Obamacare Ruling: Three Things You Need to Know

I’m at Youth Conference in Flaming Gorge, Utah, with my daughter, and all I have is my iPhone. So I have to tell you what this Obamacare Supreme Court decision means by typing entirely with my thumbs.

I can do this.

There’s plenty of noise out there, but very few real insights. So here are the takeaways that I think the masses are missing.

1. This is very, very good for Mitt Romney, politically speaking.

Obamacare gave the House of Representatives to the GOP in 2010. Since then, the Tea Party’s influence has been – thankfully – fading into memory. For better or for worse, this ruling puts them in the game again. It also forces their religious bigots to unite behind the Mormon, because he’s the only guy who can repeal this. It solidifies Mitt’s base in a way nothing else could.

On Facebook, many of my friends point out that Mitt’s current opposition to Obamacare is intellectually inconsistent with his previous positions. They’re absolutely right – and it doesn’t matter a whit. Mitt has to repeal this, and both he and the GOP base know it. That’s why they’ll cheerfully ignore the fact that it’s 180 degrees from where he was before the primaries.

The official transformation of the mandate into a tax helps Mitt immensely, too. Now he can rail against it in economic terms, tying higher taxes to our overall economic woes. That message works. It makes discussion about Obamacare a tributary of discussions about the economy. That’s a winner for Mitt and the main reason Obama will lose.

Which leads me to the second takeaway here:

2. The Roberts opinion is brilliant, right on the facts, and a long-term boon for constitutional conservatives.

“Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” Roberts writes. In other words, it’s not the Court’s job to fix bad laws – only to ensure they pass constitutional muster. As Antonin Scalia said on another occasion, it’s possible to be both dumb and constitutional at the same time. Conservatives looking to the court to unlegislate bad legislation for them are not too far removed from liberals who use the courts to implement legislative policies for which they can’t get the votes. The Constitution is a great framework for how to operate a representative republic, but it’s not very good at telling the republic what it ought to do. I think the best solution to bad legislation is good legislation, not judicial fiat.

Still, Constitution fans have much to celebrate here. Roberts’ opinion puts clear limits on the Commerce Clause and provides opponents of the law a clear roadmap for repeal. It’s actually a remarkable thesis that limits the Court’s ability to legislate from the bench. George Will gets this – read his article on the subject. I’d find it for you and link to it here, but I’m typing with my thumbs.

3. Obamacare is not the apocalypse, and just blindly opposing it isn’t enough.

I’m conflicted by the fact that Obamacare has been very beneficial to the Cornells, in light of my daughter’s spinal cord injury. It’s lifted the lifetime limits on her benefits, and it’s prevented our insurance company from dropping us. Those, at least for me, are very good things.

I think the law has serious problems, however. It solidifies the bond between employer and employee in providing benefits, rather than make health care portable. It’s expensive, and it’s funded in ways that are unsustainable from the outset.

That said, I’m intensely frustrated with ideological zealots who scream “Repeal!” without providing any viable alternatives. The status quo stinks, and I refuse to side with people who defend a bad system because they don’t like the president’s proposal.

We live in a nation that refuses to let people die in the street because they can’t afford healthcare. I’m cool with that. So people who claim that healthcare should be left entirely to the free market ignore the fact that the market doesn’t treat people who can’t pay. You want Obamacare gone? Great. Show me something better.

It’s 11:35, and my thumbs grow weary. Good night.

MORNING THUMB-TYPED UPDATE:

The Hill notes that Mitt has raised $4.3 million online in the past 24 hours with an email plea for repeal. “Early signs indicate the ruling also stirred up voters who could be active in the November election.” Ya think?

Here’s the magnificent George Will piece I mentioned. Regardless of your political persuasion, you ought to read this.

David Frum, a guy I usually see eye-to-eye with, thinks this ruling is a disaster for Romney. He makes the mistake of thinking that people will now start debating the specifics of health care reform, when, instead, Romney will use this ruling to hammer home the larger message of Obama’s economic failure. But it’s a well-thought-out analysis, and I offer his contrarian view here.

