Archbishops and Justices: Losing the Fight for Common Sense.

As an old altar boy (obscure “Exorcist” reference there) I am more than a little astonished at how badly the Catholic church has sold its soul to the false gods of culture warfare. In fact, if it weren’t for John McCain and the United States Supreme Court it would hard to come up with a more appalling example of a once venerable institution disgracing itself with craven pandering to the forces of anachronism.

On the other hand, of course, this is the same Holy Roman Catholic Church that has had some pretty overwhelming episodes of un-Christian behavior over the centuries — can you say “The Inquisition”, for starters? So these things have happened, and with the local Catholics spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to blunt the inevitability of gay marriage here in Minnesota, and nationally admonishing nuns for spending too much time assisting the poor (and not enough countering the forces of liberalism), it is happening again. But given this moment in time, when secular humanism is a widening, deepening meme and organized religion is more a hub of community than a font of genuine spirituality for most of its participants, a church that flaunts its intolerance is slathering itself in common sense repellent.

Moreover, and I speak as a kid who was regularly reminded by eerily asexual women in medieval black garb that “impure thoughts” (as common to most 12-year-old boys as breathing) were a near certain path to fiery damnation, the church’s fanatical absorption with sex — gay sex, pedophile sex, conception sex — is almost certain to alienate another subset of parishioners. (If anyone out there has been to mass in the past four years, has your priest delivered a sermon against or handed out a DVD on the horrors of predatory investment bankers?)

The Catholics likely to peel off next will be those who up until now were giving the Church the benefit of the doubt, accepting that, yes, it is a 2000 year-old institution dominated by a mysterious cult of aged, doughy men who actually believe in human infallibility … but is also one that occasionally feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless and teaches kids not to steal, murder and cuss in public. That crowd can funnel their charitable intentions through other organizations and take a Sunday morning stroll in the forest when they need a whiff of spirituality.

How someone like Archbishop John Nienstedt here in St. Paul thinks he cultivates the church’s “brand” by grossly overreacting to something — gay marriage — that most young Americans, (acculturated by the godless media), have long since stopped questioning, and others have examined without seeing any peril to their marriages or moral health, I don’t know. But — with the Vatican’s approval, and with an infusion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from unidentified, no doubt conservative donors, (I’m thinking the $400k that bought those anti-gay DVDs during the Tom Emmer campaign) — Nienstedt and his confederate clergy are walking a high wire in terms of losing the last of their credibility with modern, moderate, broadly informed, non-fanatical followers.

Plainly, the church I grew up in has taken a hard right turn, aligning itself with retrograde forces that have more in common with Bible Belt snake handlers and self-serving TV ministries than a religion interested or capable of being relevant to a highly diverse 21st century society.

And so it is with the U.S. Supreme Court, as we await the full release of this week’s decisions, most notably the Court’s ruling on “Obamacare”. Were I a betting man — and the nus said I could burn for that one too, especially if I was wagering on whether Peggy M.’s bikini top would fall off at the Montevideo pool — I’d take the bet that it strikes down the mandate in a 5-4 vote.

Despite a startling consensus of legal scholars saying publicly that the Court — the Scalia Court, as I think of it — will have to stand on its head and tie cherry stems in knots with its tongue to contrive a precedent for doing what it is going to do, it will do it, because as the Court is composed today it is an ideological force, as “activist” as it gets in terms of resisting action required by progressive legislation. (And calling Obamacare “progressive” is being extraordinarily generous on my part.)

A rapidly expanding base of global knowledge (via the internet and other technologies) and experience (via travel and facilitated human interactions) is wreaking havoc on institutions like the Catholic church and the Supreme Court. Both are in the business of guarding a form of not all that intuitive institutional thinking. Neither sees its role in terms of revising canon to better serve a rapidly evolving culture. (Scalia would argue that that is Congress’s job … and thwart it at every turn.) While they still have the ability to hold the respect of flocks eager to be led and directed, they will  (with a vote to gut health insurance reform) rapidly lose the respect of those — albeit still a minority — who know damned well that nothing any human has ever invented or decreed is infallible.

And as they say about good name and reputation, once its gone … good luck getting it back.

Top 5 Dying Facts That Endanger Obama’s Reelection

A brilliant and widely circulated Chicago Tribune obituary claims that Facts has died. If you haven’t read the whole thing, here is a flavor:

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.

But those halcyon days would not last. People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts.

… Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.

Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.

I’m a starry eyed optimist, so I choose to think Facts is still on life support hoping for a miracle recovery. But if the President and his team can’t successfully breathe life back into five key Facts that are currently on life support, it’s difficult to see how he can win in November.

