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Seeing things.

Dear readers, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. Last week, I criticized members of the media for their coverage of Pope Francis's meeting with President Obama. Before the meeting, some commentators suggested that the pope was planning to confront the president about his support for the contraception mandate and abortion rights. And after the meeting others contrasted the Vatican's press release with Obama's recollections at a press conference. I wrote:

There's nothing perplexing about the differences between a formal Vatican statement and a president's ad libbed remarks to the press. The Vatican's news release was never going to contain revealing language about the pope's emotional response to meeting Obama. It was never going to go on at any length or in any detail about what they discussed. When Benedict XVI met with George W. Bush in 2008, for example, it was, yes, awesome, but the joint statement of the Holy See and the White House didn't exactly describe the visit in florid terms. That's just how these things go.

How mistaken I was. If only I'd waited a couple of days to post, I would have had my illusions dispelled by George Weigel's analysis. He, too, took issue with pre-meeting speculation, noting that some of it caused "confusion" that was "instructive on several counts." According to Weigel, that shows just how "poorly equipped" most of the media is "to cover the Vatican and its ways." But those ways are right in Weigel's wheelhouse, so he attempts to sort through them for the rookie Vaticanista, beginning where so many of Catholicism's riches lie: symbolism, especially photographic symbolism, particularly photographic symbolism that entails the appearance of popes with other world leaders.

Pope Francis conducted his conversation with President Obama across a desk — a stage-setting exercise on the Vatican’s part that one canny media veteran thought “a tad aggressive” and another observer said resembled a school principal having a firm talk with a recalcitrant student.

I hadn't considered that. But now that Weigel mentions it, I see his point. How many office-hours have I spent sitting across the desk from a teacher who offered firm rebuttals to my half-baked musings on this or that theological problem? Of course, I may have been too arrogant to understand how thoroughly my incompetence had been exposed. But I had no illusions about who had authority and who did not.

See for yourself:

There you have it. On one side: Leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, chosen by the College of Cardinals to serve for the rest of his life, whose approval ratings are the envy of elected officials across the globe. On the other: president of a country of about 320 million, half of whom aren't happy with his leadership, and a tiny fraction of whom cares enough to vote. Could Pope Francis have been any clearer? When a pope places a desk between a world leader and himself, it's obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church that he is signaling the distance between the two--if not his outright disapproval.

Just look at how Pope John Paul II handled talks with his collaborator--or at least pen pal--Ronald Reagan:

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On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. That's why Domenech wrote, "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate. They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except it looks like they've been doing just that.

Over at Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

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Francis & Obama meet, opening singularity that sucks oxygen out of U.S. media.

On my way home from work last night, I fired up my Twitter feed and found a series of tweets suggesting that today's meeting between pope and president might not go as well as some liberals had been predicting. They had read a piece by Thomas Reese, SJ, who worried that "controversy" could "cloud" the event. He'd seen a Vatican Radio report that concluded with a sloppy summary of disagreements between Obama and the U.S. bishops over the contraception mandate and gay marriage--rather than emphasizing areas of agreement, such as poverty. Reese pointed out that Vatican Radio is under the direction of Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, and wondered whether the article in question might be part of a "coordinated media strategy coming out of the Vatican Secretariat of State."

When Tom talks about the Catholic Church, people listen--as well they should. Good luck finding a more knowledgable observer of the scene. But on this issue, I think Tom's final thought in that post is the one worth heeding: "Sometimes a story is just a story and has no more authority than the individual author." Vatican Radio is not micromanaged by the Holy See press shop. If it were, people might start thinking the pope was poised to adopt the agenda of Future Church.

Over the past week, it seems like everybody with an internet connection has published explainers and prognostications about the meeting. It's only natural. The first Latin American pope meets the first black president. Is Pope Francis the Barack Obama of the Vatican? Obama the Francis of Washington? Contraception mandate at the Supreme Court. Putin's border-crossings. Inequality. Poverty. War. It's news. But media coverage has run the gamut from useful to really not.

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What does Notre Dame want?