And finally, William Shatner’s pants fell down at the airport.

Et Tu, Xenu?

I began to think about something after watching this documentary about my church:

This was the subject of a previous blog post, where I took issue with the host’s hostile approach to my faith. But watching Mr. Sweeney’s previous video about Scientology gave me a little bit of perspective. In that instance, Mr. Sweeney was repeatedly harrassed and followed by Scientologists, which finally led to Sweeney losing his cool and shrieking at the Scientology spokesman at the top of his lungs.

There’s no justification for that kind of an outburst, but if you watch the entire piece, you can see just how mightily Sweeney was provoked, even being forced, at one point, to hide with his camera crew in a bathroom to avoid being harrassed.

So I suppose I could write a whole bunch about how nasty the Church of Scientology is, but that’s not my point. The interesting dynamic here, to me, is how people of my faith respond to questions about sacred things vs. how the Scientologists do the same.

In his Mormon piece, John Sweeney grills Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about the endowment ceremony that takes place in Latter-Day Saint temples. In the world at large, this is understandably the subject of much curiosity, since temples are not open to the general public. That curiosity is piqued even further by the fact that those who participate in such things are generally unwilling to discuss details.

It should be noted, however, that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most reticence to talk about what happens in the temple is not the product of oaths of secrecy. There are things in the temple ceremony that worshipers promise not to disclose, but those things are very specific and limited, and they constitute a rather small portion of the overall temple ceremony. In most cases, the reticence comes from a place of reverence and respect. The temple matters to us, and, like most people who have experienced it firsthand, I find it painful to see people treat it flippantly.

Watching this video, it’s clear that Elder Holland feels the same way. Yet when confronted on a topic he doesn’t want to discuss, he never takes offense or gets angry. He patiently responds as reasonably as possible, even about things upon which he’s not willing to elaborate. Contrast that with Tommy Davis, the Scientology spokesman, who goes on a tirade every time Sweeney says anything he dislikes.

Davis is especially irrational every time the Xenu story is mentioned.

If you don’t know the story of Xenu – alternate spelling “Xemu” – then perhaps you ought to take a moment to hear Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard describe the event he calls “Incident II.”

If you haven’t got the patience for the video above, I can sum it up thusly: Hubbard claims that, 74 million years ago, an evil galactic emperor named Xenu gathered up hundreds of billions of people from planets throughout the galaxy and blew them up in Hawaiian volcanoes. Their souls – or “body thetans” in Scientology-speak – still wander the earth today and attach themselves parasitically to humans, thus providing the source for a great deal of our personal miseries.

Now there are plenty of people willing to mock this story on its face, although many of the same people go to great lengths to mock the more unconventional aspects of Mormon theology, too, so perhaps people in glass battlestars shouldn’t throw stones. What’s remarkable to me, then, isn’t so much that the story is weird. After all, take out the technobabble and replace the name “Xenu” with “Satan” and the term “body thetan” with “demon,” and you have a story about a leader who falls from heaven and uses his voluminous evil minions to torture people on earth. That tale doesn’t raise many eyebrows in mainstream Christian circles.

No, what’s remarkable is that the Church of Scientology goes to unbelievable lengths to pretend the Xenu story does not exist and is not a part of their theology.

In other words, they lie.

They don’t handle awkward questions with the kind of patience Elder Holland displayed. They don’t just say “that’s something I’m not comfortable talking about, because I consider it sacred.” They say, “That’s not true,” and they blow up at you for even bringing it up. They sue people who publish materials in Hubbard’s own handwriting that confirm the tale’s veracity. (I won’t post them, because I don’t want to be sued. But the materials are easily available online. I’ve seen them, and you can, too, if you so choose. Some of them appear in the video clips in this post. They’re written in a distinctive script that is undeniably Hubbard’s. And, of course, you can hear Hubbard’s own voice in the previous YouTube clip.)

