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

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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; Friday March 27 2015; The Great American Con Game

The Congressional Progressive Caucus recently released their proposed “People’s Budget” for official consideration. It’s a Federal budget proposal designed to serve “. . . the values, needs, and hopes of all our people, not just the powerful and the privileged.” In brief synopsis, the People’s Budget enables investment in:

  • Infrastructure and Transportation:  …
  • Education:
  • Social Security:
  • Hunger:
  • Environment:

The investments will be paid for by raising revenues in several areas, including:

  • Taxing the Wealthy Fairly
  • Stopping Subsidies for CEOs
  • Keeping Jobs and Corporate Profits at Home
  • Taxing Wall Street
  • Rationalizing Defense Spending
[…]

In re the Taxing the Wealthy Fairly proviso, the tax rates would be adjusted according to income, as follows:

$1-10 million: 45 percent
$10-20 million: 46 percent
$20-100 million: 47 percent
$100 million-1 billion: 48 percent
$1 billion and over: 49 percent

It should be noted that the highest of the new tax rates is still lower than the top bracket in place during most of the Reagan administration.

The (limited overview) bottom line is that if said budget is approved and carried out, it

Creates more than 8 million good jobs by 2018.
Increases functionality of Worker Protection Agencies.
Includes a four percent raise for federal workers.
Provides Paid Leave Initiative and Child Care.
Supports a minimum wage increase and Collective Bargaining.
Repeals sequester and all Budget Control Act spending caps.
Increases discretionary funding to invest in working families.
Reverses harmful cuts and enhances social safety net.
Invests in veterans, women, communities of color and their families.
Allows states to transition to single-payer health care systems.
Invests in clean and renewable energy and green manufacturing.
Implements comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship.

And last but by no means least, it also mandates that public financing of campaigns to curb special interest influence in politics becomes a replacement of the ‘Citizens United’ Supreme Court travesty.

How in the world could anyone, Republican and Democrat alike, not be in favor of such an egalitarian budget, itself a clear and obvious effort to broadly support the well-being of common folk — PAID FOR simply by raising the wealthy/corporate tax rate stream to a level not as high as was in effect during most of St. Reagan’s presidency?

I decided to find out. Earlier this week, I signed a petition of support for the People’s Budget, a petition that was forwarded to Cory Gardner, my new Tea Party Senator (that’s the “Elections Have Consequences” Cory Gardner). Gardner’s boilerplate response proved to be quite revealing in that it essentially spelled out the reasons the country continues to suffer its economic malaise. Gardner says:

Our nation’s debt stands at a staggering $18 trillion and continues to grow with Washington’s out-of-control deficit spending. Without changes in our budget, the Congressional Budget Office projects that amount could rise to $27 trillion in ten years.

The President’s budget is a disappointment, full of new spending and fewer opportunities to come to the table with the new Congress and work towards a responsible budget for our nation. It tries to justify its massive spending increases with more taxes, fees, and budgetary tricks. We need real spending cuts that will slow and reverse the growth of our national debt and reforms that aim to eliminate waste and abuse at all levels of the federal government.

During my time in Congress, I have continued to vote for spending cuts, deficit reduction, and greater fiscal responsibility. We need a responsible plan that leads to a balanced budget while keeping our nation’s promises which is why I have remained committed to passage of a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. Achieving a balanced budget and restoring economic stability continue to be my priorities moving forward. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address our nation’s spending problems and find responsible solutions that reduce our nation’s debt. As legislation concerning the federal budget comes to the Senate floor for a vote, please rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.

The red and underlined highlights are my own, of course, added to help summarize The Great American Con Game which, according to Gardner, demands responsible solutions, a balanced budget, economic stability, and keeping our nation’s promises — all without more taxes, fees, and budgetary tricks. I can’t help but note that the People’s Budget takes care of all of his legitimate concerns (and many more) with the exception of the ones that are greed-based, the ones best solved by Taxing the Wealthy Fairly and via those budgetary tricks such as Stopping Subsidies for CEOs, and Keeping Jobs and Corporate Profits at Home, and Taxing Wall Street. Unfortunately for the common man, each and all of those revenue-raising propositions are,  to Teabaggers, as evil and irrational as is — heaven forbid! — Rationalizing Defense Spending.

In the final analysis, Gardner is simply parroting the central points of what can reasonably be called The Great American Con(servative) Game and in the process is conclusively demonstrating to the world that he’s no more committed to finding responsible solutions concerning the federal budget or to restoring economic stability and keeping our nation’s promises than are any other of his fascist Teabagger compatriots. Their sole interest has nothing to do with honorable governance, with defending and supporting the Constitution. Their goal is to gratuitously arrange the transfer of ALL wealth and power to the banking and corporate elites, to the 1%, by any means possible — even as they completely disregard the long term damage their greed-based policies have already inflicted and will continue to inflict on “We the people” and on the nation itself. The defining words of such policies and attitudes are as simple as they are familiar: Fascism; Oligarchy. Not exactly Constitutionally-based descriptors of what the country is on the verge of becoming, and most certainly WILL become if and when an unchallengeable Tea Party majority should ever assume full control of the government.

