Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Supreme Court Ruling on Campaign Finance.

Don't miss Jeff Zeleny's blog post at the NYTimes on today's disastrous ruling on campaign finance. With this decision, the corporate buying of candidates has gone from terrible to worse. Zeleny writes:

Today’s ruling upends the nation’s campaign finance laws, allowing corporations and labor unions to spend freely on behalf of political candidates. With less than 11 months before the fall elections, the floodgates for political contributions will open wide, adding another element of intrigue to the fight for control of Congress.

At first blush, Republican candidates would seem to benefit from this seismic change in how political campaigns are conducted in America. The political environment – an angry, frustrated electorate seeking change in Washington – was already favoring Republicans. Now corporations, labor unions and a host of other organizations can weigh in like never before.

But the populist showdown that was already brewing – President Obama on Thursday sought to limit the size of the nation’s banks – will surely only intensify by the Supreme Court’s ruling. The development means that both sides will have even louder megaphones to make their voices and viewpoints heard.

Mr. Obama issued a statement – a rare instance of a president immediately weighing in on a ruling from the high court – and said his administration would work with Congressional leaders “to develop a forceful response to this decision.”

“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” Mr. Obama said. “It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

Republicans, of course, hailed the ruling as a victory for the First Amendment.

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Happy 300th Anniversary, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

A full year of events are planned by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and the 1719 Hans Herr House and Museum to celebrate the settlement of Lancaster County by - my people! In 1719 Martin Harnish made his way to Lancaster County via ship from Europe.

Our clan has been there ever since, my generation being the first in our direct line to move away, though my sister lives only miles from the original Harnish farm. Last year she and I sought out the homestead and trekked up to the family burial plot on a sloping hill behind the house. We were able to find the head stones of most of the original family members and, thanks to amazing work by Rogelyn Harnish who compiled a family "Freindschaft," trace the names and homes of all subsequent family members.

300 cheers for religious tolerance in Lancaster County!

Congratulations Lancaster and all the Harnish, Mylin, Herr, Lefever, Weaver and Hess families who have contributed to my heritage and home. Click through to find a schedule of events:

For Lancaster County, it all began 300 years ago when nine immigrant families from the Palatinate section of southwest Germany staked their claim in what was then the wilderness of a British colony.

To these settlers, including the families of Hans Herr and Martin Meylin, their world consisted of 10,000 acres, stretching along the Pequea Creek from modern-day Strasburg to West Willow, connected by a trail we now know as Penn Grant Road.

Here, with the help of friendly Conestoga Indians, they lived, raised their children, worked the land and, eventually, were laid to rest.

From this small beginning of Swiss/German pioneers looking for religious freedom grew what we know today as Lancaster County: 984 square miles that are home to nearly half a million people as diverse as the world itself.

To commemorate the county's 300th birthday, Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and 1719 Hans Herr House and Museum are sponsoring a yearlong celebration to honor the county and its people, past and present.

"I look at this as our gift to Lancaster County," said Beth Graybill, director of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. "This 300th anniversary is important not just to the Pennsylvania German Mennonite immigrants who were the first settlers, but for any of us who trace our roots to Lancaster. We're all part of that story that started 300 years ago."

Graybill said the celebration is, in part, to acknowledge the arrival of the early settlers. But it is also about honoring the Native Americans who were here first, and helped Herr, Meylin and the others to survive.

"They had a very positive and very good relationship with Native Americans," Graybill said. "There are oral histories of white and native children playing games together. Hans Herr would leave his door unlocked on very cold nights for the natives to come in and huddle by the fireplace."

In exchange, she said, the Indians helped them know the best crops to plant and the prime places to hunt. They introduced the settlers to corn and "helped them survive that first winter."

"We can't do a 300th anniversary celebration without recognizing and celebrating those native connections," Graybill said.

To honor the Indian contribution, the organizers are working closely with Circle Legacy, a local, non-profit Native American group.

Many of the events scheduled are free. A few have fees and some of those are fundraisers that will pay for the construction of an Eastern Woodlands Indian longhouse on the Hans Herr property.

"Our goal is to have a dwelling and interpret their life and culture, their spiritual beliefs, what they ate, what they wore, how they hunted and what work they did," said Becky Gochnauer, director at the Hans Herr House.

