Three Fingered Fox

-  31 posts

I don’t work in tech. I’m not an influencer, a maker, a creative, or a guru. I’m neither disrupting nor evangelizing. I don't have a snappy slide show for you.

And So Goes That Honorable Court

There’s an article going around to the effect that the Democrats are thinking they might not filibuster the first Trump Supreme Court pick, and wait for the second. There are various reactions to this, mostly appalled.

I don’t think it matters. It’s already too late; nothing the Democrats can do is going to make any difference. The Republicans are going to gerrymander the Court for the next generation.

The problem the Democrats have is that if they filibuster the Supreme Court nominee, the Republicans might well enact the “nuclear option” and abolish the filibuster for Court nominees altogether. So the Dems are thinking they might keep their powder dry for the re-aligning pick, not for Scalia’s replacement.

Whatever. There’s no “might” about it. As soon as the Democrats filibuster any Court nominee, the Republicans will definitely go “nuclear”, because they have nothing to lose by doing so.

During this Administration, the Republicans can expect to get two picks, maybe three. Each of them will be an absolutely crazy rock-ribbed fascist robot, and a very young one. (They’ve learned from Souter and from Roberts, whom I still view as a vile right-winger but some in the Grand Old Party of John Birch already see as a betrayer.) The next four years will probably leave behind a 6-3 or 7-2 right-wing court, with all the worst features of the Waite, Fuller, White, and Taft Courts, that will stay that way at least until the year 2050.

And if they can’t prevent Laurence Tribe III from becoming Chief Justice in 2053, who cares? That’s way outside their time-horizon, and it may be outside ours, too. Who knows what will be left by then?

The war for the Court was comprehensively lost last November. The really, really essential thing was that we not elect Trump (or any Republican) to the Oval Office. We did. Now we lose.

If you’re over thirty, you’ve probably already seen the last significant Supreme Court victories you’ll ever see for the rest of your life. From now on it’s only defeats.

It Has Happened

One term of art among political philosophers who study Hitlerism is the ‘deformalization’ of the law – that is, the Leader simply waves away all the forms and processes of legislation, and rules directly, by decree. The Leader declares that the elements of ordinary lawmaking, the legislature, the courts, the bureaucracy, the regional authorities, the press, even elections, are all corrupted, captured by a shadowy conspiracy of monied elites representing an alien peope or a foreign ideology, and names himself the instrument of the suppressed authentic popular will. So doing, the Leader simultaneously claims the mantle of direct popular sovereignty and the actual power and methods of an unaccountable dictator.

Meanwhile the government – especially the military – is purged of the disloyal, meaning anyone who still insists on the prior forms, no matter whether that person has been politically an ally of the Leader or not.

What I’m saying is, while I don’t know where this ends for us, it’s the same process that wrecked Weimar, and it’s going much faster today.

It’s only been eleven days.

Do the courts, the legislature, the federal bureaucracy, the military, the states and municipalities, the press, have the awareness and wherewithal to refuse to be erased, or will conservatives accept what is happening to see a few pet projects enacted, while liberals do nothing in the name of preserving the very forms which are being cancelled, in the name of the ‘peaceful transfer of power’?

Will the people ‘wait and see’, refrain from mass protest, strikes, and direct action, until what they can see is that it is too late?

Because this isn’t a metaphor, this talk of a fascist coup the United States. This is the real thing, in all its particulars.

It is no longer a question, whether it can happen here. It already has.

My own ephemeral Milwaukee

I grew up — thirty-five years ago — in the neighborhood in Milwaukee recently beset by what the press calls “riots” or “clashes”.

The neighborhood was majority-white at the time, though I would say it was “somewhat integrated”, very integrated by Milwaukee standards: Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the US (Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit have traded this dubious crown over the decades since the Great Migration began). I had white friends, black friends. Immigrant Vietnamese friends. Jewish friends and Jehovah’s Witness friends. Friends with professional parents and friends whose parents were in the working class trades. I did not appreciate at the time that this was abnormal and was only becoming more so.

We were Jewish and aspirationally bourgeois, though the kind of aspirational bourgeois that when we won $100 of groceries in a raffle, it was a big deal and a big relief. There was (is?) an Orthodox temple and small yeshiva nearby: we attended neither, but I saw my confessional compatriots walking to shul every Friday.

