Thursday, November 26, 2009


For far too long many religious groups, most recently and most visibly the Catholic Church, have tried to have it both ways. They avail themselves of the constitutional separation of church and state to avoid paying taxes on their secular investments, and then violate the separation of church and state by maintaining a strong lobbying group in Washington to influence legislation.

Recently it became known that the Catholic Conference of Bishops was instrumental in authoring the anti-abortion amendment attachd to the House health care bill, a clear violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And its a perfect example of a religious institution trying to have it both ways.

Financially, the church for years has operated like a huge multinational corporation with extensive real estate holdings, stock holdings and other secular investments generating huge income streams for which they pay no taxes. Exempting religious organizations from taxes on contributions and donations is one thing. Exempting them from capital gains taxes on secular stock investments is another. But the church as do other religious institutions, claim tax exempt status based on the doctrine behind the First Amendment establishment clause.

Yet Catholic dioceses all over the country are filing for bankruptcy protection because of tens of billions of dollars in jury awards against the church for the serial child sexual molestation that went on for decades with the church's knowledge, (which is why they were held liable). In those cases the church asks to be subject to secular bankruptcy laws to protect them from having to pay the billions in jury awards but, claim exemption from tax laws based on the establishment clause.

Adding to the hypocrisy, The Catholic Conference of Bishops has a well funded lobbying effort in Washington, staffed by 350 people whose sole job is the same any other lobbyist -- to influence and even write legislation that gets inserted in bills. In the case of the church, or any religious instituion it is a clear violation of the separation of church and state and a breaking down of the "wall" between religion and the affairs of state that Jefferson and the Founders said the amendment was designed to create.

This is not to say that the church doesn't have freedom of speech, to speak out about issues that matter to them, to support candidates who support those issues and to exercise their right of free speech to influence elections. But influencing elections is one thing -- influencing, lobbying and writing legislation is another.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the bishops conference has been extremely critical of the senate health care bill which, with regards to abortion, goes only as far as the Hyde amendment in prohibiting public funding of abortion. Doerflinger said that the senate bill was " the worst bill we've seen on the life issue".

What Doerflinger, in the singular myopic way of the typical Washington lobbyist doesnt seem to understand is that this is not an abortion bill but a health care reform bill and it isnt being designed to meet the approval of Doerfliinger or the Catholic Conference of Bishops. And to further underscore the arrogance of Doerflinger and what he seems ot think is an entitlement, he said of the senate health care bill that it;s "completely unacceptable".

Unacceptable to who? Him? The Catholic Conference of Bishops? That isnt a powerful senator with the power to stop a bill talking. That is a representative of the Catholic Church how have no business being involved in the legislative process.

Doerflinger';s statement that the legislation is "completely unacceptable" is exactly why Jefferson and the Founders made sure religion would have no place in affairs of state. What is "completely unnacceptable" to Doerflinger or the Catholic Conference of Bishops may not be unacceptable to the a majority of the US senate or the country at large. And that is all that matters. What the bishops feel is acceptable or unacceptable may matter to Doerflinger in his private life, but they dont matter at all to the legislative process that is designed to produce bills that affect affairs of state.

If the church thinks that lobbying for or against legislation like registered lobbyists is that important, let them forego their tax exempt status and continue their lobbying efforts as registered lobbyists. Either that or continue their tax exempt status and give up their organized lobbying efforts. Or if they continue to lobby have the IRS revoke their tax exempt status.

The constitution is clear. -- religious institutions are to be officially kept out of the affairs of state. The First Amendment was specifically instituted to assure that the United States would never have anything like the Church of England of which most of the Founders had a very low opinion.

The role of the Catholic Conference of Bishops headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in authoring the anti-abortion amendment in the House healthcare bill was a clear violation of the First Amendment . The fact that Pelosi and Obama allowed it to happen is something that has to be addressed and stopped.

Now the Conference is hoping to extend the same influence to the senate. The arrogance of Doerflinger's comment about the current bill being " completely unacceptable" shows the power they think they can weild -- or are entitled to weild -- power that the establishment clause is designed to prevent.

The bishops are likely to fail in the senate. Reid needs to stand up for the constitution and make it clear there wont be the kind of meetings in the senate that the Conference was able to get in the House.

