Going Back to Iraq
The United States occupied Iraq for over 8 years, from March 2003 to January 2011. Since we left ISIL, a Sunni militia offshoot of Al Qaeda, has slowly claimed territory in the western and central parts of Iraq. This all came to a head this month when ISIL took control of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. It was actually quite shocking the progress the group has made. I don’t follow Iraq as much as I did during the war, but it’s clear this isn’t good. ISIL and groups that adhere to similar jihadist philosophy oppose the United States and its allies, and so it’s concerning when these groups take control of large areas of an oil producing country.
We know what the justifications for the Iraq War were - weapons of mass destruction, ties to Al Qaeda, and human rights violations being the big ones. The weapons were not found nor were ties to Al Qaeda. The United States then embarked on an expensive rebuilding process for the purpose of not letting the country fall into chaos and become a haven for terrorist groups like Afghanistan was before 9/11.
Now, 2 years after leaving we are getting a good look at what we built. Obviously the security forces - probably the most important part of the rebuild - are not capable of controlling most of the country. Maybe just as importantly, the government is not accepted throughout the country.
And so now we’re hearing people call for the United States to do something about the situation. Lots of those people happen to the ones that got us into Iraq in the first place and architected the resulting policy failures. I know this because I happened to catch some of the super liberal media over the past couple of weeks. I saw Paul Bremer on Good Morning America the other day. On the treadmill at the gym I saw some one else some time later. As Jon Stewart points out, Iraq War supporters like Lindsay Graham, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, and John McCain have been all over the super liberal media calling for more of the same because you can never go wrong advocating for more war in this country, no matter how wrong it goes. But I digress.
There are calls for bombs and fewer calls for boots on the ground. And some will say that we left too early after 8 years and this tally:
And what did we accomplish? We removed a brutal dictatorship, but that wasn’t the majority of the cost in time, lives, or money. We spent the majority of that on the rebuilding of Iraq, which was supposed to create a stable country with a working government. It didn’t. I’m not saying Iraq will never be that, but the reconstruction of Iraq did not create that.
- over 4,400 American soldiers killed
- over 32,000 American soldiers wounded
- the toll on their families at home
- over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths
- millions of Iraqis displaced externally and internally
- a current price tag of $2 trillion that could become $6 trillion when it’s all added up
- and because it was sold as part of the war on terror, let's add the loss of civil liberties at home, the addition of torture as policy, and the loss of credibility and goodwill around the world among other things
When this all started after 9/11 Islamist groups - really just the Taliban - essentially had control of Afghanistan. Now, after 8 years in Iraq and 12 and counting in Afghanistan different groups have large footholds in two countries and, when I look at map of ISIL territory in Iraq and Taliban territory in Afghanistan, it looks like they control just as much if not more territory. I’m not saying either group will hold it - ISIL doesn’t seem big enough - but did we really spend all of that and end up with our enemies having more territory?
And so now people seriously want to go back in and spend more money and more lives on something we failed to do in 8 years. People are actually saying we left too early, without actually saying what more time would have accomplished. It is not that we accomplished nothing, but ultimately we failed if after 8 years it could get this bad in 2 years after we left.
Let me tell you something, at this point it is up to the Iraqis to come to a political solution. This is what Iraq War critics (not necessarily opponents of the initial invasion) were saying in 2005. Once Saddam was out it was up to the Iraqis to build a government. Much of that cost in lives and money could have been saved if people had realized that.
I get that we don’t want our soldiers to have died in vain. But what about the others who will go and die in the name of attempting what we could not accomplish in 8 years? Or if it’s just bombs we send, what about the Iraqis who will die? Should we sacrifice those American and Iraqi lives too ?
6/26/2014 2:00:27 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Leave No Man Behind?
There is a lot of anger over the prisoner swap of five Taliban commanders for one US soldier, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. My understanding is that there are two sources of anger. The most visceral reactions come from the rumor that Bergdahl deserted his post. Here is a very level-headed take (link via) from a soldier who was there. Soldiers lost their lives looking for Bergdahl or because others were looking for him and not supporting them.
