Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Scalia and the Supreme Court on Health Care Reform Law

There is a phenomenon at philosophy conferences and in graduate school in philosophy in which someone can appear superficially quite intelligent, in their ability to move polysyllabic words around. Often they dress in tweed and learn a set of specialized terminology; in short, they look and sound like respectable, intelligent academics. I have even witnessed such people read papers or give presentations at conferences. It is only when one questions these people about their 'claims' that you realize that they have no idea what they are talking about, that they have no conception of how this complex web of interconnected terms might have any connection to anything outside the web. In other words, to paraphrase Mark Helprin in Winter's Tale, they don't know what an apple is. I give various names to these pseudo-intelligent persons at different times depending on circumstances, but I sometimes call them Apparently Respectable Morons.

I believe the same can be said of Antonin Scalia. He makes superficially clever, if vicious, quips, and he may, for all I know, have some superficial capacity for manipulating legalistic language. He is, however, an Apparently Respectable Moron. I have, alas, attended to the supreme court's questions about Obama's health care law. These Republicans have recently discovered a long-standing opposition to the oppressive hand of big government in its ability to support insurance companies. Scalia, who never objected to the vast expansion of the Bush administration's 'war on terror' policies, suddenly is worried that the government is not limited and that there is nothing that it might not do if it is allowed to force people to buy health insurance. Antonin Scalia claimed that torture of prisoners at Guantanamo is perfectly constitutional, that it does not violate the 8th amendment's banning of cruel and unusual punishment, on the grounds that the prisoners are not being punished for anything. On these grounds, it would be perfectly constitutional for a representative of the government to beat you with a baseball bat, as long as they were just doing it for fun and not for any punitive purpose. So, suddenly, Scalia decides that forcing people to buy health insurance is the unconstitutional excess of an unlimited government, but torturing people for no reason is perfectly constitutional.

So, what brilliant analogy does Scalia give to show why the individual mandate is unconstitutional? He asks, "Can the government force you to buy broccoli?" Obviously, food is transported across state lines and involves a significant amount of commerce, so why can't the government regulate it by forcing people to buy broccoli? This is an absurdly faulty analogy.

Insurance companies have incentives to deny health care to people who would cost them money or who try to get payment for their health care. To regulate this market and guarantee health care to Americans (clearly a worthy goal and one that would be ordinarily within the purview of the government), it is necessary to prevent health insurance companies from denying coverage. However, if the government required that insurance companies provide coverage without any protection for the insurance companies, people would only sign up for health insurance when they got sick. Since this result would undermine the possibility of a private health insurance industry, the Obama administration, following all the Republicans before them, included an individual mandate in the bill, so that everyone has to purchase health insurance. This measure is, to be clear, a protection for the private health insurance companies.

So, how is this different from the broccoli case? Simply, buying broccoli is not a necessary condition for the existence of a market for food. If it were impossible for a large percentage of the American people to purchase food if people were not forced to buy broccoli, then it would be legitimate to mandate broccoli purchases. Suppose food is so expensive that no one can afford to pay for his/her own meals, but everyone has to buy into a kind of lottery (or insurance program) so that when people really need the food, they get a payout so they can afford it, but otherwise they pay into a pool that redistributes their money to those in need of food. Now, suppose the government wants to guarantee that everyone has food when they need it, so the government requires that they sell food people even if those people cannot pay for that food. If the government passed such a law, it would undermine the food companies' ability to be profitable (or even survive). So, if the only way to force people to pay into their 'food insurance' was to make them buy broccoli, then it would be ok to force them to buy broccoli.

Or, shorter, since companies will be able to survive whether people are forced to buy broccoli or not, there can be no compelling government interest in forcing people to buy broccoli. The food industry can survive while providing food for everyone without everyone being forced to buy broccoli.

Antonin Scalia, especially, but all the conservatives on the court, are capable of making rational-sounding but utterly nonsensical arguments and claims, but they just seem to lack any legitimate understanding of anything that matters. This is a common failing, especially among creationists, climate-change deniers and other true believers, in that people believe things for reasons that have nothing to do with evidence or rationality, and then they deploy their rational capacities to justify (or rationalize) the beliefs that they have for these other reasons.

Romney Lies

Rachel Maddow has treated Mitt Romney’s constant, unapologetic, serial lying about virtually everything having to do with himself, the economy, his campaign, and the Obama administration. She thinks that Romney’s campaign is new in the quantity of lying and in the fact that they feel no need even to correct their claims when their lying is exposed. I beg to differ. I think the lies here are almost identical in type and quantity to the lies told by the George W. Bush’s campaigns.

For example, Maddow cites a quotation from Romney surrogate Karl Rove in which he claims that Obama’s decision on sending in Seal Team 6 ™ was completely ordinary and quotes Bill Clinton saying, “It was the call I would have made,” about it. Rove left off the crucial phrase, that directly contradicted the meaning he was attributing to Clinton, “I hope that it was the call I would have made"[emphasis added]. Obviously, Clinton’s actual sentence had a completely different meaning to the one Rove claimed. Rove’s lie is similar to the previous Romney campaign commercial lie in which Obama is heard saying, “If we talk about the economy, we will lose,” when in fact Obama was saying in 2008 that the McCain campaign was saying, “If we [the McCain campaign] talk about the economy, we will lose.” Clearly, taking quotes out of context to change their meaning is a standard operating procedure of the Romney campaign.

