Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Last Call For Damage, Limited

Yesterday's Hobby Lobby decision was ugly, and the right went out of their way to call critics of the ruling all kinds of names, with Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post calling the reaction "caterwauling", Sean Davis at The Federalist complaining of "stupid arguments by dumb liberals" and the braintrust at Power Line going so far as to call the decision "meaningless".

Only the funny part is, the liberal point that the decision means private, for-profit companies can now refuse to cover any birth control is actually 100% correct.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling.

The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings in favor of businesses that object to covering all 20 methods of government-approved contraception
Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Inc. and a Pennsylvania furniture maker won their court challenges Monday in which they refused to pay for two emergency contraceptive pills and two intrauterine devices. 
Tuesday's orders apply to companies owned by Catholics who oppose all contraception. Cases involving Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc. were awaiting action pending resolution of the Hobby Lobby case. 

Do we understand now what's going on?  If a "closely-held" business objects to any or all 20 forms of covered contraception under the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds, they no longer have to offer health insurance coverage for any of them.  This includes standard birth control methods like the pill.

Sure, that seems like freedom to me, right?

So yes, this decision is very much an attack on women, who now can be denied health insurance coverage because of their boss's religion.

Might want to keep that in mind when you vote in November.

Ethics Schmethics, We're Flying To Aruba

Republicans continue to respond very quickly to the needs of their real constituency: the corporate lobbyists who have bought and paid for our political system.

It's going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers' annual financial-disclosure forms
The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings. 
"This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There's no legitimate reason. There's no good reason for it."

Free trips paid for by private groups must still be reported separately to the House's Office of the Clerk and disclosed there. But they will now be absent from the chief document that reporters, watchdogs, and members of the public have used for decades to scrutinize lawmakers' finances.

Now why would House Republicans suddenly want to start hiding  disclosures of which corporations are giving them free trips?  It's not like lobbyists are spending millions buying members of Congress in order to get billions in favorable legislative deals, right?

The change occurs as free travel, which critics have criticized as thinly veiled junkets, has come back into vogue. Last year, members of Congress and their aides took more free trips than in any year since the influence-peddling scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. There were nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 million last year, according to Legistorm, which compiles travel records. 
Now none of those trips must be included on the annual disclosures of lawmakers or their aides.

But the real problem is Obama playing golf, right?

BREAKING: Federal Judge Overturns Kentucky's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

And another unconstitutional ban on marriage equality falls, this time right here in the Bluegrass State.

A federal judge today ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry in Kentucky. 
"In America, even sincere and long-hold religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted," U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II wrote to invalidate Kentucky's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. 
Heyburn in February had ruled that Kentucky must recognize gay marriages performed in other states. 
Heyburn upheld the right to marry today, but put his ruling on hold pending a decision by a higher court. Heyburn rejected the only justification offered by lawyers for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear — that traditional marriages contribute to a stable birth rate and the state's long-term economic stability. 
"These arguments are not those of serious people," he said. 
Heyburn held that the ban on gay marriage within Kentucky violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law and that there is "no conceivable legitimate purpose for it." 
He held that the state's 2004 constitutional amendment and a similar statute enacted in 1998 deny gay couples lower income and estate taxes; leave from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act, family insurance coverage; and the ability to adopt children as a couple. 
"Perhaps most importantly," he added, the Kentucky law denies same-sex couples the "intangible and and emotional benefits of civil marriage." 
Heyburn stayed the ruling until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decides gay-marriage cases from Kentucky and three other states. Oral arguments are scheduled for Aug. 6.

Still a perfect record for overturning state same-sex marriage bans since last year's DOMA ruling by the Supreme Court.  Folks, if Kentucky has fallen, and we'll see about the 6th Circuit, I'd have to finally start believing that it's going to be up to SCOTUS, maybe this time next year.

Govern Mental Problems

The Age of Obama has also been the Age of Republicans Refusing To Govern, so it's no surprise that Gallup's annual poll on US confidence in the three branches of government has hit new lows.

Americans' confidence in all three branches of the U.S. government has fallen, reaching record lows for the Supreme Court (30%) and Congress (7%), and a six-year low for the presidency (29%). The presidency had the largest drop of the three branches this year, down seven percentage points from its previous rating of 36%.

These data come from a June 5-8 Gallup poll asking Americans about their confidence in 16 U.S. institutions -- within government, business, and society -- that they either read about or interact with.

While Gallup recently reported a historically low rating of Congress, Americans have always had less confidence in Congress than in the other two branches of government. The Supreme Court and the presidency have alternated being the most trusted branch of government since 1991, the first year Gallup began asking regularly about all three branches.

But on a relative basis, Americans' confidence in all three is eroding. Since June 2013, confidence has fallen seven points for the presidency, four points for the Supreme Court, and three points for Congress. Confidence in each of the three branches of government had already fallen from 2012 to 2013.

The Supreme Court took a nasty hit during the Dubya Years (Alito and Roberts will do that, along with the ridiculous nomination of Harriet Miers), recovered slightly with President Obama's election, and has dropped again.  Dubya still holds the record lows for the least trusted Executive Branch for now, but Congress has never been above 30% and is at 7% now.

The larger issue is Republicans are handily winning their war on the federal government, and dangerously so.  That's the entire point of modern Republicanism, after all.  Maybe we don't need
"united" states so much anymore.


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