Religious Freedom Just Went Corporate

I was wrong in my prediction. There was no deal amongst Republican Justices and more Democratic Justices. But I was correct in predicting a “splitting-the-baby” ruling possibility. John Roberts and his conservative wrecking crew are very careful in their incrementalist approach to moving our oligarchy-nation closer to a fascist-oligarchy one.

The rush of “religious conscience”, for-profit companies to a federal court near you will now commence. The Roberts Court has, literally, opened a can of worms.

Incremental religious fascism is what I will call the ruling. You think I’m exaggerating? Go read it yourself. It’s argle-bargle on steroids.

“In these cases, the owners of three closely held for profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point.”

Read that again slowly. The Court has made a determination that Hobby Lobby, and others, “have sincere Christian beliefs.” I wonder how that sincerity evaluation was made, don’t you? And how similar determinations will be made in the future, as well as what factors will be used to exclude any for-profit company owner’s from claiming “religious objection.” Will a tribunal of priests, rabbis and pastors make that determination in the future. Or are the secular Justices, mostly Catholic, qualified to operate as our new National Priestly Tribunal. Time will tell.

Chief Justice Roberts has been working a shrewdly calculated incremental game to hand over national control of political campaigns to the wildly-wealthy few……with more soon to come….most likely through the vehicle of Scott Walker’s blatant lawlessness. With today’s Hobby Lobby ruling, the Activist Roberts Court, which can’t even spell the word “precedent”, let alone give deference to it, has proven to the American people that they will do whatever it takes to hollow out the Bill of Rights as long as the outcome favors the desires of libertarians and conservatives.

The Conservative Activist Court fig leafed their Hobby Lobby ruling with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. According to the ruling, The RFRA, whose name suggests that religious Americans are somehow, somewhere having their religious freedom taken away from them, prohibits….

“Government (from) substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person, (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of compelling that governmental interest.”

The sly conservative Court agreed government met (1)’s burden in the Hobby Lobby contraceptive case, but not (2). In effect, the Court told the legislative branch of the United States government ‘yes, we agree you have a compelling governmental interest in mandating contraception coverage through Obamacare provisions…..but the way Obamacare was written in regard to this compelling interest was not the “least restrictive means” that the legislative branch could come up with to protect for-profit religious conscience employers.

How should Congress go about finding those “least restrictive means?” The Court, conveniently, doesn’t say. Instead, the five Justices argue that…“There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally insure that every woman has cost free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA approved contraceptives.”

But then the argle begins to bargle, so to speak…..“HHS has provided no reason why the same system (the one which exempts non-profit, religious entities from compliance) cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections.”

That means that “closely held” for-profit, non-religious businesses have the right to be treated the same way churches, religious institutions, and not-for-profit religious business owners are treated……with special opt-out religious exemptions to law.

The Court tried to pre-emptively shoot down any criticism of it’s ruling by suggesting that the ruling did not apply to stuff like “blood transfusions” and other surgeries, procedures or prescriptions which might offend owners of any for-profit, closely held, not-religious business owner or owners…..but that begs the question….Why not? Wouldn’t the Court be willing to issue a similar ruling favoring “conscientious” Jehovah’s Witness business owners claiming exemption from ACA mandates to cover blood transfusions? And if not…..why not?

Furthermore, the Activist Roberts Court suggests that today’s ruling doesn’t apply to large, publicly held business owners. Why the discrimination? Can’t CEO’s and corporate board members of the largest shareholders of Fortune 500 businesses, which the Court has already ruled are, you know, a person…..have a religious conscience that is capable of being offended? What, precisely, is the distinction?

In a cynically disturbing bit of irony here…..today’s ruling, in essence, states that ‘hey, Obama has already made exemptions for certain religious groups, etc…..so there’s no reason why he can’t offer even more concessions to “conscientious objectors.” Obama’s good faith gesture in bending over backwards making allowances for a variety of religious and tangentially religious entities is met by 5 cravenly cynical Justices with ‘you can do more.’