Last month, the University of Notre Dame announced that it would comply with Obamacare's contraception mandate, after the school's legal challenges failed. "Pursuant to the Affordable Care Act," a university statement explained, "our third-party administrator is required to notify plan participants of coverage provided under its contraceptives payment program." In other words, university employees would receive contraceptive coverage at no cost to them. But the statement warned that “the program may be terminated once the university's lawsuit on religious-liberty grounds...has worked its way through the courts."

That dismayed some of the university's more conservative critics. Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley, for example, argued that the university's compliance with the mandate amounted to "facilitating abortions." And Notre Dame historian Wilson Miscamble, CSC, worried that the university's heart wasn't really in the fight. But after listening to Notre Dame counsel's oral arguments last week at the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, they may have something else to worry about.

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UPDATED Melinda Henneberger to speak on Pope and Politics (Fordham)

UPDATE: event to be rescheduled due to weather and campus closing on February 3.

In the past month, several major news outlets have raised the question of whether Pope Francis is having an effect on political figures in the United States. Kathleen Hennessey's A1 story in the Los Angeles Times reported on how and why President Obama, for example, had come to quote the Pope.

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A stirring SOU

even if John Bohener scowled and Biden grinned. Why can't the country come around to what Obama proposed tonight for the country?  Text.

What's on the website now

We've posted a few new items in recent days, including the editors on the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the dismantling of its high-level uranium-enrichment programs:

This diplomatic breakthrough is something to be guardedly hopeful about, not to scorn as hawks in Congress and Israeli leaders are doing. In threading this needle, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have shown both a necessary skepticism about Iran’s intentions and a sober understanding of the costs and limitations of military action....

No one thinks a permanent agreement is a foregone conclusion. President Obama gives it a fifty-fifty chance of succeeding. Those opposed to the interim deal believe that the mullahs in Tehran cannot be trusted and that regime change is the only way to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. But if one considers negotiations a naïve gambit, one should be even more skeptical of seeking regime change. Iran lost hundreds of thousands of men in its war with Iraq, a catastrophe that cost half a trillion dollars, yet the regime remained resolute. It has already spent perhaps $100 billion on nuclear development, and endured another $100 billion in losses from sanctions. Obviously, Iran is willing to pay a very high price to exercise its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Read it all here.

And, if you haven't done so already, see what E. J. Dionne Jr. has to say about the state of "hope and change" as Obama enters his sixth year in office, and take a look at Marc O. DeGirolami's piece on the language of civil benedictions and new legal challenges to legislative prayer

New issue, now live

Just posted to the website, our January 24 issue. Among the highlights: The first part of an exclusive excerpt from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s forthcoming book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God Love (subscription required). An excerpt from the excerpt:

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you,” we read in Job (12:7). My new book takes its title from that verse, placing the natural world as envisioned by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in conversation with Christian belief in a loving God who creates, redeems, and promises a blessed future for our world. When we ask the animals and plants about their origin and relationship with God, a picture emerges of how they are cherished by divine love prior to, and apart from, the emergence of humanity. The evolution of the human species introduces sin into the world, seen today in our destruction of habitats and the resulting extinction of species. In this context, listening to the beasts fosters a deep ecological ethic as humans aim to replace their domination over nature with mutual regard and responsible care in the community of creation. The goal of this dialogue is to discover how love of the natural world is an intrinsic part of believers’ passion for the living God—to practical and critical effect. In this essay, the first of a two-part series, I hope to make clear how Darwin’s work changed our understanding of nature and humankind’s place in creation.

Also featured in the new issue: Jo McGowan with a personal reflection on moving her aging father into assisted living, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels on the peril of letting an ally determine our foreign policy, and Nick Ripatrazone on a new book of poems from Averill Curdy.

And we’ve also posted E. J. Dionne’s latest column, on the problems New Jersey governor Chris Christie could face with conservatives in the still unfolding “Bridgegate” scandal. 

What's on our website

Right now, two new pieces from the upcoming issue.

First, James L. Fredericks and Andrew J. Bacevich in an exchange on Reinhold Niebuhr's The Irony of History in the age of Obama:

Barack Obama has vigorously prosecuted the war against Al Qaeda even while ending U.S. military engagement in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan. These seeming paradoxes make Obama an ironic figure of the kind that interested Niebuhr most—the self-conscious, existential irony of a man who knows he must act in history while being unable either to control the outcome or to escape the moral ambiguity of his choices.

