Sunday, 29 July 2012

Mitt-muff highlights emptiness at the top

While it is entertaining to see the Mittster stumble his way through Europe displaying his androidally false cordiality, the fact that one of our major political assemblies could burp up this complete non-entity is a sorry sign, in neon, of a deeply paralyzing incompetence at the top. Worse, he is not alone, and the Obamanians ought to save their chortling.

On nearly every front of importance, we cast about in vain for signs that someone is in charge. We witness a demented attack in a suburban shopping mall, and despite the monomaniacal fixation on ‘security’ afflicting the land, Obama has to be shamed into distinguishing himself from the NRA party by a decimo-octi-billionaire mayor (Bloomberg). After a week, he limply suggested that lunatics should not have access to military assault rifles (wow!), but most everyone else shunned career suicide and dutifully kept mum.

The Greenland ice shelf turns into a snowball, and yet global warming remains off the permitted menu because no one dares sound the alarm over our species’ time on the planet.

Our banks continue to loot the nation’s productive wealth while Geithner intrigues furiously to protect them and Barack the Reasonable provides the needed cover. The Europeans do the same, only worse, allowing the entire Euro project to wobble dangerously toward an unpredictable denouement. Needless to say, the opposition’s attack is a program of even more rapid emptying of the people’s cupboards in favor of the hyper-rich.

Today’s spectacle is the most egregious example yet, with Romney abjectly offering Netanyahu his firstborn grandchildren in exchange for convincing Americans to make him president. (The NY Times dutifully headlined Romney’s statement as endorsing Israel’s ‘right to defend itself against Iran’ rather than an open invitation to start a war against a nearby state.) Meanwhile, the Obama team rapidly tried to undercut him with a fresh U.S.-Israel security pact.

How odd this display of pandering to the mob via foreigners would have looked to the emperors of Rome, who were guilty of pretty much everything imaginable, but did not mistake their provinces for the capital. Here, by contrast, the heads of the two major parties compete to find ways to encourage Israeli intransigence and to carry out the wars of choice selected by its distant suzerains, first Iraq, now Iran. Perhaps it’s not so much that we lack leaders, but that we have somehow chosen to locate them halfway around the world.

But while the pressing issues affecting us find no one to suggest or take action, the (utterly false) elite consensus that we need to slash future Social Security benefits awakens eager interest. Now there’s where leadership will flourish—taking away what little security the nation’s seniors have foolishly thought would be theirs. Obama will be the point man for that campaign, as outlined in the New Yorker recently and summarized by Matt Stoller here. Ironically, a Romney as president would be handicapped in carrying out this attack on the New Deal as the Democrats would joyfully score political points by rhetorically opposing it. The howling Tea Partiers don’t know how lucky they are to be setting up this coming Nixon-in-China (Obama-in-Utah) moment.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Up is Down

So let me see if I am getting this straight (help out if I miss any key details): We are under permanent assault from the threat of Terrorism, which requires us to abandon squeamish concerns for due process, habeas corpus, trial by court of law etc.; we need to spy on everyone’s e-mails and cellphone texts, trillions of which must be captured, stored and analyzed in massive government-run databases that we can’t know too much about because it’s necessarily secret and cannot object to because only people who don’t really care about terrorism and protecting Americans’ lives would complain; suspect peoples like Muslims and Pakistanis must be surveilled and infiltrated so that anyone suggesting unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy is fair game for an agent provocateur to try to peddle him wild terror plots and then turn him in for not running to the FBI first; our airports must be run by hordes of security agents looking down our shirts and up our briefcases as we trudge shoelessly and obediently through metal detectors; suspected foreign enemies must be ‘rendered’ (like bacon fat) to secret CIA prisons; torture is no longer officially practiced, but since no one was punished for performing it, and the CIA destroyed the tapes with the evidence, must be available at any time (when needed!) without fear of consequences; the president must be permitted to authorize himself to place selected individuals, including U.S. citizens, on a ‘kill list’ and dispatch drones to assassinate them along with any passers-by and follow-up drones to finish off the mourners at their funerals.

Right, understood, all necessary and required to KEEP US SAFE. But wait—why is it therefore NOT A PROBLEM that random individuals can purchase military assault weapons and parade through public spaces with them? Despite the relentless insistence that nothing (like a silly old Constitution) and no one must stand in the way of our nation’s Security, vast stores of insanely dangerous weaponry must remain freely available to one and all? Orwell left one slogan out: Danger is Security.

