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“The GOP Takes A Risk Celebrating Contraception Ruling”: What They May Not Fully Appreciate Is What Happens Next

The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled this morning against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception policy, agreeing that “closely held” corporations can deny contraception coverage under the First Amendment. Republican critics of “Obamacare” are thrilled, though I’m not sure if they’ve thought this through.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, couldn’t be more pleased.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear. Obamacare is the single worst piece of legislation to pass in the last 50 years….”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is equally pleased.

“Today’s decision is a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.”

Keep in mind that Republicans haven’t simply sat on the sidelines of this fight, hoping the court’s Republican-appointed justices would rule in their favor. On the contrary, they’ve been active participants in the debate, filing briefs with the Supreme Court urging this outcome, proposing legislation to undo the ACA policy, and in some cases, even threatening to push a constitutional amendment if the Hobby Lobby ruling had gone the other way.

As a result, GOP lawmakers and their allies are clearly delighted today, basking in the glow of victory.

What they may not fully appreciate, at least not yet, is what happens next: the political fallout.

Republican opposition to contraception access has been largely reflexive in recent years: “Obamacare” makes birth control available to Americans without a copay; “Obamacare” is evil; ergo the right must fight against contraception access.

The trouble is, the American mainstream and GOP policymakers really aren’t on the same page. The latest national polling reinforces the fact that most of the country wanted today’s ruling to go the other way.

Let’s revisit a piece from March, following oral arguments. Do Republicans believe it’s a winning election-year message to tell many American women their access to contraception must be based in part on their bosses’ religious beliefs? Because that’s the line the party is taking right now. They wouldn’t put in those terms, exactly, but as a practical matter, that’s effectively the real-world consequence of the Republican position.

This came up quite a bit in 2012, when congressional Republicans championed a measure from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have empowered private-sector employers to deny health services that business owners find morally objectionable.

In one of the presidential candidate debates, President Obama hammered Mitt Romney over his support for the Blunt Amendment. The GOP candidate, the president said, argued “employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage. That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need.”

Romney balked, saying, “I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”

The trouble seemed to be that Romney heard Obama’s description of Romney’s own position and was repulsed. But in reality, both Romney and his running mate endorsed a policy that would leave contraception decisions for millions of workers in the hands of employers.

And if memory serves, the gender gap didn’t do the GOP any favors once the votes were tallied.

Two years later, the Republican position hasn’t changed. More than two-thirds of U.S. women oppose allowing corporations to drop contraception from their health plans due to spiritual objections, but GOP leaders are nevertheless saying the exact opposite.

To be sure, what matters most this morning is the ruling itself and its impact on the public. But as we come to terms with the decision and legal experts sort out its scope, it’s only natural to consider the electoral impact. And with this in mind, Republicans are taking a gamble, whether they realize it or not.

Democratic campaign operatives’ single biggest concern this year is getting left-of-center voters to show up and cast a ballot this fall. Last week, some Dem strategists said they were particularly concerned about whether unmarried women would get engaged this cycle.

Watching Republican-appointed justices to limit contraception access, while Republican lawmakers cheer them on, may be just what Democratic campaign officials needed.

A Democratic leadership aide told the Washington Post last fall, “This could be very helpful with younger and middle aged women…. The idea that a boss calls the shots on a woman’s ability to get free birth control is really powerful. This is the kind of issue that could help change the ACA debate by reminding women in particular that at its core it’s all about access and affordability.”

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve won your big case at the Supreme Court, and positioned yourself this election as the 21st century political party that supports restrictions on contraception access. The party saw a political landmine and decided to do a victory dance on it. We’ll see how this turns out for them.

The question couldn’t be more straightforward: Dear GOP candidates, do you agree with the Supreme Court on contraception access or not? The DCCC and DSCC clearly hope that in most instances, Republicans endorse today’s ruling.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 30, 2014

July 1, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, GOP, Hobby Lobby | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Charlatans, Cranks And Kansas”: The Real Lesson From Kansas Is The Enduring Power Of Bad Ideas

Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.

Why, after all, should anyone believe at this late date in supply-side economics, which claims that tax cuts boost the economy so much that they largely if not entirely pay for themselves? The doctrine crashed and burned two decades ago, when just about everyone on the right — after claiming, speciously, that the economy’s performance under Ronald Reagan validated their doctrine — went on to predict that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the wealthy would cause a recession if not an outright depression. What actually happened was a spectacular economic expansion.

Nor is it just liberals who have long considered supply-side economics and those promoting it to have been discredited by experience. In 1998, in the first edition of his best-selling economics textbook, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw — very much a Republican, and later chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers — famously wrote about the damage done by “charlatans and cranks.” In particular, he highlighted the role of “a small group of economists” who “advised presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue.” Chief among that “small group” was none other than Art Laffer.

And it’s not as if supply-siders later redeemed themselves. On the contrary, they’ve been as ludicrously wrong in recent years as they were in the 1990s. For example, five years have passed since Mr. Laffer warned Americans that “we can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years.” Just about everyone in his camp agreed. But what we got instead was low inflation and record-low interest rates.

