Jan 112017
 

Immediately after the election, Republicans and various pundits began writing the obituary for the Affordable Care Act. We were told that repeal would be accomplished within days of Trump’s inauguration with the caveat that repeal would take effect in two or three years while a suitable replacement was developed. Those plans are now colliding with reality as several Republicans realize that a repeal-and-delay strategy could sow chaos in the health care industry. Even President-elect Trump has gone on record saying that repeal and replacement should occur “essentially simultaneously.”

But this approach has its own problems. First, Republicans would need to agree on a replacement and that doesn’t seem imminent. Any GOP-backed plan is likely to cover far fewer people and offer fewer benefits, but Republicans don’t seem ready to admit this publicly yet. Also, a replacement would require 60 votes in the Senate, but Democrats don’t seem eager to play a supporting role in replacing a landmark piece of legislation for something demonstrably inferior.

So what happens next? Republicans may ultimately decide to proceed with repeal even if a replacement isn’t waiting in the wings. After promising repeal to their base for so long, they may feel that they have no choice but to fulfill their promise. Is this what the base really wants, though? Plenty of Trump supporters have purchased coverage through the exchange or they received coverage through the expansion of Medicaid. Their complaints regarding the ACA generally focus on the cost of coverage, not abstract notions of free-market principles. Issues of cost can be addressed through compromise, which could be entirely feasible in a saner political environment.

Governance is hard work and crafting health care policy is even harder, as Republicans are discovering. The ACA could certainly not be long for this world, but it has dodged fatal blows before. Perhaps it can defy death one more time.

Dec 282016
 

The FDA recently approved Spinraza, the first drug designed to treat spinal muscular atrophy. According to a press release from the manufacturer, infants with SMA who received the drug during clinical trials were much more likely to show improvements in motor function than those left untreated. Spinraza is approved to treat both children and adults with SMA.

It’s a bit surreal to live in a time where a specific treatment exists for my disability. I have no idea whether the drug would personally benefit me and I’m not in any hurry to find out. After living with this disability for four decades, my body’s remaining muscle tissue probably resembles the gristle of a cheap steak and I’m not sure any of it can be salvaged. This is probably thrilling news for parents with young children with SMA. It’s entirely possible that those kids will live to see a day when genetic therapies can effectively manage or even cure their condition. In another forty years, people like me could be a historical curiosity, invoking the same reactions that I had when I first saw pictures of kids living in iron lungs in the 1950s:

“People really lived like that?”

Dec 182016
 

Rogue One is the first standalone movie set in the Star Wars universe and, despite some lazy character development, it’s a worthy addition to the canon. We follow Jyn Erso, a reluctant recruit to the Rebel Alliance, and a motley band of freedom fighters as they try to steal the plans for the first Death Star. The plot moves along at a brisk pace and it soon becomes apparent that we are watching a war movie that is much darker in tone than other entries in the series (with the possible exception of The Empire Strikes Back). The theme of war and its costs hasn’t been explored much in the previous movies, so I was a little surprised at how bleak Rogue One could be at times.

The movie also provides a wealth of visually arresting moments as well as carefully placed Easter eggs for the hardcore fan. I’ve already seen it twice and I’m sure I still didn’t completely absorb all of the details in each scene. I would have liked a little more depth in the main characters and fewer vaguely portentous lines about their backstories, but vaguely portentous statements are the bread and butter of Star Wars. Perhaps the next standalone movie (featuring a young Han Solo) will do better in that regard, but Rogue One is still hugely entertaining.

Dec 152016
 

It’s only now that I feel like I can write about the election and its aftermath with any degree of perspective. I was wrong about so many things; things that maybe should have been more obvious at first blush. I thought Clinton’s experience and competence would compensate for her lack of charisma and aloofness. I thought that bragging about sexually assaulting women was far more disqualifying than e-mail mismanagement. I thought that the Obama coalition would turn out in droves to defeat a flim-flam man with no prior political experience and a penchant for manic tweeting.

In the weeks since the election, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld and doing my best to avoid my Twitter feed. Reading the news has become a grim exercise in endurance. Ben Carson will be in the Cabinet? The guy who ran Breitbart will have an office in the White House? The president-elect is dismissing reports that Russia may have hacked our political process to give Trump an advantage? This would all be hilarious if it wasn’t, you know, actually fucking happening.

