Whose conscience is it? The regulation doesn’t require anyone to use birth control. It exempts any religious employer that primarily hires and serves its own faithful, the same exclusion offered by New York and California from the contraception mandate in state insurance laws. (Of the other states that require such coverage, 15 offer a broader opt-out provision, while eight provide no exemption at all.) Permitting Catholic hospitals to withhold contraception coverage from their 765,000 employees would blow a gaping hole in the regulation. The 629-hospital Catholic health care system is a major and respected health care provider, serving one in every six hospital patients and employing nearly 14 percent of all hospital staff in the country. Of the top 10 revenue-producing hospital systems in 2010, four were Catholic. The San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth biggest hospital system in the country, had $11 billion in revenue last year and treated 6.2 million patients.
These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces. Just ask Alfred Smith and Galen Black, two members of the Native American Church who were fired from their state jobs in Oregon for using the illegal hallucinogen peyote in a religious ceremony and who were then deemed ineligible for unemployment compensation because they had lost their jobs for “misconduct.” They argued that their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion trumped the state’s unemployment law.
In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held.
After a while, it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase “n’importe quoi,” meaning “whatever” or “anything they like.” It suggests that the American kids don’t have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It’s the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things—that’s the frame—and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.
Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting—and perhaps the toughest one to master. Many French parents I meet have an easy, calm authority with their children that I can only envy. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren’t constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations.
Last year, according to the Department of Agriculture, about 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States were grown from what scientists now call transgenic seed. Most processed foods (staples like breakfast cereal, granola bars, chicken nuggets and salad dressing) contain one or more transgenic ingredients, according to estimates from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, though the labels don’t reveal that. (Some, like tortilla chips, can contain dozens.)
Common ingredients like corn, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, soy protein, lecithin, monosodium glutamate, cornstarch, yeast extract, sugar and corn syrup are almost always produced from transgenic crops.
No known health risks are associated with eating transgenic foods (though many scientists say it is too soon to assess the effects), and the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as safe.
But consumer resistance to transgenic food remains high. In a nationwide telephone poll conducted in October 2010 by Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio, 93 percent said if a food has been genetically engineered or has genetically engineered ingredients, it should say so on its label — a number that has been consistent since genetically modified crops were introduced. F.D.A. guidelines say that food that contains genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s, don’t have to say so and can still be labeled “all natural.”
Most of the farmers in the Manhattan courtroom were plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed last year by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association against Monsanto. The plaintiffs, none of whom use Monsanto seeds, say that they are afraid that the company will take legal action against them if its patented products appear in their fields. (Monsanto has asserted its agricultural patents in hundreds of lawsuits, most of which have been settled.)
But the real issue here is not patent law; it’s contamination. The point made by the suit is that, according to the regulations that govern American agriculture, it’s these unwilling farmers who must prevent Monsanto’s products from trespassing onto their land.
Increasingly, though, organic and transgenic seeds are coexisting on American farmland. Last year, the Agriculture Department said that crops would not necessarily lose their organic status if they were found to have some transgenic content.
President George W. Bush cut taxes for almost everyone who paid income taxes. Romney would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. But that’s only a first step.
He would also raise taxes on poor families with children at home and those going to college. Romney does this by reducing benefits from the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit and by ending the American Opportunity tax credit for college education.
Without these tax breaks, the poorest fifth of taxpayers would pay $157 more in taxes in 2015 than under current policy, the Tax Policy Center says in its analysis of Romney’s plan. The second poorest group would pay $82 more, according to the center, whose past work has been praised by Republicans and Democrats alike.
While Romney would make these two groups —the poorest 125 million Americans — pay higher taxes, the top 60 percent all would get tax cuts. The top tenth of one percent would save, on average, $464,000 a year, the Tax Policy Center’s analysis says.
His plan gives one third of his tax cuts to the top tenth of one percent of taxpayers. By comparison, Bush gave this group only one eighth of his cuts.
Romney would also eliminate estate and gift taxes, a policy that I believe would damage the spirit of striving that has served us so well until now, replacing it with a new era of dynastic wealth.
Physicists have discovered a new way to record data that could make future hard drives hundreds of times faster than existing technology - all you need is a little heat.
The researchers say this new method could be used to make hard drives capable of recording terabytes of information a second, which is hundreds of times faster than existing drives. The process also uses less energy than magnetic recording, meaning the new drives would be more energy efficient.
