I hate to say the same things over and over again but I often don't have much choice: Obama isn't all that different from Bush and it isn't just civil rights or his obeisance to Wall Street. Sarah Posner writes in The Nation that he has just appointed Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), to lead the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Kelley isn't exactly a wingnut but she is anti-abortion in a job that requires her to be objective at the very least. (Via T2A)
Kelley, a Catholic social justice advocate who has said that abortion is a social ill to be combated along with torture, poverty and war, is on record supporting restrictions on abortion access and has refused to challenge church doctrine prohibiting abortion and birth control.
For progressives, secularists and feminists, Kelley's appointment is the latest in a series of alarming developments at the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP), which oversees a network of faith-based and neighborhood partnership centers at eleven federal agencies (including the one Kelley will head). During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would expand George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives because "the challenges we face today...are simply too big for government to solve alone." But he also promised to end the constitutional violations of Bush's faith-based programs by requiring that federal dollars that go to churches, temples and mosques "only be used on secular programs" and by forbidding programs that accept federal money from proselytizing or discriminating against people in hiring on the basis of religion.
Since he has taken office, however, Obama has backtracked or stalled on these pledges. Perhaps more disturbing, Obama's OFBNP, while still a work in progress, is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and has seemingly already been exploited as a tool for rewarding religious constituencies with government jobs--exactly the problems that marked Bush's faith-based initiative.
Indeed, the structure of Obama's OFBNP looks quite similar to Bush's: a White House office (now under the direction of 26-year-old Joshua DuBois, the former religious outreach director of the Obama campaign) guides the project overall. Mara Vanderslice, founder of the Matthew 25 PAC, which supported Obama, works with DuBois. In addition, the centers at federal agencies oversee the disbursements of grants to faith-based and community nonprofits, some of which will, in turn, train faith-based organizations.
Vanderslice and Jim Wallis were Democratic consultants both in '04 and '08. Vanderslice famously advised Dem candidates - including Obama and Clinton - to avoid using the term "separation of church and state" because it wasn't in the Constitution and anyway people don't want their church and their govt separated.
“That language says to people that you don’t want there to be a role for religion in our public life,” Ms. Vanderslice said. “But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate.”
"That kind of debate" means a debate over whether or not America should become a theocratic nation. Like Iran only Christian. Wallis, her ex-partner and a one-time Obama advisor, is a rabid anti-abortionist who wants us to go back to the old days by criminalizing it again. No one who remembers them wants that but Wallis doesn't. Or he just doesn't care what criminalizing it means. Salon's Frances Kissling could tell him.
It was Oct. 3, 1977, when the first reported death from the cutoff of federal funds for abortion known as the Hyde Amendment occurred. Rosie Jimenez, a single mother and college student in the border town of McAllen, Texas, had sought an abortion from her gynecologist. The gynecologist turned her down because Medicaid would no longer pay for abortions. Rosie went to an unlicensed midwife instead, who for $120 inserted a catheter in her uterus and sent her home.
Fever, nausea, cramps and bleeding resulted and 12 hours later Rosie was admitted to the hospital in septic shock. She denied having an abortion, but the evidence was clear. Seven days later she died -- bleeding from every orifice in her body and green from gas gangrene, according to her friends.
Fifty years ago stories like that were common if you were listening. If Obama is going to start pandering the the Right and the fundamentalists, we could easily see this stuff again. And will. It's not as if Kelley is being handed some honorary job with no real duties.
Within particular federal agencies, many other grants are available to faith-based organizations, which compete for funding with secular organizations on the Bush-era "level playing field." At HHS, under Alexia Kelley's purview, tens of millions of dollars in grants are available to faith-based groups for projects including substance abuse treatment, mental health services, HIV prevention, family planning and even research on the influence of religiosity and spirituality on health-risk behaviors in children and adolescents. Although the Obama administration eliminated federal funding for abstinence-only sex education, the HHS website directs potential grantees to abstinence-only funding available through state governments.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example--where Obama has placed his campaign's Catholic outreach guru, Mark Linton, at the helm of the faith-based center--religious organizations are invited to apply for a variety of housing-related grants. At the Justice Department the faith-based office advertises grants available to faith-based groups to "provide assistance to victims of crime, prisoners and ex-offenders, and women who suffer domestic violence [and] initiatives to target gang violence and at-risk youth."
