April 1, 2012: Obamacare Under Fire

It’s been an intense week in the Supreme Court, with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act the topic of a debate over its constitutionality. While a number of talking points have emerged around the massive law, the central question has been a provision in the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which would require all citizens (with a few exceptions) to purchase health insurance. This legislation is unprecedented, as it is the first to require all Americans to enter into a contract with a private company. Many of the provisions in the law, some of which are just now being revealed to the public (and to the legislators who voted for it), have caused a degree of public outcry. Some commentators are upset over recent estimates that Obamacare will eliminate 800,000 jobs during a time of high unemployment, while others are citing claims by Supreme Court Justices and Congressmen alike indicating that the 2,700-page document is beyond human comprehension in the first place. But that’s not what ultimately resulted in states suing the U.S. government over the law. No, what pushed them to act was the economic burden that the law would impose on states — over $1 billion dollars a year, for some states — and the perception that the federal government was wresting too much control from its constituencies. With a number of states refusing to accept money offered in exchange for complying with the new bill and even Orange County, California following suit on a smaller scale, and with a majority of Americans favoring the law’s repeal, it comes as little surprise that Obamacare faced heavy attacks during oral arguments last week.

By the same token, most media reports are calling arguments against Obamacare, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s “broccoli mandate” analogy to illustrate the dangers of unrestricted federal power, completely preposterous given our government’s representative democracy. Given that conservatives currently hold a majority in the Supreme Court, others are preemptively slamming the justices for the increasingly likely possibility that they will block the mandate: after all, conservatives have long fought against what they see as “judicial activism,” or judges overturning laws just because they don’t like them. Obamacare supporters say that blocking the law would show that conservatives are the biggest judicial activists of all. Still, the justices mercilessly attacked Solicitor General Donald Verilli’s claims for the federal government, taking the arguments made by the states’ lawyer Paul Clement and practically using them verbatim to challenge Verilli — a challenge that many commentators feel Verilli couldn’t quite answer. As such, it looks increasingly likely that the High Court will find Obamacare’s mandate unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling, which we can expect in June, may come down to the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often served as the swing vote among the nine Supreme Court Justices since Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down in 2006. In any case, while all bets about the decision are off, most in the media are now guessing that the Supreme Court will indeed strike down the mandate, just based on their reactions to the arguments that Clement and Verilli made last week. In fact, the Supreme Court could rule even more broadly: if they deem the mandate element to be the crux of the Affordable Care Act, then they could repeal the entire law instead of merely blocking a portion of it.

We’ve talked a lot about who’s winning and losing, but that doesn’t say much about what the arguments for and against the constitutionality of the mandate actually are. If you haven’t been following the Supreme Court fight, the key points have largely come down to the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which delineates what commercial activities the federal government can control, and what activities are in the purview of the states, instead. In other words, the Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” In the past, this has been used to tax or ban various commercial practices that would cross state lines, as well as those which might have an effect on the national economy. However, it has never been used to compel citizens to engage in commerce — it has only been used to reward, penalize, or prohibit existing practices. As such, the biggest debate is whether the word “regulate” in the Commerce Clause also includes the power to mandate commercial exchanges, or whether it only allows the government to affect existing commerce. Since no law of this sort has ever before been enacted, there is no clear precedent for or against Obamacare’s mandate. In making their decision, the Supreme Court Justices will likely be looking at historical documents like the Federalist Papers to gain perspective on the founding fathers’ intentions, as well as previous Supreme Court rulings related to the Commerce Clause.

In other political news, it is beginning to look like the presidential race is down to a Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney showdown, even though Romney has hardly won enough delegates to seal the Republican nomination. After all, April looks to be very favorable for Romney, with a series of primaries in midwestern and eastern states, where he has been dominant thus far. By the time the race shifts back to the south, the race may be all but over. More importantly, Romney has a clear lead in Wisconsin polls going into this Tuesday’s primary, a state in which many analysts expected Rick Santorum to be competitive. As Romney continues to collect delegates and endorsements, this month could provide a decisive push for Romney. That could quickly end the race, as even steadfast rival Newt Gingrich has hinted at an alliance, saying that all the remaining Republican candidates agree that “the number-one mission is to defeat Barack Obama.”

Naturally, Obama has seen fit to spring into action, blaming Republican policies for the current economic disaster and raising $135 million for his reelection campaign — $3 million more than the entire Republican field combined. Vice President Joe Biden has similarly thrown down the gauntlet, taunting that none of the Republican candidates can beat Obama, and that their only chance is to outspend Obama or pray for societal unrest abroad to make voters nervous. Romney, in the meantime, is completely ignoring his remaining Republican rivals, Ron Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich, focusing his attacks squarely on Obama, whom Romney now sees as his chief obstacle to the White House.

Romney might indeed soon have one less competitor, as last week Santorum made what may become a fatal gaffe in his political life. On Friday morning, the social media scene exploded with news that Santorum, in a Wisconsin stump speech, almost called Obama the n-word. Take a look at the video yourself and see what you think.