“Republicans in both chambers are polarizing more quickly than Democrats,” said Sean Theriault, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “If the Democratic senators have taken one step toward their ideological home, House Democrats have taken two steps, Senate Republicans three steps and House Republicans four steps.”
Obama’s financial rescue effort was largely a continuation of the Bush administration’s policies. He resisted calls to nationalize or break up the big banks; modeled his health-care reform bill after legislation that Republicans had proposed in Congress and Mitt Romney had passed in Massachusetts; extended the Bush tax cuts once and intends to make most of them permanent; signed legislation cutting domestic discretionary spending to its lowest level in decades; and supported the same sort of cap-and-trade plan that John McCain once introduced in the Senate. Obama’s presidency has been ambitious, and it’s been polarizing. But in terms of the policy it has produced, it’s been much closer to the market-based approach of Clinton than the forthright reliance on government of LBJ.
Republicans, however, can and should take partial credit for this. Obama is so moderate in part because the Republicans are so extreme. Politicians are ideological, of course, but they are also opportunistic. And the GOP, in closing ranks against almost every major initiative Obama has attempted, has taken away most of his opportunities to be truly liberal. The fight to get to 60 votes in the Senate has ensured, over and over, that Obama must aim his legislation at either the most conservative Democrats or the most moderate Republicans. In this, Obama has only been as liberal as Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and Republican Sen. Scott Brown have permitted him to be. And that’s not very liberal.
That’s left Obama as a moderate president in an immoderate time. For progressives, that moderation has been repeatedly frustrating. For conservatives, it’s been obscured by a caricature of the president as a free-enterprise-hating socialist. And for the White House, it’s been a calculated strategy. We’ll know in November whether it was the right one.
If you’ve ever been told been that a massage is good for “releasing toxins”—or to sound more scientific, “lactic acid”—from your muscles, then you’ve been told wrong. Turns out muscle cells do like a good massage, but it has nothing to do with lactic acid.
In the first study on the cellular effects of massage post-exercise, researchers found that massage bolsters chemical signals reducing inflammation and promoting repair of muscle cells.
If your urges to stay connected 24/7 bring you to hyperbolic declarations of powerlessness, you can now leave the hyperbole at the door. Results of a new study confirm what you’ve claimed for years: checking email and social media is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.
As you’ve heard a thousand times by now, Obama will have a better shot at reelection if voters come to see the contest as a choice between him and likely nominee Mitt Romney — a choice between two sets of priorities, values, and visions — rather than a referendum on the economy.
Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests in the clearest terms yet that as Americans get to know Romney, they are seeing the election as a choice.
The poll finds that Obama beats Romney among overall Americans by nine points, 52-43.
The interesting thing, though, is that this is in spite of continuing high disapproval of Obama on the economy and on job creation (53 percent and 51 percent) and in spite of soaring public pessimism about the economy (89 percent view it negatively).
Obama’s edge over Romney despite disapproval on the economy seems to be driven by a growing awareness of Romney’s image and by the GOP nomination process. Fifty-two percent say the more they hear about Romney, the less they like. And Americans disapprove of the things the GOP candidates have been saying, 54-36.
* Public agrees with Obama on taxes, economic fairness: Two other key findings that may help explain Obama’edge: Sixty eight percent say the U.S. tax system favors the wealthy; and 72 percent favor raising taxes on Americans with incomes of over $1 million. Both those findings include majorities of Republicans.
The Obama team has insisted that Americans will ultimately choose between two overarching visions for the country, rather than make a choice based only on the state of the economy on Election Day 2012. Numbers like these — particularly when taken with Obama’s nine point lead over Romney — will only encourage the Obama campaign to continue making tax fairness and inequality central to his case. Especially since Obama’s overall approval in the Post poll has now hit 50 percent.
Romney has insisted that Obama’s focus on these topics is all about class warfare, division, and “envy.” It’s still unclear who Romney thinks he’s talking to when he makes that claim, and these findings make it seem even more absurd and out of touch.
Listen to the news today and you would think that economic growth was the only answer to all our problems. But 40 years ago The Limits to Growth, written by a group of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published by The Club of Rome, broke a modern taboo: it suggested that growth itself might be the problem.
It wasn’t the first time someone had suggested that an economy endlessly expanding in scale was neither possible nor necessarily desirable. As long ago as 1821, David Ricardo wrote of the ultimate equilibrium to which economic development led. And, in his Principles of Political Economy, 1848, John Stuart Mill raised and answered the question like this:
"Towards what ultimate point is society tending by its industrial progress? When the progress ceases, in what condition are we to expect that it will leave mankind? It must always have been seen, more or less distinctly, by political economists, that the increase of wealth is not boundless: that at the end of what they term the progressive state lies the stationary state, that all progress in wealth is but a postponement of this."
