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Will Republicans Finally Find a Tax Cut They Hate?

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 8:38pm

Charles Gaba makes an interesting point about today's Halbig decision: if upheld, it would amount to a tax increase. Everyone who buys insurance through a federal exchange would lose the tax credits they're currently entitled to, and losing tax credits is the same as a tax increase. This in turn means that if Democrats introduce a bill to fix the language in Obamacare to keep the tax credits in place, it will basically be a tax cut.

This leaves Republicans in a tough spot, doesn't it? Taken as a whole, Obamacare represents a tax increase, which makes it easy for Republicans to oppose it. But if the Halbig challenge is upheld, all the major Obamacare taxes are unaffected. They stay in force no matter what. The only thing that's affected is the tax credits. Thus, an amendment to reinstate the credits is a net tax cut by the rules that Grover Norquist laid out long ago. And no Republican is allowed to vote against a net tax cut.

I'm curious what Norquist has to say about this. Not because I think he'd agree that Republicans have to vote to restore the tax credits. He wouldn't. He's a smart guy, and he'd invent some kind of loophole for everyone to shimmy through. Mainly, I just want to know what loophole he'd come up with. I'm always impressed with the kind of sophistries guys like him are able to spin. It's usually very educational.

Seven Hours of Sleep Is Just About Optimal

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 7:11pm

How much sleep does a normal, healthy adult need? The Wall Street Journal reports:

Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.

Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night's sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.

That's sort of interesting. In the past, I would have had no idea how to guess at this. I always slept exactly the same every night, so I always felt about the same every morning. Over the past couple of years, however, my sleeping habits have become far more erratic, spanning anywhere from six to eight hours fairly randomly. And sure enough, I've vaguely come to the conclusion that six hours makes me feel tired throughout the day, and so does eight hours. Seven hours really does seem to be pretty close to the sweet spot.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to have much control over this. I wake up whenever I wake up, and that's that. Today I got up at 6, tried to get back to sleep, and finally gave up. There was nothing to be done about it. And right about now I'm paying the price for that.

The Late Historian Who Predicted The Years of War After September 11

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 4:43pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

In December 2002, finishing the introduction to his as-yet-unpublished book The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, Jonathan Schell wrote that the twentieth century was the era in which violence outgrew the war system that had once housed it and became "dysfunctional as a political instrument. Increasingly, it destroys the ends for which it is employed, killing the user as well as his victim. It has become the path to hell on earth and the end of the earth. This is the lesson of the Somme and Verdun, of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, of Vorkuta and Kolyma; and it is the lesson, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." More than a decade later, that remains a crucial, if barely noticed, lesson of our moment. Jonathan Schell died this March, but he left behind a legacy of reporting and thinking—from The Real War and The Fate of the Earth to The Unconquerable World—about just how, as the power to destroy ratcheted up, war left its traditional boundaries, and what that has meant for us (as well as, potentially, for worlds to come). In The Unconquerable World, published just before the Bush invasion of Iraq, he went in search of other paths of change, including the nonviolent one, and in doing so he essentially imagined the Arab Spring and caught the essence of both the horrors and possibilities available to us in hard-headed ways that were both prophetic and moving. Today, partly in honor of his memory (and my memory of him) and partly because I believe his sense of how our world worked then and still works was so acute, this website offers a selection from that book. Consider it a grim walk down post-9/11 Memory Lane, a moment when Washington chose force as its path to... well, we now know (as Schell foresaw then) that it was indeed a path to hell.

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785 of This Year's Unaccompanied Migrants Were Under 6 Years Old

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 3:49pm
Pew Research Center

Little kids, including a troubling number of children age five or younger, make up the fastest-growing group of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the US border in fiscal year 2014. So far this year, nearly 7,500 kids under 13 have been caught without a legal guardian—and 785 of them were younger than six.

It's still mostly teens who travel solo to the United States from countries like El Salvador and Honduras, as the Pew Research Center revealed today in a new analysis of US Customs and Border Protection data. But compared to 2013, Border Patrol apprehensions of kids 12 or younger already have increased 117 percent, while those of teens have jumped only 12 percent. Apprehensions of the youngest group of kids, those under six, have nearly tripled.

