Hobby Lobby is Not Being Repressed

The retail chain Hobby Lobby has challenged the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, on First Amendment grounds. From Wikipedia:

In September 2012, Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against the United States over new regulations requiring health insurance provided by employers to cover emergency contraceptives, stating that, "(t)he Green family's religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices."
Let's leave aside the claim that the contraceptives in question cause abortion or the the concept of corporate personhood that would say a corporation can have religious beliefs. I want to focus on the claim that Obamacare violates Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs by requiring it to provide health insurance plans to its employees that include coverage for certain contraceptives.

If a woman chooses to have an abortion, it's her choice, not Hobby Lobby's. Hobby Lobby is making the case that because the insurance plans they are required to pay for cover certain contraception then, I guess, that means there is a small chance they will be providing support for what they see as an abortion. Notice that the law is not requiring Hobby Lobby to pay for contraception. Health insurance companies will be the parties paying for abortions. At best Hobby Lobby's case is that they are at the beginning of a chain of events that will lead to an abortion.

Here's the problem with all of that. Hobby Lobby is required by law to pay its employees a wage. According to healthcare.gov health insurance plans are required to pay for:
  • Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization (such as surgery)
  • Maternity and newborn care (care before and after your baby is born)
  • Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
  • Laboratory services
  • Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  • Pediatric services
I believe the "prescription drugs" bullet covers contraception. On the other hand wages, aka money, cover:
  • Everything that health insurance covers (including contraception)
  • Practically anything else you can think of
You can straight up buy an abortion with money. If my employer deposits a check into my bank account and then I go out and buy meth, it doesn't mean my employer is "participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting" methamphetamine use. I am doing those things. My employer is paying me for my labor. Hobby Lobby is already required by law to provide you with the means to purchase contraception, whether you earn it from wages or a health insurance benefit is irrelevant. The challenge to Obamacare based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment falls apart because of this.

It's interesting that news came out that Hobby Lobby is invested in companies that make contraceptives. These investments go toward employee retirement plans, a benefit. While paying for health insurance, a benefit, is required by law, a retirement plan is not. Furthermore, mutual funds that invest in these plans are not the only plans available.
Similar options exist for companies that want to practice what's sometimes called faith-based investing. To avoid supporting companies that manufacture abortion drugs—or products such as alcohol or pornography—religious investors can turn to a cottage industry of mutual funds that screen out stocks that religious people might consider morally objectionable. The Timothy Plan and the Ave Maria Fund, for example, screen for companies that manufacture abortion drugs, support Planned Parenthood, or engage in embryonic stem cell research. Dan Hardt, a Kentucky financial planner who specializes in faith-based investing, says the performances of these funds are about the same as if they had not been screened. But Hobby Lobby's managers either were not aware of these options or chose not to invest in them.
At best Hobby Lobby's retirement benefit is not supporting the use of contraceptives in the same way that their health insurance benefit is not. In both cases the company is not paying for contraceptive use. At worst, when it came to an issue of return on investment, they failed to completely research where their money was going so as to rule out violating their faith. In both cases it paints their complaint in a disingenuous light.

4/5/2014 6:35:54 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: health+insurance obamacare scotus hobby+lobby
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Do We Need to be Tough

I still can't actually believe what has happened in Crimea. Let’s agree that nobody likes the Russian annexation of Crimea. I think everyone’s impression of Vladimir Putin is pretty much right on. So what are we, the United States, going to do about it? Before we answer that question I think we have to ask ourselves why it is we care. Sure, as a country with global reach in a global economy we care about everything. As a society that generally believes in fair play this offends us. But why do we care enough to do something militarily?

