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“Corporations Aren’t People”: If Given The Freedoms Of “People”, Corporations Should Be Subjected To Obligations And Restrictions Too

If you thought this “corporations are people” business was getting out of hand, brace yourself. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court accepted two cases that will determine whether a corporation can deny contraceptive coverage to its female employees because of its religious beliefs.

The cases concern two of the most politically charged issues of recent years: who is exempted from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and whether application of the First Amendment’s free speech protections to corporations, established by the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, means that the First Amendment’s protections of religious beliefs must also be extended to corporations.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception for their female employees. Churches and religious institutions are exempt from that mandate. But Hobby Lobby, a privately owned corporation that employs 13,000 people of all faiths — and, presumably, some of no faith — in its 500 craft stores says that requiring it to pay for contraception violates its religious beliefs — that is, the beliefs of its owners, the Green family.

In a brief submitted to a federal court, the Greens said that some forms of contraception — diaphragms, sponges, some versions of the pill — were fine by them, but others that prevented embryos from implanting in the womb were not. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the Greens’ position in June in a decision explicitly based on “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United.” Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote: “We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.”

Tymkovich’s assessment of how the five right-wing justices on the Supreme Court may rule could prove correct — but what a mess such a ruling would create! For one thing, the Green family’s acceptance of some forms of contraception and rejection of others, while no doubt sincere, suggests that they, like many people of faith, adhere to a somewhat personalized religion. The line they draw is not, for instance, the same line that the Catholic Church draws.

Individual believers and non-believers draw their own lines on all kinds of moral issues every day. That’s human nature. They are free to say that their lines adhere to or are close to specific religious doctrines. But to extend the exemptions that churches receive to secular, for-profit corporations that claim to be following religious doctrine, but may in fact be nipping it here and tucking it there, would open the door to a range of idiosyncratic management practices inflicted on employees. For that matter, some religions have doctrines that, followed faithfully, could result in bizarre and discriminatory management practices.

The Supreme Court has not frequently ruled that religious belief creates an exemption from following the law. On the contrary, in a 1990 majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that Native Americans fired for smoking peyote as part of a religious ceremony had no right to reinstatement. It “would be courting anarchy,” Scalia wrote in Employment Division v. Smith, to allow them to violate the law just because they were “religious objectors” to it. “An individual’s religious beliefs,” he continued, cannot “excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law.”

It will be interesting to see whether Scalia still believes that now that he’s being confronted with a case where the religious beliefs in question may be closer to his own.

The other issue all this raises: Where does this corporations-are-people business start and stop? Under the law, corporations and humans have long had different standards of responsibility. If corporations are treated as people, so that they are free to spend money in election campaigns and to invoke their religious beliefs to deny a kind of health coverage to their workers, are they to be treated as people in other regards? Corporations are legal entities whose owners are not personally liable for the company’s debts, whereas actual people are liable for their own. Both people and corporations can discharge their debts through bankruptcy, but there are several kinds of bankruptcy, and the conditions placed on people are generally far more onerous than those placed on corporations. If corporations are people, why aren’t they subject to the same bankruptcy laws that people are? Why aren’t the owners liable for corporate debts as people are for their own?

If corporations are going to be given the freedoms that people enjoy, they should be subjected to people’s obligations and restrictions too. I’m not sure how many corporations would think that’s such a good deal.


By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 26, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Contraception, Corporations | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rise Of Obamacare McCarthyism”: Anti-Obamacare Republicans Attack Each Other For Being “Crypto-Supporters” Of Obamacare

We talked yesterday about Rep. Jack Kingston, one of several House Republicans running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, who infuriated the right. His transgression? The congressman pushed a bill to add a conservative provision to the Affordable Care Act.

Conservatives were livid, not because of the idea itself, but because House Republicans aren’t supposed to try to “fix” the health care law. To take even a modest step towards moving the law to the right, some conservatives said, is to “surrender on Obamacare.”

We’re seeing a similar situation play out in Wyoming.

A conservative nonprofit group is set to launch a TV attack ad Monday intimating that Republican Sen. Mike Enzi is less than pure in his opposition to Obamacare.

Americans for Job Security highlights the incumbent’s support for exchanges during the 2010 debate over Obamacare…. “I like the exchanges,” Enzi says in a brief clip. “These exchanges can be good.”

