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The Wit and Wisdom of Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's Lovable Curmudgeon

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 1:34 PM EDT

Here is Antonin Scalia's dissent in the Obamacare case. Although Scalia would not approve, I have arranged the excerpts out of order so they make more sense and are more amusing. I have also eliminated all the legal arguments and other boring parts. You can always read the full opinion here if you want. For now, though, tell us what you really think, Mr Scalia:

Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.”

Yet the opinion continues, with no semblance of shame, that “it is also possible that the phrase refers to all Exchanges—both State and Federal.”

But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved. [Scalia makes it clear throughout that he's still really pissed about losing the original Obamacare case in 2012. –ed.]

Contrivance, thy name is an opinion on the Affordable Care Act!

Faced with overwhelming confirmation that “Exchange established by the State” means what it looks like it means, the Court comes up with argument after feeble argument to support its contrary interpretation.

The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery involves other parts of the Act that purportedly presuppose the availability of tax credits on both federal and state Exchanges....Pure applesauce.

The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed...will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.

We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.

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Greece Gives Europe What It Wants, Europe Says No Anyway

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 12:11 PM EDT

European leaders were in final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks with their Greek counterparts today, which by my count is at least the third time we've held final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks in the past two weeks. This leaves me a little unsure of when the real "world will explode" deadline is anymore. But soon, I'm sure.

In any case, as Paul Krugman notes, the Europeans are no longer merely demanding concessions of a certain size from the Greeks, they now want final say over the exact makeup of the concessions:

The creditors keep rejecting Greek proposals on the grounds that they rely too much on taxes and not enough on spending cuts. So we’re still in the business of dictating domestic policy.

The supposed reason for the rejection of a tax-based response is that it will hurt growth. The obvious response is, are you kidding us? The people who utterly failed to see the damage austerity would do — see the chart, which compares the projections in the 2010 standby agreement with reality — are now lecturing others on growth? Furthermore, the growth concerns are all supply-side, in an economy surely operating at least 20 percent below capacity.

Basically, the Europeans just can't seem to say yes even when they get what they want. Besides, although tax increases probably will hurt Greek growth, so will spending cuts. There's just no way around it. The Greek economy is completely moribund, and any kind of austerity is going to make it worse. But the Europeans want austerity anyway, and they have the whip hand, so now they've decided they also want to dictate the exact nature of the concrete life preservers they're throwing to Greece.

The Greeks have little choice left, unless they're willing to leave the euro, which would cause massive short-term pain at home. Maybe they will, but it would take a backbone of steel to do it. Voters would probably cheer raucously the first night, but be in a mood to vote the entire team out of office after about the second day, when their savings and pensions were converted into New Drachmas and suddenly slashed in half. There is no happy ending to this.

John Roberts Just Saved the Republican Party From Itself

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 11:32 AM EDT

The Supreme Court's Thursday ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that upheld a core tenet of the Affordable Care Act is good news for the millions of Americans whose health insurance was on the line. But it's also, in a strange way, good news for a completely different group: the Republican politicians who have all but called for Obamacare to be shot into space on a rocket.

Had the court gone the other way, gutting federal subsidies while leaving the shell of the law on the books, congressional Republicans, as well as GOP governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, would have been put in the uncomfortable position they've managed to avoid since Obamacare was signed into law—having to fix it. The Associated Press outlined Walker's dilemma neatly on Wednesday:

About 183,000 people in Wisconsin purchase their insurance through the exchange and nine out of 10 of them are receiving a federal subsidy, according to an analysis of state data by Wisconsin Children and Families. The average tax credit they receive is $315 a month.

Health care advocates who have been critical of Walker for not taking federal money to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage have also called on the Republican second-term governor to prepare for the subsidies to be taken away.

And many of those Wisconsonites enrolled in the federal exchange are there because Walker put them there. As Bloomberg's Joshua Green noted in a prescient piece in March, Walker booted 83,000 people from the state's Medicaid program and put them on the federal exchange instead. That's not the kind of crisis you want to be dealing with in the middle of a presidential campaign—or ever.

Conservatives would have been thrilled with a ruling in their favor on Thursday. But Roberts' decision spares Walker and his colleagues from what would have come next, and frees them to continue lobbing rhetorical bombs at the law they're now stuck with. As previous generations of Washington Republicans can advise, it's much easier to go to war if you don't need a plan for how to end it.

