Obamacare on Trial

I realize that at this moment in time, far more people are concerned about Trayvon Martin’s tweets or George Zimmerman’s facial injuries, but this week there was something far more important happening, with much longer lasting consequences

The United States Supreme Court, the highest c...

The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

than anything that happens in Sanford’s Bonfire of the Vanities.  I’m talking about the oral arguments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or as it’s more commonly known; Obamacare.

Not since the second Militia Act of 1792 has the Congress ordered citizens to purchase something.  In that case, it was a musket and accessories.  But that was under the President’s article 2 powers, not the commerce clause, so the Obamacare mandate to purchase health insurance is something brand new.  Unless you’re simply a statist who regards the State as superior to everything else in society, including the constitution, that’s a tough sell.  And Solicitor General Donald Verrilli showed that before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Verrilli has taken a lot of heat for his nervous stumbling and bumbling before the court, but I’m not sure if he had been composed, calm, and collected it would have made a difference.  He just didn’t have good arguments.  Particularly for questions that he must have known that he would be asked, as when Justice Kennedy asked about the limits of the commerce clause.  I don’t think even Joe Pesci from My Cousin Vinny could have saved this case.

I was particularly struck by the news coverage this week that the pundits, talking heads, and reporters simply accepted as a given that the four liberal judges would vote to uphold the law, no questions asked.  The debate seemed to roll around the idea that Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, could be persuaded to come down on the side of the law.  There was even some speculation that Chief Justice Roberts might put aside “politics” to vote to uphold.

Since of course to vote the law down is political, but to uphold the law would just be good jurisprudence!

But for the liberal judges there isn’t that sort of pressure.  No one is asking the liberal justices to “put aside politics.”  One of the benefits of being a liberal judge who believes in a living, breathing, constantly evolving constitution is that you don’t have to worry about the actual text of the constitution, or the intent of the founders.  A living constitution means never having to say you’re sorry.  Or, to put it another way, if the law feels good, do it.

Leave the cracking of books to the strict constructionist eggheads.

If the individual mandate goes down, it would be with a bit of irony, since President Obama originally opposed the mandate during the 2008 campaign, using some of the same arguments against Hillary that the President’s opponents are now using against him.

He should have stuck with his first instinct.

We’re not going to find out how this all plays out until later this summer when the court releases its decision even though the Justices likely voted on this issue today.  But I’m not afraid to go ahead and handicap the decision now.  My gut feeling is that the odds are better than even that the court will uphold the mandate.  I base that on the fact that the mandate has 4 automatic votes for.  So that means that only one vote is needed to be swayed among the other five Justices who actually have to study this case (unlike Ginsberg and Breyer, who will be windsurfing instead of reading law books).

But if the mandate is overturned, I think it’s likely that most of the law will stand intact.  I figure the Justices will just throw this mess back to Congress to fix the creaking boat of Obamacare with a mandate sized hole in the bottom of it. The Congress, divided as it is, will be able to accomplish nothing.  At least until next year.  And what then happens to health reform will largely depend on which party does well in November.

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There’s a Lynch Mob Down South…

…and by down south, I mean Sanford Florida, which is south of me, about 10 minutes away.  So the Trayvon Martin issue was a local news item several weeks before it became an international one.  But the character of the tragedy has changed over time:

SANFORD, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) – Investigators with the Sanford Police Department are still trying to figure out exactly what happened during an altercation which resulted in a fatal shooting in the Twin Lakes area.   The shooting happened just after 7 p.m. Sunday evening on Twin Trees Lane.  A man who witnessed part of the altercation contacted authorities.

“The guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, ‘Help! Help!’ and I told him to stop, and I was calling 911,” said the witness, who asked to be identified only by his first name, John.

John said he locked his patio door ran upstairs and heard at least one gun shot.

“And then, when I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on the top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point.”