These new stats reveal a trend made all the more startling as details of the journey continue to emerge. In his feature story about this influx of child migrants, for instance, MoJo's Ian Gordon tells of Adrián, a Guatemalan kid who dodged attackers armed with machetes, walked barefoot for miles through Mexico, and resorted to prostitution to reach sanctuary in America. And Adrián was 17. For the increasing number of kids under 13 making this harrowing trek without parents, the vulnerability to exploitation is only magnified, the potential for trauma and even death only amplified.

That so many young kids feel compelled to leave home, or that their parents feel compelled to send them, sends a grim message about the state of their home countries. As El Salvadoran newspaper editor Carlos Dada told On the Media's Bob Garfield last week, quoting a Mexican priest who runs a shelter in Oaxaca, Mexico: "If these migrants are willing to take this road, knowing everything they are risking, even their lives, I don't even want to imagine what they are running away from."

Here's another Pew age breakdown, this time by country of origin:

Pew Research Center


Be Still, My Heart: Beyoncé As Rosie the Riveter

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 2:54pm

On Tuesday, Beyoncé, a whisper of perfection in an otherwise cruel and inhumane world, posted this photo of her as Rosie the Riveter to Instagram.

Beyoncé has become somewhat of a feminist hero recently, putting overtly feminist lyrics into her songs, and making genuinely heartfelt public statements about women's rights. In January, she wrote an essay about income inequality. On the other side of the pop star aisle there is Lana del Rey who is more interested in Tesla and "intergalactic possibilities."

On Israel-Palestine and BDS: Chomsky Replies

The Nation - July 22, 2014 - 2:44pm
Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky responds to Yousef Munayyer, MJ Rosenberg, Nadia Ben-Youssef, Ran Greenstein and the Organizing Collective of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Study Finds Kids Prefer Healthier Lunches. School Food Lobby Refuses to Believe It.

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 2:29pm

From all of the commotion around the new federal school lunch standards, you'd think they were really Draconian. Republican legislators have railed against them. Districts have threatened to opt out. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), the industry group that represents the nation's 55,000 school food employees, has officially opposed some of them—and doubled its lobbying in the months leading up to July 1, when some of the new rules took effect.

Here's who doesn't mind the new standards: kids. For a study just published in the peer-reviewed journal Childhood Obesity, researchers asked administrators and food service staff at 537 public elementary schools how their students were liking the meals that conformed to the new standards. Half of those surveyed said that the students "complained about the meals at first," but 70 percent said that the students now like the new lunches. Rural districts were the least enthusiastic about the new meals—there, some respondents reported that purchasing was down and that students were eating less of their meals. But respondents from schools with a high percentage of poor students—those with at least two-thirds eligible for free or reduced-price meals—were especially positive about the new standards: They found that "more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year."

"Kids who really need good nutrition most at school are getting it," says Lindsey Turner, the Childhood Obesity study's lead author and a research scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "That's really good news."

SNA's response? To issue a statement declaring that "these reported perceptions about school meals do not reflect reality." The group cites USDA data that participation in school meals has declined by 1.4 million since the new rules went into effect in 2012. But Turner, the Childhood Obesity study's lead author, notes that this is only about a 3 percent drop. She also points to a Government Accountability Office study that found that most of the drop-off was among students who pay full price for lunch.

What makes SNA's stance on the new rules even stranger is that they actually are not all that strict. For example: Foods served must be whole grain rich, but as I learned from my trip to SNA's annual conference last week, that includes whole-grain Pop Tarts, Cheetos, and Rice Krispies Treats. Students are required to take a half cup of a fruit or vegetable—but Italian ice—in flavors like Hip Hoppin' Jelly Bean—are fair game.

Not all members of SNA consider the task of tempting kids with healthy foods onerous. As I reported last week, Jessica Shelly, food director of Cincinnati's diverse public schools, has shown that all it takes is a little creativity.

HT The Lunch Tray.

What Happens If Obama Loses the Halbig Case?

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 1:54pm

So let's suppose the Halbig case goes up to the Supreme Court and they rule for the plaintiffs: in a stroke, everyone enrolled in Obamacare through a federal exchange is no longer eligible for subsidies. What happens then? Is Obamacare doomed?