I walked to school; I walked to my friends’ houses, I walked down to the Blue Boy and got frozen custard on a cone with a chocolate shell. On a few occasions a mean kid followed me home. He was a black boy named Romeik. But he was the kind of mean kid that, some other weeks, we were friends. Sometimes I feared him and sometimes I took a swing at him and sometimes I played with him, and out of all the complex feelings I had for him that he was Black didn’t enter into it. And I didn’t know how strange that was.

But can I trust my memory? Do I have this right? I can’t be sure. So much has happened since, to distort what I think I recall. And I understood so little at that age. My school was integrated, but how much, really? I don’t know what the experiences of my Black fellow students or my Black neighbors were really like. How much did it matter to them that I was white? 

I had a ten-year-old’s crush on a girl named Roberta who thought the way I said the word “archaeology” was hilarious. Her hair was twisted in braids with those elastic bands with large clear plastic balls on the ends, each with an air bubble in the center. 

It was 1980.

One summer, a few years earlier, the neighborhood was transformed: Dutch Elm disease killed all the stately elm trees that lined 53rd Street and turned it into a shrouded arbor even on a bright day. The city trucks came and cut them all down, and that day I looked out after all the noise was finished and there were just a dozen stumps, broad as dinner tables to my child’s eyes. After that, my dad planted bushes on the blasted strip of lawn, and they made a wall between our yard and the sidewalk, and I remember finding that strange. We kids were always in and out of each other’s yards.

It’s all different now. The houses are just the same but the white working class has gone, mostly ceased to exist — and the white professionals have all fled. I see on Google Maps that 53rd Street School is bigger; the original part is now dwarfed by new wings. I have no idea what it’s like to attend it today. The little corner market isn’t there anymore, where my mother would stop just to run in and buy bread. Same with the small deli that sold the sugar cookies with a smiley face in frosting on them. The Blue Boy is gone.

What I experienced as a child, while I was growing up, was, to the City of Milwaukee, only an ephemeral imbrication between two regimes of racial segregation. The area was segregated and all white before, segregated and almost all Black afterward. There was a short time, between, on the cusp of this tide, when it was neither. That’s the time I remember. 

Then we left, too.

And now a man is dead, shot by the police, and the park I used to walk to is bitter with tear gas.

Sheets’ Lot

The Yard Man was here giving us an estimate for clearing the backyard. He bills hourly, but he spoke not in hours but in days.

I need to take some pictures of the backyard so it is apparent how completely overgrown it is. I would compare it to Sheets’ Lot, but none of you know what Sheets’ Lot was, except my cousins from Indiana.

Sheets was a doctor – Doctor Sheets. He owned the empty lot next to the property owned by my grandmother: a couple of acres of rural pastoral in Rush County Indiana. Sheets’ Lot was the couple acres next door. Pastoral is a wasting asset if you aren’t willing, George W Bush-like, to devote a considerable part of your energy and mental space to that most intensive human pursuits, Clearing Brush. Doctor Sheets did not do this, and Sheets’ Lot became overgrown. Then impenetrable. Then scary. And finally, it became a potential tort.

Sheets’ Lot could hurt you. At least, that’s what, as kids, we were told. Avoid Sheets’ Lot. There are snakes and hornets. Rusty nails to step on. Whiplike branches encrusted with thorns, ready to put out whatever part of you came near.

Sheets’ Lot was a terror of my young childhood that enlivened my summer visits to Grandmother’s House. If we saw a bee, it came from Sheets’ Lot. If anyone fell itchy with poison ivy, they strayed too near Sheets’ Lot. Sheets’ Lot threw off curses the way your s’mores fire threw sparks. It was our Mordor.

We would gaze at its dark loomings, from the safety of the white-painted iron lawn furniture that surrounded the six-foot-deep, brick-lined, formerly illuminated, former fish pond that was now a great pool of algiferous drowning bait, the obvious child-killing danger among us, but which nobody thought about that way because it was on the lawful side of the border with Sheets’ Lot and it had always been there while we played around it.

