As youngsters, we are often taught not to discus politics or religion in social circles. Normally that advice would have merit. In today's environment however, those topics have become intertwined and have sparked some very heated debate concerning the new health care law and its impact on our freedom of religion. That debate is literally on center stage right now.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Those are the words of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The amendment was initially conceived and a draft written by Thomas Jefferson. That was followed by various inputs from the founders and the final version was passed in the House and the Senate in 1789. It was ratified by the States in 1791. This most important section of the Bill of Rights has served this country well for over 222 years. However, it is now under siege.
A few years ago, in a letter to the editor, a writer stated that he believed the First Amendment needed to be revised, that it didn't reflect today's United States. He took particular issue with the reference to freedom of speech; claiming it was outdated and he didn't much care for the regular folks having their viewpoints printed in the newspaper. As you know, the range of viewpoints expressed by the public represent the good, the bad, and the ugly . . . without that range of opinion, it wouldn't be "free speech".
Today, as this is being written, Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the Denver based, Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, its request for an emergency stay of that part of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dealing with the abortion/contraception issue. The Sisters appeal had been denied earlier in the day by a Federal District Court. The stay by Justice Sotomayor gives the federal government a week to respond, but a decision may not come from the court until the middle of the year.
What is so troubling about this particular issue is that it seems that the ACA clearly violates the wording, spirit, and intent of the First Amendment, as it pertains to religious freedom. The fact that the government has tried to circumvent that amendment by dictating to insurance companies that they provide the abortion coverage "for free" is an insult not only to the amendment, but to common sense. Does anyone think that the government can or should dictate to a company what it must give away "for free"? Obviously, if the insurance companies involved complied with the government dictate, they would simply pass along those costs by charging the policy holders a higher premium. Further, if the government can dictate one thing that must given away "for free", does that then set a precedent, giving the government license to dictate any number of other things that businesses must give away for free? How about a new Cadillac? Or a waterfront home?
What is equally troubling is that, in this case, lower courts had ruled against the sisters' petition. However, in another ruling on the free contraception issue that was brought by the Archdiocese of Washington, the three-judge panel ruled two to one in favor of the archdiocese. Judge David S. Tatel, the dissenting vote in that case said, "Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a 'substantial burden' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal,". What is so disturbing about the position taken by Judge Tatel, and a number of other judges, is their apparent disregard for the First, and arguably the most important, Amendment to the Constitution. One would think that the clause, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", is clear enough to be understood by an elementary school student, let alone a person learned in the law. And, importantly, why should a church have to prove a "substantial burden" when some government act flies in the face of its religious tenets? The dictate to provide contraception and abortion services, "free" or otherwise, is a denial of long held religious beliefs and religious freedom.
And, as this is being written, it is not known if Justice Sotomayor's stay will be made permanent or if the lower court's ruling denying the sisters' plea will take effect. We can pray that "justice" will prevail. Should the sisters be denied their petition, future historians may point to that denial as the ruling that led to the ultimate dissolution of the Bill of Rights and the freedoms associated with it.
People of faith are being bullied by those who believe that political correctness and its companion, humanism, should be what guides our country and its people. Neither of those is a substitute for Religious beliefs. As mentioned up front, religion and politics should not be discussed in social circles . . . they're bound to get some people upset.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
This made my heart ache and my blood pressure spike: Actress Tamera Mowry, who is black, wept in an interview with Oprah Winfrey over the vile bigotry she has encountered because of her marriage to Fox News reporter Adam Housley, who is white. Misogynist haters called Mowry a sellout and a "white man's whore." International news outlets labeled the Internet epithets she endured "horrific" and "shocking."
Horrific? Yes. Shocking? Not at all. What Mowry experienced is just a small taste of what the intolerance mob dishes out against people "of color" who love, think and live the "wrong" way. I've grown so used to it that I often forget how hurtful it can be. Mowry's candor was moving and admirable. It's also a valuable teachable moment about how dehumanizing it can be to work in the public eye. Have we really sunk to this?
Young actresses in the 21st century forced to defend their love lives because their marital choices are politically incorrect? We're leaning backward in the regressive Age of Hope and Change.