If he was a deserter it makes those deaths all the more painful. But, as the author states, "retrieving him at least reminds soldiers that we will never abandon them to their fates, right or wrong." That's a very powerful statement reflecting a deep sense of honor. In my mind the point eliminates his deserter status as a reason not to get Bergdahl back. The article, however, gave me a better understanding of the anger some people are feeling about this deal.
The other, more pragmatic, line of dissent is that this constitutes negotiating with terrorists, which is bad and should never be done because it gives terrorists the incentive to capture bargaining chips, whatever they happen to be. This is problematic for a few reasons. For one, terorrists don't need reasons to kidnap and kill other than what got them into the business. If the Taliban completely believed the United States would never negotiate with them they still would have scooped up any errant soldier wandering the Afghan countryside alone.
More obviously, the United States does negotiate with groups it claims are terrorists. For example, the Reagan administration negotiated with Iran during the Iran-Contra affair. The Bush administration negotiated with Iraqi insurgents after years of calling them terrorists. That's not to say you can't still oppose all such negotiations (assuming you do), but it does show that it's a part of the United States' repertoire. We don't negotiate with terrorists, not out of principle so much as because we're so strong that we don't need. And then there are some times when we have to, so we do.
The bigger problem with the "negotiating with terrorists" angle is the five men who were traded. Each was held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for over a decade. "Terrorism" is a crime. It is different from simply fighting against the United States. If these Taliban soldiers were in fact terrorists rather than military commanders then the United States had ample time to try them for their crimes or pass them off to an international court. We had a duty to seek a just verdict against them and do it in a timely fashion. We did no such thing. For over a decade the opponents of closing Guantanamo Bay have shown they either don't believe these people are terrorists or they don't believe in the US justice system.
A case like this shows how awful opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay and bringing its detainees to trial in civilian courts is. Regardless of his deserter status can't we all agree that Bergdahl shouldn't have been held in a cave without trial for 5 years? And yet, what is the difference between his situation or Robert Levinson's and that of detainees in Guantanamo, many of whom are certainly not guilty of any crime? There certainly are differences, but in the end all have been held for a long time without charge, the antithesis of American justice.
Finally, I just have to ask for what reason should we let Bergdahl rot in a Taliban prison away from his family and country? Is it for a sick sense of justice that runs counter to the stated ideals of American justice? Is it for a war that no one in America is really paying attention to? Does anyone even know what is going on in Afghanistan? How can we leave a man, deserter or not, in a war that our military is about to check out of and that our populace has certainly checked out of?
6/4/2014 1:39:21 AM
Filed Under: World
Snowden, Kerry, Felt, Nixon
Given his remarks about Edward Snowden, I wonder what John Kerry thinks should have happened to Mark Felt. Felt, of course, was "Deep Throat", the man responsible for leaking critical information about the FBI's investigation into the Watergate scandal. His leaks helped publicize the investigation into illegal activity which the Nixon administration was trying to impede. Snowden saw illegal activity by the government as did Felt, and they both sought to expose it for what they claim was the greater good.
The situations don't line up perfectly. Certainly Edward Snowden has leaked much more information than Mark Felt did. Snowden leaked all different kinds of information, from illegal activity to abuses of the law to perfectly legal activity. Felt didn't so much leak illegal activity as leak the progress of the investigation into illegal activity so that it could not be illegally covered up. The information Felt leaked was not, as far as I can tell, classified either. Much of what Snowden leaked was classified (but it should be noted that the United States marks too much information as classified). I'm sure the FBI would argue that in general certain information needs to remain out of the public view for purposes of investigation, so Felt could have been violating FBI protocol or maybe even the law.
The reason I bring up Mark Felt is because he helped put away the most corrupt president of the last 100 years. What made Nixon so corrupt was that he used his power against his political enemies. One of Nixon's political enemies would have been John Kerry himself. Kerry was a high profile activist against a war Nixon was fighting and secretly escalating. It is conceivable that Nixon would have turned his machine against Kerry, violating his privacy to beat him politically or ruin him personally.
Felt didn't "man up" in the same way Kerry wants Snowden to. He hid from the public eye until a few years before his death. Important people within the government knew or had an idea that Felt was "Deep Throat" but he was apparently protected from reprisal because he could expose secrets about other activities the FBI was engaged in. Snowden holds no such protection. Given what has happened to people like Chelsea Manning (while the crimes she exposed are ignored) I see no reason why Snowden would or would be expected to stay and face prosecution.
