Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Obamacare Challenge for Kay Hagan and Clay Aiken-Show Us Who's Side You're On!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

“Death Blow Against Obamacare,” The Huffington Post blared. “Big Blow to Obamacare Subsidies,” claimed The Washington Times. As usual, however, the reports of the demise of the Affordable Care Act have been greatly exaggerated.

Here’s what happened: The ACA set up a system of insurance “exchanges,” where people can go online, shop among various insurance plans, and check to see if they qualify for assistance (in the form of tax subsidies regulated by the IRS) to buy them. The law provided that the states could set up their own exchanges, but if for some reason they couldn’t or wouldn’t, then the Feds would do it for them.
Some states, such as California, Kentucky and Minnesota, set up their own exchanges. Those have enrolled lots of people who are getting access to health care that they’d been unable to afford before. Republican-controlled states, however, out of pure spite over the GOP’s loss on Obamacare, refused to cooperate. They turned up their noses and said, “Let the Feds do it.” Which the Feds did.
Now, however, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in an opinion written by two Bushista judges (one a creature of Bush the Elder, one an appointee of his egregious son Dubbya), ruled that the ACA provided for subsidies only for policies bought on exchanges actually set up by the state, not state exchanges set up by the federal government.
I’m wondering if this ruling will finally get middle-class voters to realize that Republican governments that refused to set up exchanges might end up costing them a boatload of money. Because make no mistake: This decision, if allowed to stand, will end up having serious ill effects, not on the poor (whom the right wing already loathes and despises), but on a substantial percentage of the middle class.
See, the people who qualify for a subsidy, according to the ACA, are people who make between 133 percent and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. That’s $46,000 for an individual and $94,000 for a family of four.
That’s solidly middle-class, folks. Those subsidies help cover uninsured people who are too well-off for Medicaid, who aren’t covered by their employer, but don’t make enough to buy their own insurance. If that’s you, and your Republican state government refused to set up a state exchange, then they’re trying to yank the rug out from under you.
One study, as reported in The Washington Post, predicts that if the subsidies were withdrawn from federal exchanges, the estimated number of Americans without coverage would increase by 6.5 million.
Another study by consulting firm Avaler Health found that people who’d been getting subsidies would see health care premium costs rise by an average of 76 percent, with some increases in poorer areas going up to 95 percent. People in the Democratic states that set up state exchanges, however, would get to keep the insurance they bargained for.
So I would advise the rabid right not to start doing the Wingnut Monkey Dance of Triumph just yet. 

Yanking away the health insurance that people just got may not be a winning issue for you.
In addition, a mere two hours after the D.C. Circuit made its ruling, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled in exactly the opposite way. It ruled that the ACA says that the Feds are operating the exchanges “within the state,” which makes it ambiguous as to whether they’d be entitled to subsidies.
It’s a long-standing principle that in a case where a law is worded ambiguously, the agency interpreting it has broad leeway. So the IRS (which, remember, regulates the subsidies) can apply it to both kinds of exchanges.
The defendants in the D.C. Circuit case can (and no doubt will) also get the case heard by the entire panel of D.C. Circuit judges, not just the three-judge panel that issued today’s decision. And if that happens, the case will be reviewed by a court made up of a majority of Democratic appointees.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen if weak-kneed Democratic politicians who have been showing lukewarm support for Obamacare have the gumption to stand up for the people they represent and point out that it’s the GOP that’s cheerleading for millions of middle-class people’s health care to be taken away.
It would be a trivially easy flaw in the wording of the statute to fix, and ACA opponents would then be forced to defend their stance that taking health care away from people who just got it is a good thing.
Sen. Hagan, are you listening? You’ve shown vague signs of having a spine on this issue. Will you brace up and make this the middle-class cause it deserves to be? How about you, Mr. Aiken? Mrs. Clinton? Let us hear from you. Loud and clear.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: AN APRIL SHROUD by Reginald Hill

An April Shroud (Dalziel & Pascoe, #4)An April Shroud by Reginald Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andy Dalziel, the older, louder, fatter, and cruder member of one of crime fiction's oddest couples, is pretty much on his own for most of this fourth installment in the series, and that's not a bad thing. With his more cerebral and often annoying younger partner off on his honeymoon with his equally annoying spouse, Dalziel finds himself on holiday and at loose ends. When he stumbles across a curiously aquatic funeral procession, Dalziel quickly finds himself drying himself and his rain-soaked belongings in an English country house with an assemblage of incessantly bickering oddballs who seem strangely unaffected by the recent death of one of their own.

Like the other books in the series that I've read up to now, the plot is a little slow and plodding, and it doesn't pack much of an emotional charge. Also, the book was originally published in 1975 and a couple of the characters are seriously dated.

