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“Religious Liberty Is For One People Only”: How Ted Cruz Made A Mockery Of Republicans’ Religious Freedom Arguments

The Republican Party, which has accused “liberal elites” of waging a “war on religion,” last week dispatched its leading lights to the rhetorical battlefields in a religious war of its own making.

On March 22, Americans awoke to the news of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels, which should have prompted calls for solidarity coupled with rational and effective law enforcement. But for Ted Cruz — who has made religious liberty a central focus of his campaign — it was instead an opportunity to propose an unconstitutional and dangerous program for targeting American Muslims.

The two Republican presidential frontrunners are engaged in a sordid one-upmanship of who can more blatantly scapegoat American Muslims. For Donald Trump and Cruz, it’s an essential part of the gladiator politics that have come to define the GOP primary. Trump has said “Islam hates us” and notoriously proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. Cruz has called for all Syrian Muslims to be banned from the entering the U.S., but for Syrian Christians to be allowed in.

So after the Brussels attack last week, Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Uncharacteristically agreeable, Trump called the unconstitutional proposal a “good idea.”

Somehow this was only one half of Republicans’ very mixed-up week on religious freedom.

A day after Cruz thumbed his nose at the Constitution, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that even the nation’s staunchest religious freedom advocates have called into question. At issue is whether the government violates the religious freedom of faith-based non-profits by requiring them to fill out a form to opt out of providing contraception coverage in their health care plans, as required under the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Cruz has singled out the most sympathetic of the religious non-profits, an order of Catholic nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor, as exhibit A in President Obama’s alleged war on religion. He has accused Obama as having “the audacity to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor,” when in fact the order of nuns sued the administration.

After the Supreme Court hearing last week, Cruz renewed his full-throated cries for religious liberty. He released recommendations on Thursday from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, which include a pledge to “direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.”

“Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness,” Cruz said.

If “political correctness” sounds familiar, it’s because he wields it constantly to portray religious pluralism as the enemy of Christianity. In fact, he invoked it days earlier when calling for a “people of faith,” Muslims, to be subjected to increased government surveillance. “In the wake of the Brussels attacks, I called for vigorously guarding against the political correctness that has plagued Europe,” he wrote in a New York Daily News op-ed.

This is par for the course for Cruz. Throughout his campaign, he has portrayed the conscience rights of conservative Christian non-profits (and business owners) as being under mortal threat, but he has seemed oblivious to the perils to the constitutional rights of religious minorities, like Muslims he believes should be targeted by law enforcement for their religion and nothing more.

As always for Cruz, religious liberty is for one people only: Christians.

 

By: Susan Posner, The Week, March 30, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Christians, Religious Liberty, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Don’t Vote My Self-Interests”: Get Off My Lawn, Bernie Kids! Why I’m Voting For Hillary Clinton

So I see from Twitter that some genius has gone on Zillow and found my house. I think this must’ve happened in response to something I said on the Stephanie Miller radio show on Wednesday, discussing my last column, about how some people can afford to cast votes around their hopes and dreams while others vote to protect rights and gains that the other side wants to take away from them.

I don’t recall my exact words, but they were something to the effect that that idiot Susan Sarandon’s life isn’t going to change one way or the other no matter who’s president, and for that matter, neither is mine, not that I’m rich, but I make a good living, so my life won’t change, yadda yadda, which I suppose is what put the wheel in spin. So now people who want to know such things know what I paid for my house, and yeah, it’s kind of a lot, this being suburban Washington, D.C., and I guess the point is supposed to be that I’m an out-of-touch elitist or something, just the kind of sellout you’d expect to support Hillary over Bernie.

So I have a nice house. So what? I earned it. I didn’t inherit much. Dad made a lot of money, but he lost a lot, too, always trying to outsmart the market. And he made a hell of a lot less than he could have. His funeral was like George Bailey’s funeral—I lost count of the number of grown men who came up to me crying, telling me about the mountains of legal work Dad had done for them over the years for free.

I mention my father because he’s the one who taught me that people like us don’t vote our self-interest. We’re going to be fine. So I listened to him. I don’t vote my self-interest. I vote the interests of people with houses that cost a quarter of what mine cost. If I wanted to vote according to my naked self-interest, I’d vote Republican. They’ll give me a nice tax cut. No thanks. Don’t want it.

So I vote for other people’s interests. The kinds of interests I wrote about the other day—economic welfare, of course, but voting rights, rights for immigrants, all the rest. The things the Republican Party wants to yank away from people. And you know what? I actually just think that Hillary Clinton will do a better job of defending those interests than Bernie Sanders will. Nobody makes me say that. Chelsea isn’t sending me secret messages. I just think it.

