About Wayne A. Schneider

I'm a Liberal, Libertarian, Atheist Humanist. I believe that though the world is a dangerous place, it can be made better if we stop dividing ourselves by how we're different from each other, and reach out to each other through what we have in common. And that is that we are all human beings on this planet. Please remember that.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 27, 2015: See Our Best (Again)

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With the help of my wife, Jane, I wrote this song parody almost four years ago, and I find that it still applies today. This time the Republicans are trotting out a different cast of characters, some of whom haven’t made their presidential aspirations official for legal and technical reasons (such as they don’t really intend to run for president, like Donald Trump), to beg and plead the Koch Brothers to give them money so they can attack Hillary Clinton, who recently announced that she will accept the nomination of the Democratic Party to complete either Bill Clinton’s or Barack Obama’s third term. Or maybe she’s going to finally finish the work of the president she did once work for, Richard Nixon. This time around, Sheldon Adelson (Billionaire – Israel) will play a major role in the elections, but don’t think for a moment that just because he’s not one of the Koch Brothers that he must be good. He isn’t. He has pretty much made it clear he wants a President of the United States who will put the interests of a foreign nation (in this case, Israel) ahead of the interests of the United States and its citizens, especially those who do not agree with Israel’s policies and human rights abuses. Why he thinks Marco Rubio is that person is beyond me.

For those who don’t seem to “get it,” let me try to explain why this is bad. The disastrous, and totally insane Citizens United decision made it perfectly legal to Continue reading

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 20, 2015: Sixteen Years And Not Much Better

It wasn’t the first, and many of us knew then that it wasn’t going to be the last. Unfortunately, we were right. There were more. Plenty more. Too many more. Way, way too many more. And the children. So many, many children. Even after the nation was shocked that a score of little kids would fall victim, still we did little or nothing. Sixteen years ago, on April 20, 1999, two Colorado high school students committed one of the worst gun massacres in American history. The guns they used were bought from gun dealer shows where no background checks were performed (even though they were straw purchases), because no names were taken. One of the guns had been banned from manufacture five years before, but the loose gun laws in our country made it possible, even likely one might believe, that it would end up in the hands of someone who planned to shoot the thirty-six rounds it could hold at other people. A year later, more than 800 pieces of some form of gun control legislation were introduced across the country. Only about ten percent passed. People rightfully asked what it would take to do something about gun violence, but nobody seemed to want to link gun violence to guns. Even after somebody killed more than thirty people on a college campus, even after a nine-year-old girl was killed and a United States Representative suffered a critical, life-threatening head wound, even after twenty small children and seven adults were gunned down by a deranged young man, America still refuses to admit it has a gun problem.

I don’t want to add up all the innocent people who have died at the hands of mass murderers with guns. The number would be too depressing because it’s way more than zero. I don’t know what the financial impact has been on the communities and people who were victims of these mass shootings. I doubt anyone can because the NRA, through its friends in Congress (most of them Republicans, but not all), has managed to make it a crime for the government to compile that kind of information. Congress won’t allow the government to conduct any studies on gun violence, thus giving them the chance to dispute any statistic anyone throws at them as being from a biased source with an agenda, as if that alone disqualifies anything factual that might be said. Yes, everyone who takes the time to inform his or her Congressman about something has an agenda, otherwise they wouldn’t be taking the time to do what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean that each and every one of them isn’t proposing something worthwhile, because many are. But when an organization originally created to teach gun safety and proper shooting procedures has become warped and distorted into an organization that lobbies on behalf of gun manufacturers, not on behalf of its estimated 3.4 million members (about 1% of the country), one can easily wonder just what the “original intent” of the Second Amendment (more on that later) has to do with what’s going on. The NRA spends millions of dollars defending the alleged individual right to bear arms (it is not settled law yet), yet refuses to allow sensible precautions that might help prevent another mass killing. Polling suggests the vast majority of average NRA members support the use of background checks at gun shows, to prevent the sale of guns to people who wouldn’t otherwise pass one, yet the NRA leadership ignores that and cries that background checks would lead to gun owner databases (which are not a bad idea), which would lead to mass confiscations of guns (never in a million years in this country), which would lead to Tyranny, which the Second Amendment was written to prevent. No, it wasn’t.

Prior to 1977, nobody was ever arguing that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to carry a gun for personal protection. That only began to happen when the National Rifle Association was taken over by extremists who argued that 200 years of legal and constitutional precedent were wrong. A large part of their ultimate success in deceiving people into believing this was the misuse of various quotes form Founding Fathers, including Patrick Henry’s “That every man be armed.” In its proper context (see link), it was actually a call to limit gun ownership, not expand it. It is true, regardless of who said it, that the NRA has perpetrated a massive fraud on the American People by claiming the Second Amendment is about the individual right to possess guns. It’s simply not true, regardless of Supreme Court decisions which wrongly claim it is. The Second Amendment was justified to support the use of state militias to defend the nation against invasion and rebellion, and to authorize Slave Posses to capture runaway slaves. President George Washington used the authority of the Second Amendment to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, so that should dispel the myth that its primary purpose (which is the gun enthusiasts’ main argument) is false. And since Slavery was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment, the idea that guns should be allowed to capture runaway slaves is now null and void. Despite the Constitutional limitations on such a thing, the fact remains we have a standing army, even though we’re supposed to be re-authorizing its existence every two years. (How they could legally make me sign a contract to enlist in the Air Force for four years still escapes me.) So we no longer rely on State militias to defend the nation from invasion or rebellion in the same way the Colonists did in the 18th century. Yes, they are called out in emergencies, which can include rebellion, but they aren’t quite used the same way the Founders intended. They tend to get used to suppress exercise of First Amendment rights. The point is, maybe it’s time to rethink how we interpret the Second Amendment in 21st Century America. There’s no reason to lock ourselves into living and thinking like 18th century colonialists. The Constitution is meant to be a framework for our evolving country and its government, not a shackle to the past. Things that were issues and concerns back then don’t necessarily apply to today, which means the same justification used back then don’t necessarily apply today, either. Where citizens might have patrolled streets back them to catch purported thieves, now we have police patrols to whom we’ve granted the authority to use guns and capture criminals. Nobody seriously expects a private citizen to pull out a gun and stop a criminal (and none ever has.) The arguments people come up with to justify carrying around a gun get weaker and weaker. Most of the time the only danger that exists is in their own minds, which is why I hate the idea that one can use that as a justification to kill. “I thought my life was in danger.” From what? “From something it turns out I imagined.” Well, if you were never in actual danger, then you can;t justify using actual deadly force to defend yourself, can you? After all, what was going to kill or harm you? Nothing but your own imagination. Does it make any sense to say it’s okay to claim you were defending yourself against something you imagined when you killed someone?