Not at all. What happens is that people in blue states like California and New York, which operate their own exchanges, continue getting their federal subsidies. People in red states, which punted the job to the feds, will suddenly have their subsidies yanked away. Half the country will have access to a generous entitlement and the other half won't.

How many people will this affect? The earliest we'll get a Supreme Court ruling on this is mid-2015, and mid-2016 is more likely. At a guess, maybe 12 million people will have exchange coverage by 2015 and about 20 million by 2016. Let's split the difference and call it 15 million. About 80 percent of them qualify for subsidies, which brings the number to about 12 million. Roughly half of them are in states that would be affected by Halbig.

So that means about 6 million people who are currently getting subsidies would suddenly have them yanked away. It's even possible they'd have to pay back any tax credits they'd received previously.

So what's the political reaction? The key point here is that people respond much more strongly to losing things than they do to not getting them in the first place. For example, there are lots of poor people in red states who currently aren't receiving Medicaid benefits thanks to their states' refusal to participate in Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. This hasn't caused a revolt because nothing was taken away. They just never got Medicaid in the first place.

The subsidies would be a different story. You'd have roughly 6 million people who would suddenly lose a benefit that they've come to value highly. This would cause a huge backlash. It's hard to say if this would be enough to move Congress to action, but I think this is nonetheless the basic lay of the land. Obamacare wouldn't be destroyed, it would merely be taken away from a lot of people who are currently benefiting from it. They'd fight to get it back, and that changes the political calculus.

An Extreme Court Decision Threatens Obamacare

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 1:43pm

Talk about a David and Goliath case. On Monday, a guy from West Virginia who doesn't want to pay $21 a year for health insurance scored a victory over the Obama administration in a lawsuit that could deprive nearly 5 million Americans of their newly won health care.

In a 2-1 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sided with plaintiff David Klemencic and gutted a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that provides premium subsidies to millions of low-income Americans. The decision in Halbig v Burwell, a case spearheaded by a battery of conservative groups who backed Klemencic and his co-plaintiffs (many of whom are GOP political operatives), is based on what is essentially a typo in the ACA. The opinion is a symptom of what happens when a dysfunctional Congress can't manage to do even the simplest part of its job, such as correcting routine drafting errors in legislation.

Hours later, though, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, issued a diametrically opposed decision affirming Obamacare and perhaps setting up a future battle before the Supreme Court.

Here's the backstory, as I reported last winter:

When Congress wrote the ACA, it said that premium subsidies would be available for certain qualifying citizens who were "enrolled through an Exchange established by the State." (Emphasis added.) The law doesn't say that those subsidies are available to people in the 34 states that declined to set up exchanges, where residents must utilize the now-infamously buggy Healthcare.gov, the federal exchange.

That's where Obamacare opponents see a fatal flaw in the law. The plaintiffs in Halbig claim that they won't be eligible for tax credits because their states didn't start an exchange, so they won't be able to afford insurance. As a result, they argue that they'll be subject to the fine for not buying insurance, or to avoid the fine, they'll have to pay a lot for insurance they don't want. They want the court to block the IRS from implementing the law...

The Obama administration argues that the language Halbig's case is premised on is merely a drafting error common in legislation and routinely reconciled after passage. (Indeed, if Congress were functioning normally, such copy mistake would have been corrected by now, but given the level of polarization in that body, it's been impossible to make such fixes that were once routine.) An amicus brief in the case filed by Families USA, a nonprofit health care advocacy group helping the administration combat some of the bad PR surrounding Obamacare, argues that the plaintiffs are disregarding the vast body of evidence showing that Congress intended for all low-income Americans to be eligible for tax subsidies, regardless of which exchange they used to purchase insurance. 

