Tag Archives: freedom

Trump Just Signed Another Executive Order. It’s an Attack on Women.

Mother Jones

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President Trump marked the National Day of Prayer Thursday by signing what’s being billed as an executive order on “religious liberty.” The much-anticipated order will not include explicit, sweeping provisions allowing individuals and organizations to discriminate against people who are LGBT or having sex outside of marriage, as many had feared after a draft of the order leaked in February. Instead, it gives protections to groups that want to limit access to contraception and sets the stage for more political dark money to pour in from religious groups previously prohibited from political speech.

Many religious conservatives argue the right to freely practice their religion enshrined in the constitution permits them to legally discriminate or be exempt from certain laws on the basis of their faith. The executive order codifies this philosophy by strengthening employers’ ability to limit women’s access to contraceptive and other preventative healthcare services promised in the Affordable Care Act from private health plans. The order asks three agencies to consider issuing amended rules to make this process easier for employers if they have a religious objection.

The order was met with a mixed response from some conservative groups. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit that advocates on various political issues, said it did not go far enough. “Though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended,” said General Counsel Michael Farris in a statement. “We strongly encourage the president…to ensure that all Americans…enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment.”

The order also makes good Trump’s campaign promise to his religious base to “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations, including churches, from engaging in political activity. Only religious organizations and churches will be exempted from the law, meaning other nonprofits will still be prohibited from political speech. “This executive order directs the IRS, not to unfairly target churches or religious organizations for political speech,” Trump said. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

A number of advocacy organizations point out that exempting powerful religious organizations from prohibitions on political speech will bring a lot more dark money into politics. “This policy would create a massive loophole for dark money, allowing unlimited sums of money to flow to religious nonprofit organizations for expressions of political views,” said Noah Bookbinder, the head of the left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement.

Bookbinder has called charitable groups the “next frontier” in undisclosed political spending because without the Johnson amendment in the way, it’ll be easy to start spending lots of money right away. “You have these ready-made, very large organizations that could do a lot of political spending,” he told me back in February after Trump reaffirmed his commitment to dismantle the law at the National Prayer Breakfast. “You wouldn’t have the challenges of having to set up a new organization and raise a lot of money for it.” Plus, Bookbinder says, those contributions are tax deductible, meaning people will likely give more.

Trump’s executive order may not have the anti-LGBT provisions the leaked draft does, but it gives Jeff Sessions plenty of leeway to develop rules, if he so chooses.

“In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law,” the order reads.

Responding to the order, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling said, “President Trump has simply asked others in his administration to do much of his dirty work.”

In anticipation of the executive order, many civil rights groups began preparing lawsuits, and at least one group still intends to file. “President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate,” ACLU director Anthony Romero said in a statement. “It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.”

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Trump Just Signed Another Executive Order. It’s an Attack on Women.

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Alex Kotlowitz’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from award-winning long-form journalist and best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz.

Latest book: Never a City So Real
Also known for: There Are No Children Here
Reading recommendations: I’ve been consuming far too much news lately, and so am getting far too agitated with far too much regularity. I need shoring up. I need reassurance that we’ll get through. And so on my night table sit my reinforcements. I’m in the midst of Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa’s These Are the Names, a haunting tale about migration, about faith, and about new beginnings. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad: Whitehead is a writer of such unflinching honesty and empathy, both of which are in short supply these days. And from someone who knows how deeply the present is informed by the past, Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers.

For all the obvious reasons (yes, Mr. Trump, history matters), I’m revisiting former Sen. Paul Simon’s Freedom’s Champion: Elijah Lovejoy. As if we need reminding what happens when good and decent people don’t stand up against the onerous assault on a free press.

And Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees. Just because.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Alex Kotlowitz, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Peggy Orenstein, Wendy C. Ortiz, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang. (New posts daily.)

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Alex Kotlowitz’s Resistance Reading

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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Courtesy of Kwame Alexander

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are the thoughts of Kwame Alexander, whose novel-in-verse The Crossover won the 2015 Newbery Medal, the highest honor in young people’s literature.

Latest book: Solo (with Mary Rand Hess; out August 1)
Also known for: The Crossover
Recommended reading: Literature is instant access to humanity. It’s the one art form that allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and experience lives we might not otherwise understand. It also allows us to find mirrors of ourselves, of our best selves, in times when we feel alone and unsure of the world. And right now the world feels a little crazy. Books are these worlds within a world—safe places to tramp in anxious times and return gently to our own living world, more aware, more fulfilled and hopefully more inspired and courageous. And that is why Mary Rand Hess and I set out to write books like Solo, taking readers on a character’s life-changing journey for the sake of the experience, for the sake of humanity. This is rock and roll and redemption, baby! These are the journeys that run deep, and the ships we take come early and often. We can take as many ships as we like, as often as we like. We only need to choose the right ones.

