The Sorensen Monologues

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Odds and ends

A couple things I’ve been up to lately: I edited this illustrated essay by Juana Medina about her Kafkaesque experience immigrating to the U.S. Moving here legally and permanently from another country isn’t as easy as some people think.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing comedy writer Nell Scovell (credits: The Simpsons, The Muppets, Spy Magazine, among many others) for the Austin Chronicle’s SXSW coverage. We had a nice chat about bullshit and women in comedy.


Centennial, Colorado requests anonymity for school shooter; I agree

Families and officials in Centennial, Colorado, the scene of the latest school shooting, have been taking a subdued approach to discussing the identity of the shooter, requesting that the media not name him or show his picture. I wholeheartedly agree. I have long maintained that extensive coverage of the shooters themselves is unnecessary and contributes to the problem.

Some members of the media bristle at this; it smacks of censorship, they claim. It prevents us from understanding why the shooting happened. But mass shootings are media phenomena; the media is part of the story. It’s not just a passive vessel for static facts. We can understand what led to a mass shooting without the exhaustive, titillating exploration of every detail of the killers’ lives. Moreover, this sort of sensational coverage of the shooter himself leads us to believe it’s an individual problem as opposed to systemic. I would argue it gets us farther from the truth.

Related cartoon


Just signed up for health insurance: Some advice for those still trying

I finally completed my application for health insurance through the federal exchange today, with the assistance of an independent insurance broker. I’d visited with a navigator earlier in the month who did a good job of explaining how the tax credits and subsidies worked, but I decided to do the actual work of filling out the Healthcare.gov application myself. For weeks I’d been getting stuck at the final verification stage that allows you to proceed to choosing a plan. So I called up a professional insurance broker here in Austin, who was very helpful.

First, if you created your account on Healthcare.gov a few weeks ago and you’re still having problems, it’s a good idea to start over with a completely new account using a different email address. This eliminated the problem I was having before; the new account allowed me to sail right through the application process.

Talking to a private insurance broker is also useful if you have specific questions about different plans or companies. You don’t pay their fee — the insurance companies do. For maximum choice in providers, I went with a PPO plan (as opposed to an HMO, which can have lower premiums, but puts serious limitations on which doctors you can see). Look on Yelp to find highly-recommended brokers in your area.

My husband and I chose a Silver plan with much better coverage than our current individual plans, and with the ACA credits, we’ll be paying approximately $150/month less in premiums.

Assuming all goes as expected, I’m pretty excited about having reasonably-priced, non-crappy health insurance. It was such a relief not to have to fill out endless forms about my medical history and pre-existing conditions. As far as I can tell, there is no “crisis” — the real crisis would be if opponents of health insurance reform managed to undo all the hard work that got us this far.


Rand Paul, Donut Defender

Rand Paul will give up his trans fats when you pry them from his cold, dead hands slathered in partially-hydrogenated, oleaginous goo.

Paul is claiming that the FDA’s ban on the harmful additive in industrially-produced food is somehow threatening your freedom to eat donuts.

Believe it or not, it *is* possible to make donuts without introducing an artificial contaminant via an isomerization side reaction on the catalyst in partial hydrogenation (thank you, Wikipedia). While Paul drops the usual platitudes about “nanny state” overreach, I applaud the FDA for protecting my edible liberties — that is to say, my freedom from food containing this toxic crap.

Americans will always be able to eat as many deep-fried confections as they want. I bet you dollars to donuts.


Don’t let the healthcare glitches get you down

Thinking further about the bugs on Healthcare.gov, it occurred to me that I’ve *never* been able to apply for health insurance online. Perhaps things have changed since the last time I applied — which was only a couple years ago — but I’ve always had to fill out pages and pages of forms. It was excruciating, and often took upwards of a week with all the researching of my own medical history. Yes, it would have been nice if the website rollout hadn’t been fubared, but I’ll probably be able to sign up next month with the help of a navigator. I’m dreading this process much less than I did in the past.

We’d do well to remember William Kristol’s famous 1993 memo: “[A government health care program] will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.” Despite the glitches, conservatives remain afraid of Obamacare.


Thomas Friedman, Please Stop Trying to Help Young People

You know when a Thomas Friedman column is titled “Sorry, Kids. We Ate It All” that it’s going to be bad. This one does not disappoint in its more-centrist-than-thou fearmongering about government spending (way to lend credibility to GOP extortion tactics, dude!). “What are the chances of [young people] getting out of Facebook and into their parents’ faces?” he cleverly ponders, not invoking cliches at all. Among the solutions to mild Social Security shortfalls projected in the distant future he touts:

“…phasing in higher age qualifications for entitlements and cutting corporate taxes to zero, so the people who actually create jobs will have more resources to do so.”

Maybe young people realize deficit spending is not the problem — unemployment is. And health insurance too, which is being remedied by the Affordable Care Act. Maybe some of us even understand that corporations are already barely paying taxes, sitting on enormous piles of cash, and not hiring people. And maybe we don’t want our benefits cut in the name of not cutting our future benefits. Because that’s absurd.


Janet Yellen: Triumph of the Female Wonk

Regular readers will note that I’ve had fairly strong opinions about the Fed chair debate. (See this cartoon and blog post about Janet Yellen and Larry Summers.) Naturally, I’m happy to see Obama nominate her.

If she is confirmed, this will be a victory for the quietly-competent wonkwoman. Nerds of various stripes have enjoyed a veritable Rennaissance over the past decade or so — tech developers and data gurus like Nate Silver have enjoyed immense fame and adulation. Yet the wonky lady has been somewhat elusive as a cultural archetype. Many exist, to be sure, but they are all too often rendered invisible. Wired Magazine was roundly flamed a few weeks ago for failing to name a single woman to its list of Government and Security experts you should be reading.

Of course, it took Larry Summers stepping out of the way to (hopefully) get the first female Fed Chair in U.S. history. One thing I found especially galling about that debate was that Yellen’s thorough preparation for meetings reportedly worked against her; Administration officials were said to prefer the freewheeling, off-the-cuff style of Timothy Geithner, or the chummy relationship that was cultivated with “stand-up dude” Larry Summers during the financial crisis. Lost in much of this discussion of personal style is who has been right.

Here’s hoping this glass-ceiling breaks big-time.


Dem Convention Blogging

Some of you may recall my blog coverage of the 2008 Democratic National Convention for C-VILLE Weekly. We’ve been working on doing something similar this year, possibly in partnership with another altweekly, so I’ll be traveling to Charlotte the week after next. Watch this space for updates!


Travel Article

Exploring my outdoorsy side once again, I’ve got another travel piece in today’s Oregonian. “Community spirit, Portland expatriates keep Galena Lodge aglow in the snow


Jen Sorensen is a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist whose work has appeared in The Progressive, The Nation, Daily Kos, Austin Chronicle, NPR, Ms., Politico, and many other publications. The recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, she tweets at @JenSorensen.

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