Why is there a need, as people like Mitt Romney, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice suggest, to stand up to Putin? Why do we need to be tough in every conflict around the world and specifically this one? Putin is not taking something of ours, even in the loosest sense of the word "ours". This is not Saddam taking Kuwait. This is not Hitler breaking the Treaty of Versailles. Crimea is not "ours" in the sense that Kuwait, or Western Europe, or Latin America, or Israel is "ours" (i.e. our sphere of influence). With all the ethnic Russians in Crimea and all the history between the two states, Crimea is clearly in Russia's sphere in a way that Kosovo or Bosnia or Iraq or Granada aren't for America. I would like Putin to stop, but is it on us to stop him? Is it worth our resources to do it? Is it worth creating a conflict between Russia and the West to do it?

I get people are worried about Russia moving back into space - Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Caucasus region, central Asia - it has vacated since the fall of the Soviet Union (space the West has moved into in many cases), but I just have to ask what the hawks expect us to do. Why should we make a stand in Crimea? And what stand do you expect us to make? Sanctions? War? Cold? Hot? How big?

I learned the lessons about Germany before World War II, and I feel uneasy about what Russia is doing, but given Russia's military and economic power (where does Europe get a third of its energy from?) I don’t see we have much of a choice but to accept it (like we did when with Georgia in 2008, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Hungary in 1956, among others). More importantly though, I’m not so sure we should be as concerned as people are saying we should.

3/27/2014 1:55:06 AM
Filed Under: World
Keywords: russia crimea
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Honoring Troops at Sporting Events

You know those videos of soldiers coming home to surprise their family? They make me cry every time. Teenagers at graduation, little kids in school, the whole family at a sporting event, their dogs - doesn’t matter. Every time. And I never don’t watch them if someone posts a link. At home. At work. Can’t stop. Something in my eye. Fake yawn. Avoid eye contact. I’ve had to employ them all.

I was thinking of a new, maybe better, way to bring soldiers’ families joy. These kids, these spouses, these dogs obviously love their soldiers, which is why they break down and why we break down watching these videos. So how about this, instead of sending these people overseas for months at a time - and then sending them again and again - how about we just keep them at home? If we really gave a crap about these soldiers we would simply bring them home. Stop putting them and their families through the pain of having to be apart for who knows what at this point. There are times when it’s necessary. I’ve supported war - and the breaking up of families that it entails - when I thought it was necessary. But let’s be honest, is what we’re doing in Afghanistan right now necessary? Is it the best use of these brave men and women?

I don’t think I would have really understood how awful these videos are before I had kids. But now the thought of missing months of my kids’ lives is heart breaking to me. It’s different, I’m sure, because to put yourself in mortal danger means you must care about your mission more than anything I’ve ever cared about. So in that respect maybe it’s easier for these soldiers to leave their families for months on end, but as a parent and a husband and a son and a brother and a friend, I bet it’s not much easier.

At the State of the Union address President Obama called on Sgt. Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was involved in a roadside bombing while on his 10th tour in Afghanistan. He was partially paralyzed and brain damaged. The audience gave him a long ovation in honor of his tremendous service. As James Fallows at The Atlantic has pointed out, it seems everyone missed the point.

The moment was powerful human and political drama; it reflected deserved credit and gratitude on Remsburg and his family; and as I wrote earlier today, I think it was entirely sincere on the president's part, as a similar tribute would have been from his predecessor George W. Bush. With the significant difference that Bush initiated the wars these men and women have fought in, and Obama has been winding them down. And so the most favorable reading of the moment, as John Cassidy has argued, is that the president was trying to dramatize to the rest of the government the human cost of the open-ended wars many of them have egged on.

But I don't think that's how it came across to most of the Congress, or was processed by the commentariat. This was not presented as a "never again" moment; it was a "this is America's finest!" moment—which Cory Remsburg himself, and with his family, certainly is. (Also see Peter Beinart on this point.) For America as a whole, the episode did not show us at our finest. In the earlier item, I tried to explain why these few minutes will reflect badly on us and our times when our children's children view them years from now. Since the explanation was buried at the end of a long post, I repeat it at the end of this one.
I would like to believe that a sliver of pre-2008 Barack Obama was trying to show what our foreign policy has wrought. If not, then I’ll say it. Look what our foreign policy has done to this man. This man went on 10 tours of service (or whatever the proper terminology is) for our country. Did no one, while rightly cheering this man’s bravery and dedication, think to boo the policy that did this to him? My god, man, ten deployments. I don’t claim to be anti-every war. I supported the war in Afghanistan at the outset, but what are we doing there now?