All that having been said, I’ve decided to assign my ‘attitude summation’ concerning today’s Great American Con Game, aka the Republican Party, to Albert Einstein who once pointed out that

“This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once.

To which I can only add Amen, Amen.

OPEN THREAD

The Watering Hole; Thursday March 26 2015; Ted et al., et Al

“Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
~Albert Einstein

Last Monday (March 23 2015) Ted Cruz (R-Tx) became the first announced candidate for 2016’s presidential election. He won’t be the last, of course, as the potential field is extremely broad and contains familiar names such as Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and  who knows, maybe even Paul Ryan, maybe even Mitt Romney. I’m not sure it makes any difference who prevails, however, given that their collective ideology contains at the very least a list of those 14 familiar right wing enthusiasms, including a strong sense of nationalism, a standard enemies list, an all-powerful military, national security fervor, religious fervor, little or no concern for human rights, sexism, a controlled mass media, corporate protection, labor suppression, cronyism, phooey on arts and intellectualism, obsession with crime and punishment, and of course the control of electoral outcome by any means available. Their disdain of practicality is, of course, uniform and embraces virtually everything that might help lower and middle class individuals, including a viable living wage, universal health care, education, immigration reform, racial and ethnic justice, etc. In short, anything considered liberal or progressive that might benefit all the people is, to Republicans and in a word, verboten.

Stated another way, the Republican Party’s sole “solution” to any sort of progressive-liberal populist thought or program that favors the well being of we the people over the upward assignation of money, wealth, and power is to elect any one of their above-mentioned potential candidates — one of those “Demagogues and Stooges” of the day — one of many ubiquitous ‘mediocre minds’ that are perfectly willing to offer whichever level of ‘violent opposition’ it will take to rid America once and for all of her “Great ideas.”

I do admit that over the years I have remained fascinated by the vast intellectual gulf that separates thinkers from Republicans, the same gulf that separates rational discussion  from the robotic recitations of Republicans everywhere. Here are some tidbits that celebrate those differences — a handful of quotes I’ve collected over the years, words by one of the foremost thinkers emergent within the entire span of human existence: Albert Einstein.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.”

“Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.”

“The pioneers of a warless world are the youth that refuse military service.”

“War seems to me to be a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.”

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

“The flag is proof that man is still a herd animal.”

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the true source of all art and science.”

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.”

“This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism.”

Einstein on Religion

“If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

“I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings. April 24, 1921

“My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” (in a letter to M. Berkowitz, October 25, 1950)

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.” (1947)

“The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.” (in a letter to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952)

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own ― a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.” (Albert Einstein, quoted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

“Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion of the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.”

From those words, one conclusion is clear, concise, and obvious: Albert Einstein was NOT, in his day, a fascist, and were he alive today he would NOT be (assuming there’s a difference) a Republican.

Q.E.D.
Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

OPEN THREAD

Wednesday, March 25, 2015: And they’re off and running….

Ted Cruz, the Cuban-Canadian socialist-Marxist libertarian from Texas has thrown his hat into the presidential race. With his hair, he should put it back on. Same goes for Trump.

But in bigger news, Hobby Lobby, the for-profit conservative Christian corporation, will be announcing its bid on Palm Sunday. “Like the Savior, riding in on a donkey, Hobby Lobby will lead the way to peace, salvation and craft goods from China” reads one draft of their impending announcement. Hobby Lobby won the corporate right to discriminate based on religion, and intends to expand that right to all government services.

Exxon-Mobile is said to be mulling over the idea of running, as is Monsanto, who, for the last decade has been secretly trying to clone Ronald Reagan.

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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.

Sunday Roast: Did I say that out loud?

via Raw Story

The current Bob Jones, who, unfortunately for the rest of us, seem to run in perpetuity, has regrets.  He now allows that gay people should not be stoned, although they are still sinners.

“I take personal ownership of this inflammatory rhetoric. This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago,” Jones said in a statement. “Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger—were my name not attached.”

“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners,” he added.

In other words, “I can’t believe I said that out loud.”

But, looking on the bright side, since it seems that we’re ALL sinners in the eyes of the mythical sky fairy, then that puts homosekshuls on equal footing with the rest of us — hence equal rights for everyone!!  Yay, Bob Jones III!

I’m sure he’s right onboard with the idea…right?

This is our daily open thread — Sorry so late!!