"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Religious Zealotry”: In God’s Name Or Baby Messiah, Competing Claims Of Religious Freedom

Last week, when a Tennessee judge forcibly changed an infant’s name from Messiah to Martin, it was hard to decide which was more noteworthy, the parents’ grandiosity in naming their child for the one they consider their Savior or the judge’s religious zealotry in prohibiting the name.

“The word ‘Messiah’ is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” said Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

The American Civil Liberties Union has offered to appeal the ruling for the child’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, of Newport, Tenn., who did not return a phone call. The ruling came in a hearing after Ms. Martin and the baby’s father could not agree on a last name for the boy, but the judge took issue with his first name.

The case of little Messiah — or Martin, for now — raises two interesting questions, one legal and the other religious. Both are trickier than they seem.

States put all sorts of restrictions on parental naming rights, from the length of first names to what punctuation marks are permissible. But the restrictions cannot, for the most part, be justified by an appeal to religion. It therefore seems likely that Magistrate Ballew’s ruling against “Messiah” will be overturned as a violation of the First Amendment.

On the other hand, last year a New York judge refused to allow a couple to change their family name to ChristIsKing. The judge argued that allowing certain names could infringe on the religious liberties of others, and he offered the example of a court employee forced to call out a name with a religious message.

“A calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out, ‘JesusIsLord ChristIsKing’ or ‘Rejoice ChristIsKing,’ ” wrote Judge Philip S. Straniere, of Richmond County. He was alluding to the daughter’s first name, Rejoice, and a name they had sought for their son, although no court would allow them to change it to “JesusIsLord.”

Judge Straniere’s decision is not binding in Tennessee, but it reminds us that whenever religious language is involved, whether etched into public buildings or slapped onto a Social Security card, there are competing claims of religious freedom.

The Tennessee magistrate might have argued that “Messiah” would infringe on the religious liberty of those who did not want to call this boy the messiah — or did not believe there was even such thing as a messiah. She could have been the defender of atheists’ rights! That argument might have stood a better chance on appeal.

Last year, there were 762 American baby boys given the name Messiah, putting it right between old standbys Scott and Jay for popularity, according to the Social Security Administration database. As currently formulated, the magistrate’s reasoning would be a problem not only for all of them, but also for all the Americans, primarily of Hispanic ancestry, who have named their sons Jesus. There were 3,758 Americans given the name Jesus last year, putting it way ahead of Messiah.

Now, one could argue that Jesus does not necessarily refer to Jesus Christ, the one believed to be the Messiah (“Christ” is one Greek-derived translation for “messiah”). But surely that’s whom most parents have in mind. Jesús finds particular favor among Roman Catholics in Mexico and Central America, where so many recent immigrants come from. It is less popular in Spain.

“My impression,” said Ilan Stavans, who teaches Spanish literature at Amherst College, “is that there is an identification in Latin America with characters of the Passion that you don’t find in other parts of the world, including Spain.”

Yet as Mr. Stavans points out, the tradition of religious naming in Latin America goes beyond those involved in the events, known as the Passion, leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Many Latinos are happy to name their children versions of the word “God.”

“Adonai is also a common name among Latinos, especially Mexicans,” Mr. Stavans said. “And so is Elohim.” Those are both Hebrew versions of the word for the deity. “But neither of them,” he added, “matches the ubiquity of Jesus, closely followed by Maria, Jose and Guadalupe.”

Hebrew-derived names are particularly popular among Latinos who have become Pentecostal Protestants, according to Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, a historian at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, Calif. As Pentecostalism has spread in Latin America, new adherents have a “desire to connect to Old Testament prophets, Jewish dietary laws and sometimes Sabbath keeping,” Ms. Sánchez-Walsh said. It “gives Latino Pentecostals a stake in their religious heritage as non-Catholics — which is what a lot of this is about.”

For some, that stake in non-Catholic Christianity is achieved by picking the names of patriarchs or prophetic figures, like Jacob or Eliezer, both names given to Hispanic Pentecostal boys I know. Adonai or Elohim ups the Old Testament ante.

Jews don’t name children versions of God, generally sticking to human beings in the Hebrew Bible. It is forbidden for Muslims to name a child Allah or God. For reasons that are unclear, much of the English-speaking world has tended to avoid Jesus as a name.

And all of these rules, quasi rules and traditions are subject to change, notes Stephen Butler Murray, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Boston and a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School.

