B After The Fact

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Obamacare and the end of Medicare

Since I am a bundle of pre-existing conditions, I feel like I have a great big stake in the success of Obamacare. What scares me is that the Supreme Court will declare Obamacare unconstitutional because it places too much of a burden on state governments trying to administer Medicaid.  I fear that the Supreme Court will find large parts of both Obamacare and Medicare unconstitutional, as an overreach of enumerated powers and the Commerce Clause.

I find it hard to believe that the Supreme Court is going to strike down Obamacare simply on the basis of the individual mandate.  I can't believe the Supreme Court would do all that work on striking down Obamacare only to leave the door open for true "single payer" socialized medicine the next time the Democrats controls Congress and the Presidency.

My wishful thinking is that the Supreme Court will rest on this politically unpopular, but Constitutionally defensible argument (from a conservative standpoint) --- Romneycare good -- Obamacare bad.

My biggest fear is that this Supreme Court will throw themselves in the political thicket in a major way.  The Court would say that Obamacare and Medicare and Medicaid are basically unconstituional.  They would then go on to say that the only way to wind down the government's involvement in health insurance is to adopt the Ryan Plan, which grandfathers in healthcare for the older, whiter population, and leaves the younger hispanic and asian populations to pay for something that they will never get.  I feel so cynical writing all this. But I just wanted to be on the record that the possibility exists that the Supreme Court will issue another Dred Scott like decision on Monday, and blow away decades and decades of how we think things work.

From what I am reading other people engaged in wishful thinking hope that either (a) Justice Kennedy will uphold Obamacare rather than blow up all the prior precedent, or (b) Chief Justice Roberts will uphold Obamacare under the more cynical calculation that at the end of the day no one in Washington really wants more power to go to the states.  Chief Justice Roberts may also surprise us and admit that Obamacare is a political question, best left for the political branches to decide.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Book Review -- The Fiery Trial -- Abraham Lincoln & American Slavery -- by Eric Foner

"I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky” – Abraham Lincoln.

Eric Foner is noted for his scholarship on the origins of the Republican Party, and the causes of the Civil War, on the one hand, and on Reconstruction on the other hand. In this book, he focuses on an issue concerning the Civil War itself – how did Lincoln really feel about slavery, and what did Lincoln do about slavery.

Foner is a leading scholar for the proposition that even those Americans who abhorred slavery hated it more for what it meant for white people --- competition for jobs with slaves who were working for free, the difficulty of being a free non-slaveholder in place where slavery was permitted, and the hypocrisy of being both the world’s leading beacon for freedom and its leading proponent of slavery. Few whites, including many prominent abolitionists, had much use for black people, or any real desire to live amongst them, or see them as Americans. Foner presents us with a Lincoln who is very much a man of his time.

Lincoln was born in a slave state, Kentucky, he moved as a boy to the Southern part of Indiana, which, although a free state, had a heavy Southern population, and in times to come would be the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Then as a young man Lincoln moved to Illinois, another state, which although free, was basically settled South to North. Like many other states, Illinois had a strong Black Code designed to keep blacks out of the state, and severely limiting their ability to make a living on the off-chance the state could not get individual blacks out. Foner shows that Lincoln was comfortable living in this world, and that he respected the people that came out of this world.

Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, was from a slaveholding family in Kentucky.

Lincoln’s political hero was Henry Clay, Senator from Kentucky, a slaveholder who tried to find an answer for the evil of slavery. Clay’s answer was the gradual emancipation of slaves, followed by their relocation to Africa (or anywhere that wasn’t the United States). Lincoln held onto this theory of gradual emancipation and “colonization”, sometimes compensated (for the slaveholder that is, not for the decades of free labor by the slave), until just about the time that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Foner shows that as a legislator, both in Illinois and during the short time he was in Washington, Lincoln was willing to take certain anti-slavery positions. Both in Springfield in 1837, and during his one term in Congress (the second half of Polk’s term – 1847-1849), he aligned himself with those few people opposed to slavery in Washington, D.C., However, it was never the most important part of his agenda. Conversely, as a lawyer, he took at least one case where he sought the return of a fugitive slave into slavery.