Instead of cheering these soldiers at football games how about we bring them home.

Fallows started his thoughts here while his readers chimed in as well.

Fallows link via Balloon Juice.

3/12/2014 12:17:13 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: military war Afghanistan sotu
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Driver's Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

Every once in a while a debate arises in some state about giving driver's licenses to people living in the US illegally. Massachusetts is taking its turn with the recently proposed Safe Driving Bill. As I see it it makes little sense to oppose giving licenses to such people. The Registry of Motor Vehicles exists for a reason.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles Division is responsible for vehicle operator licensing and vehicle and aircraft registration, available online and at branch offices across the Commonwealth. The Registry oversees commercial and non-commercial vehicle inspection stations.
Licensing and inspection. In short, the RMV exists to enhance safety on public roads. If people are going to drive let's make sure they're competent. We lose over 30,000 people a year to automobile deaths. There's no reason for the RMV to focus on anything more than that.

The United States spends $18 billion on immigration enforcement, more than any other law enforcement activity the federal government engages in. I get that people get really upset about illegal immigration, but if they want it fixed, the RMV is not the place to do it. It's federal law and it's the federal government's job. I don't really understand why people can't divorce licensing people for driving a vehicle with a person's immigration status. The two aren't related.

If we want the Pittsfield RMV to be checking on immigration status, what other federal laws should it be enforcing? While we're at it, what other state agencies should be enforcing federal law? And when we're adding extra process that doesn't further the stated goals of whatever state agency is enforcing whatever federal law, how much more complaining are we going to do about slow and inefficient our government is?

I get that people want to stop illegal immigration, even if I wouldn't be as upset about it, but the RMV is not the place to make that stand.

1/28/2014 1:12:34 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: immigration massachusetts
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Making it Easier to Vote

The Massachusetts Senate passed updates to the state’s election laws this week. The bill includes online voter registration, early voting, pre-registration for teens, and election day registration.

When I moved into my new suburban lifestyle last year (2012, technically) I had to update my license. I renewed it at the Natick RMV*** on the Mass Pike. I also needed to register to vote. On top of that I had a bunch of other "just moved" errands to do that day so I decided to take the day off (note that for later) and get everything done. I thought I was going to have to go to town hall but, lo and behold, the clerk asked me if my wife and I needed to register to vote.

I can thank the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 for that pleasantry.

The legislation required state governments to allow for registration when a qualifying voter applied for or renewed their driver's license or applied for social services.
At the time I had a lot of vacation saved up so it - wait, let’s step back for a second. I had (still have) a job that has generous vacation day benefits and I had saved a lot of vacation days, so it wasn’t a burden to make two stops. There are plenty of jobs that don’t afford that benefit. I’m sure most people would make the extra effort to register to vote, but you can see how it would deter some. There’s no reason to make it hard though, and it’s quite easy to make it convenient. In fact, it turned out that I registered too late to be able to vote in the Democratic primary for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat. While I was happy with the ease at which I registered I, like others, wondered why I still shouldn’t have been able to vote. The addition of same-day registration to Massachusetts election law Massachusetts would have allowed me to vote that day.

The "Motor Voter Act", as it is sometimes called, and the recent changes in Massachusetts are examples of laws designed to make it easy to register to vote and vote. Those are in stark contrast to laws Republicans across the country have been proposing and enacting that make it harder to vote. Disturbingly you see it a lot in major swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For example, it's estimated that thousands of people were deterred from voting in Florida because of long lines in 2012. Coincidentally, in 2011, Florida reduced early voting from 14 days to 8 days.

Don’t mistake these laws for misguided attempts to stop vote fraud. Vote fraud happens at a statistically insignificant rate, meaning there's little need for these laws. I'll say it again: vote fraud is a myth, These laws are blatant attempts to keep people from voting under the guise of stopping something that doesn't exist.



