Opinion

The Great Debate

from Stories I’d like to see:

How much is contraception coverage and costly violations for BNP Paribas

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1. Does health insurance covering contraception actually cost anything?

In this article about a renewed fight at the U.S. Supreme Court just days after its decision about whether the owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain had to buy insurance covering certain forms of contraception, the New York Times’ ace court reporter Adam Liptak wrote:

The majority opinion there, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., seemed to suggest that the forms could play a role in an arrangement that was an acceptable alternative to having employers pay for the coverage. Under the arrangement, insurance companies that receive the forms pay for the coverage on the theory that it costs no more to provide contraception than to pay for pregnancies.

Read the sentence I put in italics.

Obamacare was only passed after President Barack Obama and the bill’s lead sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate agreed to a compromise to assuage religious groups opposed to contraception.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor answers questions during final day of testimony at her confirmation hearings in WashingtonUnder the compromise, religious organizations could not be forced to pay for insurance that included contraception. Instead, the insurance companies would include the coverage separately, at their own cost. The Hobby Lobby case was about whether privately owned businesses with the same qualms about contraception could claim the exemption.

At the time the law was passed, and then after the Hobby Lobby case was brought, I wondered why an insurance company would agree to provide some coverage for free.

Nine interviews that will make you smarter

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Imagine a place where retired-four-star General Stanley McChrystal, warmly shakes your hand and insists you call him Stan. He means it, too, joking when the word general pops out of your mouth while you position him properly in front of the cameras for a brief interview. He wants to talk about getting young people involved in public service through a program where they would dedicate a year of their lives to improving the country. But he’s game to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. He served in both — becoming the man in charge in Afghanistan before comments he made to Rolling Stone that were critical of the Obama administration ended up costing him his job.

McChrystal makes a strong impression, and a positive one. And he’s not the only one who wants to talk with at least the appearance of frankness. In Aspen, Colorado, for the 10 days of the annual Ideas Festival, we’re all equals — of a sort. In my five days there, I met no one who wanted to be called mister, senator or any other title. It was first names all around, with the good and great wearing khakis, or even shorts. If people were trying to impress, it was mostly through trying hard to not impress at all.

The people I, Andy Sullivan, Lily Jamali and Zach Goelman interviewed work in the fields of art, science, international affairs, politics and romance. We’re all Reuters journalists with more than 50 years of experience among us. We’ve all interviewed interesting and powerful people before, but never such a diverse group in such a beautiful setting, nor in such quick succession.

How Uber can help the GOP gain control of the cities

Taxi drivers protest against transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft along with Assembly Bill 2293 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California

Republicans occupy the governor’s mansion in a majority of states and control both chambers of state legislatures where a majority of Americans live. In a country that is becoming more urban, however, Democrats have a major advantage: Their party runs most big U.S. cities. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, only two — San Diego and Indianapolis — have Republican mayors, and 13 of the 15 have Democratic-controlled city councils.

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

from Anatole Kaletsky:

How EU politics pushed Merkel to lift Germany’s austerity policies

German Chancellor Merkel and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Luxembourg

Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy who took the revolving presidency of the European Union this week, seems to be the sort of man that Napoleon was referring to when he reputedly said that the key qualification he sought in recruiting a general was good luck.

Renzi become prime minister without even needing to win an election because Silvio Berlusconi and all other rivals self-destructed. He took power just after Italy passed the lowest ebb of its economic fortunes. In May, he was rewarded for his good fortune by Italy’s voters, who anointed him with a strong democratic mandate in the same European elections that discredited almost all Europe’s other national leaders. Now he is taking the helm in Europe, as an economic recovery is starting and the European Central Bank is swinging decisively in support of growth.

But even a politician as lucky as Renzi could not have counted on his latest and most unexpected windfall: the unintended consequence of last week’s failed campaign by British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.

If Iraq must be divided, here’s the right way to do it

Shi'ite volunteers, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight ISIL, hold a sign during a graduation ceremony in Najaf

As Iraq spirals toward chaos and its Kurdish region talks independence, the issue of partition, or federalism, has resurfaced. This is a concept that then-Senator Joe Biden strongly advocated in 2006. Though it would be difficult to accomplish, federalism could still be a helpful element as Iraqis struggle through their current tragic mess.