“Mary was considered simply too holy for secular use until the 12th century,” Mr. Murray said. Yet today Mary, along with cognates like Maria and Marie, are popular throughout the Christian world.

Finally, Mr. Murray added that we use God-names for institutions all the time, without anyone being accused of blasphemy. “Messiah College in Pennsylvania seems to go on without being struck by the lightning of divine wrath too often,” he said.


By: Mark E. Oppenheimer, The New York Times, August 16, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Reform, Indivisible”: Republicans Who Deluded Supporters Into Believing Obamacare Wouldn’t Happen Will Pay Personal Price

Recent political reporting suggests that Republican leaders are in a state of high anxiety, trapped between an angry base that still views Obamacare as the moral equivalent of slavery and the reality that health reform is the law of the land and is going to happen.

But those leaders don’t deserve any sympathy. For one thing, that irrational base is a Frankenstein monster of their own creation. Beyond that, everything I’ve seen indicates that members of the Republican elite still don’t get the basics of health reform — and that this lack of understanding is in the process of turning into a major political liability.

On the unstoppability of Obamacare: We have this system in which Congress passes laws, the president signs them, and then they go into effect. The Affordable Care Act went through this process, and there is no legitimate way for Republicans to stop it.

Is there an illegitimate way? Well, the G.O.P. can try blackmail, either by threatening to shut down the government or, an even more extreme tactic, threatening not to raise the debt limit, which would force the United States government into default and risk financial chaos. And Republicans did somewhat successfully blackmail President Obama back in 2011.

However, that was then. They faced a president on the ropes after a stinging defeat in the midterm election, not a president triumphantly re-elected. Furthermore, even in 2011 Mr. Obama wouldn’t give ground on the essentials of health care reform, the signature achievement of his presidency. There’s no way he would undermine the reform at this late date.

Republican leaders seem to get this, even if the base doesn’t. What they don’t seem to get, however, is the integral nature of the reform. So let me help out by explaining, one more time, why Obamacare looks the way it does.

Start with the goal that almost everyone at least pretends to support: giving Americans with pre-existing medical conditions access to health insurance. Governments can, if they choose, require that insurance companies issue policies without regard to an individual’s medical history, “community rating,” and some states, including New York, have done just that. But we know what happens next: many healthy people don’t buy insurance, leaving a relatively bad risk pool, leading to high premiums that drive out even more healthy people.

To avoid this downward spiral, you need to induce healthy Americans to buy in; hence, the individual mandate, with a penalty for those who don’t purchase insurance. Finally, since buying insurance could be a hardship for lower-income Americans, you need subsidies to make insurance affordable for all.

So there you have it: health reform is a three-legged stool resting on community rating, individual mandates and subsidies. It requires all three legs.

But wait — hasn’t the administration delayed the employer mandate, which requires that large firms provide insurance to their employees? Yes, it has, and Republicans are trying to make it sound as if the employer mandate and the individual mandate are comparable. Some of them even seem to think that they can bully Mr. Obama into delaying the individual mandate too. But the individual mandate is an essential piece of the reform, which can’t and won’t be bargained away, while the employer mandate is a fairly minor add-on that arguably shouldn’t have been in the law to begin with.

I guess that after all the years of vilification it was predictable that Republican leaders would still fail to understand the principles behind health reform and that this would hamper their ability to craft an effective political response as the reform’s implementation draws near. But their rudest shock is yet to come. You see, this thing isn’t going to be the often-predicted “train wreck.” On the contrary, it’s going to work.

Oh, there will be problems, especially in states where Republican governors and legislators are doing all they can to sabotage the implementation. But the basic thrust of Obamacare is, as I’ve just explained, coherent and even fairly simple. Moreover, all the early indications are that the law will, in fact, give millions of Americans who currently lack access to health insurance the coverage they need, while giving millions more a big break in their health care costs. And because so many people will see clear benefits, health reform will prove irreversible.

This achievement will represent a huge defeat for the conservative agenda of weakening the safety net. And Republicans who deluded their supporters into believing that none of this would happen will probably pay a large personal price. But as I said, they have nobody but themselves to blame.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 18, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s The Kids’ Fault”: Why Women Still Earn Less Than Men

As thousands of high school graduates head off to college in the next few weeks, they’ll see a lot more women than men on campus — specifically, they’ll see three female students for every two male students they spot. These scenes are dramatically different from the ones their grandparents would have seen in the 1960′s when the percentages were reversed.

