InsideCatholic 2009

The Stupid Party May Learn a Lesson in Upstate New York

Deal W. Hudson
October 22, 2009

A special election will be held on November 3 in upstate New York that may send a much-needed message to the GOP. New York Congressional District 23 was put up for grabs when nine-term Rep. John McHugh, a Republican, resigned to become Secretary of the Army. The eleven Republican chairs of the district nominated Dede Scozzafava, a state assemblywoman, and the first female minority leader pro tempore.

The social conservative wing of the GOP, well into a mounting rage over the direction of the nation under President Barack Obama, wasn’t in the mood to accept a pro-choice, pro-homosexual marriage candidate endorsed by the Working Families Party, known for its close ties to ACORN.

Michele Malkin summarized the reaction to Scozzafava in her column titled, “An ACORN-Friendly, Big-Labor Backing, Tax-and-Spend Radical in GOP Clothes.” Malkin’s comments were all iterations on her opening salvo: “The stupid party is at it again.”

The Conservative Party of New York, a group with considerable clout, decided not to endorse Scozzafava, nominating instead one of the defeated GOP candidates, the staunchly pro-life Doug Hoffman. Since then, Hoffman has become something of a rallying point for social conservatives, appearing on the radio shows of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and the red-hot Glen Beck.

Hoffman’s biography reads like a classic American rags-to-riches tale: A humble accountant who served in the U.S. Army Reserves, he unexpectedly became the corporate controller of the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, and later went on to become the managing partner of his own accounting firm. In addition, his record of community service suggests a man who has come to politics as a second thought, rather than a first.

The GOP is not so split over New York District 23 as it is splintered. Chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), refuses to endorse Scozzafava, while Newt Gingrich and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) have come to her aid. An op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal framed the controversy this way:

The real issue is why Ms. Scozzafava is a Republican at all. She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrats are attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors ‘card check’ to make union organizing easier.

When Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List endorsed Hoffman rather than Scozzafava, she wrote, “It’s gravely disappointing that the Republican Party chose to nominate a candidate whose position flies in the face of the actual pro-life party platform.” She was echoing the views of dozens of social conservative leaders I spoke to yesterday at two separate meetings in Washington, D.C. They were clearly hoping that the Republican Party was going to be taught a lesson about standing up for its core principles and its platform.

Can Hoffman beat both the Republican nominee and the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens? Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard argued several days ago that the polling is in Hoffman’s favor. It shows that the more voters know Scozzafava, the less they support her. As Kristol comments, “By an amazing margin of 28-12 percent, those who’ve seen Scozzafava’s commercials say those ads make them less likely to support her.”

The Republican establishment is busy trying to prop up a candidate who doesn’t even come close to identifying with traditional GOP values, especially those of its social conservatives. This may well lead to a Democratic victory, but it’s likely that Hoffman will still come out ahead of Scozzafava, sending a clear message that Republican voters want candidates who will fight against the direction of the Obama White House, not play along with it.

Republicans have lost the last two elections in part because they did not do anything to rally the social and religious conservatives who have been decisive in every election victory since 1980. The McCain campaign was the nadir of that lack of effort, so much so that it has become the touchstone of every tactical discussion among social conservatives about how to rally in 2010 and 2012.

Indeed, those social conservatives are mounting major grassroots efforts that are self-described as “outside of the Republican Party.” Perhaps the message is already being sent.

Bethlehem University Student Deported to Gaza

Deal W. Hudson
November 2, 2009

Berlanty (Betty) Azzam was two months away from receiving her business degree at Bethlehem University. Anticipating life beyond college, she made the two-hour trip to Ramallah for a job interview, but on the way back she was asked for her papers at the “container” checkpoint. Azzam was detained by the Israeli military for five hours, sent to the Sharon Detention Center in Netanya, and eventually blindfolded, handcuffed, put into a military vehicle, and deported to Gaza where her family resides. Lawyers from the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, which encompasses both the West Bank and Israel, tried to intervene with the military, but with no success.

Though born in Kuwait, Azzam grew up in Gaza. Her father, Jiries Azzam, works for the YMCA; her mother, Evette, teaches for the UN Relief and Works Agency, and both her brothers live in the United Arab Emirates.

In August 2005, Azzam left Gaza with a temporary travel permit allowing her to visit the West Bank. She did not return to Gaza until the Israeli military returned her forcibly on October 28. Azzam had taken the risk of not returning to Gaza knowing it was her only way to attend Bethlehem University, the only Catholic university on the West Bank.