What makes the book (and the series) entertaining is the character of Dalziel himself: acerbic, outspoken, cynical, boorish, drunk a fair amount of the time, and generally not giving a rat's hindquarters about what anyone thinks of him. It's worth a read just to chuckle over his observations on the cast of characters around him and on life in general. I want to party with this guy sometime.


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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: N0S4A2, by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great horror novel needs a great villain, and Charlie Manx is one of the greatest: creepy, nearly invincible, with a seductive reasonableness in his alleged motive for doing the horrible things he does. It's all for the sake of the children. Right? RIGHT?


Everybody knows by now that Joe Hill is the son of mega-best-selling horror novelist Stephen King. It's true that Hill uses some of the techniques his old man made famous, most notably the use of cultural icons to tether the fantastic and bizarre plot to the real world (let me just say, you may never hear Christmas music the same way again, and if you hated it before, you'll be terrified by it after this).

All that said, Joe Hill has his own strong, tough, idiosyncratic voice and a real feel for character that makes you ache for the damaged people pitted against the powerful Manx. There were several times in this book when I heard myself whispering, "Oh, no, no, no..." But in a good way.

Pity, fear, and eventual katharsis. You can't ask for more.

Highly recommended.

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Review: JERICHO'S RAZOR, by Casey Doran

Jericho's RazorJericho's Razor by Casey Doran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, full disclosure time. Casey Doran and I both have the same publisher, Polis Books. But I've never met the man, and in any case, whoever the publisher may be, I don't review books I don't actually like, because I don't finish books I don't like. And I liked this book. A lot.

The idea of an author who's horrified to find out that a killer is using idea from his novels has been done before (IIRC, it's the original premise of the show "Castle"). But Casey Doran puts a new twist on it: Jericho Sands is not only a best selling crime novelist, he's the son of a pair of notorious serial killers who admits that, to some extent, he trades on that notoriety to sell books. But apparently that's attracted a vicious killer whose first victim is decapitated with a chainsaw in Jericho's garage.

That's how the book starts, and the pace never lets up after that. There are a couple of moments where the thread my disbelief is suspended from got a little frayed (there's one point early on, for example, at which Jericho would have certainly been locked up and is inexplicably allowed to go free). But the book moves so fast, and Jericho's narrative voice is so compelling, that I couldn't help but keep reading. This is a great debut and I look forward to the next book in the series. Recommended.

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Look, How Wrong Can You Be?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The office was cramped and cluttered, with dusty posters of old TV personalities on the wall: Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite. The single window behind the desk was half open, letting in the noise from the street below.
“So, you wanna be on the network news talk shows,” the man behind the desk said.
He was a big man with a florid, jowly face and a cigar stuck in one corner of his mouth. He had his suit coat off, and his short sleeves were rolled up. The name plate on his desk read, “Mort Nuttman, Talent Agent.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “See, I’ve been writing this political column for years, and I think I know a lot about the subject. I was wondering if maybe I could be one of those high-paid TV pundits.”
Nuttman grunted. He opened the folder of columns I’d brought and scanned through them. After a moment, he set it down. He looked at me, up and down, for a long moment, without speaking. “The question is,” Nuttman said finally, “how wrong can you be?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Look,” he said, “You wanna make the big money as a guest pundit on the big shows — “This Week,” “Fox and Friends,” “Situation Room” — you gotta show that you can be completely wrong. Not just once, but over and over. Look at the heavy hitters — Bill Kristol, Dick Morris, The Cheneys, Palin, even John McCain. You know what they have in common?”
“They were all wrong?”
“You bet they were!”
“I don’t know if I can be like those guys,” I said. “I’m kind of center-left.”
He rolled his eyes. “Dear Lord,” he moaned. “Not a liberal.”

“That’s a problem?”