However, Maddow is suffering a bit of amnesia. These out-of-context quotes were a staple of Bush campaigns past. Here are but two examples. The first is the Bush campaign taking a quote out of context to make it appear that he had received an endorsement from the New York Times (not something that would help in the current Republican primary campaign, of course).

Bush advertising fliers touted a New York Times endorsement, quoting the Times as saying: “He has a clear and compelling idea in his mind of where he wants to take the nation.” [One should be immediately skeptical because the Times would never use such a linguistic barbarism.] The
full quote from the NYTimes Magazine
reads, “Bush says that if he runs it will be because ‘he has a clear and compelling idea in his mind of where he wants to take the nation’—and not because he wants to avenge his father’s defeat in 1992.” NYTimes 9/3/98. In effect Bush is quoting himself and pretending it is an endorsement from the Times. That certainly fits the modus operandi of the current Romney campaign.

The second example is a variety of strawman. On the campaign trail after a debate with John Kerry, Bush quoted Kerry as saying that our military actions needed to pass a ‘global test’, and this test, Bush asserted, meant that France would have veto power over our use of the military. Needless to say, Kerry meant that this ‘global test’ would mean only that we should have such compelling reasons to act militarily that we could make our case to the world and demonstrate the necessity of military action. In fact, the direct preceding sentence from Kerry was, 'I will never cede America's security to any institution or any other country.' Clearly, Bush’s campaign had prepared him to take out of context so that he could make it appear that his opponent meant the exact negation of what he had said.

So, the Romney-Rove playbook is not something new in politics but something a few years old renewed. I almost feel a certain nostalgia for this kind of lying, coming as it does after claims that Obama ‘pals around with terrorists’ or tries to implement ‘death panels’ in his health care law to let him kill old people. Whereas Rove’s lies are complete negations of the claims made by his opponents, Sarah Palin's (and other recent right-wing) lies force us to occupy, temporarily at least, to live in the twisted fantasy realm that might be considered the right-wing mind just to try to discover why they even say these things. The Rove-Romney lies are almost quaint in their straightforward mendacity rather than bats#$t insanity.

It’s possible that the national media are even less likely to contradict Romney’s lies than they were to contradict Bush’s, but I'm not sure this is true. I remember the laments during the Gore campaign about how Rove got to look like a genius because no one in the media ever seemed to call him on his lies. And, honestly, when the media were, on their own accord, busily attributing claims to Gore that he had never made, they rarely spent time checking Bush's campaigns claims about their opponents.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Republicans, Sex and Religious Freedom

When the Republicans in Congress impeached Bill Clinton, they said the case was not about sex but about lying. Everyone knew this was bull; they impeached him for lying about sex, but ignored everything else he lied about (or at least that they believed he had lied about; actually the testimony they used to impeach him was the testimony in which he told the truth about how he evaded the inept questions of the laywers in the Paula Jones case). So, in short, it was still about the sex because the Republicans only cared about lying when it was lying about sex.

The same thing is true now. Republicans in Congress are universally claiming that their attempts to allow any employer to opt out of allowing their women employees to have free contraceptive coverage are about religious freedom. The problem is that religious freedom only became an issue when it was about their religious freedom to deny contraceptive coverage to women employees. So, leaving aside all the other absurdities in the religious freedom argument, the debate is not really about religious freedom when the so-called religious freedom only concerns sex.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Unpublishable Movie Review by Tasha

My human and I watch this movie, The Breed.

I like this movie. It has real dogs, German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, which are good dogs. I enjoy barking at the dogs on the television when they bark. There are no fake, computer, monster dogs that do not look or sound like real dogs. Fake, computer dogs are slow and stupid. This movie has lots of happy real dogs running, jumping and chasing things. Many humans do not know what a Malinois looks like or they think German Shepherds are only black and tan and have short hair. Lots of Shepherds, like me, are sable and have long hair. The humans in the movie do not know about dogs and think that the dogs are not Shepherds or Mals. This makes them think that the dogs are not normal, happy dogs who want to play. Silly humans. They would have more fun if they play with the dogs instead of hiding from them.

In some movies with dogs, humans are stupid; they run away from dogs that are much faster than they are. The humans in this movie are not stupid, but they are silly. They do not know that dogs can swim and climb or smell and hear well. Sometimes they hit the dogs with sticks or cars when the dogs just want to play tug or chase or wrestle. The humans do not have good food, and I think they should have food to give to the dogs. I think the dogs want food, and that's why they spend so much time with boring humans.

For some reason the humans hurt the happy dogs and try to leave the island. I think the humans do not know how to have fun or maybe want to go get good food to give to the dogs. In the end the dogs let the humans go. There is a surprise twist ending that the humans do not expect because humans cannot smell and are nearly deaf. I do not give away the ending, but the dogs get a ride on a boat.

This was a good movie review. The End.