Why, then, did The Limits to Growth shock in 1972, and why does questioning growth today still provoke incredulity and anger? The report itself became something of an albatross for the green movement. The view entered folklore that it contained predictions about resource use that were alarmist and plain wrong. But, as New Scientist magazine reported recently, it was the critics of the book who turned out to be mistaken.
Paradoxically, our species, so long defined by groups and by the nuclear family, has been able to embark on this experiment in solo living because global societies have become so interdependent. Dynamic markets, flourishing cities and open communications systems make modern autonomy more appealing; they give us the capacity to live alone but to engage with others when and how we want to and on our own terms.
In fact, living alone can make it easier to be social, because single people have more free time, absent family obligations, to engage in social activities.
Compared with their married counterparts, single people are more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors, go to restaurants and attend art classes and lectures. There is much research suggesting that single people get out more — and not only the younger ones.
This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America’s current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)—including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software—are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.
This is unlike the job destruction and creation that has taken place continuously since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as machines gradually replaced the muscle-power of human labourers and horses. Today, automation is having an impact not just on routine work, but on cognitive and even creative tasks as well. A tipping point seems to have been reached, at which AI-based automation threatens to supplant the brain-power of large swathes of middle-income employees.
That makes a huge, disruptive difference. Not only is AI software much cheaper than mechanical automation to install and operate, there is a far greater incentive to adopt it—given the significantly higher cost of knowledge workers compared with their blue-collar brothers and sisters in the workshop, on the production line, at the check-out and in the field.
There was another factor driving down the cost of conventional photovoltaics. In recent years, China has worked aggressively to develop its domestic solar production capacity. National banks have given credit lines that dwarf the federal loans US firms enjoyed; local and provincial governments have provided tax incentives as well as land at below-market rates; and the national government recently established a so-called feed-in tariff, which compels utilities to buy electricity from solar developers at above-market rates to offset their production costs.
Understandably, American firms have struggled to remain competitive. In 1995, more than 40 percent of all silicon-based solar modules worldwide were made in the US; now it’s 6 percent.
Government coffers have been compensating for a number of market challenges solar faces, including the incumbency advantage of the fossil fuel industry and private investors’ distaste for capital-intensive enterprises that will take years to deliver a return. And in 2012, the solar industry may face a sudden reduction in these subsidies, as the post-Solyndra political climate grows less and less receptive to investments in clean energy. Despite the fact that renewable energy received only a quarter of the subsidies that fossil-fuel-based electricity received between 2002 and 2007, it’s wind and solar that are on the chopping block.
So much of nature, culture and economic activity utterly depend upon the commons – the atmosphere, the oceans, wildlife and seeds as well as the Internet, scientific knowledge and creative works, among countless other commons. And yet corporate-dominated markets are doing everything they can to privatize and commodify our commons. After all, there is big money to be made in mining the deepsea ocean floor, patenting the genes of plants and animals, claiming proprietary control of agricultural seeds, owning new sorts of synthetic nano-matter that can replace ordinary substances, and owning mathematical algorithms that power software programs.
The great, unacknowledged scandal of our times is the market enclosure of things that belong to all of us. Instead of having free or low-cost access to the shared resources that belong to all of us, companies are privatizing them and forcing us to pay.
How did people come together to build cooperative societies beyond kinship?
Morality is the glue, he answers. Humans are 90-percent chimp, but also 10-percent bee—evolved to bind together for the good of the hive. A big part of Haidt’s moral narrative is faith. He lays out the case that religion is an evolutionary adaptation for binding people into groups and enabling those units to better compete against other groups. Through faith, humans developed the “psychology of sacredness,” the notion that “some people, objects, days, words, values, and ideas are special, set apart, untouchable, and pure.” If people revere the same sacred objects, he writes, they can trust one another and cooperate toward larger goals. But morality also blinds them to arguments from beyond their group.
How much of moral thinking is innate? Haidt sees morality as a “social construction” that varies by time and place. We all live in a “web of shared meanings and values” that become our moral matrix, he writes, and these matrices form what Haidt, quoting the science-fiction writer William Gibson, likens to “a consensual hallucination.” But all humans graft their moralities on psychological systems that evolved to serve various needs, like caring for families and punishing cheaters. Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder, Haidt and his colleagues synthesize anthropology, evolutionary theory, and psychology to propose six innate moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.
