By Contributor on March 26, 2012

By Carla Saporta

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to consider what may be the most important civil rights case since Brown v. Board of Education.

I’m referring to the pending challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law signed by President Obama in 2010.

To call this a civil rights issue may be surprising, until you look closely.

First, more than half of the millions of Americans who will be newly able to obtain health insurance under the law will be people of color. Latinos and African-Americans, in particular, are disproportionately uninsured today, often because they work in jobs that don’t provide health coverage or because they simply can’t afford it.

The expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act will help millions who are poor or near-poor but don’t qualify for Medicaid, as well as those deemed uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions.

The key to making this work is to bring more healthy people into the system. That’s the reason for the “individual mandate” — actually a series of fairly mild tax penalties for those who don’t obtain health coverage —that is now being challenged.

This mandate, opponents argue, is an extraordinary and unprecedented extension of federal authority into areas that are traditionally ruled by individual choice or left to the states.

When have we heard these arguments before?

Try 1964.

Just like the Affordable Care Act, congressional authority to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was based on its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. And just like today, opponents argued back then that it was an outrageous overreach for the federal government to prohibit private discrimination in employment or public accommodations.

Then-Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., denounced the Civil Rights Act as “unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and ... beyond the realm of reason.” For people of color who urgently need the access to healthcare that the Affordable Care Act will provide, the echoes of Thurmond are not comforting.

In the 1960s, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments that Thurmond and his ilk made. Now we’re hearing them all over again, in a context that makes little sense.

The federal government is already deeply involved in regulating healthcare, not just through Medicare and Medicaid but also through a variety of regulations covering private plans — such as COBRA, which provides continued coverage for employees who leave a job. Much existing federal regulation of health coverage seeks to control the tens of billions of dollars a year that uninsured patients cost the system — costs we all pay through taxes and our own higher insurance premiums.

The Affordable Care Act is simply another way of doing what the government already does. It makes sound financial sense to make sure everyone has insurance, because one way or another we end up paying for those who don’t.

The Affordable Care Act is a wise step forward for our health care system — and for all Americans.

Carla Saporta is health policy director at The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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