We have a serious problem with gun violence in this country, and it’s long past time we admit it’s largely connected to our serious problems with guns and the fact, yes, I repeat, fact, that they are dangerous. It defies all logic and common sense to say guns are not dangerous, especially loaded ones. The same Justice who wrote the infamous Heller decision had previously written that laws adding years to a prison sentence for using a gun were constitutional, even when the gun in question was not being used as a gun but as a bludgeon. If guns weren’t dangerous, why would we make sure every soldier sent into battle carried at least one? If guns weren’t dangerous, why would trigger locks even be necessary? If guns wren’t dangerous, why are so many children killing other children with them? It is totally stupid to say a loaded gun isn’t dangerous. It’s dangerous for the same general reason it’s dangerous for a country unfriendly to you to have a nuclear weapon that can be carried by missiles that can reach you. It would allow them to kill or harm you from a safe distance, and before you can do anything to stop them. If I’m standing across the room from you, I can kill or harm you without needing to put myself in close proximity to you, thus giving you the chance to kill or harm me (or take my dangerous gun away and kill me with it.) Yes, you can cite all the cherry-picked statistics you want about how more people are beaten to death with bats than are killed by high-powered rifles, if you want to ignore the use of handguns (which were designed for one, and only one, purpose – to kill people.) But there is one indisputable fact that cannot be ignored, but which all too often is: In every single instance of gun violence in this country’s history, the one common element to all gun deaths, regardless of who, if anyone, was pulling the trigger, has been a gun. So maybe that’s where you have to begin.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss guns, gun control, lying NRA bastards, or any other topic you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 13, 2015: Guess Their Home Planets

Ben Carson is afraid. That’s not unusual for a Conservative, since fear is the primary thing that motivates them to action of any kind. But in Carson’s case’s case that fear is not warranted by anything happening on this planet. Carson is among the many conservatives who believe that all manner of terrorists will cross our border with Mexico with the express purpose of killing them, and only them, on account of we on the Left being their bestest buddies in the world. Courtesy of our friends at Right Wing Watch, at the recent NRA annual circle jerk meeting

Likely GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson told the NRA’s annual meeting today that Americans need guns more than ever since the southern border has been exposed to infiltration from “radical extremist Islamic terrorists” whom President Obama doesn’t intend to fight.

“When they get here,” Carson said, “we need to be able to fight them, particularly if we have an administration that won’t fight them, we need to be able to fight them ourselves.”

He added that guns are necessary for people to “defend themselves against an overly aggressive government that wanted to exact tyranny in this country.”

But he is also among the delusional right wingers who feel Obama hasn’t done anything to fight terrorists who exploit a perverted version of Islam as a justification to kill innocent people, primarily those who are non-Muslim. Apparently these right-wingers are so caught up in their own bubble of mis-information that they didn’t notice all the complaining from the Left about Obama’s drone strike program and how it keeps killing innocent people. Obama, along with several other countries in the Mid-East, has been attacking these guys. He just isn’t committing huge numbers of ground troops to the operation like the right wing wants. And that’s because in the Conservative universe, military power is the only kind of strength anyone respects (because it’s the only kind of power they respect.) There are many planets where right-wingers like this can be found, but in Dr. Ben Carson’s case, that planet would likely be Sigma Draconis VI. This is the home planet of the woman who boarded the Enterprise and removed Spock’s brain while leaving his body alive and functioning. This was possible because of a powerful computer capable of giving someone temporary knowledge beyond their normal intellectual abilities, but whose effects are sadly temporary. The result is when the effects of the intelligence enhancements wear off, the person is left being so stupid they don’t even understand what a brain is, let alone how to successfully remove one. This is clearly what happened to Dr. Carson after he left his home planet and the effects of the machine that gave him the ability to be a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon wore off.

Donald Trump is also afraid, but the only thing that frightens him is the thought that people may one day see just how irrelevant, meaningless, and buffoonish he really is. Trump, who understands nothing of nuclear power, foreign diplomacy, or when to keep one’s mouth shut, badmouthed the recent framework for a deal negotiated with Iran by Secretary of State Kerry and five other nations. And, naturally, since the historic framework for a deal did not involve bombing Iran’s current nuclear facilities, the right wing thinks it’s a totally bad deal. It’s not even a final deal yet, just the framework for a deal that will keep Iran from being able to enrich the kind of uranium that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. And right now, this negotiations for this framework have been the only thing stopping the Iranians from making that bomb. But Trump thinks it’s a terrible deal.

“The deal is terrible, this deal is going to lead to nuclear all over the place and everyone’s going to want to have it and it’s a disaster for Israel, I can tell you, it’s a disaster for this country.”

And we should listen to Trump because he wrote (what he claims is, and what may be, but which I don’t care if it is) the top-selling business book, “The Art of The Deal.” And as everyone in the Conservative Universe knows, Capitalism and International Diplomacy are interchangeable. If you’re good at one you must automatically be good at the other. Herbert Hoover was a Capitalist, and his economic policies led to the Great Depression. George W. Bush was an MBA from Harvard, but that didn’t mean he was the smartest person in the room when it came to foreign policy. Even his Secretary of State, who was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, failed to see its impending collapse. These people know nothing about running a government, let alone how to negotiate with people from another culture. The Conservative Universe has many right wingers who don’t know what they’re taking about, but the Donald Trumps of Earth orginally came from Iota Geminorum IV. This is the home planet of the tribbles, small furry creatures whose purrs have a calming effect on humans. The pelt of one has been resting on Trump’s head for many decades.

