catholic Church balked at regulations requiring religious-affiliated institutions such as universities and hospitals to cover birth control  under  their employees’ health insurance. The White House had not lined up women to  defend birth control as a critical part of preventive healthcare, so the chaste church elders dominated the dialogue, presenting it as an issue of religious liberty. The idea that women had the liberty, as well, to decline the rules offered by the church—particularly in cases where the female employees  did not practice Catholicism—took longer to emerge.

But now, lawmakers at the state and federal level (along  with  presidential candidates) are continuing to hammer away at the issue, and it’s a dangerous game. The Senate today voted down a bill that would allow any employer to deny healthcare coverage of anything if it violates his or her  moral principles, a standard so broad it invalidates any federal health insurance standards (which may well be the point). Even if the law were limited to religious teachings only, what would prevent  a business owner who is a Jehovah’s Witness from denying coverage of  transfusions? Or a Christian Scientist from denying coverage of any kind of medicine at all?

As if on script, supporters of the bill say, “It’s not about contraception,” and it is this repeated comment that stands to get them into the most trouble with female voters. If you’re not of the gender that can  get pregnant, you have the luxury of seeing the issue as theological. If you stand to lose control over your life and future because you can’t prevent yourself from becoming pregnant, it is indeed all about contraception. The lecture sounds particularly annoying to a  woman when it is being made by men, as has largely been the case on the moral exception bill. It’s the same as when male lawmakers were so utterly baffled and skeptical when Anita Hill told a  story of sexual  harassment that has been shared by so many, many other women.

Virginia state lawmakers took it even further, considering a bill that would have required women to have ultrasound exams before getting an abortion. Many women found the whole basis of the bill to be fairly insulting, since it suggested that women really have no idea what goes on in their bodies and need to be schooled about it before having an  abortion. That could be the only reason a woman would seek an abortion, the thinking went—she simply was too simple or ignorant to know what  she was doing. But the mostly male lawmakers knew.

Except that they didn’t. Remarkably, in seeking to teach women about their own bodies, they hadn’t done much learning on their own. They did  not know that the jelly-on-the-belly sonogram that makes for such touching  scenes in movies is not done in the first trimester of pregnancy (when the vast  majority of abortions are performed) because the pregnancy hasn’t developed  enough at that point to see anything. Women at that stage of pregnancy must  undergo a “transvaginal probe,” an invasive procedure. The phrase itself made some lawmakers so  uncomfortable that they didn’t want it uttered aloud during debate, so as not to offend the young pages. The bill was watered down  somewhat, so that women would not have to endure a procedure critics described as  state-sponsored rape. But the guts of the bill passed the state Senate and are making their way to the governor, who will sign it.

The contraception legislation may well do what it was intended to do—shore up the  social conservative base of the Republican party and convince some people that Obama or Democrats are antireligion and pro big government. But  proponents also risk energizing a group of women who long ago earned the right to control the size and timing of their families. For those women, it is,  indeed, all about contraception.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, March 1, 2012



March 1, 2012 Posted by | Abortion, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Posthumous Baptisms”: Controversial Mormon Baptism Of Daniel Pearl

The Boston Globe reports this morning that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was baptized posthumously in a Mormon temple in Idaho last year.

Pearl was Jewish and was captured and killed by terrorists while reporting in Pakistan in 2002.

NPR has independently confirmed the Mormon “proxy” baptism for Pearl on June 1, 2011, at a Mormon temple in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Documents from church genealogical records describing the baptism and other sacred Mormon “ordinances” for Pearl were provided by Helen Radkey, a researcher who has found many embarrassing baptisms in church records.

NPR is seeking comment from Mormon officials, who have yet to respond.

In the last official statement on the subject, church spokesman Michael Purdy said:

“The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

“It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

“While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

“It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

Pearl is the latest prominent member of the Jewish faith to be found in Mormon baptism records.  Technically, Pearl’s baptism does not violate Mormon baptism rules because he was not a Holocaust victim.  But followers have also been told to restrict posthumous baptisms to direct ancestors.