She said the museum hopes to dedicate the land for the longhouse on Oct. 9.

Another goal of the celebration is to recognize the rich cultural diversity of those who call Lancaster County home today, through traditions, food and music.

The celebration kicked off Wednesday with a ceremony by the Lancaster County commissioners, and the first event will take place Jan. 31.

"The 300th only comes around once, so it's important to make it interesting and historically accurate," Graybill said.

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The Vatican's Guidelines for Mideast Synod Released.

Fantastic Howard Friedman at ReligionClause notes that the Catholic Church has released its Guidelines for Mideast Synod. And he pulls out some of the points the Vatican wishes to focus on in October.

The Vatican yesterday released a document titled Guidelines for Mideast Synod. The synod, scheduled for Oct. 10-24, is expected to attract some 150 bishops, mostly from Eastern rite churches. Haaretz reports that there are some 17 million Christians in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt. Many Christians have fled, but many others (primarily from Philippines, India and Pakistan) have arrived in Arab lands in recent years to work in domestic or manual labor. Here are some excerpts from the lengthy Guidelines:

18. Political conflicts in the region have a direct influence on the lives of Christians, both as citizens and as Christians. The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories makes daily life difficult with regard to freedom of movement, the economy and religious life (access to the Holy Places is dependent on military permission which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds). Moreover, certain Christian fundamentalist theologies use Sacred Scripture to justify Israel's occupation of Palestine, making the position of Christian Arabs even more sensitive.

19. In Iraq, the war has unleashed evil forces within the country, religious confessions and political movements, making all Iraqis victims. However, because Christians represent the smallest and weakest part of Iraqi communities, they are among the principal victims, with world politics taking no notice.

20. In Lebanon, Christians are deeply divided at a political and confessional level, without a commonly acceptable plan of action. In Egypt, the rise of political Islam, on the one hand, and the disengagement of Christians from civil society on the other, lead to intolerance, inequality and injustice in their lives. Moreover, this Islamisation also penetrates families through the media and school.... In many countries, authoritarianism or dictatorships force the population - Christians included - to bear everything in silence....

22. In the Middle East, freedom of religion customarily means freedom of worship and not freedom of conscience, i.e., the freedom to change one's religion for belief in another. Generally speaking, religion in the Middle East is a social and even a national choice, and not an individual one. To change religion is perceived as betraying a society, culture and nation, founded largely on a religious tradition.

23. Conversion is seen as the fruit of a proselytism with personal interests attached and not arising from authentic religious conviction. Oftentimes, the conversion of Jews and Muslims is forbidden by State laws. Christians, though also subjected to pressure and opposition from families and tribes - even if less severely - remain free to change their religion. Many times, the conversion of Christians results not from religious conviction but personal interests or under pressure from Muslim proselytism, particularly to be relieved from obligations related to family difficulties.

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Lifenews Discredits Palliative Care.

Lifenews published an irresponsible and misleading article yesterday by writer Mary Ann Kreitzer that uses friend-of-a-friend conjecture and emotion to discredit palliative care. Like Bill Frist diagnosed Terri Schiavo by video, Kreitzer uses a telephone conversation to determine that her friend's father was "killed" by palliative care.

Irresponsible: because millions of elders are now facing end of life care and planning and require fact-based, scientific, medically sound advice on what their options are for their dying and death. This article plays on fear of death, the taboo of discussing end of life choices, and religious convictions to damage patients' understanding. It is a horrible disservice to seniors.

Misleading: In short she gets all the facts wrong simply because she is not medically trained, is not intimate with the medical facts of the man's death, does not understand that dementia and alzheimers not only damage the mind but the body, has little knowledge of what palliative sedation is, and in short, contributes to fears that elders already have about end of life issues.

I wish we could say that this type of egregious misinformation and fear-mongering was rare, but unfortunately it's not. While 75% of elders say they would like to die at home, 80% die in health facilities, often without any control over their end of life decisions, financial arrangements, or knowledge of patients' rights. Over the past thirty years, the sort of work that Kreitzer is doing with this post has reduced elders to victims, not in control of their end of life decisions or care. Kreitzer demeans the autonomy of elders by reducing their agency in their own health care decisions.

