Posts Tagged 'Obamacare'

Hobby Lobby and the Supremes

It was Tuesday, about a week before the Supremes were scheduled to release their much-anticipated opinion about Hobby Lobby’s refusal to pay for contraceptives.

Justice Roberts had just strolled into the exclusive coffee nook provided to the Supremes and was feeling pretty good about the decision to rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor.  Hoping for a quiet cup of double latte, the Justice sat alone at the table and waited for the delivery of the welcome beverage and a few moments of silence.

The nook door opened and there was Justice Scalia.  He lifted his skirts and sidled over to occupy the seat across from Roberts.  A look of “do I really need this” flashed across Robert’s face only to be replaced by a sense of resignation.

“We showed those three broads who’s boss, didn’t we Johnny?” Scalia said with bravado.  “You’d think that sissy-pants Breyer would wise up and switch to our team before he ends up on the losing side of any case that even remotely smacks of religious rights.  It’s a man’s world and that’s the way it’s gonna stay.  As long as I can keep twanging Thomas’s strings and Alito keeps fingering his crucifix during oral arguments, our side is going to last a thousand years.  You should excuse the obvious comparison.”

Deprived of tasting his latte by being drawn into this conversation, Roberts cautioned “Look Tony, I had all I could handle convincing that switch-hitter Kennedy to see it our way.  He kept ranting about what might happen when other fanatics brought their own religious rights to court.  Like refusing to pay for blood transfusions, vaccinations, and sex change operations.”

“And, that cockamamie add-on language he forced on me that makes the ruling only apply to closely held corporations.  Only a moron would buy that one.  How am I going to tell DuPont or the Koch Brothers that they don’t have a right to bring their religious beliefs to court when I already told them they are a “person” and can spend as much goddamn money on elections as they like?”

Scalia intoned “You worry too much Johnny.  None of our 5-4 decisions make much sense anyway.  And we’ve got a job for life.  So who gives a shit if most of the country either can’t figure out what we did or what it really means.  I’ve been pissing off people since 1986 when that bozo Reagan put me on the bench.  I’ve been here longer than any of you and I’m still having a ball.”

“So what if the only parties I get invited to are hosted by the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association, and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.  Their money is good, the booze top-notch and the broads…oh the broads.  Crap, I could do this forever and, given that my healthcare is paid for 100% by the government, I probably will.”

“And so what if Hobby Lobby sponsored my last trip to the Bahamas?  I gave a rousing speech about religious freedom and how it trumps everything but gun rights.  They loved me.  Even invited me back this fall to talk about anything I wanted.  Maybe about why I think slavery was the best thing that happened to this country.”

“Ya know, Tony, someday we’re not gonna be in the majority.  The black guy or Hillary is likely to appoint someone who doesn’t see it our way.  I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t be a little more cooperative and not so cocksure.  I don’t want to spend my later years writing dissenting opinions about women’s reproductive rights or new gun laws. And, since we’ve shown that we don’t give two shits about the court’s historical precedents,  I’d hate to see most of our opinions dumped on the slag heap of history by a bunch of left-wingers.”

Just then the door opened and Justice Thomas appeared.  “See that guy?” Scalia whispered.  “Nothing bothers him.  Last February it was eight years since Clarence asked a question from the bench during an oral argument.  He sits in his chair, leans back and stares at the ceiling like the answers are pasted up there.  His eyelids are heavy and he strokes his chin hoping to look more intelligent.”

“Johnny, you really need to be more like him. Don’t worry so much. I’ll handle the tough stuff, just like I’ve been doing for the last twenty-eight years.”

Republican Poster Children

My good friend Ralph, in a somewhat inebriated state, once said “I don’t like so many things that I don’t even know what I don’t like anymore.”  Over the years Ralph and I have joked about his half-serious declaration that, for some people, is the center point of their lives.