This is what austerity does. It forces us to make tough choices about who wins and who loses. Mitt Romney has made his choice. His tax plan is basically today’s tax policy with more support for businesses and investors, and less for the poor. First, he makes investment income tax free for the middle class. Second, he cuts corporate income taxes. Third, he repeals the estate tax. And fourth, he does not extend the tax cuts created by the 2009 stimulus bill, which Obama has proposed keeping. Romney’s tax proposal would “raise taxes for households in the bottom two quintiles, relative to what they’re paying this year,” wrote Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, even as it cuts taxes for middle class investors.
In light of this, Romney’s comment isn’t a gaffe so much as an artless description of his tax policy. He’s more concerned about cutting taxes for middle class investors and businesses than he is for keeping tax rates low for lower-income Americans. You and I might have different ideas about whether that’s the right direction for our tax policy. But I hope we can agree that this isn’t the kind of thing you want advertised with gaffes about “not being concerned” about the very poor.
Obama has succeeded in preserving and even enhancing U.S. influence in this world precisely because he has recognized these new forces at work. He has traveled to the emerging nations and spoken admiringly of their rise. He replaced the old Western club and made the Group of 20 the central decision-making forum for global economic affairs. By emphasizing multilateral organizations, alliance structures and international legitimacy, he got results. It was Chinese and Russian cooperation that produced tougher sanctions against Iran. It was the Arab League’s formal request last year that made Western intervention in Libya uncontroversial.
By and large, you have ridiculed this approach to foreign policy, arguing that you would instead expand the military, act unilaterally and talk unapologetically. That might appeal to Republican primary voters, but chest-thumping triumphalism won’t help you secure America’s interests or ideals in a world populated by powerful new players.
You can call this new century whatever you like, but it won’t change reality. After all, just because we call it the World Series doesn’t make it one.
The Republican Party used to be known for its moderate pragmatists. Then the party forced moderates like Mitt Romney to feign extremism just to compete.
“Much of the current conservative movement is characterized by this sort of historical amnesia and symbolic parricide, which seeks to undo key aspects of the Republican legacy such as Reagan’s elimination of corporate tax loopholes, Nixon’s environmental and labor safety programs, and a variety of G.O.P. achievements in civil rights, civil liberties, and good government reforms,” Kabaservice writes. “In the long view of history, it is really today’s conservatives who are ‘Republicans in name only.’ ”
Republicans have created this completely fictional President: his name is Barack X, and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe — or worse yet, Saul Alinsky!
And this is how politics has changed: you used to have to run against an actual candidate. But now, you just recreate him inside the bubble and run against your new fictional candidate. That’s how Bush won in 2004 — by running against John Kerry, a French war criminal.
And speaking of Bush, I know conservatives are saying ‘Oh Bill, come on — Democrats did the same thing to him.’ No. Say what you will about the left’s hating of Bush, (but) at least we were hating on the real guy. We didn’t invent a boogeyman who tanked the economy, took us to war on false pretenses, and tortured prisoners — that was the actual guy.
But run down the list of complaints about ‘Fantasy Obama’. He ‘wants to raise your taxes,’ even though he’s lowered them; ‘confiscate your guns,’ even though he’s never mentioned it; and ‘read terrorists their rights’ — yeah, like he did Tuesday in Somalia.
…You see, the difference is the Republicans’ hatred of Obama is based on a paranoid feeling on what he might do; what he’s thinking; what he secretly wants to change. Anger with Bush was based on what he actually did. What Bush was thinking didn’t matter — because he wasn’t.
"When Obama took office, the national debt was about $10.5 trillion. Today, it’s about $15.2 trillion. Simple subtraction gets you the answer preferred by most of Obama’s opponents: $4.7 trillion.
But ask yourself: Which of Obama’s policies added $4.7 trillion to the debt? The stimulus? That was just a bit more than $800 billion. TARP? That passed under George W. Bush, and most of it has been repaid.”
"Romney should be proud of what he’s accomplished. His success in college, graduate school, and business are testimony to his work ethic as well as his natural talents. But Romney also benefited from the lottery of life – among other things, by being born into a family that could afford to provide him with the very best education at every step of the way.* He seems unaware of that fact and the possibility that others, born into less fortunate circumstances, might need some of the government programs he’s promised to undermine.”