The ad is incredulous, as if the senator’s 2010 comments are ridiculous are on their face. It doesn’t matter if Enzi has repeatedly fought to destroy the Affordable Care Act and voted to repeal it; what matters now is that he once said it’s possible that marketplaces with competing private insurance plans are “good.”

And in 2013, that’s apparently a bridge too far.

What’s emerging is an expansive list of litmus tests – it’s not enough to hate “Obamacare,” Republicans must also hate everything within the law, including the Republican ideas.

In this case, the Wyoming attack ad concludes, “Tell Mike Enzi we don’t like these liberal, Big Government Obamacare exchanges.”

Got that? If private insurers compete for consumers’ business in a marketplace originally touted by the Heritage Foundation, it’s “liberal, big government.”

It’s hard to believe in the most gullible GOP primary voter would find this persuasive, but the takeaway here is the attack itself. We’ve reached the point at which a far-right Republican is being condemned for having described the single most capitalistic, free-market aspect of the health care law as “good.”

Josh Marshall described this as an example of “Obamacare McCarthyism,” in which “different anti-Obamacare Republicans attack each other for either being crypto-supporters of Obamacare, being Obamacare-curious or even just having earlier periods of Obamacare confusion.”

Ed Kilgore added this is “likely to be a continuing weapon against any Republican who doesn’t favor the most radical tactics available at any given moment to bring down the Great White Whale of the Affordable Care Act.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Where Is The Love?”: Compassion Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness, But A Mark Of Civilization

When I’ve written recently about food stamp recipients, the uninsured and prison inmates, I’ve had plenty of pushback from readers.

A reader named Keith reflected a coruscating chorus when he protested: “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”

A reader in Washington bluntly suggested taking children from parents and putting them in orphanages.

Jim asked: “Why should I have to subsidize someone else’s child? How about personal responsibility? If you procreate, you provide.”

After a recent column about an uninsured man who delayed seeing a doctor about a condition that turned out to be colon cancer, many readers noted that he is a lifelong smoker and said he had it coming.

“What kind of a lame brain doofus is this guy?” one reader asked. “And like it’s our fault that he couldn’t afford to have himself checked out?”

Such scorn seems widespread, based on the comments I get on my blog and Facebook page — as well as on polling and on government policy. At root, these attitudes reflect a profound lack of empathy.

A Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion.

So, on Thanksgiving, maybe we need a conversation about empathy for fellow humans in distress.

Let’s acknowledge one point made by these modern social Darwinists: It’s true that some people in poverty do suffer in part because of irresponsible behavior, from abuse of narcotics to criminality to laziness at school or jobs. But remember also that many of today’s poor are small children who have done nothing wrong.

Some 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, for example. Do we really think that kids should go hungry if they have criminal parents? Should a little boy not get a curved spine treated properly because his dad is a deadbeat? Should a girl not be able to go to preschool because her mom is an alcoholic?

Successful people tend to see in themselves a simple narrative: You study hard, work long hours, obey the law and create your own good fortune. Well, yes. That often works fine in middle-class families.

But if you’re conceived by a teenage mom who drinks during pregnancy so that you’re born with fetal alcohol effects, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you from before birth. You’ll perhaps never get traction.

Likewise, if you’re born in a high-poverty neighborhood to a stressed-out single mom who doesn’t read to you and slaps you more than hugs you, you’ll face a huge handicap. One University of Minnesota study found that the kind of parenting a child receives in the first 3.5 years is a better predictor of high school graduation than I.Q.

All this helps explain why one of the strongest determinants of ending up poor is being born poor. As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the “ovarian lottery.” Sure, some people transcend their circumstances, but it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs.

John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.

For those who are well-off, it may be easier to castigate the irresponsibility of the poor than to recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.

Low-income Americans, who actually encounter the needy in daily life, understand this complexity and respond with empathy. Researchers say that’s why the poorest 20 percent of Americans donate more to charity, as a fraction of their incomes, than the richest 20 percent. Meet those who need help, especially children, and you become less judgmental and more compassionate.

And compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but a mark of civilization.

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 27, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, SNAP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP War On Christmas”: Compassionate Conservatism Is As Much An Oxymoron As “Free Agency” In The Sports World

Most of us will eat a great dinner Thursday and we have a lot to be thankful for. But many Americans won’t have much to eat on Thanksgiving or any other day for that matter.