Writing to me from Gaza, Azzam was still quite shaken by her treatment at the checkpoint: “They didn’t tell me anything and treated me like a like criminal. They had no reason to blindfold and handcuff me.” The fact that she was carrying a university ID verifying her status at Bethlehem University made no difference.

Br. Jack Curran, F.S.C., vice president of development at Bethlehem University, told me that a petition against Azzam’s deportation has been filed in Israeli courts. Attorneys for Israel have been ordered by the courts to submit a preliminarily written reply to the petition by November 3.

Brother Curran has written to the Israeli government asking that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University “on compassionate and humanitarian grounds… She has not been accused of being a security threat and has committed no crime.”

His letter also cited the “Agreement on Movement and Access” negotiated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 2005 that was facilitated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I believe permitting her to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree also would be in the spirit of the agreement.”

Azzam’s desire to study at Bethlehem University is shared by many others. One Palestinian Liberation Organization source I spoke with told me there are 19 students already admitted to the university still waiting in Gaza to get a permit to come study on the West Bank. The man – whose family is from Beit Jala, the town adjacent to Bethlehem – is very familiar with the struggle of students at the university. “Before 2000, almost 10 percent of the students at Bethlehem University was from Gaza. Today there are just two students, both young women left.”

For Israel to allow Azzam to return to Bethlehem to receive her degree would be both humanitarian and compassionate, as Brother Curran urged. But it would also be good politics. Israel should go even further and make it possible for the 19 students from Gaza to study at Bethlehem University. This institution, founded by the Christian Brothers in 1973, is one of the keys to the future of peace in the region if peace is ever to come.

Letting Azzam return to Bethlehem is a move Israel can afford to make, and it would be a gesture of goodwill at a time when good news is in short supply on the West Bank.

♦ ♦ ♦

Brother Curran encourages all those who are concerned about Betty Azzam’s future to go to the State Department Web site and fill out this form, urging them to request Israel that Azzam is allowed to return to Bethlehem University and finish her degree.

Fake Catholic Groups Working Overtime for Healthcare Bill

Deal W. Hudson
December 14, 2009

It’s sad to report, but report we must: The same fake Catholic groups that helped President Barack Obama get elected have rallied to the cause of the health-care bill, abortion funding and all. As reported by LifeNews.com, Catholics United (CU) and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) are warning Catholics not to get too hung up on things like federal funding of abortion.

Interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor, CU president Chris Korzen commented, “The wrong thing would be for anyone to be so firmly entrenched in their positions on federal funding of abortion that they’re not willing to come to the table and talk about a compromise.”

Victoria Kovari, the interim president of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, claimed, “We share all the bishops’ concerns,” adding that the “difference is [our] feeling that we would be morally remiss if we walked away from all of the health care [reform]. We have to take seriously our call to be about what’s good for the whole human family.”

In other words, pass the health-care bill, even if it contains abortion funding. This is precisely the kind of proportionalist reasoning that I fear many Catholics are using to brush aside concerns about abortion funding: The evil of abortion, those like Korzen and Kovari argue, is offset by the many benefits of health-care reform.

Catholic teaching explicitly rejects such self-justifying tactics (see Veritatis Splendor 75), and the U.S. bishops have been unwavering on this point. As Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat, remarks in the same CSM article, “There are moral absolutes that we can’t get beyond.”

Kovari evidently doesn’t believe the bishops would help defeat the health-care bill because of abortion funding. She told the New York Times, “There are certainly some strident voices out there that want to see health care reform abandoned on the back of this issue, but I don’t think that is where the bishops are.”

Kovari, in fact, does rub elbows with people who know the USCCB from the inside. Her predecessor – Alexia Kelley – worked for the USCCB before CACG. (Kelley left when appointed by Obama to work in the faith-based office of the Department of Health and Human Services.) CACG’s treasurer-secretary is Francis Xavier Doyle, who worked for the USCCB for 24 years. Tom Gehring, deputy communications director, was assistant director for media relations at the USCCB.

In a fascinating article on billionaire George Soros’s funding of Catholic groups, Cliff Kincaid notes that Tom Chabolla, now assistant to the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its representative to the CACG board, formerly worked as associate director for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) at the USCCB (during the period CCHD was funding ACORN.) While at the USCCB in 2004, Chabolla addressed a statewide meeting in Sacramento devoted to “increasing voter participation in Catholic parishes.” In 2008, after leaving the USCCB, Chabolla served on Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Council. (See Frank Walker’s interesting article on other members of the CACB advisory council.)