Then I got too old for extended summer visits to Grandma’s House. I went off to college. I forgot all about Sheets’ Lot and the seam of contrast it represented, between the pastoral Us and the feral It.

The next time I was down at the house, my uncle, who had since inherited the house, had bought the lot from Sheets and cleared it with his back and his hands. It was now tidily returned to the pastoral: no hornets, snakes, nails, poison ivy, or thorns. The disused fish pond had been drained and bricked up. Neither ever claimed a victim.

Now I have my own Sheets’ Lot, and it’s not a metaphor but a huge pain in the ass that I’m paying a dude a bunch of money to cut down.

Suffer not the list-makers

Maybe this is worth stating again. The “FBI terrorist watch list” and the “no-fly list” are ad-hoc aggregations of prejudice and random error with no rules and no oversight. They are not fit for any public policy purpose. (They are not even fit for their declared purposes.)

The line “terrorists should not be allowed to buy guns” implies that the FBI terror watch list is actually a “list of terrorists.” Other than people actually convicted of terrorism, the government maintains no such thing, and indeed cannot. Barring precrime, such a thing cannot exist. If this is your line on the gun debate, you’re plumping for a racist farrago and a huge expansion of ideological surveillance and racial profiling.

And if this, what else will these lists be used for? The Republican nominee is a guy who wants to put big red Xs on the doors of every Muslim. And the Democratic nominee is not far behind in her willingness to pander to the “radical Islam” discourse.

After all, what’s being argued-for here is the expansion of the use of a watch list from one domain into another. So you can’t say it won’t happen, when that’s what you’re already advocating.

And as for the mental-health list: I think many people reading this have taken an antidepressant (or a mood stabilizer, or an antipsychotic, for its labelled purpose or as an antidepressant adjuvant) at one time or another, or gotten a fancy number-coded Diagnosis from a psychiatrist, or even been hospitalized. You know you’re liable to go on the list yourself, right? (Or your loved-ones will.)

It’s not sufficient to say you’ve not been violent, as there is no known useful definition of the “mentally ill person likely to commit violence.” The mentally ill are all capable of violence, as all people are; the greatest majority will never commit a violent act against another person, as most people won’t. (The mentally ill are, after all, just people.) Nobody knows who is going to be dangerous, and there’s no way to construct a list that won’t be used to profile /you/ six ways from Sunday.

Not to mention how utterly politicized the business of mental-health diagnosis is. Can you think of a minority that was wrongly subjected en-masse to mental-illness diagnosis in the recent past? Can you think of one that still is? I bet you can.

This is very dangerous, and it’s surprising to see avowed liberals loudly asking to see themselves and their friends put on these watch lists. You don’t want this. You really don’t.

Jacobs or Moses, the false either-or of urbanism

100th anniversary of the birth of Jane Jacobs, the saint of the new urbanism. I’m something of a dissenter. Of the two great urban-planning ideologies of the 20th century, big-block modernism and Jacobsian urbanism, the clear winner, as everyone knows, was Jacobs. Don’t destroy the organic community that already exists. Fair enough – the sociological classic ‘everything in its path’ by Kai Erikson made that imperative. Urban Renewal in the style of the war on poverty did nothing but sweep away the poor (usually Black) neighborhoods in favor of the brobdingnagian apartment block or the twisting highway interchange.

But – in practice, Jacobsian neighborhood redevelopment has been the neutron bomb to modernism’s hydrogen bomb. It has left the buildings standing, but done nothing to save the organic community; one way or another, the people that are there, have to go. Capitalism just won’t stand for them: all those nice buildings, when we could be getting higher rents? That’s the sin of letting capital lie idle. All those nice cities, when speculators could be making billions, if only the people would all disappear, melt away before the waterfall of techbraws and yuppies.

At least Le Corbusier made provision for the working class. Those fantastic floating slabs of cake, sitting in the green parks of the future – they were for the working class to have somewhere decent to live. In practice, capitalism wasn’t interested in that, either. Unite d’Habitation ended up the model for a cheap way to do social housing, and so we got Pruitt-Igoe – literally the textbook example of why modernist delirium was a disaster. Not so much because everyone has to live in a hobbit town or be miserable, but because nobody with money was willing to pay taxes for the upkeep. (If you get a chance to see the Pruitt-Igoe Myth, I recommend it.. Robert Moses was the Lex Luthor of this ideal; he was a monster, and we rightly discarded his idiom, but we didn’t do anything about what drove him, the lure of money from property redevelopment and, above all, the automobile.

