Saturday, June 27, 2015

Another (good) sound bite

Rachel Maddow, in discussing the momentous SCOTUS decision on health care subsidies, talked about the overall intent and impact of this case.
The Republicans initiated this case to kill Obamacare.   Instead, the court wound up making it stronger.


Time for new slogans

I'm still trying to digest the details of the momentous SCOTUS decision on marriage equality this morning.   Have just finished downloading the 103 page text of the majority opinion (39 pages) and the dissents (64 pages) -- which required one trip to Office Depot for more computer paper and then another trip when I discovered that the extra toner cartridge on the shelf was a used one instead of new.    So I haven't had time to read it all in detail.

And then there are all the crazy responses coming from the outraged "victims" of this heinous act committed by SCOTUS -- especially the chief pandering frauds Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal.    Jindal, the former biology major and Rhodes Scholar who now pretends to deny the truth of evolution, even went so far as to suggest that we just "get rid of the court."

So I'll have more to say about all this after a few more days, savoring the joy before dissecting the carrion of the vultures.  In the meantime, here are a couple of bits to chuckle about -- and think about.   

The first was picked up in an email from the Obama for America email, and told to me by my daughter Barbara -- suggesting that we no longer need to say "gay marriage":  
"It's just called marriage now."
And the second was a choice bit from Jon Stewart, saying 'we've solved this one, now let's move on.'
"Forget traditional marriage;   let's preserve traditional sea-levels.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Obamacare and Marriage Equality in One Week ! ! !

This morning, the United States Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, declaring them unconstitutional.   This means that we now have marriage equality in all 50 states !!!

Coming the day after the court voted 6 to 3 to uphold the subsidies for health care plans obtained through the federal exchanges, this 5 to 4 (Kennedy joined the liberals) historic decision makes this one of the most most momentous weeks in SCOTUS history.


PS:   Today, June 26, 2015 is exactly 12 years to the day since SCOTUS' Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down laws criminalizing same-sex behavior between consenting adults.   That is astonishingly rapid change.

SCOTUS gives strongest possible decision on Obamacare subsidies

Jonathan Cohn, writing for the Huffington Post, says that Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion in King v. Burwell is the strongest possible reading that ensures it cannot simply be overturned by a future president.   Indeed, some pundits are now saying that the Affordable Care Act is now "as esconced as a law can be."   President Obama said "it is now woven into the fabric of America."

It would have been possible for SCOTUS to uphold the law by simply ruling that the relevant agency, in this case the IRS, had the authority to interpret who gets the subsidies.   That would have been a weak ruling because it could have been changed by future presidents with their authority over the IRS.  The Roberts' opinion did not do that.  

Instead, Roberts -- and the five justices who joined his opinion -- based it on the "plain meaning" of the text.   This is a direct refutation of the reasoning of those who brought the suit.   They had tried to claim that the phrase in question that referred to exchanges set up "by the states," meant only those set up by the various states and not those set up by the federal government -- i.e., a literal reading of that sentence in isolation.

Roberts said no, that sentence must be read in the context and meaning of the whole law.   As reported by Cohn, 
"[J]ustices don't typically read such passages in isolation -- they read them in context, to discern how a statute is supposed to function. Doing so, Roberts said, cleared up the ambiguity. Clearly Congress intended for those tax credits to be available everywhere. Otherwise, he noted, the law wouldn’t work properly; in states without the subsidies, insurance markets would fall apart."
Roberts' opinion continues:
“In every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. . . .   A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Roberts even anticipated Justice Antonin Scalia's reaction, citing Scalia's 2012 dissent in the previous Affordable Care Act, where he himself had observed that the different parts of the law were interlocking pieces, each one necessary for the others to work.

Abbe Gluck, a Yale Law School professor, said "You’ve got six justices, in a clear, strong statement, ruling that the statute can’t be read any other way.  It can’t get any better than that for the government.”    University of Michigan Law School professor Nicholas Bagley seemed to agree:  “The government couldn’t have won bigger."

What a week for President Obama.    Getting Congress to approve his fast track trade procedure and the ACA ruling by mid-week.     Will it be a Trifecta -- with the Iran nuclear arms agreement coming in too?   Or add in the gay marriage rulings expected within a few days and we could have . . . what?    A Quadrecta?


Thursday, June 25, 2015


The case before the Supreme Court could have thrown the Affordable Care Act into the ditch.  Instead, Obamacare was kept alive and well by a vote of 6 to 3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

This is the vote I had predicted following oral arguments, but I was afraid to hope for such a rational solution.   Predictably by his past behavior, Justice Scalia was apoplectic in his dissent;  on the other hand, if one predicted, based on a past decision of his in which he considered the context of the whole law in reading an ambiguous sentence, he clearly should have voted to uphold this law. 