Read it all here. Also, Richard Alleva reviews Philomena and Saving Mr. Banks. On the performances of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in the former:

Critics speak about the autumnal grandeur of “lateness in art”—the tranquil power of Beethoven’s late quartets or the swan-song poignancy of Verdi’s Falstaff. Judi Dench has that quality as an actress nowadays, and it’s not just an inevitable feature of her old age. She’s in possession of a still center, and from that center she radiates. But the critical praise heaped on Dench shouldn’t keep us from noticing that Steve Coogan’s wry underplaying of Sixsmith makes Dench’s beatific comedy possible. With his boredom-glazed eyes desperately beseeching invisible gods for mercy as she blathers on and on, and his smooth baritone subtly inflected by covert sarcasm, Coogan is the Oxbridge Oliver Hardy to her female Stan Laurel. And would Stan be truly funny without Ollie?

Read it all here. And come back to the website Monday, when we'll be posting the rest of the new issue.

Does your new health plan cover abortion? Good luck finding out.

Just posted to the homepage: my piece on elective abortion coverage on the health exchanges. I'll have more to say about this later, but for now, here's a preview:

On Sunday, the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline for fixing Healthcare.gov passed, with seemingly decent results. For the past month, the administration had been consumed with that task. But in the meantime another serious problem seems to have escaped its attention: Federal and state health-care exchanges make it nearly impossible to tell whether their plans cover elective abortion. And in some states customers don’t even have the option to purchase abortion-free coverage.

Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was brought before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to be questioned about the failures of Healthcare.gov. “If someone…has strongly held pro-life views, can you commit to us to make sure that the federal exchanges that offer that [abortion coverage] is clearly identified and so people can understand if they're going to buy a policy that has abortion coverage or not?” asked Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). “I don’t know,” Sebelius answered. “I know exactly the issue you’re talking about. I will check and make sure that is clearly identifiable.”

That was November 1. It’s still nearly impossible to determine whether plans on the exchanges cover elective abortion. For example, on the New York State exchange—supposedly one of the best—the signup process is painless. You create a username and password, enter your legal name, address, Social Security number, and within moments you’re shopping for coverage. You can compare several plans at all levels of coverage (bronze, silver, gold, platinum). Monthly premiums are displayed first, followed by deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. You can explore a plan’s outpatient-services coverage, its prescription-drug coverage, mental-health services, lab tests, etc. You can even see its pediatric-vision coverage. But you can’t find out whether a plan covers elective abortion.

Read the rest right here.

ACA not worse than Katrina, Stewart suggests

When I first read the headline "Health Law Rollout's Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush's Hurricane Response" on my phone last Thursday, I ignored it because it seemed just another in the long line of attempts to identify President Obama's very own "Katrina" (2010 Gulf oil spill, 2009 H1N1 flu, 2009 GM bankruptcy -- expanded list here). Little did I know how eager the usual suspects (really, Chris Wallace?) were ready to run with it. Jon Stewart last night reintroduced some perspective.

Sticker Shock Bandwagon

Did Obama lie?

Whether he did or didn't, there are several million angry people out there who are getting "pay more or be cancelled" notices from their insurance companies for 2014.

So what's going on? On the RIght, of course, Obama was caught in a bald-faced lie, having given his personal guarantee that all Americans could keep their current insurance if they wished. On the Left, technically Obama wasn't lying, because there is nothing in the PPACA (Obamacare) statute that says that insurance companies have to cancel policies or that anyone at all has to be forced onto the exchanges. But Obama can't control the insurance companies and their own business decisions. So it's their fault.

Everyone is spinning as fast as they can. What's really happening?