So how did the charlatans and cranks end up dictating policy in Kansas, and to a more limited extent in other states? Follow the money.

For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has also supported a series of economic studies purporting to show that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will promote rapid economic growth. The studies are embarrassingly bad, and the council’s Board of Scholars — which includes both Mr. Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation — doesn’t exactly shout credibility. But it’s good enough for antigovernment work.

And what is ALEC? It’s a secretive group, financed by major corporations, that drafts model legislation for conservative state-level politicians. Ed Pilkington of The Guardian, who acquired a number of leaked ALEC documents, describes it as “almost a dating service between politicians at the state level, local elected politicians, and many of America’s biggest companies.” And most of ALEC’s efforts are directed, not surprisingly, at privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

And I do mean for the wealthy. While ALEC supports big income-tax cuts, it calls for increases in the sales tax — which fall most heavily on lower-income households — and reductions in tax-based support for working households. So its agenda involves cutting taxes at the top while actually increasing taxes at the bottom, as well as cutting social services.

But how can you justify enriching the already wealthy while making life harder for those struggling to get by? The answer is, you need an economic theory claiming that such a policy is the key to prosperity for all. So supply-side economics fills a need backed by lots of money, and the fact that it keeps failing doesn’t matter.

And the Kansas debacle won’t matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won’t last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 30, 2014

July 1, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Profound Depth Of Religious And Male Norms”: The Supreme Court Ruled In Favor Of Patriarchy, Not Democracy

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to women in the United States when it ruled that “closely-held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control based on owners’ religious beliefs. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor partially joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 35-page dissent against the majority decision of the five conservative, male justices.

That the Court ruled this way should surprise no one. What should surprise, however, is the continued expectation that we overlook patriarchal religious fundamentalism, its collusion with constitutional “originalism” and its discriminatory expression in our political system.

Most analyses of this case will parse the law and, in doing so, make no challenges to two fundamental assumptions: 1) that the law and the Court are both “neutral” to begin with and 2) that we should not question the closely held religious beliefs of judges and politicians, even when those beliefs discriminate openly against women. This is a judgment. And judgments come from norms. And norms are based on people’s preferences. The Court is made up of people who have beliefs, implicitly or explicitly expressed.

In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments. Women’s behavior, especially sexual, is policed in ways that consolidate male power. It is impossible to be, in this particular case, a conservative Christian, without accepting and perpetuating the subordination of women to male rule. It is also blatant in “official” Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The fundamental psychology of these ideas, of religious male governance, does not exist in a silo, isolated from family structures, public life or political organization. It certainly does not exist separately from our Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, for example, makes no bones about his conscientious commitment to conservative Catholic ideals in his personal life and the seriousness of their impact on his work as a judge. There are many Catholics who reject these views, but he is not among them. These beliefs include those having to do with non-procreational sex, women’s roles, reproduction, sexuality, birth control and abortion. The fact that Scalia may be brilliant, and may have convinced himself that his opinions are a matter of reason and not faith, is irrelevant.

What is not irrelevant is that we are supposed to hold in abeyance any substantive concerns about the role that these beliefs, and their expression in our law, play in the distribution of justice and rights. They are centrally and critically important to women’s freedom, and we ignore this fact at our continued peril.

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction—norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. What this court just did was, once again, make women’s bodies, needs and experiences “exceptions” to normatively male ones. This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.

While there are hundreds of bills and laws regulating women’s rights to control their own reproduction, I’m not aware, after much looking, of any that similarly constrain men or tax them unduly for their decisions. As a matter of fact, we live in a country where more than half of our states give rapists the right to sue for custody of children born of their raping and forcible insemination of women. Insurance coverage continues to include medical services and products that help men control their reproduction and enhance their sexual lives.

As Ginsburg outlined in her dissent, the costs that this decision will accrue to women are substantive. The argument that employers shouldn’t pay for things they don’t believe in is vacuous. Insurance benefits are part of compensation. Even if you reject that notion, it is clear that we all pay for things we don’t like or believe in through our taxes and, for employers, through insurance. That’s how insurance and taxes work—except when it comes to women and their bodies. That’s sexism.

That we live with patriarchy is evident. That this dominance is and always has been the opposite of democracy is not to most people. SCOTUS’ decision is shameful for its segregation of women’s health issues and its denial that what should be valued as “closely held” in our society is a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. American women’s equality continues to be undermined by the privileging of religion in public discourse.


By: Soraya Chemaly, Time, June 30, 2014


July 1, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Supreme Court, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Disservice”: The Supreme Court Would Prefer People With Disabilities Receive Care From Disgruntled, Low-Wage, High-Turnover Workers

By a 5-4 decision, the usual conservative Supreme Court majority today struck a blow against public-sector unions by ruling for the petitioners in a case called Harris v. Quinn.  Most of the press coverage focuses on the worrisome implications for collective bargaining. I have little to add in that conversation, significant as it surely is. But I am sorry to see this decision for some more specific reasons, as well.

