Written by Chris Floyd
Friday, 04 July 2014 01:23
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that a sectarian college in Illinois, Wheaton College, did not have to fill in a federal form to claim its exemption from regulations providing contraception coverage in its employee insurance programs.
Note that the issue was not a question of whether the college was exempt from the regulation, as in the Hobby Lobby case. As a sectarian institution, it was already exempt. What the college objected to was simply sending a form to the government regarding the exemption. This, they said, would involve them in "a grave moral evil," because notifying the government would make the college complicit in some other organization providing the contraception coverage. (The law stipulates that if a sectarian employer does not provide the coverage, the government will ensure that it is provided by someone else, usually the insurance company involved or some other third-party administrator of the program.)
Just four days before, the Court majority on the Hobby Lobby case made specific mention of this government form as a justification for exempting commercial enterprises run by sectarians from providing contraception coverage for their employees. The Hobby Lobby decision cited the form as constituting "an alternative that achieves all of the Government's aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty," as Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in her dissent against Thursday's decision.
In other words, according to Justice Samuel Alito and his fellow conservatives in the majority, the Hobby Lobby case was a "win-win" all around; sectarian business owners did not have to dirty themselves with concerns about their female employees' reproductive health, while the government was free to ensure that contraception coverage was provided from another source.
But just four days later, the conservative majority has reversed course, and finds that the alternative they lauded on Monday is no longer good enough. They agree with Wheaton College that the alternative itself violates religious liberty and can be ignored. Sectarian organizations can merely send a letter to the government opting out, without filling out the form -- because the form would notify the insurance program's third-party administrator that the female employee was no longer covered for contraception.
(It is not known at this point if Wheaton College, like Hobby Lobby, covers Viagra and vasectomies for its male employees. But it would certainly make sense. We all know that the male member is more pleasing to the Lord, for it points upward toward Heaven -- and if it doesn't, there's always Viagra -- while the female reproductive parts dwell in darkness.)
Coupled with the Hobby Lobby case, the Wheaton decision means that all sectarian-ruled organizations, whether they are commercial businesses or non-profits, can not only opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to their female employees, they can also refuse to submit the form that would expedite the provision of such coverage from elsewhere, in accordance with the law. The result, as Sotomayor notes, will be administrative chaos:
Is HHS to undertake the daunting—if not impossible—task of creating a database that tracks every employer’s insurer or third party administrator nationwide? ... In addition, because Wheaton is materially indistinguishable from other nonprofits that object to the Government’s accommodation, the issuance of an injunction in this case will presumably entitle hundreds or thousands of other objectors to the same remedy. The Court has no reason to think that the administrative scheme it foists on the Government today is workable or effective on a national scale. The Court’s actions in this case create unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy.
But of course, that is very much the point of the decision -- which the conservative majority considered so overwhelmingly important that they invoked the rarely-used All Writs Act, normally used in cases where it is "indisputably clear" that a law will substantially harm the appellant in some way, in order to make Thursday's ruling, thus by-passing the lower courts, where the legal arguments of this not-at-all-clear case could be thrashed out. The point is to gut the contraception coverage provision in any way possible. Immediately after the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Court majority made it clear that their ruling applied not only to so-called abortifacients, such as the morning-after pill -- which were the ostensible reason for the case -- but to all contraception. And now they have demolished the alternative to the system -- the very alternative, as noted above, that they cited on Monday as a linchpin of their decision.
The rulings by the conservative majority on the Court are part of a relentless, decades-long effort to reassert control of women's sexuality. In this, America's super-patriotic, politicized right-wing Christians share a common cause with the Islamic sectarians they hate so much (and are so scared of). Women's sexuality is apparently the most volatile, dangerous force in the world -- much, much more dangerous than, say, nuclear war or the heat-death of the planet, which concern them not at all. The amount of time, energy, money -- and frenzy -- spent on repressing and controlling women's sexuality is truly extraordinary. Or rather, it is, tragically, all too ordinary, part of an effort that has been going on since homo sapiens first emerged.
