On the face of it, Justice Scalia's comment is strange. He said reading a 2,700 page law was a violation of the eighth amendment against Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The implication was that reading the law would be some kind of torture.
Even though Scalia was making a joke, this still seems absurd. His job is to read laws. And the Health Care law is only about three times as long as the book Atlas Shrugged, which many of us have read and enjoyed.
So what is so bad about reading a 2,700 page law? To find out, I decided to actually read it. It was easy enough to find the text, in various convenient formats. And I got what should have been a pleasant surprise - in my PDF reader, the law is 906 pages, not 2,700. This is probably because the official copies are printed in larger type, double-spaced for easy markup. The PDF copy created by the Government Printing Office uses very small type and has very little space between the lines, making it tough to read regardless of content.
It was easy to skip past the 12-page table of contents. Wow! 1.25% through my task already!
But then the actual text started, and Scalia's point became readily apparent.
Let's look at the very beginning of the law. On page 1, you are hit with this:
SEC. 1001. AMENDMENTS TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE ACT.
Part A of title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300gg et seq.) is amended—
(1) by striking the part heading and inserting the following:
‘‘PART A—INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP MARKET REFORMS’’;
(2) by redesignating sections 2704 through 2707 as sections 2725 through 2728, respectively;
It goes on for quite a while in this vein. After a while, you realize this renaming is meaningless since it has no impact on the text. But then you get to some of the changes. This is fairly representative of how the law works:
(a) IN GENERAL.—A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall, at a minimum provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for—
(1) evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force;
‘(2) immunizations that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with respect to the individual involved; and(much much more, all with references to obscure laws and agencies).
[page 13 of the PDF]
As you can see, if you want to understand the law, you will have to find the United States Preventative Services Task Force web site and determine what the guidelines are. Then you would have to go to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC, and so on, and so on.
In particular, look at this section, a few paragraphs down:
(5) for the purposes of this Act, and for the purposes of any other provision of law, the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Service Task Force regarding breast cancer screening, mammography, and prevention shall be considered the most current other than those issued in or around November 2009.
What on earth does this mean? Now, as it happens, I remember. There was a controversy over attempts to limit the frequency of mammograms, which broke around that time. So the law is saying that the regulations created at that time are not valid for this section, and the older, more permissive standards should be used. But if I didn't specifically know this, you can imagine it could take quite a bit of effort to figure out what this meant.
We have barely gotten through a page and a half and already we have a page and a half of questions we can't resolve by simply reading the text. So perhaps we now understand Nancy Pelosi and her infamous remark that we would have to pass the law to find out what is in it. The creators of the law have made it so difficult to understand that this is genuinely true. Nobody will take the enormous amount of effort required to read and comprehend this law unless it is passed.
If reading the law is cruel and unusual punishment, then passing the law has to be cruel and unusual punishment, too, because it will require that many read it. Perhaps the law should be rendered unconstitutional simply from the pain it will cause thousands of people who need to try and understand it.
Cruel and unusual punishment indeed!
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After reading this article on the Keystone XL pipeline, I need to suggest a correction.
The people opposing the pipeline are not NIMBYs, or "Not in My Backyard"s. They do not, for example, resemble the late Senator Edward Kennedy in his reaction to the Cape Wind project, which he thought would ruin the lovely ocean views from his home. Instead, they are an entirely different creature: a Not In Any Backyard (NIAB).
I first noticed this curious species of human when studying ANWR. Oil companies wanted to drill in the deepest reaches of the arctic, where few ever come, and where typical temperatures are in the negative thirties. Essentially nobody visits ANWR who is not generously paid to be there, almost invariably by an oil company. The overwhelming majority of locals will benefit from drilling, so it is no shock that they overwhelmingly support it. So why should people living thousands of miles away, who will never even visit, have any control over the question?
Keystone XL is the same story. Few of the affluent urbanites arguing against Keystone XL have seen where it will be, or have the slightest idea of what the people there want. As it happens, most of them want the jobs that will come from building and operating the pipeline.
The Keystone XL pipeline will run through areas of the American Midwest virtually none of the pipeline opponents will ever visit, see or have the slightest interest in. Whatever environmental problems might come up in those areas, they will never personally encounter them.
I believe the solution to a question like Keystone XL is simple: Do the local representatives want it? If they do, it should be built. If they don't, it should not be. When election time comes, the people can vote out their representatives if they felt they had poor judgement. Simple.
