Monday, July 2, 2012


What does the Medicaid part of the ACA decision mean for various civil rights statutes that rely on similar constitutional logic?:
In the health care decision, the Court held that Congress exceeded its Spending Clause authority by forcing states into an all-or-nothing choice by threatening to revoke all of their Medicaid funding if they did not participate in the Medicaid expansion. A decade or so ago, several states made similar challenges to a number of important civil rights statutes that condition receipt of federal funds on the state’s agreement to abide by non-discrimination principles in the federally funded programs. These statutes include Title IX (sex discrimination in federally funded education programs), Title IV (race discrimination in any federally funded program), and the Rehabilitation Act (disability discrimination in federally funded programs). States argued that by threatening to take away all of a program’s funds if the State’s didn’t agree to abide by these statutes, Congress was engaging in unconstitutional coercion.

Mostly, the states were arguing not so much that the anti-discrimination mandate was unconstitutional, but that the states were unconstitutionally coerced into agreeing to waive their sovereign immunity and submit to private lawsuits by individuals alleging discrimination in violation of the federal statutes. But the coercion claim would have applied equally to the requirement to refrain from discrimination in the first place.

All of these challenges failed. But it seems likely that many will now be revived. States can now point to the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Medicaid Expansion for support for the proposition that the coercion doctrine — which had been mentioned but never enforced by the Supreme Court in prior decisions — is real and has teeth. And they can look to the majority and dissenting decisions for guidance on what counts as unconstitutionally coercive.

This does not mean they will succeed. To be honest, I find the opinions to be remarkable thin on doctrinal guidance. The Justices mostly adopted a “we know it when we see it” theory of coercion in this case. The lower courts are going to have to spend a lot of time trying to turn the Court’s gut reaction into a set of legal principles.
Lots, lots more chatter on the impact of the Court's decision. Tom Scocca on Roberts's victory for a limited commerce clause, a loss of Congressional powers, conservative judge Richard Posner thinks the commerce clause was enough to uphold ACA, radical Anthony Kennedy, Maryland's governor on what constitutes acceptable healthcare mandates for the GOP, which states may refuse the Medicaid expansion despite the fact that the feds will cover 90+% of the costs, what political science can tell us about rejecting federal funding for Medicaid, Rick Scott has already decided appealing to the wingnuts is more important than helping the needy, stop praising John Roberts, do praise Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Jack Balkin on the taxation powers argument he's championed for a while, and some more from JB on the tax argument, silver linings for various losers, the ACA and the Court's affirmation of the social contract, ridiculous responses from the right in response to the decision.

Also: Dear GOP, Stop with your lies and bullshit about the ACA. Once you speak the truth and stop intentionally misleading the public, maybe we can have an honest debate about our broken healthcare system.

And leaving politics aside, let's remember who the real winners of the Court's decision are: millions of Americans who now mustn't fear bankruptcy and going destitute because of bad luck or a bad gene. As one of them, I'm thrilled. 

Chris Hayes on the GOP's steady rightward march on healthcare that has gone so far into Batshitcrazyville that the party now stands for nothing more than repeal, repeal, repeal — to the point where they defend a completely broken system, offering no fixes whatsoever:

The absolutely necessary, but very difficult and expensive process of adaptation to the impacts of climate change:
In 2009, researchers from the University of Oxford, the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Center organized a conference on what a change of 7.2° or greater might look like—oddly, one of the first concerted scientific examinations of the impacts of temperatures that high. Here are some of the results: 7.2°, which could conceivably arrive as early as 2060, would mean a planet that was hotter than at any time in the past 10 million years. By 2100, sea levels would rise by as much as six feet, leaving hundreds of millions of the world’s coast-dwellers homeless, even as huge swaths of the ocean itself became “dead zones.” Glaciers and coral reefs would largely vanish from the planet.

