An Amazing Week

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Usually I don’t use this space to comment on national issues but I believe that history will record this week to be a momentous one in our nation’s story.  That demands comment.

Confederate flag

The history of the American Civil War is high on the list of things that interest me but the Civil War ended 150 years ago and its relics should be relegated to museums for study and remembrance.  This is especially true for the Confederate flag because that flag has, since the Civil War, taken on an ominous, secondary meaning.  It was during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that the Confederate flag had its revival.  It has come to be used not as symbol of brave soldiers but of modern racism that permeates our society and drives so much of the conflict in our politics today.

If people want to wear the Confederate flag on their clothing or fly it in their yard, that’s their business.  But it should not fly over public buildings.  Fortunately, that practice seems destined to come to an end.

As for whether the Confederate flag should be sold at Walmart, or on eBay, or displayed by NASCAR, that’s up to those organizations.  That’s capitalism.  And the fact that those three entities and so many others chose this week to shed that flag from their inventories is not them succumbing to political correctness.  Rather it is them analyzing their market, both present and future, and determining that they no longer wanted to be associated with the Confederate flag and the things that it stands for today.

The cynic in me suspects the firearms industry is quite content with the direction of this debate.  We’re all talking about the Confederate flag and racism in America – important things to discuss, certainly – when we should also be talking about guns and why those set on using them to commit dastardly crimes find it so easy to arm themselves.  But this is a celebratory story so we’ll leave guns to another day.


By a six to three decision on Thursday, the United States Supreme Court rejected a major legal attack on the Affordable Care Act.  An essential component of Obamacare is state-level insurance marketplaces (called “exchanges”) where individuals who do not have health insurance through their employer can purchase policies at affordable prices.  To ensure that those prices are affordable, the act provides Federal subsidies on an income-based sliding scale to many of these individual policy purchasers.  The act also stated that the Federal government would establish and exchange in any state that did not create its own.  Quite a few states either refused to create exchanges or chose not to.

The present challenge seized on the section of the law that provided the subsidies to individuals.  In the bill that was enacted, the language said subsidies could be paid to any individual enrolled in an exchange established by a state.  The challengers argued that since it did not mention exchanges created by the Federal government for individual states, people who purchased insurance through Federally-created exchanges should be ineligible for the subsidies.

If the court had agreed with the challengers, it would have killed Obamacare because without the subsidies, people could not afford insurance and would cease carrying it.  With plunging numbers of participants, insurance rates would skyrocket driving even more people out of the market.  That would kill Obamacare and deprive the 4 million people depending on those subsidies to have health insurance into the uninsured column.

Fortunately, a majority of the Supreme Court found that while this section of the Affordable Care Act was “inartfully” written, the Congressional intent was clear from a fair reading of the entire bill: Congress intended to increase health insurance coverage for individuals, not deprive them of it.

I was relieved by this decision.  My own preference would be a single-payer, Medicaid for all type of system but that is just not going to happen in America anytime soon.  Thus, we have this crazy quilt of Obamacare which is much better than the alternative of millions of individuals without health insurance.

Like the Confederate flag, I believe capitalism was a major if not the determining factor in this decision.  Healthcare is a $2.9 billion industry in the United States and it seems to be thriving under Obamacare.  There’s a lot of profit that would have been lost had Obamacare ended.  Don’t underestimate that as a major factor in the court’s decision.  But whatever its rational, upholding the healthcare law was a great decision by the court.

Same Sex Marriage

The turning point for me came back in 2003 when I first read Margaret Marshall’s opinion in Goodridge v Department of Public Health, the Supreme Judicial Court decision that established the right to same sex marriage in Massachusetts.  Before that I was a “civil union” person, reasoning that equality could be achieved by affording same sex couples all of the rights and privileges of marriage just let’s not call it marriage.  Today, I am embarrassed that I once felt that way but grateful to Chief Justice Marshall’s eloquent decision which immediately persuaded me that the term “marriage” itself has such important connotations and implications that to deprive same sex couples of the use of that term was unjust.  That was especially true when there was no good reason not to apply the term “marriage” to same sex unions.

Today I find the arguments against same sex marriage to be utterly incomprehensible.  While it is clear that the rest of the country was also moving in this direction, today’s Supreme Court decision gives America a major shove onto the correct side of history on this issue.  But as is the case with Civil Rights, the law can’t change what is in people’s hearts, good or bad, so it is as important as ever to speak out on the wisdom of this decision and the wrongfulness of the opinions held by those who continue to oppose it.