As a country, we need to stop listening to people like this. I’m not suggesting they be silenced, just ignored. Many people say there’s no difference between the two major political parties. That is completely false. That doesn’t mean that one works for the benefit of the top 1% and the large multi-national corporations and the other doesn’t. But one party doesn’t have nearly as many crazy people holding crazy viewpoints that they think the rest of us are crazy for not heeding. And it is also not true that Liberalism and Conservatism are just two sides of the same coin. It’s more like two sides of the same circle – the inside and the outside. Conservatism is rooted in Selfishness, in looking out for oneself over the needs of strangers, in asking “What’s in this for me?” of anything new, and in preserving the status quo as much as possible. Like the inside of a circle, there’s a core set of not-always-well-defined principles intended to keep things from changing too much. Liberalism, on the other hand, is rooted in Altruism, in looking out for all of us rather than just some of us, in asking, “How does this benefit the most of us?” of anything new, and in changing things that don’t work for everybody. The two philosophies are in no way equal, so when trying to find solutions that would benefit the nation as a whole, why would anyone believe Conservatives have the best ideas? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Conservatives don’t care about you. So stop voting for them.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Ben Carson, brain surgery, Donald Trump, Tribbles as fashion accessories, or anything else you wish to discuss. Just don’t vote for any Conservatives.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 6,2015: Conservatives Think About Gay Sex A Lot

Pat Robertson is a frightened man. That’s not any new insight, we’ve all known that for years. But with the outcry over Indiana’s RFRA law (which was neither the first, nor was it identical to the early versions), and their subsequent “acquiescence” to those protests, Old Man Pat has come to believe his worst nightmares are coming true: Gay people will be accepted into Society as equals. And when that happens, somehow they’ll take over the world.

“They’re going to force you into their mold, they’re going to make you conform to political correctness, they’re going to make you do what the Left thinks is right, they’re going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage, they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief.”

There’s a lot wrong with those few sentences, including both projection and cognitive dissonance. Whether or not they realize it, Conservative Christians want everybody to be compelled by law to follow their religious beliefs. When you talk about making our laws conform to the Bible, you are imposing your religion on everyone else. If you can’t understand that, then perhaps you should sit back and let the rest of us talk. It is a fact. It is what they want. As for “political correctness,” I ignore that term. It was created by a right wing misanthrope named David Horowitz, and it only makes sense within the framework of an extremely conservative mind. Essentially, it’s a complaint conservatives have when they get called out for saying the kind of hateful, ignorant, bigoted things they’re known for saying. As for making people do things that anybody says is right, that’s what laws are for. Our entire system of laws is based on somebody’s (often a lot of somebodies) idea of what the right way to behave in our society is. So, yes, we on the Left think there’s a certain way you should behave toward your fellow citizens. If people on the right have a problem with it, it’s because they want the legal right to mistreat, abuse, demean, or otherwise put down people different from themselves. Are we going to make you acknowledge homosexual marriage? Only in the sense that we want you to see it as “marriage,” and not anything different than what you’re used to. If you define a marriage by the style of sex you have, then your definition of marriage is the problem. As for the last part, “they’re going to make you embrace lifestyles that you think are anti-biblical despite your religious belief,” exactly what does that mean? Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle choice,” no matter how much the frightened straight people claim it is. And nobody is asking anybody to “embrace” homosexuality, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. As for it being “anti-Biblical,” that’s just too fucking bad. Lots of things are “anti-Biblical.” Lots of those same things are perfectly fine according to other people’s religious beliefs. Why should things that are “anti-Biblical” be singled out for being banned by law? Why should some particular interpretation of “The Bible” become the basis for the way the rest of us live? Why does it matter so much what kind of sex people have? As long as it’s consenting adults participating (of any gender and number), why should it be any of our business? If you want to claim people should live by the Bible, then prove it. Pick up a stone and start stoning all those people who work on the Sabbath. Stone the farmer who plants two different crops in his field. Stone that woman wearing a dress made from two different cloths. They’re just as deserving as the two men who love each other and want to live as a loving married couple just like anybody else. (I almost never hear anti-marriage equality people complain about lesbians getting married, except for Ellen, it’s always the guys getting married that bothers them. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” You never hear, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Alice and Eve.” I tell you, they think about gay male sex a lot more than they want to admit.

And Old Man Pat Robertson is definitely one of them. After going on that rant he came back the next day to continue thinking out loud.

“It doesn’t matter what custom you’ve got, it doesn’t matter what holy thing that you worship and adore, the gays are going to get it,” Robertson said. “They’re going to make you conform to them. You are going to say you like anal sex, you like oral sex, you like bestiality, you like anything you can think of, whatever it is. And sooner or later you are going to have to conform your religious beliefs to the group of some aberrant thing. It won’t stop at homosexuality.”

One more time, Conservatives. Bestiality has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. And homosexuals aren’t the only ones engaging in anal sex or oral sex. Many, many straight couples enjoy them, too, and nobody says we should deny service to straight married couples who engage in, what are legally called, acts of sodomy. And “liking” homosexuality does not equate to liking “anything you can think of.” That is just ignorant bigotry talking there, and why anybody would value the opinion of a man who believes such things is beyond me. Old Man Pat began this rant talking about the owners of Memories Pizza in Indiana, saying they should have kept their mouths shut. But if they did, there wouldn’t have been $842,387 raised on their behalf. The pizza owners claim their viewpoints (which they did not have to give) were misrepresented in the media. They claim they would be happy to serve gay people, but they just wouldn’t cater to a gay wedding. I hate to admit I agree with Pat, so I’ll just say that coincidentally enough, Pat agrees with me on this. This was an issue that would rarely, if ever, come up, because hardly anybody serves pizza at a wedding. But here’s the thing – by specifically saying they wouldn’t serve their pizzas to a couple holding a gay wedding, without specifying any other Biblical violations for whom they would deny service, they are admitting that the Bible has nothing to do with their viewpoint. The fact that they would be willing to serve gay people, just not their weddings, shows they are not adhering to Biblical principles. If the Bible is the reason they would deny wedding services to gay people, then they should be denying all services to gay people. After all, I’m sure they don’t question every woman who comes in to see if she is on her period. So the Bible can’t be the reason for their policy. But the Indiana law, as originally passed, would have given them the right to deny service to anybody they chose by citing their religious beliefs. It doesn’t have to actually be their religious beliefs, they just have to say it is. THAT’S what’s wrong with religious freedom laws like that – you are allowed to openly lie in court and claim something completely false led you to do what you did (or not do what you didn’t do.)