Let's face it: Mowry's sin, in the view of her feckless detractors, is not merely that she married outside her race. It's also that she is so open about her love for a white man who — gasp! — works for reviled Fox News. Neither of them is political, but the mere association with Bad Things (Fox, conservatives, capitalism, the tea party, Christian activism, traditional values) is an invitation for unabashed hate.
The dirty open secret is that a certain category of public figures has been routinely mocked, savaged and reviled for being partners in interracial marriages or part of loving interracial families (for a refresher, see the video clip of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry and friends cackling at the holiday photo of Mitt Romney holding his black adopted grandson in his lap).
And the dirty double standard is that selectively compassionate journalists and pundits have routinely looked the other way — or participate directly in heaping on the hate.
Have you forgotten? Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was excoriated by black liberals for being married to wife Virginia, who happens to be white. The critics weren't anonymous trolls on the Internet. They worked for major media outlets and institutions of higher learning. USA Today columnist Barbara Reynolds slammed Thomas and his wife for their colorblind union: "It may sound bigoted; well, this is a bigoted world and why can't black people be allowed a little Archie Bunker mentality? ... Here's a man who's going to decide crucial issues for the country and he has already said no to blacks; he has already said if he can't paint himself white he'll think white and marry a white woman."
Howard University's Afro-American Studies Chair Russell Adams accused Thomas of racism against all blacks for falling in love with someone outside his race. "His marrying a white woman is a sign of his rejection of the black community," Adams told The Washington Post. "Great justices have had community roots that served as a basis for understanding the Constitution. Clarence's lack of a sense of community makes his nomination troubling."
California state Senate Democrat Diane Watson taunted former University of California regent Ward Connerly after a public hearing, spitting: "He's married a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn't want to be black."
Mowry is not alone. The Thomases and the Connerlys are not alone. Poisonous attempts to shame are an old, endless schoolyard game played by bullies who never grow up and can't stand other people's happiness or success.
Time doesn't lessen the vitriol or hostility. Take it from someone who knows. "Oriental Auntie-Tom," "yellow woman doing the white man's job," "white man's puppet," "Manila whore" and "Subic Bay bar girl" are just a few of the printable slurs I've amassed over the past quarter-century. You wouldn't believe how many Neanderthals still think they can break you by sneering "me love you long time" or "holla for a dolla." My IQ, free will, skin color, eye shape, productivity, sincerity, maiden name and integrity have all been ridiculed or questioned because I happen to be a minority conservative woman happily married to a white man and the mother of two interracial children who see Mom and Dad — not Brown Mom and White Dad.
Mowry's got the right attitude. She wiped away her tears and told Oprah that haters wouldn't drag her down. Brava. Live, laugh, think and love without regrets. It's the best revenge and the most effective antidote to crab-in-the-bucket syndrome.
(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 10:45
The prospects for single-payer health care — adored by many liberals, despised by private health insurers and looking better all the time to others — did not die in the Affordable Care Act. It was thrown a lifeline through a little-known provision tucked in the famously long legislation. Single-payer groups in several states are now lining up to make use of Section 1332.
Vermont is way ahead of the pack, but Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Washington, California, Colorado and Maryland have strong single-payer movements.
First, some definitions. Single-payer is a system where the government pays all medical bills. Canada has a single-payer system. By the way, Canada's system is not socialized medicine but socialized insurance (like Medicare). In Canada, the doctors work for themselves.
Under Section 1332, states may apply for "innovation waivers" starting in 2017. They would let states try paths to health care reform different from those mapped out by the Affordable Care Act — as long as they meet certain of its goals. States must cover as many people and offer coverage as comprehensive and affordable. And they can't increase the federal deficit. Qualifying states would receive the same federal funding that would have been available under Obamacare.
My conservative friends complain that the innovation waiver requirements would rule out everything but single-payer. No doubt they are diligently working on a more privatized alternative that would cover less, cost more and raise the federal deficit.
"Vermont is the only state where they're thinking very concretely about using (the waiver) as part of their plan," Judy Solomon, health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me.
Hawaii got close. Its Legislature passed a single-payer bill in 2009, which was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican. Lawmakers overrode the veto, but Lingle refused to implement the law.
