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Here's one aspect of the RFRA controversy that I have not seen addressed by anyone else. Do such laws, by their very nature, discriminate against atheists? Why is it that people with deeply-held religious convictions are allowed to withhold professional services from people who offend them morally, yet people with deeply-held convictions NOT BASED ON RELIGION do not have a similar legal right to withhold such services?

Allow me to present a hypothetical situation to help clarify my point.

Let's assume that you are an atheist who runs a sign-printing business. In walks a contingent from Yes on Prop 8 asking you to print up signs for their upcoming rally. As a believer in marriage equality, perhaps you would prefer not to comply with their request. Yet, unlike the owner of a sign-printing business who might use his religious convictions to refuse to print up No on 8 signs, you, as an atheist, have no legal recourse to refuse to print up Yes on 8 signs. Is that fair? Is that truly equal treatment before the law?

In other words, why are religious business owners given a special status not accorded to non-religious business owners? Why must a deeply-held personal belief be necessarily tied to religion before it can be legally defended?

Frankly, if I were actually thrust into this position, I would make the signs for the Yes on 8 rally, then donate the money to the No on 8 side. And that's what I think these Christian business people should do when it comes to catering or providing flowers for gay weddings. Accept the commission, then turn around and donate the proceeds to the National Organization for Marriage if they have to in order to assuage their consciences. That seems a better solution than refusing to bake a cake for a decent, law-abiding paying customer.

Discuss

Now that the Christian right is no longer able to pick on gays with impunity, and gays are asserting their right to be treated the same as every other American citizen, the righties are, at long last, getting a taste of their own medicine - and they don’t much like it. In fact, they’re in full-on Pity Party mode.

Their new defense is to now cast THEMSELVES as the victims of intolerance and gays as the perpetrators of it.

But if they can claim to have experienced EVEN ONE of the following indignities, maybe then we can talk about how mean-spitted, bullying and intolerant gays are:

1) Been denied the right to legally marry the person they love.

2) Been denied the right to serve in the military.

3) Been denied hospital visitation rights.

4) Been denied inheritance rights.

5) Had their rights put up for a vote by both legislatures and popular referenda.

6) Not been able to attend the prom with the person of their choosing.

7) Not been able to hold hands in public.

8) Been kicked out of their homes for being a Christian.

9) Been fired from a job for being a Christian.

10) Been denied housing for being a Christian.

And these are just some of the many indignities that gays have had to endure at the hands of Christian rightists from time immemorial. Makes being forced to bake a cake kind of pale in comparison, doesn‘t it?

Yet, now that the tables have turned, those on the right (who will often lash out at you if you so much as say “Happy Holidays” to them instead of “Merry Christmas”) now want us to believe that it is THEY who are the victims of bullying. I guess they should know from bullying. They’ve spent the past few millennia perfecting the art of it.

Oh well, guess what goes around comes around. Hope they enjoy it.

Discuss

It has always struck me that one of the main problems with all those polls on the ACA is that pollsters keep asking people who really aren't all that affected by the law what their opinion of it is. Yes, I realize that we are all affected by it in things like the elimination of pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps, but for the vast majority of us who got our insurance through our employer before the ACA and still get it through our employer after the ACA, nothing has really changed. So why ask us if we approve or disapprove of Obamacare? Who really cares what we think?

Well, now Gallup has published a poll that asks only those who have actually gotten insurance through the Obamacare exchanges how THEY feel about. And, guess what, turns out most of them kinda love it.

I'll let Politico explain:

A majority of Americans give good reviews for insurance they recently acquired through government exchanges within the past year, a new poll shows.
With the second round of Obamacare enrollment set to begin on Saturday, 71 percent said their coverage through the exchanges was good or excellent, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. Another 19 percent said the coverage was fair, while 9 percent rated it poorly.
That's 71% (!) rating the coverage they've gotten on the exchanges as EXCELLENT or GOOD. Who would have guessed it based not only on the perpetually negative coverage the ACA gets in the media but from the polls that are always assuring us that everyone in the country hates Obamacare?

As far as I'm concerned, this is the only poll that actually counts.