But Old Man Pat is not the only one confused about gay people. Mike Huckabee apparently has gay people confused with atheists. After insisting in an interview with Tony Perkins that the whole discussion about how far people can go to oppress the rights of gay people is a “manufactured crisis” (Huckabee insists the “war on woman” is a manufactured crisis, and that there is no war on women. Of course, what we call a “war on women” is just, to the Conservatives, Christians exercising their freedoms), Mikey went into full Conservative Defensive Projection mode. “The left has gotten very good on creating a crisis, something to divide the country, something to create this sense in which ‘we’ve got to go after these conservatives because they are trying to trample over our rights.'” Really, Mike? Can you say, “Benghazi”? He then went on to make the remarkable comparison:

“It is a classic example of — really a page out of ‘1984,’ when what things mean are the opposite of what they really are. And that’s what I’m seeing here is that in the name of tolerance, there’s intolerance. In the name of diversity, there’s uniformity. In the name of acceptance, there’s true discrimination.”

Let me stop you right there, Mikey. Never mind the fact that “1984” was about a lot more than just words meaning the opposite of what they really mean, about this whole “tolerance” thing. Conservative Christians simply do not understand the concept of tolerance. They seem to think that tolerant people are supposed to tolerate intolerant behavior, such as that exhibited by people who say the kinds of anti-LGBT things Conservative Christians are always being quoted saying. And we aren’t asking for uniformity in the name of diversity. Where the hell did you get that stupid idea? Frank Luntz? And, again, how is not accepting your discriminating behavior an example of discrimination on our part? You are the ones twisting words around, and projecting your own feelings onto us. Perky suggested that gay people who are denied service by one business should just go find another? But what if there are no others because your state law says places open to the public do not have to accommodate the public? He asks Mikey, “Where will it stop?”

“It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.”

What Mikey ignores is that there is quite a lot of disagreement over what constitutes the “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” Does it happen, in his mind, to coincide with the version of Christianity that he thinks is “correct”? I would argue that precisely because there are so many different flavors of Christianity that there is, in fact no such thing as an “unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” As for where it stops? It stops, Perky, when guys like you stop using your Bible to insist that the rest of the country behave according to your religion’s rules. Your religion is just as false as all the other versions of your religion, and just as wrong as all the other deity-based, Creationist religions. Your belief system makes zero sense to a mind capable of critical thought. To insist that it’s correct if you have “faith” is the same as saying, “It makes sense if you don’t try to make sense out of it.” If that’s what your belief system comes down to, then it cannot and should not be the basis of anybody’s laws. And it cannot and should not be accepted as a valid argument against any law. Later, Mikey insisted that “unlike the gay community, conservative Christians would never boycott a business like Walmart.” Not only did Perky immediately say he was boycotting Walmart over their objections to Arkansas’ RFRA, but Mikey forgot about the conservative boycotts encouraged by Townhall.com a couple of years ago. Out of five companies being suggested for boycotts, only one was for anything to do with LGBT rights. The other reasons were unions, MoveOn.org, Alec Baldwin, and Obamacare. And I’ll say this again and for the record: Yes, I am an atheist, but I am not totally unfamiliar with the teachings of the Biblical character known as Jesus. And I do not believe that those teachings could at all be characterized as “Conservative.” Caring for the health and well being of strangers is antithetical to the philosophy of Conservatism, but central to the teachings of Jesus. So the term “Conservative Christian” must be an oxymoron. It is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus and still be Conservative. And if you’re following the philosophy of Conservatism, then you cannot be following the teachings of Jesus. The two are incompatible. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jesus had nothing to say about whether or not gay people should be ostracized from society. I do remember hearing that, like many of us Atheists, Jesus encouraged you to treat other people the way you yourself would want to be treated.

This post is from a much longer one on my own blog. You are encouraged to read the original here.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss LGBT rights, Old Man Pat, Mikey, Perky, or any other closeted gay men you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 30, 2015: Indiana Wasn’t First, Connecticut Was, But Not For The Reasons You Think

Indiana Governor Mike Pence made headlines this past week when he signed into law Indiana’s version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Proponents say the bill is necessary to protect the rights of Christians to practice their beliefs freely. There is a growing belief (entirely misplaced IMHO) on the right that Christians who wish to discriminate against certain customers on religious grounds are being denied the right to practice their religion under the First Amendment. Opponents say that’s precisely why the bill should not be passed, because it will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community on alleged religious freedom grounds (even though there’s no evidence that Jesus said to discriminate against “teh gays”, but we’ll get to that later.) The opposition has been calling for a boycott of Indiana ever since, and there is speculation about how this would affect the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament, whose Final Four competition is to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA says it isn’t sure right now. (Fun Fact: Indianapolis is one of only four state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states. Can you name the other three? The answer is at the end.) The push for the boycott spread to other cities, as the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco joined in the boycott. The news came that Angie’s List, based in Indianapolis, announced it was cancelling its $40-million headquarters expansion project because of the RFRA.

