Tag Archives: Ed Brayton

“No Brainer” Trump…

Several media outlets have reported on Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of a measure to outlaw flag burning. Congresscritters repeatedly introduce these bills, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled years ago that flag burning is protected under the First Amendment.

Ed Brayton commented on Trump’s history with the issue.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump said that anyone who burns an American flag — you know, all four of them in the entire country over the last few decades– should be stripped of their citizenship and be put in jail. Now two Republicans have proposed yet another bill to make flag burning illegal and he’s endorsing it on — where else — Twitter:

All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!

Coincidentally, No Brainer is the Secret Service’s code name for him.

You would think that an administration’s Press Secretary would try to intercede to protect freedom of expression, since all media–even rightwing outlets–rely on First Amendment protections to do their jobs. But of course, this is the Trump Administration, which has hired spectacularly dishonest specimens to fill that post. (My favorite description of departing Sarah Huckabee Sanders was penned by Bret Stephens of the New York Times, who wrote that Sanders “combined the sincerity of Elmer Gantry with the moral outlook of Raskolnikov.”)

Since no one currently serving in this administration seems to “get it,” let me see if I can explain the way free speech jurisprudence works in language that thinking people  (a category that rather clearly excludes the current occupant of the White House) can understand.

The Free Speech clause of the First Amendment protects the exchange of ideas against government censorship. All ideas. Even awful ideas. Ideas that piss people off. Government doesn’t get to decide which ideas get transmitted, period. (Your mother, on the other hand, can censor you. So can your boss. The Bill of Rights only restrains government.)

Government can prohibit actions for a whole host of reasons, but it cannot pick and choose among messages. If there is an ordinance banning outdoor burning in dry weather, for example, or laws criminalizing the theft of a flag belonging to someone else, people violating those laws can be punished, because those measures don’t implicate an exchange of ideas. They are what lawyers call “content neutral.”

The rules are different for actions we call “symbolic speech.” These are actions that are clearly intended to communicate ideas. A silent march by Neo-Nazis–or any group of activists– doesn’t require verbal expression to send its message. We get it.

Flag burning offends us precisely because it sends an unmistakable message of disrespect for the country.

Brayton illuminated another common misunderstanding of what the First Amendment  does and does not protect, in a post about a Tennessee police officer who had advocated killing gay people.

Grayson Fritts, the Tennessee sheriff’s deputy/pastor who gave a sermon calling for LGBT people to be put to death, has been given a buyout and allowed to resign rather than be fired. And his boss says that’s because firing him would violate his First Amendment rights. I’m virtually a free speech absolutist, and I can say without hesitation that he is totally wrong….

If he was just a preacher who said that, I’d excoriate him for it but still support his constitutional right to say it. But as a government employee whose job is to administer justice fairly and equally, it’s a clear violation of his oath of office to think that some of the people he is charged with protecting and serving should be murdered by the state because he doesn’t approve of them. There is no free speech issue there.

A zoning administrator handing out religious tracts on the job is violating the terms of her employment, and a President trying to stifle views with which he disagrees is violating the terms of his. Free speech jurisprudence doesn’t protect them.

When elected officials–from the President on down–are abysmally ignorant of the constitution they swear to uphold, we’re in a world of hurt.

I Will Never Understand This

There are a lot of things I don’t understand. Bitcoin. How wireless internet works. Why anyone gives a rat’s patootie about Kardashian-type celebrities.  Lots more.

But on Thanksgiving–when I reflect on my good health and comfortable life and give thanks for my family– I am reminded that what I really, really don’t understand is why so many people oppose allowing government to insure other people’s health.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly understand debating the how of healthcare, arguing for policy A rather than policy B or C. But I’m appalled by those who evidently consider health care an optional consumer good–and believe that people who can’t afford it shouldn’t have it.

What triggered this rant was a post from Dispatches from the Culture Wars. I’ve met Ed Brayton, who writes Dispatches. He is a delightful person, a steadfast proponent of reason, the rule of law, civil liberties and science.

He also has a pre-existing condition.

While Trump and virtually every Republican lies about not wanting to do away with the ACA’s protections for those who have preexisting medical conditions, the AARP has a new report out that says the result would be a massive increase in premiums for people like me, as high as $26,000 a year.

Brayton quotes from the AARP report:

The revised American Health Care Act (AHCA) threatens to do away with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) protections for people with preexisting health conditions. These protections prevent insurance companies from denying these individuals coverage or charging them higher rates based on their health.

Eliminating these protections could force millions of Americans to — once again — rely on state high-risk pools. State high-risk pools are supposed to provide access to health insurance for people who cannot get coverage in the individual health insurance market because of preexisting health conditions.

State high-risk pools may sound like a good idea but, in reality, they are fraught with problems. One of the biggest lessons learned from experience with state high-risk pools: They bring steep premiums that put coverage out of reach for millions. In the past, monthly premiums in state high-risk pools could be up to 200 percent higher than in the individual (nongroup) market. Consequently, only a small fraction of those with preexisting conditions could afford to buy a plan. Yet, these premiums — high as they were — only covered about half the amount needed to pay enrollee claims. Most states tried to close the financial gap through taxes on providers and government subsidies, but even those efforts proved insufficient. We project that if states return to pre-ACA high-risk pools in 2019, as proposed, high-risk pool premiums for people with preexisting conditions could be as high as $25,700 annually.

Brayton’s reaction paints the picture in very personal terms:

High-risk pools are a disaster. They make insurance completely unaffordable for the overwhelming majority of people. As I’ve said many times, if the Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare, I’m dead. Probably within a year. There’s no way I could afford the premiums in a high-risk pool and my medication costs run into thousands of dollars a month, and that doesn’t count all the specialists and tests and stays in the hospitals.