Discuss

Thomas Frank has an article on Salon about how the Republicans "hijacked the mid-terms" by stealing the progressive message from Democrats - and how Democrats let them get away with it.

He makes the case that, in race after race, Republican candidates actually adopted anti-1% rhetoric that should rightly belong to Dems, while Dems allowed themselves to be painted as pro-1%ers.

Indeed, it is now possible for a Republican soldier like Frank Luntz to explain the Republican victory by writing, “People say Washington is broken and on the decline, that government no longer works for them — only for the rich and powerful.” You read that right: After deliberately breaking Washington, the Republican Party just rode to power by protesting Washington’s brokenness. Having done all they could to enrich the rich and empower the powerful, the GOP has now succeeded in presenting itself as America’s warrior for social justice.
Frank then goes on to list several prominent examples of Republicans doing just that:
In the election just completed, Freedom Partners Action Fund pursued its phony war against capitalism by attacking health insurance companies, which it accused of profiting massively from Obamacare and also of donating massively to Democratic candidates. The Freedom Partners injected the charge into pretty much all the contested Senate racesb—bIowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Colorado. A version of the attack tailored for  Alaska voters put it this way: “Senator Begich isn’t standing up to insurance companies; he’s standing with them.” A favorite line the Freedom Partners kept coming back to: “The hypocrisy is shocking.”
In this case, we have conservatives critiquing the ACA essentially from the left.

More examples:

American Crossroads, one of Karl Rove’s personal agitprop units, was even worse, constantly pounding Democratic candidates with critiques that were also derived from, well, us. The group, or one of its allied super PACs, assailed Mark Begich for allegedly paying female staffers less than he pays men. It described Rep. Bruce Braley as being “on the side of billionaire special interests, not Iowa workers,” a reference to campaign donations Braley got from the wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer. It accused Sen. Kay Hagan of cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare and blasted her for supporting a “controversial” plan to raise the Social Security retirement age — a reference to the Bowles-Simpson Grand Bargain, which was only “controversial” because people like Paul Krugman opposed it.
And how did Democrats respond to this wholesale theft of their issues? By nominating a raft of senatorial candidates culled from "the aristocratic children of famous politicians," candidates like Michelle Nunn, Alison Lundergrin-Grimes, et. al.

This led to results like these:

There’s a reason Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley thought it a crushing put-down to describe a certain senator as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” It’s the same reason “working-class white men make Democrats nervous,” to quote a recent Newsweek headline. It’s also the reason an election night NPR report on the disastrous results of the Kentucky Senate contest included a snippet of commentary from a voter who dismissed the Democratic candidate as a “spoiled rich kid.”
I have my issues with Thomas Frank. At one point, he scolds the Democratic candidates for not running on Obama's accomplishments, "such as they are," even though, recently, Frank has been on a bit of a tear himself against Obama's record of achievement. Still, in this case, I think he is definitely onto something. If Democrats don't grab these populist themes back, the Tea Party Republicans will grab a hold of them for many more election cycles to come.

Definitely worth a read.

Discuss

As a resident of CA-25, I find myself in a strange and unprecedented quandary this election season. Thanks to the crazy new primary system that California enacted this year - one in which the top two vote-getters of whichever party compete against one another in the general election - my only choice for the House of Representatives comes down to two Republican candidates, Steve Knight and Tony Strickland. Since the Democratic candidate came in third in the primaries, he was eliminated from the November ballot.

This leaves me with a difficult decision. Do I hold my nose and vote for the less offensive of the two Republicans, or simply sit out this election?

My heart says sit out this round, but my head keeps telling me to vote for the least offensive Republican candidate. Apparently, I'm not the only one cognizant of this predicament, for today I received in the mail a flyer from a group called the Southern California Progressives encouraging me to choose the lesser-of-two-evils, in this case Mr. Strickland, who is described as "a practical problem solver and political moderate with a proven record of bringing diverse groups of people together to get things done." Knight, on the other hand, is labeled an "extremist Republican who has established himself as one of the most conservative members of the California legislature."

Has it really come to this, that we are being asked to vote for candidates from the opposite party based on how much worse their right-wing-wacko opponent would be if elected into office?