So pick your nightmare. Just don’t imagine that this particular ideological sideshow of big vs little, urban vs suburban, actually settled anything or that the Revolution of Jane Jacobs did more than bolt a new facade over the same old rapacity.

May God Save the Honorable Legislature of the State of Tennessee

If you’ve read anything I’ve written about Local Issues, you probably thought, “just going by the health insurance situation alone, Tennessee is a state in crisis. Any responsible government would be meeting night and day to figure a way to fix it.”

The legislature has indeed been active, but keep in mind this is a one-party state; the Democrats no longer exist even nominally in many TN counties.

Some of the bills that have gotten press recently:

A bill to declare God our “Creator and Savior” in the text of the State Constitution. Status: withdrawn in committee.

A bill to declare the Holy Bible (version or translation not specified) the State Book of Tennessee. Status: Passed, but vetoed. The veto may be overridden, so the State will have the privilege of spending money on doomed litigation to defend a paradigmatically unconstitutional bill.

A bill to declare the Barrett .50 anti-materiel sniper rifle the “state rifle” of Tennessee. Status: Passed. We are now the first state with a state rifle (as opposed to a mere “state firearm”, because they deliberately left semantic room to declare a state pistol, machine gun, zip gun, whatever). We could have gone for Davy Crockett’s gun or Alvin York’s, but Barrett is a fairly big company here and so we are represented by a modern weapon used to take out engine blocks from a mile away, or reduce a person to a kind of vapor from the shoulders up if a round hits them in the head. Appropriate.

A bill that requires the state to sue the Federal government over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in TN without the TN legislature’s explicit consent. Dealing with refugees is a Federally delegated power, and this question seems unsurprisingly already to have been resolved in the Feds’ favor by the lower appellate courts, but the TN ledge is still fightin’ mad about an issue almost everyone else has already forgotten. Status: passed. More doomed work for the state’s lawyers.

Our version of the North Carolina “bathroom bill” that would, apparently, require teachers (perhaps the ones carrying guns, as authorized by the legislature in previous sessions) to inspect the genitals of suspect children who are using the toilet. Status: died in House committee, resurrected in Senate committee, died again. Will probably be back next session.

A bill to allow social workers, therapists, and other mental health professionals to refuse to treat patients whose “lifestyles they disapprove of” without legal consequence. Status: they’re still talking about this one.

A bill indicating the state officially disapproves of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Passed. That’ll stick it to ’em.

A bill that would have exempted police body-cam and dash-cam footage from all public record laws, making it inaccessible to scrutiny. Status: died in committee; will be back.

After the kerfluffle about whether fantasy sports betting is “gambling” in New York (you heard about this if you watch John Oliver), the TN ledge noticed we have a provision in our state constitution outlawing gambling too. So they rushed to pass a law declaring fantasy sports betting definitely not gambling, no how no way, not ever, so there would be no interruption in your stochastic rotisserie league fun. Status: passed.

A bill that would have altered the state Constitution to make it forever impossible for the state of Tennessee to levy an income tax, which is already politically impossible, but you can never have too many firewalls against a sane fiscal system, I guess, or too much grandstanding about taxes. Meanwhile, TN’s VAT-style sales tax, levied even on food, is the most regressive in the United States. Status: died in committee because pointless; it’s like making it unconstitutional for the Earth to start turning the other way on its axis.

A very strange bill that would have prevented the use of “road or highway” designated fees, funds, or taxes for anything to do with bicycles, without specific act of the state Legislature: in other words, the Dept. of Transportation and local governments would not be able to use “road money” for anything bike-related, like bike trails or lanes, because “road money is for cars.” Status: Failed. (If you caught that this was really about “Agenda 21”, well done. You’re up on your right-wing conspiracy theories.)