The appeal of federalism could grow if Iraqi leaders in Baghdad cannot agree soon on a government of national unity, ideally one without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has proven so divisive. Whether a “soft partition” — meaning the creation of a Sunni autonomous zone to complement the existing Kurdish one — or “hard partition” –meaning the formal redrawing of regional lines — it would seem a natural idea. Not only because of the recent violence, which has caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes, but also the arbitrariness with which state borders were drawn by the European powers after World War One.

We did a study of the possible soft partition of Iraq in 2007, and found that the new Sunni autonomous zone would need the following:

from John Lloyd:

Could Vladimir Putin give peace a chance in Ukraine and beyond?

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What would it take for Russia to walk a way from violence and seek peaceful coexistence with its neighbors? It's certainly hard to see a way out right now.

The dogs of war in the east have been let slip again. On Monday, Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected Ukrainian president, said a 10-day unilateral truce with the separatist, pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of his country had ended: Force would now be required to “free our lands.”

Ukrainian units were moved in to try to bring the cities and areas controlled by the heavily armed separatists under control. By Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian military was reporting air and artillery strikes.

One more reason the Democrats may be toast this fall

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington

Democrats are apprehensive about this year’s midterm elections.

They should be.

Every indicator points to Republican gains in Congress. Two reasons are well known: President Barack Obama’s unpopularity and the historical record of midterm elections, when the president’s party almost always loses seats.

The third major reason is the two-four-six rule. Those are the different base years for different offices: two years for the House of Representatives, four years for most governors, six years for the Senate. These base years dictate how vulnerable each party is.

Here’s how it works: House members last faced the voters two years ago, in 2012, when Obama won re-election. With Obama’s strong voter turn-out, Democrats gained eight House seats. In the 2014 midterms, however, with their expected older and whiter electorate and Obama’s low poll numbers, Democrats are facing a tough November.

from Equals:

Woman can have it all — if families pitch in

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo

In an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival Monday, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was asked about whether women can have it all (because what else would a CEO be asked to talk about other than her children?). She gave some very honest answers. While a lot of people latched on to the fact that she’s not sure her daughters will think she was a good mom, the much more important excerpt is the story she tells of the night she found out she was going to become the president of PepsiCo (emphasis mine):

Rather than stay and work until midnight which I normally would've done because I had so much work to do, I decided to go home and share the good news with my family. I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, "Mom, I've got great news for you." She said, "let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?" I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, "what time did he get home?" She said "8 o'clock." I said, "Why didn't you ask him to buy the milk?" "He's tired." Okay. We have a couple of help at home, "why didn't you ask them to get the milk?" She said, "I forgot." She said just get the milk. We need it for the morning. So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back.

I banged it on the counter and I said, "I had great news for you. I've just been told that I'm going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?" And she said to me, "let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother. You're all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don't bring it into the house. You know I've never seen that crown."

To celebrate the Fourth of July, don’t go see this movie

Independence Day fireworks light the sky over the U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, in Washington

The week of July Fourth seems an odd time to release a film that questions the patriotism of the president of the United States, but that is precisely what right-wing idol Dinesh D’Souza sets out to do in his new film America: Imagine the World Without Her.

I wouldn’t ordinarily dignify such nonsense with a column, but America the movie exemplifies everything that’s wrong about the American political conversation these days, rich with examples from both left and right.

You get to meet a Sioux activist who wants to blow up Mount Rushmore, and a Chicano activist who talks about the golden morning when the United States will no longer exist. A former professor says that under certain unspecified conditions it might be just fine to drop a nuclear bomb on the United States.

Why urban myths like Slenderman have become more deadly

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The Internet doesn’t just help suspend disbelief. It rolls right over it.

Exhibit A: Two 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin, charged with attempted murder for stabbing a friend 19 times and leaving her for dead. (She miraculously survived.) They appeared in court Wednesday.

The savage crime attracted international attention not only because of the age of the alleged perpetrators and the barbarity of the deed but also for something far more bizarre. The stabbing was apparently triggered by an Internet-generated fictional character named “Slenderman,” a sepulchral figure with long tentacles who kidnaps children and, by the girls’ accounts, requires acolytes to commit murder to be admitted to his realm. In trying to kill their friend, the girls said, they were attempting to appease the Slenderman so they could join him.

Commentators shocked by the crime have labeled Slenderman a new iteration of urban myth, one of those horrid tales that emerge from the collective consciousness. Stories like the woman who had a nest of black widow spiders in her beehive hairdo and died of a bite; the man who awoke to discover one of his kidneys had been removed; the psycho axe-murderer who lurks on lover’s lane, or the ferocious killer alligator that lives in a city’s sewer system.

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