It’s just wonderful to hear the manifestations of this national schizophrenia, such as the earnest New Jersey cops interviewed here talking about how they are going to patrol cinemas throughout suburbia to ‘make absolutely sure’ nothing like the Denver massacre occurs again. Earth to Vinnie: dear fellow, there is NO SUCH THING as ‘absolutely sure’ in this life and certainly not in a country where Glock pistols are more popular than Tootsie rolls.

No, I take it back: East Germany years ago and perhaps Saudi Arabia today might be pretty capable of making ‘absolutely sure’ that no cinema massacres happen. They achieved this impressive level of security by establishing a complete police state, employing armies of informers, recording everything said or thought by their citizens, ruining dissidents and waging permanent psychological warfare against everyone thereby successfully crushing all independent thought. Yes! Let’s eliminate crime! Short of that, we might just have to accept that terrible things will occur from time to time and try to lessen their impact—like, for example, by not permitting a random kid to buy a 50-round-per-minute drum magazine for an AR-15 assault rifle. Just sayin’.

On a separate note, a good bit of the early TV coverage of this nightmare plumbed the depths of moral bankruptcy. The Diane Sawyer special report I saw the next day featured thriller-movie music and ghoulish exploitation of the events by shameless, over-emoting drama queens. If there were ever a time for a dignified recounting of the known facts by restrained on-air personnel, this was certainly it. But no, 9/11 provided the template for How to Cover tragedies affecting Americans, and it includes these elements: hysterical repetitions of what we are commanded to feel; thorough soap-opera-style milking of the emotions of the bereaved; frequent invocations of god; inspirational shots of ‘people coming together’; careful avoidance of any possible policy implications of the event, unless specifically raised by the two-party duopoly as part of the next horse race. Disgusting.

Friday, 20 July 2012

NRA demands cinemas permit bazooka access

In response to the shocking massacre of movie-viewers in Denver, the National Rifle Association today called for the repeal of laws prohibiting law-abiding citizens from bearing bazookas in cinemas.

‘This terrible attack by a lone psycho is compelling evidence that we need to arm our citizen-militiamen and women with heavier weapons so that they can respond promptly to future threats of movie mayhem,’ said NRA president Wayne LaRue.

LaRue concurred with Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s suggestion that rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) also be placed on the list of permitted self-defense tools. ‘American movie-goers need to be able to stand their ground and hold off assaults by violent criminals,’ he said. ‘Bazooka-equipped families will dissuade these individuals from threatening residents.’

However, La Rue did not endorse Arpaio’s request for authorization to place surface-to-air missiles inside Phoenix’s 12 multiplexes, saying he believed the likelihood of a helicopter-based terrorist assault on future cinematic premieres was ‘remote’.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Todo se paga

That’s a Spanish phrase for ‘what goes around, comes around’, to which some will add, In this life, not the next. It’s certainly nice when we get to witness it, like this week observing the minimally functional remnants of the Republican wing of the ruling mafia trying to dig itself out from under Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Having spent two of the last three years winking naughtily at the wacko birthers’ insistence on seeing Obama’s proof of citizenship, it’s now their turn to come up with reasons why we shouldn’t know if the Mittster paid anything at all on his multimillion-dollar income.

I think they should come clean and brag about it. After all, wouldn’t a goodly portion of their base among resentful, barely employed white guys say, Yeah, good for Mitt! He made a bundle and didn’t share it with any damn body, just like I would/will someday. Then we could go back to discussing why we shouldn’t pay taxes and get our roads fixed and our fires put out for free. It makes for a nice fit: taxes are bad; ergo, I don’t pay them.

Furthermore, this would be fully in the spirit of the takeover of the GOP by the spirit, or ghost as it were, of Sarah Palin, despite the party’s bad manners in not inviting her to their Tampa do next month. She put her buckaroo stamp on the conglomeration four years ago, and it’s been on a Palinesque run ever since, a full-throated celebration of dumb-as-a-stump delusions, snide disdain, cracker racism, insults and demagoguery. Look at the parade of classic dufuses served up during the primary season: Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum—among whose company Mitt looks like a nuclear physicist for the mere fact that his bouffant doesn’t catch fire every ten minutes. Palin is the template for the whole troupe, and those not cast from the mold (Pawlenty, Huntsman) never generated a blip on the screen.

