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No, Congress Never Intended to Limit Obamacare Subsidies to State Exchanges

| Fri Jan. 16, 2015 1:37 PM EST

The Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, in which conservatives will argue that the text of Obamacare limits federal subsidies only to people who buy insurance from state-run exchanges, not from the federal exchange. Roughly speaking, there are two prongs of the conservative argument:

  1. The law contains text that explicitly limits subsidies to state-run exchanges. Democrats may not have intended this, but they screwed up in the rush to get the bill passed. That's too bad for them, but the law is the law.
  2. Democrats actually did intend to limit subsidies to state-run exchanges. This was meant as an incentive for states to run their own exchanges rather than punting the job to the feds.

The argument over #1 revolves around textual interpretation of the statute as a whole, as well as previous Supreme Court precedent that provides federal agencies with broad latitude in how they implement regulations. The argument over #2 relies on trying to find evidence that limiting subsidies really was a topic of discussion at some point during the debate over the bill. That's been tough: virtually no one who covered the debate (including me) remembers so much as a hint of anything like this popping up. The subsidies were always meant to be universal.

But the recollections of journalists aren't really very germane to a Supreme Court case. The real-time analyses of the Congressional Budget Office, however, might be. This is an agency of Congress, after all, that responds to questions and requests from all members, both Democrats and Republicans. So did CBO ever model any of its cost or budget projections based on the idea that subsidies might not be available in certain states? Today Sarah Kliff points us to Theda Skocpol, who took a look at every single CBO analysis of Obamacare done in 2009 and early 2010. Here's what she found:

CBO mostly dealt with overall budgetary issues of spending, costs, and deficits — or looked at the specific impact of health reform proposals on Medicare beneficiaries, health care providers, and citizens at various income levels. The record shows that no one from either party asked CBO to analyze or project subsidies available to people in some states but not others. In a June 2009 analysis of a draft proposal from Democrats in the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee, CBO treated subsidies as phased in. But even that proposal, which did not survive in further deliberations, stipulated that subsidies would be available in all states from 2014 — and CBO calculated costs accordingly.

After the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, members of Congress, especially Republican critics, continued to raise issues. In its responses, CBO continued to model exchange subsidies as available nationwide. No one in either party objected or asked for alternative estimations assuming partial subsidies at any point in the 111th Congress.

It's unclear whether this is something the Supreme Court will find germane, but it's certainly closer to being germane than the recollections of a bunch of reporters.

It's also possible, of course, that the court will focus solely on argument #1 and never even get to questions about the intent of Congress. Nonetheless, this is an interesting review of the CBO record. The conservative case that Democrats actively intended subsidies to be limited to state exchanges has always been remarkably flimsy. Skocpol's review exposes it as all but nonexistent.

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Will 2014 Finally Be the Year That Puts the Climate Denialists' 1998 Chestnut to Rest?

| Fri Jan. 16, 2015 12:09 PM EST

With 2014 now in the books, it's a good time to refresh our memories about the great conservative global warming hoax. Here's a look at the usual conservative presentation showing that the planet hasn't warmed even a teensy little bit over the past decade. Their go-to chart, which goes from 1998 through 2012, looks like this:

No warming! But how can that be? Well, if you cherry pick your start and end dates, you can show just about anything. Here's the same chart extended by a mere two years on either side. It goes from 1996 through 2014:

Warming! How about that? It's amazing how you can lie with numbers if you put your mind to to it. And here's the full chart since 1900:

This is apropos because NASA announced today that we set a record last year: "The year 2014 ranks as Earth's warmest since 1880, according to two separate analyses by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists."

The year 1998 was an outlier, an unusually warm year. If you choose this as your starting point, the next decade will look pretty uneventful. You can do the same thing with lots of other decade-long periods. For example, 1969-85 looks pretty flat, and so does 1981-94. This is typical of noisy data. Planetary warming isn't a smooth upward curve every year. It spikes up and down, and that allows people to play games with the data over short periods. Add to that the fact that warming really does appear to pause a bit now and again, and it's easy for charlatans to fool the rubes with misleading charts.

But in the end, physics and chemistry will do their thing regardless. Earth is warming up, as any honest look at the data makes clear. And 2014 is now yet another record-setting year. We'll see if that's enough to embarrass the Fox News set into giving up on the old 1998 chestnut.