*** I must have some sort of good luck, because I have very few problems at government offices. Maybe it’s because I pay most of my bills online so I don’t go as often as most people, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience at a post office, certainly not the one back in Coolidge Corner. The people at the Social Security Administration in Boston were lovely. I think I had one bad experience with a complete moron at the RMV in Boston, but every other time I’ve gone it’s been pleasant. I almost didn’t have to go to the office, but I had to take an eye test (in the loosest definition of the word). My only complaint would be that they didn’t tell me I needed to update my picture, so I came in looking like a bag of crap.

1/18/2014 1:17:31 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: voter+ID voting vote+fraud massachusetts florida ohio pennsylvania
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The Worst Marriage Advice

I broke out The Suit to go to a wedding on the Cape last summer. Beautiful couple. Delicious food. Open bar. The Horah. Double freaking rainbow out over the ocean. Absolutely lovely.

With marriage comes marriage advice. Everyone’s got some advice for you, and it’s always good to listen. One of the most common pieces of advice Carol and I received around the time of our wedding - and which was mentioned in the vows of the wedding this summer - was “don’t go to bed angry”.

Now at first I wanted to write a post about how terrible this advice is. But first I did a little searching for the correct wording of the advice and came across an article on not going to bed angry that changed my mind a little.

Basically, the point of my post was going to be that sleep is totally awesome and vital to your personal and marital health. I learned this quickly after my first son was born. I was never of the opinion that arguments absolutely had to be worked out before we went to bed. My wife was more insistent that things get worked out. Combine that with the fact that I can be stubborn and we had a few all-nighters. That wrecked us the next day when we didn’t have kids. It made us irritable to each other and worsened our productivity at work. When the kids did come there wasn’t any discussion about changing the rules of our arguments. We just recognized that most of what we argued about wasn’t worth the loss of sleep.

The article linked above modified my position on DGTBA. Before reading the article I saw two sides to the debate: resolve it (i.e. “don’t go to bed angry”) or drop it. Before the article I was a strong advocate for dropping it. What you really have is three options though. “Resolve it” is still there, and I still think it’s a terrible rule. “Drop it” though needs to get broken into two options. There’s dropping it and letting the argument fester because neither side really dropped it. Many a time I would let an argument fester in the days and weeks after a late night argument, whether we “resolved” or dropped it. Inevitably it would come up in a different situation, making things worse. Then there’s dropping it and truly forgetting about it because you realize it’s not worth the loss of sleep and more importantly it’s not worth hanging over your relationship with the person you love. The latter option is actually a combination of how I saw “resolve it, aka don’t go to bed angry” and “drop it”. This interpretation of DGTBA is saying drop it because it’s not worth it - and believe that it’s not worth it.

The wife and I are at this position. It might just be because we’re too tired to care about certain disagreements anymore. It might be that we’ve come to long term agreements on old conflicts. But I think we’ve also realized most of the things we used to argue about aren’t worth it. And you know what, we have a damn good marriage now.

1/4/2014 8:34:57 PM
Filed Under: Personal
Keywords: marriage wedding advice
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Does Obamacare Restrict Religious Freedom

At some point I wrote about this and I was a little more charitable about the opposing opinion, but the more I think about it attempts to oppose parts of Obamacare on religious freedom grounds are way off.