Writing for The Washington Posts’s column, The Fix, Hunter Schwarz observed that nobody has been calling for a boycott of the nineteen (possibly more) states that previously passed some version of the RFRA. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are nineteen states that have passed some version of the RFRA. How did there get to be so many states passing what some see as an unconstitutional law? Simple, the Supreme Court said that the National RFRA passed in 1993 could not be applied to the states. Wait a minute, you mean there’s a National RFRA? You might be wondering when the Republicans got that first discriminatory bill through, and which Republican president signed it? One of the Bushes, right? Wrong. It was passed in 1993 by a Democratic-controlled Congress (my now US Senator Chuck Schumer introduced it), and signed into law by a Democratic President Bill Clinton. Was anybody calling for a boycott when Clinton signed the National RFRA law? No, and there’s why. It had nothing to do with protecting the rights of Christians to discriminate against gay people back then. The rights of Christians to practice their religious beliefs, yes. Sort of. But not the ones you’re probably thinking about. Actually, Jesus really had nothing to do with the story at all. Let’s step into the Way Back Machine.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion (which means for those who wish otherwise that The Bible can never be the foundation of our laws, as that would constitute establishing a religion), nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Technically, this meant that your state could still pass a law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Until the Fourteenth Amendment came along, which says

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This meant that no state could pass a law which violated your rights as a citizen of the United States. Or so you would think. It took a long time before the Incorporation Doctrine was applied to guarantee that states could not violate your gifts under the Bill of Rights, which are not the only rights you have. (Apparently there is debate over this doctrine.) But from time to time the question would arise, “Can the government compel someone to do something that violates that person’s religious beliefs, or can the government prohibit someone from doing something that is part of that person’s religious beliefs?” At what point, in other words, is the government prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

For a long time, religious objectors only got exemptions to laws if the statute provided for them. Judges could provide common law exemptions, but these could be overridden by state laws. The right of a clergy to keep confessions confidential was an exemption provided by state laws. Things changed in the early 60s. The blog The Volokh Conspiracy explains:

But then in Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) the Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the Free Exercise Clause might sometimes constitutionally mandate exemptions. And in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) reaffirmed this, and the period from 1963 to 1990 is often labeled the Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law.

Of course, a constitutional exemption model can never simply say “religious objectors get an exemption.” A wide range of generally applicable laws — murder law, theft law, rape law, and so on — must be applicable even to religious objectors. Even as to more controversial cases, such as bans on race discrimination in education, or generally applicable tax laws, the Court has found (even under the Sherbert/Yoder regime) that religious objectors’ claims must yield.

To distinguish cases where religious objectors win from those in which they lose, the Sherbert/Yoder-era Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs (e.g., when it banned behavior that the objectors saw as religiously compelled, or mandated behavior that the objectors saw as religiously prohibited). Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

But while the strict scrutiny test in race and free speech cases was generally seen as “strict in theory, fatal in fact” (Gerry Gunther’s phrase), almost always invalidating the government law, in religious freedom cases it was “strict in theory, feeble in fact” (Larry Sager and Chris Eisgruber’s phrase). The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.

Then in 1990, the Court changed course: In Employment Division v. Smith, a 5-Justice majority returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime. So long as a law doesn’t discriminate against religious objectors, but generally applies to people regardless of their religiosity, it’s constitutionally valid. If religious objectors want an exemption, they need to go to the legislature. (This is an oversimplification, but let’s go with it for now.)

But before going with it, a little more background on the Smith, because it’s important to understand how it has nothing whatsoever to do with a business discriminating against someone based on religious beliefs. [From Wikipedia]: “The Court upheld the state of Oregon’s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.” (See? Not the kind of Christians you were thinking about.) Back to the blog for more of the story.

Smith was broadly condemned, both by the Left and the Right. That coalition has since largely fallen apart, but it was strong back then: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws (subject to strict scrutiny). “Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” The vote in the House was unanimous, and in the Senate was 97-3.

RFRA was meant to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Supreme Court held that RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws, but didn’t touch it as to federal law. Since 1997 (and in some measure before), about a dozen states enacted similar state-level RFRAs as to state law, and about a dozen more interpreted their state constitutions to follow the Sherbert model rather than the Smith model.

Therefore, the rule now is that there is a religious exemption regime as to federal statutes (under the federal RFRA), and as to state statutes in the about half the states that have state RFRAs or state constitutional exemption regimes. Religious objectors in those jurisdictions may demand exemptions from generally applicable laws that substantially burden the objectors’ practice, which the government must grant unless it can show that applying the laws is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

All of that was written prior to the decision in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. Professor Volokh explains a bit about how the RFRA is supposed to be interpreted.

In interpreting the terms of RFRA — such as “substantial burden,” “compelling government interest,” and “least restrictive means” — courts look to Sherbert/Yoder-era Free Exercise Clause case law. The “findings” section of RFRA states that “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests” (emphasis added), and cites Sherbert and Yoder favorably. And the whole point of RFRA was to “restor[e]” a body of rulings that were overturned by Smith — rulings that recognized a constitutional right to presumptive exemptions from generally applicable laws.

Unfortunately, this body of preexisting case law is not terribly broad or deep. As we’ll see later, for instance, it tells us less than we’d like to know about what counts as a compelling interest. But what counts as a substantial burden is somewhat clearer; we’ll see this in more detail in a later post, but for now, note that the following all constitute a substantial burden:

1. The government’s compelling someone to do something that violates his religious beliefs, or prohibiting someone from doing something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

2. The government’s denying someone a tax exemption or unemployment compensation unless he does something that violates his religious beliefs, or refrains from something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

3. As to state and federal constitutional regimes, it’s not clear whether the above also applies when the objector’s conduct is merely motivated by his religious beliefs (e.g., the objector thinks it’s a religiously valuable thing for him to stay home on the Sabbath, rather than a religious commandment) and not actually mandated by those beliefs. The federal RFRA, many state RFRAs, and RLUIPA expressly apply to “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by … a system of religious belief.”

4. The beliefs need not be longstanding, central to the claimant’s religious beliefs, internally consistent, consistent with any written scripture, or reasonable from the judge’s perspective. They need only be sincere.

