The Common Good

Election Commentary

Before Politics, Mitt Romney Was a Mormon Bishop

The Mitt Romney whom many Americans see today is often depicted as wealthy, wooden and out of touch with the working class. To some, he seems gaffe prone, detached, even distant.

But that's not the man Boston Mormons knew in the late 1980s and early '90s, when many saw him as an eloquent speaker, a compassionate counselor and a creative problem-solver, generous with his money and quick to help any in need.

Are the two guys related?

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Rep. Bobby Rush Kicked Off House Floor For Wearing Hoodie For Trayvon

Think Progress reports that Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) was today removed from the floor of the House during an impassioned speech against the murder of Trayvon Martin.

 

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New Poll: Religion Still Affects Politics

The more church you attend, the more likely you are to vote Republican. That's one of the findings from Gallup’s comprehensive study on U.S. states and their religious commitments (or lack thereof). And the data they account seems consistent with our current political climate.

According to Gallup’s “state of the states,” 40 percent of Americans are “very religious,” meaning they attend a service almost every week and believe religion is important to daily life. On the flip side, 32 percent are “nonreligious,” they don’t attend services regularly and don’t believe religion is important to daily life. The remaining 28 percent are “moderately religious,” they may believe religion is important but do not attend services themselves, or they may attend services but think it unimportant to daily life.

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SCOTUS: Voices form the Healthcare Debate

People lined the steps of the Supreme Court once again today, asking for their voices to be heard on the ongoing healthcare debate. Justices on Monday began their three-day review of President Barack Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act, which would require U.S. citizens to purchase health insurance or face a penalty.

Thousands gathered starting on Friday for a ticket inside for oral arguments and to stand outside the court in protest, both for and against the plan.

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Obama Nominates Physician, Global Health Expert to Head World Bank

In a move that surprised many in the world of economics and politics, on Friday morning President Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim, the South Korea-born physician, anthropologist and president of Dartmouth College, to be the next president of the World Bank.

Prior to taking the helm at Dartmouth in 2009, Kim, 52, led the global health and social medicine department at Harvard Medical School, of which he is a graduate. Widely considered one of the leading minds in world health, Kim also has served as a director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization, where he focused on helping developing countries improve treatment and prevention programs.

Obama called Kim, “an innovative leader whose groundbreaking work to fight disease and combat poverty has saved lives around the globe.” The President said Kim is exceptionally well qualified for the position but brings “more to the role than an impressive record of designing new ways to solve entrenched problems.

“Development is his lifetime commitment, and it is his passion,” Obama said. “And in a world with so much potential to improve living standards, we have a unique opportunity to harness that passion and experience at the helm of the World Bank.”

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Obama: 'If I Had a Son, He'd Look Like Trayvon'

President Barack Obama spoke out about the Trayvon Martin shooting Friday morning at a press briefing nominating Dr. Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank.

"If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon," he said. "And I think [his parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and we’re going to get to the bottom of what happened."

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The Ryan Budget and Moral Cowardice

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, The Path to Prosperity? Well, it’s baaa-aaack — and this time the path is smoother and wider and offers a quicker trip to judgment.

Christianity and most of the world’s faith traditions explicitly demand protection for the poor and the preservation of the lives and dignity of all. Well, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan, high-tails it down his Path, budget rolled in-hand, in the exact opposite direction from those moral commitments.

Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), concluded that the Ryan budget “is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."

Any responsible budget plan requires a balanced approach that would both increase revenue and reduce spending. This proposal would cut taxes, merely hope for revenue, increase military spending, and slash most everything else that isn’t protected by large corporate interests.

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Religious Groups Blast GOP Budget Proposal

Faith leaders and poverty experts Wednesday called the new House GOP budget proposal "immoral" and "irresponsible."

The budget released the previous day by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., included deep cuts to programs that would unfairly burden the poor, middle-income families and senior citizens, said the Rev. Thomas Kelly, who participated in a phone conference with the media.

