On a road trip through Ohio a few weeks ago, I stopped at a gas-station market, where a bulletin board outside the restrooms was covered with flyers. Somebody was selling black-and-white piglets; a pumpkin patch was offering hayrides. And there were several handmade leaflets fund-raising for people who couldn’t afford their medical costs. Two of them I particularly remember: one seeking help for a four-year-old who required dental surgery and whose family couldn’t afford the anesthesia, and another for a smiling older couple; the husband had ocular melanoma and could no longer see.
There are three things to recognize about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and all the criticism of it: First, the Web-site glitches really are a problem. Second, the hearings that Republicans in Congress insist on holding are no way to fix them. Third, when it comes to evaluating the worth of Obamacare we may not remember the Web-site hiccups all that well. What we will remember, and what ultimately matters, is whether, in the next year, the A.C.A. fulfills its promise: to provide affordable health insurance to people who did not have it through an employer, could not afford it on their own, were denied it on the basis of preëxisting conditions, paid more for it than they should have because they were, say, women of child-bearing age, or could no longer get by because their insurance benefits had been capped. In short, people like those on the flyers, who were trying to scrape together the money from neighbors or from passing strangers to pay for health care that they desperately needed.
The nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its finalists for induction in 2014, and leading the list of sixteen is Nirvana, represented now by its two surviving members, the bassist Krist Novoselic and the then-drummer Dave Grohl (and, if you count “Sirvana,” Sir Paul McCartney). Nirvana is this round’s only band to have been nominated in its first year of eligibility, i.e., twenty-five years after the release of a first single or album. (That would be “Love Buzz,” 1988—pre-Grohl, who joined in 1990.)
Wang Gongquan, who was charged in Beijing on Sunday with “assembling a crowd to disrupt order,” hardly fits the profile of a classic Chinese political activist. He doesn’t lead a threadbare life on the margins of an increasingly prosperous society. He doesn’t scrape by on a mixture of tiny grants, consulting fees, and the sale of obscure essays. On the contrary, Wang, who is fifty-two, is a plutocrat, one of China’s most famous venture capitalists. He made a fortune in real estate, technology, and other investments. People call him a billionaire, or maybe just a multimillionaire—in China, it can be difficult to know for sure. He has indulged in the decadent excesses of his moment, most memorably in 2011, when he announced that he was leaving his wife to journey abroad with his mistress—news that he broke on Weibo. “I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin,” he wrote to his social-media followers, whose numbers eventually grew to more than a million. “I feel ashamed and so am leaving without saying goodbye. I kneel down and beg forgiveness!”
He came back. His fans, by and large, forgave him. (He even seemed to get credit for what some interpreted as an act of true romance.) But Wang is not a man accustomed to living within limits, and he had begun to bridle against other restraints.
Few small magazines remain so for long. A handful get larger over time; most die at a fairly young age. One exception is Dissent, the independent left-wing quarterly that was founded in the dark days of the McCarthy era by the literary critic Irving Howe and the sociologist Lewis Coser, which will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary later this week. For decades, Dissent’s subscription list has hovered around the mid-four figures, never going much higher or lower; today, it has just over ten thousand followers on Twitter, its editors never pay themselves a penny, and its writers don’t make a whole lot more. Creatures that function at a consistently low metabolic rate are prone to being picked off by predators or to just stop moving. And yet, Dissent has survived its founding editors, eleven Presidencies, the rise and fall of neo-conservatism, Ramparts, The Public Interest, Talk, and George. The reasons for this longevity are more interesting than sheer persistence.
After a week in which it looked like the Great American Way was closer to a suicide pact than a governing arrangement—with so many undemocratic choke points that the polity strangles—a whole new way of thinking about our domestic arrangements may be in order. A woman who has been held at gunpoint by her husband for a week, to suggest a situation with certain parallels, might want to get out of the relationship. Tea Party types, like abusive family members, may tend to ask whether we really think the neighbors have it any better. And so it seemed apropos when a friend passed on, the other day, a new book proposing that the answer to all of America’s problems is not to blame Canada but to join it.
Republicans shut down the government for more than two weeks, risked a U.S. default, cost the economy roughly half a percentage point of growth, saw their popularity crater, and after it was all over, what did they win? A conference committee. The end result of the past month of political drama is that Republicans and Democrats agreed to meet and discuss fiscal issues.
The current spectacle of government dysfunction in Washington could scarcely be worse, right? Wrong, actually—because a case now before the Supreme Court might create an entirely new level of gridlock and inaction. The budget deadlock has frozen the current operations of existing government agencies, but the case before the Justices will determine whether some of these agencies will exist at all.
On the surface, National Labor Relations Board v. Canning concerns an arcane issue—the scope of the President’s constitutional power to make appointments while the Senate is in recess. But the case is actually immensely important, because it addresses the ability of the President—especially this President—to exercise the basic responsibilities of office in the face of flagrant obstruction by the Senate. (I’ve written about this case before. O.K., I admit I’m kind of obsessed.)
Ever since the age of seven, I’ve been obsessed with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It took place when I was three, and though I have no memory of hearing the news, the President’s murder, in Dallas, hung over my childhood with the vivid and riveting terror of a dream. On my parents’ bookshelf, there was a slender, crimson-jacketed pictorial account of November 22, 1963—fifty years ago next month—and the days that followed, by the photographers of the Associated Press, called “The Torch Is Passed.” I would sit by myself for what felt like hours and stare at the black-and-white stills—the roses in Jackie’s arms at Love Field; the open Presidential limousine gleaming in the sunlight; the waving, unknowing crowds; Kennedy’s smile in the images just before the first shot; Jackie’s face turning toward him as his fists jerk up to his throat; the black shoe hanging over the back of the seat as the limo speeds away toward the underpass.