Santorum never quite says the full word, but something that sounds like the first syllable, at least, appears to escape his lips. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue, as some have suggested, that just happened to take the form of a very unfortunate syllable. Or maybe Santorum’s emotions got the best of him, and he really did call Obama a “government n***er.” Either way, if this gets much more news coverage, Santorum’s campaign may be over, as it’s difficult to imagine another word that sounds like that but which would fit the context. “Nincompoop”? “Nitwit”? “Beatnik,” with the “beat” omitted? None of these seem to ring true, so unless Santorum can explain what he was trying to say, or the political media ignores him and focuses on the Supreme Court instead, he’s in trouble. Saying it was just a meaningless slip of the tongue — even if that’s true — may not be a satisfactory enough explanation to save him.

The tech world has seen its own share of turmoil in the past week. I’m not talking about rumors that the hacker group Anonymous will launch a systematic distributed denial of service attack on the Domain Name System, starting yesterday and extending into this week, damaging users’ ability to connect to web sites around the world. (If that actually plays out, you might not be able to read this message at all.) No, I’m talking about the security breach at Global Payments, Inc., a third-party processor that helps to manage payments between merchants and credit card companies. This is just the latest in a series of such breaches that have raised identity theft concerns; last April, for instance, Sony’s PlayStation Network was compromised, leading many to speculate that the hacker was offering millions of stolen credit card numbers for sale. In the Global Payments case, initial estimates had the number of compromised accounts at a few thousand. That number has since exploded to ten million amidst the revelation that Global Payments was connected to every single major credit card brand. No one seems to be sure who is responsible, but some are already pointing fingers at New York City gangs, of all people. In any case, Visa, MasterCard, and other big brands have been actively contacting customers whose credit card information may have been lost, and the New York Stock Exchange has also blocked all payments that go through Global Payments, just in case the hackers are making fraudulent payments using others’ accounts.

I couldn’t possibly forget the Final Four in this post, could I? Let’s start with the men’s side. At the time of this writing, the Louisville Cardinals are preparing to challenge the tournament’s top seed, the Kentucky Wildcats, for a spot in the national final. It’s likely to be a bitter rivalry game between these two Kentucky colleges, which are less than 70 miles apart. We’ll see if the gritty Cardinals and their coach Rick Pitino can pull off another miracle to take down John Calipari and his Wildcats, which feature Anthony Davis, who won this year’s Wooden Award as the nation’s top collegiate basketball player. In the nightcap, the Kansas Jayhawks will square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes, a matchup that has gotten less media attention than the Kentucky-Louisville battle but which features two hot teams looking for redemption after being denied tournament 1-seeds. The winners of Kentucky-Louisville and Kansas-Ohio State will meet for the national title tomorrow night.

On the women’s side, the tournament committee evidently did an excellent job in seeding the top teams, as the four 1-seeds also comprise the Final Four. Tonight, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will try to take out the Connecticut Huskies in the teams’ fourth meeting this year. Over the past two seasons, Connecticut has won four of the pair’s seven meetings. However, Notre Dame scored the biggest win, a 72-63 upset in last year’s national semifinals that knocked out the two-time defending NCAA champions. We’ll see who comes out on top today. In the evening, the 38-0 Baylor Lady Bears and their star post player Brittney Griner try to maintain their dominance, denying Nneka Ogwumike and the Stanford Cardinal a trip to Tuesday night’s title game. We’ll have to see what role Baylor coach Kim Mulkey plays in this clash, and in particular, how Thursday’s announcement of her Bell’s palsy diagnosis will affect her team’s focus.

Oh, and then there’s the lotto. Specifically, the Mega Millions lottery, which spans 43 states across the U.S., was slated for a $540 million jackpot drawing on Friday night, which would have set a world record. But so many gamblers flooded stores to purchase tickets that the jackpot leapt to $640 million by the time ticket sales closed. Naturally, with so many tickets in play, lottery officials said there was a strong chance that the jackpot would be won in Friday’s drawing. They were right, as three jackpot-winning tickets were sold between Kansas, Illinois, and Maryland. The winners still have to come forward to claim their prizes. Of course, while three people will split the potentially life-changing $640 million top prize, and dozens more will collect hundreds of thousands of dollars each, some remain steadfast in calling attention to the negative side of the lottery, particularly given that over 100 million people lost on Friday. After all, the Consumer Federation of America notes that “More than 1 in 5 Americans still believe the best way to achieve long-term financial security is to play the lottery,” a laughable notion if you think about the infinitesimal odds of winning any significant prize in lotteries like Mega Millions.

Other articles of interest:
Revolt to ouster President Assad is over, says Syrian official
RIM Weighs Bleak Options
Google Drive Leak Tips 5GB of Free Cloud Storage
Apple May Give Up “Thermonuclear War” With Android
Apple Labor Pact Could Ripple Across China
Sony PlayStation Orbis ‘dismisses legacy games’ altogether
‘Speed of light’ experiment professor resigns
2 Studies Point to Common Pesticide as a Culprit in Declining Bee Colonies
Brain nerves line up neatly
As Autism becomes more common, doctors say check early
FDA rejects call to ban BPA from food packaging
Florida guard Walker charged in theft of taco
Hiker says mother bear stopped mountain lion attack
Arkansas court strikes down law banning teacher-student sex

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