Fact #1: Obama opted for a private health insurance reform model developed by Mitt Romney and other conservatives, rather than an insurance plan run by government.

Fact on life support.
• Fact on Life Support: Only 25% of people who took the Kaiser health reform quiz understood that Obama’s health reforms will not “create a new government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans.”

• Implications of Death: GOP parrot trainer Frank Luntz has commanded his cockatiels to repeat the phrase “government takeover of health care” for a very sound political reason, because market research shows that is a compelling reason for moderate swing voters to oppose health care reform. The more swing voters believe that falsehood, the less they like Obamacare and Obama.

Fact on life support.
Fact #2: Bush policies and the economic downturn under Bush were the most powerful causes of the ballooning national debt, and Romney wants to extend those Bush policies.

• Fact on Life Support: Out of twelve issues, there is only one issue where voters say Romney would do a better job than Obama – handling the deficit. Voters currently believe Bush disciple Romney is the best person to tackle the debt that Bush policies largely created.

• Implications of Death: The size of the debt is especially concerning to moderate swing voters, so getting blamed for causing that problem badly hurts the President’s prospects of wooing that key constituency.

Fact #3: Obama’s stimulus package of tax cuts and investments helped ease the pain and damage done by the Great Recession.

Fact on life support.
• Fact on Life Support: Over half of independents (56%) believe the stimulus didn’t make any difference.

• Implications of Death: The central issue of the campaign is the economy, stupid. If swing voters don’t believe Obama was effective on the issue that concerns them the most, look out.

Fact #4: In terms of private sector job creation, things have gotten significantly better during Obama’s time in office than they were under Bush and the the Bush policies Romney proposes to resurrect.

Fact on life support.
• Fact on Life Support: Three-fourths (75%) of independents believe that the economy has gotten worse or stayed the same, and 77% of independents believe the economy is still in recession.

• Implications of Death: Even if most voters blame Bush for the economic meltdown, as most still do, according to polls, it’s difficult to see how swing voters who believe that things are still headed in the wrong direction will vote to rehire the incumbent President.

Fact #5: In the Obama years, taxes for the middle class were near historic lows.

Fact on life support.
• Fact on Life Support: Eighty-five percent of independent voters incorrectly believe taxes on the middle class either increased or have not changed.

• Implications of Death: Independent swing voters vote their pocketbooks, and oppose paying more in taxes. If they perceive that they were paying high taxes in the middle of a recession, the Democrat in charge will get the lion’s share of the blame, because Democrats are usually presumed to be advocating for higher taxes.

Of course, there are many other falsehoods hurting Obama. Little things like he is a foreigner, Muslim, socialist designing death panels to kill off your loved ones.

But in a year when the economy is the top issue, and with the health reform bill about to get hot again after the Supreme Court rules, these are the five dying Facts that are hurting Obama the most with swing voters. Team Obama needs to resuscitate good old Fact, or Obama’s political career will perish with him.

– Loveland

Antonin Scalia: “Well, Don’t Obligate Yourself to That.”

If there is any good news to come from the Supreme Court throwing out “Obamacare” (as even the President is now happy to describe it) it is that it will tear open one of the last great delusions of American life. No, not that “reality TV” isn’t real, but rather that the Supreme Court is the one branch of the government above and immune from politics. Only the naive have continued to embrace this ninth-grade civics mirage until now.

Despite the tone and hysteria of last week’s oral arguments, I hold out my own naive hope that this Roberts court will not throw out — on a micro-fiber fine re-interpretation of established law — the individual mandate and thus the economic heart of the Affordable Care Act. The justices have already voted, so we’re merely in the window prior to their formal decision in a couple of months. But I have a wisp of cockeyed optimism drifting through my alleged brain.

Having digested a bombardment of punditry over the past week my thinking is largely in step with those saying that Chief Justice Roberts may hold as much of the key to this — truly epochal — decision as Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s perennial “swinger”. The thinking being that unlike Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and the inexplicable Clarence Thomas, Roberts has his name on this era of the Court, and with one more shameless exercise in rank partisanship his historical fate will be forever sealed. He will be the guy who oversaw the Supreme Court as it debased itself to the level of … Congress itself.

I mention Justice Thomas as a fellow Holy Cross Crusader long since turned into a mute and sullen partisan … him, not me the ever cheerful. (We were on the Worcester campus together lo those many years ago. I don’t remember him, despite the fact that I was a member of the student senate when the black kids on campus “struck” the school — a generally liberal Jesuit place — over “de facto racism” and many showed up to vent at senate meetings.) Thomas has now broken his old record of Trappist silence from the bench. It’s been six years since the man asked a question in open court. You can make your own analyses of what that’s all about. But in my experience the intellectually insecure in positions far over their abilities occasionally have the wisdom not to open their mouths and remove all doubt.