I was reminded of it again when I read the sobering rant aired by Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) who told The Washington Examiner  “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Marlin was of course referring to the current budget crisis and the Republican crusade to banish Obamacare  before anyone can find out that it actually helps people.  A major brain fart was obviously gassing Marlin’s ability to reason, evaluate the consequences of his actions, and to speak without the intervention of serious drugs.

But to be fair, Marlin was probably just relying on those in his party who were feeding him a constant barrage of one-liners, manufactured facts, and u-turns in their twisted road to sway government opinion that would seriously challenge a Barnum and Bailey contortionist.

After shutting down the government because they couldn’t deep-six Obamacare, Republicans have taken the high road by picking those government programs that deserve to be reopened (like parks) and keeping other less important ones shut down (like the National Institute of Health and OSHA.)

Marlin’s good friend, Texas Republican congressman Randy Neugebauer, also had his facts somewhat mixed when he berated a  National Park Ranger at the Washington WWII memorial for doing her job.  Carrying an oversized American flag in his breast pocket, Randy objected to the Ranger’s attempt to keep people out of the facility which had been officially closed due to the government shutdown provoked by you know who.   “The Park Service should be ashamed” Randy declared as his flag began to wilt.

A near-by bicyclist shouted  “This woman is doing her job, just like me. I’m a 30-year federal veteran — I’m out of work.”  The man at this point was face to face with the Congressman who was perhaps irritated by being delayed from cashing his U.S. Government paycheck.

“Well, the reason you are is because Mr. Reid decided to shut down the government,” responded Neugebauer, no doubt restraining himself from calling the Senate Democrat a Commie bastard.

“No, it’s because the government won’t do its job and pass a budget” said the 30 year federal veteran.

Having wilted completely, both the flag and Congressman Neugebauer returned to the House floor where he proudly proposed an end to the National Park Service and the opening of Yosemite to oil exploration.

So to Marlin Stutzman I say, your disrespect is well deserved.  You’re lucky enough to still be employed even though you’ve refused to perform the functions required of your position.  Namely, to better the lives of those who look to you for leadership.  Not to make their lot more difficult.

And to Randy Neugebauer.  You should be greatly ashamed for displaying the symbol of our country while doing your best to destroy the thing it has most stood for.  Protecting and helping those less fortunate than you.

But I will grant both of you this.  You are the ideal poster-children of the Party to which we owe our current state of affairs.  Keep up the good work.

Obamacare, an obvious failure

I’ve been bombarded with requests for money.  The list is endless.  Congressional Democrats, Senatorial Democrats,  Bold Progressives,  Not So Bold Democrats, Generic Democrats, Name Democrats, Would Be Democrats, and Obama himself…so many that I have lost the ability to differentiate between them.  My Outlook “Deleted Items” folder is brimming with their e-mails.

I tried to escape them by watching the news this morning.  Charlie Rangel appeared in an interview on MSNBC.  “Don’t you think it’s a bit ingenuous of politicians to be trying to capitalize on the current government shutdown by reaching out to their base for political donations?”  the lovely interviewer asked.  “It’s shameful” said Charlie.  Given Charlie’s brushes with various financial scandals, I might say that’s like the pot calling the kettle black, but then that might be kind of racist, I guess.

But the most astounding request for access to my wallet graced my in-box early this morning.  It was from the National Republican Congressional Committee. ..

Here’s your chance to tell Obama he’s wrong.  Obama and the Senate Democrats have made a huge mistake by shutting down the government in order to protect ObamaCare.

In fact, the websites that run ObamaCare went live this morning and are already broken! Chip in $25, $50, or even $100 today and we will add your name open letter to President Obama.

And we’ll make sure he gets it tonight – because there’s no time to waste.
Hurry, you only have a couple of hours left.