How can that possibly be? It is true that Clinton is too much an incrementalist and centrist for my tastes. She’s gotten a lot of things wrong—the Iraq vote, those speeches and all that lucre, way more money that any normal person needs to have. And yet, I also think two other things. She’s tough as steel; and she might turn out to be good at persuading the Republicans to deal.

Can anyone seriously doubt the first point? For a quarter-century, she’s been called everything you can call a person. They wanted to finish her. Put her in jail. Still do. And this wasn’t because she did anything wrong. Jill Abramson got it right this week: Clinton is fundamentally not corrupt. So it wasn’t that. Rather, it was because to the hard right, she was just too aggressive for a woman. But you can’t destroy a person for that, so you have to find something else.

But she’s endured all of it and stayed in the game. And no, it’s not because she’s power-mad, another well-worn right-wing (and seriously sexist) trope. She’s in it for mostly the right reasons—and because she doesn’t want to let the people trying to destroy her have her scalp, which is a damn good reason on its own.

As for my second point, we have her record as a senator to look back on. True, neither she nor Sanders did much in terms of legislation, but legislation is an overrated part of what a senator does. From what I’m told from senators I know, she’s a better kibbitzer, especially with Republicans. Remember—what do I mean, remember? You don’t even know this!—she went into the Senate with the then-Republican leader wishing her dead (kinda jokingly but kinda not) and harrumphing that in the event that she did survive, she would surely be put in her place. Within a year, many of them loved her.

Yeah, I know. To some of you, more evidence of her hackery. But maybe it’s just evidence that she’s a person whose word is good and who is someone to be taken seriously. So maybe she can sit down with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and horse-trade her way to a paid family leave bill. That one thing would make life dramatically better for millions.

And I think it’s one more thing than Sanders would pass. As for my two criteria applied to him, let’s have a look. One, we don’t know if he’s tough. Yeah, he’s originally from Brooklyn. But Vermont isn’t exactly Cook County. And as for horse-trading, he doesn’t talk as if it interests him very much, but if you’re going to be a successful president, it has to.

It has to interest you because millions of people are counting on you to do something to help them. Not people like me. My needs from the state are few. I’m for the person who I think will do more for people whose needs from the state are great. On paper, I probably agree with Sanders as much as I do with Clinton. But politics isn’t about having one’s own views reflected back to one.

And a people’s revolution that can be blocked by a mere 41 senators, which the Republicans will never not have, is going to fail and disappoint.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Women in Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Learning From Obama”: Voters Have Lately Been Given A Taste Of What Really Bad Leaders Look Like

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; the actual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.

The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Lone Ranger”: Not Much Evidence Donald Trump Can Win The Presidency On The Shoulders Of The White Working Class

It took the chattering classes a while to figure out that Donald Trump had a particular appeal to white non-college-educated Republican primary voters. But once they figured it out, some leaped to a very different proposition: that Trump could ride an army of white working-class voters to the White House despite his many electoral weaknesses, via boffo performances in normally Democratic-leaning midwestern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa (all carried twice by Barack Obama).

A closer look at the data shows Trump not quite so dominant among non-college-educated white voters (particularly outside the South), and not adding enough value in this one demographic compared to what he loses in others.

The most sophisticated version of the argument that Trump could have a narrow path to victory comes from the estimable Ron Brownstein, who believes that all other things being equal, Trump might reverse some narrow Democratic margins in the Midwest by reversing equally narrow Democratic margins (atypical for the country as a whole) among white working-class voters. I emphasize the qualifier because it’s not all that likely that all other things will be equal with Trump at the top of the ticket; he will surely lose some 2012 Romney voters, perhaps a lot of them.

But it’s important to remember that Republicans are already winning non-college-educated white voters by a big margin. Mitt Romney won an estimated 62 percent of this vote in 2012. Any Trump “bonus” will have to come either from improvements in that number, increased white working-class turnout (against the stiff wind of that group’s declining share of the population), or from some significant redistribution of the white working-class vote by region or state.

One broad indicator of the very different picture you get by shifting from white working-class voters within Republican primaries and white working-class voters generally is in the new ABC/Washington Post analysis of Trump’s favorability ratios among different demographic groups. He comes in at 47-52 among non-college-educated whites, a truly terrible performance not just in terms of his perceived strengths but as compared to Romney’s actual support in the last election.

But there’s some more granular evidence as well of the limits of Trump’s white working-class vote in a competitive environment in the very midwestern cockpit where it should matter most. At the Democratic Strategist (disclosure: I have a long association with that site), Andrew Levison has examined the relative performance of all candidates from both parties in three recent midwestern open primaries, and shown that Trump’s share of the total white working-class vote ranged from 26 percent in Illinois to 30 percent in Ohio (where he actually lost the primary to John Kasich). These numbers should reflect whatever appeal Trump has among marginal voters — i.e., those he can uniquely bring to the polls. Moreover, despite significantly higher overall turnout, the Republican field with Trump in it registered less than overwhelming margins among white working-class voters in Illinois (56 percent) and Michigan (58 percent). Republicans did win 67 percent in Ohio, almost certainly as a product of the appeal not of Trump but of home-state governor John Kasich.

Even if you only discount the GOP percentage of white working-class voters in these midwestern states a few points to reflect across-the-board turnout factors that probably had little to do with any one demographic, it’s not looking like the kind of tsunami that could come close to offsetting Trump’s probable drop in Romney-level support in other parts of the electorate — most notably in Republican-leaning women and highly educated professionals. The ABC/Washington Post analysis put Trump’s favorability ratios at 14-85 among Hispanics, at 18-80 among voters under the age of 35, at 29-68 among white women, and at 23-74 among white college graduates. This is a long, long way from looking like a winning coalition.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, GOP Primaries, White Working Class | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Unwrap This A Bit”: Money From Big Oil Isn’t Always What It Appears To Be

In Democratic politics, no candidate ever wants to appear beholden to corporate donors, and that’s especially true when it comes from the oil and gas industry. Few industries are as unpopular among progressive voters as Big Oil.

And with this in mind, Hillary Clinton generated headlines yesterday when she was confronted by a Greenpeace supporter who pressed her on money she’s received from the industry. The visibly annoyed Democratic presidential hopeful said she’s tired of Bernie Sanders’ campaign “lying” about her.

For its part, the Sanders campaign highlighted the encounter and insisted that Clinton “has relied heavily on funds from lobbyists working for the oil, gas and coal industry.” This morning, the senator himself repeated the charge, arguing, “The fact of the matter is Secretary Clinton has taken significant money from the fossil fuel industry.”

The point of the criticisms is hardly subtle: Sanders and his supporters want Democrats to see Clinton as someone who may not follow through on her energy and environmental commitments because of the money she’s received from Big Oil.

So, is that fair? Let’s unwrap this a bit.

The Washington Post published a report today, relying on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which drew an important distinction that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle: technically, both Clinton and Sanders have received money from “the oil and gas industry.”

The total for Clinton’s campaign is about $308,000; for Sanders’s, it’s about $54,000. As Clinton noted in the moment, the Center for Responsive Politics mostly aggregates contributions by employer.

If a guy who runs the commissary at Chevron in California gives $27 to Bernie Sanders, that’s counted as “oil and gas industry” money.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to suggest the Sanders has been corrupted because that guy, “feeling the Bern,” chipped in $27. But because of the way contributions are categorized, money from an oil company CEO and a donation from a gas-station janitor are both counted the exact same way: it’s technically money from the “oil and gas industry.”

Looking at the dispute in an even broader context, the Washington Post’s piece added, “About 0.15 percent of Clinton’s campaign and outside PAC money is from the ‘oil and gas industry.’ Only about 0.04 percent of Sanders’s is.” In other words, neither of these candidates is dependent on financial support from those who work in some capacity for an oil company.

So let’s unpack the question from that Greenpeace activist. The suggestion appears to be that this 0.15 percent of all Clinton fundraising – a percentage that, again, consists of contributions from employees of oil and gas companies regardless of job title – somehow influences Clinton’s behavior. The activist didn’t connect the dots, but the implication is that this 0.15 percent makes Clinton more susceptible to the lures of the oil industry than does Sanders’s 0.04 percent.

MSNBC’s report noted that Clinton has not “taken any money from PACs tied to the oil and gas industry, or companies themselves.” Lobbyists with at least some connection to the industry have made contributions, but the bulk of that money has gone to super PACs that Clinton cannot legally control.

I can think of compelling lines of attack against each of the candidates, but this probably isn’t one of them. There’s ample room for a debate about Clinton’s and Sanders’ energy and environmental platforms – both, by my estimation, are offering excellent policy blueprints – but neither appears to be in Big Oil’s pocket.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Big Oil, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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