Recall, though, that a finding of substantial burden on sincere religious beliefs simply shifts the burden to the government: The government may still justify the burden by showing that applying the law to the objectors is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

As I said before, all of that was before the Hobby Lobby ruling. My first thought was that Hobby Lobby couldn’t argue that they had these rights under the RFRA because Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not a person. It turns out that I was wrong. Title 1, Chapter 1, Words denoting number, gender, and so forth:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—
words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things;
words importing the plural include the singular;
words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well;
words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present;
the words “insane” and “insane person” shall include every idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis;
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;
“officer” includes any person authorized by law to perform the duties of the office;
“signature” or “subscription” includes a mark when the person making the same intended it as such;
“oath” includes affirmation, and “sworn” includes affirmed;
“writing” includes printing and typewriting and reproductions of visual symbols by photographing, multigraphing, mimeographing, manifolding, or otherwise.

And Justice Alito did indeed say the RFRA applied and that Hobby Lobby had standing as a person based on Title 1, Chapter 1. And despite the fact that Hobby Lobby was wrong in their beliefs, and despite the fact that they really weren’t sincere in their claims since they offered birth control coverage in their health care plans right up until the ACA became law, Hobby Lobby was granted their exemption. But that case had nothing to do with a business trying to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. How did we get there by the time Indiana became the 20th state to pass their own RFRA?

When the Native Americans lost their centuries long-held right to use peyote in their religious ceremonies, everybody agreed this was wrong. Before the federal RFRA was passed, Connecticut and Rhode Island had passed their own versions of an RFRA, with the standard being the same as the one Smith reversed. Then Congress passed the RFRA, and in his signing statement, President Bill Clinton even mentioned that the purpose of this law was to reverse the Smith decision, which was about peyote use, not discrimination. This law was written to apply to both the federal government and to the states, so they stopped passing their own versions of the RFRA until the Supreme Court ruled it could not be applied to the states. Then in 1998 Illinois passed its own RFRA, with the language specifically saying it was in response to Smith (and to City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, the decision which ruled the national RFRA could not be applied to states.) This was followed by Florida‘s RFRA law (which did not mention Smith or Flores), but Alabama‘s RFRA did mention them. BTW, an interesting thing about the Alabama legislation is its language that the bill be “liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.” That kind of talk from a very Conservative legislature? The following year saw a state RFRA law get vetoed. Arizona passed its own RFRA, but it was seen by many as being too broadly worded. In fact, the public outcry over how this bill could be interpreted (and the fact that Gov Jan Brewer wanted to address her state’s broken Child Protection System before anything else), led to Gov Brewer issuing a veto. This bill went further than its predecessors in that it contained a section that specifically allowed state licensed professionals to refuse their services to clients based on their own religious beliefs about anything, including sexual orientation. Remember, their beliefs do not have to be accurate, just sincerely held. After Arizona, South Carolina was the next to pass an RFRA. This bill is no more controversial than earlier ones in that it restores the standards put forth in the national bill that was intended to let Native Americans use peyote in their religious rituals. But pending legislation would allow clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay people based on the clerk’s personal religious beliefs. Idaho also has its own RFRA that’s harmless enough, but they also have legislation lending to amend the bill to include the right to discriminate based on bigotry. New Mexico passed just a basic RFRA bill, which declares the government must show a compelling interest in denying a presumptive right on a generic law. Oklahoma, on the other hand, also went pretty far in their RFRA bill, even specifying that nothing in the bill could be construed to “Authorize same sex marriages, unions, or the equivalent thereof.” But they don’t want to stop there, either. They also have bills pending that would allow anybody to deny doing anything for anybody else based solely on personal religious beliefs (however misguided, wrong, or not in accordance with the religion upon which they are supposed to be based.) I’m sure we’ll hear calls for boycotts of the Cowboy Hall of Fame when they pass. There was an eighteen-month lull in state RFRAs before Pennsylvania passed its version called the “Religious Freedom Protection Act.” This one should have triggered calls for boycotts, too, as it not only allows the same kind of personal discrimination based on personal religious beliefs the other bad bills did, but it also appears to directly refute the point of the national RFRA law that overturned Smith so Native Americans can legally use peyote. It would be hard for PA to argue this bill was in response to the Smith decision. Seven months later, in July of 2003, Missouri passed their basic RFRA. It did specify a number of ways in which the Act could not be used, such as supporting a defense to not pay child support, or as an excuse to harm anyone else. I’m glad one of the states thought about that. Their proposed amending legislation would apply religious freedom protection to students. Then things went quiet on the RFRA front for about four years.

In April 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia showed all those religious bigots how to do it by re-passing a law originally passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, before we officially became the United States under our current Constitution, weird language and spellings and all. Don’t believe me? After declaring that the following was passed in 1786, here’s the first sentence:

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical, and even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors, for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet, neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he, being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rules of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere, when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

As the Break-Up Song says, “They don’t write ’em like that anymore.” But as fancy and high-falutin’ as this was (and I’ll thank Virginia not to mention my burthens in public again), they still want to amend this law with a specific right to discriminate by saying no one can be denied a state-issued license just because something they refused to do something that “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.” Once again, it’s only the gays against whom “religious freedom” can be sanctioned. No mention of people wearing tattoos, customers at Red Lobster, women wearing clothing made from two different fabrics, or people who work Saturdays, though they should all face the same Biblical punishments as gay people.