Talk about chutzpah.  Talk about short-term memory.  Forty-three times the House voted to repeal (not delay, not fix) Obamacare.  When that didn’t pan out, the great emancipators attached de-funding of Obamacare to the budget bill.  When that seemed a non-starter, they voted to delay the program for a year, remove contraception coverage and deep-six the tax on medical devices.  When that went into the shitter, they voted to remove the cornerstone of the program…the individual mandate and, for good measure, strip government employees of health care subsidies.  That too suffered from the Senate’s studied disregard.  Then, with barely an hour left before shutdown, Speaker Boehner calls for a conference committee with the Senate to iron things out, something that the Senate had been proposing for over six months.  So, come again, who was it that shut down the government?

On to the second point of the Republican e-mail donation request.  The Obamacare insurance exchanges have been open for about twelve hours.  Handling the volume of requests for information and enrollment has lived up to its pre-opening hype.  Shoddy at best.  In many instances bearing a marked resemblance to the Keystone Kops.  A make it up as you go project.  Which reminded me of Barney Tresnowski.

In 1966 I went to work for the Blue Cross Association in Chicago.  The Medicare law had just been passed and the Association was selected as the intermediary to process claims and handle other administrative aspects of the law.  Wandering through the Association’s Michigan Avenue offices, I bumped into Barney who had just been hired as the Association’s Medicare Coordinator.  His office was about as large as a phone booth, barely big enough to fit his somewhat teddy bear sized body.  An amiable guy with a keen mind augmented by a master’s degree in public health, his job was to coordinate the activities of multiple Blue Cross plans across the country as they tried to uniformly administer the new Medicare law and interpret its daily scattergun blasts of explanatory regulations.

Behind Barney’s desk and cramping his ability to lean back in his swivel chair was a waist high radiator.  Piled on top of the radiator, in no particular order, was a blizzard of government documents.  Each of those documents attempted to explain a particular provision of the law and provide often unintelligible directions.  I asked Barney how he could, without much visible means of support, deal with the daily deluge of sometimes contradictory instructions.  “Mirrors, we do it all with mirrors.”

Things went from bad to worse.  There were multiple Congressional hearings that blasted the administration of the program, and cries of incompetence and failure rang through the halls.  Funny thing though, Barney went on to become the president of the Association for thirteen years and, as the now famous Charlton Heston saying goes, “I’ll give you my Medicare benefits when you can pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

And that’s what Republicans fear most.  Another Barney Tresnowski who will make Obamacare work.  Another Barney Tresnowski who will recognize the value of the program and its potential impact on the millions who, without it, would be doomed to continue their unassisted search through the great wasteland of health care and suffer financial ruin as they exhaust their savings in pursuit of it.

But the last few sentences of my Republican donation request are the most telling.  Time is short.  There’s no time to waste.  There’s only a couple of hours left.  Yes, it’s true.  Only a short time left to kill the beast before it’s house-trained.  Only a short time before millions recognize the value of a program that can bring some order to the provision of health care and make their lives less tenuous and more comfortable.  And then it will indeed be too late.  Too late to kill it.  But not too late for us to remember.

Let’s delay Obamacare

Pretty amazing stuff.

Health care insurance exchanges open on Tuesday and millions of U.S. citizens without coverage will have the opportunity to participate in them.  After decades of attempting to join the rest of the modern world that considers health care a right, we are taking a significant step towards that noble objective.

A law has been passed in accordance with the procedures contained in our Constitution, its appropriateness validated by re-election of the man who fought for it, and its lawfulness adjudicated by the highest court in the land.

But apparently this is not good enough.  We must, as though there were another secret step in the Constitutional process, re-adjudicate the law before it is implemented.  Dissatisfied with the law, the House of Representatives has voted more than forty times to repeal it.  It’s as though their supporters need to be repetitively reminded of their distaste for this enabling legislation.  And, in reaction to their whistling in the wind, the Senate and the President of the United States have consistently said “No deal. It’s the law of the land.”

Is the law perfect?  Of course not.  Can it be improved?  Certainly.  Will boatloads of people suffer from its implementation?  Some.  Will the overwhelming majority of the millions of have-nots benefit greatly from its implementation? Undoubtedly.

