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“Old Songs With New Refrains”: ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws Are About Freedom To Discriminate

Across the land, heroic male legislators are rising up to protect the lives and virtue of women and girls from sexual predators.

They are not, as one might hope, enacting laws that would prevent men convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms, even though that would surely save precious female lives.

Nor are they working with colleges and universities to ensure fair investigations of campus sexual assault, even though this would greatly help many a female coed.

And, alas, they aren’t doing anything to help or prod police agencies to process the backlogs of rape kits, even though this would surely put many more violent sex offenders behind bars.

No, the state legislators — instigated mostly by Republican members — are obsessed with women and girls’ use of the bathroom. They’re freaked out that someone who was born male but who now identifies as female could wind up in the neighboring stall.

North Carolina is the latest state to mount this little charade of chivalry. In a special session Wednesday, with mere minutes for members to read and digest the bill’s language, the legislature decreed that municipalities could not pass antidiscrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words: People in the state must use the bathroom designated by the gender on their birth certificate.

The move is part of a broad backlash against the American public’s growing acceptance that sexual orientation and gender identity are privacy issues that deserve respect and civil rights protection. It flared up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling clearing legal obstacles to gay marriage.

When it comes to bathrooms, legislators express concern about sexual predators using more open bathroom access to attack vulnerable women and girls. Yet there is no trend of such attacks. A more honest conversation with transgender people would make that point. But honest dialogue isn’t how this is playing out — although it did play a decisive role in convincing South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto his state legislature’s bathroom bill.

What proponents can’t get over is that national attitudes have shifted rapidly in regard to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people. People have by and large given LGBT people a fair hearing and have decided they deserve fair treatment. Much of what remains of the opposition is draped with the cloak of religion. Hence the plethora of so-called religious freedom laws and amendments, whose real aims are such things as keeping homosexuals from becoming foster parents or barring transgender people from using the restroom they choose — in other words, keeping them from being accepted in society. Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas are a few of the states where such bills have been passed, executive orders have been issued, or where such measures are under consideration.

Corporate and sporting entities see the danger. The NFL has warned Georgia that it could lose the opportunity to host the Super Bowl. The NCAA has made its intolerance for legalized discrimination known to Missouri and Indiana. And companies as diverse as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Disney and MasterCard have also asserted their distaste for doing future business where these proposals may pass into law.

The companies get it. They know that “open to the public” means all of the public. No one is saying that anyone’s church must marry gay people.

Here is what proponents of the bills do not tell you: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not universally protected in America. In many cities and states, you can be fired, denied a house or an apartment simply because the boss or seller or landlord believes that you are gay.

The lack of legal protection for the LGBT people is what these disingenuous legislators are using as a basis for further deceiving constituents. They want the right to discriminate, enshrined and in many cases codified as a religious right, even when they are operating in a public square.

That’s what is most offensive — invoking God as a pretext.

Those who stood for slavery and against civil rights tried that ploy. Proponents of the anti-LGBT measures don’t like the comparison, but the shoe fits.

Ratcheting up fears in response to social change and then claiming that it’s your religious right to discriminate is an old trick. Alongside housing covenants, bank red-lining, scare tactics about crime, including sexual assault by black men, these arguments were shamefully hypocritical. These are old songs, with new refrains.


By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cinder In The Public Eye”: Clarence Thomas Says Black NBA Players Give SCOTUS A Reason To Gut Anti-Discrimination Law

On Thursday, the Supreme Court saved a key interpretation of the Fair Housing Act—a historic 1968 law that prevents discrimination in the housing market—by ruling in a 5-4 decision that a complaint does not have to prove a policy was overtly or intentionally discriminatory to be valid. It upheld the “disparate impact” standard, which allows complainants to show a policy led to unequal results, no matter the original intention.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He argued that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.” To make his case, Thomas pointed out that minorities sometimes do quite well. His examples: The Jews in Poland and, in America, the success of black professional basketball players.

Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities. At various times in history, “racial or ethnic minorities . . . have owned or directed more than half of whole industries in particular nations.” These minorities “have included the Chinese in Malaysia, the Lebanese in West Africa, Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Britons in Argentina, Belgians in Russia, Jews in Poland, and Spaniards in Chile—among many others.” “In the seventeenth century Ottoman Empire,” this phenomenon was seen in the palace itself, where the “medical staff consisted of 41 Jews and 21 Muslims.” And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black. To presume that these and all other measurable disparities are products of racial discrimination is to ignore the complexities of human existence.” [Legal citations omitted].

Thomas continues:

And if that “racial balancing” is achieved through disparate-impact claims limited to only some groups—if, for instance, white basketball players cannot bring disparate-impact suits— then we as a Court have constructed a scheme that parcels out legal privileges to individuals on the basis of skin color.”

Sports was a popular example for the dissenting justices. Justice Sam Alito, who wrote a separate dissent, cited the NFL to make a slightly different point:

 Of the 32 college players selected by National Football League (NFL) teams in the first round of the 2015 draft, it appears that the overwhelming majority were members of racial minorities […] Teams presumably chose the players they think are most likely to help them win games. Would anyone say the NFL teams made draft slots unavailable to white players “because of ” their race?

This is the same court that crippled civil rights legislation two years ago by striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, June 25, 2015

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Discrimination, Fair Housing Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trademark Arrogance”: Ferguson Nightmare Widens: Rudy Giuliani, The NFL And Cops Doubling Down On Their “Right” To Kill

The single worst moment in Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony about the day he shot Michael Brown came when he called the unarmed teenager “it,” saying at one point, “it looks like a demon.” He also compared him to “Hulk Hogan” and described him as “bulking up” as if to magically “run through” his bullets. But somehow the word “it” cut through the delusional, self-aggrandizing dramatics and showed the problem at the heart of their encounter: To Wilson, Mike Brown wasn’t human. “It” was a “demon.”

Yet Wilson’s often incredible testimony about the threat posed by Brown carried the day, and the grand jury declined to indict the cop for killing the unarmed teen. The decision has not only worsened the nation’s racial tension, but provoked despair over the possibility of change. Hundreds of politicians and pundits are criticizing the most disruptive Ferguson protesters, including President Obama, but almost no one is talking to the police about the way they consistently escalate these controversies – in the street, with young black men, but also in their dealings with communities afterward, when they tolerate no criticism.

That trademark arrogance has been taken to an extreme by the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association’s demand that the NFL discipline five St. Louis Rams players who participated in a pre-game “hands up, don’t shoot” protest of Mike Brown’s killing Sunday night. Appropriately, the NFL says no such discipline will be forthcoming; the cops also want an apology.

That a local police association thinks it is somehow bigger than the NFL, and that it has the power to curtail the First Amendment rights of football players, is just another example of the preemptive, aggressive self-defense that keeps police officers unaccountable for their transgressions.

Prosecutor-in-chief Rudy Giuliani set the tone for the Ferguson debate a day before the grand jury’s decision was announced. Giuliani minimized the problem of white police killing young black men on “Meet the Press,” telling Michael Eric Dyson “the white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time” and asking “why don’t you cut it down so so many white police officers don’t have to be in black areas?”

A stunned Dyson shot back: “Look at this! This is the defensive mechanism of white supremacy in your mind, sir!”

I missed the Giuliani-Dyson debate when it aired, and when I searched for it online I was shocked to see the way right-wing sites were framing it: Newsbusters, Breitbart and others accused Dyson of “attacking” Giuliani, when the former New York mayor was clearly on the offensive. Dyson became the bad guy by calling Giuliani’s mind-set what it was. And the black guy is always the “attacker” in the right-wing mind, anyway.

As was the case with George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the Ferguson grand jury may have theoretically reached a defensible position given the letter of the law. They only had to believe Wilson had a “reasonable” belief that his life was in danger in order for the shooting to be justified. Thus leaders from President Obama to Mike Brown’s parents themselves have urged calm on angry communities, and counseled protesters to live with the verdict.

Dyson is among many to point out why that response, especially from the president, is so unsatisfying. While Obama strongly denounced “criminal acts” and insisted “I do not have any sympathy” for people destroying “your own communities,” his comments on the events that led to the violence were weirdly “vague, halting and non-committal,” Dyson wrote in the New York Times.

He slipped back into an emotional blandness that underplayed the searing divide, saying there was “an impression that folks have” about unjust policing and “there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.”

Of course even that relatively mild rebuke got Obama charged with inciting the Ferguson unrest by the right. The loons at Front Page Mag claimed Obama’s remarks stoked a “lynch mob” mentality while others called it “race-baiting as usual.” Milwaukee’s conservative sheriff David Clarke, who is African-American, insisted Obama’s call for calm after the verdict “was done with a wink and a nod,” because the president’s overall “political strategy of divide and conquer fuels this sort of racial animosity between people.”

Predictably, Rudy Giuliani escalated his rhetoric this past Sunday on Fox, telling Chris Wallace that it’s black people who bear responsibility for the outsize, and occasionally excessive, police presence in their communities.

“I think just as much, if not more, responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why the police officers are assigned in such large numbers to the black community.” He added: “It’s because blacks commit murder eight times more per capita than any other group in our society. If I’d put all my police on Park Avenue instead of Harlem, thousands more blacks would have died during my time in office.”

When it comes to controlling the public debate over these killings, the police lobby consistently uses excessive force — and gets away with it. Their outsize response to peaceful protest by the St. Louis Rams is only the latest example, and here’s hoping the NFL and the team don’t back down.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 1, 2014

December 3, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Beneath Any Reasonable Standards Of Elected Officials”: The Unprecedented And Contemptible Attempts To Sabotage Obamacare

When Mike Lee pledges to try to shut down the government unless President Obama knuckles under and defunds Obamacare entirely, it is not news—it is par for the course for the take-no-prisoners extremist senator from Utah. When the Senate Republicans’ No. 2 and No. 3 leaders, John Cornyn and John Thune, sign on to the blackmail plan, it is news—of the most depressing variety.

I am not the only one who has written about House and Senate Republicans’ monomaniacal focus on sabotaging the implementation of Obamacare—Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Jon Chait, Jon Bernstein, Ezra Klein, and many others have written powerful pieces. But it is now spinning out of control.

It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented. The clear comparison is the Medicare prescription drug plan. When it passed Congress in 2003, Democrats had many reasons to be furious. The initial partnership between President Bush and Sen. Edward Kennedy had resulted in an admirably bipartisan bill—it passed the Senate with 74 votes. Republicans then pulled a bait and switch, taking out all of the provisions that Kennedy had put in to bring along Senate Democrats, jamming the resulting bill through the House in a three-hour late-night vote marathon that blatantly violated House rules and included something close to outright bribery on the House floor, and then passing the bill through the Senate with just 54 votes—while along the way excluding the duly elected conferees, Tom Daschle (the Democratic leader!) and Jay Rockefeller, from the conference committee deliberations.

The implementation of that bill was a huge challenge, and had many rocky moments. It required educating millions of seniors, most not computer-literate, about the often complicated choices they had to create or change their prescription coverage. Imagine if Democrats had gone all out to block or disrupt the implementation—using filibusters to deny funding, sending threatening letters to companies or outside interests who mobilized to educate Medicare recipients, putting on major campaigns to convince seniors that this was a plot to deny them Medicare, comparing it to the ill-fated Medicare reform plan that passed in 1989 and, after a revolt by seniors, was repealed the next year.

Almost certainly, Democrats could have tarnished one of George W. Bush’s signature achievements, causing Republicans major heartburn in the 2004 presidential and congressional elections—and in the process hurting millions of Medicare recipients and their families. Instead, Democrats worked with Republicans, and with Mark McClellan, the Bush administration official in charge of implementation, to smooth out the process and make it work—and it has been a smashing success.

Contrast that with Obamacare. For three years, Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm anybody to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the post that McClellan had held in 2003-04—in order to damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan. Guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats—to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan.

I remember being shocked when some congressional Democrats appeared to be rooting for the surge in troops in Iraq to fail—which would mean more casualties among Americans and Iraqis, but a huge embarrassment for Bush, and vindication of their skepticism. But of course they did not try to sabotage the surge by disrupting funding or interfering in the negotiations in Iraq with competing Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish power centers. To do so would have been close to treasonous.