It may be possible to weather this onslaught if we begin preparing now, by building low-carbon, high-density cities away from the coasts, radically improving the efficiency of water and energy systems, boosting local and global emergency-response capacities, and adjusting to a less consumption- and waste-oriented lifestyle. But although humans are an ingenious species, some changes simply exceed any realistic capacity for adaptation. The real threat, the existential threat, is that climate change will gain so much momentum that humanity loses what remaining power it has to slow or stop it, even by reducing carbon emissions to zero. If change becomes self-sustaining, our children and grandchildren will inherit an atmosphere irreversibly out of control, with inexorably rising temperatures that could, according to one recent study, render half of Earth’s currently occupied land uninhabitable—literally too hot to bear—by 2300.


When we talk about adaptation, we often imagine accommodating a specific new set of conditions; a temperate place gets too hot, a cold place gets temperate, so we move our farms around and get on with it. But we simply do not know, and most likely will not for some time, what particular temperature we are bound for, or whether there will ever again be a stable temperature. It is not a specific set of conditions but uncertainty itself to which we must adapt.

Even as we remain flexible, we will have to think and work on a very large scale. Major infrastructure projects—highways, dams, levies, electrical transmission lines, trains and subways—represent investments meant to pay off over generations. The New York City subway system is more than 100 years old. Today there’s a nontrivial chance that much of Manhattan will be under water in 100 years. How do we invest in the future when it has become so cloudy and threatening? As the stories in this series report, scientists and engineers already have many excellent (and some less than excellent) answers. It can be done. But the time to do it is now.
Roberts expands on his arguments in this blog post, delving more into the differences between mitigation and adaptation:
I fear some people have it in their heads that adaptation will be cheaper than mitigation, that unlike mitigation it will happen naturally, through the wonders of human intrepidity and the magic of capitalism. After all, “with the notable exception of climate, there is little reason to assume that other conditions that characterized the Holocene are particularly important to human material welfare.” So why worry?

But human cultures and human infrastructure are not an economist’s spreadsheet in which variables can be adjusted without friction. Adaptation will be brutally difficult. It will be much, much costlier than mitigation. We should be under no illusions. We’re stuck with some of it, but we should still avoid as much as possible.

One final point: Mitigation and adaptation spending are not equivalent. Mitigation spending will go to new energy systems, new public transit systems, new agricultural systems. It will yield innovation, higher productivity, new jobs, and improved quality of life. It’s like paying for your kid to go to college or building a factory for your business — the high upfront costs yield substantial long-term returns, paying themselves back many times over. Mitigation spending is investment.

Adaptation spending isn’t like that. It goes to maintaining the value of existing investments. It’s as though the maintenance costs on your factory doubled. You’re not getting any additional value out of the factory, you’re just putting more money in. Adaptation spending is pure cost, a net loss that displaces other productive investments. (This is true for most but not all adaptation spending … but I’ll address that in a separate post.)

So: it’s mitigation, adaptation, and/or suffering. Some of the latter two are unavoidable, but if we care about the health and well-being of our descendents, we’ll maximize the first, starting today.

Injecting wastewater underground isn't as safe as we've fooled ourselves into believing:
Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground.

No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.

There are growing signs they were mistaken.

Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation's drinking water.

In 2010, contaminants from such a well bubbled up in a west Los Angeles dog park. Within the past three years, similar fountains of oil and gas drilling waste have appeared in Oklahoma and Louisiana. In South Florida, 20 of the nation's most stringently regulated disposal wells failed in the early 1990s, releasing partly treated sewage into aquifers that may one day be needed to supply Miami's drinking water.

There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking.

Federal officials and many geologists insist that the risks posed by all this dumping are minimal. Accidents are uncommon, they say, and groundwater reserves — from which most Americans get their drinking water — remain safe and far exceed any plausible threat posed by injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.

But in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn't always work.

"In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted," said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA's underground injection program in Washington. "A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die."
A new report from the Pacific Institute elaborates on other water-related impacts of fracking.

It's a generational battle:
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, younger and older adults voted in largely similar ways, with a majority of each supporting the winner in every presidential election. Sometime around 2004, though, older voters began moving right, while younger voters shifted left. This year, polls suggest that Mitt Romney will win a landslide among the over-65 crowd and that President Obama will do likewise among those under 40.