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New stories on the homepage

Just posted to the homepage, two new stories. In this web-exclusive response to Germain Grisez, Dennis O’Brien writes on Francis and the character of Christian truth:

It is often commented that unlike many other great sages and spiritual leaders of humankind, Jesus never wrote a word; his impact was in live speech. The primacy of live speech, face-to-face communication, is a deep lesson about the nature of Christian truth and teaching. I believe that Pope Francis in the interview places the particular person speaking prior to instruction. The interview with Civilità Cattolica starts with “Who is Jorge Maria Bergoglio?” The answer: “I am a sinner—a sinner who has been forgiven by Christ.” For Francis, the voice that claims to teach the truths of Christianity is the voice of a forgiven sinner. Grisez might counter that this is all very well for Bergoglio, but not for one charged with the office of pope. The pope should speak in a “universal” voice, not as Ratzinger or Bergoglio. I think a universal voice fails to carry the full Christian message, and that is the radical shift that Pope Francis effects. Face-to-face is the site of Christian teaching.

Also posted: E. J. Dionne Jr. on where Obamacare is working, and where it isn’t.

States that created their own healthcare exchanges -- and especially those that did this while also expanding Medicaid coverage -- are providing health insurance to tens of thousands of happy customers, in so many cases for the first time.

Those seeking a model for how the law is supposed to operate should look to Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat in a red state, has embraced with evangelical fervor the cause of covering 640,000 uninsured Kentuckians. …

Beshear urges us to keep our eyes on the interests of those the law is intended to serve, our uninsured fellow citizens. "These 640,000 people are not some set of aliens,” he says. “They’re our friends and neighbors ... some of them are members of our families.” As for the troubled national website, Beshear offered this: “If I could give unsolicited advice to the critics, and maybe to the media, it’s: Take a deep breath.”

Wise counsel. But there can be no denying the system failure that is a profound embarrassment to the Obama administration and threatens to undermine all the good the law could do, since its enemies will use any excuse to discredit it.

Web exclusive: default dangers

Now featured on the homepage, Charles R. Morris on what could happen should the U.S. default on its debt:

What is most scary about the possibility that Congress will fail to authorize an increase in the national debt limit is that no one really knows what the consequences might be. But it is not alarmism to fear that such a step could trigger a global recession....

The most immediate impact of a default will be on countries—from the Middle East to East Asia—that currently hold trillions in surplus dollar balances. They will suffer major losses, which will accelerate the move toward trading in other currencies, something long-bruited by countries that resent America’s financial dominance. The United States will be punished as its own cost of borrowing rises substantially, and possibly permanently....

The effect on world trade could be catastrophic, as buyers and sellers attempt to reprice cargoes in midstream. When Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, said that a default “would ripple through the global economy in ways that you can’t possibly understand,” he really meant it.

Though the House did nothing yesterday to address the crisis, the Senate could review and announce a deal today that would fund the government through January 15 (at the levels reflecting the cuts enacted in March) and raise the debt ceiling through February. Sen. John McCain says that, as he predicted, Republicans have lost a battle they never could have won, and Sen. Lindsey Graham says Republicans "really did go too far."

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn't achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn't sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.

Jonathan Strong at The Corner has an insider's account, quoting a senior GOP aide--"It's all over. We'll take the Senate deal"--and passing this along:

The Christian rite accompanying legislative chaos [Tuesday] was Florida representative Steve Southerland’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” — “all three verses,” said Representative Michael Burgess (Texas) afterwards in amazement. But Southerland is an undertaker by trade, and the song is normally sung at funerals. It’s hard not to see [Tuesday's] failure as the death of the House GOP’s role, in at least this standoff.

Inviting anarchism

Now on the website, our editors on the strategy of the Republican majority in Congress.

Initially, the House Republicans’ refusal to pass a continuing-funding resolution to keep the government open was tied to the unreasonable demand that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be repealed, defunded, or delayed. … Recognizing that the ACA cannot be stopped, Speaker John Boehner has shifted his position and now wants the president and the Democrats to negotiate a budget bill that includes significant spending cuts before he will allow a vote on the continuing resolution. But earlier this year the Democrats already agreed to cut $70 billion from the budget without increasing revenues, only to have the House reject the bill. Understandably, the president and the Democrats are now determined that the government be reopened before they negotiate a final budget. If he were to capitulate to the House’s demands, the president argues, every future budget could be held hostage by a radical and unrepresentative minority in Congress, and the constitutional system would grind to a halt. If democracy is to work, a minority cannot nullify the legislative will of the majority.