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous—just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing. A good example is the letter Senate Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell and Cornyn sent to the NFL, demanding that it not cooperate with the Obama administration in a public-education campaign to tell their fans about what benefits would be available to them and how the plan would work—a letter that clearly implied deleterious consequences if the league went ahead anyhow. McConnell and Cornyn got their desired result. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quickly capitulated. (When I came to Washington in 1969-70, one of my great pleasures was meeting and getting to know Charles Goodell, the courageous Republican senator from New York who took on his own president on Vietnam and was quietly courageous on many other controversial issues. Roger Goodell is his son—although you would not know it from this craven action.)

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable—unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better—not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation—which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate—even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists—takes one’s breath away.


By: Norm Ornstein, The National Journal, July 24, 2013

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Don’t Poison A Law, Then Claim It’s Sick”: Republicans Doing Everything They Can To Make The Affordable Care Act Fail

One does not usually expect blistering, progressive-minded editorials from USA Today, but this morning’s piece on the Affordable Care Act is a gem. The headline reads, “GOP poisons ObamaCare, then claims it’s sick.”

Regular readers know we’ve been talking quite a bit about Republican efforts to sabotage the federal health care system in the hopes of partisan and ideological gain, and it’s good to see the USA Today editorial board notice. “Having lost in Congress and in court, they’re now using the most cynical of tactics: trying to make the law fail,” the paper explains. “Never mind the public inconvenience and human misery that will result…. There is a distinct line between fighting to turn your ideas into law and trying to wreck a law once it has been passed.”

First, Republicans limited the use of government money to spread the word. Then, when the administration reached out to the NFL and other major sports leagues for help in publicizing the new health care exchanges, the opponents resorted to intimidation.

Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, fired off a letter to the NFL, saying that the league had better not get involved with such a controversial program, as if the league would be taking sides on a debate in Congress, not doing public service announcements for a law soon to affect millions.

In a particularly smarmy warning, McConnell and Cornyn told the NFL to let them know whether the Obama administration retaliated against the league for not cooperating — the clear implication being that if the league did help inform the public about ObamaCare, Senate Republicans had their own methods of retribution. It is an appalling abuse of power, and the NFL meekly yielded.

It’s against this backdrop that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) falsely argued in his party’s weekly radio address that the law would disrupt people’s cancer care, and GOP governors nationwide block Medicaid expansion for no substantive reason.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but it appears today’s Republican Party knows no other way.

Of course, this isn’t the only thing going on with Obamacare this week.

This story, for example, struck me as almost amusing.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is requesting a new cost estimate for ObamaCare in light of a decision to delay the law’s employer mandate.

Ryan’s staff asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to reevaluate the law’s budget impact after the White House said Tuesday that larger employers will not be required to offer health insurance until 2015.

It’s true that the delay on the employer mandate will likely shrink the deficit reduction of the law by about $4 billion in that first year. In other words, instead of nearly $200 billion in deficit reduction over the first decade of the Affordable Care Act, we’re looking at a figure closer to $196 billion in deficit reduction.

But here’s my follow-up question for Paul Ryan: why do you care? What difference does it make to House Republicans if it’s $200 billion or $196 billion? Does the GOP really intend to run ads saying, “Obamacare is one of the biggest deficit-reduction packages in a generation, but it’s savings are slightly smaller than the CBO estimated last year”?

As for the increasingly common argument among conservatives that the delay in the employer mandate spells implementation trouble for the reform law, Ezra Klein had a good piece explaining that the opposite is true.

Peter Orszag, who helped design Obamacare from his perch as head of the Office of Management and Budget, disagreed with Rubin. “Delaying the employer mandate makes successful implementation more likely, not less likely,” he told me.

Larry Levitt, vice president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, agreed. “There’s nothing about the delay in the employer requirement that suggests Obamacare can’t still be implemented,” he said. “If anything the delay removes some potential administrative complexities from the plates of the implementers, and avoids the problem of some employers reducing the hours of part-time workers to get around the requirement.”

Timothy Jost, a health law expert at Washington and Lee University’s School of Law, was even blunter. “Implementation just got easier rather than harder,” he said…. The Obama administration has decided to accept some bad media coverage now, and some higher costs later, in order to make Obamacare much, much simpler to implement next year.

It seems like a relevant detail that’s been lost amid the chatter of late.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2013

July 12, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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