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A 70-Year-Old Reflects On the So-Called "American Century"

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 12:39pm

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

* Seventy-three years ago, on February 17, 1941, as a second devastating global war approached, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life magazines, called on his countrymen to "create the first great American Century." Luce died in 1967 at age 69. Life, the pictorial magazine no home would have been without in my 1950s childhood, ceased to exist as a weekly in 1972 and as a monthly in 2000; Time, which launched his career as a media mogul, is still wobbling on, a shadow of its former self. No one today could claim that this is Time's century, or the American Century, or perhaps anyone else's. Even the greatest empires now seem to have shortened lifespans. The Soviet Century, after all, barely lasted seven decades. Of course, only the rarest among us live to be 100, which means that at 70, like Time, I'm undoubtedly beginning to wobble, too.

* The other day I sat down with an old friend, a law professor who started telling me about his students. What he said aged me instantly. They're so young, he pointed out, that their parents didn't even come of age during the Vietnam War. For them, he added, that war is what World War I was to us. He might as well have mentioned the Mongol conquests or the War of the Roses. We're talking about the white-haired guys riding in the open cars in Veteran's Day parades when I was a boy. And now, it seems, I'm them.

* In March 1976, accompanied by two friends, my wife and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, and then adjourned to a Chinese restaurant for a dim sum lunch. If, while I was settling our bill of perhaps $30, you had told me that, almost half a century in the future, marriage would be an annual $40 billion dollar business, that official couplings would be preceded by elaborate bachelor and bachelorette parties, and that there would be such a thing as destination weddings, I would have assumed you were clueless about the future. On that score at least, the nature of the world to come was self-evident and elaborate weddings of any sort weren't going to be part of it.

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The (Possibly) Frightening Implications of the Halbig Case

Mother Jones - July 22, 2014 - 12:07pm

In the Halbig case that struck down subsidies on federal Obamacare exchanges earlier today, one of the key issues was deference to agency interpretation of the law. Longstanding precedent holds that courts should generally defer to agency interpretations as long as they're plausible. They don't have to be perfect. They don't even have to be the best possible interpretations. They merely have to make sense.

The DC circuit court decided that there really wasn't any serious ambiguity in the law, and therefore no deference was due to the IRS's interpretation that state and federal exchanges were meant to be treated the same. The dissent was scathing about this, since the record pretty clearly showed tons of ambiguity. So if and when this case makes it up to the Supreme Court, what's going to happen? A lawyer buddy of mine is pessimistic:

Sadly, I think the Supreme Court will eagerly uphold the challenge because it gets to an issue that conservatives have generally despised: deference to administrative agencies' interpretation of statutes.

It's long been a fundamental principle in administrative law that an agency's interpretation of a federal statute that they are charged with enforcing is entitled to judicial deference, unless such deference is unreasonable. Conservatives would prefer that courts not defer to the government because #biggovernment. Thus, they want to weaken the deference standard and Halbig gives them basically a two-fer. Or a three-fer since the agency interpreting the statute is the IRS: Take out Obamacare, knock back the deference standard, and punch the IRS. This invariably will help advance the conservatives' legal goals because with a lower deference standard, their eccentric theories (such as on tax issues) have a better chance of surviving.

In normal times, the deference standard would likely be left intact because weakening it raises serious issues with government enforcement across all agencies, and courts are loath to send the country into a tailspin. But those days are apparently long past. Truly frightening times.

So what's next? In breaking news, the Fourth Circuit court has just upheld the federal subsidies in Obamacare, ruling squarely on deference grounds—and disagreeing completely with the DC circuit opinion, which held that the legislative language in Obamacare was clear and plain. In fact, said the Fourth Circuit, the statute is ambiguous, and therefore the court owes deference to the IRS interpretation. This is good news for Obamacare, especially if today's DC circuit decision by a three-judge panel is overturned by the full court, thus giving the government two appellate court wins. If that happens, it's even possible that the Supreme Court would decline to hear an appeal and simply leave the lower court opinions in place.

But I'd say an eventual Supreme Court date still seems likely. There's no telling if my friend's read of the politico-legal climate among the Supreme Court's conservative majority is correct, but I thought it was worth sharing.

How America Changed the Meaning of War

The Nation - July 22, 2014 - 10:11am
Jonathan Schell

After 9/11, the US invented a new kind of borderless, pre-emptive warfare, plunging the world into an endless cycle of violence.