Yes, the ultra-right is not having a good run-up to the convention/ campaign season, but things can still turn around for them. The job market seems to be tanking further, and Obama’s main attraction is he’s not the other guy. Let’s see if the American people will overlook the fact that one of the two major candidates possesses obscene riches, obtained and maintained through a rigged system, and put him in charge of it. They very well might; New York City’s liberal-minded voters did it three times.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Is it okay to have sex with little boys?

As long as you win football games? I mean, seriously, is it? But the question is not for Jerry Sandusky (an obvious yes) or Joe Paterno (a posthumous yes, as it turns out). It’s for Penn State University and the people who form it. Ever since this scandal worthy of an Roman emperor broke, a goodly portion of the students, alumni and other members of the college populace have made it clear that they, too, place triumph at the gladiatorial games above the unenviable fate of their hero’s underage sex toys. I’d like to hear a convincing answer from them, yes or no: if you’re a winner, can you screw kids in the shower if you want to?

For starters, let’s have someone shut the loathsome Paterno family the fuck up. They’ve obviously used the millions siphoned off from the university accounts into Paterno’s pocket (while the scandal was unfolding, for god’s sake) to hire expert PR firms and lawyers to salvage the reputation of their pathetic relative. Too late—the sooner everyone forgets you’re related to him, the better. It must be tough to learn that godlike Joe wasn’t above sacrificing the mental and physical health of minor children to his continued rule—Tiberius would have understood. But forget them: it’s the whole university’s job to grasp and absorb the depth of the moral bankruptcy that infected central Pennsylvania. The longer they wait, the harder it will be.

That’s one reason I agree that the entire Penn State football program should be suspended for at least one year. Institutional collapses of this sort merit institutional sanctions, which are not collective punishment. Maybe if the football circus suddenly ceases to exist, the hard-partying students will stop and think a little before pouring into the streets, as they did last year when the story broke, to denounce the idea that their mighty ones should be held to any standards of civilized conduct.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Heads, the NYPD wins; tails, you're busted

The propaganda apparatus is a marvel to behold, especially when the battle lines are clearly drawn. The immediate PR challenge this past week was a rash of shootings around New York, demonstrating at first glance that stopping and frisking nearly a million black and Latino teenagers a year isn’t working so well—that is, if the desired outcome is, as advertised, to ‘get guns off the street’ and reduce crime. Given the relentless references from city fathers to how great and crime-free New York has become, the sudden firefights logically would prompt to either question the promotional optimism or conclude that stop-and-frisk with racial profiling does not work.

Au contraire! Bloomberg with the assistance of the tabloids, managed to insist on both. The Murdochian Post promptly leapt on the outbreak of gun violence as a good reason to double down and frisk more kids. Police commissioner Kelly went on a weepy rant about how he is just trying to protect the city despite destructive nit-picking from civil libertarian do-gooders, and Bloomberg put his rhetorical arm around him for good measure.

Bloomberg had his panties in knots over the ProPublica exposé of his oft-repeated claim that 14 ‘terrorist plots’ have been blocked by the sturdy boys in blue—turns out to be more like two with at least some of the rest cooked up by the FBI’s agents provocateurs. ‘We have to be right every time’, insisted Bloomberg, echoing the authoritarian line that anything goes to prevent crime—including our protections against police abuse.

The display of twisted logic shows that this simply isn’t true. The security state uses violent crimes and terror plots to pump up support for more repression. If no plots materialize or crime is down, they then brag about how great their tactics are. In short, there is no empirical fact that cannot be put to the service of their lust for more weapons, more snooping, more carte blanche to harass suspects, and eventually the need for more people to be in jail for longer periods.

The classic example is 9/11 itself: imagine if Al Gore had presided over that event. We would have never heard the end of the liberals’ feckless incompetence and their dastardly failure to protect us by their wimpy, pantywaist regard for legalities. But despite Bush & Co.’s demonstrated failure to notice the bright, red warning signs of a coming attack, the argument immediately turned milico-patriotic. No one dared breathe a word of criticism for months, and the Bush team got a free pass to wage war on a country completely divorced from the crime.