The quest remains rocky, Dr. Stephen Kemble, a single-payer advocate and past president of the Hawaii Medical Association, told me. "If Vermont can get things going, that would make things easier for others."
In Washington state, "our focus is to work on grass-roots support," says Dr. David McLanahan, Washington coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. "We're laying the groundwork" for legislation and a request for an innovation waiver.
Problems in the Obamacare rollout have energized fans of single-payer. Computer glitches aside, the troubles stem chiefly from the law's complexity. Single-payer is all about simplicity.
Under the Vermont plan, employers and individuals would no longer have to buy private health coverage. They would instead pay a tax. The state-run system would also cover more things, like dental. And oh, yes, Vermonters could choose their hospitals and doctors.
William Hsiao, an economist at the Harvard School of Public Health, has projected that Vermont's annual health care spending could fall 25 percent. The savings would more than pay for the new benefits.
How? Fewer dollars would go to advertising, executive windfalls and payouts to investors. Doctors dealing with one insurer would save on office staff. Fraud and abuse would shrink as a comprehensive database makes crooks easier to spot.
It's too bad that some liberals have turned single-payer into a religion and are whacking the Vermont plan for not being pure enough. Vermont is permitting continued private coverage for very practical reasons. Bear in mind that the most acclaimed health care systems — in Germany, in France and our Medicare — combine single-payer for basics with private coverage for the extras.
Vermont intends to use its state health insurance exchange as the structure on which to build its single-payer system. By 2017, the road to an innovation waiver should be clear. Go forth, Green Mountain State. Show us what you can do.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
In the wars she has fought, America has often allied with regimes that represented the antithesis of the cause for which we were fighting.
In our Revolutionary War for freedom and independence from the tyrant King of England, our indispensable ally was the King of France.
In World War I, Woodrow Wilson said we were fighting to "make the world safe for democracy." Yet our foremost allies were five avaricious empires: the British, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian.
In World War II, the ally who did most of the fighting against Hitler was Josef Stalin.
Enough said. In America's wars, cold and hot, the enemy of our enemy has often been our ally, if not our friend.
And that is the question of the hour in the Middle East. The region seems to be descending step by step into a war of all against all. And at its heart is the civil-sectarian war to overthrow the Syrian Alawite regime of Bashar Assad. Now that war has spilled over into Lebanon and Iraq. And in Syria and Iraq our principal enemies are the jihadists of the al-Nusra Front and ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant.
Implacably anti-American, these Islamist fighters control enclaves in northern Syria and appear to have captured Fallujah and perhaps Ramadi, crucial cities of Iraq's Anbar province for which hundreds of Americans died. And who are the foremost fighting foes of the Nusra Front and ISIS? In Syria it is Bashar al Assad, whom Obama said two years ago must leave, and a Syrian army, which Obama was about to attack in August, until the American people rose up to tell him to stay out.
Who are Assad's allies against the al Nusra Front and ISIS? Vladimir Putin's Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah whose forces helped turn the tide back last year against the rebels.
In Iraq and Syria, al-Qaida jihadists and Sunni terrorists, our enemies, are also the enemies of Iran, Hezbollah and Assad. Indeed, Iran has offered to join us in sending military assistance to Baghdad in its fight against the al-Qaida-backed rebellion in Anbar.
Yet, there are other vantage points from which this widening war is being seen, and one is Riyadh. While Saudi Arabia has come to recognize the menace of ISIS and sent aid to rival rebel factions in Syria, the larger and longer-term threat Riyadh sees is Tehran. And understandably so. Saudi Arabia is the Sunni and Arab power in the Persian Gulf. But Shia and Persian Iran is almost twice as populous and at the heart of a Shia Crescent of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah. Moreover, Riyadh in 2013 saw her superpower patron, America, back away from an attack on Syria, negotiate in secret with Iran, and begin talks with the Ayatollah's regime on limitations to its nuclear program — in return for a lifting of U.S. sanctions. To the Saudis, what appears to be an emerging detente between Tehran and Washington looms as a strategic disaster.
From Israel's vantage point, the overthrow of Assad would mean the isolation of Hezbollah, which would no longer receive weapons from a Syrian regime that Hezbollah had fought to keep out of power.