So in this eyewitness version, the attacker was the one who ended up dead, and Zimmerman was the one crying for help.  That leads me to think there is ample reason for the police to at least take seriously a possible self defense angle and it makes sense that the police would investigate this thoroughly before either making an arrest or closing the case. But as far as the mass media is concerned, there has only ever been one issue in this case: race.  Of course, this incident occurred almost a month ago.  And apparently it’s not nearly as good a story as the one that the media decided to run with. The news coverage this week has had quite a different flavor.  Over the top is more like it.

The big tent of this particular circus is MSNBC, (Leaning Leftward!).  Today hosting on the Martin Bashir Show, Karen Finney, frequent MSNBC guest, went into what seemed to be a prepared monologue in which she blamed both Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for the climate that lead to Trayvon’s death. Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski went out of her way to blame the shooting on Rush Limbaugh.  Also on Thursday she stated that that if Zimmerman was bloodied and disheveled, he probably did it to himself.  Great police work there Mika!

The entire coverage of this incident has resembled much more peasants lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks than actual coverage.  Of course, there are motives.  Hysteria is a good sell, but the racial issue warps our attention away from facts to make this issue only about race.  For some on the MSNBC payroll, like Al Sharpton, racial rabble rousing is his career.  Even though he is responsible for more dead bodies than George Zimmerman, Sharpton can be expected to ride this to even more influence.

The basic facts of the case don’t seem to make this a racial issue, but everyone wants it to be.  However the basic facts no longer matter. Usually, the US has a fairly adequate, if by no means perfect, justice system.  However when it comes to race, everything goes out the window.  Race makes us lose our damn minds.  That’s why Casey Anthony can get a fair trial and get acquitted (even though we all know she did it), but the police who beat Rodney King were given a second trial in violation of constitutional protections against double jeopardy to make sure the second trial gave the “right” verdict.

This isn’t an attempt to excuse Zimmerman.  The minute he decided to follow Martin after the 911 dispatcher told him not to, he was in the wrong.  The problem with police wannabes like Zimmerman is that they do tend to attract police attention one way or the other.  Even if Martin later turned around and attacked Zimmerman for some unknown reason, the whole thing could have been avoided if Zimmerman had just sat in his car.  He didn’t and now a teenage boy is dead.

It would be easy to get on the bandwagon and demand Zimmerman’s head on a pike.  That is what all the cool kids are doing.  However I’m perfectly content to see what the investigation uncovers.  I’ve no desire to join the other villagers in burning down the windmill until we have more facts, instead of inaccurate ranting from MSNBC hosts.  Ultimately though, it may not matter what facts are uncovered.  We’ve moved beyond mere facts now.

Meanwhile, as Sanford has its own bonfire of the vanities, I expect Tim Wolfe will write the nonfiction version of this story. Another thing I’m sure of is that Zimmerman will be indicted for something; anything.

The mob demands it.

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Self Sacrificing Self Indulgence

I clicked on the TV for a few minutes today to catch up on a little news during lunch and saw MSNBC’s “breaking news” of George Clooney being arrested in from of the Sudanese Embassy. It wasn’t totally surprising, since Clooney had been outspoken on the Issue of Darfur for years.  When I had time I checked the internet I got a little more detail

John Prendergast and George Clooney in Souther...

Image via Wikipedia


(Reuters) – Hollywood movie star George Clooney was arrested at Sudan’s embassy in Washington on Friday at a protest of an escalating emergency as Sudan blocks humanitarian aid from reaching a volatile border region where hundreds of thousands of people are short of food.

Clooney, his father Nick and other anti-Sudan activists ignored three police warnings to leave the embassy grounds and were led away in plastic handcuffs to a waiting van by uniformed members of the Secret Service, a Reuters journalist covering the demonstration said.

“We need humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Sudan before it becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” Clooney told reporters just before his arrest.

“The second thing we are here to ask is for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them and stop starving them. That’s all we ask.”

Clooney, who on Wednesday was a guest at the White House banquet in honor of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and several others posted bail and walked free later on Friday.

“You never know if you are accomplishing anything … We hope it helps,” Clooney told reporters after his release, adding that the arrest was his first and “let’s hope it’s my last.”