I will be fascinated to read some day the history of Thomas’ years on the Supreme Court. (In two years Thomas will have “served” as long as Louis Brandeis … think about it.) My guess is that the same inert, chip-on-the-shoulder image we see in public is what we have been getting in the Court’s inner sanctums.

The point is that Thomas, Alito and Scalia are forever, perpetually and resolutely in step with the country’s hyper-partisan modern conservatism, where anything tainted with “liberalism” is a threat to be stopped dead in its tracks (Bush v. Gore), overwhelmed, (Citizens United) or reversed, (Obamacare). Those three men are settled questions. Kennedy, the swinger, may bat for either team.

But Roberts has to recognize that Obamacare will be for him a third strike. Its defeat will be conclusive proof of his court’s focused commitment to thwart all significant liberal activity in the governance of the United States, despite in this case, a monumental piece of legislation whose heart — the mandate — is a deeply conservative concept. It was designed, I dare say, to protect the profit interests of a private industry, was first proposed over 100 years ago by a conservative icon (Teddy Roosevelt), was brought to life in the modern vernacular by the man most likely to carry the conservative banner this fall (Mitt Romney), and was ferociously and exhaustively (and hysterically) debated coast to coast for over two years before passing into law on a vote of the duly elected legislative branch. To rule it down, on what will have to be a nigh-on-to-farcical parsing of a law full of countering precedents will have the effect of debasing this court in the view of the public, the world and history.

Also, as I slogged through all punditry and quotes from justices there was one that jumped out at me. It came up when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was explaining the cost impact to tax payers of “free riders”, the crowd lacking insurance who simply show up at emergency rooms for treatment where — because Ronald Reagan signed the law — the government requires hospitals to provide treatment, which is then passed on to everyone else as higher overall costs. Verrilli noted that we are “obligated” to provide this basic humanitarian service.

And what was the response from Scalia, the Roberts court’s primary ventricle?

“Well, don’t obligate yourself to that.”

Think about that one. It’s breathtaking. Never mind the easy jokes about something like that coming from a guy on a lifelong government pension and full government medical coverage. It is also so utterly representative of the modern, hyper-partisan conservative attitude toward all enormous social problems … don’t do anything.

The Supreme Court’s role isn’t to create solutions to these profound social problems, like coverage and cost of health care, but if it votes down Obamacare it will leave little doubt that it is a petty, indifferent and nakedly partisan supporting character to a self-serving ideology, an ideology that not only offers no credible solutions of its own to these problems, but doesn’t even try.

Republican Spin Doctors Misdiagnosing Obamacare

Republican spin doctors are emboldened by public opinion polls that consistently find that a majority of Americans disapprove of Obamacare. For instance, this morning’s Star Tribune carried a New York Times News Service story that was typical of the superficial poll coverage you usually see in the news. The headline read:

“47 percent disapprove of health care law, poll finds”

That headline is perfectly accurate, and Republicans think those findings are, as the Vice President would say, a “BFD.” They conclude that Americans oppose Obamacare because it is an overly radical “government takeover of health care.”

But it would behoove GOP spin doctors to probe more deeply into recent public opinion research. Because a more thorough reading of polls shows Republicans are on shaky ground with their promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with some kind of a scaled back alternative.

For example, a March 2012 Pew Research poll found 45% disapprove of Obamacare. Romney wins, right?

Not so fast. The same Pew poll also probed why people disapprove, and it turns out that 53% of Americans either want to do as Democratic candidates suggest, “leave it as is” (20%) or “EXPAND IT” (33%), while only 38% want to do what the GOP field wants, to “repeal it.”

That doesn’t exactly look like Americans rising up against “government takeover of health care,” as GOP candidates continually portray it. According to that poll, most Americans want Obamacare as is, or supersized.

Likewise, a March 2012 Bloomberg poll finds that 57% either agree that the Affordable Care Act “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works” (46%) or “it should be left alone” (11%), while only 37% who think “it should be repealed.”

And then there is a March 2012 Kaiser poll. It finds that 41% of Americans support the Republican solutions of either “repeal and not replace” (23%) or “repeal and replace with a GOP alternative” (18%), while a larger group of 47% supports the Democratic solutions of either “keep law as is” (19%) or “expand the law” (28%).

Finally, Republicans who conclude that those top line Obamacare disapproval numbers indicate that Americans prefer to have Republicans fixing health care in the post-Supreme Court ruling world may want to read further into that Pew poll. Pew found a large plurality of Americans saying that Democrats would “do a better job dealing with health care,” with 49% preferring Democrats and just 35% preferring Republicans.