The United States health industry (as a student once explained to me, we don’t have a ‘system’) costs twice as much per person as in the next most expensive country, and our outcomes are far worse. (We not only aren’t “number one,” the last time I looked, we were number 37.) Private health insurance companies have average overhead costs of 23-25% (costs that include bloated management salaries and corporate jets, along with marketing costs and personnel hired solely to decide that you don’t really need that medicine).

Medicare’s overhead is 3%.

Americans pay much more for much less, all because we don’t want to subsidize medical care for the Ed Braytons of the world–or for the children of poor families, or people who don’t look like us.

The day America joins the rest of the civilized world by guaranteeing universal access to basic medical care will really be Thanksgiving.

 

 

Quick, Dirty and Accurate

Every so often, I read something that expresses an opinion I hold so succinctly and clearly that I get a bit jealous of the wordsmith. (That tends to be my reaction to pretty much anything Leonard Pitts writes, and especially this one).

That was also my reaction to a recent post by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Brayton was addressing the recurring question of why Trump supporters don’t care about his constant–incessant–lies. He began by referencing two classic analyses by Richard Hofstadter, the book  Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and Hofstadter’s much-quoted essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politicsboth of which are well worth reading if you haven’t already done so. Hofstadter wrote in the 1960s, and Brayton’s point was the cyclical nature of American history.

It seems that about every 40-50 years we go through this bout of pseudo-populist, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and racist fervor. You can go back to the Know Nothings of the mid-1800s, to the rebirth of the KKK in the early 1900s, to the McCarthy era and the birth of the John Birch Society in the 60s (which was just starting when Hofstadter did his analysis). What we’re seeing with Trump is the latest rebirth of those movements. He’s tapped into a rich vein of ignorance, paranoia and bigotry that is never far below the surface in America.

When I am particularly worried about our prospects for emerging from the current cesspool of corruption and bigotry, I remind myself of these episodes from America’s past. After all, we survived those; surely when the fever breaks, we can repair the damage being done every day by the looters and racists who now control our government.

Can’t we?

Brayton makes another point I’ve frequently made: these eruptions occur in times of economic and cultural stress.

When people feel insecure economically or socially — as in white Christians feeling threatened by becoming a smaller percentage of the population, coupled with vast income inequality and the massive recession of 2008 and 2009 — they tend to retreat into this very simpleminded tribalism. They want to build Fortress America and shut everyone else out. They retreat to racial tribes and lob bombs — sometimes literally — at other tribes. Their fear and insecurity make them easy targets for demagogues like Trump to whip them up into a fervor by telling them that it’s all the fault of (insert scapegoat here — blacks, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gay people, “elites” or “globalists”). Fear is a powerful motivator and is easily exploitable by those seeking authoritarian power.

And once people are fully in the grip of tribalism, the truth simply doesn’t matter to them anymore.

Brayton points to Trump’s repeated–and largely fact-free– attacks on immigrants as an example. Those immigrants (unless, of course, they are pale and come from Norway) are dangerous threats, they are “other.”

Leonard Pitts, in the linked column, brilliantly summed up how we fell into this particular abyss.

There is no mystery here. Trump is president because Obama was, and because there were many people for whom that fact was apocalyptic. It’s no coincidence David Duke loves this man, white people chant his name to taunt black ones and hate crimes spiked during the campaign.

After all, what’s a lie or two–or 3,000–when your white Christian heterosexual tribe is in danger of losing its hegemony?

I Yield My Time to the Gentleman from Dispatches from the Culture Wars

One of the blogs I read regularly is Dispatches from the Culture WarsEd Brayton’s “tell it like it is” reports on the crazier precincts of the Right. Brayton himself is a “left-libertarian” with whom I have much in common philosophically.

Sometimes, he says things so clearly and succinctly that there is no point trying to improve on his message. The other day he shared one such observation, and I am simply copying and pasting most of it. (With attribution, so I don’t think he’ll mind.)

He begins by addressing the oft-repeated assertion that there is no difference between the parties:

Even as someone who has spent most of his life voting third party, the claim that there’s no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is simply one of the most ridiculous and reality-defying statements of epic bullshit I have ever heard in my life and I cannot take seriously anyone who makes that claim.

Then he gives “chapter and verse.”

Here’s what I have said for a long time: When there’s a big bunch of money at stake, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two parties. If the profits of major corporations and the net worth of billionaires is at stake in a policy fight, they’re going to get 100% of what they want from Republicans and about 90% of what they want from Democrats. But that does not mean that there are no meaningful, life-changing differences between the parties, not even close. Let me list the ways:

Only one party has passed more than 100 anti-choice bills after taking control of state legislatures in 2010. Only one party has passed bills to defund Planned Parenthood, putting the healthcare of millions of women in jeopardy. Only one party is furiously opposed to paid parental leave.

Only one party passes bills to prevent trans people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Only one party supports discrimination against LGBT people in every possible way. Only one party supports giving Christians a “get out of discrimination laws free” card. Only one party rails against marriage equality. Only one party includes organizations that demonize LGBT people as demon-possessed child molesters. Only one party supports gay reversion therapy.

Only one party tries constantly, in every possible way, to cut or eliminate food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies and every other imaginable means of support for the poor.

Only one party puts justices like Scalia, Alito and Thomas on the Supreme Court.

I could go on, but that’s quite enough to show that the claim that there are no differences between the two parties is patently ridiculous.

So there!