Yes you never know.  Although I’ve never been arrested, I don’t think if I did it would particularly accomplish anything.  But of course, I’m not George Clooney, in spite of the uncanny resemblance. I don’t know about the starving masses in the Sudan, but I’m pretty sure Clooney’s publicist feels that something was accomplished.

These sort of stunts really bring out the cynic in me.  Not because I think Clooney is insincere; far from it.  Clooney has been involved in and has been on many trips to Sudan over the years, trying to raise attention to the “crisis” that’s over a decade old.  But what Clooney actually accomplished today did nothing to help the humanitarian crisis, but everything to burnish his “activist” credentials.

Like First Ladies, Hollywood stars, once they make it big, are usually issued a “cause” to identify with.  This is pretty basic public relations.  It can generate news and interest that have nothing to do with a stars latest box office bomb, drunken arrest or failed marriage.  It can also raise trashy to respectable.  Angelina Jolie went from being thought of as brother kissing, blood necklace having, tattooed freak, to United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

But for celebrities, getting arrested in a protest isn’t just about pleasing their publicist; it gives them street cred to think of themselves as “activists.”  During the Civil Rights era, real activists got fire hosed, attacked by dogs, beaten by nightsticks, and spent a bit more time in the pokey than a few minutes filling out paperwork.

A celebrity activist merely has to submit to an afternoon of inconvenience.  I remember in the 1980’s during the height of the anti-apartheid protests, it was common practice for celebrities to trespass on the grounds of the South African embassy, get arrested, and presto, instant credibility as an activist.  Bill Cosby even had his limo drop his kids off at the South African embassy to be arrested, then have the limo pick them up at the police station.  That sounds like a fun afternoon.

I’m sure the law enforcement personal forced to waste their time and valuable taxpayer dollars so that celebrities can assuage their egos really appreciate being props in a Hollywood publicity stunt.  If celebrity activists or celebtivists (yes I coined it!) really want to impress me, they should fly to the Sudan and have their little protest in front of Sudanese President al-Bashir’s palace.  A couple of international celebrities in Bashir’s jails for a few weeks would not only raise attention to the multi year long crisis in Sudan, it could provoke an international incident, depending on how long Bashir wanted to keep beating and starving his Hollywood guests.  In either case, that would do far more not only to bring attention to the issue but perhaps even force the US government to act.

Now that would earn my respect!  Far more than Clooney getting dropped off in front of the Sudanese Embassy in a limo anyway.

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John Carter of the Big Screen

In some ways, I’ve waited my entire life for this movie.  I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs in my teens and probably read everything that he wrote that was available in print (with a major exception). So I was well familiar with the John Carter series, my favorite of ERB’s works.  Everyone knows Tarzan of course. Tarzan is probably one of the most successful characters in movie history.  A slightly smaller, but still considerable number may be familiar with his Land That Time Forgot Trilogy, which also spawned movies.  The familiarity of John Carter may be well below that.  Science fiction fans of a certain age may be familiar with the Confederate Captain who went out to Arizona after the war and ended up on the red planet, but how many people, even science fiction fans under age 30 would have even heard of ERB’s Mars series?

But there was a time when Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of the biggest things going in science fiction, long before it was even called science fiction.  Even Ronald Reagan counted himself a fan.  Burroughs almost singlehandedly created the planetary romance genre of science fiction.  Sure it was formulaic; add one dashing Earthborn hero, a beautiful princess, super science, swords, and exotic planetary local, and presto, a rollicking good read.

But, who reads Burroughs anymore?  Frankly, who reads anymore?  The natural initial entry into reading Burroughs or science fiction in general is the teenage years, but how much reading is getting done by teenagers these days?  Teenage boys play video games, lots of them.  From their point of view, the enjoyment from reading a book or a story about a space adventure has a more limited payoff than playing a video game where you can almost become the character.  Although my son can play Star Wars Old Republic for hours on end, I doubt he would get the same entertainment value from reading an Old Republic book.