Lincoln rose to prominence in the Republican Party as the proponent of the position that the Union must be preserved, and immediate abolition was no way to preserve the Union. Lincoln preferred the containment of slavery to existing areas until it could be gradually abolished. Lincoln thought that this process could take decades.

Even after secession, Lincoln was concerned about anything, including emancipation, that would drive the Border States – Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and his native Kentucky -- out of the Union. Foner shows how Lincoln came around to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and more.

One of the biggest factors for Lincoln was the insistence and persistence of those black people who wanted to serve in the Army. Certain generals were more tolerant of slaves who came behind Union lines seeking freedom. Other generals were more eager to use former slaves in the Army. A handful, such as Fremont and David Hunter, issued emancipation edicts that had to be rescinded. However, the presence of black soldiers did not appear to disturb the white soldiers as much as originally feared. Moreover, as black soldiers’ responsibility increased from support positions to the occasional combat role, Lincoln realized that he could not ask soldiers to fight and die in a war, and then send them back to slavery. Lincoln realized that he could not ask black soldiers to sacrifice without extending the right to emancipation to the soldiers’ families as well. The idea that slaves had families that a white person was bound to respect was almost as radical in the North as it was in the South. Foner shows how a general policy evolved from one when the fugitive slave laws were being enforced (even during the early months of the war) to one against returning slaves to Southerners, to active confiscation acts. Practically speaking, if a slave could find his or her way behind Union lines, they were free.

Another factor was that although Lincoln was happy to extend gradual, compensated emancipation to the slaveholders in the border states, he could not find any bargaining partners. This remained true even as the political climate changed in favor of emancipation. It remained true even as Lincoln began warning people that Lincoln felt that in delaying emancipation, he was fighting the war with an important hand tied behind his back. Border State politicians were simply not in a position to compromise. Lincoln, even in the Emancipation Proclamation itself, did not free the slaves in the Border States (everyone agreed that would require a constitutional amendment). However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not contain any provisions for gradual or compensated emancipation. This was a rather late, and perhaps startling, development, because in preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation, including one made public in September 1862, Lincoln seemed to favor some sort of compensation. He must have Kentucky, but it seemed that the cost of keeping it was getting lower.

Another factor for Lincoln was the refusal of the black elite that was already free, and those first coming to freedom, to consider themselves as less than Americans. They built this country and lived here for centuries. They were not going to leave. Of course, in any large group, there are exceptions, and Foner describes a failed attempt to actually colonize slaves that was mired in graft, and eventually had to be suspended.

Lincoln continued to believe in colonization because he believed, as a practical matter, that racial equality was against human nature. Lincoln’s private conversations, including his well-known “stories,” were that of a man of his time, full of racial epithets. His public speeches seem disappointing to the 21st century ear. However, it is important to remember that we tend to read Lincoln in a vacuum. Since we are only interested in what Lincoln had to say, we tend to ignore what other important people of the time were thinking and saying, which was almost always far worse. Lincoln was a professional politician who was not in the business of insulting his constituents. Moreover, if you parse his public statements, you realize that Lincoln never said that black people were inferior, even during the Lincoln-Douglas debates in Southern Illinois. What Lincoln did say was that since the two races could not live together as equals, he, like anyone, would prefer to be the dominant race. Not that white people deserved to be, but simply that someone had to be.

Foner traces the evolution of this position into one that was open not only to emancipation, but was open to the legal equality for all people that undergirds the 14th and 15th Amendment. It is unclear if Lincoln had changed his mind on human nature. What is clear is that Lincoln realized that the former slaves were insistent on making a new life here in America, and that America would have to find a way to accommodate that.