Kovari grew up in a working-class Romanian neighborhood in Detroit. According to her CACG biography, “For the last 27 years, Kovari has worked as a community organizer, political consultant, and non-profit housing developer. Prior to her joining the alliance, she worked as an organizer with MOSES, an affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, directing campaigns in Michigan for regional mass transit and health care.” The Gamaliel Foundation is the same group where President Obama began his career as a community organizer in Chicago.

Kovari doesn’t agree with the “strident voices” who would oppose the health-care bill if it contains abortion funding, yet after the passage of the House version of the bill containing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, she was quoted by Catholic News Service calling the House bill “a victory for all people who believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life,” adding:

Catholics across the political spectrum speak with one voice in supporting health care reform that promotes the common good and protects the sanctity of all human life by providing families and children with quality, affordable health care.

If the House bill was a victory, then the Senate bill must be a defeat for everyone who believes in “the fundamental dignity of every human life.” Why not say so – instead of shilling for a piece of legislation that runs directly contrary to a non-negotiable teaching of the Church?

With their close connections to powerful Democrats, labor unions, and funding organizations, both CACG and CU should use their leverage to remove the abortion-funding loopholes from the health-care bills, rather than looking for ways to justify them.

“People Don’t Know What Insurance Is!”

Deal W. Hudson

Published August 24, 2009

“It’s a myth to say our health care system is broken – it is the best in the world.” That politically incorrect assertion comes from a man with more than 25 years of experience working for one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. “When the wealthy and powerful from all over the world choose to come to the U.S. for medical procedures and treatment, the message is clear.”

Jack Whelan, a well-known Catholic philanthropist from Indianapolis, is an active Legatus member and has been chairman of the board of the Culture of Life Foundation for 10 years. But for 25 years, Whelan worked for Golden Rule Insurance, eventually becoming COO, president, and CEO. Golden Rule, now a United Healthcare Company, has been offering health insurance for more than 60 years.

Golden Rule, and Whelan himself, was deeply involved in the lobbying that led to legislation creating health savings accounts (HSA).

“The biggest problem with the present health-care debate is that people don’t know what insurance is,” Whelan told me in a recent phone interview. “Insurance,” he explained, “is not pre-payment of service, it is the transfer of risk of the financial impact of a potential event from yourself to a company.”

Whelan used the example of homeowners’ insurance. Your homeowners’ insurance does not cover replacing your roof after years of normal wear and tear. But it does cover damage to your house caused by an unlikely event, such as high wind or a tree falling on it. “When you buy homeowners’ insurance you are transferring the potential expense of events like these,” he explained. You are not pre-paying to replace the roof; you are paying for the company to take the risk of a catastrophic event.

“Health insurance,” Whelan went on, “has evolved into something different. In addition to being the transfer of an economic risk, health insurance now includes some pre-payment for medical services.”

Since the majority of health insurance is provided by employers and the government through Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs, and consumers pay only a modest portion of the insurance premium, there is no consumer motivation to control consumption. Going to the doctor has, as Whelan put it, become “like going to the grocery store without having to pay.”

Whelan asked me to imagine two scenarios:

In the first, you are given permission to go shopping at your favorite grocery store without having to pay for the items filling your basket. What would you pick off the shelves? Premium steaks and the finest wine? Of course! Compare that with the second scenario: the way you normally shop for groceries. The steaks and the wine go back on the shelves, because you are paying. As Whelan pointed out, “Assuming the cost directly impacts the kind of decisions we make about consumption and how we behave when we spend our money.”

The key to a “workable alternative to government-run health care” is lowering the cost of health care by bringing consumer choice back into the health-care equation. Giving control of health care to the government is exactly the opposite of what will bring costs down, one of the four goals sought by the Catholic bishops.

Only a portion of health care – but an expensive part – remains a transfer of risk. Treatment of cancer, for example, is not a financial event that everyone will face one day. The health insurance company assumes that risk.

But – and this is crucial – insurance companies have to set their pricing for medical coverage to cover the behavior of consumers who are not controlling their personal consumption of day-to-day medical services for things like colds, flu, cuts, bruises, sprains, skin rashes, and various physiological and psychological services now offered under insurance plans. For example, how many massages and visits to the psychologist would you pay for if they were coming out of your own pocket?