The conversation shouldn't be about Snowden's "manliness", nor should it be about Chelsea Manning's sex reassignment. If someone is talking about either of these people and they're only focusing on personality you should look elsewhere for debate. I suppose we'll always have disagreements about what constitutes the difference between a whistle blower and a criminal or traitor. But given the sheer volume of questionable activity Snowden's leaks have uncovered, we should be focusing on that information as we did with Felt's. Both showed how far the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies have gone beyond what Americans feel they have authorized - how they have gone beyond what the Constitution, American law, and international law authorizes. A free people with a democratic form of government need that information.
5/29/2014 3:52:03 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: edward+snowden mark+felt john+kerry richard+nixon treason whistleblower nsa
Why Net Neutrality is Important
Network neutrality is the principle "that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally". It's somewhat of a bedrock of the internet's success, the idea that anyone can get on and provide a service under the same rules as any of their competitors, no matter how big either of them are.
On Thursday the FCC is expected to announce new rules that most digital rights group fear could mean the end of that principle. Let’s look at Comcast** as an example of why that could be bad. Comcast owns NBC and all its content. It also provides on-demand video content. Netflix also provides on-demand video content. So Comcast is not only a service provider on which Netflix must send its traffic, but also a competitor to Netflix. You could see how it might be in Comcast's interest to discriminate against Netflix. Maybe Netflix traffic, in Comcast’s opinion, is taking up too much bandwidth and needs to be throttled. Netflix is something like 30% of all internet traffic at times.
That could change, but even if it doesn't there's still a problem. Netflix could pay for preferential treatment. What happens when a company called WebMovies comes along? Their service will perform worse unless they can front the huge costs needed to play in Comcast’s top tier. In a way this is nothing different than what every startup business has to contend with. There are huge up front costs to starting a business. Want to start building your own automobiles, you'll probably need a production line that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Again though, what has made the web so innovative is the ability of anyone to get on the infrastructure very cheaply and on an equal footing. There is no real competition in the ISP game, so consumers don’t have many choices if Comcast doesn't provide new services with decent service.
Ironically the ISPs are claiming that net neutrality will harm innovation. Yes, strict regulation can harm innovation. Money will be spent on compliance. Lawyers will advise against actions for fear of sanction. Regulation will be slow to adapt. Here's what the ISPs are saying:
“Under Title II, new service offerings, options, and features would be delayed or altogether foregone. Consumers would face less choice, and a less adaptive and responsive Internet,” they wrote. “An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ‘Government may I?’ requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the US Internet of tomorrow.”
The giveaway that this was a bit much for me was "altogether foregone". The problem is that ISPs haven’t been innovating and American broadband lags behind other developed nations. In large part this is because, despite the above claim about limiting choice, there’s no real competition right now. If there was I could see the case against net neutrality. If there was there would be no "altogether foregone" features because the market would see a need being unmet and provide it eventually. As it is right now, all the competition is at the application layer. In fact, competition at the ISP layer is going to get worse if Comcast has its way and it is allowed to complete its $45 billion merger with Time Warner. On top of that AT&T is in talks to merge with Directv.
Net neutrality rules that focus simply on making sure ISPs don't discriminate against different services won't cause major harm to ISPs, nor should they slow innovation at the ISP layer.
**[In the interest of full disclosure, in my experience Comcast’s customer service is terrible and their internet service is unreliable. I’ve had so much trouble with their customer service that I refuse to use their cable or internet service.]
5/15/2014 1:59:20 AM
Filed Under: Sci/Tech
Keywords: fcc net+neutrality comcast att
Racism is obviously the big issue in the Donald Sterling fiasco. There is another issue to consider though - the issue of personal privacy. When news broke I just assumed that the person on the other end of the line was recording. I also assumed that she recorded it in California, and that California was a one-party consent state. That would mean that, while dishonest, the recording was legal. Only one person in the conversation has to agree to record, and doesn't have to inform the other party.
California is an all-party consent state, meaning the recording was illegal. That changes my opinion of the situation slightly. Sure, Donald Sterling deserves a lifetime achievement award for racism, but is that the way he should have been got? If you know a drug dealer has been getting away with selling drugs for 20 years does it make it right to violate his or her constitutional rights to put him in jail? I would say no.