Earlier this month, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel called on Mitt Romney, a faithful Mormon, to condemn posthumous Mormon baptisms of prominent Jews and Holocaust victims.  Romney’s campaign has referred questions about the practice to the Mormon church.

Jewish leaders have tried to get Mormon leaders to stop baptisms of Holocaust victims since 1992; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has promised better policing of its baptism system and recently punished at least two followers for violating a rule that limits baptisms to direct relatives.

Pearl’s parents told the Globe they found the news of the ceremony “disturbing”:

“To them we say: We appreciate your good intentions but rest assured that Danny’s soul was redeemed through the life that he lived and the values that he upheld,” Judea and Ruth Pearl said in an e-mail. “He lived as a proud Jew, died as a proud Jew, and is currently facing his creator as a Jew, blessed, accepted and redeemed. For the record, let it be clear: Danny did not choose to be baptized, nor did his family consent to this un-called-for ritual.”

Pearl’s widow, Marianne, told the Globe, “It’s a lack of respect for Danny and a lack of respect for his parents.”

Radkey says the stream of embarrassing baptisms “is reaching really ludicrous proportions.  [Mormon] officials promised time and time again that they would stop and they haven’t done it.”

Mormon leaders have promised to purge Mormon baptism rolls of Holocaust victims and to place filters in its genealogical database so that the names of deceased souls from the Holocaust era and locations are flagged for review.

But church leaders have also sent mixed messages about the practice and the policy.  Mormon Apostle Quentin Cook told NPR in 2009, “We concentrate first of all on our ancestors and then for the people in the world at large.”

“Proxy” and “posthumous” baptism is a central tenet of the Mormon faith.  Mormons believe it offers to deceased souls the opportunity to embrace the faith and receive eternal salvation.  The belief also includes the notion that the baptism has no effect if the deceased soul rejects it.

A recent spate of highly publicized and criticized baptisms has some speculating that these revelations are deliberate efforts to embarrass the Mormon church and the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

The church has declined to identify or characterize those found responsible.  Radkey insists the people doing these baptisms are overzealous Mormons and “absolutely not mischief makers.”

Radkey’s research has identified those who have submitted the names of Pearl and other prominent Jews and Holocaust victims, but she refuses to disclose those names, citing the privacy of the people involved.

But she says the “huge number” of multiple and different members in multiple locations submitting controversial names and then conducting posthumous ceremonies is a strong indication to her that overzealous members ignoring or unaware of church directives are responsible.

In fact, posthumous Mormon rites involving Pearl occurred in temples in two different locations in Idaho and another in Utah.

“I’m not anti-Mormon,” Radkey says of her role in spotting and publicizing the names that lead to embarrassment for the faith.  “Research is research.”

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET. Comment From The Church:

Michael Purdy, the spokesman for the Mormon Church, says that it does not have a specific statement  about Daniel Pearl’s posthumous baptism.

Purdy referred to the earlier statement we quoted above, but also added that:

“The  church has a position on what members should be submitting. That position is  communicated to them and we have some safeguards in place to catch improper  submissions.  Nothing is foolproof and we work to handle improper submissions  when they do occur.


By: Howard Berkes, NPR News, February 29, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Mormons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney Says He Opposes “Blunt-Rubio Contraception Bill”, But His Campaign Says Otherwise

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a reporter Wednesday that he opposes a measure being considered by the Senate that would allow employers to decline to provide contraception coverage to women.

“I’m not for the bill,” Romney said during an interview with Ohio News Network reporter Jim Heath. “But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going  there.”

However, Romney’s campaign quickly denied that the governor opposes the so-called Blunt bill, charging that the question Heath asked was confusing.

“Gov. Romney supports the Blunt bill because he believes  in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people  of faith,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a prepared  statement.

The  differing accounts came on the eve of a planned Senate vote on the Blunt amendment, which has prompted contentious debate both on and off Capitol  Hill.