There were no video games above the pong level when I was a teenager, so I read books.

But people my age don’t determine what a Hollywood blockbuster is and what isn’t.  Young people that go to the movies do, and who is John Carter to them?  That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see an article like this:

Hollywood is in a tizzy over the early tracking which just came online this morning for Walt Disney Studios’   John Carter opening March 9th. “Not good. 2 unaided, 53 aware, 27 definitely interested, 3 first choice,” a senior exec at a rival studio emails me. Another writes me,”It just came out. Women of all ages have flat out rejected the film. The tracking for John Carter is shocking for a film that cost over $250 million. This could be the biggest write off of all time.” I’m hearing figures in the neighborhood of $100 million. And the studio isn’t even trying to spin reports of the 3D pic’s bloated budget any more.

The average person may know who Batman is, and would be pulled in to see a movie just on that sort of character name recognition, but few people are going to place the generic name John Carter, to a hero from the pulp era.  In fact that was one of the issues I had with the trailers.  If you didn’t already know the story, how would you figure out from the trailers what the movie was even about?

The studio didn’t help things by changing the original name, John Carter of Mars, to just… John Carter.  At least the “of Mars” part of the title gives you an idea of where the action was taking place, but given the history of Mars movies being bombs I can see how they were lead in that direction.

But there is another problem with having Mars in the title.  Who would take a movie like that seriously these days? There is suspension of belief problem with the ERB version of Mars.  Even when I was reading Burroughs for the first time, we knew Mars was a dead world.  The Mariner Missions showed no breathable atmosphere and no canals.  By the time of the Viking landing, we knew not to expect dead seas filled with ochre vegetation, lost cities, or green men.  We didn’t even find microbes.  In the 21st Century, would anyone really be interested in a movie about a Mars that never was or potentially could be?  I was worried that we knew too much about Mars to buy into Burroughs’s version.

So with Disney trying to scrub Mars from any coverage of the movie, or even being clear that this was set in the 19th century, someone watching the trailers on TV with no prior knowledge of Burroughs’s work might confuse this with yet another remake of Conan the Barbarian.  Considering how badly last year’s remake bombed at the box office, that wasn’t a good sign.

So going to the theater I was actually more worried about the box office being disappointing than I was worried about the movie being disappointing.  But how would I know if the movie would even be understandable to someone not familiar with the Mars that ERB wrote about?  So when a friend and I, another Burroughs aficionado, went to the movies to see this film, I brought along my son as a control.  I threw in the bribes of 3D tickets and lunch to interest him.

So at the end of the movie, while the credits rolled, my friend began to offer a comment, “You know I…”  I immediately shushed him, putting my finger to my lips.  For a crazy moment, I thought of putting my finger to his lips and saying something like, “Don’t talk.”  Or “Don’t spoil this moment.”  It’s one of those things that I think would have been hilarious, but no one else might find it particularly funny at the time.  Or ever.  I really didn’t need either my son or my friend questioning my sexuality at that moment.  I had bigger business.

I wanted my son’s impression.  I wanted to know what a teen who was unfamiliar with Burroughs or his Mars story would think of this, uncontaminated by other opinions.

“It was pretty awesome.”

Which is exactly what I was thinking!  The Disney accountants may have a right to be worried about making money on this film.  The theater we were in was pretty bare.  There were probably only a dozen or so other people in theater for this showing.  That’s not encouraging for an opening weekend.  But if the movie bombs, it won’t be because it’s a bad movie.  That movie was fantastic!  The special effects were top notch of course, but now days that’s pretty much a given.  But what was great was the story itself.  This wasn’t merely an adaption of A Princess of Mars, but it is definitely Burroughs’s Barsoom.  The changes made make sense, and in some ways, it’s a better story because of it.  Unlike the movie promotion, the actual movie makes clear that Carter is on Mars.  And in a way, Carter is sort of the Superman of Mars.  He comes from a high gravity planet to a low gravity one, giving him freakish strength and the ability to jump incredibly high.  His phenomenal strength puts him in the position to be this world’s savior.  All he needs is a red cape.  But the story of how Captain John Carter makes the journey to wanting to help this world is the crux of the story.  The actual romance of this planetary romance proceeds along the traditional lines of the genre, but hey, who can resist a woman who gives you a hard time, and can really wear a fighting harness?

