Still absorbing the amazingness of Election Night as I type this. I keep thinking of the contrast with 2004, when Bush and Cheney swiftboated their way to a second term, and how none of this seemed possible then. But as we celebrate, let's not forget the grave threat posed by big money in politics. Yes, we beat the Koch Brothers and Adelson and corporate dark money this time. But really, this race should not have been even remotely close. Four years after Republicans and Wall Street left the country in ruins, we nearly elected a private equity shark who dismissed half the country as leeches. That's screwed up. Money talked, and it confused a lot of people. Fortunately, the messenger was often Donald Trump, but he won't always be around.
I was going to be interviewed by the AP today about my response to the Supreme Court ruling, thanks to the health insurance comic I drew for Kaiser Health News. After preparing some remarks, I was told that the article was running long and they didn't need further commentary. So, in an effort to make ye olde proverbial lemonade, I'll share my thoughts here.
Like most people, I was stunned by the ruling. I never thought I'd say this, but it's possible that John Roberts just saved me a shit-ton of money. Believe me, I have no love for private insurance companies, but the mandate is a positive step forward as we work toward single-payer.
At the same time, I don't particularly feel a sense of relief. I'm dreading the ongoing political battles that lie ahead, and wish this could just be over. The mandate will be framed as a burdensome tax, and ACA supporters need to make very clear that it's a cost-control measure that ultimately benefits us all. It's a way of improving a grossly inefficient system. (Also, people: please stop using the stupid term "Obamacare." Have we not learned anything about framing in all these years?)
Another reason I feel uneasy is that the SCOTUS decision was a frighteningly close shave -- the other four justices would have struck down the act in its entirely! That's radicalism in your face, and it's something we'll have to contend with for a generation or more. But for today, I'll let myself celebrate.
I neglected to post this while I was traveling and having some FTP issues, so in case you haven't seen this elsewhere (it is the most widely-shared thing I've ever drawn), please check out this 4-page "graphic op-ed" I created for Kaiser Health News. Click through for the rest of the comic.
It's a personal piece about my history with health insurance on the individual market. During the Affordable Care Act debate, there was lots of discussion about "death panels" and other complete nonsense, but little about the difficulties faced by self-employed people. Being a freelancer is hard enough -- when you throw in this disincentive, it becomes downright impossible for many people.
Suffice it to say, I'm not optimistic about the Supreme Court's looming decision.
Congratulations, America! Decades upon decades of struggle for a more civilized health insurance system now rest in the hands of your smug, Newsmax-reading uncle. Or his highly-trained, yet no less ignorant equivalents.
A report from 2010 suggests that 275,000 will die due to lack of health insurance over the following decade. Harvard puts the number at 45,000 per year. That's far, far greater than the number who perished on September 11. And the judges who will be deciding the fate of those hundreds of thousands of lives -- most of whom I suspect have never had to deal with the incredible cruelties faced by those whose jobs do not provide insurance -- cannot distinguish a health insurance system from a cruciferous vegetable. I didn't have room to go into the more complex economic issues about risk-sharing which make broccoli an especially poor analogy, but hey, you can only do so much in a cartoon.
I'm sensing a distinct lack of outrage over the Wal-Mart sex discrimination ruling, probably because it's more complicated an issue than a politician tweeting boner pics. In a nutshell (er, no pun intended), the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against female employees being able to file a class-action lawsuit, with all three female justices dissenting. Scalia, refusing to see any correlation in the vast statistical and anecdotal evidence, said the myriad women who faced discrimination must confront the retail Goliath individually. Never mind that the top brass at Wal-Mart turned a blind eye to everything. The discriminatory managers were just a few thousand bad apples! Oh, and as Ruben Bolling points out in this week's "Tom the Dancing Bug" Scalia's son is on the Wal-Mart legal team.
I recommend this post by Adam Serwer on The American Prospect for more on the ruling. Key grafs:
Not only do you have to prove the "old boy network exists," but now you have to do it under a higher standard of proof than ever before. Where discrimination operates as unconscious or unacknowledged bias, rather than as a deliberate, concerted effort to bar one particular group of people from advancing, even where the systemic impact is clear, the conservative justices see no evil.
Scalia's opinion reflects the deeply flawed view that intent is required for discrimination, and that nominally being opposed to discrimination is by itself an effective bulwark against discrimination occuring. As Ginsburg wrote in her partial dissent, "Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware."
Or, as this USA Today editorial points out:
Many legal experts say Monday's decision will make it difficult to bring cases unless there is an overt policy of discrimination. That seldom happens. Companies don't write out discriminatory policies for the world to see.
What good is outlawing sex discrimination de jure if it cannot be applied de facto? But hey, we saved the world from Anthony Weiner's pixelated wang.
I'm out of town at the moment, so I will have to let this passage from the NYT article summarize the relevant issue for me:
To William Maurer, the lawyer opposing the Arizona mechanism, whenever “a privately financed candidate speaks above a certain amount, the government creates real penalties for them to have engaged in unfettered political expression.” That “speaks” was not a slip, but a reinforcement of the money-equals-speech notion.
The fundamental problem, he said, is “the government turning my speech into the vehicle by which my entire political message is undercut,” because the public funds triggered are a penalty that reduces the impact of the privately financed candidate’s spending and speech. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made clear in the argument that he, too, sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.
I am simply incapable of wrapping my mind around this interpretation of the First Amendment. To see the world this way, you literally have to have your brain screwed in backwards.
I saw a post on Think Progress the other day about a new Pew survey showing only 28% of Americans can identify John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To make matters worse, the Pew site states:
Asked to name the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, and given four possible names, nearly one-in-ten Americans (8%) choose Thurgood Marshall, despite the fact that Justice Marshall left the Supreme Court roughly 20 years ago, and passed away in 1993.
I also found this item on the Pew site about Americans' gross level of misinformation about Obama's religion:
A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined. More than a year and a half into his presidency, a plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows.
You just can't run a democracy when people are this clueless. Related cartoon from a few years ago: "The Mental Welfare State."
I've been too busy with real-life stuff this week to do much babbling on the internet, but a few items caught my eye that I simply must share with you.
First, the Supreme Court ruled against Arizona's campaign finance laws that provided matching public funds to candidates who ran against wealthy, self-financed candidates.
It was those matching funds that produced a challenge from well-financed candidates, backed by the Goldwater Institute and other conservative interests. The candidates argued that the matching funds “chilled” their freedom of speech because they were afraid to spend more than the limit that triggered the funds.
Just try to wrap your brain around that logic. Can we now all agree that the Roberts court is dangerously stuffed with plutocratic wingdings?
In other irritating news, this Texas billionaire managed to even die at just the right moment, during the one-year lapse in inheritance taxes built into George W. Bush's budget chicanery. Now his heirs will get a cool $9 billion tax-free (unlike, say, the income one earns through working). On top of that, it seems they'll inherit some stuffed polar bears too:
An avid big game hunter — Mr. Duncan has more than 500 entries in the Safari Club International record book for killing animals including polar bears, rhinoceroses, bighorn sheep, lions and elephants— he made a $1 million donation in his will to the Shikar Safari Club International Foundation.
On a somewhat lighter -- though perhaps no less disturbing -- note, the Stranger has an amazing cover story (NSFW!) about a strip club in Seattle called the Lusty Lady, which is closing down. It's a long piece, but I'll just say that the details get more eye-popping as you keep reading, and leave it at that.