"Using the deficit as an excuse to pursue a radical agenda that punishes the poor is simply dishonest and immoral," said Kelly, a Catholic priest and Ryan's constituent, on the call hosted by the Center for American Progress.

The Republican blueprint calls for cuts to Medicaid and other programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- also known as SNAP, or food stamps -- and would turn them into block grant programs, putting states in charge of tailoring them to local needs.

The cuts also aim to reduce the nation's deficit by $4.4 trillion during the next 10 years.

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America to Politicians: Easy on the Religion Please

New research released today by the Pew Forum shows that the American public are becoming increasingly anxious of the amount of religious language being used by their public officials.

More people now say that there “has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders” (4 in 10) than say that there has been too little (3 in 10). This figure is up nearly 10 percent from 2010 figures.

Supporters of former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum are the least concerned by the use of religious language by politicians, with 55 percent of them believing that there is too little expression of religious faith and prayer by religious leaders. Amongst Democrats or those who lean in that direction, a majority believe that religious language is invoked too often by political leaders.

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Same Budget Problems, New Budget Year

This morning, Congressman Paul Ryan (R- WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, released a proposal for an FY 2013 budget. Similar to last year, the plan places an undue burden of deficit reduction on low-income people. Effective anti-poverty programs are targeted for cuts while a tax plan that could significantly reduce tax burdens for top income earners.

According to analysis from Bread for the World:

This FY 2013 budget proposal would have a devastating impact on programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), low-income tax credits, and would make international food aid and poverty-focused foreign assistance vulnerable to cuts that would undermine our national security.

The proposed budget would cut SNAP by turning it into a block grant program. This would prevent the program from responding when there is an increase in need. Once the money from the block grant is spent, there cannot be an increase in funds. Currently, SNAP automatically increases with need.

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White House Proposal Gives Religious Groups More Say in Birth Control Mandate

The Obama administration is offering to expand the number of faith-based groups that can be exempt from the controversial contraception mandate, and proposing that third-party companies administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups at no cost.

At its heart, the newest offering from the White House would allow religious groups -- dioceses, denominations and others -- to decide which affiliated institutions are "religious" and therefore exempt from the new requirement that employers offer free contraception coverage as part of employee insurance plans.

The proposals are an effort by the administration to blunt criticisms of the controversial regulation, especially by the nation's Catholic bishops, who have been at loggerheads with the White House since President Obama announced the contraception mandate in January.

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Evangelicals Voting in Record Numbers in GOP Primaries

Making up half of Republican primary voters, evangelicals appear to be turning out to support Rick Santorum's resurgent campaign in record numbers and are increasingly influencing the shape of the party.

Perhaps just as important, conservative Christians are increasing their crucial financial support and volunteer hours as Santorum tries to keep his momentum heading into next  Tuesday's (March 20) Illinois primary.

According to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, headed by longtime evangelical political activist Ralph Reed, evangelical Christians account for just over 50 percent of the turnout so far in the Republican primaries, the highest rate ever and a significant increase over the 44 percent evangelical voting rate in 2008.

Moreover, Santorum has won a third of those votes, compared to Mitt Romney's 29.74 percent and Newt Gingrich's 29.65 percent.

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Bishops ‘Dubious’ on White House Contraception Compromise

The nation's Catholic bishops have again voiced doubts about the Obama administration's plans to modify a mandate for employers to provide free birth control coverage, vowing to press a new campaign to rally Americans to defend religious freedom.

Despite their skepticism, a statement issued Wednesday (March 14) by leading bishops at the end of a closed-door meeting in Washington was notable for lacking the "war on religion" rhetoric that has characterized many of the hierarchy's broadsides against the White House.

While the bishops called the proposal unveiled by President Obama on Feb. 10 "an unspecified and dubious future 'accommodation,'" they also stressed that they are willing to "accept any invitation to dialogue" with the White House.