In the age of the Internet, keeping something like this confidential is essentially impossible. Pretending it doesn’t exist is a bit like pretending the sun isn’t shining.

Now, granted, the story of Xenu is only officially taught after a Scientologist has spent years in the organization and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars taking classes to learn this stuff. So when a lower level Scientologist tells you they’ve never heard Xenu mentioned in church materials, they’re probably telling the truth. In addition, Hubbard himself taught that the story contained an “implant” that would cause someone who was not spiritually prepared to hear it to get pneumonia and die. So I hope everyone who watched the infamous South Park episode that recounts the story in detail has had all of their shots.

So with those caveats, I can understand why your run-of-the-mill Scientologist can keep a straight face when they tell you there’s no such thing as Xenu and body thetans. But Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman? Come on.

On CNN, Davis calls the story “silly” and “unrecognizable.” When ABC’s Nightline mentions Xenu, Davis dismisses it as ridiculous and offensive before he stands up and walks out.

Yet a local reporter in Palm Springs gets Davis to admit that he’s “familiar with the materials,” and that it comes from “the confidential scriptures of the church” before he excoriates the interviewer for bringing it up.

What gives?

Tom Cruise, the world’s most famous Scientologist, has responded similarly to references to the Xenu story, angrily insisting that it isn’t true. In John Sweeney’s BBC Scientology piece linked above, Sweeney interviews prominent Scientologist actresses Kirstie Alley, Ann Archer (Tommy Davis’ mother), and Juliette Lewis, all of whom are far enough along in their Scientology training to have been taught the Xenu story, and all of them insist that there is no such thing.

Seriously, what gives?

A website called “ExScientologyKids.com” puts it this way:

To be honest, we’re not totally sure why upper-level Scientologists insist on publicly denying the fact that the OT materials have anything to do with Xenu. I mean, c’mon guys. The cat is so totally out of the bag. I mean, the cat has been out of the bag so long that if you asked the cat about the bag, the cat would be like, “Oh, the BAG? That was forever ago.”

I’m all for freedom to believe in anything, however weird it may seem to others. What bugs me is dishonesty. I’m of the opinion that if the Church of Scientology wants to be taken seriously as a religion, it needs to find a better way to deal with facts it doesn’t like.

But what do I know? After all, I read the Xenu materials without paying the Scientologists any money, so death-by-pneumonia is just around the corner.

Anaujiram Ekoms ot Trats

Is there anyone else who remembers Lynn Bryson? I sure hope not.

When I was a missionary in Scotland, one of my companions had a copy of a tape titled “Rock and Roll and the Occult,” wherein Mr. Bryson, a supposed “music industry insider,” exposed the fact that the record industry was run by demons who were slathering for your immortal soul. In the age of the Internet, you’d think this piece of dung would be online somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it. Perhaps I’m doing more damage to the world by reminding it that this hooey ever existed, but I’d hate for it to be flushed down the memory hole completely without letting it leave few skidmarks on the people who read this blog.

For those of you who missed it, Bryson claimed that Jefferson Airplane encouraged people to leave their bodies in order to contact demons during concerts, that John Lennon literally sold his soul to a devil who came to collect by means of Mark David Chapman’s gun, that “Hey Jude” is an ode to heroin, and, of course, that a plethora of artists encourage Satanism, drug use, and general debauchery by means of “backward masking.”

Take Queen’s famous anthem “Another One Bites the Dust.”

You play it as recorded, and you can clearly hear Freddie Mercury sing the title lyric. But if you play it backwards, he can allegedly be heard encouraging impressionable kids to “start to smoke marijuana.” At least, that’s what Lynn Bryson hears. Others have listened to it and decided that he’s saying “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.” In my estimation, he’s saying “Hash is smog on the water,” which is a clear warning against imbibing hashish while boating.

Decide for yourself:

Wow! And look! President Obama was saying “Thank You, Satan!” backwards every time he said “Yes, We Can!”