Even worse, Tea Party Republicans are also refusing to extend the nation’s debt ceiling unless the president and the Democrats comply with their demands. This is an invitation to anarchism. If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by October 17, widespread economic damage is almost certain. Whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, the vast majority of Americans are shocked and outraged that some in Congress are endangering the economic well-being and security of the nation, if not the world, in pursuit of their narrow ideological agenda….

“Americans,” Andrew Bacevich writes [in his book Breach of Trust], have “abandoned collective obligation in favor of personal choice.”… It is hard not to see this dynamic at work in the current political crisis. The Tea Party scoffs at the notion that “collective obligation” or “sacred civic responsibilities”—to provide health-care insurance to those who cannot afford it, for instance—might even exist. Rather, the movement upholds as sacred the right to be left alone.

Read the whole thing here

More short takes on Obamacare...

…starting on our homepage with “A Good Start,” by Charles R. Morris: 

There is no reason to expect it to go smoothly. It took a year to sort through the mass confusion surrounding George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D program, which was a far simpler challenge, since all the eligible patients were already known to Medicare. The ACA, working through an array of exchanges run by the states and the federal government, must create new databases of individuals and businesses, apply new eligibility rules, qualify hundreds of benefit plans, and match eligible recipients and plans. Plans and rates will differ substantially from state to state. …

But the overall prognosis for the law’s success is still bright. The states that have embraced the law seem determined to make a good show of it. Their exchanges will be ready to open on the first of the year, and though there will certainly be glitches, most of them should be operating fairly smoothly by the summer. Even better, the first exchange insurance prices are lower than even friendly analysts expected. …

The performance of the federal exchanges may well lag that of the participating states, since hardly anyone imagined that almost two-thirds of states would opt out. But the feds will catch up—among other things they will mostly be able to apply the same basic data systems in every state. Over time, Republicans may rue the boost that the opt-out red states gave to the creation of a national health-care system.

Ezra Klein at the Washington Post on how demand for Obamacare is what really troubles those who would defund it:

It was strange and slightly perverse to watch Obamacare open and be flooded with people desperate to sign up for health insurance even as the government closed because Republicans wanted the law ripped out, or at least delayed. In some quarters, Republicans mocked Obamacare’s technical problems, but the jokes were wan: Overwhelming demand for the law is not a boon to the GOP’s position.

This is, of course, precisely what Republicans were scared of: That a law they loathe would end up being enthusiastically embraced by millions of Americans -- and thus proving permanent. It’s Obamacare’s possible success, not its promised failures, that unnerve the GOP.

Eduardo Porter in the Business section of today’s New York Times sees it similarly: 

[T]he argument that half the Republican Party has simply lost its mind has to be an unsatisfactory answer, especially considering the sophistication of some of the deep-pocketed backers of the Tea Party insurgency.

There is a plausible alternative to irrationality. Flawed though it may turn out to be, Obamacare …could fundamentally change the relationship between working Americans and their government. This could pose an existential threat to the small-government credo that has defined the G.O.P. for four decades…. [T]he law has many provisions that are likely to improve life for millions of Americans, including a big portion of what we know as the working middle class.

As it turns out, the core Tea Party demographic — working white men between the ages of 45 and 64 — would do fairly well under the law….

To conservative Republicans, losing a large slice of the middle class to the ranks of the Democratic Party could justify extreme measures.

And extreme (and slightly garbled) rhetoric.

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Just posted: Dionne on Cruz, Boehner & the shutdown

Now on the website: At the end of Day 1 of the government shutdown,  E. J. Dionne Jr. writes on the real goal of the right wing: 

Can anyone now doubt who is responsible for Washington’s dysfunction? The Republican right still does not accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. This is why much of the government shut down.

The issue here is not that Congress failed to reach a “compromise.” The Democrats already have compromised, lopping about $70 billion off their budget proposal, to the dismay of many liberals. That was meaningless to a tea party crowd that seems to care not a whit about the deficit, despite its fulsome talk. It will be satisfied only if Congress denies health care coverage to about 25 million Americans, which is what “repealing Obamacare” really means.

It needs to be said over and over as long as this stupid and artificial crisis brewed by the tea party continues: Financing the government in a normal way and avoiding a shutdown should not be seen as a “concession.” Making sure the government pays its debt is not a “concession.” It’s what we expect from a well-functioning constitutional system. It’s what we expect from decent stewards of our great experiment. The extremists who have taken over the House do not believe in a normal, constitutional system. They believe only in power.

