important week for SCOTUS, health law, administration

Nina Totenberg and others reported in NPR’s health blog Sunday that the Supreme Court is very soon to hand down its decision in the controversial case of the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, it appears the decision has been scheduled to be given on Thursday. At issue are four distinct questions. The first was whether the suit, brought by 20 states against the federal government, can even be decided now by the Court since an 1867 law regarding taxes might be prohibitive. It appears to be the case that the justices feel that they can. The second, and most interesting to me and it seems most other people, is whether the so-called “individual mandate” provision to purchase health insurance or be assessed a fine is allowed by Congress’s broad powers to regulate interstate commerce. The third concerns whether a vast expansion of Medicaid mandated by the law is impermissably coercive on the states, who bear the responsibility of that program’s administration. Finally, the fourth is the resulting question of severability: if any part of the law should be found to be unconstitutional, how much of the rest of the law can be permitted to stand?

I wrote much earlier this year, among other things, about how this decision will be both interesting and significant. At first I thought I would wait until the ruling to talk about the case in any detail, but instead I’ll now attempt to predict how the Court will rule on this question and analyze a few other significant rulings handed down this week.

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Book Review: “The Influencing Machine” by Brooke Gladstone

The Influencing Machine is a work of graphic nonfiction, written by Brooke Gladstone of On The Media fame, and illustrated by Josh Neufeld, probably best known for a journalistic serial he drew about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I first heard about it when Gladstone was interviewed on the Colbert Report in support of the book last year. The interview was interesting and I’ve enjoyed On The Media, so when I happened to notice it at the Elliot Bay Book Company not long ago I picked up a copy. It was well worth the sticker price.

The goal of the book is to critically examine the nature of the American media, roughly beginning with the rise of print in the colonies. Its thesis is that there is no “Influencing Machine” if that phrase means to imply that the media are some kind of external, possibly sinister force that control or direct outcomes in public life. The media are instead a mirror, Gladstone argues: “We get the media we deserve.”

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jury detail at King County Superior Court

I just completed my tour of duty as a potential juror at King County Superior Court. My summons arrived by mail at my old place, so I only found out last Friday that I was due downtown at 8 am Monday morning. I arrived ten minutes late, massively hungover from an epic house party I hosted over the weekend, and sat in a dimly lit room with about three hundred people. We watched a cheesy orientation video telling us all about how jury trials are the cornerstone of American constitutional democracy. There were posters on the walls scattered about claiming the same in case we forgot. Then a judge got up and said pretty much the same thing.

Then I waited two hours before being the 24th of the first 50 prospective jurors to be called up to a courtroom. I even raced down the hill on my bike in pretty heavy traffic, still somewhat hazy, to get there on time. Later, a bailiff would quip “We make you wait for hours but if you hold us up ninety seconds there’ll be hell to pay.” Government is nothing if not a paragon of efficiency.

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Sasquatch 2012 in review

The 11th annual Sasquatch music festival happened Memorial Day weekend at the Gorge Amphitheatre near the hilariously named city of George, Washington. It was four days of sun, dirt, dramatic daily temperature swings, tens of thousands of total strangers variously drunk or high or on vast quantities of controlled substances — or, as is more likely, an increasingly unplanned combination of all three — all sharing portable toilets and farmland for camping. All this was done to bring to pass a music festival at one of the most scenic venues in the world, the likes of which haven’t been seen since last year.

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don’t kill me, bro!

The New York Times dropped a bombshell expose earlier this week when it reported on many details of a ‘Secret Kill List’ that the President heads up. The existence of such a list within the administration isn’t news: the Los Angeles Times reported more than two years ago about a CIA drone hit list when there was talk of putting US citizen Anwar al-Awalki on it. Of course, he was put on that list and was later executed by drone to much fanfare.

What is new information is the personal role that Obama himself takes in deciding who lives and who dies. According to Tuesday’s Times article, “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical.”

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