But in the hope that serious men of goodwill can prevail, and since there is some doubt about the law’s absolute perfection, why not take a deep breath and, as the House now demands, delay the law for a year and…do what?  Well, we can convene a bipartisan commission, review the law’s imperfections and develop a list of changes that Congress can, to the everlasting benefit of those who they represent, correct the law’s current deficiencies and produce a product that is even better than the current one.  Just like we almost did with tax reform, immigration, the farm bill, food stamps, and the hands-thrown-in-the air simple-minded budget fix called Sequestration .

After all, what’s wrong with a one year delay to this law when we’ve been grappling with access to health care for at least fifty years.  Surely reasonable minds can get together, ignore the fact that there’s another election in one year, pay little attention to the rants of the extreme voices in the electorate, deal effectively with the millions of dollars that will be devoted to the production of falsehoods that will float through our TV sets, set aside the manic differences that separate Democrats and Republicans, think of what’s best for millions of have-nots instead of the consuming need to stay in office, and present a revised Affordable Care Act that will be passed by both houses of Congress without filibuster and obfuscation.

What’s wrong with that?  And if we can’t manage to do all that, we can delay it for another year or, in the alternative, shut down the government and refuse to raise the federal debt limit.  The millions of have-nots with pre-existing conditions, zero access to preventive care and financial ruin caused by serious illness will surely understand that further delay is in their best interests.  What’s wrong with that?  Huh.

delay obamacare

Stick ’em up

When I was nine I lived in a Chicago semi-tenement where my whole world was the one block area surrounding our building.  My closest buddies, Alan and Alfred, joined me daily in hide-and-seek, softball in the alley, setting fire to things, and playing cops and robbers.

In addition to our motley assortment of beat up baseballs, a make shift hand-me-down chemistry set and stubs of colored chalk that occasionally aggravated the neighbors, we had those not-so-real cap guns that looked like they belonged in Gene Autry’s holster.  The cheaper guns required us to laboriously place one paper cap at a time in the little slot just ahead of the firing pin.  The more expensive instruments of mass destruction let you put a whole roll of paper caps in the gun and then hope that it wouldn’t jam as we pointed our gats at each other and said stick-em-up.  We usually blasted each other even if we obeyed that order.  And then we went home for lunch.

I was recently reminded of my childhood cops and robbers as I listened to the contest between those who think Obamacare is worth trying, and those who would sooner turn us into a dead beat creditor than allow the law an even shake.

Republicans, who undoubtedly possess the automated cap guns of my youth, have yelled stick-em-up and waved an array of mind numbing ransom demands.  The Democrats, one-cap-at-a-time users, are standing by waiting for the Republicans to run out of caps before using the one cap left in their arsenal.

Holding the nation hostage while insisting that their demands be met reminds me of Cleavon Little, the black sheriff in the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles.  Arriving as the new Sheriff Bart in the wild west town of Rock Ridge, populated by a majority of moronic racists, he is confronted by drawn guns and a less than admiring populace.  Sensing his imminent demise, Cleavon pulls his own six-gun, holds it to his own head, and threatens to kill himself if his adversaries don’t give up.  Confused by the display, the bad guys back off.  I always thought this was pretty funny until I watched Speaker Boehner pull the same stunt just the other day.

Convinced that the Democrats will, as usual, back off and give ground, Boehner has capitulated to the Tea Party crazies who are holding guns to their own heads.  Assured of continued job security through gerrymandered districts and terrified of primary challenges by an even worse right-winged zealot, House Republicans are perfectly content to demand unquestioning fealty to their every demand.  Or, bang you’re dead.

Sensing that the defunding ransom demand may not be quite politically correct, the House has apparently replaced it with a new wish list of unsavory pronouncements, including a one year delay of Obamacare.  That’s just enough time for the Koch brothers to invest a zillion bucks on sadly juvenile ads similar to the recent one sponsored by them showing Uncle Sam (looking a great deal like Donald Trump) leering up the skirts of a young coed who was foolish enough to sign up for Obamacare.  Poor, deluded girl.

