Yes, John Roberts Will Destroy Obamacare

John RobertsRecent research published in Health Affairs shows that last year, healthcare spending grew at its lowest rate since the government has been measuring it. And it is expected to be the same for this year. What’s more, total healthcare spending as a fraction of the economy has remained flat since 2009. It’s really great news. So obviously, it is more important than ever that we destroy Obamacare. And now with help supposed liberals like Thomas Edsall and Charles Schumer, our long national nightmare of affordable healthcare may soon be over.

Of course, we really are going to have to depend upon the conservative ideologues on the Supreme Court and the most recent nutty case against Obamacare, King v Burwell. That’s the case where the plaintiffs are defending the right of people living in red states to not get help with their insurance. Those conservatives sure are charmers! But as history will show, there is no level to which conservatives can sink that will cause the people to turn against them. After all, didn’t the conservatives protect them from terrorist attacks. I mean other than that one time on 11 September 2001. Am I right?!

People like me had been hoping that when the Supreme Court eventually ignores the law and strikes down the exchange subsidies, that at least the more reasonable states could just set up simple exchanges — maybe just a simple website with a link to the federal exchange. Apparently, this is not going to fly. And silly me for thinking that it might! After all, this case isn’t about the law; this is just yet another opportunity for the conservatives on the court to gut a law they don’t like.

Let’s think about John Roberts in this case. Previously, Roberts found that Obamacare was a tax and thus upheld the law. He claimed that the government should be given wide latitude and that the courts should do everything they can to find in favor of laws. As Michael Hiltzik pointed out, if the court finds against Obamacare in this case, it will be going against “a 30-year-old precedent allowing federal agencies great leeway in implementing drafted statutory language.” So any credibility that Roberts maintains will be completely gone if he finds for the plaintiffs. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure he knows that. He may well be thinking that he can continue to chip away at the law and history will not judge him ill because he didn’t kill the law outright. If I were him, I’d be giving a lot of thought to Roger Taney.

As for the matter at hand, Nicholas Bagley, professor at the University of Michigan, explained the problem:

The practical obstacle is that creating an exchange is not child’s play. An exchange has to be a governmental entity or a nonprofit entity. They’ve got to be able to carry out a variety of functions… States would have to do more than just the bare minimum.

In addition to this, now there are no Obamacare funds to help states set up exchanges. And this is to mention nothing of the fact that in many states the lack of subsidies will be cheered as a great thing. And if we learned anything from the Sam Brownback re-election, it is that totally screwing over the people of your state will not hurt you politically.

So we better hope that John Roberts is smarter than he seems to be. Well, you had better hope that. I’ve given up hoping. John Roberts is an ideologically driven conservative Catholic. I know he isn’t smarter than he seems. I also know he’s a liar. (“Balls and strikes“!) And that he’s an evil man that doesn’t seem to have learned anything from all that supposed Jesus-loving.

Oil Has Long Been Uncompetitive

Oil WellBrad Plumer wrote a very interesting article over at Vox, Will Falling Oil Prices Kill the US Shale Boom? There has been a boom in shale oil because oil has been running at $100 per barrel. But now that it has dropped to $70 per barrel, at least some of it will stop being profitable. But there is huge disagreement about how much. For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that only 4% of the shale production will become unprofitable with oil less than $80 per barrel. But according to Bernstein Research, one-third of the production will be unprofitable.

I don’t find the specifics of this all that interesting. What is interesting, however, is that the profit margins are so slim for these hydrocarbon extractions. That means that if even a small fraction of the externalities associated with fossil fuels were included in the price, the industry would be dead. For decades we’ve been told that solar energy is just not competitive. In fact, conservatives have whined about every subsidy associated with solar. That is what is really behind the conservative obsession with Solyndra. If the government had lost a half billion on a loan to an oil company, there would have been no uproar. But it was a solar panel company, so of course it was a waste of money.

In 2011 and 2012, Congress tried to get rid of the $2.4 billion per year in tax subsidies that go to the big five oil companies. It was defeated, of course. Because somehow in the conservative brain, oil is “natural.” What’s it’s really all about is that big business is what conservatives in both parties care most about. Solar is not yet a behemoth. And so in a kind of twisted logic that only the power elite can understand, we must subsidize established industries. It angers the god of the free market to help out fledgling industries. But as I’ve already noted, the fledgling industries would probably be just fine if only the power elite didn’t stack the deck against them.

Low gas prices are a bad thing regardless. They may make shale unprofitable. And they may put an end to the Keystone XL Pipeline. But they will also allow the world to continue on its merry way pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. Because gas is not cheap. There are many hidden costs and many more not so hidden costs. And they are coming due. But the same people who tell us that our minor federal budget deficit is destroying our children’s future, are mostly silent about the unpaid cost of changes to the climate system.

I would think that the leaders of a country would be the ones who made the hard decisions. They would be the ones who explained that there was a steep long-term cost of cheep prices at the pump. But it is just the opposite. The people are surprisingly mature on this issue. Before Fox News started propagandizing the issue, global warming was widely accepted in this country, even when the evidence for it was far less clear than it is now. It’s our leaders who prefer pretty lies and piles of cash to the harsh reality. Fifty years ago, we should have been taxing oil extra for the environmental damage it was causing. But we didn’t. And even today, we are subsidizing it. And “wise” people claim that some day solar might be “competitive.” But the only reason it wasn’t long ago is because of the special privileges that we bestow on the oil industry.