And we all knew that Dora the Explorer was really saying “Hail, Satan,” “Keep your sweater up,” and “Hail Shambooh for Christmas.” (I’m thinking Shambooh is Satan’s ghost whale.)

Okay, fine. Personally, I think this is ludicrous nonsense, and that there are plenty of reasons to avoid Dora the Explorer, but this isn’t one of them. Most rock music can’t be understood when it’s sung forwards! Why should anyone be held accountable for what you imagine they’re saying when the recording is reversed? Am I that incapable of controlling my own destiny that Queen can get me hooked on reefer by means of incomprehensible reversed gibberish?

Yes.

I vote we all be held accountable for everything we say, forward and backward.

So anyone who says “It’s rough, Rod – my wife’s sweet!” is secretly saying “You smell like barf farts.”

And if you happen to mutter “Moose! Gonna meow. I ain’t lyin’,” you’re actually asking, “May I eat your eye with a spoon?”

And yesterday, when you noticed “That seed’s not forgotten – a seedless grape,” what you really meant was, “Dance with me, Satan, on a puppy’s head.”

I eagerly await my record contract. And beware – Lynn Bryson won’t be there to save you when you’re dancing on Fido with the Prince of Darkness, eating an eyeball with a spoon whilst the fetid air reeks with the stench of barf farts.

Disturbing School Dreams

I keep having variations of the same dream, over and over again. This has never happened to me before – all my other dreams have been stand-alone episodes with neither sequel nor prequel. Yet this one keeps coming back to me.

Freudians, help me out here.

I’m always in school. Sometimes I’m young and it’s high school or college; other times my old, middle-aged self is back at school for some reason. I then reach graduation or the end of the semester or some kind of academic conclusion, and I discover that there’s a class, or a bunch of classes, that I’d registered for and then never attended. Did I forget to go? Did I just stop going? Did I even know I’d been signed up in the first place? Well, it depends. The common thread, however, is that I’ve failed, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I then wake up, and it takes me several minutes to realize that I haven’t had a class at a university since 1999, and that I have no intention of rebooting my academic career. But it’s strange to me that my sense of accomplishment, success and failure, is still rooted in the classroom, where accomplishments are clearly measured, labeled, and rewarded. Nothing in the real world is as clean or simple as getting an “A” on a ScanTron test. By comparison, few things are as emotionally devastating as that big red “F” scribbled across a paper that was cobbled together an hour before it was due, even though you had six weeks to write it.

But this dream isn’t about trying and failing – it’s about failing unknowingly in a system designed to ensure failure. Sometimes, in the dream, I protest that I’ve worked very hard and done very well in the classes I’ve attended, and that ought to count for something, shouldn’t it? Nope. The failure in these dreams is overwhelming and final. There is no recovering from it. My permanent record is scarred forever, and the classes can’t be made up, and the failing marks can never be expunged.

In the waking world, I keep hoping things work differently. Frankly, I’m not sure that they do. Life is a permanent record, and every choice you make precludes a myriad of other choices. I’ve reached the point in my career where the course offerings get scarcer. If I ever wanted to be, say, a professional boxer or an Olympic gymnast, the window of opportunity on those particular classes have closed forever. How many other classes have closed, too, without me knowing about them? Are any of the good courses still open? When’s the registration deadline?

As you can see, I’m still pretty screwed up.

I Hate the Book of Job

There’s a reason, other than sloth, that this blog has been neglected. See, I had already mentally written my next post – it was going to tell you all about this huge opportunity that fell into my lap out of the clear blue sky, an opportunity that would have given me a far broader audience and broader canvas – one that would ultimately allow me to have a national impact. Best of all,  I would have had a job that would have actually paid me a living wage to write this stuff. It seemed the culmination of everything I had ever done, and, for a brief moment, it brought into focus the idea of a life that make use of my talents and would have been fun, meaningful, and fraught with purpose.

As you can probably tell by now, it was not to be. After a slew of interviews that I thought went well and weeks of waiting, I got one of those “thanks but no thanks” phone calls, and it’s not going to happen.