So now what? Perhaps Trump will turn out to be just a generic Republican, which is still pretty awful. Perhaps he’ll resign after a year or two because he’ll be unable to reconcile his authoritarian tendencies with his pathological need to be liked. Whatever happens, progressives will need to figure out how to mount an effective opposition to this administration. Republicans wrote the playbook on this and we shouldn’t hesitate to use their own tactics against them. Any efforts by Trump to shred the social safety net, undermine efforts to prevent climate change, or cut taxes on the wealthiest among us must be met with the staunchest resistance. We can try to work with Trump when he has some genuinely good ideas, but I’m guessing that will be a rare occurrence. Too much progress has been made in the last eight years and too much remains to be done.

This blog will be a very small part of that resistance. If nothing else, it will serve as the chronicle of a snarky middle-aged guy trying to navigate Trump’s America. So buckle up, Dear Reader. We’re both in for a bumpy ride.

Oct 142016
 

We’re a little more than three weeks away from the end of this waking nightmare of an election and I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted by Trump’s descent into a toxic wasteland of paranoid nationalism and cultural resentment. I’m exhausted by his supporters’ terrifying ardor for a man who is just a few more bad news cycles away from giving a Nazi salute at a rally. I’m exhausted by the cowardice and opportunism of a Republican establishment that allowed a raging bully and sexual predator to come within a few percentage points of the American presidency. I’m exhausted by the hate and bigotry that shows up with alarming frequency on my Twitter feed, which I now check compulsively throughout the day.

I feel as if I’m living through the opening chapters of one of those dystopian novels that I’ve read over the years. I always enjoyed those books because I could enjoy the spectacle of our ruin from the vantage of my relatively safe and enlightened reality. The rise of Trump now has me questioning how long that reality can endure.

To be clear, I’m reasonably certain that Clinton will win this election and it might not even be close. With a little luck, Democrats might also take the Senate, although a House majority is probably beyond their reach. A resounding Clinton victory will give me some comfort, at least temporarily. But this election will leave open wounds that won’t heal anytime soon. Too many Americans have lost trust in government, science, the media, and other civic institutions. This mistrust has been building for a while, but Trump has skillfully fanned the flames, convincing millions that only a strongman can stand up to the elites who are ruining the country. I can imagine another self-styled populist–someone more stable and disciplined–following a similar playbook in four years and finding more success with voters.

Perhaps Clinton will be able to work with Congress to pass some kind of jobs and infrastructure program that will restore some faith in our elected officials and give people hope for the future. Perhaps the Republican Party will reshape itself into a party that emphasizes economic and regulatory issues over cultural issues, leaving the racists and reactionaries without a home. Our country has survived more serious threats to our democracy without succumbing to authoritarian rule, so we can survive a huckster like Trump. Yet we can’t afford complacency. This election has revealed cracks in our foundation that must be repaired before the whole thing crumbles.

Jul 242016
 

Comic-Con is wrapping up in San Diego and, once again, I was not in attendance. Here are a few related news items that have my geek senses tingling:

  • CBS unveiled a teaser for its forthcoming Star Trek series, which is now titled Star Trek: Discovery (which is also the name of starship featured in the teaser). I dig the sleek look of the Discovery and the title seems to imply that the show will be exploring new territory in the Trek universe. Showrunner Bryan Fuller has confirmed that the show will be set in the original Trek universe rather than the rebooted universe of the recent movies, which appeals to the purist in me. I’m still unhappy about having to pay another fee to watch the series on CBS’ crappy subscription service, but I gotta have my fix.
  • Incidentally, I saw Star Trek Beyond over the weekend and really enjoyed it. After the grim rehash that was Into Darkness, Beyond provides plenty of screen time to all of the main characters while spinning an interesting and sometimes surprising story. I’m already looking forward to the next installment.
  • The next season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will air on Netflix. Hopefully, this means that we’ll get additional seasons of Jonah and the bots riffing on bad movies.
  • A Wonder Woman movie set during World War I? Yes, please.
Jul 162016
 