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Violence, Women, Congress and the Bible

We’ve been hearing a lot in the news media lately about women’s bodies. Just when we thought the messy fight over contraception was over, Democrats and Republicans are butting heads again over renewal of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, a once widely supported bill that is now being met with opposition from Republicans due to new provisions that “would allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence,” according to the New York Times.

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Santorum Shows the Religious Right isn’t Dead Yet

Does Rick Santorum's Southern surge also herald the return of the Religious Right?

Last January, the titans of Christian conservatism were widely dismissed as irrelevant, at best, after 150 of them gathered for an evangelical "conclave" at a Texas ranch and anointed Rick Santorum as their champion -- only to see him finish third in rock-ribbed South Carolina a week later, well behind Newt Gingrich and even their least-loved candidate, Mitt Romney.

Now, however, with Santorum on an roll after big primary wins on Tuesday (March 13) in Alabama and Mississippi, those born-again bigwigs and their allies may be having the last laugh.

"People have been writing the obituary of the pro-family, evangelical movement for 25 years -- and they're always wrong," said Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and the architect of the Christian Coalition in the 1980s.

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How to Measure the 'Evangelical Vote'

In Tuesday’s Mississippi and Alabama primaries, about eight of 10 voters identified as evangelical, locking in victories for former Sen. Rick Santorum, and proving once again the importance of the evangelicals in the election.

Presidential hopefuls are again battling it out to be the God candidate, but the tide of the so-called “evangelical vote” seems ever-shifting. Santorum—a Catholic—is doing better to court most evangelicals, while former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — a Mormon — is beating out Santorum among Catholics. And according to a recent poll, Republicans in the Deep South are still questioning whether President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Religion matters.

But what does the “evangelical vote” even mean anymore? And can any one candidate really claim it? Even with Santorum’s win Tuesday, a significant number still fell into Romney’s column — and that’s just among Republican evangelicals. Obama was able to draw some evangelical support in 2008 and could garner more in November.

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Afternoon News Bytes: March 13, 2012

The Psychological Toll Of War (OPINION); Mike Huckabee: 2012 GOP Candidates Must Stop Trying To 'Shred Each Other'; Obama And Cameron Must Strike A Balance Over Afghanistan Withdrawal; Syria Laying Landmines Along Border: Human Rights Watch; Have We Gone From A Mancession To A Shecovery? Not Quite. The Spectacular Triumph Of Working Women Around The World; The Reproduction Of Privilege; Obama Warns Opponents Against 'Using Religion As A Bludgeon In Politics'; Can Progressives Ride The Occupy Train To Congress?; Defining The Occupy Movement: It's Not Just About The Money (OPINION); Where Have You Gone, Mister Rogers?

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Book Review: Fixing the Moral Deficit

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (Chairman of House Budget Committee) FY2012 plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, garnered princely praise in early April 2011, but it was quickly trailed by intense scrutiny when Ryan’s botched math and skewed priorities became apparent upon his budget’s review. Hailed as visionary and courageous upon submission, Ryan’s budget plan ultimately revealed his ideologically entrenched disregard for the poor.

A few weeks ago President Barack Obama announced his FY2013 Budget. Within a few weeks, Ryan will submit his FY2013 budget plan for review. Dr. Ronald J. Sider’s new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit (February 2012), comes just in time!

Sider has offered practical, balanced, and highly informed guidance for Christian engagement in the public sphere since publication of his first and seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1977). Sider draws from his Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (Sider, 1999) to lay the philosophical foundation for this latest analysis in Fixing the Moral Deficit.

Sider starts with a simple premise: We have a deficit crisis. We also have a poverty crisis. Together these crises are producing a moral crisis in America.

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Breaking News: Super Tuesday Entirely Predictable

Thousands cast their ballots in yesterday’s primary election and the results?

Things pretty much stayed the same.

Romney is still the front runner, Santorum the closest challenger, Paul continues his campaign to influence the GOP agenda and Gingrich is still Gingrich.