This particular case unfolds outside my door, in Chicago. Pamela Harris is a direct care worker who sued the state of Illinois over the way it handles collective bargaining arrangements and union dues. My family has used the type of services provided through the Illinois Home Services Program under dispute. My brother-in-law Vincent—who lives with intellectual disabilities and some related health challenges caused by something called fragile X syndrome—receives services every day from unionized direct care workers, in his group home and in his workshop.

With its decision in Harris, the Supreme Court has torpedoed a practical and equitable partnership. People with disabilities could receive the in-home personal assistance they need. The men and women who perform this important work could receive a fair day’s wage for the work they do. Now that arrangement—and the well-being of both groups—is in jeopardy.

Some background on the case: In 2003, the governor of Illinois declared that direct care workers were public employees, because they received much of their pay directly from the state, through its Medicaid program. This made it possible for them to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining with the state of Illinois, which they did by electing to have the Service Employees International Union represent them. The state negotiates with SEIU over what to pay workers, much as it would for any other set of public employees. Home health care workers can choose whether or not to join the union. But even those workers who opt not to join must pay an administrative fee, since they benefit from the higher pay that SEIU negotiates on their behalf. Or at least that’s how it was before Harris and some other workers filed a lawsuit, claiming the obligation was unfair, and the Supreme Court sided with her.

Put aside, for the moment, the debate over union dues and fees. There’s no question that these collective bargaining arrangements are important—or that they’ve made a huge difference. And here’s why they are especially important here. Illinois has traditionally ranked near the very bottom in national rankings of disability services.  Not coincidentally, Illinois has also been subject to nine-figure lawsuits and consent decrees that reflect our troubled history of over-reliance on state institutions in the care of people with disabilities.

Illinois, like most other states, has a history of shamefully under-paying men and women who provide home- and community-based care.  In 2012, the national median wage of personal care aides had declined to $9.57 per hour. Ironically, direct care workers are also extremely likely to be uninsured. According to materials from the Care Campaign, an advocacy group for direct care workers, the average direct-support wage in Illinois is $9.35 per hour.

Governor Pat Quinn, to his great credit, is trying to address both of the above concerns. Rectifying them requires intricate compromises among many stakeholders. The state has an interest in high-quality, economical services that meet its legal obligations to individuals with disabilities.  Direct care workers require minimally decent wages to support themselves and their families.

Individuals with disabilities and their families have a big stake in this, too. They—we–require a stable and motivated group of direct care workers to perform important and difficult work. The alternative is to receive services from a disgruntled, low-wage high-turnover group of workers who are unlikely to provide competent and humane care. We consumers know first-hand why these issues are important. We know our great human debt to the men and women we trust so intimately to support people we love.

Direct care work will never pay particularly well. Yet the partnership under dispute provided a fair and practical mechanism through which workers could bargain for decent wages and working conditions. It’s noteworthy that many of the nation’s most prominent disability rights advocacy organizations signed an amicus brief supporting the state of Illinois in this lawsuit. Most are now very disappointed.

Now that this partnership has been overturned by the Supreme Court, our state, direct care workers, and individuals with disabilities face a difficult choice. Direct caregivers can simply be hired and supervised as traditional public employees. This would deprive individuals with disabilities of the ability to select, supervise, and hire their own caregivers.  We can also shift a cumbersome management burden onto people with disabilities and their families, while depriving direct care workers of the collective bargaining mechanisms they seek. Neither option seems particularly fair or practical for anyone involved.

I lack the expertise to judge the broader ramifications of this case or its legal niceties. I do know that it disserved the people my family and so many others trust every day to care for our loved ones. It disserved us, too.


By: Harol Pollack, The Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago; The New Republic, June 30, 2014

July 1, 2014 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Supreme Court, Unions | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Majority Has Ventured Into A Minefield”: Here Are The Highlights Of Justice Ginsburg’s Fiery Hobby Lobby Dissent

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court finally released its much-anticipated decision on the Hobby Lobby case, a decision that lived up to expectations by being split along ideological lines (the court’s five conservatives overruling its four liberals) and severely weakening Obamacare’s birth control mandate.

Also living up to expectations? Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s blistering dissent, which excoriated the court’s majority for its ruling, describing it as a “radical” decision “of startling breadth” that would have chaotic and major unintended consequences. You can read her dissent in full here (it starts at page 60) but we’ve also compiled some of its best, key parts.

Ginsburg opens with a bang, immediately describing the decision as one that will have sweeping consequences:

In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

She frames the decision as one that denies women access to healthcare, rather than as one that upholds religious liberty:

The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.

In a similar vein, she rejects that the birth control mandate should be seen as an act of government coercion, describing it instead as one that provides women with the ability to make their own choice:

Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults. 

She affirms her belief that religious organizations and for-profit corporations serve fundamentally different purposes and have fundamentally different rights (and throws some shade at the majority in the process):

Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. … The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.

She claims that the majority has actually undermined the very principle, religious freedom, it claimed in its ruling to have upheld:

Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.

She writes that the majority has pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act past its original intent:

In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious     beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, June 30, 2014



July 1, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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