As an example of how this works, ANWR would be pumping oil right now under those conditions. Those who actually live in the Arctic are overwhelmingly oil company workers and people who benefit from the sale of drilling rights. So naturally, the consensus on the ground is for drilling to go ahead.
On the other hand, Californians have beautiful beaches people actually visit to protect. They have enacted strict rules against drilling and pretty much anything else. If Calfornia wants to fix its budget by reopening the question, that should be the decision of the people and their representatives.
In the case of Keystone XL, local governments agree that it's a great idea – it will bring jobs to the area and oil to US refineries. This is a huge win for our economy and to reduce dependence on oil produced by nations not friendly to us.
Either way, it is not a federal issue. Leave it to the states and the people directly involved.
And the Not in Any Backyards? They should just go home.
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Lake Worth, Florida - October 8, 2011
Occupy Wall Street: Was it something vitally important or just a flash in the pan? Was it a movement of the left, right or center? Was it a tea party threat or potential ally? I decided to visit my local Occupy Wall Street Rally, in Lake Worth, Florida, to find out.
Lake Worth's rally was small compared to the enormous turnout in key areas such as Wall Street itself. But it was healthy for a political rally in a relatively small city.
I had expected, based on the Wall Street rally on TV, an organized event with drummers and protest signs and the like. There were plenty of protest signs, almost all handmade. The atmosphere was remarkably like that of a tea party - people milling around and talking amongst themselves, a few speakers but mostly just a gathering of more or less like-minded folks.
Like most left-wing events, people had their pet causes. About half the protest signs adhered to the anti-rich vibe of the event. The other half were about the favorite cause of the sign owner. From GMOs to marijuana legalization, all the usual lefty causes were present and accounted for.
One person wanted to abolish the IRS, which seemed to blatantly contradict what the main body of the rally was saying. I asked him how he thought this was compatible with higher taxes on the rich, he said that the rally allows for all points of view, even his!
I tried to engage with some of the more hardcore people with their anti-rich signs. They pretty much refused to debate me, saying things like "We're way beyond you" and "You're just afraid of our ideas". My remark that I was clearly not afraid since I was there and engaging with them was met with derision. I should have asked why they were scared of mine!
From the pictures of the main Occupy Wall Street protest, I am not convinced that they were entirely peaceful. I strongly suspect they got responses from the police by provoking them - this is a long-standing left wing protest tactic. But I have to admit that the Palm Beach version was peaceful and reasonable. I have felt threatened by folks at International ANSWER protests; I was not here.
I met someone who claimed to be a sponsor of the event, someone with enough funds to pay for expenses such as rental of the park. I was wondering how someone with money could possibly support the goals of Occupy Wall Street, and he basically said that this was a movement that supported any opinion, and in any event he could always pay lawyers to get better tax breaks. I wonder if he was pulling my leg, since both Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Street alike seemed to believe in closing tax loopholes more than any other specific policy. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him what kind of business he was in, but he darted away before I could ask.
Someone finally gave me a sheet of the Occupy movement's demands, as interpreted by this group. Here they are:
We want a Wall St. sales tax of 1% on all financial transactions! Make the speculators who caused the depression pay for it.
My thoughts: Sure, if you want the stock market to collapse overnight. That will definitely create jobs!
We want the Federal Reserve Nationalized! - Force the Fed to issue 0% interest credit for production and investment in critical infrastructure.
My thoughts: Since the first Stimulus worked so well, I guess they think it's time for a sequel.
We want 30 million new jobs at union wages!
My thoughts: Who's paying? Our nation is broke!
We want a stop to all foreclosures and amnesty for student debts! - Give us back our homes and our futures!
My thoughts: How are you going to pay for this again? It would take another bank bailout, and I thought you didn't like those.
So, the positives: This was an interesting event to go to, nobody was violent, and there were many interesting points of view exchanged.
The negatives: If there is a program, it doesn't pass the laugh test. Not even President Obama could present this plan with a straight face, and even with a fully Democratic legislature it would be impossible to put something like this through Congress.
There are Tea Party demands that may not work either. But in the end the Tea Party has a realistic goal: To cut out of control government spending, and get government regulations off our backs. This is a clear plan, and a clear goal, and it's possible to start on it with baby steps right now.
I liked Mark Steyn's characterization of the protesters as "anarchists for big government". Where this can go is best left as an exercise for the reader.
So in the end, I can't see a reasonable end game or a purpose. As a reason for a party, it works. As something that actually can achieve some kind of goal or purpose, it doesn't. I predict that in the upcoming weeks, it will disappate with the coming chill of winter in most places, and we will never hear about it again.
Facebook Album with additional pictures.
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