"Daily Show" Explains the Absurdity in Alabama's New Abortion Law That Appoints Lawyers for Fetuses

| Fri Jan. 16, 2015 9:32 AM EST

Back in September, Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden investigated a new law in Alabama forcing pregnant teenagers seeking an abortion to first receive parental consent. If she is unable to get permission, the teenager is then put on trial, giving judges the right to appoint attorneys to defend the unborn fetus.

This all sounds insane. Last night, "The Daily Show" sent correspondent Jessica Williams to the state to investigate. Here's how some of that absurdity played out:

"You get a call from a fetus seeking legal representation, then what happens?" Williams asks unborn fetus attorney Julian McPhillips. 

"I cannot get a call from a fetus for anything much less legal representation," he answers.

When questioned about how he meets in confidentiality with his unborn client, McPhillips shoots back, "I cannot communicate with them directly, you know better than to ask the question."

"Well I don't know! You have a crazy ass job, sir. I don't know what's in the realm of possibility and what's in the realm of not possible." 

For more on how judges humiliate teens seeking abortions, read our in-depth report here. 

Watch below:

 

Pope Francis: Climate Change Is Real and Humans Are Causing It

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 5:55 PM EST

Pope Francis made headlines Thursday when he told reporters that he believes climate change is largely caused by humans. "I don't know if it [human activity] is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face," said Francis, according to the Associated Press. "We have in a sense taken over nature."

But how does the pope know that humans are responsible for most of the unprecedented warming that has occurred in recent years? How can he be sure it wasn't caused by solar cycles? Or volcanoes? Or "global wobbling"? Here's a hint: The AP mentions that some of Francis' top aides have recently noted "that there is clear-cut scientific evidence that climate change is driven by human activity."

That's right. Unlike much of the US Congress, the pope seems seems to be relying on science to inform his opinions about climate change. And indeed, his remarks Thursday echoed the scientific consensus on the issue. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for instance, recently declared it "extremely likely"—that is, at least 95 percent certain—that "human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century."

Still, all the science in the world won't help much if we don't actually do something to reign in the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the problem. And the pope is pushing for action. According to the AP, Francis criticized world leaders for failing to accomplish enough at a recent climate conference in Lima, Peru, and he called for them to be "more courageous" when they reconvene in Paris later this year.

We Have Some Bad News For You About That Hilarious Dog-Walker Craigslist Ad Everyone Is Talking About

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 4:24 PM EST

Update, Sunday, January 18, 2015: We have more bad news. Apparently this dude is a plagiarist. Yahoo Tech editor Jason Gilbert wrote this Craigslist post years ago and the guy in Seattle stole it. 

On Sunday, a "dog-walker" in Seattle posted a Craigslist ad offering their services to "rich-ass dog owners." The lengthy—and hilarious!—ad took the internet by storm. One site went so far as to call it the "Great American Craigslist Ad.

HEY RICH-ASS DOG OWNERS:

Are you at the office 23 hours a day in a coke-fueled effort to squeeze every last penny out of your 20's and 30's?

Are you going out of town with your post-divorce trophy-girlfriend to visit your slave ship collection in the Barbados?

Do you work for a corporation that received Tarp money?

I AM YOUR DOG-WALKER

I am the most radical, bitching, mind blowing dog- walking experience in all of Seattle. All dogs are STOKED when I'm around, regardless of breed or sex. Your dog is gonna be on me like Charlie Sheen on a porn star mad of amphetamines; when I'm ascending toward penthouse suite in your private elevator, bitch's nipples are gonna be ROCK HARD.

Do I have experience walking dogs?

I'M A HUMAN BEING, OF COURSE I HAVE EXPERIENCE WALKING DOGS. THIS ISN'T LINEAR ALGEBRA, FOLKS; ITS DOG-WALKING

The heroic rant continues. Other people found it quite amusing as well and deemed it the latest "great American Craigslist ad." 

But when reached for comment, our "dog-walker" revealed the hard-hitting truth. 

Ummm... I posted this as a joke. I have surprisingly gotten people that want me to walk their dogs. Ive got more marriage proposals and offers for sex more than anything. I prefer to remain anonymous but i will tell you that I am married with a daughter and contrary to my post(that is a joke) I make a comfortable living and I'm pretty much your average joe family man. The reason I posted it is to show what happens when you go to college and stack up student loans and dont have a plan afterwards. you'll turn out having to walk dogs with a shitty outlook on society.

The moral of this story is that nothing on the internet is ever true.

Sorry, guys.

Here is a screenshot of the ad for when it gets taken down:

Chart of the Day: Thanks to Obamacare, Medical Debt Is Down

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 4:22 PM EST

A new survey from the Commonwealth Fund brings us good news and bad news. The good news is that, thanks to Obamacare, the number of people with serious medical debt issues has dropped from 41 percent to 35 percent. Hooray!

