These 5 men have tin ears

The five men who voted on the U.S. Supreme Court to reel in a part of the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control provisions deserve a serious scolding.

They’re getting it now in the wake of that 5-4 court ruling that involves “closely held” companies, such as Hobby Lobby.

They ruled that these firms are not compelled to offer contraception coverage under the ACA. Some of these companies, such as family-owned Hobby Lobby, can cite religious grounds for refusing to provide coverage for female employees. IUDs, for example, are seen by some as a form of abortion. So, the court said, they don’t have to offer that kind of insurance provision.

Five justices — Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito — comprise the majority. Of the four court members who dissented, three of them — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor — are, quite clearly, women; the fourth is Stephen Breyer.

The fact that five men decided this key ruling that affects women provides ammo for those seeking to make inroads in the upcoming mid-term elections. I’m going to bet that we’ll see this ruling show up in campaign ads around the country — perhaps even in Texas — as candidates seek to take note of the decision that has such an impact on the health care that women can receive from their employers.

Let’s add also that all five of the men comprising the court majority were appointed by Republican presidents. Let us also note that one isn’t likely to hear a single word, not one utterance, from those on the left complaining about “unelected judges” wielding too much power without having to answer to the voters for their decision.

The “answering” part will be left ultimately to voters who will get to determine who they want to sit in the president’s office and who they want to appoint the next Supreme Court justice when that opportunity presents itself.

Thad Cochran: civil rights champion

The renomination in Mississippi of Republican Thad Cochran to another term in the U.S. Senate has brought up an interesting talking point.

Will the conservative Republican senator now become a civil rights champion to pay back the favor African-American voters delivered in helping him beat back a near-certain defeat in a GOP runoff?

Think about this for a moment.

Cochran was considered dead meat when he finished second in the GOP primary in the Magnolia State. The favorite to beat him was tea party golden boy Chris McDaniel. Then a strange thing happened.

Thousands of African-American Democrats who hadn’t voted in their own primary turned out to cast their votes for Cochran in the runoff. It turned out to be the difference for the six-term senator who reportedly will serve his final term in the Senate if he’s re-elected this fall. As for McDaniel, he’s not going away quietly. He’s continuing to raise a ruckus over the way he lost a contest he was thought to be a shoo-in to win.

So, does the senator now become a champion of, say, renewing the Voting Rights Act when it comes up? Might he resist efforts to make voting more difficult for voters — mainly minorities — who have difficulty providing photo identification when they register to vote? Will this lawmaker realize that with no more campaigns to run, no more challenges from his right to fend off and with no more money to raise he will be free to pay back those to whom he likely owes his latest political victory?

I rather like the idea of a conservative Dixie state Republican becoming a friend of African-Americans.

Is it political expediency? No. It’s political gratitude.

U.S. loses to Belgium; back to other sports now

My World Cup fascination is now over, thanks to a 2-1 victory today by Belgium over a valiant U.S. team that found its way to the Round of 16 despite losing previous games.

I’ll need someone to explain that one to me. Later, perhaps.–2-1-in-extra-time–survives-late-rally-to-advance-223507512.html

I’ll go back now to awaiting the start of college football — American-style, the game played by 300-pound behemoths in helmets and pads. I’ll also resume my sporadic interest in Major League Baseball.

Allow me to recall one World Cup memory from a few years ago. I’ve seen such sports fanaticism up close.

During the 2006 World Cup, which was played in Germany, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the country just north of there. We were in Denmark, attending the Rotary International Convention being held in Copenhagen and across the strait in Malmo, Sweden.

Denmark was playing in the World Cup — of course! One evening my wife and I sought a place to have dinner with some Amarillo friends of ours — fellow Rotarians Mike and Vicki Hooten — who also were attending the convention. We walked for many blocks looking for a nice place to eat, have a beverage or two and visit with our friends.

“Hey, this looks pretty good,” one of us said. We stuck our heads in the door. The place was packed with screaming Danes who, as luck would have it, were watching their national soccer team playing a World Cup match with, um, some other team.

Pandemonium ruled the place. As it did in the next place we visited. And the one after that, and after that one.

Cheers rang out through the streets of Copenhagen that evening as we walked through the city on the hunt for somewhere to have a meal. We finally settled on an outdoor place, an Italian eatery if memory serves.

We had a good time visiting with our friends. All the while we heard cheers ringing throughout the neighborhood as Danes cheered their team’s every move toward the other guys’ goal.

I have no clue who won that game. Nor do I have any interest in knowing.

Yes, it’s an international game. Most of the rest of the world is mad about this sport.

More power to them. I’m getting ready for college football to kick off.

Israel vents its anger at Hamas

Can there be any doubt — any at all — as to why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off peace talks with the Palestinian Authority?

Three Israeli teenagers have been killed by terrorists linked to Hamas, the monstrous group that helps govern Gaza, which is part of the Palestinian Authority. Israel in return has launched air strikes against the terrorists. Hamas is continuing its violent campaign against Israel, all the while joining the PA in some form of “unity government” arrangement agreed to by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It was that unity government arrangement that angered Netanyahu enough to break off the talks. The PA cannot “have it both ways,” he said of Abbas’s agreement with Hamas and his desire to seek peace with Israel.