A different kind of Thurmond in South Carolina

A statue of Storm Thurmond sits on the south side of the capitol, opposite the Confederate flag and monument - FLICKR USER TREYPENNINGTON Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) is the only person ever to reach his 100th birthday while serving in the U. S. Senate (from 1954 til his death in 2003).  Arch-segregationist, Thurmond switched parties (from Democratic to Republican) in protest over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other liberal Democratic positions.   

Although he always insisted that he was not a racist, it's not clear how he defined a racist, since he famously stated "[A]ll the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement."   It was not racism but states rights that was the issue, Thurmond claimed, when he ran for president as a "Dixiecrat" on the States Rights Democratic Party ticket in 1948.

Six months after Thurmond died, his adult, biracial daughterfathered with a family maid when he was 22, revealed her connection.   Although he had never publicly acknowledged her as his daughter, he had paid for her college education and had her visit him in his office.   Later, his other children accepted her into the family, and her name was added to the family names listed on Thurmon's memorial statue on the state capitol grounds.

Senator Paul ThurmondThurmond's son, State Senator Paul Thurmond, made history himself on Tuesday when he addressed his fellow senators about the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting and called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

As reported in the Charleston Post and Courier, Thurmond said:
Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves. . . .  I am not proud of that heritage. . . These practices were inhumane and wrong, wrong, wrong. . . . It is time to acknowledge our past, atone for our sins, and work for a better futureThat future cannot be built on symbols of war, hate, and divisiveness.”
Calling the Confederate flag "an emblem from a war that is long over and one that has been tied to racism," Thurmond continued:  
“I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. . . .  We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state. . . . [I am] proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the Statehouse.”
Jack Bass, a longtime biographer of the elder Thurmond, said the symbolism of the younger Thurmond calling for the removal of the flag probably would have been well-received by his father.   Noting that later in his career Strom had supported an extension of the Voting Rights Act, Bass suggested that Strom himself would have supported the efforts to take down the flag.

This is remarkable.  Let's hope this outbreak of sanity and compassion is not just a temporary flash of good will that soon gets papered over.   I think we may be on the verge of some real changing of hearts and minds -- initiated by a series of public shootings of black people by white police or white supremacists, starting with Trayvon Martin's murder, going through Ferguson, Missouri, and New York streets and North Charleston and Baltimore, and now Charleston's Mother Emanuel.    It's time.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hillary Clinton on racism in America

From Hillary Clinton's statement about racism following the church massacre in Charleston:

“Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives…. More than a half century after Dr. King marched and Rosa Parks sat and John Lewis bled, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and so much else, how can any of these things be true? But they are.

 “And our problem is not all kooks and Klansman. It’s also in the cruel joke that goes unchallenged.  It’s in the off-hand comments about not wanting ‘those people’ in the neighborhood.

“Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.

We can’t hide from any of these hard truths about race and justice in America. We have to name them and own them and then change them.”

   -  Hillary Clinton

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why people still don't like Obamacare

The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, one of the most respected and least political, reports that Americans are now evenly divided, with 43% having a favorable view and 42% an unfavorable view of the "Obama Health Care Law."

Note that those who express disapproval, however, include both those who want it to be repealed outright and those who want the scope of the program to be expanded. So, if the question were posed differently, say about the general idea of government sponsored health care insurance, we would expect a higher approval rating.   

There are two more indicators of that:   (1)  When people are asked about various aspects of their insurance coverage, they are more positive than when asked if they approve of the "Obama Health Care Law;"  and (2) A good majority opposes repealing the law.

Still, there is far more opposition than there should be to a program that is proving to be so helpful to many people and is reducing the rise in health care costs.  Mark Blumenthal and Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post discussed the reasons for that.  I'll briefly outline their reasons and then add some of my own.

The largest factor seems to be partisanship, with a wide split between Democrats, who tend to see it as a success, and Republicans, who use words like "disaster" and "train wreck."   And that partisanship goes beyond just repeating the talking points of their party.   People actually perceive the questions differently.

For example, health care costs are continually going up every year, partly because of general rising costs but also because each year more, newer, and more expensive treatments are becoming available -- and driving up overall costs.    But, if you are already opposed to Obamacare, you tend to blame it for those rising costs.   The truth is that the rate of increase has been slowed since the ACA was implemented.   Slowed by more than anyone expected or predicted.   Rather than wrecking the economy as its opponents predicted, it is actually reining in costs and reducing the deficit.

It's not just rising costs;   Republicans also tend to take any dissatisfaction they have with the health care system and assign the blame to "Obamacare," even if it has nothing to do with the new program.

Another factor is that only about 10% of the population has been affected by the ACA.   Those who were already getting insurance through their jobs, or were already on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans benefits, or teachers retirement plans didn't experience any change.

The single most predictive factor in how one feels about the ACA is which political party they identify with.  And this factor is magnified for those in the "non-group" market -- that is the 90% whose insurance was not affected but who nevertheless may have concerns about costs to the government or philosophy about what governments should do for its people.

In this "non-market" group, 64% of Democrats approve but only 19% of Republicans.

