The bill passed by the Kansas House of Representatives today has a bland title—"An act concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage." But the language cannot conceal the vicious discrimination it's intended to protect. The bill would allow not only private businesses but, quite remarkably, state officials to withhold services from gays and lesbians as long as it is motivated by a "sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender." This reprehensible proposed law would render gays and lesbians second-class citizens in Kansas and deprives them of rights most people have long taken for granted.
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam was the co-winner of the Defensive Player of the Year for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. While a little undersized for an NFL player at his position, Sam was certainly a decent pro prospect sure to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. But Sam is no longer just of interest to SEC fans and NFL draft obsessives. On Sunday, Sam came out as gay. If he makes an NFL roster, he would certainly not be the first gay man to play in the NFL, but he would be the first to be out to the public during his playing career. Whether he will get a fair shot to make it as an NFL player, however, is not entirely clear, as multiple NFL decisionmakers have announced their intent to discriminate.
In one of the better lines in last night's State of the Union address, President Obama chided House Republicans for their endless series of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act: "[L]et's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans ... The first 40 were plenty." He followed up by observing that "we all owe it to the American people to say what we're for, not just what we're against." As it happens, last week three Republican senators outlined a plan that can be fairly described as a Republican plan to replace Obamacare. (The basic features of the plan are clearly described by Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog here.) Because most of the Republican Party convinced themselves in 2009 that a tax penalty for people who don't carry health insurance was a grave threat to the American constitutional order, the plan does not include an individual mandate. But otherwise, in its general priorities the plan strongly resembles the Heritage Plan of the late 1980s. That is, it's radically different than the ACA, and it's horrible, immoral public policy.
Yesterday, as Charlie Savage of the New York Timesreported, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) created by Congress issued a comprehensive report on the National Security Administration's collection of telephone data. This damning report makes it clear that President Obama's proposed reforms to the program don't go far enough.
Last week, Barack Obama delivered a speech announcing some reforms in response to Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency. As with most aspects of Obama's record on civil liberties, my response is inevitably mixed. The outlined reforms would certainly constitute a real improvement over the status quo, but they are also too narrow and limited. Some of these limitations reflect real political constraints, while others don't.