Even as Obama appoints Kelley, Congressional Blue Dog conservatives want to make sure abortion coverage isn't part of any health care the "public plan" might pay for.
I thought about Rosie as I read a letter sent in late June to Speaker Nancy Pelosi by 19 "pro-life" House Democrats affiliated with the organization Democrats for Life in America. Led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the representatives laid down the first major antiabortion challenge to healthcare reform, saying that "Plans to mandate coverage for abortions, either directly or indirectly, are unacceptable." They warned Pelosi "we cannot support any healthcare reform proposal unless it explicitly excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan."
And of course if the conservaDems are against it, so is the GOP and it's dead, right? Can you feel the claws of this pincer movement closing in?
And in case you thought that was all, the NYT notes today that Obama just made one Francis Collins the new NIH Dir. Mr Collions has, well, an interesting view on science for a scientist. (Via Mark)
What follows are a series of slides, presented in order, from a lecture on science and belief that Dr. Collins gave at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008:
Slide 1: “Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.”
Slide 2: “God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.”
Slide 3: “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”
Slide 4: “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.”
Slide 5: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”
Are we sure he's a scientist? He sounds like a minister. Which is of course the problem.
Why should Dr. Collins’s beliefs be of concern?
There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States. This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are counterintuitive. It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana. It can be difficult to think like a scientist. But few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion.
Dr. Collins has written that science makes belief in God “intensely plausible” — the Big Bang, the fine-tuning of nature’s constants, the emergence of complex life, the effectiveness of mathematics, all suggest the existence of a “loving, logical and consistent” God.
But when challenged with alternative accounts of these phenomena — or with evidence that suggests that God might be unloving, illogical, inconsistent or, indeed, absent — Dr. Collins will say that God stands outside of Nature, and thus science cannot address the question of his existence at all.
Similarly, Dr. Collins insists that our moral intuitions attest to God’s existence, to his perfectly moral character and to his desire to have fellowship with every member of our species. But when our moral intuitions recoil at the casual destruction of innocents by, say, a tidal wave or earthquake, Dr. Collins assures us that our time-bound notions of good and evil can’t be trusted and that God’s will is a mystery.
PZ Myers is irritated by the whole thing but especially by Collins' usual response of the religious that atheists can't have morals.
My jaw just dropped when I read [the slides quoted by Harris in the NYT]. It is breathtakingly vacuous. How does Francis Collins know any of that? Those conclusions are not anything we could draw from any scientific evidence, and there's the head of the human genome project throwing around quaint Christian dogma as if it were reasonable and valid.
That last one really irritates, too — it's the familiar anti-atheist canard that atheists cannot know any truly moral behavior, that the only genuine sense of morality arises out of obedience to an authority, especially an invisible but omnipotent authority. Collins is a man who does not trust the godless people in his communities because, to his mind, they are blind to good and evil.
I know evil when I see it. A priest taking advantage of his presumed moral authority to take young boys into the dark and private rooms of his church to rape them is evil, I think. Not because a god has whispered a rule into my head, but because I know that the successful relationships that build a cooperative network within the framework of my society are all formed on mutual trust, and that is a violation. We test these bonds of mutual support all the time, we rely on them, and we know from history that their loss contributes to social decay.
It is at the very least disappointing to see Obama putting two important Administration offices into the hands of sops to the Xtian Right - who will attack them anyway because Kelley isn't anti-abortion enough and Collions found a God-rationale for evolution. If BO thinks these appoiontments are going to take the steam out of the Religious Right, let's see how that works out for him, shall we?
But I suspect this isn't a political move. I have been concerned about Obama's mixing of religion into his political pitch ever since he announced and this is why. We survived Jimmy Carter's evangelism because Carter, an old-style FDR Dem, didn't believe, like John Kennedy, that religion should mix with political office. Nor did Carter have all the neat little walls that separated church and state torn down by his predecessor so he didn't have to take the heat for doing it himself.
Obama, maybe with the best intentions in the world, is going to erase those separations even more in the certainty that, like Nixon going to China, there won't be any criticism because he's a Democrat, but also because he believes he's finding a compromise where the truth really is.
But you know what they say about riding in the Middle-of-the-Road....