Blogs

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2014

Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:39 PM EST

US Navy Sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish camera to survey the ocean floor. In this operation, designed to promote maritime security, a quarter of the world's navies are participating. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Supreme Court Takes Up Yet Another Challenge to Obamacare

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:27 PM EST

It looks like the Halbig challenge to Obamacare is a go:

The justices on Friday say they will decide whether the law authorizes subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their health insurance premiums. A federal appeals court upheld Internal Revenue Service regulations that allow health-insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in all 50 states. Opponents argue that most of the subsidies are illegal.

In case it's slipped your mind, this is the case that hinges on whether a typo in one sentence of the Affordable Care Act should wipe out health care subsidies in every state that uses the federal exchange. If the challengers win, subsidies will be available only in states that run their own exchanges.

Given the facts of the case, I'd normally say the whole thing is laughable. The intent of the law is, and always has been, crystal clear. But the current Supreme Court really doesn't seem to care much about laughable. If they want to cripple Obamacare, they'll do it. The shoddiness of the argument doesn't much matter to them.

So this is going to be a nail-biter. If it goes the wrong way, 6 million people or more will lose access to affordable health care—and half the country will cheer giddily about it. Because there's just nothing more satisfying than denying decent health care to millions of your fellow citizens.

UPDATE: Although this challenge is the same as the one in Halbig, the actual case the Supreme Court agreed to hear is King v. Burwell. Sorry for the mistake.

Negotiating With Republicans ≠ Negotiating With Tea Partiers

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 12:56 PM EST

Megan McArdle was pretty unimpressed with President Obama's press conference following the Democrats' midterm defeat. "No one reasonable expected the president to grovel," she says, but surely he could have adopted a more conciliatory tone?

Most notably, of course, he said he would take executive action on immigration by year's end unless Republicans passed a bill. It's certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I'll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.

I'm not sure that isn't what Obama thinks he's doing…But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old…McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won't negotiate; he's an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn't that fond of him). In short, he's someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell's rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you're going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.

 I wonder if Obama even knows how to negotiate with Republicans…

I'm not here to defend Obama's negotiating record. I'd rate it higher than McArdle, probably, but it's obviously not one of Obama's strong suits. Still, she's rather pointedly ignoring the elephant in the room here.

As near as I can tell, Obama has regularly demonstrated the ability to negotiate with Mitch McConnell. Not perfectly, and not without plenty of hiccups, but they can do business when the incentives are strong enough. In fact, they did do business on immigration reform. A year ago the Senate passed a comprehensive bill 68-32. Here's what Obama said about McConnell on Wednesday:

My interactions with Mitch McConnell, he has always been very straightforward with me. To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn't deliver. And he knows the legislative process well. He obviously knows his caucus well—he has always given me, I think, realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can't. And so I think we can have a productive relationship.

The unnamed elephant in the room, obviously, is John Boehner and the tea party caucus in the House. Boehner has repeatedly shown that he can't control his own caucus and can't deliver a deal of any sort. That's not because either Obama or Boehner are incompetent negotiators, it's because the tea partiers are flatly unwilling to compromise in any remotely constructive way. So when Obama adopts a combative tone on immigration, it's aimed at Boehner, who really does have the miserable job of trying to ride herd on a bunch of erratic and willful seven-year-olds—as he himself has admitted from time to time.

Does Obama know how to negotiate with Republicans? Sure. Does he know how to negotiate with tea party extremists? Hard to say. But then again, even John Boehner hasn't figured out how to do that. Perhaps Obama's playground style hit-them-over-the-head approach is about as good as it gets.

Chart of the Day #2: Wage Growth Is Still Lousy

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 11:52 AM EST

In my post earlier this morning about jobs growth, I mentioned that wage growth continues to be stuck at about zero after accounting for inflation. This probably deserves a chart of its own to make it clear what things look like, so here it is: wage growth after inflation since the recovery began in 2010. As you can see, real wages have been bouncing along slightly above and slightly below zero for four years now. If you use alternate measures of inflation, the trend is even worse.

This is the basic lay of the land. Yes, the economy is improving and jobs are becoming more plentiful. But most of us have seen our pay stagnate for four years and counting. That's one of the reasons the public mood remains so sour.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in October

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 10:50 AM EST

The American economy added 214,000 new jobs in October, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 124,000. That's about the same as last month—in fact, about the same as the past nine months—and it's a fairly solid number. In addition, the headline unemployment rate ticked down to 5.8 percent, and this was a real gain, not a chimera due to more people giving up and leaving the workforce. In fact, both the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio were up.