Anybody else facing a similar situation?

Discuss

This comes from Kaiser Health News.

UnitedHealthcare, the largest insurance company in the nation that largely refused to participate in the Affordable Care Act exchanges in the first year, has decided to join the system on November 15, 2014, the date on which the new open enrollment period begins. In the first year of the ACA, UHC sold individual policies on only four state exchanges, but it plans to do so on at least two dozen in the second year.

The reason for the turnabout?

The answer, the bosses said, is that the marketplaces look sustainable, even without some of the reinsurance and risk-spreading backstops put in place for carriers in the first few years. They know the prices now, they said. They know the regulations. They know how consumers are behaving.

“We felt that the markets that we’re looking at now are much more established,” said Gail Boudreaux, who runs UnitedHealth Group’s insurance division.“We’ve always felt that it was part of our strategy and plan – that this is a good, long-term market.”

This bodes well for future premium rate increases, as UHC's participation will insure greater competition among insurance companies and, thus, help to keep rates lower.
A recent paper by economists Leemore Dafny, Jonathan Gruber and Christopher Ody found that if UnitedHealthcare had sold policies through the exchanges this year in every state where it already does business, premiums would have been 5 percent lower.
This is good news for the continued success of the Affordable Care Act.
Discuss
Did you ever think this day would come? Well, apparently it has.

The great George W. Bush Restoration Project has seemingly begun in earnest.

After years of hiding him away in the attic, the RNC must feel that it is finally safe to bring their greatest embarrassment back out into the open for all the world to see. As polls begin to show an inexplicable public softening for the man whose presidency began with the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil and ended with the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression - with a disastrous, unnecessary war thrown into the mix, just for good measure - the Republican National Committee has decided that stirring those old nostalgia embers is the fastest way to swindle their numb nut followers out of their hard-earned money.

Unfortunately, my next door neighbor has a shirt similar to this one, and every time he's wearing it, I can only look at him from the neck up.

And get a load of this blood-curdling quote found in the Huffington Post:

"President George W. Bush led our nation through some of the most challenging moments of our nation’s history — and we miss him and his leadership," reads a fundraising pitch on the RNC's website. "By sporting this comfortable, classic, American-made tee, you can share our message and help us elect principled conservative leaders to office."
Indeed, I'm afraid we've entered into an era of Bush-revisionism (much like the decades of Reagan-revisionism we've already endured), and that everything that happened prior to January 2009 will be swallowed up in a giant media memory hole. And this t-shirt is just the beginning.
Discuss

"Or federal government"

Apparently, the lack of those three simple words in the text of the law may spell serious trouble for the ACA.

Let me explain. It seems that when the law was written, it specifically stated that tax-payer subsidies could be paid out by an "exchange provided by the State." Since it doesn't mention the federal exchange, a case entitled Halbig v. Burwell, now before the three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, is asking that the subsidies be discontinued for all those who got their policies through the federal exchange rather than through state exchanges. Obviously, this would be a disaster for the law.

How serious a threat is this? I'll let Sahil Kapur of TPM address that issue:

Two of the judges, both Republican appointees, expressed varying degrees of sympathy for the challengers' case.

"Of all the challenges since the individual mandate, this is the one that presents the most mortal threat to the act," Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told TPM.

At issue is whether the statute permits the federal exchange (which serves residents of 34 states which opted not to build their own) to dole out premium tax credits. Without the subsidies, which are benefiting millions of lower-income Americans, the individual mandate is unworkable because many people won't be able to afford insurance. And without the mandate, the coverage guarantee for preexisting conditions threatens to send costs soaring and destabilize the health care market.

There are two pieces of good news here:

The challengers initially lost the case in the US District Court of the District of Columbia, and if the Appeals Court overturns that ruling, the Administration could ask for a re-vote in the DC Circuit which is much friendlier territory for Obama, consisting of 7 Democratic and 4 Republican-appointed judges.

Moreover, many of the Democrats who crafted the original law have written a brief making the case that was it never the intention of the law to exclude the federal exchange from providing subsidies.