With the end of the primaries nowhere in sight, Democrats are smiling in remembrance to their own long drawn out fight between the Obama and Clinton campaigns during the 2008 cycles. While the preponderance of advertising and horse race coverage can be tiring, are these drawn out battles a good thing?

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Anger is the Achilles Heel of the Republican Party

It seems lately that the Republican party is painting itself into an angry corner that it can’t find its way out of.

Rush Limbaugh’s recent loose-lipped “slut” comment is a clarion call to his significant conservative base to forge ahead in a direction that leads nowhere good. Basically, he cast negative, sexually charged aspersions at Sandra Fluke, a college student who publicly advocated for health insurance that included birth control.

As this piece in the Christian Science Monitor notes, his comments — and the greater sentiment they reflect — point to a sexual double-standard among many social conservatives. But that isn’t what is tripping up the GOP right now.

Anger is their Achilles heel.

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Santorum's Secret Army: Home-Schoolers

Strapped for cash and staff, Rick Santorum has enlisted a ragtag but politically potent army to keep his campaign afloat: home-schoolers.

Heading into today's Super Tuesday, Santorum was urging home-schoolers to organize rallies, post favorable features on social media and ring doorbells on his behalf.

"Santorum has been very aggressive in reaching out to the home-schooling community, especially in the last month," said Rebecca Keliher, the CEO and publisher of Home Educating Family Publishing.

Drawing on his experience as a home-schooling father of seven, the former Pennsylvania senator has also sought to rally enthusiasm by pledging to continue that course in the White House.  

"It's a great sacrifice that my wife, Karen, and I have made to try to give what we think is the best possible opportunity for our children to be successful," Santorum said during a March 1 campaign stop in Georgia. "Not just economically, but in a whole lot of other areas that we think are important — virtue and character and spirituality."

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President Obama's AIPAC Speech and Reaction

See video
a speech to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, President Obama urged Israeli leaders to refrain from "loose talk of war" related to escalating tensions with Iran. Quoting his predecessor President Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said when it comes to the Iran situation, both the United States and Israel would do well to, "Speak softly... and carry a big stick."

Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today at the White House.  Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak to the AIPAC conference this evening, issued a short statement repsonding to Obama's speech Sunday, saying in part, "I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat."

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Mitt Romney Trouncing Rick Santorum Among Catholics

Mitt Romney has trounced Rick Santorum, an ardent Catholic, among Catholic voters, but Romney's support among evangelicals has wavered thus far in the GOP presidential primary, according to a new analysis of exit poll data.

Though he won evangelicals in two states, in general Romney has performed 15 percentage points better among non-evangelicals, according to an analysis released March 2 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. 

Exit poll data is available in seven of the 11 states that have held primary contests to date, according to the Pew Forum. More detailed religious affiliations are available in six of those states.

White evangelicals formed more than a third of all GOP primary voters in each state except for Nevada (24 percent) and New Hampshire (21 percent). Romney, a Mormon, won the evangelical vote in those two states, and nearly tied for first in Arizona and Florida. But he lost the evangelical vote badly in three states: Michigan, Iowa and South Carolina.

Somewhat surprisingly, Santorum has not won the Catholic vote in a single state in which data is available, according to the Pew Forum.

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Senate Rejects Conscience Clause Change to Contraception Rule

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

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Catholic Voter Guide Differs From Two Catholic Candidates

A group of Democratic-leaning Catholics on Wednesday (Feb. 29) released a 2012 voter guide that seeks to expand the concept of "pro-life issues" beyond abortion to also include war, euthanasia and poverty.

The nine-page guide from the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good —  one of the first to be released for the 2012 elections —  highlights economic issues as top concerns Catholics should weigh as they consider their vote.

The guide is markedly different from others circulated by conservative Catholic groups, which stress opposition to abortion rights as a non-negotiable stance for American Catholics.

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