Eric Hananoki: Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Fundraising For A GOP And Koch-Linked Group

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 10:06am

Fox News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron will speak at a fundraiser benefiting a group run by former Republican Party officials and linked to controversial industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Cameron is a speaker at The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy's (JBC) annual Libertas Dinner on July 23. The event will also feature former Gov. Steve Merrill (R-NH) and honor Joe McQuaid, publisher of the Union Leader and "GOP Kingmaker in New Hampshire." Sponsorship levels run from $100 to $10,000.  

In an email to Media Matters, JBC president Charles M. Arlinghaus said that Cameron isn't being paid for his appearance and was asked to speak because of Cameron's connections to him and McQuaid.

"I wanted Carl partly because I've known Carl for more than 20 years and love him. He's a local guy and one of the nicest, most decent people I've interacted with in a profession that doesn't always include a lot of people you can say that about so I wanted to jump at an opportunity to be on a podium with him," Arlinghaus wrote.

"Second, he's perfect for Joe. The primary purpose of the event is to honor Joe and because Carl has known Joe for so long and in such an interesting way (different types of journalism, organizations that have had complementary and sometimes rival purposes) I think he sets off Joe perfectly. I think Carl talking about Joe will be the combination of history, nostalgia, and a sort of backstage look at the radio/TV/newspaper relationship that turns the event from a boring cattle call into a fun evening."

Cameron joined Fox News in 1996 and serves as its chief political correspondent. His duties include reporting on political campaigns, including from New Hampshire. He was previously the political director for New Hampshire's WMUR-TV.

JBC describes itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to "individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government, and an appreciation of the role of the free enterprise system." The group was co-founded by Emily Mead, who worked as a policy adviser for President George H.W. Bush. Its board is chaired by former Republican congressional candidate Richard Ashooh, and its directors include former NH Senate President Tom Eaton (R), former New Hampshire Republican State Committee executive director Anna Barbara Hantz, Republican consultant James Sununu, and former Republican NH Gov. John H. Sununu. Arlinghaus previously worked for the New Hampshire Republican Party and Republican National Committee.  

Eric Boehlert: When A GOP Presidential Hopeful Earned $11 Million In Speaking Fees And D.C. Press Didn't Care

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 9:42am

In the thirteen months directly prior to kicking off his Republican presidential campaign in February 2007, Rudy Giuliani earned more than $11 million dollars giving paid speeches. The former New York City Mayor, who was thrust into the national and international spotlight after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, typically charged between $100,000 and $300,000 for his speeches and spoke more than 120 times.  

According to one speaking contract published at the time, Giuliani required clients pay for meals and lodging for himself and four travel companions. Giuliani required a two-bedroom suite (with a king-sized bed) for his overnight stays; a suite preferably located on an upper floor with a balcony. Clients also had to pay for four additional rooms to house Giuliani's entourage.

As for travel, the contract stipulated that clients "should provide Mr. Giuliani with first class travel expenses for up to 5 people to include a private plane." What kind of private plane? "Please note that the private aircraft MUST BE a Gulfstream IV or bigger."

Note that along with the $11 million in speaking fees Giuliani pocketed in 2006, he also earned $8 million on the speech circuit in 2002. If Giuliani was able to average between $8 and $11 million in speaking fees from 2002 until he announced his candidacy in early 2007, he would have earned more than $40 million giving speeches in the five years prior to his White House campaign. (Speaking fees represented only part of his income.)

What's newsworthy about that today? Simply the fact that back in 2007 when a wealthy Republican became a presidential hopeful the Beltway press didn't care that he'd earned an eight-figure income giving 45-minute speeches. (With an additional 15 minutes allotted for Q & A.) Indeed, Giuliani's financial revelations barely registered with pundits and reporters who gave the information little time and attention. The  Washington Post, for example, published just three mentions of Giuliani's multi-million dollar "speaking fees."

The press certainly never elevated the issue to a defining narrative for the Republican's campaign. Perhaps they realized there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a speaker being paid what organizations are willing to offer them. 

Compare that collective shoulder shrug with the nearly month-long media fascination still churning over Hillary Clinton's speaking fees; a fascination that's part of a larger, misguided media obsession over the issue of Clinton wealth. ("Speaking fee" articles  and columns published by Post so far this year regarding Clinton? 28.)