Obamacare Survives Supreme Court to Fight Another Day

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 11:30 AM EDT

Hey, I finally got one right! The Supreme Court decided to keep Obamacare subsidies intact, with both Roberts and Kennedy voting with the liberal judges in a 6-3 decision. And apparently they upheld the subsidies on the plainest possible grounds:

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan. “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he added. “If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

So this had nothing to do with the possibility that if Congress required states to build their own exchanges in order to get subsidies, that would be unconstitutional coercion on the states. That had been something a few of us speculated on in recent days. Instead it was a white bread ruling: laws have to be interpreted in their entirety, and the entirety of Obamacare very clearly demonstrated that Congress intended subsidies to go to all states, not just those who had set up their own exchanges.

So that's that. As far as I know, there are no further serious legal challenges to Obamacare. The only challenge left is legislative, if Republicans capture both the House and the Senate and manage to get a Republican elected president. So let's all hope that doesn't happen, m'kay?

The Supreme Court Just Saved Obamacare. Read the Full Ruling.

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 10:10 AM EDT

On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld federal subsidies in Obamacare in the landmark case of King v. Burwell. In a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled against the lawsuit, which would have effectively ended health care coverage for nearly 6 million people in the 34 states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.

Read the opinion below:

 

Obama Shuts Down White House Heckler: "You're in My House"

| Thu Jun. 25, 2015 9:23 AM EDT

While celebrating an event for LGBT Pride Month at the White House on Wednesday, President Obama was interrupted by a woman shouting demands that he end the deportation of LGBT immigrants. Obama was not into it:

"Listen, you're in my house," the president told her, visibly irritated by the disruption. "You're not gonna get a good response from me by interrupting me like this. I'm sorry. No, no, no, no, no. Shame on you. You shouldn't be doing this."

Cheering Obama's response, the crowd was heard booing her calls and attempting to shush her.

The woman, transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez, was promptly escorted out.

"I'm just very disappointed with the way it was handled," Gutiérrez later told the Advocate. "I'm part of the LGBT community, and they didn't back me, instead they were booing, which to me was like a slap in the face to all these people in detention centers."

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Health Insurance for All Is About a Lot More Than Just Health

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 6:28 PM EDT

Megan McArdle writes today that there's little consistent evidence showing that giving people health insurance actually does much to save lives. This is based largely on a couple of recent papers (plus a few other older ones), and she's basically right. She's also right when she says that health insurance does save people lots of money. I don't want to address this literature in detail right now, but if you want to know more about it you should read Ezra Klein's post about this and then McArdle's response.

However, I do have some quick comments I want to add to this conversation. Some of it echoes what the other posts say, while some of it is new. Here it is:

  • The single biggest piece of evidence about the effect of health insurance is a study of Medicaid in Oregon a few years ago. It showed that people who randomly got Medicaid coverage didn't show much improvement in their health, nor did they live any longer than those without Medicaid.
  • However, as important as it was, the Oregon study was small; the time frame was short; the population was drawn entirely from the poor; and the results were ambiguous. Nobody should ignore this study, which was unique in being a true controlled trial, but no one should think it's the final word either.
  • The results of the Oregon study would probably not scale up. One way or another, Oregon's health care system can absorb a few thousand uninsured people. Some of the cost gets absorbed by hospitals that don't get paid. Some gets absorbed by local programs. Some gets absorbed by free clinics. It's a strain, but the system can handle it without breaking completely.
  • But this isn't an argument against health insurance generally. If half the state were uninsured, the system would almost certainly break down. There would simply be too many people who either couldn't or wouldn't pay for their care, and not enough people left over to absorb that cost.
  • Also, as I like to point out ad nauseam, there's more to health care than mortality. A dental filling won't extend your life, but it will sure make you feel better. Ditto for a hip replacement or an antidepressant.
  • Health insurance is a financial lifeline, and in many cases prevents bankruptcy. But there's more. It's also a huge reliever of stress. Trying to cobble together care from a complicated, ad hoc network of clinics, ERs, doctors who don't want to see you, and friends who can loan you a few bucks is soul destroying—especially for people whose lives probably kind of suck to begin with.

In the end, I think this is what health insurance is mostly about: financial security and common decency. Yes, the uninsured can usually patch together health care in an emergency, and sometimes even when it's not. This is why access to health insurance probably has only a modest effect on health. (Though I don't believe it's zero. If we could do a bigger, better, longer-term study we'd almost certainly see a difference.) Still, is a constant, desperate search for health care really a decent thing to tolerate in the richest country in the world? Is relentless, gnawing worry about whether to buy food this week or take your child in for a checkup a decent thing for us to tolerate? Is an endless, threatening barrage of harassment from hospital bill collectors a decent thing for us to tolerate?