God and I haven’t really made peace with that.

For the past few years, the Cornell family has been wrung through the ringer in ways that I couldn’t have possibly imagined when Mrs. Cornell and I tied the knot back in 1994. We’ve been yanked every which way – physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually – and none of it seems to make any sense. We keep looking for the pony in the pile of horse crap, and it’s just not there. So I turned to the one scriptural source that’s supposed to explain why bad things happen to good people – the Book of Job.

Big, big mistake.

The one lesson that everyone seems to glean from Job is that people don’t necessarily deserve the garbage that’s dumped on their heads in the course of their mortality. What they fail to mention is that the God of the Book of Job is an arrogant, obnoxious twit who maliciously tinkers with people’s lives in order to win a bar bet with Satan.

If I’ve misstated the book’s central thesis, I’m open to other interpretations.

The book begins with Satan showing up at God’s house, and God asking his ol’ pal the Prince of Darkness for the news of the day. Ummmm, does this bother anyone else? Isn’t Satan supposed to be the embodiment of evil in the universe, cast out of heaven for rebellion? I can’t seem to get God to pay attention to my job interviews, yet he apparently has an open door policy with the Fount of All Wickedness.

Already, things seem askew.

So God, presumably over brunch or some such, says to the devil, “Hey, check out that Job dude! He loves me! Isn’t he awesome?” And the devil – who makes a whole lot more sense than God does in this particular tale – points out that this Job guy might not love God so much if someone were to slaughter his ten children, destroy his livelihood, ransack his wealth, and generally destroy everything that made his life worthwhile.

So what does God say? “All right, try it. Let’s see!”

How on earth does one reconcile this with the idea that God is kind, merciful, and loving? Furthermore, how does one reconcile it with the idea that he’s omniscient? He already knows what Job’s going to do, but he’s willing to step out of the way and let Satan mutilate Job’s life to… what? Prove a point to Satan? Is God that insecure?

So Satan, with God’s blessing, proceeds to wreak havoc, and… guess what? Job doesn’t curse God. So Satan says, “Well, what if I give him lots of boils and make him stew in his own filth?” God, apparently still really concerned that Satan might win this little wager, gives the green light to the boil plan.

Job still won’t curse God. Instead, he just curses the day he was born and wishes he were dead.

Put this in human terms. I love my wife more than anyone else alive. But, yes, I would love her a lot less if she killed my kids, ran off with everything I owned, and somehow deliberately infected me with the Bubonic Plague. And you know what? I probably wouldn’t have nice things to say about her. What’s more, I probably would have a hard time with anyone making the case that my wife, in this fictional kid-killing, mange-producing scenario, actually loved me, especially if she were doing all this to settle a bet with a demon she met on the Internet.

Why shouldn’t Job curse God? God, in this story, is a full-on jerk.

Everyone cites the end of the story, where Job gets back all his stuff – and more! He even gets ten new and better kids to replace those lousy dead ones – all presumably produced from the womb of the same wife. (Twenty kids! Isn’t God really punishing Mrs. Job?) So the moral of the story is – wade through the crap, and then, someday, God will make up for it. Except that’s not what God himself says in the story. Indeed, the award of the replacement kids and extra cows is given as arbitrarily as the boils were applied earlier on. When asked to explain his inscrutable – and unspeakably cruel – purposes in this whole nightmare, God shows up in a cloud and pretty much berates Job for asking questions. I created the universe, he says, and you didn’t, so who are you to ask why I decided to give you boils?

Yikes.

There are some marvelous isolated passages in the Book of Job, and the Savior himself quotes from it, so it’s hard to reject the whole thing outright. But it’s so woefully incongruous with what we learn of the Lord elsewhere that I refuse to believe that God really operates this way. The alternative is to presume that God really is this arbitrary and flighty, in the which case he is not a God in whom I can place any faith, let alone love.

As you can tell, I’ve had better days.