No, the Ghostsbusters reboot did not ruin my childhood. It’s been a disappointing summer movie season replete with misfires, but Ghostbusters is a funny and charming evening at the cinema. The entire cast has great chemistry, which helps sell even some of the weaker jokes. Kate McKinnon, in particular, delivers a delightfully weird performance that sometimes borders on the truly absurd. It lacks some of the original’s freshness, but how could it be otherwise? The 1984 blended comedy and spectacle in a way that hadn’t really been done before and today’s audiences are much more difficult to impress. The reboot doesn’t try to impress; it just wants to show you a good time, an skill that many blockbusters have forgotten.

Be sure to stay for the final scene after the credits roll. It offers a hint at a possible sequel that should excite fans of the original. I hope we get to see it.

Jul 142016
 

Jerika Bolen is 14 and, like me, has a fairly severe form of spinal muscular atrophy. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up. And later this summer, she will voluntarily have her ventilator removed because she wants to die. Jerika cites her intractable pain as her primary motivation for ending her life and the linked article describes the numerous surgeries that she’s endured in hopes that they would bring her some relief. Unfortunately, nothing seems to have worked.

If you’re expecting me to condemn or express outrage at Jerika’s decision, I’m going to disappoint you. I’ve long believed that teenagers have the right to make medical decisions for themselves, including the decision to withdraw treatment. She seems like a bright young woman who has spent a lot of time weighing her choice before concluding it was the necessary thing to do. But I’m saddened that pain is the prime factor behind her decision. This disability we share affects everyone differently and I know that many people struggle with chronic pain related to SMA. I’m fortunate to not be living in pain and I have a difficult time even imagining what that must be like. Medical science still seems to be groping in the dark when it comes to pain management.

Jerika is planning a prom to celebrate her life. I hope it’s a memorable party.

May 172016
 

I haven’t commented much on the state of the Democratic race, mostly because it hasn’t been terribly interesting. It’s been clear since mid-March that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, even though Bernie Sanders’ populist message has resonated with millions of voters. But as the race winds down, I’m a little concerned with the behavior of some Sanders supporters who don’t seem prepared to acknowledge that their guy has lost. During last weekend’s Democratic state convention, a dispute between Sanders supporters and the party establishment regarding obscure delegate rules turned chaotic and security had to clear the room to prevent full-scale violence. According to news reports, neither side handled matters well, but Sanders supporters later sent death threats to the party chairwoman.

Rather than quickly and forthrightly condemning the people making these threats, Sanders issues a long-winded statement that seems more interested in picking another fight with the Nevada Democratic Party. That’s his prerogative,  but this episode only reinforces perceptions that a small but vocal minority of Sanders supporters are motivated by aggressive misogyny rather than a commitment to progressive politics.

This whole thing will likely be forgotten by the convention and most Democrats will coalesce around Clinton, but the party should consider ways to reach out to those who may be participating in Democratic politics for the first time and who may retreat to the margins if they feel excluded. The party should also make it clear that violence and misogyny will never be tolerated and it should pressure Sanders to do the same.

For the record, I’m not enthusiastic about either candidate. I’d much rather have a third Obama term after he systematically tears down Trump’s id-driven campaign, but the 22nd Amendment forces me to imagine what could have been.

May 072016
 

I’m saddened to hear that my local comics shop, Big Brain Comics, is closing next month. And I feel a little guilty about not patronizing it more in recent years. Ever since comics became widely available in digital format, my trips to Big Brain have become far less frequent. But back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for me to drop close to $100 in a single visit. In fact, Big Brain played a huge role in helping me rediscover comics. I read a lot of comics during my frequent hospitalizations as a kid, but they were difficult to find in hometown of Green Bay. I stumbled across Big Brain soon after I bought my place in downtown Minneapolis and it soon became one of my favorite walking destinations. The owner, Michael Drivas, was always happy to help me find things or make recommendations. My spare bedroom is filled with stacks of comics purchased from Big Brain.

Today is Free Comic Book Day, so I think I’ll pay a visit to Big Brain and perhaps purchase a handsome collected volume as a final “thank you” to a place that encouraged me to let my geek flag fly.