The most political Supreme Court decision ever?

Okay, well, we don’t know how the court will yet decide, but just listening to NPR’s summary of oral arguments today had me yelling at my radio (and really, Antonin Scalia).  Based on the fact that I think they are not totally in the tank politically, I think Roberts and Kennedy both sign on with the liberals for this to be 6-3.  In reality, it should be 9-0.  Actually, it should be 0-0– the court should never ever have taken this case.  Talk about nothing to see here.  Just the idea that even 3 justices (let alone a majority) would vote for the plaintiff gets me pissed off on how incredibly political those votes would be.  Sure, the Supreme Court is a political institution, but there is still a place for little things like principle and the rule of law.  What is so compelling and upsetting about the conservatives sympathy for the plaintiff’s efforts to gut Obamacare is the fact that virtually any way you want to interpret the case, the judicially conservative action is to uphold the Affordable Care Act!  If you need a good summary of just what an open and shut legal case this is, the NYT editorial on the matter is excellent (I’m going to send it to my son as it explains much more succinctly than I can why I was shouting at NPR).

Alec MacGillis had a good piece on the matter and highlights why I so despite Scalia:

The ultimate wooden and literal reading of the Affordable Care Act would be seizing on a few words to upend the law, thereby throwing millions of Americans off of health coverage and wreaking havoc in the health insurance market. But it appears as if that’s just fine with Scalia. The millions depending on the law for their coverage will likely need to depend on another justice to retain the economic security they have gained under Obamacare.

MacGillis’ piece also highlights that to find for the plaintiff in this case, would be in complete opposition to the Court’s earlier finding that made the Medicaid expansion voluntary, rather than mandatory (and has led to plenty of poor, but working Americans suffering without affordable insurance).

And here’s the quote from Scalia that had me yelling at my radio (in Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent summary):

Contemplating the catastrophic real-life outcomes that could happen if the petitioners lose—which nobody seems to want to talk about—Alito posits that “it’s not too late for a state to establish an exchange if we were to adopt petitioners’ interpretation of the statute.” Verrilli replies that, “In order to have an exchange approved and insurance policies on the exchange ready for the 2016 year, those approvals have to occur by May of 2015.” So, yes, it’s too late. Alito wonders if the states could be given extra time.

Scalia jumps in with a better fix: “What about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while all of these disastrous consequences ensue?”

People laugh. [emphasis mine] Even members of Congress may have laughed. Even Verrilli laughs, in his gravitas-y way: “Well, this Congress, your honor?”

Exactly, Scalia’s contention is so breathtakingly disingenuous that it is simply laughable.  And finally, while I’m picking on Scalia, here’s EJ Dionne from a few months ago:

Textual interpretation, Scalia insisted, should be “holistic” and “contextual,” not “wooden” or “literal.” Courts, he said, should adopt the interpretation of a law that “does least violence to the text,” declaring that “there can be no justification for needlessly rendering provisions in conflict if they can be interpreted harmoniously.”

If Scalia wants to be true to his own principles, can he possibly side with a convoluted reading of the law that apparently never occurred to him before? [emphasis mine]

Scalia’s principles?  Give me a break.  He’s got this reputation of being very conservative, but brilliant and principled.  He’s not.  He’s just very conservative.  Full stop.  Scalia reaches the decisions he wants to 99% of the time and that’s that.  I would love for him to prove me wrong in this case, but alas, he seems to have become more partisan than ever in recent years.  And, really, none of the justices have any more excuse than he for what would be a breathtakingly wrong and horribly partisan Supreme Court decision.

The parent agenda

I’ve been meaning to blog about this Nate Cohn piece that I basically wish I had written (and Laurel– my Politics of Parenthood co-author– and I really should have written something like this).  Anyway,  basic point is on how the Democrats’ policy agenda is now very much about the needs of modern parents:

The emerging Democratic agenda is meant to appeal to parents. The policies under discussion — paid family leave; universal preschool; an expanded earned-income tax credit and child tax credit; free community college and perhaps free four-year college in time — are intended both to alleviate the burdens on middle-class families and to expand educational opportunity for children. The result is a thematic platform addressing some of the biggest sources of anxiety about the future of the middle class…

It’s far too early to know how these themes will resonate with voters, or even the extent to which Mrs. Clinton will emphasize this agenda, but it does have the potential to give the Democrats a more coherent message for the middle class than the party had in 2014 or even 2012.

It could give them a better chance of reclaiming their support among traditionally Democratic white working-class voters who supported Mr. Obama in 2012 but now disapprove of his performance. Yet it would still appeal to many affluent families who feel burdened by the costs of college, child care and the challenge of raising children with two parents working outside the home…

The parental agenda has the potential to resonate among the large group of voters with children under 18 at home, 36 percent of the electorate in 2012. It might also resonate among the already Democratic-leaning young voters of the Obama era, 18 to 29 years old in 2008, who are now entering prime childbearing years. The birthrate among millennials has dropped to near-record or record lows, depending on the age cohort, probably in part because of economic insecurity. Weekly earnings for full-time workers aged 25 to 34 are down 3.8 percent since 2000.