It should also be noted, that conservatives who are always wrapping themselves in the constitution and trumpet their views on Original Intent, have not only said nothig about the constitutional violation that occurred in the House amendment, most of them voted for it.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Although it would never be directly said or implied diplomatically, it is clear that there is now little respect for Obama in the middle east. And based on recent events neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be looking to Obama for any kind of solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any time soon. Which itself could turn out to be a good thing since the parties will have to find other ways to resolve their differences themselves.

This has been made obvious by the Palestinians floating the idea of going to the United Nations for help in unilaterally declaring a state. Its an idea that even they know wont fly and would only make matters worse but the fact that they have sent up the trial balloon shows they do not see Obama as an effective broker for a peace settlement. And for that matter neither do the Israelis and it seems that Obama's backtracking on his positiion regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank was the last straw.

Months ago, Obama had made it clear that he opposed additional settlement building on the West Bank and at one point "demanded" that Israel freeze the expansion of settlements. Netanyahu made it clear he could care less what Obama wants or demands and announced additional settlements in the West Bank.

Obama, faced with Netanyahu's rebuff, has, like he has done with many other issues, ( health care, torture prosecutions and many others), backed off his position and instead called for the restricting of settlement expansion which is what Netanyahu is doing.

But following her last meeting with Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton, speaking for the Obama Administration, set off Palestinian diplomatic rage when she called Netanyahu's agreeing to restrict settlement expansion " an unprecedented concession". The Palestinan response was they wouldnt resume peace talks without a settlement freeze and Clinton pointed out that never before had the Palestinians demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for peace talks which is true. Netanyahu then as agreed to resume peace talks without precondition. The Palestinians felt betrayed..

On the other side of the equation, Obama's Cairo speech did something incredibly stupid -- it legitimized Hamas, a terrorist organization whose legitimacy should have been undermined by Obama not strengthened. Predictably Hamas was delighted with Obama's ill conceived Cairo speech and no doubt Netanyahu took note.

That myth that Obama has some kind of talent or ability to be a conciliator was always false but one the news media promoted. He has a history of saying what he thinks any given audience wants to hear and its never driven by conviction.

While running for the Democratic nomination, Obama gave a speech in front of an audience of 7000 Jews in Miami and said that he supported a unified Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Jews and Israelis cheered but his statement predicatably sent the Palestinians into a rage and they quickly condemned his remarks.

Less than 24 hours latter Obama reversed himself, pretending that everyone misunderstood him and that by a unified Jerusalem,he only meant a Jerusalem without barbed wire, something that hasn't existed in Jerusalem for 45 years.

Obama's credibility in the middle east is now just about zero with Israelis and Palestinians though both need the clout the United States wields in the U.N. and the aid they can provide. But it is unlikely that anything Obama has to say is going to have an impact on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The reality is, peace negotiations have stalled, Netanyahu is not about to freeze settlements to restart peace talks and Palestinians have said they wont resume talks without the freeze. What's left is the Obama myth, thudding to earth and leavng the parties to have to work it out themselves, which in the end might be the best thing that could have happened.Because they will either find a way to restart negotiations themselves, or resign themselves to the fact that they wont and learn to live with it.

UPDATE: Israel announced Tuesday the building of 900 news homes in the West Bank terroritory it annexed during the 1967 war and added to the municipality of Jerusalem. George Mitchell, Obama's envoy had asked Netanyahu to block the additional building where 40,000 Israelis already live and was rebuffed. Jerusalem's mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement saying he "strongly objects to American demands to halt construction in Jerusalem".

Monday, November 16, 2009


Kimberly Munley is being honored as the hero she is, having risked her life, doing the job she was trained to do, and saving countless lives in the process. But its worth remembering as conservatives oppose the health care bill, that 20 years ago they opposed someone like Kimberly Munley being able to do the job she is now being honored for.

As the congress gets closer to passing health care reform and as Republicans and conservatives ramp up their opposition and predictions of doom and gloom in their opposition, its a good idea to remind ourselves of how wrong Republicans have proved to be about everything over the past 25 years. And Kimberly Munley is only the latest shinning example.