Regardless of the angle of today’s argle-bargle ruling, the net result does not compute. Corporations, by definition, do not have consciences. Human beings have consciences, at least some do. Corporations, closely held or not, are not persons. Corporations are tools humans with consciences use to avoid personal responsibility. And yet, the net result of today’s ruling allows for corporate “persons” with “consciences” to overrule any employees right to not be subjected to the religious practices of their employers.

Libertarians and religionists may be hive-fiving today, declaring victory for “religious liberty.” But, in reality world, albeit undoubtedly, you know, “sincere”, the Court has taken one more incremental step towards a form of pseudo-religious corporate fascism.

 

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Give Them Something To Talk About

Even faithful liberals like Kevin Drum at Mother Jones think President Obama bungled the prisoner swap for Sgt. Bergdahl…..

I exchanged some emails with a friend about Obama’s seemingly tone deaf handling of the Bergdahl case, and one of the things he said is this: “My read is he is getting bored and detached after being so boxed in and hammered. He sounds like he is starting to check out. I think the staff is getting demoralized and are just not caring too much since they know it’s going to get hit one way or the other.”

Obama has always had a certain amount of contempt for the modern media and its endless Politico-style pursuit of shiny objects designed to “win the morning.” Ditto for the parochial nature of congressional politics and the insane tea-party style of no-compromise governing adopted by the modern Republican Party.

Was Obama’s handling of the prisoner swap “seemingly tone deaf?” Is Obama, worn down by the ridiculousness of our nation’s profit-seeking media, just checking out early? Doesn’t Obama even care anymore?

I have followed the Bergdahl story closely…..and I have a different explanation.

Those who read here are capable of thinking for themselves, otherwise…..you wouldn’t be reading here. So, think along with me….

First: Did Obama realize beforehand that GOP opponents and the Wurlitzer would break the faux-outrage volume control over the prisoner swap deal? Of course he did. Republicans briefed on the matter for over two years never hid their intentions of going full-metal-jacket-apeshite should Obama make a swap deal without their approval. Point being…..Obama anticipated this week’s media insanity. Therefore, any talk suggesting that Obama was taken flatfooted, or by surprise, by the level and tone of the crazed reaction to Bergdahl’s release is just crazy, stupid talk…..proving that corporate media and anti-Obama right wingers take their audiences for total fools.

Second: In a corollary to the above……do you think that when Obama sent Susan Rice to last week’s Sunday “news” shows to represent the White House in answering questions about the prisoner swap deal that the president had, somehow, forgotten that Rice has been constantly vilified by the usual suspects…..for her answers to questions on Sunday shows after Benghazi? Of course not. One can disagree with Obama about stuff but few would argue that Obama is a complete and utter moron.

So, no, I don’t see any Obama flat-footed stumble…..or Susan Rice obliviousness in any of it. Here’s what I see….

Obama, whether one likes it or not, is winding down our combat involvement in Afghanistan and has spoken recently about rescinding the AUMF. The president has also recently reiterated his policy to close the embarrassing offshore gulag at Guantanamo. Republicans oppose both of those efforts.

With that in mind, I regard Obama’s prisoner swap announcement as Obama calling his political opponents bluff. Put another way….in a, you know, less civil way…..Obama’s announcement of the prisoner swap was actually Obama symbolically flipping his political opponents the bird. Not a flat-footed stumble…..but a defiant dare.

And Republicans, as Obama had calculated, took that dare……and responded just as Obama expected they would. Like reactionary baboons on meth. It was another teaching moment from the professorial president. The nauseating stench of the winger and media response, far from being a surprise to Obama, was fully anticipated. My view is that Obama wanted the American public to experience, again, the totally unhinged “thinking” of the GOP, this time over how Republicans regard U.S. POWs and closing Gitmo….and the GOP didn’t disappoint.

Having said all that, I really have to hand it to Obama for sending Susan Rice out to the Sunday shows last weekend to represent the White House’s perspective on the prisoner swap. That was a move after the old Reverend’s heart. Far from being tone deaf in sending Rice, Obama deliberately chose Rice…..and with the full expectation that those meth-infused baboons I mentioned above would see red and start flinging their own poo-poo around. Again, the baboons didn’t disappoint. Benghazi, Bergdahl….Baboons…..see?, they all start with a B.

In other words, Obama got the response he was after.

Looking forward now, what Obama needs to do as CIC is unilaterally close Gitmo. Don’t wait for the approval of drug-addicted baboons…..they’re drug addicted….just close it. Guantanamo is not part of the U.S. That’s why Dick and George opened it in the first place…..so that U.S. laws wouldn’t apply there. Congress did not approve the opening of Gitmo, Obama shouldn’t wait for congressional approval to close it.

Bonnie Raitt sings a song called “Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About.” Great tune, great voice. In light of media and conservative reaction to the Bergdahl deal, Obama should stick his chin out, close Gitmo, transfer detainees as he sees fit in his role as CIC,……and really give those political meth-loving baboons* something to talk about.

*No real baboons were harmed in the production of this blog post.

 

Like Blind Pigs Searching For Acorns

Deja vu is the sense of having experienced something before. Deja vu has a French origination and literally means “already seen.”

I’ve already experienced, already seen, what Republicans are doing to Democratic President Obama. Conservatism changes not…..and neither do Republicans when confronted with a Democrat in the White House. There are few relevant differences between how the GOP, and corporate media, have treated the Obama presidency and how they treated the Clinton presidency.

In the 90’s Republicans ran multiple unrelated investigations into Bill Clinton. Other than the constant sound of the Mighty Right Wing Wurlitzer……nothing came of any of the investigations. At least not until a blue dress was discovered unwashed and $80 million more tax dollars were torched in a failed effort to remove Clinton from the office he was elected to twice.

Blind pigs do stumble upon the occasional acorn…..and today’s Republicans, as they stumble from one blind Obama-scandal alley to another, are hoping to recapture the magic from those ludicrous Lewinsky days. Fast and Furious, the birth certificate, Solyndra, New Black Panthers, healthcare.guv, IRS, Benghazi, and the latest….a prisoner swap. That is not an exhaustive list either. Go here for an anti-Obama scandal list which lists 25 separate and distinct “scandals.”

Impeachment is a political tool for the GOP to use when a Democrat, somehow, steals two presidential elections. Impeachment was, of course, never meant to be abused as a political tool. Republicans don’t care about that….

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Monday there will be hearings on whether the Obama administration broke the law in trading five Guantánamo Bay detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who’d been held by the Taliban for five years.

“My perception is he broke the law by not informing Congress 30 days before,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said in an appearance on MSNBC, referring to a 2013 law that requires the administration to notify Congress before detainees from the detention camp are released.

As I mentioned yesterday, Obama DID inform Congress over 2 years ago about the plan to swap Taliban prisoners for the only U.S. soldier still held in Afghanistan. McCain and Feinstein and others have admitted that the exchange had been discussed previously.

Whether congressional figures had “concerns” after being informed about swapping prisoners over two years ago doesn’t really matter here. The Obama administration informed Congress about the swap plans.

Whether impeachment articles will be drawn up in the House against President Obama over a prisoner swap all boils down to…..presidential signing statements….

Current law, signed by Obama in December, stipulates that the defense secretary must notify relevant congressional committees at least 30 days before transferring anyone from Guantanamo Bay and provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to again threaten the United States or its interests.

In the signing statement with the law, Obama declared that he thought the requirement was potentially unconstitutional.

“The executive branch must have the flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,” Obama said.

The last president had absolutely no problems with Congress when he signed dozens of signing statements declaring his “unitary executive” presidential powers to conduct issues and matters of war. It is both predictable and outrageous that so many Republicans and conservatives who defended Commander-in-Chief Bush’s unitary powers….to torture, to detain endlessly, to rendition, to eavesdrop on American communications without warrants, to start pre-emptive wars based on fraud……are now prepared to hold costly and lengthy hearing spectacles over presidential signing statements in search of a causus belli to draw up impeachment articles against Obama.