The Boston Globe recently profiled Lurinda DaRosa, a single mother of two children who lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Lurinda had a job but unfortunately she hasn’t been able to work since she had heart surgery.

Before November 1st, Lurinda received $66 in federal nutrition benefits every month. You can imagine it’s not easy to feed three people on that kind of budget. Don’t try it at home. A gallon of milk at the local supermarket costs $2.99. You can do the math, so you can imagine how tough it was for Lurinda and her children when her federal food assistance allowance dropped to $37 a month effective November 1. The allowance for the DaRosa family and millions of other Americans decreased because House Republicans refused to extend the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits that were part of the Economic Recovery Act.

Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism anyway? These days, compassionate conservatism is as much an oxymoron as the phrase “free agency” in the sports world is.

Lucinda and her family will soon take another hit for the holidays from the GOP Grinch who stole Christmas. The deadline for a new federal budget agreement is 10 days before Christmas. The Republican budget proposal is Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” which is a path to poverty for millions of Americans. Under the Ryan budget there will an additional $39 billion in cuts in nutrition assistance for people like Lurinda and her kids over the next 10 years. Good luck with that.

Forty-seven million Americans were on the wrong end of the cuts that just went into effect. Thirty-seven million of the people who suffered the cuts were women and children. The cut took food out of the mouths of babes. And Republicans wonder why so few women vote for them anymore. Ten million of the recipients of the reduced allotments were seniors. A million veterans were also at the wrong end of the budget axe – I hope they didn’t build up too much of an appetite fighting for our freedom. Thank you for your service.

Meanwhile President Obama’s calls to congressional Republicans to cut the hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare fall on deaf ears. Big business has thousands of highly paid lobbyists in Washington. Hungry Americans just don’t have much clout in the capital.

The burden on federal taxpayers would be lighter if Republicans in the House of Representatives would follow the Senate’s example and vote to increase the minimum wage. The best Wal-Mart can do is to sponsor food drives for its workers. McDonald’s does its part by sending its workers a pamphlet on stretching their food dollar. If McDonald’s really wants to help, the fast food giant could pay its workers a living wage.

Conservatives trot out the Bible at the drop of a hat to justify their extremism. During the holiday season, they might want to check out Matthew 25:34-36. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.'”

This time of year, conservatives complain that liberals are trying to take Christ out of Christmas. One way for Republicans to put Christ back into Christmas would be practice a little Christian charity by voting against the Ryan budget next month.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, November 26, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | GOP, SNAP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Neocons Are Losing”: Warmongers Are Howling At The Moon

I liked former New Republic writer Dana Milbank’s column this morning about how “Republicans mindlessly oppose Iran Nuclear Deal.” I liked it not just because it was witty, but because its prominence in the Washington Post—and its place when I woke up near the top of its list of the most popular stories—suggests that in this latest fracas over foreign policy, the conventional wisdom, as well as public opinion, is on the side of liberal internationalism rather than neo-conservative war-mongering. That this time it is the Bill Kristols and Ari Fleischers and Marco Rubios who are howling at the moon.

That’s especially important because in this case, there is an underlying truth—an emperor without any clothes, an elephant in the room—that no one in the administration or in the Republican opposition wants to openly acknowledge. It goes something like this: We all want Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, and we hope that through sanctions and negotiations, and the threat of war, we can achieve that result. But we Americans also know that if negotiations fail, then war may not be a real option. As the debate over intervention in Syria showed, the American public is not eager to go to war in the Middle East when the United States itself is not in danger. The Obama administration would have a hell of a time carrying out its threat. And even if it did, it would have a hell of a time achieving its objective of knocking out Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

So the various politicians and pundits who called for upping the sanctions as the interim deal was being negotiated, and who now denounce the deal as being woefully inadequate are doing a particular disservice. On one level, they are calling for war, which is the only alternative if we don’t pursue diplomacy. But on another level—if you consider the political and strategic difficulty, in this case of war—they are calling for a shutdown of our foreign policy—for the kind of national embarrassment and blow to our global standing from which we were saved in Syria by the Russians. So three cheers for Dana Milbank and for the good sense of the American people and the old foreign policy establishment of the Scowcrofts, Albrights, and Brzezinskis.


By: John B. Judis, The New Republic, November 26, 2013

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Iran, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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