This is all good news. It's not evidence of a roaring economy, but it's solid good news. As usual, the main blemish comes in wage growth, which continues to be stuck at about zero after accounting for inflation. In other words, the economy is growing, but it's still not growing fast enough to truly tighten up the labor market. When we start seeing healthy wage gains, that will be the first sign that we've truly put the Great Recession behind us. We're not there yet.

Surprise! This GOP Senator's Theory About Volcanoes and Climate Change Is Totally Wrong.

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 10:49 AM EST

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski will likely take over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—one of several committees whose work deals directly with climate and energy policy.

Unlike many of her GOP peers in the upper chamber, Murkowski doesn't deny that the climate is changing. She's even referred to Alaska as "ground zero for climate change." But as we've pointed out, in recent years it's become increasingly difficult to distinguish her legislative record on the issue from that of the rest of her party.

On Election Night, Murkowski told NPR that Alaskans are experiencing warmer temperatures and thinner ice and said that "this is something that we must address." But it's difficult to know what she means by that, because, as NPR reports, Murkowski's "apparently not so sure what the cause is—or whether mankind is to blame." For some reason, she brought up a volcano in Iceland.

"The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years' worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe," she said.

That position isn't exactly in line with the latest science. NPR quoted a climate scientist who called Murkowski's statement "untrue," "wrong," and "highly deceptive":

"What can I say?" wonders Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, a leading expert on climate change. "It's simply untrue. I don't know where she gets that number from."

Oppenheimer says it's actually the other way around: Annual emissions from Europe are 10 times bigger than the annual emissions of all volcanoes put together. And he says the argument misses a bigger point: Humans are adding carbon dioxide to what was a balanced system.

"So not only is the number wrong, but the context is highly deceptive," he says.

I asked Murkowski's office to comment on this. They haven't responded, but it looks like she was probably referring to the Bardarbunga volcano, which has been erupting for the last two months—spewing 35,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere every day. Sulfur dioxide is toxic, but it's not responsible for global warming. In fact, it actually cools the planet, Oppenheimer explained in an email to Mother Jones.

The 35,000 tons of SO2 Bardarbunga has spewed out daily may be a lot—on par with a large power plant's monthly output, he says—"but against all the other natural and manmade sources of SO2, it's not that much."

"So no matter how you slice it," concludes Oppenheimer, Murkowski's comments were "nonsense."

Since entering office in 2002, the oil and gas industry has been the largest contributor to Murkowski's reelection bids. In 2004, her campaign committee and leadership PAC accepted $204,063 from oil and gas industry sources, about 3.6 percent of all the money she raised, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Both the amount of oil money and its proportion of her total fundraising have steadily increased since then. This year, the industry contributed $568,581 to her campaign and PAC, about 8.7 percent of all the money she's raised so far. The volcano industry hasn't contributed anything.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

President Obama Can Safely Keep His Veto Pen in Mothballs

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 12:22 AM EST

Ramesh Ponnuru is completely correct about this:

A strange amnesia has settled over much of the political world. I can't count the number of articles I've read saying that the new Republican Congress is going to pass all sorts of legislation that President Barack Obama will veto. The latest example: George Will's syndicated column urging the Republicans to pass several bills even if it results in "a blizzard of presidential vetoes."

There's no blizzard in the forecast. Senate Democrats will have the power to subject almost all legislation to filibuster (a word that does not appear in Will's column). Overcoming a filibuster takes 60 votes. So Republicans, who will probably end up with 54 seats, would have to win over Democrats to get legislation through the Senate to the president's desk. If they can do that, the legislation is unlikely to draw a veto.

I've noticed the same thing Ponnuru did, and it's weird. Is there some kind of unspoken assumption among pundits that Democrats aren't going to routinely insist on a 60-vote threshold for Republican legislation? If so, I don't know why. It seems pretty obvious to me that they will. At the very least, it allows them to keep most legislative negotiating leverage safely within the Senate, which is just where they want it.

Basically, the next two years are going to be just like the last two. The only thing that will change is the order of the signatures on the consent agreements.

Mitch McConnell Puts His Finger on the Pulse of the American People

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 7:01 PM EST

Mitch McConnell says that repealing Obamacare outright is probably unrealistic, but Republicans will nonetheless try to chip away at it:

But with Mr. Obama sure to block any repeal bill passed in the Senate and Republican-controlled House, Mr. McConnell indicated that Senate Republicans will turn their attention to peeling back “pieces of it that are deeply, deeply unpopular with the American people.” He cited the law’s tax on medical devices, its requirement that big employers provide insurance to all workers clocking 30 hours a week or more or pay a fee, and its mandate that most Americans carry insurance or pay a fee.