He shook his head. “Liberals are hard to work with, pal. They show up with facts, and figures, and” he made air quotes with his fingers and put a sneer in his voice, “reee-search.”
“Facts are bad?” I said.
“Facts make people change the channel,” he said. “I don’t need another Alan Colmes on my client roster.”
“Exactly. Now, if you were an actual liberal, you’d be dead in the water.”
“What about Rachel Maddow?”
He waved a hand dismissively “One show. One network. Plus, she’s a looker. The big money’s in being able to do a lot of shows, and it’s easier to do that if you’re a far-right wacko. More entertaining. We can work around the ‘center-left’ thing, like we did with James Carville and Bill Maher. But you’ve got to be willing to do what it takes to grab people. Now, yell!”
“C’mon, yell! See if you can drown me out.”
I was confused. “Yell what?”
He handed me a piece of paper. “This script’ll do.” He began talking in a calm, measured voice. “One thing that makes the current border crisis more complicated is the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by President George W. Bush…”
I looked down at the paper and began to read at the top of my lungs. “WHEN IS OBAMA GOING TO STOP BLAMING BUSH FOR EVERYTHING?!” I hollered, doing my best to shout Nuttman down. “A COUNTRY THAT CAN’T PROTECT ITS BORDERS IS NO COUNTRY AT ALL! AAAAAAH!”
I stopped and looked up. He was nodding.
“OK,” he said, “good projection, just the right edge of barely controlled rage. We might have something here. But you still need to have been wrong a lot.” He sat back down. “So,” he said. “Were you in favor of the Iraq War? Do you still think it was a good idea?”
“Oh, God, no,” I said. “It was a debacle that should never have happened.”
Nuttman grimaced. “How about Romney? Were you predicting he’d score a landslide win over Obama as late as Nov. 6, 2012?”
“What are you, nuts?”
He pressed on. “Did you predict that Obamacare enrollment numbers weren’t going to reach predicted levels?”
He sighed. “Sorry, pal. You just don’t have what it takes.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “The people who have been consistently wrong about everything get to pull down fat salaries on TV? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What do you think this is, kid? News? This is infotainment. No one likes people who are right. Audiences like people who agree with them. Loudly.”
“Even if they’re wrong?”
“Especially if they’re wrong. People who know they’re wrong want someone to tell them they’re right, so they never have to admit it.”
I shook my head. “I hate to say it,” I said, “but you’re right.”
“Don’t let it get around,” he said.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Hot New Fad For the Right Wing Asshole On The Go

This is, I guess what you'd call the "Director's Cut" of this week's column,  since I can't say "asshole" in the paper. Even though it's exactly the right word).

Imagine, if you will: You’re driving along the road, minding your own business, when you pull up behind one of those great big pickups that would be very useful hauling feed and seed or towing a horse trailer, but which is way too clean and unscratched to have ever seen an actual farm.
As you prepare to pass this wheeled behemoth, your car is suddenly enveloped in a cloud of choking black smoke that causes you to weave dangerously. As you fight your way clear of the blinding cloud, you see the truck pulling off and faintly hear the derisive laughter of its occupants.
Congratulations. You’ve just encountered some Good Americans who are patriotically protesting against Obama’s fascist nanny state by engaging in a practice they call “Rolling Coal.”
Are you the kind of “conservative” who thinks that the first question that needs to be answered when analyzing a political position is, “Will this annoy liberals?”
Are you the type of person who, if the First Lady comes out in favor of something like, say, healthy meals and exercise, immediately starts howling that your rights are being violated worse than those of Jews in the Holocaust and declare your intention to stuff as much junk as possible into your face because that’ll show them, by golly?
Are you the type of person who’s decided to shop every week at Hobby Lobby, even though you’ve never shopped there before and you don’t actually have any hobbies, but you want to show those danged feminazis that you’re not taking any of their guff?
In short, are you a typical right wing asshole?
Well, you could always run for a Republican congressional seat. But if that seems like too much trouble and/or expense, then maybe Rolling Coal is for you.
Get yourself a big ol’ truck, go to an Internet site like or one of those magazines aimed at truck aficionados, and order you some “smoke switches,” “aggressive tuners and modules,” and “special injectors” which will, and I quote, “trick your engine into thinking it needs more fuel.”
This will allow you to blow out a huge cloud of black smoke on command when you encounter, say, a Prius or other hybrid. (You can even get a sticker along with your gear that says “Prius Repellent.”)
But don’t stop there. You can also use your new gizmos to smoke people with liberal bumper stickers. Or bicyclists. Be sure to use your smartphone to record your hilarious encounters with those enemies of all that is free and good about America.
Then you can join the Coal Rollers on YouTube, where your fellow freedom fighters have posted videos of their blows against The Man, a category which includes the aforementioned Prius drivers, liberal bumper sticker displayers, and cyclists, as well as cops and pretty girls walking by the side of the road (because nothing gets a woman hotter than having acrid toxic gases blown in her face by a truck the size of small aircraft carrier).
Of course, you knew that once a few brave souls began spewing The Black Cloud of Liberty in everyone’s face, Obama’s Islamocommiefascist Iron Fist of Doom was going to come down to crush it the way the Chinese crushed the flowers of freedom in Tiananmen Square.
The jackbooted thugs of the EPA have issued one of their fatwas, saying, “It is a violation of the Clean Air Act to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device.”
Translated into American, that means that after-market devices intended to increase fuel consumption and belch clouds of pollution into people’s faces are regarded as illegal by Obama’s EPA. This is how freedom dies, my friends.
If there’s one silver lining for the right, it’s that the Republicans in the House finally may have found the grounds for bringing the Articles of Impeachment they’ve been feverishly fantasizing about for so long. I mean, to heck with requiring some sort of “high crime or misdemeanor” as grounds to impeach. You just do NOT mess with a man’s truck.