Beyond political parties, the two have different views on many of the biggest questions before the country. The young not only favor gay marriage and school funding more strongly; they are also notably less religious, more positive toward immigrants, less hostile to Social Security cuts and military cuts and more optimistic about the country’s future. They are both more open to change and more confident that life in the United States will remain good.

Their optimism is especially striking in the context of their economic troubles. Older Americans have obviously suffered in recent years, with many now fearing a significantly diminished retirement. But the economic slump of the last decade — a mediocre expansion, followed by a terrible downturn — has still taken a much higher toll on the young. Less established in their working lives, they have struggled to get hired and to hold on to jobs.

The wealth gap between households headed by someone over 65 and those headed by someone under 35 is wider than at any point since the Federal Reserve Board began keeping consistent data in 1989. The gap in homeownership is the largest since Census Bureau data began in 1982. The income gap is also at a recorded high; median inflation-adjusted income for households headed by people between 25 and 34 has dropped 11 percent in the last decade while remaining essentially unchanged for the 55-to-64 age group.

If there is a theme unifying these economic and political trends, in fact, it is that the young are generally losing out to the old. On a different subject, Warren E. Buffett, 81, has joked that there really is a class war in this country — and that his class is winning it. He could say the same about a generational war.


Over all, more than 50 percent of federal benefits flow to the 13 percent of the population over 65. Some of these benefits come from Social Security, which many people pay for over the course of their working lives. But a large chunk comes through Medicare, and contrary to widespread perception, most Americans do not come close to paying for their own Medicare benefits through payroll taxes. Medicare, in addition to being the largest source of the country’s projected budget deficits, is a transfer program from young to old.

Meanwhile, education spending — the area that the young say should be cut the least, polls show — is taking deep cuts.

A debate on A/C that reminds us to design better, improve efficiency and be more green, and take a look at ourselves before telling others how to live.

The climate impacts of A/C.

Visualizing California's threatened coast, thanks to climate change.

Linking climate change and the west's fires.

And more on the difficulties with pinpointing climate change as a specific cause of a single wildfire. Though everything we know suggests there's definitely a link.

Climate change “set the table” for Colorado's conflagration.

What's happening with all those fires?

Global warming and the current US heat wave.

Considering the impacts of local climate when looking at countries' greenhouse gas emissions.

Nearing a tipping point for the Greenland ice sheet.

The oceans are warming and it's our fault.

No, Shell can't clean up a mess from its drilling in the Arctic.

A climate change-induced shift from savannah to forest.

Low expectations, little victories? The Farm Bill could've been worse, so I guess we should rejoice?

The rest of the problems, such as loss of biodiversity remain, but apparently deforestation results in fewer carbon emissions that previously estimated.

Big Coal think all those Chinese names sound the same, so no one will notice when they make some up.

Another public subsidy for Big Coal.

Acid rain going away, perhaps not coming back some other day?

The trade-offs between ending deforestation and increasing land dedicated for growing food.

It's not always a trade-off: your dietary choices can reduce deforestation.

What to do with that fracking wastewater?

UHI kills.

The Economist eulogizes Lin Ostrom.

A few weeks after she passed away, Lin's husband Vincent Ostrom succumbs to cancer, as well.

Where are the uninsured?

On teaching doctors empathy.

Sorry about the eugenics thing, dudes. No, we're not going to compensate you for our evilness.

ProPublica rounds up some of the best writing on prisons.

Minimalism, my ass. Ours is a radical Supreme Court.

Scalia hates brown people, so he needs no evidence for his claim they're an evil swarm.

Romney: education should be available to those who can afford it.

A brief history of efforts to control money in politics.

Reviewing peer review.

Referees and authors should collaborate.

Your red and pretty tomatoes are taste-free.

A history of lunch.

A history of the food truck.

Um, yeah, let's call it a cucumber straightener. That's totally what it is.

Iceland's phallus museum.

Fuckity fuck fuck: Dropping the f-bomb at the New Yorker.

The Broccoli Horrible would indeed make for a pretty sweet band name.

Mittens has never seen one of those before.

Tomato thunderegg.

Bittman's got a bunch of stone fruit recipes.

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