I cannot proclaim to be an expert on this subject, but I have had the honor of seeing Israel up close. I’ve seen some of the damage that Hamas terrorists have inflicted on Israeli cities close to Gaza. I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for how close Israel is to its sworn enemies and I understand fully how Israel must be on constant vigil against terrorist attacks from Gaza, the West Bank, Golan and Lebanon.

Five weeks touring Israel in the spring of 2009 gave my traveling companions and me a deeper appreciation for what the Israelis face every single day.

And now we have this latest tragedy involving the three teens who were captured in the West Bank.

Hamas comprises a lot of very bad actors. Those are the individuals with whom Israel must co-exist. If they have to bomb them to keep them at bay, then so be it.

POTUS plans immigration push

As one who generally endorses the notion of presidential prerogative, I welcome the news that Barack Obama is going to use the power of his office to move immigration reform forward — with our without congressional buy-in.

Obama is steamed that Congress won’t vote this year on a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It seems to matter little that most members of Congress — including Republicans — want reform legislation enacted. House Speaker John Boehner says it won’t happen because, he says, lawmakers and “the American people” don’t trust the president to enforce immigration laws.

Obama’s response: “If Congress will not do its job, at least we can do ours.”

He hasn’t yet specified how he’ll act. He plans on the Fourth of July to naturalize several U.S. military men and women who aren’t yet citizens.

“I don’t prefer taking administrative action,” Obama said in a Rose Garden event, standing beside Vice President Biden. “I’ve made that clear multiple times. … I only take executive action when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing.”

Congress already is angry over what it says is the president’s “excessive” use of executive authority. That’s a phony argument on its face, given that Barack Obama has issued fewer such orders than any president of the past 100 years.

The president has asked for more money to secure our borders in the wake of the Central America immigration crisis that has stranded thousands of illegal immigrants — mostly children and young adults — on our southern border. Boehner’s response to date? He’s just content to dig in his heels even more.

The Constitution and federal law give the president wide latitude on taking action. As the president has noted, Congress should lead, follow or get out of the way.

Time to 'dampen' Canyon

A little birdie has tipped me off to a possible sea change election coming up in a sleepy little town just south of Amarillo.

There might be a ballot measure up for decision this November that would determine whether Canyon, Texas — in the words of my little birdie-snitch — goes “damp.” He means voters could be asked to decide on a measure to allow the sale of liquor by the drink within the city limits.

My question is as it’s always been with regard to “dry” counties and communities: Why in this age of extreme mobility, when people can travel quickly from town to town, county to county, would you want to maintain a prohibition on the sale of liquor by the drink?

There once was a time — when we traveled by horse-drawn wagons or walked by oneself — when establishing dry communities made a modicum of sense. If you didn’t want people drinking in your town, then you banned it and forced them to stay in their own towns to drink until they passed out.

The invention of the automobile changed that.

Now we can drive from one city to the next. If your town doesn’t allow liquor by the drink, you get into your car and go the next city that does allow it. In Canyon’s case, it’s only about a 12-mile drive to the southern outskirts of Amarillo.

Another question: Why subject motorists, passengers — or other motorists — to those who might have imbibed a bit too heavily in Amarillo but choose to drive home to Canyon to sleep it off?

Am I condoning excessive drinking? Of course not. As one who only occasionally enjoys a cold beer on a hot day, I am acutely aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse. No one should fall victim to it and I do not wish our communities to become full of drunken sluggards.

My Canyon snitch said something about a meeting planned for Wednesday in which this ballot measure idea is discussed. I hope it produces a plan to proceed with an election.

I also hope the election occurs and the good folks of the Randall County seat decide to enter the 21st century.

SCOTUS slaps down women's health concern

I’ll try to figure out what the Supreme Court said Monday in that much-anticipated Hobby Lobby health care case.

The court ruled 5-4 that family owned businesses, such as Hobby Lobby, can exempt contraception coverage for women who work for the company under the Affordable Care Act.

So, let’s see if I have this right: If a female employee of Hobby Lobby wants to prevent a pregnancy through contraception, she is unable to apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act because, again as I understand it, her employer disagrees with the policy on religious grounds.

The employee, therefore, is denied coverage because of her employer’s devotion to his or her faith.

I have to agree with critics of the ruling. Women, they say, have seen their health care put in jeopardy because of a narrow court ruling that applies only to contraception.

Let the firestorm rage all over again.

Hobby Lobby is a fine company. My wife and I shop there on occasion for picture frames and Christmas decorations. It’s also owned by a devote Christian family. I honor their faith as well.

What is troubling is the denial of contraceptives under the ACA and why it’s such a bogeyman in the eyes of Hobby Lobby.

Here’s how Politico reported it: “The contraception coverage mandate isn’t central to the law, the way the individual mandate is. By letting some closely held employers — like family-owned businesses — opt out of the coverage if they have religious objections, the justices haven’t blown a hole in the law that unravels its ability to cover millions of Americans. They didn’t even overturn the contraception coverage rule itself. They just carved out an exemption for some employers from one benefit, one that wasn’t even spelled out when the law was passed.”

The ruling along those true-blue political lines: the five conservative justices outvoting the four liberal ones. Well, that’s the way it goes. I accept the ruling as legit, as opposed to some on the right who two years ago raised holy hell when the court voted, also 5-4, to uphold the ACA.

I accept the ruling. I surely don’t agree with it. I believe a privately held company owner has been given license to stand in the way of a woman’s health care needs on grounds that have little to do with, oh, health care.