Foner does not focus directly on the greatest, most tragic error of Lincoln’s Presidency – his acquiescence, and perhaps his open support, of Andrew Johnson as his Vice President in 1864 Andrew Johnson was the only Senator from a seceding state, Tennessee, who refused to secede with his state. Later, Lincoln appointed Johnson to be military governor of Tennessee. There are a fair number of exchanges between Lincoln and Johnson that are recounted in Foner’s book, more than I have seen in any other book of this nature. Unlike Lincoln’s first Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin from Maine, a man Lincoln literally did not know at all, Lincoln knew something about Johnson. So it is even more tragic that Lincoln allowed the convention to pick Johnson, and thereby thrust a vengeful, spiteful, racist man, into the middle of Reconstruction. Then again, until Sherman marched through Georgia, the conventional wisdom, including Lincoln’s, was that the Republicans would lose the Election of 1864. By the time it became obvious that Lincoln did not need Johnson (or anyone) on his ticket in order to win, it was too late to change. Not that anyone thought about it.

Foner does not go easy on Lincoln. He appreciates Lincoln’s ability to change in the public eye, a trait that was probably as in short supply then as it is now. Foner shows how important the actions of the slaves themselves were in forcing the issue of their emancipation. You get the sense that Foner wants to be one of those people who say that Lincoln would have never done anything for the slaves if left to his own devices. However, the facts are more complicated than that. What makes A Fiery Trial such an interesting book is that Foner, like Lincoln, faces the facts as he finds him, and allows the facts to change his point of view.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Academy Awards -- Some Comments

I have seen the following Oscar nominees:

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are Alright
The Kings Speech
The Social Network

I sort of agree with my friend Bruce Fan Is Back that in some very important ways, Inception is a better movie that either The Kings Speech or The Social Network. Most importantly, it is actually a movie, designed to be watched on a big screen, and not a TV show that is simply being marketed as a movie, which is sort of how I felt about both The Kings Speech (Masterpiece Theater) and The Social Network (an HBO movie).

Like Avatar last year, and The Aviator a few years ago, Inception is a big movie that swings for the fences and misses sometimes. I have only seen it once, which is not enough. I was completely confused at times, and fell asleep at one point (I fall asleep all the time). But all in all, Inception was something I never saw before, it was very well done, and it would be nice if the Academy voters would give breakthrough "movie movies" like Inception more credit for trying than they tend to get. Ah, well. At least it was nominated.

Unlike Leonardo diCaprio. I don't want to throw any of the Best Actor nominees under the bus, especially when I haven't seen all the movies yet. However, Leonardo DiCaprio remains our best movie actor (unless you want to tell me that someone young like Ryan Gosling has caught up to him -- I don't see enough of those movies). diCaprio is so good that I still don't think that people understand what they are seeing, and how hard it is to do. I would certainly vote for him over Colin Firth or Jesse Eisenberg this year.

Anyway, Inception isn't going to win anything else, and diCaprio wasn't even nominated. So in the realm of the possible:

I liked The Social Network more than The King's Speech. I admit the difference between the two isn't enough for me to be outraged at the good fortune The King's Speech is having in the preliminary awards. My big problem with The King's Speech is the old acting/ writing issue of stakes. I didn't understand what would happen if the King stuttered through his big important speech. Would the Nazi brother with the American divorcee wife come back to reclaim the throne? Would the Brits lose World War II? Or would -- perish the thought --- the poor King feel badly about himself? Yawn.

The Social Network, admittedly, looks like a very special episode of Sportsnight, intertwined with a very special episode of The West Wing, with a little bit of A Few Good Men thrown in. But it depicts the sort of America that we have all been living in for a while, but that Hollywood has kept in turnaround. I thought that Jesse Eisenberg kept a lot of humanity going for a character that was a jerk. But I know -- Hollywood 2011 is not awarding Oscars to movies about jerks. David Thomson argues in this week's NEW REPUBLIC that it was always thus. I don't know. See The Apartment, or Unforgiven, or Godfather II, just for starters.