Early polling data suggests there could be strong public support for many elements of Mr. Obama’s agenda — including free community college, child care spending and paid leave — although it remains to be seen whether support will endure after Republicans respond.

Cohn makes a pretty convincing case that this policy agenda is a winner.  I admit to being double-biased in that 1) I really like these policies and 2) it fits so nicely with my research agenda, but I think he’s basically right.  It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in the 2016 campaign in which the Republican response will surely be a variation of “lower taxes for rich people and less government regulation is the real way to help your family.”

Is American democracy doomed?

Maybe.  Matt Yglesias (relying heavily on political science research) makes a good case for it.  The basic problem, a presidential system such as ours is simply not well-designed to handle two highly-ideological polarized parties.  And while we have had party polarization before, it’s never before had such a strong ideological component.  And here’s the basic theory at work:

Still, Linz offered several reasons why presidential systems are so prone to crisis. One particularly important one is the nature of the checks and balances system. Since both the president and the Congress are directly elected by the people, they can both claim to speakfor the people. When they have a serious disagreement, according to Linz, “there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved.” The constitution offers no help in these cases, he wrote: “the mechanisms the constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate.”

In a parliamentary system, deadlocks get resolved. A prime minister who lacks the backing of a parliamentary majority is replaced by a new one who has it. If no such majority can be found, a new election is held and the new parliament picks a leader. It can get a little messy for a period of weeks, but there’s simply no possibility of a years-long spell in which the legislative and executive branches glare at each other unproductively.

But within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional trainwreck with no resolution. The United States’s recent government shutdowns and executive action on immigration are small examples of the kind of dynamic that’s led to coups and putsches abroad.

Is it going to come to a true failure of our government.  I think probably not, but I do actually find it quite plausible.  Give us some sort of crisis and it is not too far for a president to essentially become a dictator.  I will agree that “doom” is probably far more likely due to our presidential system than if we had a parliamentary system.

Video of the day

Single Transferable Vote is one of those really cool concepts that political scientists love, but almost nobody knows about (except of course the good people of Ireland).  I love this video that explains it with the animal kingdom.

Most Americans don’t understand what a government subsidy is

Not exactly a shocking headline.  Surely less so than, most Americans don’t know that government is subsidizing their health care.  Actually, I suspect both are true, but I think the YouGov question this is based on (via Yglesias) is quite problematic:

“Do you receive [emphasis mine] a government subsidy to help you pay for your health insurance.”  My suspicion is that substantially more than 15% or so of American who receive employer health insurance no there’s a tax break involved, but don’t think a tax break as receiving a government subsidy.  I could be wrong, but I actually suspect you would have much higher responses to “is your health insurance in any way subsidized by the government.”  Of course, there’s really no excuse for all those 65+ on Medicare who just don’t get it.  So despite nit-picking the question wording, I do think Yglesias is right:

Some of what you see in this poll is a simple misunderstanding — older Americans either don’t know what Medicare is or mistakenly believe they have “paid for” their benefits with earlier taxes.

But Americans who get insurance from their jobs are also benefitting from a massive government program. A program whose existence is hidden from sight but is nonetheless quite real and substantial..

One of the few things that policy experts of all kinds can agree on is that it’s arbitrary and unfair to provide this subsidy to employees of large companies while other workers go unsubsidized and uncovered.

The Affordable Care Act seeks to address this unfairness by creating a parallel system of subsidies from people who don’t get job-based care while paring back the tax subsidy for the most expensive job-based plans.

Most conservative plans — from the one John McCain ran on in 2008 to the one Richard Burr, Orrin Hatch, and Fred Upton are pushing in the current congress — level the playing field by eliminating (in McCain’s case) or curtailing (in the current bill’s case) the subsidy for job-based plans. Avik Roy, a leading conservative health wonk, calls this subsidy the “original sin” of American health care policy.

But as far as the public is concerned, liberals and conservatives might as well be arguing about what to do with the Loch Ness Monster. A huge share of the American health policy debate is a debate about what to do about a subsidy that the public doesn’t realize exists.

Of course, one of the problems in making good policy in general is that it is far too easy to use Americans’ massive ignorance of how policy actually works (not that I’m blaming them) to mislead the public for political ends.  Death panels anyone?

Quick hits (part II)

1) A better way to prevent young Muslim men in the West from being radicalized?

2) Republicans are all about how state and local government is better.  Except when the local government wants to do something the radical conservatives in charge of state governments disapprove of.