It’s tough and counter-intuitive to abide by a state of laws, and demagogues will always appeal to the most brutish side of our bipedal natures, the side that wants bad guys rounded up and boiled in oil, including a few innocent ones if necessary, as long as it’s not us. Civic education might once have served to immunize the polity from these freedom-crushing habits of mind, but our legacy of race-based fear and the current upward redistribution of wealth make this unlikely to work, even if anyone felt inclined to try.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Bronx to Bedriacum

I set off once a year on a quixotic bicycle tour and so far have lived to tell about it. This year’s route was: my place (upper Manhattan) across Long Island, ferries to the Rhode Island coast, north through Newport and New Bedford to land just north of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The four days included a delightful pit stop in Sag Harbor where Jackson Pollock painted, drank and raised hell and where artists and other interesting types apparently continue to do so, despite being surrounded by the invasive accoutrements of ultra-wealth.

Forays into the heartland are always a fascinating chance to leave the comforts of one’s ingrained prejudices and see what people are made of. Long Island is actually quite militaristic, and the July 4 holiday accentuated the atmosphere of relentless imperial pride: monuments to both fallen and surviving veterans as well as ubiquitous exhortations to support the troops ‘defending our freedom’ in their foreign campaigns. I am always puzzled as to which of our various liberties are referred to in these slogans but did not stop to inquire.

One liberty on prominent display in Sag Harbor was the liberty to tool around the placid waters of Long Island Sound in yachts as big as the city hall of a medium-sized municipality [above] and worth more, too. As we have freed capital from the annoying restraints of tax-and-spend liberals, it can now be dedicated to its proper role of displaying the superiority of our job-creating elites. The scale of the competition for status is quite daunting, but our modern Ptolemies seem to be up to the task.

Speaking of foreign campaigns, I have been reading Tacitus’s writings about the civil wars of 69 C.E., in which Rome had four emperors. The events were fairly fresh—only some 30-35 years in the past—and Tacitus could piece together the evidence from living sources. The fighters back then were legions, cohorts and random bands of Roman soldiers or roving mercenaries with ever-more-blurred boundaries between the two, sometimes loyal to the crowned head du jour, other times rebelling under opportunistic courtiers and junior field commanders. Everyone was trying to stay alive by choosing the winning side, and who could blame them? Anyway, it was not so easy when power completely changed hands every few months.

Their behavior when either winning or losing was generally appalling since payment under these unstable conditions was never guaranteed, and the spoils of war—rape and pillage, largely—had long been considered quasi-legitimate rewards for risking your neck. As usual, the civilians suffered greatly, tried to pick the winners as well, and were often punished with slavery and/or death if they got it wrong. Even getting it right was no guarantee of proper treatment since the seesaw for control undermined good war-making habits, like maintaining supply lines and keeping the troops fed. As a result, freelance bandits would help themselves to farm produce and the farmers’ daughters (or sons). While the centurions and other commanders might try to keep them in line, the higher bosses usually were busy with intrigue and in no position to discipline the wavering foot-soldiers.

Here’s how Tacitus describes the aftermath of the second battle of Cremona (or Bedriacum) won by Emperor-to-be Vespasian in Lombardy (northern Italy), a cosmopolitan city that had survived intact for nearly 300 years:

Forty thousand armed men forced their way into the city, with batmen and sutlers in greater numbers and even more viciously addicted to lust and violence. Neither rank nor years saved the victims from an indiscriminate orgy in which rape alternated with murder and murder with rape. Greybeards and frail old women, who had no value as loot, were dragged off to raise a laugh. But any full-grown girl or good-looking lad who crossed their path was pulled this way and that in a violent tug-of-war between the would-be captors and finally drove them to destroy each other. A single looter trailing a hoard of money or temple-offerings of massive gold was often cut to pieces by others who were stronger. Some few turned up their noses at the obvious finds and inflicted flogging and torture on the owners in order to rummage after hidden valuables and dig for buried treasure. Cremona lasted them four days. While all its buildings, sacred and secular, collapsed in flames, only the temple of Mefitis outside the walls remained standing, defended by its position or the power of the divinity.

It doesn’t sound like a very pleasant time to be alive, and no wonder the thought of someone—anyone—consolidating his rule and bringing peace was very welcome. The Flavian dynasty then came into power and kept things together for a few decades (just in time for the eruption of Mt Vesuvius).

