2012 - %3, February

Public Money and Public Policy

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 9:13 AM PST

Yesterday, writing about the Obama administration's refusal to grant Catholic-run organizations an exemption from their rule requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives, I said that if these organizations take public money then they need to follow public rules. Megan McArdle disagrees:

As Ross Douthat points out, the regulations seem to have nothing to do with whether the Catholic hospitals or other charities take public money; rather, it's the fact that they provide services to the public, rather than having an explicitly religious mission.

I've seen several versions of Kevin's complaint on the interwebs, and everyone who makes it seems to assume that we're doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public....In the universe where I live, some of the best charity care is provided by religious groups.

…In this world, I had been under the impression that we were providing Catholic charities with federal funds mostly because this was the most cost-effective way of delivering services to needy groups. Thus it's not obvious to me that we will be better off encouraging Catholic hospitals and other groups to provide services exclusively to their own flock, while exclusively employing members of their own flock. And I'm fairly certain that if I wanted to stage a confrontation with Catholic charities, it would not be over something as trivial as forcing them to provide birth control coverage to their employees.

I don't know if the Obama administration based its new regulations on the notion that taking public money obliges you to follow public rules. However, that's my belief, so that's why I used it as part of my argument.

But I want to make a broader point. I'm unhappy with the creeping growth of religious conscience exemptions to public policy, and this affects my belief that such exemptions ought to be pretty limited. I can live with exceptions for abortion, for example, but not contraception.

Here's an analogy. A century ago, if a Catholic hospital had refused to admit blacks, that would have been permissible. This isn't because no one thought such a policy was wrong. Plenty of people did, even then. But in that time and place it was a genuinely controversial question, and that's why the government didn't get involved.

But that changed. As the public came overwhelmingly to believe that racial discrimination was unsupportable, public policy changed and hospitals were required to admit all comers. If you claimed a religious exemption, too bad. You had to follow the rules.

The same thing has happened to contraception. Unlike abortion, which remains a genuine hot button, contraception simply isn't. Poll after poll shows that the public almost unanimously has no moral objection to contraception, and, by margins of 3- or 4-to-1, believes that insurance ought to cover contraception. This is true even among Catholics. It's almost literally the case that the only remaining objection to contraception in modern American society comes from the tiny, exclusively male group that makes up the church's leadership.

If the Catholic hierarchy wants to maintain its barbaric position that contraception is immoral, there's nothing I can do to stop it. But it's a position that maims and kills and immiserates millions throughout the world, and there's simply no reason that a secular government needs to—or should—humor them over this. I don't think the church will stop providing charity care because they object to the contraception rule, but if they do then we'll just have to find others to step in. We're living in the 21st century, and in the 21st century contraception is almost unanimously viewed as morally benign and practically effective. It's a boon, not a curse, and there's simply no reason that a secular government supported by taxpayer dollars should continue to indulge the pretense that it's not.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Rove's Haul: $12 Million

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 8:46 AM PST
Former Bush Adviser Karl Rove.

American Crossroads, the Republican super-PAC started by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, pulled in close to $12 million dollars in donations in the second half of 2011, according to Federal Election Commission records filed Tuesday.

The largest donations came from titanium magnate Harold Simmons and his Contran Corporation, which together gave seven million dollars, or more than half of the total. Simmons personally gave American Crossroads $5 million, and Contran Corporation is listed as having given $2 million. Although Simmons has also given $2,500 to Mitt Romney (as well as various small contributions to not-Romneys Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty), until recently his biggest donations this primary season were to the pro-Rick Perry super-PAC Americans for Rick Perry (now Restoring Prosperity), to which Simmons gave $100,000 last June. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Simmons is far and away the biggest donor to super-PACs: He's given $5.6 million, fully two million more than his closest rival, Texas homebuilder Bob Perry.

Only one other donor topped a million dollars in the Crossroads filing: Indiana communications company Whiteco Industries. Other big donors include billionaire Sam Zell, whose mismanagement of the Tribune Company earned him the ire of journalists everwhere. Zell gave American Crossroads $500,000, as did former Interpublic Group head Philip Geier. Kenny Troutt, the CEO of a Texas-based financial firm Mt. Vernon Investments, gave another $500,000. All told, more than three-quarters of Rove's haul came from a small group of very wealthy people.