I think Eisenberg over Firth. I expect to see the award go to Firth (not a tough prediction given the previous awards). The central "Swanee River" scene is like an A+++ acting class exercise. This is what we acting students are all taught to recognize as great acting, and we continue to learn our lessons well. But its really perfect stage acting, and a little too broad, IMHO, for screen acting. I liked Mark Wahlberg in "The Fighter" better than either of them. I haven't seen Jeff Bridges in True Grit.

I think Portman and Bening are interesting. Bening is acting, in the conventional sense and Portman is simply being an object of desire for the director and the cinemantographer. If it really is Portman vs Bening, then I would say Portman. I think that Bening gets nominated for the "Wow, she sleeps with Warren Beatty, and can still play gay" factor. Julianne Moore was better than either of them. But she wasn't nominated. Friends tell me Jennifer Laurence was better than all of them.

Christian Bale was great, and I expect that he'll win. Although I thought that Geoffrey Rush might win the SAG award. His part is about impersonation in the deepest sense. I don't think that what Mark Ruffalo does, in general, in pretty much every film he is in, is particularly easy. If it was, Ruffalo wouldn't work so much.

But still, Christian Bale. How could Mark Wahlberg's character be a supporting actor in his own life story? Because Christian Bale trumped him in every possible way. Just jumping into a garbage dump. And that prison scene. Talk about acting clinics.

Melissa Leo, man! That character has at least 9 kids. She got someone to not use a condom at least 9 times. Seems unbelievable. But Melissa Leo made you see how that was possible. She was still screwing everyone. Down to the last frame. But I dare you to resist her.

Finally, did Inception direct its own Goddam self? I know, the five director nominees directors reflect the 5 movies with the best chance of getting best picture. But still.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin and Congresswoman Giffords

I listened to Sarah Palin’s Facebook video twice. It sounded like a victory tap dance on Congresswoman Giffords’ face. I continue to hold Mrs. Palin morally culpable, and this is why.

Sarah Palin prayed for this. You can call her very public “targeting” of certain Congresspeople in the cross-hairs a lot of things. A political tactic that, according to Governor Palin “both parties” have done. Maybe lobbyists have done it, on single issues in certain races. And maybe a Democrat in the occasional local race, like the one where the opponent puts out posters with a rifle in his lap, and invites constituents to come shoot M-16s with him in order to “kill” his opponent. Oh, that was the Republican in Congresswoman Giffords’ race. And maybe you can find someone on MSNBC who has done it, although not likely.

But not a call for the death of so many people, for such generalized reasons. Although there are some parallels in the call for the deaths of the doctors who exercise their constitutional rights to perform abortions. But these sorts of lists are not put together by someone who just ran for Vice-President, and who may run for President. Think of the potential reaction if Joe Kennedy, who runs a well-financed single-interest group, ran targets on people’s faces. Think of the potential reaction if John Kerry or John Edwards or Al Gore did something like this.

Sarah Palin prayed for this. And maybe she meant it. One of the reasons you’re allowed to think that she meant it is that Congresswomen Giffords publically mentioned several times that she took the matter of being targeted by Governor Palin seriously. Yet Governor Palin took no action to take the offending material down. Or to attempt to explain it. Governor Palin thought the targets spoke for themselves. And they did. Just ask the gunman who murdered the abortion doctor in Kansas, a sober, articulate spokesman for a cause that he believed in enough to kill for.

Man proposes and God disposes. Sarah Palin put up these targets, with the implication that she would support anyone who brought these targets down.

Then, maybe by coincidence, maybe not, someone gunned down Congresswoman Giffords. God answered Sarah Palin’s prayer.

That’s not to say that the gunman ever heard of Sarah Palin. That’s not to say that Sarah Palin is under any legal obligation to stop saying what she is saying or doing what she is doing. That’s not to say she was lying today when she claimed that in the context of what she was saying and doing, the “targets” were simply metaphors for “votes”. I’m only saying -- and I say this as someone on the losing side – that if Sarah Palin didn’t mean that she literally wanted some psychopath to gun down Congresswoman Giffords, then she should have prayed more carefully.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hall of Fame Ballots Are Due In

I do not have a vote with the Baseball Hall of Fame. In order to have one, you need to have been a baseball writer at a certain level of prominence for at least 10 years. I have none of those credentials.