In other words, be careful what you wish for, Tea Partiers. If the Supreme Court blows up Obamacare, voters may very well prefer to elect Democrats to come up with Plan B.

Reading the top line Obamacare disapproval numbers without digging more deeply into voter research is spin doctor quackery. It’s like a physician concluding that a patient with a headache has a brain tumor, without first digging into detailed diagnostic scans and lab results.

– Loveland

Media Pulls Metaphorical Condom Over GOP

Who needs protection?
To state the obvious, any policy position that causes a candidate to lose more political support than they gain constitutes a politicial liability. For instance, any policy position that causes 23% of Americans to say they’re more likely to support you, while almost twice as many (40%) say they’re less likely to support you is a significant political leg iron in a close election.

Those are the recent findings of a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of Americans on the issue of the Obama Administration’s policy requiring employees to provide health insurance that covers contraception.

But despite such findings, the news coverage of the issue leads you to believe that it is President Obama, not Republican critics of the policy, who is suffering mightily from the issue. If you search Google News with “Obama contraception controversial,” you get 1,100 stories. The USA Today headline screams “White House to address controversial birth control policy.” Politico says “Obama tries to quell birth control firestorm‎.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer notes “Obama contraceptive mandate has a price.”

It sounds like Obama is getting destroyed on this issue. But the polls suggest his opponents are more endangered.

GOP frontrunner du jour Senator Rick Santorum had this to say about the issue:

“Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Senator Santorum sounds like he is talking about the most deviant of sexual practices, but he is talking about something that 99% of sexually active American women, and 98% of Catholic women, use or have used. Why aren’t political reporters questioning the political exposure this creates for him and his party?

In GOP caucus echo chambers, maybe this works as a proxy for the claimed “war on religion.” But in the General Election, the polling shows that banning access to contraception constitutes an extremely dangerous politically transmitted disease.

– Loveland

Minnesotans Shouldering Hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax

This week the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) announced that its member hospitals paid $226 million in “charity care” last year. The MHA is referring to instances when uninsured and underinsured patients are unable to pay their hospital bills, and the hospitals get stuck with the expenses.

While the term “charity care” is used by hospitals, hospitals don’t end up bearing the whole burden. They make up for the bills substantially by charging more to their insured patients, and insurance companies subsequently shift these higher costs to insurance premium payers.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either the hospitals or the insurers. They would go out of business if they couldn’t shift costs.

Supporters of preserving the Anti-Obamacare Tax.
But it is meant to be a criticism of Obamacare obstructionists. The MHA numbers are a reminder that those who have been aggressively blocking efforts to reduce the number of uninsured and underinsured through Obamacare are responsible for maintaining what is akin to an enormous annual tax on premium payers. An Anti-Obamacare Tax.

Given that a fully implemented Obamacare is predicted to reduce the uninsured rate from today’s 50.7 million people to about 18.7 million, and the number of underinsured people by about 70%, leaders opposing Obamacare in Congress, state legislatures and federal courts are effectively blocking the elimination of a huge annual burden on American households. If the anti-Obamacare obstructionists win, we all keep paying this Anti-Obamacare Tax.

And it’s not a small tax. In Ramsey County, taxpayers are up in arms over a proposed $10 million per year tax for the Vikings stadium. This hidden Anti-Obamacare Tax is much more painful. The Center for American Progress finds “on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to cover the uninsured.”

– Loveland

Jon Huntsman and the Evolution of the “Moderate” Label

GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has signed several bills restricting abortion, and he supports a right to life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He supports building a fence on the Mexican border. He supports the death penalty. He governed Utah when it was named the most favorable state for business. He not only supports school vouchers, he actually signed a school voucher bill into law. He opposes an assault weapon ban. He wants to slash the authority of the EPA and NLRB. He opposes the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate. He wants to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit to dramatically increase taxes on the poor. At the same time, he proposes drastically cutting tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

If you polled Americans and asked them how they would describe the political philosophy of a candidate holding those positions, they surely would say that candidate is very conservative. After all, Huntsman’s positions are at least as conservative as McCain, Bush 2, Dole, Bush 1, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, and Goldwater.

But despite Governor Huntsman’s strongly conservative record, the rigorous 90-second Google analysis I conducted today reveals that Huntsman is more likely to be described on the Internet and in the news as “moderate Jon Huntsman” than “conservative Jon Huntsman,” by an overwhelming 8-to-1 margin.

I understand that Huntsman is usually labeled a moderate because he is the most moderate person in the 2012 GOP presidential field, a radically conservative line-up. But still, it’s remarkable to see how far news reporters, bloggers and the general public have shifted their definition of “moderate” to the right as the Republicans Party has moved rapidly to the far right.

– Loveland