But I digress. Long Island and small-town America generally identify mightily with the imperial power, so their stout and obedient sons are proud to engage in military service to it in far-flung places. For the Romans their distant possessions like Lusitania, Dacia and Pontus (Portugal, Romania, Turkey) were a source of income and prestige; no doubt this remains true today in our case although the tributary system is less directly suzerain in nature. The masses of Rome were kept fed with Egyptian grain; we are fattened by Iowan corn and clothed by the ceaseless toil of Chinese subjects bending over their looms and denim-piercing needles. To sustain this system, lads from Belmore and Narragansett trudge across the dusty steppes of Afghanistan dodging bullets. A juice store featuring protein drinks in Long Beach asked us wayfarers to sign a petition demanding that the Taliban return its lone American prisoner. We did not ask if he had information on a ‘ticking time bomb’ set to be launched over Afghan heads and thus might merit waterboarding. But the idea of sending a petition signed by several dozen suburban Americans to the Afghan warlords demanding their cooperation is compelling nonetheless.

The spirit of ’76, however, lives and breathes in New London, Connecticut, where Phil [below right], a friendly volunteer, welcomes visitors to the Nathan Hale museum made of the original schoolhouse where he taught ever so briefly before being hanged by the British for espionage (which he committed).

Hale caused a bit of a scandal during his short life (of 21 years) because he held Saturday classes for girls—the very idea! Not possessing drones, the Brits thought to discourage collaboration with the violent Washingtonian gangs by letting Hale’s body hang near the present site of the Plaza Hotel for three full days. Big mistake—we celebrate the sacrifice of this young life today, along with the recent additions in Kandahar and Khost.

Animals are a refreshing reminder that the tragedies and crimes of men are soon forgotten by an indifferent planet, which has been around for a long time and will keep going when we’ve blown our entire wad. No doubt the geese and ducks of Cremona still waddle over the local marshes and dump their gooey scats on scrabbled monuments to the ancients’ glorious slaughters. Here are a few of their cousins with whom I shared a quiet afternoon en route to the Atlantic shores.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

What the Supreme Court ignored

The instant punditry broadcast after the Supreme Court vote on the Affordable Health Care Act (including the hilarious Dewey-Defeats-Truman gaffes by CNN and Fox) focused on whether the decision was good or bad for Barack Obama, rather than whether it was good or bad for you and me. I have now read the entire 193-page decision and conclude that it probably made the best of a weak program that never promised much of a solution to our creaky health provision system. Whether we as a country will build on that spindly framework created to do better or whether the whole thing eventually will splinter apart and crash remains to be seen.

The main curiosity is, of course, Chief Justice Roberts’ unusual position siding with the Court’s ‘liberal’ wing to uphold the law although he found his own, quite distinct, reasons for doing so—that the individual requirement to buy insurance (the ‘mandate’) was a (permissible) tax rather than an (impermissible) exercise of the Federal Government’s right to regulate commerce. Having read Roberts’ arguments line by line, I have to say that he has a point.

One of the original characteristics of our oddball system is federalism, the ways in which Washington is empowered to do many things but is also limited by the states’ claim to a balancing jurisdiction in many areas—specifically, those not laid out in the Constitution’s enumeration of federal powers. We can set aside the many misuses of the ‘states’ rights’ meme (secession and segregation being only the most egregious) and accept that anything the holds back the massive power of a modern centralized state should be given at least a hearing if not the benefit of the doubt.

Both sides’ discussions of the mandate concede a central point: that piecemeal reforms of the health insurance system have been tried and don’t work, such as the ban on refusing insurance to people with prior conditions. The mandate is required to solve the problem of people remaining outside the insurance pool while healthy and then trying to access medical care when sick—often without the means to pay for it.

The conservatives were all set to kabosh the whole law by finding that this compulsion to engage in commerce was unconstitutional because it did not regulate a behavior but rather compelled it. The law, said Roberts, attempts to regulate inaction, which he found troublesome because ‘every day individuals do not do an infinite number of things’.

In one of his catchiest phrasings, Roberts declares: ‘Congress already enjoys vast power to regulate much of what we do. Accepting the Government’s theory would give Congress the same license to regulate what we do not do’.