It kills me that some people think it's just fine to tolerate this—among the poor, anyway. It's true that there are lots of things that are inevitably going to afflict the lives of the poor. Compared to the better off, they'll have worse food, worse housing, worse cars, and worse clothes. But should they have worse health care? That's a moral question, not a scientific one. And my moral compass says that health care is one of the things all of us should have decent, regular access to. In fact, it makes me a little sick to my stomach every time I have to face up to the fact that a lot of moral compasses here in America apparently don't agree.

Shout-Out to the Baltimore Sun, Which Just Bought Charleston's Newspaper a Stack of Pizzas

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 5:54 PM EDT

This is a nice story. Last week, we wrote about the heroic efforts of Charleston's main daily newspaper, the Post and Courier, and their dogged, round-the-clock coverage of the massacre at the Emanuel AME church.

We noted that city newsrooms have been leading breaking coverage during big, national news stories, from Boston to Ferguson, Baltimore to Charleston. In April, the Boston Globe sent lunch to the Baltimore Sun's newsroom. It was their way of paying forward another act of newsroom generosity when in April 2013, the Chicago Tribune bought the Globe pizzas during the bombing coverage. "We can't buy you lost sleep, so at least let us pick up lunch," the Tribune wrote in a letter at the time.

Now, the Baltimore Sun's Executive Editor Trif Alatzas has sent a about a dozen pizzas from D'Allesandro's in Charleston to the Post and Courier newsroom, as a way to pay it forward again:

I asked Mitch Pugh, the Post and Courier news boss, were the pizzas "hot and tasty?"

"They chose wisely," he said.
 

This Extremist Group Vows to Picket the Charleston Funerals. Anonymous Vows to Stop Them.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:43 PM EDT

Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious group of religious extremists that is basically just one family, has said it will attempt to picket the funerals of people killed in the Charleston shootings. In recent tweets, Westboro has suggested the shooting was God's punishment for late pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pickney's having supported Hillary Clinton.

Protesting at funerals is a tactic the group has also tried (unsuccessfully) at burial services following other mass killings, including for victims of the Tucson shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But before the Kansas-based hate group can wave its familiar "God Sent the Shooter" signs for the TV cameras, it may have to overcome opposition from the hactivist group Anonymous.

"While it is doubtful these idiots will show up, it is critical that Anonymous have a well-prepared presence on the ground in Charleston," the group said in a press release announcing "Operation Shut Down Westboro Baptist Church." Coordinated by the Anonymous faction Operation Ferguson, which got its start with the Black Lives Matter protests, the effort will reportedly involve surrounding the Westboro protesters and blocking their signs.

Anonymous has periodically targeted Westboro since around 2011, when it hacked the group's website during a televised media interview. The following year, Anonymous helped block Westboro protesters who had shown up at the funeral of a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, Anonymous garnered significant media attention when it "brandjacked" Westboro, creating a fake Facebook site for the group.

So far this week, Operation Ferguson has tweeted out links to personal information of Westboro members. One Anon also posted what could be construed as death threats against members of the church, though he has often drawn rebukes from other members of Anonymous, which tends to disavow violence.

On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council passed a temporary ordinance restricting all protests to at least 300 feet away from funerals.

You Were Right. Whole Foods Is Ripping You Off.

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 4:35 PM EDT

For anyone who regularly gawks at Whole Foods' sky-high prices in New York, here's some righteous vindication: The grocery store is being investigated by city officials for overcharging customers.

The Daily News reports New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs has opened a probe into a laundry list of pricing violations going back to at least 2010, mainly dealing with mislabeling prepackaged food products with incorrect weights. An agency spokesperson said that when investigators weighed 80 different items at eight locations, every single one of the labels were found to be incorrect, usually overcharging the customer.

One item cost $4.85 more than its correct price.

"Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers," commissioner Julie Menin said. "As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem—the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged."

As a result, Whole Foods has been hit with more than 800 violations. In a statement, a company representative denied the charges and said Whole Foods was "vigorously defending ourselves."

Around this time last year, Whole Foods was forced to shell out $800,000 to the municipal governments of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Diego for similar violations in its California stores.