Also, I don't imagine that all those people who got subsidies with their new policies will be any too happy to have them taken away now. The Republicans cheer this one at their own peril.

Still, forewarned is forearmed and I would definitely recommend reading the whole article so you'll know what diabolical roadblock the right is erecting next for the ACA.

Discuss

Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 11:04 AM PDT

Job creation breaks new record

by Rolandz

As of June 2014, the U.S. economy has seen the highest number of consecutive months of private-sector job growth ever recorded (52 and counting).

That compares with the second highest (51) under Clinton and the third highest (48) under George W. Bush. It's interesting to note that Reagan would have had the most (70) had June 1986 not interrupted the streak.

Still, it is strange that for a president who gets so little credit for the economy, Obama would be the one to be presiding over such a record.

Ah well, some ammunition to use against that inevitable right-wing big mouth at your Bar-B-Que this afternoon.

Discuss
President Barack Obama gives his inaugural address to a worldwide audience from the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol after taking the oath of office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009
To put things into a little perspective - and to get the full flavor of just how delusional the Far Right has become - I thought it might be instructive to consider just how large a group 30 million people really is. For that's the high-end number of Tea Party "patriots" the organizers of Operation American Spring were predicting would descend on Washington D.C. to demand the resignation of President Obama and other major elected figures in the capital.

Here goes:

In 2012, the population of New York City was estimated to be around 8.34 million people. If 30 million people had indeed attended the rally in D.C., that would have been the equivalent of packing nearly FOUR New York Cities onto the National Mall.

The population of the entire state of California is about 38 million. Did the organizers honestly believe that 80% of the population of CA would show up for their rally? Really?

The record-setting crowd at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama was estimated to be about 1.8 million shivering souls. We all remember the pictures from that event, showing people standing shoulder-to-shoulder for as far back as the eye could see. Yet, the OAS people were expecting 15 times that number to show up for their little dress-up affair?!

And one doesn't even want to think of the logistical nightmare that such a scenario would result in. Imagine 30 million Americans uprooting themselves on a single day and heading into a space the size of D.C. I doubt our system of transportation could accommodate such a mass migration.

I know that people often have trouble conceptualizing large numbers, but, honestly, believing that 30 million people would show up to ANYTHING, let alone a rally of malcontents with too much time on their hands, goes from the delusional to the downright pathological.

Discuss

Just when you're about to give up hope, along comes a story like this one to re-affirm your faith in humanity - and especially the youth of today.

When it was announced that the odious Westboro Baptist Church was planning to protest former University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam's coming out as a gay man - making him, potentially, the first out gay player in the NFL - students organized a counter-protest in defense of the young man.

Hundreds of people flocked to the stadium to create a "human wall" of support for Sam.

Small wonder that the right-wing is rapidly going extinct when you see moments like this one.

Congrats to all the young people who showed up to make their voices heard. They are indeed the hope for the future.

Discuss

One of the problems with the "Stand Your Ground" laws is that those defending them always seem to see themselves as the ones making the stand and not as the innocent victims of the gun violence.

When someone begins defending George Zimmerman to me, I always respond with something to the effect of, "Yea, I guess if Trayvon Martin had been the one with the gun, he could have turned on the strange man following him, said he felt threatened and shot him in 'self-defense.'" Somehow, when I suggest that scenario, the whole idea of "Stand Your Ground" doesn't seem so enticing anymore. Could it be that they have never envisioned a black man as the one shooting the gun and an unarmed white man as the victim?

I thought the same thing last week when New York Congressman Michael Grimm, in a heated moment, threatened to hurl a reporter over a balcony for daring to question him about an ongoing federal investigation into alleged finance violations by his campaign.

Now suppose that reporter had been armed and had felt threatened by Grimm's behavior and comments. In the right wing mindset, would he not have been justified in pulling out his gun and shooting the congressman right then and there, no questions asked, no time for a cooling-off period to assess the actual threat? Somehow I doubt that, in this particular instance at least, Grimm would be so quick to make that case.

It's easy to be in favor of laws like that when you always see yourself as the righteous player in the scene. What many supporters never do is see themselves as the potential victim.

Discuss
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