The amendment is intended to overturn Obama administration regulations that would require most health insurance plans to provide FDA-approved contraceptives and sterilization services with no additional copayment  or deductible.

But critics argue that the amendment is so  broadly written — allowing opt-outs for those with “religious or moral  objections” — that it would let employers decline to provide virtually any  health benefit for virtually any reason.

Heath, reached by phone at  Ohio  News Network offices in Columbus, said his question to Romney was clearly asked and was specifically about the Blunt amendment.

“I explained the bill as allowing employers to  deny female contraception coverage,” Heath said, characterizing the governor’s statement of opposition as “exactly what he said.”

“What I immediately thought, in all honesty,” Heath  said, “was that he was pivoting toward the middle, toward women voters” who may have been put off by Romney rival Rick Santorum’s anti-contraception views.

“I wasn’t expecting a definitive answer,” Heath said.  “But having been covering this campaign for months now, I thought he must be looking at Ohio and beyond, and how Santorum has been  raked over the coals on this issue.”

“It was a very definitive response, combined with a slap  at Santorum,” Heath said. “I was surprised he went there.”

Here’s a transcript of the part of the interview that’s  in dispute:

HEATH: “He’s brought  contraception into this campaign. The issue of birth control, contraception,  Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week. It deals with banning  or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a  position on it? [Santorum] said he was  for that, we’ll talk about personhood in a second; but he’s for that, have you  taken a position?”

ROMNEY: “I’m not for the  bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about  contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”

HEATH: “Surprised that  he went there?”

ROMNEY: “You know, I made it very clear when I was being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos in a  debate a while ago: Contraception is working just fine, let’s just leave  it alone.”

HEATH: “And the  Personhood Amendment could potentially be on the ballot in Ohio this fall. What’s  your position on this effort, personhood?”

ROMNEY: “Well it’s interpreted differently by different states, so I’d have to look at the  particular provision. We had a provision in my state that said that life began  at conception, that’s a provision that I protected. The legislature passed a bill saying that no longer would life be determined to begin at conception, I vetoed that. So we can have a provision that describes life beginning when it in fact begins. At the same time, allowing people to have contraceptives.”

Update at 7:45 p.m. ET: The Romney campaign released audio and transcript in which it directly addressed the earlier comments. Romney made the comments on the Howie Carr Show on Wednesday.

Here’s the transcript:

CARR: Listen I got to ask you here about there’s a — the Washington Post has got a blog out here, saying that Jim Heath, a reporter for a TV station in Ohio just tweeted a  remarkable piece of news: Mitt Romney told him he does not support the Blunt  amendment which would empower employers and insurers to deny health coverage  they find morally objectionable. What happened here, did you  –

ROMNEY: I didn’t  understand his question, of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he  was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting  contraception so I was simply — misunderstood the question and of course I  support the Blunt amendment.

CARR: Okay so that should be taken off the table.


CARR: That’s running around the world in ten seconds as you know that’s how these things go.

ROMNEY: Yeah exactly right. No, I simply misunderstood what he was talking about. I thought it was some Ohio legislation that  — where employers were prevented from providing contraceptives, and so I talked about contraceptives and so forth, so I really misunderstood the question. Of  course Roy Blunt who is my liaison to the Senate is someone I support and of  course I support that amendment. I clearly want to have religious exemption from Obamacare.

CARR: And Rubio is one of your potential vice-presidential candidates is also — his name is also attached to the bill and Scott Brown here in Massachusetts is  supporting it as well.

ROMNEY: Yeah exactly, I think every republican is supporting it, and I actually understand that, I may  be wrong on this, but my recollection is that Ted Kennedy even wrote a note to the Pope about religious exemptions from matters of this nature for purposes of  conscience. So this is something I really think all Americans ought to be able to get around this religious  exemption.

CARR: Yeah well you haven’t been around here lately but that’s been a big controversy here with patches Kennedy saying that you know – telling Scott Brown well you can’t use my father’s letter to the Pope cause he was just sending a letter to the Pope he didn’t really believe anything he said in the letter. I mean that’s what it  boiled down to.