For instance, let's take Hobby Lobby. Last year Hobby Lobby sued the federal government over contraception coverage regulations in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby's position is (my emphasis):

On November 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a case arising out of commitment of the Green family, the sole owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., to live out their deeply held religious convictions by “operating their company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”

These principles were put to the test when the federal government mandated that the Greens and their family businesses provide four specific potentially life-terminating drugs and devices through their employee health plan in conflict with their deeply held religious convictions. While the Green family has no moral objection to providing 16 of the 20 FDA-approved drugs and devices that are part of the federal mandate, providing drugs or devices that have the potential to terminate a life conflicts with their faith.
The logic doesn't hold up though. The federal government isn't mandating that Hobby Lobby pay for "four specific potentially life-terminating drugs and devices". They're mandating that insurance companies pay for it (because they're used in accepted medical practices). But, you say, Hobby Lobby is required to offer one of these plans (or pay a fine). True, but Hobby Lobby is also required to pay wages to its employees, which they can use to buy all the abortions they want. Should Hobby Lobby be exempt from paying its employees a wage because its employees can go buy things that Hobby Lobby finds morally objectionable? Of course not. Hobby Lobby isn't being forced to use nor pay for these drugs and devices. The decision to do so is on the employee who's using the plan.

11/27/2013 1:25:05 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: religion obamacare religious+freedom health+care abortion
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The Shutdown is Bullshit

What the Republicans are doing right now is bullshit. And let's be clear, this government shutdown - plus the maybe possible, but hopefully they're not that crazy, debt default - is almost completely the Republicans' fault.

Now let me be clear. I don't think the tactics being used break any rules. There's more to being a politician than just policy. There are a lot of techniques for getting what you want that don't involve convincing others of the merit of your position. In fact, that's mostly how it works. I dislike things like the filibuster and log rolling and earmarks, and I want them changed, but that's how the system works right now. And what the Republicans are doing is within the bounds of a flawed system.

But here's why it's bullshit. In what we consider normal political battles winning means you get your legislation passed and losing means you don't. If the legislation improves people's lives (or is perceived to) then more people vote for the winning side, and less for the losing side. If the legislation does the opposite then the reverse happens. The reward and punishment come at the ballot box for the different sides of the fight.

What the Republicans are doing is punishing the entire country for their inability to pass legislation (which is, in this case, the repeal of legislation). They're saying that if the other side doesn't agree with them they're not going to punish them by beating them in election, they're saying they're going to punish the entire country by shutting down its government or possibly letting it default on its debt.

It's ridiculous, and it's pretty clearly not that lazy "both sides do it" crap that people fall back on when they don't want to have to defend their position.

Think of it this way, what if the Democrats threatened to shut down the government or have the US default if the Republicans wouldn't pass Obamacare?

10/7/2013 12:50:39 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: obamacare republicans
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How Breaking Bad Will End

There are three new Breaking Bad episodes left. Stop crying. The most recent episode ended in the middle of a gunfight between Todd's Merry Band of Neo-Nazis and DEA agents Hank and Gomez. Walt is handcuffed in an SUV in the middle of the shooting, while Jesse is cowering in a car behind Hank and Gomez. We know this needs to be resolved, but we also know two other things. We know Walt spends his 52nd birthday on the run, in a Denny's, with all his hair back. We also know that he returns to his abandoned house looking for his ricin, with a pretty bad-ass gun in his trunk.

Let me tell you my theory about how this all ends. I don't actually think this is the way Vince Gilligan ends it, but it makes sense to me given what we know.

First, I think Gomez dies. I don't want him to, but one of the good guys probably has to get it. How those Nazi scumbags missed Hank and Gomez after having them lined up for a good 60 seconds and firing first I'll never know. Hank survives. Walt survives. The bad guys round up Jesse.

Next, I think they take Hank, Jesse, and Walt back to Nazi headquarters. Walt is on their team and they need him so he's OK. Jesse might be spared because he's nobody to them. But Hank, Hank's a DEA agent. The Nazis know he has to die. But Walt doesn't want to let that happen. Walt is all sorts of evil but maybe the one redeeming quality he has is that he really does see Hank and Jesse as family. He is a despicable liar, but I actually believe him at this point when he says he doesn't want them harmed. I also believe he didn't want Todd to shoot Drew Sharp, and I believe he knew how to poison Brock without killing him. While his ego has allowed him to do unspeakable things, I think there's some good left in him. And he has leverage with the Nazis because he's the only guy who can cook that blue meth.