That's rather astonishing.   But I have a little less faith than do these authors in the people freely making up their own minds based on principles of government.    I think the single largest factor has to be the fact that Republicans have deliberately set out to make the Affordable Care Act fail.   Through bombardment with negative advertising and endless airing of negative talking points on right wing radio and Fox News, they have simply conditioned those susceptible to their views into associating "Obamacare" with "disaster."

It certainly didn't help that the initial rollouts of the internet exchanges were in fact a disaster for the first month.    Despite the near miracle that got it working efficiently, the political damage was done.    And Republican politicians and their enablers have continued their brain-washing barage.

The little demonstration that Jimmy Kimmel did on his late night show was the most telling.   Of course it was not scientific but it illustrated the point.   He went out on the street with a tv camera.    He would stop people and ask them what they thought of "Obamacare."    To those who had a negative view, he would then ask a few more questions of what they thought about some individual aspect of the program.    They would say they like thatbut then he would ask again if they liked Obamacare, and they would say it's terrible.

In something as complex as the introduction of such a major program with so many different parts, it is inevitable the people will have trouble understanding it.    On top of that, Republicans have been masterful in distorting and outright lying to further confuse them.

The Supreme Court let another Monday slip by without revealing their decision on the future of the ACA.    The suspense continues.   There is only one more week to go in the court's term -- and two of the largest decisions of the decade are yet to be announced.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Love vs. hate in South Carolina

Murder suspect in the Charleston, SC church massacre, Dylann Roof, was accepted with warmth and love when he walked into the bible study meeting taking place in Emanuel AME Church.   And he sat with them for nearly an hour -- some say arguing with them -- but we don't yet know how that hour really transpired.

Did they know he had come to kill them?    Did they see him as a troubled young man that they might help?    One source says that in his confession to police he said that he almost changed his mind about killing them "because they were nice to me."   But then he remembered his plan and felt he needed to carry it through.

The public doesn't really know yet the answer to many questions about that hour.    What we do know is that Dylann Roof was obsessed with symbols and slogans of white supremacy and that he was filled with hatred of black people as a group.    This was not a random killing.   He specifically went to this church with the intent to kill them because of who they were.

What he encountered was a group of people who had been taught and inspired to meet hate with love.  And they tried.   In fact, some of their surviving relatives addressed the killer in court at his bail hearing.   They expressed their loss and their grief -- and then said directly to Roof, "But I forgive you."     

The daughter of one victim told him, "You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people;  but I forgive you."   The granddaughter of another victim said to him, "Hate won't win.  My grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate.   Everyone's plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love."

It didn't take long for a gun rights advocate to say this proves we need to allow people to carry guns in churches.   If someone in that congregation had been armed, they could have taken out the killer before he shot nine people.

That is not the answer.    This country already has more guns, by multiple times over, than any other nation on earth -- and yet we still have the highest murder rate of any developed nation.   "Love those that hate you" may not be sufficient for the short term solution, but I suggest it is the long-term answer.

And by love, here I don't just mean saying that you love the person who hates you.   I mean putting love into action to change social conditions that breed this kind of hatred:   the ignorance, the economic disadvantages, the lack of mental health initiatives, the shaming that builds resentment.

Idealistic?   Yes, of course it is.    So was Jesus of Nazareth whose message was based on:  "Treat other people as you would want to be treated."   And "Love those that hate you."


Sunday, June 21, 2015

"The Donald" makes it official. His Excellence has decided we need him to solve all our problems.

Just when we thought the 2016 presidential race might be missing the wacko clown factor that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman provided in 2008 and 2012, The Donald has graciously agreed to step in and save us from policy wonks and boredom.

Real estate developer Donald Trump speaks during the Freedom Summit in Greenville, South Carolina May 9, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane - RTX1C9LH
Making his announcement -- where else? -- at Trump Tower in New York City, with tv cameras rolling, Donald Trump arrived by riding down the escalator to the glitzy lobby of his own building behind wife #3 (another young, slender, glamorous blond like #1 and #2).

The symbolism of descending was unmistakable;  take your pick:    God descending from the Heavens to save the people or The Billionaire entrepreneurial genius descending from his penthouse to save the people.

The Donald looked over the crowd and exclaimed at the number of people gathered to cheer him.   Never mind the fact that the Extra Mile Casting agency leaked the fact that it had been hired to provide background actors to show up for the event wearing Trump T-shirts and carrying "hand-made" signs supplied by the Trump people to cheer on the candidate.

The latest entry to the crowded Republican field was his usual grandiose bundle of narcissism and bad hair.   His hour-long acceptance speech was a rambling mess of boasting about how rich he is, how powerful he is, and what a great president he will be.   Did you know that he has already mastered the art of standing up to China?    He beats them all the time in business deals.   Need someone to create jobs?   "I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created." 

The Republican primary just got a little more colorful and a lot nuttier.