The incident at Ft. Hood and the heroism of Kimberly Munley reminds us that 20 years ago conservatives were telling us that women couldn't do the same jobs men could. And they shouldnt even be allowed to try.

As Munley is being honored for her heroism, returning fire after being shot herself, and taking down Nadal Hasan, putting an end to his killing spree, we should remind ourselves that conservatives opposed women becoming police officers, they opposed women in combat roles in the military, they opposed the removing of any institutionalized barriers that separated men and women in terms of opportunity, authority, and ability. And they did it because they said women just werent equipped to do the job. They told us where a woman's place was. Which is not to say a woman shouldnt have her place in the home and raising children or combining it with a career if thats what she wants to do. No one ever said flying to the moon was a bigger accomplishment than raising a child. And it isnt.

But conservatives didnt want women to even have the choice. They didnt want them to waste their time trying to be a Kimberly Munley because they said women couldnt. And let us not forget that one of the biggest arguments they made to try and prevent the removing of barriers between men and women, the great fear they tried to spread throughout the country was that if barriers between men and women in the workplace were removed, it would lead to unisex public bathrooms. No kidding. You can look it up. Thats what they were afraid of. Mandate equality for women in the workplace and it will be the end of separate public bathrooms for men and women.

Somehow, America has remained the land of the free and separate public bathrooms in spite of these Republican fears. More importantly it has become the land where a Kimberly Munley can be at the right place at the right time and exhibit the kind of bravery and heroism and rising to the occasion at the risk of her own life which resulted in her saving lives, by doing the job conservatives said women could never do.

As the congress prepares to pass health care reform which will also save lives, its worth keeping in mind, especially after the events at Fort Hood and the bravery of Kimberly Munley, how wrong conservatives have been in the past and how hard they try have tried to prevent progress. And how much poorer the country would be had they succeeded.

It's worth keeping in mind because conservatives and Republicans have been just as wrong about health care reform as they were about Kimberly Munley and women like her. And, as they were 20 years ago, they will be on the wrong side of history when it comes to health care too.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Back in the sixties, Senator Barry Goldwater was the country's leading conservative. He was considered the model of conservatism and was the Republican party's candidate for President in 1964. He lost in a landslide to LBJ after being portrayed as too quick on the trigger militarily.
But he was still the leading voice of conservatism in America at the time. Today he would be a prime target of contemporary conservatives who would probably try and drum him out of the Republican party.

Because Barry Goldwater was pro choice. Goldwater believed in something contemporary conservatives do not -- individual liberty.

Goldwater believed the government had no place in American bedrooms. Today's conservatives want to stick their noses under everybody's sheets, probably because there isnt much going on under their own.

Today's conservatives on a daily basis, display nothing but hypocrisy when it comes to individual freedom. What they want is the freedom to tell you what to do and impose their values on everyone else. Values that have clearly made them so unhappy, that it's not enough to simply live those values -- they have to validate them by trying to impose them on everyone else. What they want is the freedom to force their ideas, most of which are antithetical to American ideals and which most people reject,onto the majority.

Conservatives are against gay rights because they are more interested in taking away things from people they dont approve of than be for anything that makes their own lives better. They oppose health care reform and the idea of universal health care because they dont want people who cant afford it to have it. Maybe, like Alan Grayson said, they dont even want them to live.

The idea of any choice at all is a violation of their values. After all, they believe in towing the line and living lives restricted by rules half of them dont believe in and make them miserable, so why shouldn't everyone else? Misery not only wants company, they want to run the government. Which is why America had nothing but misery under Bush and the Republicans for eight years.

Individual liberty, individual freedom, and the government staying out of people's personal lives is something conservatives, bending more to a new fascism than anything else,want to end. They think they know best and while they hypocritically wave signs opposing health care reform as a threat to their individual freedoms, the only choices they support is the choice to do things their way.

Which is why it will never happen. Because unlike the conservatism of 40 years ago, the conservatives of today, the tea party loudmouths and town hall disrupters, the people whose goal is to shout down anyone who disagrees with them, are the very people the Founders wrote a constitution to protect the country against. These are people as the town hall meetings showed, who have more in common with Berlin in 1939 than Philadelphia in 1776.

And as the election in NY's 23rd district showed, unless the Republican party repudiates them, they will lead the party down the road to its own destruction.