Even if it wasn't illegal, there's a question as to what level of privacy we deserve in this society. I once asked why it is even illegal to record a conversation you are having with another person.
On a more abstract note, why is wiretapping illegal? Wiretapping in the form of surveillance is one thing. There should be warrants required because the person being listened to has not given consent. On the other hand, it's illegal for me to record a conversation with you if I don't tell you I'm doing it. Why? I can write down the conversation on a piece of paper. I can remember it in my brain. You've consented to me possibly recording it, just in a less efficient way. What about email? If you send me an email, regardless of whether you add one of those stupid confidentiality notices, I can save it and show it to all my friends. Not that I would ever do it, but I think that if you consent to have a conversation with someone you have already consented to have it recorded.
I think my position has changed a little on this. You know, when you email or write a letter, that your conversation is recorded in some form. You can't know if a conversation is being recorded without asking. It changes a very basic aspect of our culture if you require that before two people can be assured of their privacy. Actually, it changes a very basic aspect of human civilization because there's nothing different in that respect between different cultures. I've been in favor of the one-party consent rule, but after thinking about it for some time I think two-party more reflects how humans interact.
I don't know if it's the "social contract" or "common law" or "good manners", but there is something unwritten that says a conversation between two people, reasonably isolated, is private and should be treated as such.
4/30/2014 2:07:34 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: wiretapping privacy
Not Donald Sterling's First Rodeo
Let's be honest, this isn't Donald Sterling's first rodeo. In the past 10 years the Justice Department has sued him for housing discrimination, NBA legend Elgin Baylor sued him for employment discrimination, and the general consensus around the league is that he's a racist. As a penalty for a one-time statement, a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban is much. As a lifetime achievement award it's spot on.
At first, while I was happy the NBA brought a hammer down, I wasn't sure if the size of the hammer was appropriate. The NBA is a private organization so what it did was perfectly legal. It's not a First Amendment issue. That said, I'm of the opinion that freedom of speech and thought is good even if it's not mandated by law. Just because you can (because you're not a government entity) doesn't mean you should punish someone for unpopular thoughts. There's no reason a corporation can't hold and practice the same values as those the US government affords it. A multi-million dollar fine for what you think seems antithetical to what this country stands for.
Let's go back to the title of this post though. This is a lifetime achievement award. Some people will say you shouldn't penalize a person for what they believe if they don't act on it. There's a good chance though that he has discriminated, and I bet the NBA either knows of cases where it has happened or has finally realized that they're just playing Russian Roulette with this guy. The few cases that have accumulated in the public's knowledge are probably enough as it is.
When you look at it that way, with all of this coming out, this was a proportional decision. The more I think of it, the more important this decision was for the NBA. What I submit to you is that, with his history being made national news, nothing less than the legitimacy of the Clippers' franchise was at stake. If Sterling was allowed to remain, who is going to want to play for the Clippers? If that goes away the Clippers cease to be a legitimate NBA franchise. They'll never get players to choose to play for them. They might even have players refuse to play for them if drafted or traded.
Next, who is going to want to watch the Clippers, especially in such a diverse place as Los Angeles. Fans will leave in droves from a fan base that just a few years ago was completely dormant. And it won't be a tough decision with the more successful Lakers playing in the same building.
More importantly for the NBA, who is going to want to sponsor the team with the racist owner? Local TV, naming rights, apparel, even national game advertising money could be in jeopardy.
I have no love for the NBA league office nor any of the owners, but the NBA should be given credit for coming down hard on a racist. Let's be honest though, this was a money decision. How many millions would Donald Sterling have cost them if he was allowed to stay on?
4/30/2014 1:59:39 AM
Filed Under: Sports
Keywords: nba racism donald+sterling
Things that are not Tyranny
From what I gather Cliven Bundy doesn't have much of a case in his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. In short
The rancher hasn’t paid the BLM’s grazing fees since 1993, and a federal judge first ordered him to remove his cattle from the land in 1998. In July, another judge said the BLM could remove his cattle if it was still on public land by the end of August.
Leaving aside that the man is apparently a pretty awful racist, I think the case is interesting in a few ways.
I am perfectly fine with the federal government enforcing federal law, and I don't see much wrong with charging a ranchers grazing fees if they are feeding their livestock on federal lands. Bundy isn't fine with the federal government, period. If you think about it, before this current standoff, Bundy was essentially practicing civil disobedience against what he considered an unjust law and illegitimate government. He was openly flaunting federal law, but doing it non-violently. That all went away in this current standoff, as his supporters have armed themselves and confronted federal agents. I won't say I believe either side's account of the confrontations. Law enforcement is notorious for claiming "resisting arrest" type infractions. It's clear though that Bundy's group has used the threat of violence in this protest, which puts it outside of a traditional peaceful protest. They lose much of the moral high ground as a result.
One thing that is very clear is that Bundy, a white man, has been given 20 more years of leniency than a black man would have. The BLM may be enforcing bad law, the federal government may be overstepping its bounds, but it has not aggressively enforced the law. In fact, it seems like people in the government might be taking into consideration past standoffs that have ended in disaster. If a black kid in the inner city showed up a cop for a minute he'd be in the can with a bump on his head. This is not to say Bundy should have a squad car pull up to his front stoop and push him up against the wall. Let me be clear, I don't want the BLM to put him in his place. It does lead me into this next point though.
"Cruel and oppressive government or rule" this is not. People who are throwing that around need a reality check. I'm not saying they don't have a case for government overreach. And I'm not saying you can't complain about your problems just because others have it bad. Like I said earlier though, Bundy has flaunted federal law for 20 years. The federal government has gone through the judicial process. Bundy's claims have been rejected. Due process has been carried out. A tyrannical government wouldn't have gone to the trouble.
Feeding from that last point, a complaint I hear a lot is that the federal government owns too much land in the Midwest. That point of contention may be driving Bundy and his supporters to rebel against paying for land use. I find that a little odd coming from, again, white Americans. It was the federal government over the past 200 years that procured this land for American settlers from Mexico or Native Americans. Regardless, that's a question for the legislature, but I can see the point in pushing the issue to the forefront.
I've heard some compare the government's treatment of Bundy to how it treats illegal immigrants. Given that Obama has deported around 2 million immigrants in his six years, this kind of falls apart. (On a side note, it's pretty obvious that hard liners on illegal immigration are ignorant of, or simply will never acknowledge, how much Obama has followed their preferred policy.) Let's say it wasn't true that the government is evicting illegal immigrants at unheard of rates. Is it still a good comparison? Judging the veracity with which we enforce a law comes down to how much harm the illegal action causes.
Bundy is using public resources without paying for them. This is what hard liners claim illegal immigrants are doing. As I’ve said before, and as economists have been saying for a while, illegal immigration is a net benefit to the economy. Though, as the linked article states, there are certainly negative effects to illegal immigration. Like illegal immigrants, Bundy’s actions certainly benefit himself. So the comparison comes down to whether grazing fees hurt the economy. Do they add unnecessary costs or do they help maintain public lands that are vital to the same ranchers that are using them? My guess is that it is close to break even and mostly negligible in either direction.
My point of this post is to show that Bundy and his supporters have shown a level of restraint that most groups would not have seen. There are a lot of anti-government activists lining up behind him (maybe fewer now that he's been shown to be a racist), but it's clear that Bundy is a poor case study in government oppression. There are plenty of other policies the federal government enforces or abuses (the War on Drugs) that would be better hills to die on.
4/26/2014 6:02:44 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: cliven+bundy blm immigration race
Security at the Marathon
What I was afraid of, in the moments after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, was that we - the city of Boston, the Boston Athletic Association, the people of Massachusetts, Americans - would overreact. In those moments there wasn’t much talk about the next marathon as people mourned for the likes of Martin Richard. Always looming though, were the inevitable changes that would be made to the race in 2014. Earlier this year the Boston Athletic Association added a whole host of restrictions for runners.
Runners who like to run in costume won’t be allowed to wear anything that covers their face or bulky clothes; strollers won’t be allowed at the Athletes’ Village near the starting line in Hopkinton or around the finish line on Boylston Street; neither will backpacks, glass containers, any container that can carry more than 1 liter of liquid, vests with pockets, or suitcases and rolling bags.
But look, it ain’t all bad
People will also be forbidden from wearing backpacks that carry water — such as CamelBaks. Props like sports and military equipment will be banned, as well as flags or signs that are wider than 11 inches and longer than 17 inches.
Bags, used in the past by runners to carry clothes and other personal items, will be banned on the buses that carry runners from Boston Common to Hopkinton, where the race starts. And no bags will be brought by those buses back to Boston.
The new restrictions also boded ill for “bandits” — the unauthorized runners who join the race every year. The rules said that this year bandits would be “subject to interdiction.”
“Similarly, units or groups such as military ruck-marchers and cyclists, which have sometimes joined on course, will not be allowed to participate,” the e-mail said.
Runners can carry fanny packs and fuel belts.
Restricting what people can carry and where they can move was one part. The other part of the response to last year’s attacks would be increased law enforcement. We've learned that the Boston Police Department has stepped up their presence both in terms of manpower and technology.
To keep runners and spectators safe, he, his officers and members of at least 14other law enforcement agencies from Massachusetts and beyond will deploy a diverse and intimidating array of security resources.
To be clear, the BAA and the BPD are trying to do what’s best for people’s safety. They’re not trying to usher in a 1984-style dystopia. But good intentions aren’t all that matter. So, is it too much? The restrictions put in place by the BAA, sadly, smell like security theater. Bandits and costumes don’t put anyone in danger. Bags arguably pose a security threat, but almost every person needs to carry a bag. It looks like the BAA just banned everything they could think of rather than taking specific actions targeted at stopping violence. I thought maybe, given how long it took to come out with these regulations, the BAA might have used that time to seriously think about what aspects of the race might put people in danger. Instead it looks like they took a broad stroke. A common reaction, but ultimately one that I don’t think makes anyone safer.
Among other things, officers will erect 8,000 steel barricades -- 1,200 more than last year – around the race route, man at least 40 checkpoints and command four times the number of K-9 units as were present at last year’s race.
Another 3,500 uniformed and undercover officers will spread out along the marathon route, looking for anything suspicious in the crowd of spectators or among the 36,000 runners – 9,000 more than usual -- expected to start the race.
Those trained eyes will be augmented by 40 new security cameras, both fixed and mobile. They will send video to a fleet of upgraded command post trucks and the Boston PD’s 180,000-square-foot glass encased headquarters.
The increased police presence does serve an actual purpose. More surveillance, whether it is by people or cameras, could actually spot a threat. I have seen studies in the past that have linked increased numbers of police to reduced crimes. Seems pretty logical. The problem as I see it is do we want this extra presence. Do we want to be monitored this closely? Do we want cameras and undercover cops watching the entire city. I think even Boston Police Commissioner William Evans acknowledges the problems with this:
But he said he doesn’t want an outsized security presence that will make people who come to watch the race and cheer on the competitors feel uncomfortable.
This line of questioning may make some people angry, but I don’t feel like these questions were explored in by the public in the past year. Last year was terrible and we never want that to happen again. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't question the response? Is it appropriate? Will it make us safer? And the deeper question, is this what we want our race, or our society to be?
4/19/2014 5:13:20 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: boston+marathon boston boston+marathon+bombings security security+theater
Hobby Lobby is Not Being Repressed
The retail chain Hobby Lobby has challenged the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, on First Amendment grounds. From Wikipedia:
In September 2012, Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the United States over new regulations requiring health insurance provided by employers to cover emergency contraceptives, stating that, "(t)he Green family's religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices."
Let's leave aside the claim that the contraceptives in question cause abortion or the the concept of corporate personhood that would say a corporation can have religious beliefs. I want to focus on the claim that Obamacare violates Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs by requiring it to provide health insurance plans to its employees that include coverage for certain contraceptives.
If a woman chooses to have an abortion, it's her choice, not Hobby Lobby's. Hobby Lobby is making the case that because the insurance plans they are required to pay for cover certain contraception then, I guess, that means there is a small chance they will be providing support for what they see as an abortion. Notice that the law is not requiring Hobby Lobby to pay for contraception. Health insurance companies will be the parties paying for abortions. At best Hobby Lobby's case is that they are at the beginning of a chain of events that will lead to an abortion.