There are so many incredible books that speak to our times, stories that take place in the past, present, and future. Stories that connect us to our ancestors or people who lived like our ancestors, or to the people who paved the way for our world today—stories like The Underground Railroad, All The Light We Cannot See, Freedom Over Me, March. Stories for adults, teens, and children. Stories that grab hold of us and show us all the pain and beauty that races through and weaves between covers—books like Speak, Pax, Brown Girl Dreaming, Radiant Child, Bridge to Terabithia, As Brave as You, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Tale of Despereaux. Selected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni (and Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda). The Crossover and The Playbook (you know I had to mention those, right?) and so many more. Books that will stick with us, comfort us, and strengthen us, long after we’ve read them. Books that will connect us to each other.

P.S. Read Rumi!
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, and T Cooper. (New posts daily.)

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration will keep its list of visitors to the White House secret, the White House announced Friday. This move—a major retreat from transparency—breaks from the Obama policy, which regularly released a log of White House visitors, with some exceptions.

The Obama administration was the first to voluntarily disclose its visitor logs. Though the data was incomplete—the White House reserved the right to withhold names it deemed sensitive—this public data was important information regarding how the White House did business. The logs were a much-used resource for media outlets. These records may well be more significant in the Trump administration, which is already mired in conflicts of interest due to the vast financial entanglements of the president (and his daughter, son-in-law, and other key advisers).

White House Communications Director Michael Dubke defended the decision to Time, saying the reversal was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Administration officials also noted that the decision was necessary to allow the president to seek advice from whomever he wants. The logs will be kept secret for at least five years after Trump leaves office.

Earlier this week, a trio of open-government groups sued the Trump administration, arguing that its refusal so far to release the visitor logs violated the Freedom of Information Act. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of the groups that filed suit. Last month, eight Democratic senators urged the president to continue the Obama administration’s policy. “We see no reason why you would be unable to continue policies of your predecessor,” they asserted. “And we urge you to extend those policies to address your decision to regularly conduct official business at private properties that also provide access to certain members of the public.”

Trump’s decision to roll back transparency at the White House clashes with his previous criticism of Obama.

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

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The House Freedom Caucus Finally Comes Clean

Mother Jones

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Sarah Kliff reports on the latest from House conservatives:

The House Freedom Caucus laid out two demands on Thursday for a health care bill its members would support: ending Obamacare’s essential health benefits and its “community rating” provisions.

Good for them! I’m serious. The key starting point for any kind of comprehensive health care plan is a ban on turning down customers with pre-existing conditions. But once you do that, you have to control the price insurers can charge (aka “community rating”), or else they’ll simply jack up premiums for people with expensive conditions to a million dollars per year, which accomplishes the same thing as turning them down. But if insurers are required to cover anyone who applies, they also need plenty of healthy people to balance out their risk pool. So you end up with an individual mandate. But if you have a mandate, you have to have subsidies for poor people. You can hardly expect to legally require insurance for people who don’t have the money to buy it, after all.

At that point, you have the entire edifice of Obamacare. There’s no way around it. That’s why Paul Ryan’s plan looked an awful lot like Obamacare lite.

So if you’re a conservative who flatly doesn’t want an expensive, comprehensive, government-funded health care program, there’s only one way to get there: ditch the pre-existing conditions ban by calling for an end to community rating. This is hugely unpopular, so it takes some guts to tell the truth and propose getting rid of it.

It’s also cruel and meanspirited, but that goes with the ultraconservative territory. But at least they’re being honest. Compare this to Paul Ryan, who kept the pre-existing conditions ban (via his “continuous coverage” provision), which then forced him to accept all the bells and whistles of Obamacare. His solution was to wave his hands and then keep the funding so low that his program essentially did no good at all. He didn’t have the stones to simply admit that what he really wanted to do was repeal Obamacare and then do nothing at all to replace it.

Now, it so happens that Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions ban has no direct effect on the federal budget, and therefore can’t be repealed via reconciliation. It can only be repealed under regular order, which requires 60 votes in the Senate. So the Freedom Caucus folks are out of luck. But at least they’re displaying a bit of honesty.

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The House Freedom Caucus Finally Comes Clean

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