Still, if I had a ballot I would have voted for 9 players, out of a maximum allowed of 10.

In alphabetical order

Roberto Alomar
Jeff Bagwell
Harold Baines
Bert Blyleven
Barry Larkin
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Jack Morris
Tim Raines

A few notes:

I've read a lot of "new Age"/ Bill James/ sabermetrical statistical analyses either defending or debunking the Hall of Fame candidacies of Blyleven and Morris. This is the way I've come out. I understand, in any given year, how much luck goes into a win-loss record. Oliver Perez wins 15 games, and he's not really that good. Felix Hernandez wins 13 games, and everyone agrees he's a Cy Young winner. However, over the long term, a starting pitcher's job is to win ballgames. And both Morris and Blyleven won a whole lot of games.

I never thought of Baines or McGriff as Hall of Famers until I looked at their stats on-line. I might feel differently about them next year.

Larry Walker is another player I never thought much about until I looked at his stats on-line. But I left him off because I did not see him play that much.

I have mixed feelings about Mark McGwire and the obvious steroid users. I am not prepared to let any of these guys in yet, but I know that in my heart of hearts, if it was up to me, I would put them in eventually. One reason is that it was obvious that something was happening, even if we weren't 100% exactly sure of what. But I watched the games anyway. And I enjoyed them immensely.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Civil War Must Be Fought In Every Generation -- Special 14th Amendment edition

My friends at the exciting new blog American-Rattlesnake want us to stay open to the idea of repealing the 14th Amendment.

That just raises the hair on my neck.

I responded:

The reason the 14th Amendment had to be enacted was because the United States had already experienced a situation where there was no birthright citizenship. That situation was called slavery.

The purpose of the 14th Amendment is to avoid the creation of a permanent underclass in this country that would have no ability to exercise their freedom. Over time, this permanent underclass would depress wages, depress rights, and drag everyone else's wages and freedoms down the drain as well.

That understanding is a big reason why so many Northerners willingly died during the Civil War to give freedom to a certain group of people, despite the fact that hardly any Northerners in the 1860s considered that group of people to be their true equals.

The 14th Amendment, as finally written into the Constitution, has nothing to do with immigration. I don't know how people can say that the Constitution is really about the things that got voted down during debate. I don't know how so many people (not necessarily your particular post, but certainly great swatches of the Tea Party movement, purported spokesmen for the Republican Party, and even the current Chief Justice) can act as if America's story is only about what the Revolutionary founders wanted, or how the Revolutionary founders might have reacted to events in the 21st Century. Equal attention, and perhaps greater attention has to be given to Abraham Lincoln, what happened during the Civil War, and what it continues to mean today.

Obviously I cannot prove this, but it seems to me that repealing the 14th Amendment or even implementing laws enforcing a strong guest worker program, would ultimately lead to the reintroduction of some form of slavery into the United States. That result is far worse than any immigration problem we have currently or will ever have.

Monday, May 10, 2010

There Are No Protestants on the Supreme Court -- A Simple Solution

Far be it from me to complain about Dean Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court -- a Jewish weight-challenged Harvard lawyer from New York. Sounds like a good demographic to me.

But I feel the pain from those of you who cannot believe that a country founded by Protestants will have a Supreme Court with the same number of Protestant Justices, justices with military backgrounds, and justices from Asian-Americans backgrounds -- none.

(Are there any justices right now who ever -- like -- ran for office?)

But I have a solution.

There is a Democratic President and 59 Democratic Senators.

Why not try a little court packing?

6 additional justices -- all appointed by Obama and pushed through the Senate by Chuck Schumer.

If you can dream it, you can do it.