But what about America's point of view? "Sooner or later," The Washington Post writes, "the United States will have to face the threat to its vital interests emerging across the Levant." But, with due respect, there are no U.S. "vital interests" in the Levant. For the first 150 years of our existence as a nation, the Levant was ruled by Ottoman Turks, and then by the British and the French under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. What difference did it make to us who ruled Damascus or Beirut?
The vital interest America has in that region is to keep the oil flowing out of the Gulf, upon which the global economy depends.
While a victory for the rebels might fit well with the agendas of Riyadh and Tel Aviv, it might also mean a massacre of Alawites and a mass exodus of Christians. At best, it would bring about a regime along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood government that lately ruled in Cairo. At worst, it could bring to power a regime dominated by Sunni jihadists.
The greatest threat to U.S. interests there is not autocrats, Sunni or Shia, interested in getting rich, but radicals with the mindset of suicide bombers taking over a state and spreading revolution down the Gulf.
War is the clear and present danger, and peace the necessary condition of securing those interests.
The defeat of ISIS in Anbar and Syria and peace in the region should be our primary goal. And if Iran is willing to assist Damascus and Baghdad in defeating al-Qaida, Iran should be treated as a temporary ally in a common cause. After all, FDR and Truman got on famously with "good old Joe" Stalin.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Monday, 13 January 2014 10:38
My wishfully thinking Democratic friends are hoping that Bridgegate will sink the presidential ambitions of "frontrunner" Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor whose independent streak and straight-talking authenticity have earned him the mostly meaningless crown three years out.
In case you've been under a rock, Bridgegate is the mean bit of New Jersey politics in which the Democratic mayor of the town of Fort Lee was "punished" for not endorsing the Republican governor for re-election with crippling traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge on the first day of school. The governor had denied any political motivation or any involvement at all in the closures. Turns out one of his top aides e-mailed one of his top allies to teach the mayor a lesson. Scandal No. 1 of campaign 2016.
Presidential politics looks easy until you try it.
Better now than in 2016.
Bridgegate is the sort of scandal that could kill you if it were timed right. Christie is a candidate whose strengths and weaknesses are opposite sides of a fine line. People like the fact that he is a down-to-earth tough guy who takes charge, which is just a short jump away from being a Jersey boss who has to control — and win — everything. Authentic is good. So Christie has a temper. That makes him real. Until it makes him mean.
Luckily for Christie, it's 2014, and so far, he's done everything right, according to the playbook for handling political scandals. He's apologized and fired the supposedly responsible party; he'll cooperate with the investigation; he is suitably shocked and chagrined. It might all just go away as long as there are no e-mails or text messages that suggest he knew what he claims he didn't know (in which case, his denial is a dangerous tack and not a smart one).
But the press will be looking for "more" like this. Expect to read more about that traffic stop during which he supposedly threw his weight around when he was a U.S. Attorney. It didn't work when his Democratic opponent Jon Corzine used it in an anti-Christie ad, but it surely will be part of the developing narrative of Christie as the arrogant and power-abusing New Jersey boss. Was he a bully in junior high? Trust me, we'll find out.
To be sure, Christie is no Herman Cain. Not as funny. Also, he's run twice in a big state. But the second time was a cakewalk, and the first time, his opponent was in an uphill fight, to say the least. Christie has never had a really tough race, and he's certainly never felt the hot lights of presidential scrutiny, much less the rigors of 24/7 coverage of your every move and mistake in an era in which anyone over 5-years-old knows how to make a video. Politics has never been harder. There are no freebies anymore.
So, for those of us watching, it should be interesting, if not fun. Christie is a smart guy, and presumably, so are those around him. But almost no one is as smart as they should be when it comes to e-mail and texting.
I sometimes do a presentation for my clients where I hold up an ancient piece of technology — a telephone — and commend its use. People say things in e-mails and texts that they would say around a water cooler, but there are no cameras and recorders at the water cooler. E-mail is forever. It has the potential to do to candidates what it has done to any number of white-collar defendants. The old days when you could deny a true story and it might go away are over.
So Christie's first scandal has a message and a warning: The lights are on. Be careful what you write — or wrote.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00