But there's something else at work in this piece: grief is a complicated and nuanced emotional process that, when stymied by blame and anger, however unjust, can damage the grieving of those who have lost a loved one. Kreitzer's damage is not only to those seniors who must face the dying process without guidance and accurate information but to the loved ones who in the wake of death are faced with the work of their own grief.

By using only the barest outline of a man's death, Kreitzer makes the case that the nebulous "culture of death" is out to kill our vulnerable seniors. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only accurate information, medically sound decisions, advanced planning, and acceptance of impending death will empower our seniors to die the way they want to. Kreitzer deserves grave criticism for working to distort our human right to a good death.
From Lifenews:

I spoke to a friend this morning whose father was murdered by terminal sedation (aka "palliative" care). Her father suffered from Alzheimer's and his mind was pretty well gone, but physically he was in great shape.

He and his wife lived with one of my friend's children who took him for a long walk every day and knew how to manage all his grandfather's moods. They were good buddies. My friend lived nearby and spent as much time as possible visiting her parents and enjoying her father's company.

But the rest of the family (including my friend's mother who had power of attorney) decided to put him in a nursing home where he was difficult to control because he wanted to be released. My friend told me that every time she went to visit him he was trying to escape -- pulling at every door and even the bookcases looking for a way out. Three nursing homes and several months later he pretty much gave up.

When she went to see him he would be sitting in a wheelchair slumped over and drooling. He got an infection and ended up in a hospital "palliative" ward where he was denied food, water, and antibiotics. Within several months, he went from an elderly man who was walking two miles a day with his grandson, to dead from dehydration and terminal sedation. It was Terri Schiavo and Hugh Finn without the publicity.

My friend considered trying to get guardianship at one point, but she was familiar with the earlier cases and knew it would be a lengthy legal battle and the result would be the same. He had also deteriorated so much she didn't think he could recover. With a number of young children still at home, she didn't think she could deal with the fight. So here was a faithful daughter (and her husband) willing to care for both her parents until they died, who had to watch while her faithless siblings and her mom murdered her father.

Welcome to the realities of the culture of death.

Terminal sedation is abortion for the elderly. You have dementia and get pneumonia? Like Rahm Emmanuel says, Never let a crisis go to waste. See it as an opportunity for a quick exit. No antibiotics and terminal sedation. Abortion completed. Your loved one is healthy but brain damaged like Terri Schiavo and Hugh Finn? No problem. Starvation, dehydration, and terminal sedation. Call it late-term abortion.

You think I'm exaggerating? The New York Times ran an article on December 27, 2009 on the practice. It is common in hospice programs. Hurry the patients along for the peace of the family and to empty the bed. Saves everyone anxiety, money, and hassle. Except, perhaps, the patient. But he is drugged so whatever objections he may have had, you'll never have to hear them.

Sometimes, as in my friend's case, though, things aren't that smooth. Far from bringing peace to families it brings terminal strife and family breakdown. And in the case of my friend's mom, will children who killed their father, hesitate at doing the same thing to the their complicit mother? After all, she had no objections to killing dad; so how can she object to her own quick exit? It's for the children (and their inheritance?).

I wish I could say this is the only case I know of the deliberate murder of elderly parents, but it isn't. It's common practice in some hospices with or without the complicity of the families. Situations like my friend's are also becoming more and more common as the baby boomers, who often gave their children nothing in the way of faith, face the results of their hedonistic lives. "Hey, Mom put me in day care for most of my childhood and aborted my siblings; I'll put her in a nursing home and pull the plug as soon as possible." So much easier for everyone.

The worst part, however, is that while the body is being killed, the souls of the killers are dying as well. How does God who said, "Honor your father and your mother," look at the deliberate murder of parents? It is mortally sinful! And that's the greatest suffering for my friend. She would like to see her family in heaven, but fears that this life on earth may be the only common ground they ever share.

Please pray for all those in danger of death today from terminal sedation and for those who will carry it out and enable it. It's a soul-killer for sure! You can call it quick and painless, but in the end the palliative care ward, like the abortion mill, is literally hell on earth.

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Religion and Proposition 8.

As testimony continues in the Proposition 8 case in California, opponents of the law which makes same-sex marriage legal, are working to show that religious opposition was the primary force behind the law's passage, therefor violating separation of church and state.