3) Give your babies some peanuts!  Among other things, a really interesting case on what has been the conventional medical wisdom for a number of years appears to have been 180 degrees wrong.

4) So, maybe the universe had no beginning at all?  Sure, I can wrap my head around that.

5) Personally, I’m so annoyed at all the feminists picking on Patricia Arquette for making a statement for equal pay for women at the Oscars.  Amanda Marcotte’s complaints strike me as exactly what’s wrong with feminism.  For one, I agree with Arquette’s implicit complaint that liberal politics has been too focused on identity politics and not enough bread-and-butter economic issues.

6) I had no idea China was trying to fund a canal through Nicaragua.  Sounds like an absolutely epic boondoggle.

7) Excellent piece from Nate Cohn reminding us that Republicans in blue states are actually really important.

The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.

It’s easy to forget about the blue-state Republicans. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats, and so officials elected by states and districts that supported Mr. Romney dominate the Republican Congress.

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama.

8) I didn’t know about the Siberian crater problem and it’s connection to global warming.  Fascinating.

9) Speaking of Russia, enjoyed this take on the murder of Boris Nemtsov.

10) We all take spreadsheets for granted these days, but they really are a pretty amazing invention.  Loved this Planet Money story.

11) The Republican plan for fighting ISIS is amazingly similar to…. what Obama is actually doing.

12) Great Jon Stewart clip on all the hate from Fox on the announcement of his leaving the show.

13) Maria Konnikova on the dangers of leaning in.

14) Ezra Klein once again reminding us that moderates are not actually moderate at all.

15) On how the color blue is actually a recent innovation.  Seriously.  Loved the Radiolab referenced in this post.

16) All the evidence you need for the existence of white privilege.

17) I so hate the Food Babe.  I’ve been meaning to write my own post disparaging her, but I’ve fallen short.  These two do a great job.

18) I was quite amused at how shocked my stepmother was at Christmas-time when we explained we don’t bathe our kids every night.  You would have thought we said we have them sleep outside in the winter.  Of course, there’s absolutely no reason you need to bathe children every day.  (Of course, now that David is a teenager he will definitely develop a smell if he goes too long).

19) Lolita is one of my favorite books ever.  Enjoyed this piece on it for being one of the Guardian’s top 100 novels.  I came across it when “Vladimir Nabokov” surprisingly posted the link in my FB feed.

Quick hits

1) While everybody has been complaining about the silliness of the dress being black/blue or gold/white, the truth is, this really is a fascinating case of the ambiguities of human color perception.  David Pogue’s take was my favorite.  And a good one in Wired, too.

The really crazy part for me is that on Friday morning this was totally white and I could not even imagine how it could be blue.  Then Friday afternoon when I showed my kids, it was blue.  Friday night, it was white again.  As of this later Friday night writing, it’s back to blue again.  Try as I might, I cannot see it as the dingy white I did just two hours ago.  Argh!  Crazy and awesome.

2) Not generally a big fan of Maureen Dowd, but she’s exactly right to question Jeb’s decision-making in relying on all his brother’s worst advisers.  Paul Wolfowitz– seriously?!

3) Our nation’s way over-reliance on solitary confinement truly is a national shame.

4) Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members is literally one of the funniest books I’ve read in years.  I read it in a day (can’t remember the last time I did that) and laughed out loud a bunch while I was reading it.

5) Really liked this take on David Carr’s death and the stigma of lung cancer.

6) I so hate the twitter guardians of decency who seem to take such pleasure in ruining lives.  Absolute worst part of the Lindsey Stone case was how the morons basically had no sense of humor or context.  Horrible and pathetic.

7) How twin studies show that whether you believe in God or not, is significantly genetic.

8) Enjoyed this story on Dianne Rehm’s advocacy in the Right to Die movement.

9) I think Scott Walker’s moronic comments that he’s ready to face down ISIS because he faced down public employee unions mostly just show that he’s not ready for primetime (of which we’ve had ample evidence of late).  Plus, there’s something about the set of his eyes that just seems wrong to me.

10) Will Saletan on how Obama should more forthrightly call out Republicans.  Not going to happen, but it’s nice to think about:

Please. If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.

11) Found this NYT story utterly fascinating about two French babies switched at birth and how they stayed with their non-biological families when the error was learned many years later.

12) St Louis is a great example of what goes wrong when a metropolitan area has too many local governments.

13) I’ve only watched three episodes of House of Cards and that’s all it will likely ever be.  As Alyssa Rosenberg writes, it insults our intelligence.  Also, from what I’ve seen it has basically no sense of humor (which is decidedly not the case from other great dramas of recent times).

14) If the Supreme Court actually makes the transparently political and nakedly partisan decision to strike down Obamacare subsidies, this could actually put Republicans in a real jam.

15) Our system of elected judges is truly one of the worst parts of the American system of government.  Easy pickings, of course, for John Oliver.


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