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Feb 06 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: A Missing Argument on Contraceptives

One of the most anticipated showdowns of the Supreme Court’s current term will take place March 25, when the justices are scheduled to hear two cases brought by secular, for-profit corporations whose owners want an exemption, based on their religious beliefs, from the requirement that employers’ health plans cover the full range of contraceptive services without a co-payment.

The question before the justices is whether the requirement, part of the new health care law, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, a statute designed to give even greater protection to religious exercise than the Supreme Court had deemed constitutionally required in a 1990 ruling. [..]

Oddly, the Justice Department has relegated to a footnote what may be the strongest single argument against allowing the two companies to deny their workers contraceptive coverage that they would otherwise be entitled to under the health care law. That would be the Constitution’s establishment clause enforcing the separation of church and state and barring government from favoring one religion over another or nonbelievers. But that is exactly what would happen if the restoration act were to be read as a congressional order requiring federal courts to grant private for-profit employers an exemption that would effectively allow them to impose their beliefs on employees to deny them a valuable government benefit.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Post Office Banking Could Be the Start of Something Big

It seems like an idea whose time has come. With one in four American households partially or entirely excluded from the current banking system, and with the U.S. Post Office in search of additional revenue, why not use the postal system to offer banking services to lower-income households?

In fact, this is an idea whose time has already come, more than once. Many nations — among them Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Israel, and Brazil — provide or have provided some form of postal banking services. So did the United States, until 1966.

It’s hardly a radical idea. The U.S. system was voted into law in 1910, during the presidency of William Howard Taft. In any case, a better way to describe it would be as a beginning.

Juan Cole: Broken Democracy: Republicans Poised to Take Senate, Americans Reject Their Platform

A lot of political analysts think it is entirely possible that the Republicans will take the senate next November. This development won’t change much, in all likelihood, if it does occur. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives can already block most legislation, and in 2013 it dedicated itself the the proposition that the country must be punished for re-electing Barack Obama, by being denied virtually any new needed legislation at all. The Republicans won’t have a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and so won’t be able to over-rule an Obama veto.

What is odd, and damning of the current American political system, is that the Republican Party’s major platform positions are roundly rejected by the American people. That is, they are ideologically a minority party. And yet they manage to win elections. [..]

The system is obviously broken. Cutting down the role of big money in our politics, and reforming our districting processes, is key to fixing it. Until then, our politics will continue to lurch to the right even as the public is left of center, and that is a recipe for trouble down the road.

John Nichols: Harry Reid Knows Opposing Fast Track Is Smart Policy and Smart Politics

There are a lot of reasons Senate majority leader Harry Reid shot down President Obama’s State of the Union request for a congressional grant of fast-track trade promotion authority to negotiate new free-trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Reid has a history of skepticism when it comes to trade deals, having opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade relations with China and a host of other arrangements that were favored by Wall Street interests.

Reid has a skeptical caucus. Only one Senate Democrat is on record in favor of granting fast-track authority, which would allow the administration to negotiate the TPP deal without meaningful congressional oversight or amendments. And that senator, Montana’s Max Baucus, is preparing to exit the chamber to become US ambassador to China. Senators who are sticking around, like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, are ardently opposed.

Yet Reid’s rejection of Obama’s request was not a show of skepticism. It was an expression of outspoken oppositio

Robert Reich: Why Widening Inequality Is Hobbling Equal Opportunity

Under a headline “Obama Moves to the Right in a Partisan War of Words,” The New York Times‘ Jackie Calmes notes Democratic operatives have been hitting back hard against the President or any other Democratic politician talking about income inequality, preferring that the Democrats talk about equality of opportunity instead.

“However salient reducing inequality may be,” writes Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, “it is demonstrably less important to voters than any other number of priorities, incudlng reducing poverty.”

The President may be listening. Wags noticed that in his State of the Union, Obama spoke ten times of increasing “opportunity” and only twice of income inequality, while in a December speech he spoke of income inequality two dozen times.

But the President and other Democrats — and even Republicans, for that matter — should focus on the facts, not the polls, and not try to dress up what’s been happening with more soothing words and phrases.

Howard Dean: Containing Health Costs Is Good But Not at the Expense of the Mentally Ill

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) put forth a proposed rule that would make unprecedented changes to the six classes of medication that are specifically protected under Part D. Historically, these protected classes have existed to ensure patients have access to critical prescription drugs. These proposed changes endanger that safeguard.

Patients suffering from mental illness are likely to suffer the consequences of this rule more than any other populations. The proposed rule would make significant changes to the availability of antidepressants and antipsychotics. Implementing these changes will bring additional risk to an already vulnerable population.

Mental health is an increasingly significant issue in the United States and resources, both private and public, should be targeted at fostering understanding, improving the lives of patients, and reducing the toll mental illness takes on our society. By limiting the number of drugs available to this population, regulators will create another barrier to treatment for patients suffering from mental illness.