It is also part of a larger agenda by our homegrown, well-heeled religious extremists to supplant secular government with sectarian rule. Their ludicrous public panic about the danger of "Sharia Law" being imposed on the country is a hysterical projection of their own desires -- and their own designs. A growing sectarian hardcore believes that secular government has no legitimacy whatsoever; a Bible-based "Dominion" is the only proper form of government. Wheaton College's objections to the government form likely have as much to do with this larger agenda as it does with the sectarian extremists' deep-seated, fear-ridden hatred of women.
I have seen this belief and this agenda in action. It was almost 30 years ago, when the sectarian extremism that is now rampant across the land, controlling one major political party, parts of the military and bankrolled with billions of dollars, was still, for most people, a distant sideshow confined to rural backwaters. I was working at a newspaper in one of those "backwaters," a rural country in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A local fundamentalist sect was growing toward "mega-church" status. It had its own television facilities -- very much a rarity in those days. It had a huge new church complex. Then the church's pastor decided he wanted to have a school. He added on to part of the already existing complex to make room for a finely-appointed private Christian school. The state had no objection, of course. All they wanted was for him to allow the school building certified as safe, according to fire codes and structural regulations. It was all very routine; and had of course been done for the television studio and other structures in the complex.
But the new sectarianism was already growing more virulent. Not long before, in a neighboring county, a mother had sued the local school board -- because her daughter was being "forced" to use her imagination in class. There was an exercise in an English class where children were asked to shut their eyes and imagine any kind of scene they wanted. This, the mother said, was witchcraft -- imagining things that weren't there! And so, according to her understanding of the wishes of an invisible deity, she pulled her daughter out of class and filed a lawsuit that cost local taxpayers a great deal of money. (Her expenses, of course, were paid by outside sectarian organizations.)
Now the pastor in our county was taking a similar stand. He could not allow the State of Tennessee to issue a permit certifying that his school building was safe because this would be an unconscionable encroachment of secular government on religious liberty. Even though the state wasn't trying to tell him what to teach in the school. (Which would no doubt include anti-imagination exercises in English class.) It wasn't trying to dictate his beliefs or encroach on them in any way. There wasn't even any real question that the building was structurally safe and sound. He simply refused to have anything to do with the state.
The case came to court. The local sectarian extremists were in a state of high excitement. (The rest of the populace -- almost entirely Bible-believing conservative Christians -- thought the pastor's stance was ludicrous.) I remember sitting in the courtroom right behind the pastor's college-student son and his friends. (The son was attending a state university; perhaps he planned to refuse to accept his diploma upon graduation.) The young man was particularly hyped up, squirming in his chair, combative, ready for the fight. Suddenly he smacked his fist into his palm and said, seething, "Man, wouldn't it be great if the Lord struck down this courtroom right now!" His friends all agreed.
The pastor took the stand and under questioning from his lawyer delivered a long oration on religious liberty and the exaltation of sectarian belief over secular government. He could not accept -- would not accept -- that the state had the authority to regulate or license anything associated with his religious activities. There were cheers from the college contingent.
Then the state's attorney got up. He asked the pastor if he had a driver's license. The preacher said, yes, he did. He asked him to show the license to the court. The preacher did so. The attorney then asked what entity issued the license. The State of Tennessee, was the answer. Finally came this question: Do you ever use your car on church business? Yes, of course, said the pastor.
That was pretty much it. The church lost the case. The pastor appealed, of course, and succeeded in getting a change of venue to an even more conservative county, where the church won the case. Then the state appealed, and it eventually went to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled against the church. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent. The school got certified, it opened, and I assume the preacher spent many happy years pouring bile and fear and ignorance into his young charges. I was already gone by then.
But I remember very well the gathering ferment of this sectarian darkness in those days. To these sectarians, "religious liberty" didn't just mean the liberty to practice their religion as they saw fit; it also meant liberty from any vestige of secular government. It meant, ultimately -- and in those more obscure days, many of them were open about this -- the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on others and to supplant the secular government with sectarian rule. They didn't expect it to happen right away. (The Lord refrained from striking down the courthouse that day). They weren't even sure it would happen in their lifetime. But it was their goal, their dream -- and they have moved relentlessly and remorselessly toward it year after year, on every possible front.