A genuinely terrible bill that would allow previously unincorporated county land that had been historically annexed by Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, or Knoxville, to de-accession itself from those cities by majority vote of residents, thus relieving themselves of the tax burden of paying for city services and leaving huge holes in the already swiss-cheese structure of property tax collection, a structure that grossly underfunds city activities, especially the schools. Status: didn’t make it out of committee even though it was popular – the big cities still have some clout.

A not-entirely-unrelated bill that would make it illegal (??) for courts to issue consent decrees about public education funding in the state. Status: I think someone told the sponsor that this makes literally no sense.

Driving “slower than prevailing traffic” in the leftmost lane of state highways of three lanes or more is now a misdemeanor. I know, pretty annoying, right? Status: now law.

Oh, Beth Harwell, likely Gubernatorial nominee, set up some commissions to study some issues. Health care, for example. This the commission will surely do, and write a report. I’ve already forgotten this commission exists.

There’s also a commission on sexual harassment, because it turned out the leader of the One True Party, Rep. Jeremy Durham, was a terrible serial sexual harasser. I’ve already forgotten this commission exists, just like the press has quickly forgotten Rep Durham’s disgrace.

Because of the provocative outrages of student-organized Sex Week at the University of TN, in which students spoke openly, in public, about abortion and sexual consent, without even being prior-restrained by the university administration, as they clearly should have been; and because of a nonbinding suggestion by the University’s Office of Diversity that students might want to use language inclusive of transgender people, the pearl-clutching ledge decided to punish the University’s loucheness by completely defunding the Office of Diversity, the money instead to be used to print “in God we trust” stickers to be affixed to cop cars (I am not making this up). Of course, this kind of line-item meddling in the University’s budget explicitly violates the terms of the University’s accreditation, but no matter. Who needs the University of Tennessee to be accredited? Status: died, but came back from the dead and looks set to pass – there were protests in town and on campus today.

A bill to prevent the University of TN from raising tuition without the ledge’s approval, even as the state continues to cut their budget. It would cripple the university and create what they call a condition of “financial exigency,” allowing the revocation of tenure. Status: failed. Narrowly.

A bill allowing open-carry of firearms without a permit or training. Died in committee. Will be back until it finally passes.

A bill allowing permit-holders to concealed-carry on public college and university campuses. Status: now law. So you don’t have to take that lefty bias from your profs anymore. Just wave that pocket-pistol around a little and see if your grade doesn’t improve.

A bill mandating mothers who give birth to “drug-addicted babies” be charged with felony fetal assault. Status: sunsetted in committee. Will be back.

Other bills killed: decriminalizing pot, allowing the direct election of the US President, making it a crime to leave a gun out where a child under 13 might find and handle it, and raising the gas tax a few cents to pay for the repair of our utterly destroyed roads.

Oh, we did get a “ban the box” bill, so that’s good.

There was also a secret bill. Gov. Haslam got a bill through authorizing $30 million be spent on…something. We still have open records laws; how this is justified… but anyway, we’re getting a $30 million Thing that nobody knows what it is. I hope it’s nice.

This is all from “the most conservative state legislature in the country” – though not the most conservative Republican governor, so it’s not the worst legislative program in the fifty states. Gov. Haslam sometimes leans a little on the ultra-ultra-right-wing supernuts, because he’s worried they’ll distract from his overall agenda of privatizing services and giving the contracts to his friends. (His current multi-year policy centerpiece is the privatization of all State jobs in physical plant, maintenance, cleaning, driving, etc. – including all such jobs in the University system.)

You’ll note that despite the Republicans having a super-majority in both houses, and the Governorship, they don’t actually get all of this high-profile bullshit through. So much of it is obviously unconstitutional, illegal, unimplementable, or so nonsensical that nobody knows what the bills even mean. I am cheered only by the legislature’s relative incompetence. Of course, most of this stuff isn’t designed to pass, it’s designed to get press, as red meat for the base. And this state is all base.

Oh, how is our budget? Robust. No problems there. We have a multi-hundred-million-dollar surplus. They could actually do something with the money. It was suggested at first the state buy a new fish hatchery, but in the end they just banked it. Clearly the state has no other pressing needs. (Except for the secret Thing.)

(Please note that this sad situation is never going to change. The One Party is going to get to redistrict in 2020, just as they did in 2010, creating the supermajority, so the next opportunity to elect a state government with an opposition party that the Republicans will even have to consult on legislation will be 2032 at the earliest.)