It was about another year before Utah passed its RFRA. If you looked at some of the previous links, you may have come across laws regarding religious land use. Utah’s bill took this form, primarily, but it also adds a protection for religious organizations or people acting on behalf of same if they wish to discriminate based on their alleged religious beliefs. Are you noticing a pattern here? In the beginning, the RFRAs were passed to make up for the SCOTUS saying the national RFRA could not apply to the states. And most of the early ones simply said that the government had the burden of proof if they wanted to infringe on religious freedom, such as banning the use of peyote in religious ceremonies like your ancestors did for centuries. But then the bills started to evolve into declarations that you don’t have to do anything that infringes on your religious beliefs, especially if it involves gay people. Again, not all sinners, just the gay ones. It’s hard for me to believe you can justify it as a religious belief when it’s the only such belief you have when it comes to who to discriminate against. More than a year after Utah, Tennessee passed its RFRA, and while it seems on the surface to be the same as the early RFRAs in that it sets the proper legal test for violations of religious freedom, it also defines “substantial burden” in a way that could be interpreted to mean “not all that substantial.” Almost a year to the day later, Louisiana passed its version of an RFRA. Like many of the overly-broad versions, this ones allows a person “the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely-held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or central requirement of the person’s religious belief.” The problem I have with this kind of language is the “sincerely-held” part. I don’t dispute that these folks think gay people should not have equal rights. I strongly dispute that it’s their religious beliefs that makes them feel this way. Three years after them, Kentucky passed something they claim to be some kind of RFRA, but it’s very short (compared to the other bills), and doesn’t go into as much detail. The KY legislature overrode the governor’s veto. I think the devil was in the details of other bills that set the parameters for when it’s okay to discriminate. Kansas followed up in July 2013 with its RFRA. As you’d expect from a hard-right state government, they allow people to refuse to act in a way that goes contrary to their supposedly deeply held religious beliefs. And, finally, Mississippi passed an RFRA law in 2014. Not only does it restore the Sherbert/Yoder compelling government interest test, it also has these two gems: 1) “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.” (Notice they no longer mention “substantial burden.”); and, 2) “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.” In other words, the government can’t suppress your religious freedom, but your non-governmental employer can. Because unless you’re a business owner, your rights are meaningless.

When you go through these laws, it’s impossible not to notice the gradual transition from simply ensuring that the government applied the same legal test to claims of religious infringement that it did before Justice Scalia decided Native Americans had no constitutional right to do something they were doing before we invaded their land and stole it from them, to enshrining the right to discriminate based solely on claims of religious belief. You don’t have to actually believe these things to claim they permit you to deny service to people you don’t like. You just have to say they do, and it’s up to the government to prove why you shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. Despite being members of a Christian faith, the Oregon Native Americans weren’t claiming a right to deny another person their services because of their religious beliefs, they were claiming a right to do something their people were doing long before anyone came along, took their lands, and set up new laws. But the Christians who support RFRAs are undeniably using them to justify treating some of their fellow citizens in ways their Lord & Savior would undoubtedly disapprove (if he ever existed.) Nor can it really be argued that the original intent of the RFRA laws had anything to do with codifying a right to discriminate, yet that is clearly what was being done by Conservative legislatures that passed recent versions. And do not, for a moment, believe that this right to discriminate has anything whatsoever to do with religious freedom or beliefs. I call bullshit on that one. This has nothing to do with Religion and everything to do with Hate. Are any of these businesses who refuse to sell goods or services to gay people because of their religious beliefs refusing to sell their goods and services to any other category of people not living in accordance with Scripture? Are the ones who won’t sell wedding cakes to gay people also refusing to sell wedding cakes to divorced people looking to marry again? Are they open on the Sabbath, when many weddings take place? If there are things your religious beliefs compel you to do but you don’t, then you shouldn’t be allowed to claim your religious beliefs compel you to act in a particular way, especially if that particular way is a trivial aspect of your religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the free exercise of religion. Nothing in the Christian faith compels followers to treat anyone the way Conservative Christians want to treat gay people, and only gay people. If these so-called Christians want to claim the Bible justifies their actions (a justification not supported by anything in the Constitution), then they should be required to be consistent and apply the same rules to other people they encounter. Or maybe they have to accept the fact that their religious beliefs are inconsistent with their Capitalistic beliefs. You cannot operate any business in accordance with Biblical Law without violating either the US Constitution or federal Civil Rights laws. It was one thing to simply restore the legal test in place before Smith, but as expert on religious extremism Marci A. Hamilton explains, these RFRA bills have gone too far. They are not about protecting religious freedom, they are about protecting religious bigotry. Too many people forget that before the United States came along, every nation had an official religion. And everybody was expected to practice that official religion, sometimes under severe penalty (death), and sometimes under threat of ostracism by the people around you. And, of course, in many countries you were not allowed to even think of practicing another religion. Our Framers said that was wrong. This continent was invaded by Europeans seeking a place to practice their religion their own way, which was a much more extreme version than that practiced back home. They didn’t think their fellow countrymen were religious enough. That’s right. The people who founded what the religious right claims is a Christian nation were religious extremists.

You can visit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Perils site here.

Oh, and for those breathlessly waiting to find out who rounds out the Final Four of state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states, the other three are:
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(look away if you want to work it out for yourself)
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Dover, Delaware; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Honolulu, Hawaii. How many did you get right? And how many did you get right without Googling the answer? Let us know. Thanks for playing.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religious Freedom, its Restoration, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 23, 2015: It’s Clearly Not A Budget

It’s supposed to be a budget, but clearly it’s not. Sure, it’s got some numbers in it, but it also has places where there are no numbers, just huge assumptions about money that even a high school student would find obviously wrong. For example, they want to repeal Obamacare (because, what, 57th time’s a charm?) but they make no provision for where the tax revenue the ACA generated will be raised. The other major problem with that thing with numbers is that it calls for cutting a trillion dollars in spending without specifying the programs being cut. The likely candidates are “food stamps, disability payments for veterans, the earned income tax credit, and Pell grants for college students,” but even cuts there won’t make up for the money Republicans claim they won’t be spending. In short, there is no way this Republican budget can have any connection to Reality.

That’s putting it more kindly than Paul Krugman. He called Republicans the “Trillion Dollar Fraudsters.”

One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.