The main actors, Taylor Kitsch as John Carter, and Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, were well suited for their roles.  I admit at the beginning I was a little unsure that Lynn Collins could pull off the role, but once her character was introduced in the film, I totally bought it.  She is Dejah Thoris.

No matter how this film does in the box office, it’s still a great film.  It would be a shame if this movie isn’t a blockbuster because it deserves to be.

Oh, the “major exception’ that I never got into?

Tarzan.  Never cared for it.

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The Real Dollar Store Diva

My daughter scours YouTube for videos that have something to do with whatever boy bands she is following at the time, Justin Bieber and Big Time Rush yesterday, and One Direction today, but occasionally something else pops up that tickles her fancy, and the other day she ran across a video put together by some punk kid who refers to himself in the video as the “dollar store diva.”  The video is a terrible compilation of bad accents and dumb jabs at dollar stores, but that only made it all the worse that my daughter thought the video reminded her of me.

A scene in the video shows the kid bragging about a stack of Lean Cuisine frozen dinners that he got for a great price at a dollar store.  What reminds my daughter of me is that the day before I had brought home a stack of Smart Ones frozen meals from the store that I got for a great price.  The store had a good sale, combined with a coupon I had.  But then again, I’m a great shopper.

In fact I do all the grocery shopping for the household.  My wife refuses to either prepare a grocery list or to follow it if one is provided for her.  The breaking point was a few years ago when she came back from the grocery store with a grocery bill double what we usually spend but without some of the essentials that were on the grocery list.

“Where’s the bread?”

That necessitated another trip to the grocery store.  So thereafter I picked up the mantle as family shopper.  And frankly, I’m pretty good at it.  The key is organization. I scour the sales circulars in the days prior to the grocery trip, and begin assembling a list based on sales items in the circulars and items that we are running low or are out of.

And of course, I coupon.  Long before there was an extreme couponing TV show I was extreme couponing.  Again, the key is organization.  I keep my coupons in a folder organized by type of item, and each month I pull out the ones that will expire in the upcoming month to prioritize for use.  Coupons do work, as long as you don’t let yourself be lead down the primrose path of purchasing an item just because you have a coupon for it.  That’s what they want you to do.  I make coupons work for me.

As you can see, it’s a bit of a science.

Ironically, more upper income people use coupons than the poor and lower middle class.  Households with incomes of $100,000 or more are twice as likely to coupon as those who earn less than $35,000.  I admit that in a way, I used to resent that.  “Hey, Richie Rich, this is our store!  Go to Whole Foods.”  The dollar stores are not all filled with people making their EBT purchases.  I’ve seen quite a few well do to soccer moms in high end SUV’s pull up in the dollar store parking lots to pick up their carefully crafted list of items.  But hey, they’re smart enough not to waste the money they have and I sure cannot blame them for that.

My shopping trips do begin at the dollar store.  Although they do have a few refrigerated or frozen items, I primarily go there for dry goods.  As a general rule, they are cheaper there than a regular grocery store, although there are exceptions.  There are a few items that consistently are cheaper at the regular grocery store and sale items can often be much cheaper.  I make sure to notate on my grocery list items that should be purchased at the grocery store instead of the dollar store because of the weekly sales.  Then off to the regular grocery store I go, to finish up whatever is still on my list.  While waiting in line to check out is when I’ll usually get a call from either my wife or kids to remind me to get that very important item that they want but neglected to put on the list all week!

A successful shopping trip  should always include a raised eyebrow and nod of appreciation from the grocery store checkout clerk who, when totaling my bill, can’t help but be impressed by my shopping savvy.  My last grocery trip saw a 34% reduction of my grocery bill.

So suck it punk kid, I’m the real dollar store diva.

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