Laura Santhanam: Senator Bernie Sanders: Increased Climate Coverage "A Step In The Right Direction"

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 7:58am

After calling for major network news outlets to air more reporting about climate change, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) praised the finding that Sunday morning news shows dramatically increased their coverage of the climate crisis.

"This is a step in the right direction. Global warming is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a written statement.

A Media Matters analysis found that ABC's This Week, CBS' Face The Nation, NBC's Meet The Press and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday included 1 hour, 5 minutes of reporting related to climate change during the first six months of 2014 -- as much as these outlets aired in the previous four years combined.

In response to a year of lackluster coverage assessed in a 2013 Media Matters study, a group of nine U.S. senators demanded that Sunday morning news shows broadcast more reporting about global warming in a January 16 letter to executives at the major broadcast networks. In the letter, they decried how "shockingly little discussion" the Sunday shows devoted to climate change, which poses a "huge threat" to the United States and planet as was confirmed this year in reports issued by the federal governmentinternational climate experts and the business community. From the letter: 

We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of attention to climate change on such Sunday news shows as ABC's "This Week," NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation," and "Fox News Sunday."

According to the scientific community, climate change is the most serious environmental crisis facing our planet. The scientists who have studied this issue are virtually unanimous in the view that climate change is occurring, that it poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community, and that it is caused by human activity. In fact, 97% of researchers actively publishing in this field agree with these conclusions.

The scientific community and governmental leaders around the world rightly worry about the horrific dangers we face if we do not address climate change. Sea level rise will take its toll on coastal states. Communities will be increasingly at risk of billions of dollars in damages from more extreme weather. And farmers may see crops and livestock destroyed as worsening drought sets in. Yet, despite these warnings, there has been shockingly little discussion on the Sunday morning news shows about this critically important issue. This is disturbing not only because the millions of viewers who watch these shows deserve to hear that discussion, but because the Sunday shows often have an impact on news coverage in other media throughout the week.

One month later, on February 16, every major Sunday show offered at least one substantial mention of climate change in a shift that Sanders' office noted at the time. However, some segments used false balance to frame their climate coverage. These broadcasts misled audiences with flawed debates that allowed guests to question the very premise of global warming, contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real. In fact, nearly 30 minutes of all Sunday segments included false balance. CBS' Face the Nation was the only Sunday show that avoided introducing false balance into its program during the first half of 2014. In light of that change in coverage, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the National Journal that: "It's time to move on from treating climate change as a debate and talk about what we can do about it for people's lives and businesses."

In April, while standing on the Senate Floor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) stressed the need for more climate coverage and the danger of airing false balance on the science behind global warming, saying, "The denier castle is crumbling." 

Meagan Hatcher-Mays: Fox News Celebrates Anti-ACA Decision Immediately Cast Into Doubt By Another Appellate Court

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 5:06am

Fox News was quick to celebrate a federal appellate court's split decision striking down a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though that ruling was almost immediately rebuked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, consistent with the decisions of two other federal courts and the widespread opinion of legal experts. 

On July 22, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Halbig v. Burwell, with the two Republican appointees on the three-judge panel holding that a provision of the ACA counterintuitively makes health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans by prohibiting the IRS from providing tax credits to consumers who live in states that refused to set up health insurance exchanges. Those consumers must instead buy insurance from the federal exchange website, and many had relied on the tax credits to reduce the cost of insurance. The legal theory behind this lawsuit -- that the "Affordable Care Act" would somehow decline to provide affordable care to its intended beneficiaries -- has been hyped by right-wing media since the lawsuit was filed. National Review Online called the suit "ingenious," and Washington Post columnist George Will claimed that the IRS's clarification that tax credits are available in both state and federally-run health care exchanges was an example of the agency's "breezy indifference to legality."

Fox News immediately jumped on board with the two Republican judges' validation of this right-wing legal challenge, despite the dissent's warning that "this case is about Appellants' not-so-veiled attempt to gut" the ACA rather than sound statutory interpretation.