Cooking with the Pols

Following on the dream I once had in which George W Bush was not a politician but had a funny Tex-Mex cooking show, I realized that, for whatever reason, it’s easy to slot politicians into food shows. Especially if they’re politicians I don’t like.

Food shows which I am convinced would really work, and not just ironically:

George W Bush gets a Tex-Mex show where everything he makes is about hot sauce and high-flame grilling.

Hillary Clinton runs a Michelin three-diamond restaurant in France, but not as chef – as owner. I see her firing lots of cooks and busting on sellers in the Saxe-Breteuil market.

Obama is a ruthless food critic. He can drop one review from high above and destroy an incipient new genre of restaurant. (“These new Appalachian-style ramen bars are misconceived from the ground up…”)

Bernie Sanders is the co-host, with Michael Pollan, of The New Sustainable Frugal Gourmet. He and Pollan spend as much time in the fields worrying about conditions for farmers and chickens as they do cooking a moroccan-inflected lentil bolognese.

Trump, with Gary Null, does late-night infomercials about virility-enhancing dietary supplements and the Quantum Diamond Food Wand (‘made with real diamond chips’).

John Kerry is the Brahmin Pepperpot: Exploring New England Cuisines, next on PBS.

Cruz is harder, but I think I see him in a new Victory Garden, raving about aphids on his prizewinning vegetable marrows.

John Kasich is a competitive eater with records in Hot Dogs, Blueberry Pie, and Hoagies.

Sarah Palin is just a one-for-one trade with Rachel Ray. Don’t forget the garbage bowl.

“Fried Force One: Bill Clinton and Diamond Joe Biden Tour America’s Burger Griddles, BBQ Pits, Crab Shacks, and Titty Bars.” On late, after the watershed.

Enter the Donald

It’s an understandable reaction. You take something that is supposed to be the epitome of the people’s deliberation – our republic, representative democracy – and you take that deliberative moment away from the people, you allow the republic to be captured by monied powers, and the process of choosing representatives becomes manifestly fake. So people treat it like it’s fake, without seriousness, without deliberation. They know it’s a lie.

So, sure, if a candidate also treats it unseriously, like he too is in on the joke, like it’s just a reality show, the political version of the Kardashians or Ice Road Truckers — why wouldn’t he be popular?

It’s insulting to be told you have to be responsible and serious, because this is the moment where you have power over your own future, but really you don’t, really it’s a swindle, a ripoff, and an obvious one — it’s even more insulting that they think you’ll believe the con. So if the candidate can perform your anger, can even appear to bear your anger into the heart of the swindle itself — that’s even better.

It’s the most cynical act in the world, but the conditions for that cynicism have been a generation in the making. We’ve all had to eat shit for a long time. The Donald sows what we have already reaped.

How Three Years in the Obamacare Hole Finally Broke Me

Each year I’ve been on Obamacare – this would be my third year – the Exchange policies have gotten worse and more expensive. Now I’m at the breaking point.

I don’t have insurance with work, so I have to go to the Exchange. (There is no such thing any longer as a private individual policy not negotiated through the Exchange during annual open enrollment, which ends tomorrow.) Exchange policies have high sticker prices: hundreds of dollars a month. The way it’s supposed to work is, up to about four times the household income poverty line, you get a generous subsidy from the government to offset the premium. Except I don’t. I’m in The Hole. I don’t get a subsidy at all.

The way the law was written, below 133% of poverty, instead of buying from the Exchange, everyone is supposed to go into Medicaid, the state health insurance option which works like health care does in every rational country. I’m below 133% of poverty – in fact I’m below 100% of poverty – so rather than buying a policy at all, I’m supposed to just get Medicaid and everything is free (well, hah, not really, but it’s coverage, of a sort, which I would not have to pay to have).

Medicaid is 50 individual state programs, not one federal program – the feds assist with block grants, but these are not enough by themselves, so the state has to kick in a lot of money. Tennessee has not put in enough. Tennessee has an insane tax structure – no income tax, only sales tax; it doesn’t bring in enough during good years, and the tax base plummets in bad years. The last time TN actually tried to make a go of Medicaid on the basis of its tax revenue, it blew up the budget. TN, like most states, is forbidden by the state constitution from running any deficit, so the Medicaid program was closed. It has remained closed to new enrollees without dependent children (you can’t exclude people with dependent children by federal law) since 2002. Thirteen years.

The new Federal money from the Obamacare “medicaid expansion” would have opened this up (at least partly, though I’m still not clear that it would have been enough money to cover every eligible adult up to 133% of the federal poverty line). I could have gotten in medicaid. But after the Supreme Court ruled that a state could withdraw from the Medicaid part of the Obamacare mandate, most states with Republican leadership did just that. Tennessee’s Medicaid is still closed.

So that puts me back in the Exchange, but because the Exchange subsidies were written under the assumption that everyone with incomes too low for Exchange policies would now be covered by expanded Medicaid, there is no provision for subsidies for people with incomes that low. So none are available. To get an Obamacare policy, I have to pay full sticker price.

If you know what a COBRA policy is, that means I have to buy what is essentially a COBRA policy. They’re not actually called COBRA and they don’t work under COBRA portability rules, but they cost like COBRA, because COBRA is “your insurance from your job, only now you also have to pay the part of the premium your employer was paying.”

The last two years I’ve been able to find policies I could actually pay for, even if they were pretty bad policies. They had high deductibles and high premiums, but not such high premiums that I couldn’t pay them, and the deductibles were low enough not to bankrupt me if I needed surgery, as, it turned out, I did. (That gall bladder isn’t going to be troubling me anymore.) They also covered my psychiatric drugs at affordable copays.

Well, Blue Cross, which administeres the large majority of Exchange policies in TN, about six months ago announced they were going broke on them. The thing about Exchange policies is that if you can pay you can have a policy – the insurance company not allowed to exclude or underwrite you just because you’re terribly ill and therefore expensive. They take everyone. The idea that having so many new people, most healthy, using Exchange policies would offset the cost of not being able to exclude and underwrite policies for the ill, has not turned out to be true. Not at all. So Blue Cross said they had to raise the prices by at least 50% on most policies or they would drop them all and leave the state, which would destroy the TN Exchange. (This is happening all over the country). The state regulator said they could. They didn’t have much choice – if they’d said no, a lot of adults with minors would have been thrown on Medicaid and the state absolutely cannot afford it.

So the premiums this year have just exploded. The absolute cheapest Bronze plan I’m eligible for is about $250 a month. This is literally the cheapest plan available to me. It covers effectively nothing – no coverage kicks in until I satisfy the deductible, which is $6,500: that just happens to be the Federal Obamacare upper limit on out-of-pocket expenses for a single nonsmoking adult. It doesn’t even pay for prescriptions until the $6500 is passed. After that it pays, but unless I get cancer or get hit by an uninsured motorist, I’m not using that.

I get to pay $250/month for a catastrophic plan that otherwise pays for nothing. The whole point of catastrophic plans is they’re supposed to be cheap – but this is not cheap. This one costs three thousand dollars a year just to have, and, if I get sick, another sixty-five hundred before I see a plugged nickel from Blue Cross.

If I want one that actually covers anything below the federal max out-of-pocket legal limit, well, those start in the mid-three-hundreds. Out of the question.

I might – might – be able to pay for the cheapest plan, even though then I have to find a way to pay for every doctor’s visit or prescription drug at retail out-of-pocket rates — fortunately all the drugs I take are generics and are relatively inexpensive (on the order of $150/year per drug, which in the US counts as cheap).

But why? Why should I do this? I go bankrupt if I get sick whether I have this plan or not.

And the other plans are just not going to happen. No way.

Obamacare has a penalty if you don’t have insurance – $695, or 2.5% of your yearly income up to the national average bronze-level annual premium, whichever is greater – but they have kindly waived it in the cases of people like me. If the premium is more than 8.5% of your annual income, you can waive the requirement to have insurance; similarly, if you live in a state that did not expand Medicaid and you fall in the Hole. I qualify on both counts. No penalty for me.

But that still leaves me uninsured.

Well, I’m going to find out what that’s like nowadays, because I don’t have any alternative.

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