So yes, our sectarians hate women (along with many other classifications of human beings), and they will cheer these rulings by the Supreme Court's conservative majority (which is itself dominated by sectarians). But what we see in the Wheaton College ruling is a Court-blessed manifestation of a hatred that goes beyond misogyny: a hatred of democracy, a hatred of any kind of human community or culture or social organization that is not under the "dominion" of their own narrow, stunted sectarian beliefs. What they seek is their own "Caliphate." And they are taking it, bit by bit. The Supreme Court has just handed them a large chunk of territory.
Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 03 July 2014 09:40
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, delivers a blistering attack on his former Bush Regime colleague Dick Cheney -- and the idea of rapacious empire that Cheney serves and embodies -- in language rarely seen in the mainstream press from a thoroughly entrenched Establishment figure. A sample:
Whether murder and plunder in India, slaughter in Algeria, devastation in Cameroon, or torture and massacre in the Philippines, few western powers can rightfully claim innocence. And, perhaps most worrisome, their national myths mask or even convert most of the crimes, and what the myths don't eliminate or alter poor education and memory lapses do….
As has been the case since humankind began to organize itself, Dick Cheney believes that wealth and power -- his and his cronies wealth and power foremost -- are still the relevant strategic objectives of empire. King Leopold of Belgium is not dead, simply reincarnated in a more modern form. Torturing people is dependent on a nation's supposed needs, killing people on the expediency of policy, waging war on monetary and commercial gain, and lying to the people is a highly reputable tactic in pursuit of each. Leopold would love Dick Cheney.
Cheney even models Leopold: never in the dangerous fray himself (five draft deferments, e.g.), a master of bureaucratic manipulation and intrigue, in love to a fault with secrecy, willing to undertake any crime under the sun so long as it leads to profit, deeply relishing every moment of evil he is able to engineer, and a master of masking it all through adroit, politically-attuned public relations aimed at people too stupid to question him -- all while paying absolutely no attention to what his past clearly demonstrates he has done…
This modern man, Cheney, however needs no kingship, no ornate palaces, no personally-owned colony like the Congo; Cheney's writ is the world. It is all of humankind that Cheney would torture, enslave, murder, or plunder if it were required.
Of course, Wilkerson's boss, the lifelong imperial factotum Powell, was deeply complicit in the launching and administering of the vast war crime in Iraq. Indeed, it was largely Powell who sealed the deal for war, with his outrageously mendacious performance at the UN, using doctored testimony and ridiculous visual aids to convince the world of Iraq's non-existent WMD arsenal. Powell's "testimony" helped sway many of the still-wavering "liberal" figures in Establishment politics and media that the war was necessary and just. Most of these sad and spineless specimens were already keen to go with the militarist flow, and the cover from the sainted figure of Powell -- beloved icon of "bipartisan moderates" -- gave them enough "moral certainty" to assuage their liberal consciences.
[For more on Powell's remarkable history of imperial servitude, from the My Lai Massacre to Iran-Contra and beyond, see: "The Bagman Cometh: Obama Embraces War Criminal's Endorsement." For even more detail, see Robert Parry's excellent piece, "The Truth About Colin Powell."]
Still, whatever the source, it is good to see some of our imperial criminals openly called murderers and plunderers in the public press. Wilkerson has been speaking candidly about the realities of empire since he left the Bush Regime in 2005. But as we noted in a previous piece on his revelations, one question remains: "…while we applaud Colonel Wilkerson's candor now, we also must ask: Where was he then? And why did he keep silent as his own boss helped facilitate the ultimate international crime of aggressive war?"
Well, better late than never and all that, I suppose. But wouldn't it be great if one of our highly-placed courtiers grew a conscience when they were still in power, when a revelation or resignation would have some actual effect?
Written by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:25
Arthur Silber has been silent for quite some time, and his last post spoke of horrific problems with his health -- which has been declining for a long time, and now seems to have taken a deep plunge.
I don't know his precise situation at the moment, but it is likely to be dire. I imagine too that in addition to the health problems, he is facing the usual crush of bills at the end of the month. He is one of our strongest and most thought-provoking voices, yet is forced to live at the margins of society, while witless poltroons and egregious time-servers swim in gravy.
I am not authorized to speak for him, and am not speaking for him -- but just on my own volition, I would urge you to go to his site and, if you have anything to give, give what you can to support Silber in this difficult time. We need his insight, we need his wit, we need the disturbing, productive fire in the mind that he can light.
And while you're there, avail yourself of some of the "Major Essays" listed on the side; this is powerful stuff, and you won't see anything like it anywhere else.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 27 July 2009 20:16
While dozens of innocent people continue to die each week in the
political and sectarian violence unleashed in Iraq by America's
invasion and continuing occupation, the main attention of the
bipartisan Terror Warriors in Washington – and their sycophantic
outriders in the corporate media – continues to be what they call, in
the imperial jargonizing that lumps the vast complexities of myriad
human communities into reductive, thought-killing soundbites, the
This, as we all know, is the "good war," the one
that most "serious" progressives touted for years as the healthy
alternative to the "bad war" that George W. Bush got us into in Iraq,
where his "incompetence" and "failures" tarnished the exalted ideal of
"humanitarian intervention." (Known in the trade by the acronym
"KTC-STC" – "Kill the Children to Save the Children.") . If only we
could get out the quagmire in Iraq, cried the serious progs, and do the
Terror War "right" in Afghanistan! Well, their wish has come true
(except of course for the 130,000 American troops and equal number of
mercenaries still prowling around in Iraq; but that's OK, because Obama
is in charge now, and what ser-progs once vehemently denounced as a
blatant, bloody war crime can now be described, in the immortal words
of the president himself, as "an extraordinary achievement"). The Obama
Administration is throwing billions of new dollars and thousands of
more troops into the eight-year-old conflict, while greatly expanding
the cross-border attacks on the sovereign soil of America's ally,
Pakistan. And while Obama has retained the core of the Terror War
directorate that Bush installed – notably Pentagon warlord Robert Gates
and the surgin' general, David Petraeus – he has now put his own man in
charge of the "good war": longtime "dirty war" and death squad maven
Stanley McChrystal. (Expertise in rubouts, snatches and "strenuous
interrogation" is obviously what you need to win "hearts and minds" in
So here we are, with the imperial
mind bent at last on the "Af-Pak" front. But where, exactly, are we?
What is the real situation on the "Af-Pak" ground? Two natives of the
Terror War targets give us a view from the ground. First, Malalai Joya, from Afghanistan:
2005, I was the youngest person elected to the new Afghan parliament.
Women like me, running for office, were held up as an example of how
the war in Afghanistan had liberated women. But this democracy was a
facade, and the so-called liberation a big lie....
years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly
democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the
continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that
ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.
must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of
warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many
of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during
the civil war of the 1990s.
For expressing my views I have been
expelled from my seat in parliament, and I have survived numerous
assassination attempts. The fact that I was kicked out of office while
brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes
should tell you all you need to know about the "democracy" backed by
So far, Obama has pursued the same policy as
Bush in Afghanistan. Sending more troops and expanding the war into
Pakistan will only add fuel to the fire. Like many other Afghans, I
risked my life during the dark years of Taliban rule to teach at
underground schools for girls. Today the situation of women is as bad
as ever. Victims of abuse and rape find no justice because the
judiciary is dominated by fundamentalists. A growing number of women,
seeing no way out of the suffering in their lives, have taken to
suicide by self-immolation.
This week, US vice-president Joe
Biden asserted that "more loss of life [is] inevitable" in Afghanistan,
and that the ongoing occupation is in the "national interests" of both
the US and the UK.
I have a different message to the people of
Britain. I don't believe it is in your interests to see more young
people sent off to war, and to have more of your taxpayers' money going
to fund an occupation that keeps a gang of corrupt warlords and drug
lords in power in Kabul.
What's more, I don't believe it is
inevitable that this bloodshed continues forever. Some say that if
foreign troops leave Afghanistan will descend into civil war. But what
about the civil war and catastrophe of today? The longer this
occupation continues, the worse the civil war will be.
Next, Tariq Ali reports from Pakistan:
is a country whose fate is no longer in its own hands. I have never
known things so bad. The chief problems are the United States and its
requirements, the religious extremists, the military high command, and
corruption, not just on the part of President Zardari and his main
rivals, but spreading well beyond them.
This is now Obama’s war.
He campaigned to send more troops into Afghanistan and to extend the
war, if necessary, into Pakistan. These pledges are now being
fulfilled. On the day he publicly expressed his sadness at the death of
a young Iranian woman caught up in the repression in Tehran, US drones
killed 60 people in Pakistan. The dead included women and children,
whom even the BBC would find it difficult to describe as ‘militants’.
Their names mean nothing to the world; their images will not be seen on
TV networks. Their deaths are in a ‘good cause’....
In May this
year, Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul, published an
assessment of the crisis in the region in the Huffington Post. Ignored
by the White House, since he was challenging most of the assumptions on
which the escalation of the war was based, Fuller was speaking for many
in the intelligence community in his own country as well as in Europe.
It’s not often that I can agree with a recently retired CIA man, but
not only did Fuller say that Obama was ‘pressing down the same path of
failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush’ and that military force
would not win the day, he also explained to readers of the Huffington
Post that the Taliban are all ethnic Pashtuns, that the Pashtuns ‘are
among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalised and xenophobic peoples
of the world, united only against the foreign invader’ and ‘in the end
probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist’. ‘It is a fantasy,’ he
said, ‘to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.’ And I
don’t imagine he is the only retired CIA man to refer back to the days
when Cambodia was invaded ‘to save Vietnam’....
to Pakistan, Anne] Patterson can be disarmingly frank. Earlier this
year, she offered a mid-term assessment to a visiting Euro-intelligence
chief. While Musharraf had been unreliable, saying one thing in
Washington and doing its opposite back home, Zardari was perfect: ‘He
does everything we ask.’ What is disturbing here is not Patterson’s
candour, but her total lack of judgment. Zardari may be a willing
creature of Washington, but the intense hatred for him in Pakistan is
not confined to his political opponents. He is despised principally
because of his venality. He has carried on from where he left off as
minister of investment in his late wife’s second government. Within
weeks of occupying President’s House, his minions were ringing the
country’s top businessmen, demanding a share of their profits.
the case of Mr X, who owns one of the country’s largest banks. He got a
call. Apparently the president wanted to know why his bank had sacked a
PPP member soon after Benazir Bhutto’s fall in the late 1990s. X said
he would find out and let them know. It emerged that the sacked clerk
had been caught with his fingers literally in the till. President’s
House was informed. The explanation was rejected. The banker was told
that the clerk had been victimised for political reasons. The man had
to be reinstated and his salary over the last 18 years paid in full
together with the interest due. The PPP had also to be compensated and
would expect a cheque (the sum was specified) soon. Where the president
leads, his retainers follow. Many members of the cabinet and their
progeny are busy milking businessmen and foreign companies. ‘If they
can do it, so can we’ is a widely expressed view in Karachi, the
country’s largest city. Muggings, burglaries, murders, many of them
part of protection rackets linked to politicians, have made it the
Naples of the East....
These rumours came into the open at the
end of June, when the head of the Bhutto clan, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto,
chairman of the Sind National Front, publicly accused Zardari at a
press conference, alleging that ‘the killer of Murtaza Bhutto had also
murdered Benazir . . . Now I am his target. A hefty amount has been
paid to mercenaries to kill me.’ (Zardari is generally regarded as
having ordered his brother-in-law Murtaza’s death. Shoaib Suddle, the
police chief in Karachi, who organised the operation that led to
Murtaza Bhutto’s death, has now been promoted and is head of the
You should read both pieces in
their entirety to get the bigger, grimmer picture. So here we are -- in
bed with extremists, misogynists, kleptocrats and killers.
But wait a minute: isn't this where we came in?