On the July 22 edition of Outnumbered, the panel accused the Obama administration of "ignoring the ruling of the D.C. Circuit" by announcing that it would unremarkably continue to provide the subsidies while the case was appealed, but still complained about the cost of premiums that will go up if subsidies are eliminated. Co-host Harris Faulkner complained that the ruling "reminds me of the infamous quote, 'if you like your doctor, you can keep it'" since consumers may not be able to obtain cost-saving tax subsidies in the wake of the Halbig decision. Neither Faulkner, nor any of her co-hosts, mentioned the right-wing origins of this suit -- or the fact that the express purpose of Halbig and other cases like it, was to "stop the Obama health care law" by making it too expensive for consumers to purchase without tax credits.

Hilary Tone: New Study Contradicts Conservative Media's Attacks On Healthy School Lunches

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 4:04am

A new study on school lunches casts doubt on conservative media's politicized rhetoric regarding first lady Michelle Obama's school-lunch initiative.

In January 2012, Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled healthier standards for school lunches, the first effort to do so "in more than fifteen years." However, in May of this year, the new standards suffered a political backlash in Congress. The Washington Post reported that the House Appropriations Committee voted for a "Republican-backed measure" to temporarily roll back the standards in a "party-line vote [that] served as a rebuke of sorts to the first lady."

Right-wing media, who have a poor track record when it comes to talking about school meals, especially free ones, took to attacking Michelle Obama and the school lunch program itself for "plate waste" amid reports that students supposedly didn't like the new, healthier food.

However, a new study published Monday in the journal Childhood Obesity shows that students get used to the new lunches with time. According to The Boston Globe, the study found that "over time, children adapt and tolerate school lunches just as much as in the old days":

Luke Brinker & Meagan Hatcher-Mays: Right-Wing Media Pretend Religious Liberty Protects Anti-LGBT Employment Discrimination

Media Matters - July 22, 2014 - 3:12am

Conservative media are condemning President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination, framing the order as an assault on religious liberty, pushing discredited arguments to claim this discrimination is legally insignificant and asserting that anti-LGBT workplace bias isn't a real problem.

On July 21, President Obama signed an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite pressure from some conservatives, the order did not include a broad exemption for religiously-affiliated organizations to engage in such discrimination, instead re-affirming a Bush II-era exemption that will allow a contracted "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society" to continue to limit its hires to employees of their preferred religion. Prior to the issuing of the order, Executive Order 11246, more than 100 faith leaders signed a letter warning that the rejected religious exemptions would "open a Pandora's box inviting other forms of discrimination."

In a July 22 editorial, National Review Online complained that the order was unnecessary due to "changing social attitudes and the pressure of market competition" and argued that "the order addresses a small and shrinking problem of discrimination at a cost to religious liberty." 

Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a writer for the Daily Signal, Heritage's news site, echoed NRO's objections. Anderson flatly rejected any comparison between anti-gay discrimination and that based on sex or race and referred to sexual orientation and gender identity as "voluntary behaviors":

Federal policy on government contracts should not seek to enforce monolithic liberal secularism. Today's order undermines our nation's commitment to reasonable pluralism and reasonable diversity. All citizens and the groups they form should be free to exist and participate in relevant government programs according to their reasonable beliefs. The federal government should not use the tax-code and government contracting to reshape civil society on controversial moral issues that have nothing to do with the federal contract at stake.


[S]exual orientation and gender identity are unclear, ambiguous terms. They can refer to voluntary behaviors as well as thoughts and inclinations, and it is reasonable for employers to make distinctions based on actions. By contrast, "race" and "sex" clearly refer to traits, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, these traits (unlike voluntary behaviors) do not affect fitness for any job.

Today's executive order bans decisions based on moral views common to the Abrahamic faith traditions and to great thinkers from Plato to Kant as unjust discrimination. Whether by religion, reason, or experience, many people of goodwill believe that our bodies are an essential part of who we are. On this view, maleness and femaleness are not arbitrary constructs but objective ways of being human to be valued and affirmed, not rejected or altered. Thus, our sexual embodiment as male and female goes to the heart of what marriage is: a union of sexually complementary spouses. Today's order deems such judgments irrational and unlawful.


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Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.