The Improbability of Existence

Why Does the World Exist? Jim Holt“Amazement that the universe should have come to contain a being with the unique property of being me is a very primitive feeling,” [Thomas] Nagel observes. Like him, I cannot help feeling somewhat astonished that I exist — that the universe has come to produce these very thoughts now bubbling up in my stream of consciousness.

Yet the astonishment I feel at my improbable existence has a curious counterpoint: the difficulty I have in imagining my sheer nonexistence. Why is it so hard to conceive of a world, without me, a world in which I never put in an appearance? I know, after all, that I am hardly a necessary feature of reality. Still, like Wittgenstein, I can’t think about the world without thinking of it as my world. Although I am part of reality, reality feels like a part of me. I am its hub, its epicenter, the sun that illumines it, the baby to its bathwater. To imagine that I never existed would be like imagining that the world never existed — that there was Nothing rather than Something.

The feeling that the “something-ness” of reality depends on my existence is, I know, a solipsistic illusion. Yet even when it is recognized as such, it retains a considerable grip. How can I loosen its grip? Perhaps by holding steadily before me the thought that the world got on quite happily for many eons prior to that unlikely moment when I was abruptly awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness, and that it will get on quite happily after the inevitable moment to come when I return to that night.

—Jim Holt
Why Does the World Exist?

Racist Laws and the “Colorblind” Society

Opium SmokersImagine that it is 1900 in San Francisco. The police are arresting a whole lot of Chinese people for opium possession. So some sociologists decide to look into whether the arrest of the Chinese is a form of racism. They come back with a study that concludes that these arrests are not because of racism. It is just that the Chinese are far more likely to use opium. And San Francisco has a law against opium — the first drug law in the nation. Does that mean that the these are not racist arrests? Of course not! The opium law itself was a racist law, enacted specifically to target the Chinese who were the most hated minority group at that time.

This is, tellingly, the reason for pretty much all drug laws. They are always about elevating “our drugs” and suppressing “their drugs.” So the opium laws were about getting the “chinks.” The cocaine laws were about getting the “coloreds.” And cannabis laws were about getting the “spicks.” In fact, the word “marijuana” was coined specifically to associate the drug with Mexicans. And this is why I don’t use the word unless I am quoting someone. People are often confused as to why tobacco and alcohol are legal when other, far less dangerous drugs, are not. But such thinking just means that they still accept the establishment paradigm that claims that drugs are made illegal because they are dangerous. A drug’s danger has absolutely nothing to do with its legal status.

On Monday, Ezra Klein wrote a great article that touches on this, How Racial Discrimination in Law Enforcement Actually Works. It counters the argument that law enforcement isn’t really racist. The argument goes more or less like this: when you control for social factors, the police don’t actually pull over African Americans more than whites. But when one of those controls is the age and condition of the car and African Americans generally have older and poorer cars, that is systemic racism — the study is “controlling” for what it is supposedly looking for. There are various others, some of which are so obvious — like neighborhood — that you have to wonder about the neutrality of the researchers.

Klein noted that all of these controls ultimately make the opposite case that conservatives claim. For example, when controlling for everything imaginable, African Americans are still twice as likely as whites to be arrested on a drug charge. So even when you control for the fact that the police target the African American community far more than the white community, there is still a major racial bias. But conservatives argue that since the controls make the racial aspect of the effect smaller, there is nothing to see. I guess they assume that there are just other controls that we haven’t found. Here’s an idea: control for skin color!

I’ve never thought that police officers were any more racist than the society in general. But given that the society itself is highly racist, the policing will be too. What’s troubling is that we don’t accept this fact. Instead, we run around trying to prove that we are a colorblind society. And that is exhibit number one in our racism problem. I have a very low opinion of Alcoholics Anonymous, but they are right about one thing: you can’t deal with a problem if you won’t admit it. And America will not admit its racism problem.

Update (3 December 2014 1:27 pm)

Wow! I just watched last night’s The Daily Show and Larry Wilmore made the same comparison about racism as an addiction and admitting a problem.

Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc GodardThe great filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is 84 years old today. I know, last year I referred to him as overrated. I’ll stand by that. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t great. It’s a general thing anyway. I think the French “New Wave” have been hopelessly overrated. This is probably due to the fact that most of them were film writers so they were in a position to plug themselves — which they did. But generally, give me Robert Bresson over any of them. And generally Alain Resnais over Godard or Truffaut.

Above all, I have never been able to get into À Bout de Souffle, or Breathless as it is commonly known in English. But I’m not one to especially appreciate cinematic technique when it isn’t combined with compelling characters, plot, or theme. I’m willing to admit that I’m missing something, but the film seems to me very sloppy, never clear what it is trying to say. And it has the plot of Dillinger, with less interesting characters.

Godard got more interesting the more political he became. I’ve always been very fond of Alphaville and later still La Chinoise and Week End. His later work also shows more wit, even when he’s being serious. But it is hard to show any of this here. So consider just a minute from Alphaville. I think you can see a direct line from this to Jon Jost:

Happy birthday Jean-Luc Godard!