Your Daily Newt: Last of the Mohicans and the American Dream

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 8:38 AM PST
In Last of the Mohicans, British colonialists clash with anti-colonialists, and Daniel Day-Lewis fires two rifles at once.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich's 1995 college class at Reinhardt College in Georgia is noteworthy mostly for being the focal point of the ethics investigation that ultimately ended his reign as speaker of the House. The course, "Renewing American Civilization" was intended to train upwards of 200,000 conservative activists in advance of the 1996 election, but it also gave Gingrich a platform to say literally anything that was on his mind, for two hours at a time, once a week. Needless to say, he took full advantage—praising, at various points, Little House on the Prairie, the futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Boys Town, the Magnificent Seven, and one of his all-time favorite movies: Last of the Mohicans.

The screen adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper joint, Gingrich explained, captured the very essence of what it means to be an American:

One of my favorite movies is the Last of the Mohicans, which I recommend to all of you. It's a great film about the French and Indian war. Wonderful scene where the American who was the Deerslayer is standing there and the British officer says, "aren't you going to Fort William Henry?" And he says, "No, I'm going to Kentucky." And he says, "How can you go to Kentucky in the middle of a war?" And he says, "You face north, turn left, and walk. It's west of here." It's a very American response. And the officer says, "but you're a British subject and you have to come and fight." And he says, "No, I am an American."

Now, he ends up going to fight. Why? Because of the girl—which is also classically American. It's a very romantic country. It really, historically, is a very romantic country. You can't be American without having romance in your heart. I mean, if you grow up as a cynic, it's very hard to sustain the magic that's American. But part of the conclusion I reached, oh, maybe 22 years ago, reading Daniel Boorstin's work on the Americans, is that as important as the mountain man is—and you remember Jeremiah Johnson, which is a great film, and again, a very useful introduction to a real authentic American—there were very few mountain men. There were very few people who went out on their own in the woods.

We're obliged to point out that Russell Means, who played Chingachgook in Last of the Mohicans, also briefly ran for vice president in 1984 as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt's running mate. Four years later, he pursued the libertarian nomination for president and lost—to Ron Paul.

Occupy Oakland's Black Panther Roots

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 4:01 AM PST

mark MurmannPhoto by Mark Murmann.On Sunday night, a day after the mass arrest of some 400 Occupy Oakland protesters—and journalists including one of my Mother Jones colleagues—many of those who'd been released met outside City Hall to let off steam. Broadcasting through a speaker in a bicycle trailer, members of Occupy Oakland's Anti-Repression Committee denounced the use of "teargas, rubber bullets, and assault grenades." The crowd chanted, "Fuck the cops!" But anger at those who'd encouraged police violence by throwing rocks, ransacking the inside of City Hall, and burning an American flag was hard to find. A veteran member of Occupy Oakland later told me that proponents of nonviolence had largely quit speaking up at Oakland meetings for fear of being shouted down.

The militancy of Occupy Oakland contrasts sharply with the culture of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where I was embedded this fall. In the weeks leading up to the occupation of Zuccotti Park in September, experts schooled groups of young people in peaceful protest tactics. Calls to occupy the park invariably stressed nonviolence, and the movement's official "Declaration of Solidarity," adopted later that month, proclaimed that "we have peaceably assembled here." Occupiers took turns waving an American flag on the night of the eviction, and even during the most confrontational demonstrations that followed, enforced a code of restraint. During an effort to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, for example, I saw garbage bags that had been tossed into the street by a few rogue protesters get picked up by other activists and put back on the sidewalk. A young anarchist I was shadowing denounced the incident as "stupid black-block shit," showing his disdain for anarchism's militant wing.

How to Win Florida on $1 Million a Day

| Wed Feb. 1, 2012 4:00 AM PST

In the past 10 days, the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future and the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our future dumped $10.4 million trying to sway Republican voters in the Sunshine State. That's about as much as the total all outside groups had spent at this point in the 2008 election cycle. Where did the money go? MoJo tallied up their spending based on what they'd reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Most of Restore Our Future's spending went to attacking Gingrich. For every dollar spent promoting Romney, the super-PAC spent $25 dragging Gingrich through the mud.

Of the $12 million Winning Our Future has spent so far in this cycle, more than a third left the PAC's coffers in the past week. It spent most of the money talking up Gingrich; only a sliver was dedicated to attacking Romney. 

How did they reach their audience? Restore our Future spent the bulk of their money, $5 million, buying up television and radio spots slamming Gingrich for having "tons of baggage." Since the beginning of January, in Florida alone, Restore our Future has run 3,443 television spots, 1,018 cable ads and 234 radio ads attacking Gingrich.

 

Winning our Future spent $4 million on TV and radio advertising (with at least $1.5 solely on radio).


We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 1, 2012

Wed Feb. 1, 2012 3:57 AM PST

A pilot takes the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter up for its first night flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 18, 2012. (Courtesy photo Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin)