by E.C. Fish on July 8, 2012

After last week’s marathon of Supreme Court rulings, I was hoping for a quieter news week and pretty much got one. I was also hoping for a return to comparative sanity, and must redouble my efforts not to allow the few remaining particles of optimism still floating around my grizzled brainpan to cloud my judgment, to wit:

KARMAGEDDON: The most important news story this Sunday has been the possibility of a break in the record-setting heat wave, which brought triple-digit temperatures, high humidity, and worsening drought conditions to much of the country for the last two weeks and even canceled fireworks and other outdoor celebrations in many areas this Independence Day. Indications for today are that the weather will go from brutal to merely mean, with the possibility of severe storms as cold fronts turn the humidity to rain.

While weather and climate are two different things, and invoking “global warming” just because it’s hot outside is every bit as imbecilic as cracking Al Gore jokes during a winter cold snap, an increasing number of Americans seem to be responding to the sheer volume of record-high temperatures set since our freakishly early spring by coming around to the idea that we may be reaping what we’ve sown. Climate science — which predicted many of the the conditions we’re currently experiencing — suddenly seems a bit more plausible than the bought-and-paid-for conspiracy theories of the deniers. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the DC area has been among the areas hit hardest by the heat.

While one might hope that this would be a breakthrough of sorts in public opinion and government action on climate change, what will happen when the temperatures drop and the next bright shiny object comes along is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry will continue to assure us that it’s only summer, and hey — good news! — America has enough oil and natural gas reserves to fry our collective bacon nice and crispy for years to come.

OUT GO THE LIGHTS: The heat wave has been a particular misery in some areas of the East and Midwest, where strong storms knocked out electrical service (and thus air-conditioning) for days at a time. Again, the DC area was particularly hard hit. I’d like to think that this might result in some national attention to the issue of our outdated and inefficient national power grid and the need to update to “smart grid” technology. Such an update, however, will require both money and increased regulation and is thus likely doomed in the current do-nothing political climate.

This issue should be of particular interest to those seeking to solve the above problem through the use of electric transport. Power plants need fuel, too — far too many are currently burning coal — and increasing electrical demand with the current infrastructure could end very badly indeed. Displacing a problem and solving it are two different things.

THE HEALTH CARE RULING, AND WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT INSTEAD: Republican reaction to last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act was swift, fierce, and in the final analysis, kind of silly. Denied the long-sought constitutional invalidation of the individual mandate by John Roberts’s decision that the mandate was a tax instead of a penalty, Republican officials and their friends in the right-wing media took their consolation prize — “See? Obama raised taxes on the middle class!” — and proceeded to turn it into the rhetorical equivalent of a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni (ironically, the San Francisco treat).

Not content to simply score the anti-tax point, many Republicans — including the vice chair of the House Republican Conference and the ever-addled Rush Limbaugh — took the opportunity to show just how completely out of touch with reality they are and declared a tax that will affect something like 1% of the population and raise a whopping $4 billion annually to be the largest tax increase in history, something that continues not to be true even with every other tax implication of the bill added in.

Still, telling the truth isn’t nearly as important as riling the base, and Republicans were having a grand old time until the Romney campaign — ever sensitive to the fact that whatever Obama is doing nationally was done first by their candidate in Massachusetts when he was governor — undercut them all completely by declaring the mandate a penalty, then a tax, then a penalty again, and finally a tax. It was a long and pointless weeklong game of semantic silly-buggers — call it what you will, John Roberts and four other Supreme Court justices called the mandate a tax, and it stands under constitutional law — that only served to show that Republicans really, really hate taxes and that the Romney campaign is quite inept.

While neither of those points constitutes news, exactly, they did manage to overshadow the news that, given leave by the court to reject a largely federally funded expansion of Medicaid without fear of losing their existing programs, as many as fifteen Republican governors (many representing states with a greater-than-average number of uninsured citizens) intend to do exactly that, citing the cost to state budgets when the expansion goes from 100% federal funding to 90% after the first three years. This would make perfect sense if health care for the uninsured — which largely takes place in emergency rooms — wasn’t already covered by state reimbursements to hospitals, which the expansion would all but eliminate along with other current state obligations that could, in the end, make the expansion a net money saver for most state governments.

Asked by Chris Wallace on last week’s Fox News Sunday what specific steps his party was willing to take to provide health care to the estimated 30 million Americans who are uninsured, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who once described his party’s top legislative priority as ensuring that Obama does not get a second term) evaded the question before responding to Wallace’s persistence with this: “That is not the issue.” Which sums it up quite nicely. The GOP does not, in any meaningful sense, have a health care policy. They have a Screw Obama policy, which is not healthy in any way, shape, or form.

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E.C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

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