Moving forward on this story, it’s important to be aware of this…..presidential signing statements…..

…..were relatively rare until Ronald Reagan began using signing statements as a means of asserting the power of the executive against the legislative branch.

George W. Bush used signing statements to challenge about 1,200 provisions of 172 laws he signed — twice as many as all his predecessors combined….

But if a Democratic President, in a “time of war”, and in his role as CIC, decides to issue a signing statement over a law in which he feels Congress is infringing on his singular role as CIC……to make a prisoner swap…..then all Wurlitzer hell breaks loose….and an investigation must begin immediately.

If Republicans don’t eventually bring impeachment articles against Obama it won’t be for a lack of trying. Although they have stumbled like blind pigs looking for acorns of impeachment grade…..just as they did with Clinton 20 years ago…..they just might convince enough nearly-blind compatriots that the latest Obama-scandal stone they kicked up is actually an acorn.

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating about GOP plans to bring impeachment articles against Obama for purely political reasons….go read this National Journal piece.

Money quote…..“… that Obama has abused his office, and that actively threatening impeachment is the best way for Congress to reign in the powers of the executive branch.”

See? Impeachment as a political tool.

 

Open Carry V. NRA

Just recently I mentioned something about the need for “responsible gun owners” to speak out against their fellow gun owning brethren who were flaunting their…..guns….in public places like fast food restaurants and public parks. Well, shiver my timbers….

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action released a surprising statement on Friday condemning  Texas gun-rights supporters who have been hosting demonstrations in which they go into restaurants carrying long guns. The demonstrations started getting a lot of attention once Chili’s, Chipotle, Sonic, and Jack in the Box asked patrons to refrain from bringing firearms into their restaurants.

 

That’s right, the lobbying arm of the NRA denounced the tactics being used by members of Open Carry Texas. Hard to believe isn’t it? The really fun stuff is still to come. But first, here are a few excerpts from the Institute’s statement…..
Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary.  It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates……

the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior…..

Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.

Congrats to the NRA. They did the right thing, the “responsible gun owner” thing…by speaking plainly. Members of Open Carry Texas…umm….had a different response….
“The more the NRA continues to divide its members by attacking some aspects of gun rights instead of supporting all gun rights, the more support it will lose,” Open Carry Texas said in a statement published Monday on its Facebook page.
A mild warning to the NRA, to be sure….but then OCT brings the fun…
“Already, OCT members are posting pictures of themselves cutting up their life membership cards,” the group said. “If they do not retract their disgusting and disrespectful comments, OCT will have no choice but to withdraw its full support of the NRA and establish relationships with other gun rights organizations that fight for ALL gun rights, instead of just paying them lip service the way the NRA appears to be doing.”
Kind of sounds like a Tea Party representative talking smack about the GOP “establishment”, no? You just gotta love the “lip service” part. The NRA, to their shame, successfully lobbied Senate members after the Sandy Hook massacre of 20 first graders, preventing ANY new gun legislation from moving forward. Open Carry Texas refers to power like that as paying “lip service” to NRA members. That is how radically extreme the Texas open carry movement has become.
I’m not sure whether the NRA’s issuance of their statement last Friday had anything to do with what is happening later this week in Ft. Worth….
This comes as some Republicans heading toward the state GOP convention in Fort Worth later this week plan to carry long guns outside the Fort Worth Convention Center.
Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri released a new statement, letting party members know that “anyone carrying an openly exposed weapon will be asked to do so outside of the building.”
Go read the entire Star Telegram article. There’s talk of “black powder revolvers” and whether they might be exempt from all gun laws. But there’s also this….

Supporters hope to add a plank to the party platform that calls on state lawmakers to legalize open carry or constitutional carry, which would let gun owners carry their weapons without license or regulation.

“All delegates, I urge you to open-carry the whole time,” (Open Carry county coordinator) Watkins has posted on Facebook.

 

Could be the makings of a really fun time, huh?