What would Russell Kirk say during Shutdown Week?

Here we are: Government Shutdown Week, a new biannual tradition. If you're just tuning in, the House Republicans are holding the global economy hostage unless President Obama repudiates the Affordable Care Act, his administration's signature domestic policy achievement.

That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Its passage was not a surprise to anyone paying attention, having been preceded by very open debate going back decades. Its basic principles were developed by a conservative think tank, a similar plan was tried at the state level by a Republican governor of a large state, and its details were debated repeatedly in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It was debated so much during those debates that most viewers were bored. Everyone watching knew that a Democratic president would seek health care reform. Most people thought it would be more left-wing than the final product. Far from being "pushed through" or "rammed through" or whatever other tyrannical metaphor one might choose, the road to the Affordable Care Act was in reality a model of procedural governance in a modern democracy.

A small band of Republicans now will shutdown the government because they are mad that they lost. But they are pitching it as a prophetic action to call attention to the federal government's spending problem. The problem with that analysis of the spending problem is that deficits have been going down under Obama (handy charts here). A further problem is that not raising the debt ceiling will have no effect on any of the issues that they want to address. It won't change the prior commitments Congress has made, in terms of expenses or revenues.

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Short Takes on Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act is more popular among Republicans than Obamacare, by a 22% to 14% margin, and among the general population, 39% to 34%, according to a Fox News poll.

According to Pew, of the 53% of Americans surveyed who disapprove of the ACA, 27% want Congress to make it work as well as possible, while 23% want Congress to “do what they can to make it fail.” Among the Tea Party, 64% want their representatives to work actively at making it fail. “The Tea Party wing of the GOP is dead set on sabotaging Obamacare above all else,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.

Jonathan Chait looks at that effort, and gives details on the status of reforms:

Health-care inflation since 2011 has fallen to its lowest level in half a century. The Congressional Budget Office estimates of Obamacare’s costs, widely derided at the time of its passage as too optimistic, have thus far proven too pessimistic. The agency has already cut $600 billion off the expected ten-year spending total for Medicare and Medicaid. If the reforms continue to bear fruit, costs will come in even lower.

And health experts increasingly expect the reforms will bear fruit. “The ongoing slowdown in the health-care growth rate defies historical post-recession patterns and is likely to be sustained,” concluded Price­Waterhouse-Coopers in June. “It appears that the reforms will stick and health-care exchanges and other policies will bring competitive pressure to markets,” says Randall Ellis, a professor of health-care economics. “Although the proof for this point of view is not yet definitive,” reports the Health Affairs blog, “the depth and breadth of change suggest that significant transformation in the nation’s delivery system is under way.” Among health-care wonks, this is no longer a controversial assertion: The evidence thus far suggests Obamacare’s cost reforms are a staggering success.

The Wall St. Journal says the defunding drive is a political loser:

Mr. Obama is never, ever going to unwind his signature legacy project of national health care. Ideology aside, it would end his Presidency politically. And if Republicans insist that any spending bill must defund ObamaCare, then a showdown is inevitable that shuts down much of the government. Republicans will claim that Democrats are the ones shutting it down to preserve ObamaCare. Voters may see it differently given the media's liberal sympathies and because the repeal-or-bust crowd provoked the confrontation. …

We've often supported backbenchers who want to push GOP leaders in a better policy direction, most recently on the farm bill. But it's something else entirely to sabotage any plan with a chance of succeeding and pretend to have "leverage" that exists only in the world of townhall applause lines and fundraising letters.

The Congressional Budget Office warns of unsustainable debt levels by 2023, due mainly to the rising costs of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. In response to the report, Paul Ryan, leader of the House Budget Committee, suggests eliminating Obamacare.

Unjustified, by just-war standards

Now featured on the homepage: George Hunsinger evaluates the proposed attack on Syria by the criteria of just war--and finds it wanting.

How should U.S. citizens and their elected representatives decide this dreadful question? A defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified.

In my view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards. Let us review them in order.

Read the whole thing here.