Rather than accept that their position is discriminatory and a violation of individual rights, religious groups are claiming persecution for their beliefs. But no one is discussing what those religious beliefs have caused: imposition of religious ideology on state and federal laws, a blatant use of state law to enforce discrimination based on sexuality.

Attempting to end religious laws is not persecution, it's an effort to uphold religious tolerance.

From the LA Times:

The experts agreed under questioning that some churches have contributed to discrimination against gays and that religion also has been used to justify discrimination against African Americans and women.

David Boies, a lawyer for the challengers who questioned the experts, ended the video presentation with a question about whether some state laws were based on religion.

"No," said Katherine Young, a religious studies professor at McGill University, "because you have the doctrine of separation of church and state."

Documents unveiled later revealed the Catholic and Mormon churches played a major role in passing Proposition 8.

An e-mail from the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the bishops and a cardinal said Catholics were crucial in providing money and volunteers to qualify Proposition 8 for the ballot.

The e-mail also praised the Mormon Church, saying it had provided "financial, organizational and management contributions" for the measure.

A memo by a Mormon Church public affairs officer said the Proposition 8 campaign was "entirely under priesthood direction," and the minutes of a Mormon Church meeting said members should not take the lead in promoting Proposition 8 but should work through

The church document said a teleconference had been held in Salt Lake City with 159 of 161 Mormon leaders in California. The leaders were told to encourage members to contribute $30 each for Proposition 8, toward a projected goal of $5 million, in addition to general fundraising.

Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the Proposition 8 campaign, said in an interview that it was "astonishing" that the court allowed into evidence internal communications of churches.

"Today has been a major expression of religious bigotry," Pugno said of Wednesday's testimony. "The gloves have clearly come off, and religious voters are in the cross-hairs."

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A Definition to Shut Down Nuanced Discussion of Aid in Dying.

Catholic News Agency offers it's own doctrinal definition of euthanasia - "murder" - and works to shut down the discussion, active in the US, Canada, Britain and other westernized countries around the globe - by demonizing any consideration of nuance. When addressed as an issue of "good vs. evil" euthanasia becomes an issue for the state, the church and the medical profession. Patients' rights are made illegitimate. Expect much more media of this sort as "pro-life" groups work with the Catholic Church to elevate "euthanasia" on their platform and oppose aid in dying advocates across the country.

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A Step In the Right Direction: CA Sets Health Care Regulations.

From California Progress Report, a new law that will ensure patients get timely treatment. I haven't seen the regulations but I don't think they address other patients' rights like informed consent, right to referrals, and non-discrimination on grounds of class, race, gender or sexuality, but they are a step toward reigning in the egregious practices of the medical industry to deny those most in need of health care. From the post:

These groundbreaking consumer protections will help ensure that HMO patients get the care they need, when they need it. Consumer advocates argued that care delayed is often care denied, leading to worse health outcomes or unnecessary visits to the emergency room. These new first-in-the-nation patient rights will provide consumers with clear expectations about how quickly they should get in to see a doctor or specialist.

The new rules ensure that when managed care consumers agree to a limited network of providers, insurers fulfill their promise that their networks of doctors and specialists have the capacity to take care of their paying patients. While the concept of timely access to health care was one of the cornerstones of the original Knox-Keene Act of 1975 that established and regulated managed care in California, it remained largely unrealized and unenforced.

For the first time, the new consumer protections detail specific time-elapsed standards by which patients can expect to get a telephone questioned answered, an urgent care appointment, or a routine appointment for a primary care doctor or specialist.

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Church of England and Dying Matters Coalition.

From Britain, where the struggle over patients' end of life rights is as intense as our own here in the US, news of the Church of England's joining with other organizations to form Dying Matters Coalition, an organization committed to making "a good death" the norm in health care. The organization is headed by the National Coalition of Palliative Care (NCPC). From the Church of England's website:

The Church of England has joined more than 1,000 organisations in the national Dying Matters Coalition. Led by the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC), working closely with the Department of Health (DH) and other key stakeholders, the coalition aims to promote public awareness around death, dying and bereavement.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Tom Butler, vice chair of the Archbishops' Council's Mission and Public Affairs Council, said: “I welcome the Dying Matters initiative as an important contribution to the debate about dying and death. The advances in palliative and end of life care have been helpful in improving the quality of life of those who are dying and their families, and I hope that this new coalition will bring help and information to many people.”