And the bad news? This barely gets us back to where we were a decade ago. We still have a long way to go.

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McDonald's Just Recalled 1 Million Chicken McNuggets for a Super-Gross Reason

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 2:31 PM EST

Update 12/15/15: Cargill announced that "they are confident the blue, plastic foreign material recently reported in one McDonalds Chicken Nugget in Japan did not originate from Cargill’s production facilities." The source of the plastic is unknown.

McDonald's Japan is having a rough start to 2015. Last week, the company apologized after a customer found plastic fragments in an order of Chicken McNuggets, which were thought to have been produced at a Cargill factory in Thailand. McDonald's pulled out nearly 1 million McNuggets from the factory in one day. The same week, a customer in Misawa found a piece of vinyl in an order of McNuggets.

In a statement about the plastic contamination, company spokesman Takashi Hasegasa said, "We deeply apologize for the trouble we have caused our customers and we are taking quick measures to analyze the cause of the contamination."

Plastic and vinyl are, sadly, not the only gross items that customers have found in their McDonald's meals over the past year. In August, the company received a complaint from a customer in Osaka who had found the shard of a human tooth in an order of french fries. It was unclear at press time if the customer was in fact "lovin' it."

In July, McDonald's shut down its poultry supplier in China, Shanghai Husi Food Co, after allegations that the factory had deliberately mixed fresh chicken with expired produce. The meat had then allegedly been shipped to McDonald's in Japan and Starbucks and Burger King in China.

The summer food scares led McDonald's Japan sales to drop more than 10 percent every month compared to the previous year, according to CNN. This fiscal year, the golden arches are bracing themselves for the their first net loss in Japan in 11 years.

In an effort to bounce back, McDonald's Japan launched a sales campaign with discounts, giveaways, and new nuggets made from tofu.

 

The Muslim Hero Who Saved Lives at a Paris Kosher Market Is Being Awarded French Citizenship

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 12:05 PM EST

Lassana Bathily, the Muslim man from Mali who saved the lives of several customers during last week's hostage situation at a kosher supermarket in Paris, will be awarded French citizenship for his heroic efforts. 

The news comes as many, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have expressed their gratitude to Bathily for his bravery. Nearly 300,000 people signed a petition calling for his citizenship. 

On Friday, Bathily, who works as an assistant at the market, risked his own life by ushering a group of customers downstairs and hiding them in the market's walk-in freezer. Needing to inform police of the situation, he managed to exit through the basement. Once out, however, police ordered him to lie down, in fear Bathily was working with the gunman inside. After he was able to convince authorities he was not working with the gunman, Bathily provided the necessary details and key to the market's metal blinds, both of which helped rescue the fifteen people hiding in the freezer. 

"Yes, I aided Jews,” Bathily said in an interview. "We’re brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians, or Muslims. We’re all in the same boat. We need to help each other to get out of this crisis."

Bathily has reportedly lived in France since 2006.  

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Bathily won the Legion d'Honneur.

Housekeeping Update

| Thu Jan. 15, 2015 11:24 AM EST

I continue to be death warmed over, the result of a cold that won't go away acting in some kind of diabolical concert with all the usual chemotherapy crap. I may blog a bit later, or I may not. Hard to tell right now. But I'll get better eventually.

Mitt Romney Is Going to Run for President Again? WTF?

| Wed Jan. 14, 2015 5:34 PM EST

I'm sort of slowly catching up on things I missed over the past couple of days, and most of it at least makes sense. Wall Street panicked over a single bad economic report. Check. Boko Haram massacred another village in Nigeria. Check. Tea partiers still control the Republican agenda in Congress. Check. Mitt Romney is going to run for president again. Ch—

Wait. Mitt Romney is going to run for president again? Seriously? That's insane, isn't it? Can anyone aside from Romney's overpaid team of advisors and consultants actually make a good case that he can win?

I'm still a little woozy, so I'm not up to the job of trying to figure this out. But there's just no way. Parties don't rally around losers, and Romney is now a two-time loser. Ann Romney may still be nursing a planet-sized grudge about the way Mitt was treated in 2012, but that buys no votes. Besides, he'll be treated the same way this time around. Once a plutocrat, always a plutocrat. Maybe that's fair, maybe it's not, but nobody ever said life was fair.

So I guess I'm caught up. Except for this one thing. What the hell is Romney thinking?