It matters not one whit that Obamacare was passed by Congress, was used successfully to defeat its reborn antagonist Mitt Romney, and finally upheld by the Supreme Court.  Better to continue to wage a battle already lost by threatening to shut down the government and default on obligations already committed to.  Better to keep firing caps until the other side hollers ya got me.

Mel Brooks claims that his idea of the scene in Blazing Saddles of cowboys sitting around the campfire and farting came from watching lots of westerns where cowpokes seemed to always be drinking coffee and eating beans.  Mel assumed that this caused great waves of bloated gas that must have been freely expelled as they sat around and mused about life on the open range.

It’s too bad that Mel had to go all the way to Texas when the same kind of farting around happens daily in Washington, D.C.

Cleavon Little

Is Broccoli Like Healthcare?

We had an Ojai Library Foundation board meeting last night.  A dozen of us meet once a month to discuss the needs of the three library branches in the Ojai Valley and what we can do to make life a little bit better for them.  Looking around the table I realized that nearly all of us are old.  And, while besieged by the unrelenting ravages of a deteriorating body, we enjoy relatively decent health due in no small part to socialized medicine.  I’ve been a Socialist for almost seven years and I’ve got a red, white and blue card to prove it.  Carried in my wallet, all I need do is fumble through it, get past my AARP supplementary coverage card, the AARP drug card and my AARP membership card to find the holy grail of healthcare, my Medicare card.

Before I became a Socialist, I got semi-annual notices from Blue Cross cheerfully announcing a ten or fifteen percent increase in my monthly premium.  These unwelcome messages were generally preceded by an introductory comment about the uncontrollable increase in the cost of medical care.  Never accompanied by a “gee, we’re sorry to do this to you” or “please accept our sincere apologies for dragging more money out of your pocket and into our bank account”, Blue Cross knew full well that I was a captive audience unable to thumb my nose at them, sentenced to eternal imprisonment in their clutches, afraid of losing my coverage, and then being denied reinstatement because of the dreaded pre-existing conditions monster.

When I had a boat, the usual joke was that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life were the day he bought it and the day he sold it.  I think that the same applies to the day you become a Socialist, tear up your Blue Cross card and stuff your Medicare card in your wallet…except the happiness continues for the rest of your life.  Ah, Socialism.

We are now observing an historical battle between the forces of light and darkness.  Depending on your political persuasion you can be whichever you choose to be.  If you believe that it’s every man (and woman) for himself, that this country is based on hard work, the luck of the draw, fending  for yourself, and healthcare being like broccoli, then you can choose to consider yourself aligned with the forces of light.  But if you think every man (and woman) has an obligation to help those less fortunate, and that healthcare is not like broccoli, then you too can label yourself a member of the light force.  Sith or Jedi, it’s a matter of perception.

The Supreme Court is made up of the same sort of people, some say Sith, some say Jedi.  Their personalities, predilections and biases are there for all of the world to see.  And now we and they are once again facing a turning point in our country’s history.  Are we like broccoli or are we something else.? Are we like Scalia or are we like Ginsburg?  Are we like Thomas or like Sotomayor?  You know the cast.

Reading about the Court’s deliberations and listening to the talking heads is like watching a pro basketball game.  The home team is in the lead, then the visitors, then back again.  All the while you know that you can get up off the couch and do something more useful like grab a beer, because the outcome won’t be determined until the last two minutes of the game.

Frankly, I think the Court should dump the whole thing, not just the mandate. Then the Republicans can spend the rest of the campaign season explaining why 40 million Americans were deprived of healthcare, why the pre-existing condition monster was freed from captivity, why the richest 1% of the population continues to enjoy unprecedented tax breaks, and why they and us Socialists can have unlimited access to expensive drugs and unnecessary medical procedures.

But just remember this in November.  The most important thing a president can do is appoint a justice of the Supreme Court.  Congress can pass laws but only the Court can bless them.



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