Hilary Fisher, Director of the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “We are delighted that the Church of England has joined the Dying Matters coalition. For too long, issues of death and bereavement have been perceived as too big or scary to talk about; the ensuing silence has resulted in isolation and confusion among dying people and their families. Openness, conversation and communication are vital in addressing this.

“Dying Matters has over a thousand members, including community groups, healthcare bodies, private individuals and groups representing a range of faiths. The Church of England’s voice is welcome in a conversation that should continue across all sections of our society."

The overall mission of the coalition is to make a ‘good death’ a normal expectation, and for dying, death and bereavement to be accepted as a natural part of everybody’s life cycle. An agreed programme of planned collective action is to be formulated by the coalition to ensure that progress is made as a key part of the implementation of the Government’s End of Life Care Strategy for England.

More information on Dying Matters is available here.

Details of the End of Life Care Strategy are available here.

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Montana's Legislature Aims to Make Aid in Dying Illegal.

Everyone who's been watching the events unfolding in Montana - the state Supreme Court's ruling on New Year's Eve that aid in dying is not prevented by any existing laws - know that "pro-life" forces have been working double time the past year to pressure legislators to now moot the court's ruling by introducing laws that make aid in dying illegal.

From OneNewsNow, a bit of insight into what players in state government are working to shape the court's ruling and patients' rights this session:

The Montana legislature will be dealing with the subject of doctor-assisted suicide next session as one lawmaker has already taken action.

After the Montana Supreme Court legalized mercy killings and threw the decision back to the legislature, Republican Senator Greg Hinkle introduced a bill to ban it. He believes the measure would pass in the Senate, but the House is split 50/50.

"So the odds of that passing there are probably slim because usually the Democrats will lock up and all vote the same way, of course," Hinkle predicts. "But by the time this rolls around, that whole thing could change if the balance changes in the House."

That balance-shift is possible because there will be an election before the next legislative session, which starts a year from now.

"That's one of the reasons why I wanted to introduce this bill right that the candidates can use it as a campaign issue," the state senator explains. "But also the people can question candidates and [ask] 'Where do you stand on prohibiting physician-assisted suicide?' And that'll really put candidates in a spot because they're either going to have to be for it or against it."

Hinkle further adds that ten senators have served as long as the law allows, so those seats will be up for grabs. He expects the election could be a free-for-all.

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Who's Amish Now?

I have a post up at KillingtheBuddha about Conservative's Amish-envy. Since folks like Michelle Malkin found out that the Amish and Mennonites are exempt from the health care mandate, there's been talk of conversion.

I show that such talk isn't just a denial of the country's founding principles but a profound lack of understanding of faithful conviction. Here's an excerpt:

From the stiff wooden pews of my grandmother’s Mennonite church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I often heard a story that perfectly illustrates the Anabaptist approach to profession of faith. It’s a part of Anabaptist lore, told and retold from the simple pulpits of unadorned churches across the country. As it turns out, the story belongs to one Rufus P. Bucher as much as it does to the Amish and Mennonites I grew up surrounded by. Chris Armstrong recently retold it at his blog:

When Brethren evangelist Rufus P. Bucher was asked by a stranger in a railway station, “Brother, are you saved?” he replied that since he might be prejudiced on the question, his interrogator should go ask his wife, children, and neighbors. “I’ll be ready to let their answers stand as my own.”

There’s a reason why the Anabaptists believe in showing and not telling. For a couple of hundred years they were sought out, tortured and murdered for their faith. And not just by their neighbors, but by their state. Fleeing from Switzerland to escape the horrors of the Radical Reformation, Anabaptists, who ascribe to adult baptism and are comprised of Amish and Mennonite sects, headed first to Germany, then to Russia and the infant United States. They never looked back. The need to escape religious persecution at home became the need to find religious tolerance wherever it existed. Today Mennonite and Amish populations live on every continent, in every country that will allow them freedom to live their modest lifestyle, outside the strictures of modern society or government laws. You won’t find a group of believers more versed in the necessity for strict separation of church and state; the Anabaptists know better than most what happens when a nation’s ruler’s adopt theocratic laws: somebody’s bound to get killed.

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