And therein lies the problem: Republicans are governing this country based on a philosophy that has historically been proven wrong. Tax cuts for the rich do not create jobs. Consumer demand creates jobs, and so do public works programs. If you give more money to the super wealthy by cutting their taxes, they are not going to spend all that money, which is what is needed for the economy to function. The economy only works when money moves around. You buy something from your local merchant. He takes your money, and money from other customers, and he replenishes his stock of the things you all bought. He does this by going to his vendors and buying those products you bought from them. Those vendors, in turn, do the same thing and replenish their own inventory of goods. If a business owner is buying a service from another company, she gives that company her money for their services, and they use it to pay their employees, who go out to their local stores and buy the things they need. If everything is working the way it’s supposed to, the consumers have the money to buy the things they need, the vendors sell enough goods and services to pay their employees and vendors, the businesses involved make a little profit, and the shareholders of those companies get a little more money for themselves. The poor and many of the middle class often live paycheck to paycheck. They spend most, if not all, of what they bring in. Rich people don’t do that. If you give a worker an extra fifty dollars in his paycheck, there’s a good chance he’s going to spend most of that $50, thus stimulating the economy as described. You give that super rich person an extra $50 and he’s not even going to notice it (so he won’t notice when it’s not there), because it’s probably going to end up in some offshore bank account, free of taxation. Public works programs also stimulate the economy because in addition to providing jobs (so people have money to spend), they reduce traffic delays which result in lost productivity. The beneficial ripple effects of an infrastructure spending program are too numerous to detail, but they are one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, along with continuing to pay out unemployment insurance benefits. You can bet that money isn’t going out to offshore bank accounts.

But it starts with someone spending the money in the first place, otherwise there’s nothing to “prime the pump.” If people don’t have money to spend, or have billions of dollars but are not spending it, the economy doesn’t work. Goods and services aren’t sold and businesses are forced to layoff workers. (If they’re not bringing in money, they have no money to pay employees.) Unemployment rises, and so does government spending on benefits (which were earned, by the way, not just handed out to anyone who asks.) Assuming there’s money in the government budget to pay unemployment insurance benefits. Republicans love to cut UI benefits because their rich overlords equate social worth with financial worth. They believe that if you’re poor, it’s because you made bad choices in life, such as not being born into a wealthy family. They believe (with all their cold, black hearts) that because they’re rich and you’re not, that they are better than you. They falsely believe that they made it on their own (including the ones who inherited wealth), and that they never needed any help from the government. How wrong they were. Setting aside their own education (since the super wealthy often have private tutors and attend private schools where they make their private connections in life), there are many ways the super wealthy depend on government. For example, they require roads to earn their wealth. Even if they fly themselves to work in their own helicopters, the people who work for them, the people who deliver the supplies their businesses need, all depend on roads paid for by the public. Their places of work (and homes) are protected by police officers paid for by the public. They use water and electricity often supplied by a delivery system paid for by the public. And this doesn’t even go into the all the ways the government helps the people who help the super wealthy make more money. And if it’s paid for by the public, it’s done through the government. (Because We the People are the Government.) So it is simply not true that any super rich person made it “all on his own.” Their wealth was made possible by the liberal framework around which our society is built. You can’t have a nation of people who look out only for themselves. It just can’t work. Where’s the sense of Community if nobody helps each other out? That’s what our government is – people helping each other out, even if the people being helped out don’t understand that. Actor Craig T. Nelson once said to Fox News Channel (where ignorant, frightened people turn to find out what to fear), “I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Anybody help me out? No.” Actually, Craig, Yes, somebody did help you out. Your fellow citizens. By having your government give you food stamps and welfare. You’re welcome.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Republican inhumanity, or anything else that interests you.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 16, 2015: Again With The Benghazi?

On November 24, 2014, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (or NAMBLA) issued a report with the sexy title “Investigative Report on the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012.” If you’re a Conservative, you probably just had an orgasm reading that sentence. Whether it was over the word “Benghazi” or the word “NAMBLA” I won’t say, but I’m sure you’re titillated. Benghazi. Say it loud and the games start playing. Say it soft as you sit there while praying. Benghazi. You’ll never stop saying “Ben-gha-ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.”

Anywho, this report from this Permanent Select Committee, was to be the “definitive” report on what happened. “Definitive.” So if you were the type of person who understood what words mean, you would think that would be the end of it. Just because the conclusions negated all of the talking points the lie factory at Fox News Channel was pumping into the public discourse, that doesn’t mean Republicans are ever going to let go of it. After all, Hillary Clinton continues to be America’s most admired woman for 17 of the last 18 years. So naturally Republicans (being the Conservatives they are) will decide they need to personally attack her character. It’s what Conservatives do when they can’t win on the merits of their argument, which is usually on account of their argument has no merits. As with Benghazi. There was no stand down order or denial of air support. The CIA said they had adequate security. Secretary Clinton had asked for increased funding for security and was denied by the Republicans. So was it necessary for the Republicans to put out this?

We need to know why the security at our embassy was left inadequate. Why were requests for additional security denied? Why was our response insufficient? Why were some members of the administration slow to acknowledge a terrorist attack had actually occurred? It is simply unacceptable for so many questions to remain unanswered. And it is unjust and simply wrong for anyone to withhold evidence that may lead to the answers.

Gee, Rep Susan Brooks, did you read the report your party put out less than four months ago? None of those questions are unanswered anymore. So you can stop with Benghazi being the pretense to insist on seeing Hillary’s server. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Benghazi and everything to do with Hillary Clinton and her husband, what’s-his-name, Bill. They are terrified of her. (And him. Republicans did everything they could to take him out, and he’s still as popular as he ever was.) And as we all know, Conservatives are highly motivated by fear. It makes no difference if what they fear is real or imagined. They attack the person (or thing) of whom they’re afraid. And forget about any of the things they say making any sense, especially when their fear is based on something imaginary. Forget about their solutions being cost-effective, or even worth a penny of the money being spent. Bose Speaker John Boehner, last seen drinking in a Minneapolis airport men’s room, crying about his latest humiliation on the House floor when those damn Tea Party bastards screwed him on the Homeland Security Funding bill, has been spending millions and millions of your tax dollars to fund these investigations and lawsuits, none of which serve the interests of the American people.

No, the goal is clear – to bring down Hillary Clinton the way they failed to bring down her husband. They want access to her server so they can dig up dirt on either of them, in the hopes of finding evidence of something illegal, in much the same way the Whitewater investigations went from investigating a land deal on which they lost money to a stain on a blue dress (which may have been blue and black or may have been white and gold, nobody can say for sure.) They’re desperate. You can smell it. On second thought, don’t. As with most things in which Conservatives get involved, it smells badly.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Hillary Clinton, e-mails, Benghazi, or anything else you wish to discuss. Just don’t subpoena my server.