The famous ‘broccoli horror’ (Ginsberg’s term) stemmed from Justice Scalia’s query to the government lawyer about whether Washington could force a citizen under the Commerce Clause to buy this vegetable because his failure to do so would lead to illness and eventual consumption of medical care. But this impassioned defense of individual prerogatives comes from a suspect source, to say the least. This is the same Court that consistently upholds the Federal Government’s right to imprison people without habeas corpus recourse and overwhelmingly sides with the police power against persons caught up in the web of criminal accusations. Ginsberg saucily notes the same contradiction in a footnote.

Nonetheless, Roberts stuck with the conservative minority up to here, and if Scalia & Co. had stopped there, they apparently would have carried the day; if so, the mandate would have been history, and the law severely crippled.

But the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse conservative judicial activists were not content with kneecapping the AHA; they wanted it dead. They argued—in a remarkable display of cynicism, even for them—that given the central role of the mandate, once it is removed (by them), the entire Act has to go because it would then leave unintended consequences for the other players in the health insurance and care provision universe. In other words, said they, given the interconnectedness of the entire reform’s edifice, now that we’ve eliminated a key plank, the whole thing necessarily has to collapse.

Even Roberts, who has not distinguished himself for his exercise of judicial restraint, apparently feared taking this radical step. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the original minority decision was written as the ruling itself until Roberts bailed on it and wrote his own, to be joined by the erstwhile minority-cum-majority.

The more polemical arguments by Ginsberg (for the law) and Scalia (against it) both openly display their political biases. Ginsberg pokes a stick at Roberts, saying ‘THE CHIEF JUSTICE’s crabbed reading of the Commerce Clause harks back to the era in which the Court routinely thwarted Congress’ efforts to regulate the national economy in the interest of those who labor to sustain it.’ That is, Roberts is a throwback to the ‘nine old men’ who ruled against Social Security and unemployment insurance in the 1930s.

Nor could Scalia and friends resist potshots, referring to the ‘wide and wonderful results’ of the Federal Government’s exercise of the commerce clause in the past. The sneering contempt for the basic structure of the New Deal is tossed off in the opening paragraphs. Later, the dissenters complain that the act would ‘impose significant risks and real uncertainties on insurance companies, their customers, all other major actors’ and that such ‘avoidable uncertainties are hostile to economic progress and fiscal stability’. I wonder if they paid a commission to the AEI or the Heritage Foundation for those chapters from the anti-regulatory bible.

But Ginsberg at least tries to come to grips with the actual circumstances that Congress was trying to address in re-imagining health care and its payment system: the vast expenditures involved and the impossibility of individual state action. She finds the new tools to be a ‘practical, altogether reasonable solution’, which I do not. But the question is rightly posed.

She scoffs at the phony parallel between buying health insurance and being forced to consume greens (a ‘crown’ of broccoli, as she charmingly calls it) by noting that virtually everyone gets sick or injured. She argues that to say that people refusing to join the insurance pool are ‘outside’ the system of healthcare commerce is meaningless, especially when providers are required to attend to the penniless and impose the costs of their care on the rest.

I don’t know who’s right in this legal debate, but I think it misses the underlying issue for our polity: why is providing for people’s health defined as an essentially commercial enterprise in the first place? It is true that money and products and payments are involved, but access to medical care in modern societies is much more, or more correctly, much less than that—it is a basic, universal need, not just a marketplace commodity. Not incidentally, it is enshrined as a fundamental human right in many places, but in any case should certainly be examined from the perspective of its central role in human existence, not reduced to its economics.

From this prism, Roberts insisting that people are not ‘engaged in commerce’ when they remain uninsured and Ginsberg insisting that they are both sound slightly wacky. Even Justice Scalia basking in his god-given right not to buy broccoli is quite clearly buying food of some sort and a good deal of it, too. Then again, the Court’s job is to interpret the law within the parameters given; ours is to change those parameters. If the Court, the government and lawyers far and wide can only see health as a commodity, a social movement must insist that their vision is impoverished and offer them some political optometry--perhaps at an attractive, out-of-network discount.

So the AHA is preserved and now can stumble forward toward implementation, which will be fraught with difficulties, obstructionism, unanticipated outcomes, and further debates. It does nothing to rein in runaway health spending, which is probably what will constitute its first test. The Republicans will use accelerating costs to sabotage everything if they remain out of power and will have to come up with credible amendments if they are in. In any case, the decision’s impact on one or another president smiling at us from the Rose Garden next January is the least of it, and the notion that the momentum has shifted away from the reactionary tendencies of past decades is premature.