When extremism is allowed to flourish, example: Tea Party…..that extremism usually comes back around to bite the ass of the “establishment” that spawned the extremism. Mississippi GOP Senator Thad Cochran will learn that hard lesson today when he will most likely lose his GOP primary to a full metal jacketed winger.

In the same way, the NRA’s defiant fearmongering efforts in the age of a Democratic president are directly responsible for the extremism we now witness within the U.S. gun culture. The GOP spawned the Tea Party. The NRA spawned the open carry groups.

Now both are openly attacking the host from which they were spawned.

Strange GOP Method Of “Supporting The Troops”

Here is the Republican response to the deal reached by the Obama administration to trade five Taliban prisoners in Gitmo for the lone American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl……

“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.), said in a joint statement.

Politicizing tragedy in foreign countries is what Republicans always do. Simply consider their 2 year exploitation of 4 dead Americans in the Benghazi tragedy….all for political purposes. So, it comes as no surprise that Republicans would openly criticize Obama’s decision to swap prisoners. If Obama encouraged world peace, Republicans would instantly accuse him of surrendering to enemies…..so, no surprise that Republicans did not greet the welcome news of Bergdahl’s release as a positive accomplishment.

But then, Republicans have been fighting for 2 solid years to prevent the Obama administration from negotiating a deal for the release of our lone prisoner of war in Afghanistan. This excerpt is from a must-read article written two years ago exclusively focusing on Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl…..

“The Hill is giving State and the White House shit,” says one senior administration source. “The political consequences­ are being used as leverage in the policy debate.” According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president’s opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. “They keep telling me it’s going to be Obama’s Willie Horton moment,” Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president’s political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-­like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign. In response, a White House official advised Grossman that he should ignore the politics of the swap and concentrate solely on the policy.

“Frankly, we don’t give a shit why he left,” says one White House official. “He’s an American soldier. We want to bring him home.”

Take special note of this sentence……“The political consequences­ are being used as leverage in the policy debate.” Rather than acknowledging that the release of U.S. Sgt Bergdahl from captivity was the vital issue at hand TWO YEARS AGO, Republicans threatened President Obama with political extortion payback if such a negotiation for release was accomplished. Republicans threatened Obama TWO YEARS AGO….that if he traded prisoners to gain Bergdahl’s release, they would relentlessly punish him, and Democrats, by saturating corporate media with negative ads accusing him of “negotiating with evil terrorists.”

Umm….been there, done that….

Those in the Pentagon who oppose the prisoner exchange have insisted that the deal would send the wrong message to America’s enemies. “The Pentagon is making the argument that American soldiers would become targets for kidnapping,” says a senior administration official. “We pushed back on that. They already are – the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been using their resources to kidnap Americans for years.” Prisoner exchanges take place at the ground level all the time in Afghani­stan, and Gen. David Petraeus, now the head of the CIA, has pointed out in discussions about Bowe that U.S. forces made distasteful swaps in Iraq – including one involving Qais Khazali, a Shiite extremist who orchestrated the kidnapping and execution of four U.S. soldiers in Karbala in 2007. Even a hard-line Israeli nationalist like Benjamin Netanyahu has recognized the value of a single soldier: In October, the prime minister agreed to free 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal who had been held captive by Hamas for five years. The move was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Israelis. “The Israelis really care about the value of one life,” says a senior U.S. official. “Does the American public?”

Republicans are oh-so-upset about Obama’s prisoner exchange deal…..upset about a prisoner exchange deal that their favorite General, Petreaus…..their favorite ally…Israel, and their favorite president….Ronaldus Maximus…..also struck through, you know, “negotiating with terrorists.”

No, the whining and bitching from Republicans over a prisoner transfer has not a leg to stand upon……but reality thinking has nothing to do with their objections.

It is Obama who negotiated the prisoner exchange. THAT is the only reason for today’s Republican whining.

Take note here how dearly Republicans value the life of even one single prisoner. They see the negotiated release of that U.S. soldier as something they can use to bale political hay…..just like how they regarded the deaths of 4 Americans in Benghazi.

That’s how much they “support the troops.”