Whelan’s point is simple:

When we spend our own money, we control our consumption – that is the factor missing in our health-care coverage which, for the most part, is paid for by employers or the government.
Consideration of price needs to be put back into the health insurance equation. This will immediately change the dynamics of consumption and the cost. If everyone purchased his or her own high-deductible health insurance and combined it with a health savings account (HSA), health insurance would once again become what it should be: the transfer of risk, not prepayment for predictable medical needs.

Under such a plan, everyone would pay out-of-pocket from their HSA for normal medical needs, and the insurance company would assume the risk for high-dollar medical costs. Once the consumer starts considering the costs of medical care, consumption will go down, and so will the cost of health insurance, without diminishing the quality of this nation’s medical services.

Charity, Civility, and Speaking the Truth

Deal W. Hudson
Published September 21, 2009

The funeral of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy provoked a highly charged debate among Catholics about civility. In the midst of this discussion, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, came to Washington, D.C., to be honored by InsideCatholic.com at its 14th Annual Partnership Dinner at the historic Mayflower Hotel.

Addressing more than 200 guests, Archbishop Burke said, “We must speak the truth in charity,” but also, “We should have the courage to look truth in the eye and call things by their common names.” The tension between these two admonitions is evident in his own heroic defense of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life and his personal humility.

Frank Hanna, a Catholic businessman and philanthropist from Atlanta, noted this in his introduction of the honoree. Before ever meeting Archbishop Burke, Hanna said he thought of him as a lion, whose roar “would send chills of admiration” down his spine. But, when he finally met the man one day in Birmingham, he noted:

I was struck by his simple humility. He greeted me with kindness and warmth. And I thought to myself, that’s how lions are – no waving about, just quiet humble strength. There is a reason C. S. Lewis made Aslan, the lion, his hero.

Indeed, it is hard not to be struck by the gentle demeanor of the bishop who caused such a ruckus in the 2004 election by saying he would deny communion to presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry. Since then, he has remained one of the most outspoken American bishops on the subject of the defense of life and marriage.

Friday evening in Washington was no different. Throughout his 50-minute address, the archbishop returned again and again to the scandal of Catholic politicians who support abortion or same-sex marriage. He did not mince his words: “It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself in this manner.”

“Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians,” said Archbishop Burke. “To deny these is not a judgment of the soul, but a recognition of the scandal and its effects.”

With obvious reference to the Kennedy funeral, he argued that when a politician is associated “with greatly sinful acts about fundamental questions like abortion and marriage, his repentance must also be public.” He added, “Anyone who grasps the gravity of what he has done will understand the need to make it public.”

It’s not uncharitable to point out the scandal caused by these Catholic politicians. “The Church’s unity is founded on speaking the truth in love. This does not destroy unity but helps to repair a breach in the life of the Church.”

Archbishop Burke rejects all the standard arguments made by Catholic politicians and their apologists who support abortion and same-sex marriage. For example, the defense of the unborn and traditional marriage is not strictly a matter of religious faith. “The observance of the natural law is not a confessional practice – it’s inscribed in every human heart.”

Archbishop Burke describes the latest tactic of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, who talk about finding common ground, as a form of “proportionalist moral reasoning.” “Common ground is found rather on ‘the ground of moral goodness,’ and not in a compromise of certain moral truths, like the rejection of abortion and euthanasia.”

He warned against allowing this kind of false reasoning to enter the health-care debate. A Catholic cannot accept the attainment of universal health care if it includes abortion and other evils “just because it achieves some desirable outcomes.”

In this form of reasoning, the archbishop hears an echo of the type of “seamless garment” argument that conceals a distinction between intrinsically evil acts and those that may be evil in some situations; these acts “are not all of the same cloth.”

The standing ovation for Archbishop Burke lasted several minutes before Raymond Arroyo, the master of ceremonies and news director of EWTN, returned to the podium. Once again, as Hanna put it in his introduction, Archbishop Burke had “stood up for the Church and her teachings, in the face of violent world criticism and even some within the Church.”

As InsideCatholic.com editor Brian Saint-Paul handed Archbishop Burke the award for “Service to the Church and our Nation,” I commented that, “This lion speaks with the voice and face of a lamb, and, thus, is an example of how to speak the truth in charity.”