Let me get this straight. McConnell thinks a 2.3 percent tax on manufacturers and importers of medical devices is deeply, deeply unpopular? He thinks a requirement that employers provide insurance for anyone who works more than 30 hours a week is deeply, deeply unpopular? He thinks the individual mandate is deeply, deeply unpopular?

OK, I'll give him the last one. The individual mandate is moderately unpopular. Of course, it's also crucial to the functioning of the law, and McConnell knows perfectly well that Obama won't allow it to be repealed. So that leaves the device tax and the 30-hour rule. The former is mostly opposed by medical device lobbyists, while the latter is mostly opposed by medium-sized businesses who want the ability to cancel health coverage for workers merely by reducing their workweek to 39 hours. My wild guess is that neither of these things is deeply, deeply unpopular with the American people.

But they are unpopular with interest groups that Republicans care about. So they're on the chopping block.

A Federal Appeals Court Just Ruled Against Gay Marriage. This Judge Just Issued An Epic Dissent.

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 6:40 PM EST

On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld bans on gay marriage in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan. In a 2-1 vote, the 6th Circuit reversed lower courts' rulings which had found the bans unconstitutional and sets up a likely Supreme Court showdown. Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey issued a scathing dissent. Here are her five best lines.

1. "The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy."

2. "For although my colleagues in the majority pay lip service to marriage as an institution conceived for the purpose of providing a stable family unit 'within which children may flourish,' they ignore the destabilizing effect of its absence in the homes of tens of thousands of same-sex parents throughout the four states of the Sixth Circuit."

3. "Because the correct result is so obvious, one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split regarding the legality of same-sex marriage that could prompt a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court and an end to the uncertainty of status and the interstate chaos that the current discrepancy in state laws threatens."

4. "Even more damning to the defendants’ position, however, is the fact that the State of Michigan allows heterosexual couples to marry even if the couple does not wish to have children, even if the couple does not have sufficient resources or education to care for children, even if the parents are pedophiles or child abusers, and even if the parents are drug addicts."

5. "...they are committed same-sex couples, many of them heading up de facto families, who want to achieve equal status—de jure status, if you will—with their married neighbors, friends, and coworkers, to be accepted as contributing members of their social and religious communities, and to be welcomed as fully legitimate parents at their children’s schools."

It's important to note the author of the majority opinion was Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who was appointed by former president George W. Bush. Thursday's development demonstrates yet another example of Bush's conservative legacy carrying on in federal courts long after his presidency ended.

The War on Voting May Have Swung These 4 Races

| Thu Nov. 6, 2014 3:12 PM EST

In several races around the country on Tuesday, the victors won by razor-thin margins. Many of these races were in states that had recently enacted voting restrictions expected to depress turnout amongst minorities, young voters, and the poor, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Brennan Center. No one knows how many of the newly disenfranchised may have voted. Nevertheless, the report's author Wendy Weiser notes, "[I]n several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." Here's look at the numbers in some of those elections, all via Brennan:
 

Kansas Governor: Republican Gov. Sam Brownback got 33,000 more votes than his Democratic challenger Paul Davis.

In 2011, Kansas implemented a requirement that voters provide documentation of citizenship to vote, and just before the 2012 election, the state enacted a strict photo ID law.

More than 24,000 Kansas voters tried to register this year, but couldn't because of the state's proof of citizenship law. In addition, it's estimated that the state's photo ID law reduces turnout by about 2 percent, or 17,000 voters.
 

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.
 

Virginia Senate: Democratic Sen. Mark Warner beat GOPer Ed Gillespie by a margin of just over 12,000 votes.

Voters this year faced a new voter ID law that the state enacted in 2013. This type of law tends to reduce turnout by about 2.4 percent, according to New York Times pollster Nate Silver. Applied to the Virginia Senate race this year, that would mean that turnout was reduced by over 52,000 voters.
 

Florida Governor: Republican Gov. Rick Scott eked out a victory over former Democratic Gov. Charlie Crist by roughly 72,000 votes.

In 2011, Florida reduced the early voting period. The same year, Scott imposed a measure making it nearly impossible to vote for convicts who have already served their time. The move essentially disenfranchised nearly 1.3 million formerly incarcerated Floridians, about one in three of whom are African-American.