Maybe the Nazis are waffling a little because Walt represents a lot of money. But then Lydia shows up. And you know she's going to tie up every loose end. The Nazis are about to kill Hank and Jesse, but Walt uses Science! to help Hank or Jesse or Hank and Jesse to escape. That's tonight's episode.

The Nazis are obviously pissed off now. So flash forward to Hank on the run in the next episode. Lydia is after Walt, but remember, she's won't leave anything to chance. She's probably after Jesse, Hank and his family, Walt's family, probably Saul, and maybe even the staff of the car wash. She's after everyone Walt cares about. Blah, blah, blah, a bunch of stuff happens.

In the finale, Walt comes back to his vandalized house to get his ricin. He's going to use this to kill Lydia or Jack because they are going after his family. After all of Walt's bullshit about doing this for his family we're coming full circle. The video confession this season, just like in the first season. Burying his money where he first cooked in the RV in the first season. If we're going full circle let's go back to why Walt started this in the first place. At the very beginning he was doing it for his family. Sure, it was ego that made him do it the way he did it. He eschewed help when he could have had it. And he cooked meth way longer than he had to. But at the beginning he wanted to provide for his family.

Breaking Bad has always kept us guessing. Walt has been trending further evil ever since his first cook. What better way to end the season than to turn Walt back into the anti-hero?

Here's what convinced me, even though I don't have any confidence that my theory will happen. In the flash forwards Walt has his hair back, just like he did at the beginning before the evil inside him came out.

9/15/2013 5:43:54 PM
Filed Under: Art and Culture
Keywords: breaking+bad amc tv
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The X-Files at 20

The X-Files is 20! This write-up by Brian Phillips isn't great, but this paragraph is a great description of the "monster of the week" episodes:

The X-Files was probably the first great TV show to be galvanized by the Internet and the last great TV show to depict a world in which the Internet played no part. Its fan culture found a home online early in the series' run, but though the role of computers became both more central and more realistic as the show progressed,3 it was possible at least through the fifth season or so to see the Web as a distraction, something with no important bearing on anyone's life. Remember when you could turn it on and off? We often credit the Internet with the disintegration of the old American monoculture, because it liberated us to be absorbed by our own interests, to spend our time downloading obscure anime, say, rather than caring about Madonna or ABC. But the Internet also created a new type of monoculture: It made every place accessible to every other place. We could no longer assume that the peculiarities of our own environments were private. Our hometown murders might appear on CNN.com. The world of small-town X-Files episodes is still that older world of extreme locality, where everyone in town grows up knowing that the rules here are different and we handle it ourselves. Children vanish or trees kill people or bright lights appear in the sky, but there is no higher authority to appeal to and it has nothing to do with what goes on 10 miles down the road. In my hometown we knew that the spillway by the lake was where you painted a memorial if your friend was killed in a drunk-driving crash. It's the same thing. Here is here. And this, it goes without saying, is just the opposite of the here-is-everywhere world inhabited by the conspiracy, which is global in scale, utterly connected, and ruled by pseudonymous men whose flat-affect, no-eye-contact meetings were almost the personification of a chat window.
In fact, I wrote something similar to this a while ago about The X-Files:
Fringe is a modern-day knock off of X Files. From what I've seen it follows the same mythology/MOTW structure. I don't mean that as an insult; I enjoyed what I saw of Fringe in its first season (Lance Reddick and Kirk Acevedo are great), but I just didn't have the time to keep watching it. A problem with Fringe is that I don't really believe it the way I did with X Files. X Files happened in a time when it was possible to have government conspiracies to cover up aliens or a fluke man swimming in the sewers all just beneath the public's view. Today a satanic cult of teachers would get tweeted before it killed any school children. A freaky carnival killer would get seen by Google street view. Messages boards would gin up all those monsters of the week and spill them out onto local TV news.
A great show, and worth another watch some time. Thanks to my brother for the link.

9/12/2013 1:03:48 AM
Filed Under: Art and Culture
Keywords: the+x-files tv
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