ROMNEY: I must admit I hope that when you send a letter to the Pope you believe what you wrote in  it.


By: Liz Halloran, NPR News, February 29, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mitt Romney’s “Sense Of Entitlement”: He Believes He “Deserves” To Be President

If he weren’t so smug, it would almost be possible to feel sorry for Mitt Romney. Beyond the flip-flopping, has any worse actor ever attempted the role of presidential candidate? It’s beyond Romney’s powers to persuade most people of his sincerity about things he does believe, much less the many tenets of contemporary GOP faith he probably doesn’t share — assuming for the sake of argument that anybody, including himself, knows which is which.

There’s little doubt, however, that Romney believes he deserves to be president, in rather the way the fictional Lord Grantham deserves to preside over Downton Abbey. It’s his inability to conceal that sense of entitlement that makes him such an awkward politician.

The candidate’s cringe-inducing attempts to present himself as a Regular Joe almost invariably end in boasting. Campaigning in his native Michigan, he assured voters that his wife drives not just one $50,000 Cadillac, but two — one at their Boston home, the other at their seafront mansion near La Jolla, Calif., as aides subsequently clarified. No word how Mrs. Romney gets around at their New Hampshire lakeside compound or their Park City, Utah, ski palace.

Visiting the Daytona 500, Romney admitted he’s not a keen NASCAR fan, but does have friends who own racing teams. Defending himself on CNN from the perception that his wealth leaves him “out of touch,” he allowed as how, “If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy, because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people.”

On the “Today” show, Romney explained that people concerned with income inequality are simply jealous. “You know, I think it’s about envy,” he said. “I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country, which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”

Got that, peasants? God’s behind the 13.9 percent tax rate Romney paid on $43 million he earned in 2010 while technically unemployed. Anybody who thinks differently is merely eaten up with resentment. In my experience, the more money people inherit, the more they’re tempted to lecture others about talent and hard work. And to cry the blues about the indignity of paying taxes.

Romney’s air of personal superiority appears to be the one topic about which the poor dork is absolutely sincere. That’s what makes him such a terrible liar. He’s almost frantic with it, like a golden retriever with his ball. Even with the mute button on the TV pressed, you can almost hear him panting.

Look — modest, humble people don’t run for president. President Obama often appears to have trouble restraining his bemusement at the antics of less intelligent people. Nevertheless, Romney’s unrestrained egotism is the reason I think Paul Krugman (among others) has made far too much of an offhand remark the candidate made seemingly renouncing the central tenet of GOP economic dogma.

“If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting [government] spending,” Romney told a group of Michigan voters, “as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.”

Well, no kidding.

To Krugman, Romney’s slip of the tongue revealed him as a “closet Keynesian” who “believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.” The columnist added that, after all, “Mr. Romney is not a stupid man. And while his grasp of world affairs does sometimes seem shaky, he has to be aware of the havoc austerity policies are wreaking in Greece, Ireland and elsewhere.”

Oh no he doesn’t.

Or, to be more precise, Romney can be perfectly aware and blithely unconcerned. Krugman left off the next sentence where Romney stipulated that cutting spending alone wasn’t enough. “You have to, at the same time, create pro-growth tax policies.”

Translation: even lower taxes for multimillionaires.

But I’d never presume to argue economics with professor Krugman. My point is that Romney’s tycoon capitalism has only partly to do with jobs, money and the real economy. It’s also about cultural revanchism, putting the right people back firmly in charge and the lower orders back in their place.

Tycoon capitalists like Romney see a prolonged slump as an opportunity to render the workforce more docile and grateful. Remember, this is the same guy who opposed government loans to save Chrysler and General Motors. Better to crush the Auto Workers Union. Who said the best way to resolve the national foreclosure crisis would be to speed it up, so that “investors” could buy people’s houses cheaply and rent them out.

In the end, it’s all about No. 1.


By: Gene Lyons, Salon, February 29, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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