Here's the problem with all of that. Hobby Lobby is required by law to pay its employees a wage. According to healthcare.gov health insurance plans are required to pay for:
I believe the "prescription drugs" bullet covers contraception. On the other hand wages, aka money, cover:
- Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
- Emergency services
- Hospitalization (such as surgery)
- Maternity and newborn care (care before and after your baby is born)
- Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
- Prescription drugs
- Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
- Laboratory services
- Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
- Pediatric services
You can straight up buy an abortion with money. If my employer deposits a check into my bank account and then I go out and buy meth, it doesn't mean my employer is "participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting" methamphetamine use. I am doing those things. My employer is paying me for my labor. Hobby Lobby is already required by law to provide you with the means to purchase contraception, whether you earn it from wages or a health insurance benefit is irrelevant. The challenge to Obamacare based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment falls apart because of this.
- Everything that health insurance covers (including contraception)
- Practically anything else you can think of
It's interesting that news came out that Hobby Lobby is invested in companies that make contraceptives. These investments go toward employee retirement plans, a benefit. While paying for health insurance, a benefit, is required by law, a retirement plan is not. Furthermore, mutual funds that invest in these plans are not the only plans available.
Similar options exist for companies that want to practice what's sometimes called faith-based investing. To avoid supporting companies that manufacture abortion drugs—or products such as alcohol or pornography—religious investors can turn to a cottage industry of mutual funds that screen out stocks that religious people might consider morally objectionable. The Timothy Plan and the Ave Maria Fund, for example, screen for companies that manufacture abortion drugs, support Planned Parenthood, or engage in embryonic stem cell research. Dan Hardt, a Kentucky financial planner who specializes in faith-based investing, says the performances of these funds are about the same as if they had not been screened. But Hobby Lobby's managers either were not aware of these options or chose not to invest in them.
At best Hobby Lobby's retirement benefit is not supporting the use of contraceptives in the same way that their health insurance benefit is not. In both cases the company is not paying for contraceptive use. At worst, when it came to an issue of return on investment, they failed to completely research where their money was going so as to rule out violating their faith. In both cases it paints their complaint in a disingenuous light.
4/5/2014 6:35:54 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: health+insurance obamacare scotus hobby+lobby
Do We Need to be Tough
I still can't actually believe what has happened in Crimea. Let’s agree that nobody likes the Russian annexation of Crimea. I think everyone’s impression of Vladimir Putin is pretty much right on. So what are we, the United States, going to do about it? Before we answer that question I think we have to ask ourselves why it is we care. Sure, as a country with global reach in a global economy we care about everything. As a society that generally believes in fair play this offends us. But why do we care enough to do something militarily?
Why is there a need, as people like Mitt Romney, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice suggest, to stand up to Putin? Why do we need to be tough in every conflict around the world and specifically this one? Putin is not taking something of ours, even in the loosest sense of the word "ours". This is not Saddam taking Kuwait. This is not Hitler breaking the Treaty of Versailles. Crimea is not "ours" in the sense that Kuwait, or Western Europe, or Latin America, or Israel is "ours" (i.e. our sphere of influence). With all the ethnic Russians in Crimea and all the history between the two states, Crimea is clearly in Russia's sphere in a way that Kosovo or Bosnia or Iraq or Granada aren't for America. I would like Putin to stop, but is it on us to stop him? Is it worth our resources to do it? Is it worth creating a conflict between Russia and the West to do it?
I get people are worried about Russia moving back into space - Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Caucasus region, central Asia - it has vacated since the fall of the Soviet Union (space the West has moved into in many cases), but I just have to ask what the hawks expect us to do. Why should we make a stand in Crimea? And what stand do you expect us to make? Sanctions? War? Cold? Hot? How big?
I learned the lessons about Germany before World War II, and I feel uneasy about what Russia is doing, but given Russia's military and economic power (where does Europe get a third of its energy from?) I don’t see we have much of a choice but to accept it (like we did when with Georgia in 2008, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Hungary in 1956, among others). More importantly though, I’m not so sure we should be as concerned as people are saying we should.
3/27/2014 1:55:06 AM
Filed Under: World
Keywords: russia crimea