The surge in women’s college enrollment appears in their graduation figures.While only about 30 percent of women (and men) older than 25 have a college degree, in recent years, women have earned about 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Mark J. Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that there are now about 4.35 million more women with college degrees in the United States than men.

That’s some progress.

Yet, progress in college degrees received (women also earn a larger share of master’s and doctor’s degrees than men do) has not turned into progress in paychecks received.

In 2011, women working full-time earned about 77 cents for each dollar that a man earned, according to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The gap has narrowed over time, which is good news. But, as President Obama said on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act making it illegal to discriminate in pay on the basis of sex, “does anybody here think that’s good enough?”

I sure don’t.

So, after all these years, why does the pay gap still exist? Is it because women choose to become social workers rather than rocket scientists, as some have noted? Or is it because they have decided to stay home with the kids and stop working or to work part time, as others have noted?

On the first point, rocket scientists certainly do make more than teachers. The median wage for an aerospace engineer in 2012 was $103,720, almost double the $53,400 a typical elementary school teacher could expect to make that year. It’s also true that only about 14 percent of architects and engineers are women, while more than 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are women. Over all occupations, women’s wages would be lower than men’s wages due to differences in occupational choices.

On the second point, fathers are more likely to work full-time than mothers. Nearly 40 percent of mothers worked part-time or not at all compared with 3 percent of fathers, according to a study by the American Association of University Women. Women who leave the labor force don’t gain much work experience so that when they return to work, they’re likely to make less than another person, male or female, with the same qualifications who has an unbroken career record.

Again, the data support this assertion. Judith Warner recently wrote for the New York Times Magazine about the cost to mothers when they leave their careers to spend more time with their families. Warner found that the women she interviewed who had returned to the work force a decade after leaving their jobs to take care of their kids were generally in lower paying, less prestigious jobs than the ones they left.

A separate study found that women who returned to work after an extended time off were paid 16 percent less than before they left the work force, while another study Warner cites found that only one-quarter of women who returned to the work force took a traditional hard-driving job, such as banking, compared with the two-thirds of women who were employed in such jobs before taking time off.

One final factor helps explain the pay gap: kids. In a paper published in the late 1990s, Columbia University professor of social work and public affairs Jane Waldfogel showed that having children has a negative impact on a woman’s wages, while it has no or even a positive effect on a man’s wages. The fact that the pay gap between women without children and women with children is larger than the pay gap between men and women further highlights the negative impact of kids on earnings. Waldfogel noted that it’s as true in 1998 as Victor Fuchs reported a decade earlier, that “the greatest barrier to economic equality is children.”

The research shows that having kids is bad for your paycheck. What the research doesn’t seem to show, however, is that many moms may actually not care.


By: Joanne Weiner, She The People, The Washington Post, August, 13, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Weight Loss, No Exercise”: Four Years Later, The Second Half Of The Republican “Repeal And Replace” Plan

At his press conference late last week, President Obama chided congressional Republicans for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act several dozen times without offering a credible alternative. “They used to say they had a replacement,” he told reporters. “That never actually arrived, right? I mean, I’ve been hearing about this whole replacement thing for two years — now I just don’t hear about it, because basically they don’t have an agenda to provide health insurance to people at affordable rates.”

Au contraire, Republicans responded.

The 173-member strong Republican Study Committee is on track to roll out legislation this fall that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a comprehensive alternative, Chairman Steve Scalise told CQ Roll Call on Thursday.

Though it wouldn’t be the first Obamacare repeal-and-replace proposal floated by individual GOP lawmakers in either chamber of Congress, the RSC bill is one that could at least gain traction on the House floor, given the conservative group’s size and influence.

Oh good, it only took four years for House Republicans to come up with a health care plan they like.

So, what’s in it? No one outside the Republican Study Committee actually knows, and even the RSC isn’t altogether sure since the plan isn’t finished. But Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who chairs the RSC, insists some of the popular provisions in “Obamacare” will remain intact, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“We address that to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions cannot be discriminated against,” he told Roll Call. But, he promised the bill would not “put in place mandates that increase the costs of health care and push people out of the insurance that they like,” Scalise said.

In related news, the Republican Study Committee has a weight-loss plan in which everyone eats all the deserts they want and never exercises.

Look, it’s extremely difficult to craft a health care system that protects people with pre-existing conditions while eliminating mandates, scrapping industry regulations, and keeping costs down. Indeed, it’s why Republicans came up with mandates in the first place — the mandates were seen as the lynchpin that made their larger reform efforts work.

Indeed, it’s partly why Democrats used to push so hard to see the GOP alternative. Dems assumed, correctly, that once Republicans got past their talking points and chest-thumping, they’d see that actually solving the problem required provisions that some folks wouldn’t like.

But let’s not pre-judge, right? Maybe the right-wing members of the Republican Study Committee have figured out a creative way to help those who can’t afford coverage and protect those with pre-existing conditions and reduce health care costs and cut the costs for prescription medication and cover preventive care and cut the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars — just like the Affordable Care Act does. What’s more, maybe they’ll do all of this without raising taxes and/or including elements in the plan that are unpopular.

I seriously doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible.

What seems more likely to me, though, is that the Republican Study Committee will eventually finish and unveil their “Obamacare” alternative and invite side-by-side comparisons between the two approaches — which will in turn make the Affordable Care Act look even better.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 13, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How The Movie Ends”: Three Stories That Prove The GOP Is Screwed For Years To Come

We are in the doggiest of the dog days of summer. Congress is currently in the sleep spindles stage of a five-week nap that the public doesn’t think it deserves. Meanwhile, the political media—because TV and the Internet and even the printing presses never stop—must continue to bark and pant. So anything you hear or read—including here—must be approached with appropriate skepticism. But three stories published online over the past 24 hours show what kind of media narrative we can expect in September, once our elected officials finally wake up and swipe the drool from their slack jaws.

1. The Hill reports Friday morning that “House conservatives say grassroots support is building for their effort to risk a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare.” Those House conservatives, specifically, are Indiana’s Marlin Stutzman and Texas’ Michael Burgess, who say there’s been overwhelming support at town hall meetings for doing anything, even shutting down our very necessary government, to defund Obamacare (a law that, it bears reminding, is a law—lawfully passed by Congress, signed by a lawfully elected president, and being lawfully enacted as we speak).

Burgess told The Hill that the decision to exempt lawmakers and staff from Obamacare is “driving people into a froth,” adding, “I’m hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt.” Well, of course he’s hearing that! These town meetings are not exactly how people with moderate opinions prefer to spend their evenings. But Burgess and Stutzman—unlike GOP representatives Tom Cole and Steve Womack, who are quoted as being opposed to a shutdown, no matter what they hear from constituents—are going to assume that a few dozen town hall attendees represent the thousands of voters who elected them.

Takeaway: House conservatives will likely return from vacation not only well rested, but emboldened to threaten a shutdown.

2. The New York Times reported Thursday that a “Puzzle Awaits the Capital: How to Solve 3 Fiscal Rifts,” the lead sentence of which declares that only one thing is “clear” about the endgame of this showdown: “President Obama thinks Republicans cannot risk another debt crisis or government shutdown, and Republican leaders agree.” The Times even goes so far as to call it a “consensus,” concluding that “the odds of an economy-damaging stalemate are relatively low, despite rising jitters in the capital.”

Takeaway: Republican leaders think they can prevent these emboldened, well-rested House conservatives from shutting down the government. Let’s hope the House leadership has learned how to count votes since June.

3. Neither The Hill nor The New York Times, though, come out and say what this really means. Enter Politico. According to Mike Allen and Jim VandeHai’s latest interpretation of our nation’s political theater, we are on the “Eve of Destruction.” “It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be,” they report. “Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it.”

The “blown opportunities and self-inflicted wounds” include House opposition to broad immigration reform, alienating Latinos; narrowing voting laws and saying dumb things about the Trayvon Martin case, alienating blacks; and continuing to believe that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry, alienating gays.

Takeaway (via Politico, natch): “This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak—unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.”

So. Come September, you can expect hourly reports on threats to shut down the government, the likelihood of said shutdown, and finally the imminence of said shutdown, with websites featuring running counters of the days, hours, and minutes until the first deadline, and then the second deadline, and then the third deadline. Riveting stuff! As Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told the Times, “Even those of us quite close to it have a hard time saying how the movie ends.”

That statement is offensive to anyone who has ever made a movie. Also, we know how it ends: with a Democrat in the White House in 2017.


By: Brian Kearney, The New Republic, August 17, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: