The Wall Street Journal is so excited about a lawsuit that could gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that it has dedicated two editorials to lauding the challenge in the past week.
On March 25, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Halbig v. Sebelius, a right-wing lawsuit based on a far-fetched anti-ACA theory that could make it impossible for some consumers to obtain tax credits from the federal government to purchase health insurance. The editorial board of the WSJ considers this counterintuitive goal of a law meant to make insurance affordable the "faithful interpretation of the statute."
The central argument of the suit is that a provision within the ACA can be misread to imply consumers who buy insurance from the federal exchange are not eligible for the tax credits that make health insurance affordable. Most legal experts, as well as those who helped draft the law, agree that this was nothing more than a drafting error, not evidence of Congress' alleged intent to deny subsidies to some consumers. But because many states (particularly those with Republican governors or Republican-led legislatures) refused to set up their own exchanges, conservatives saw an opening to attack this key part of the ACA.
Halbig's legal theory was cooked up by Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute and Jonathan Adler, a contributor to National Review Online and The Washington Post's libertarian legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Right-wing media have joined Adler and Cannon in vocally supporting the suit, even though legal experts have soundly rejected the challenge as "an absurd distortion of the law" and lacking merit.
But The Wall Street Journal continues to have a particular affection for Halbig. On March 23, the editorial board celebrated Halbig's potential to "vindicate the rule of law" in an Obama administration it characterized as "willful[ ] in defying limits on executive power."
Its March 30 editorial was more of the same, but with even more misinformation about the legal issues underpinning the Halbig case:
Liberals keep dismissing challenges to ObamaCare, political and legal, so it's no surprise they mostly ignored last week's oral argument at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that could send another case to the Supreme Court. Coming in the week the White House wheeled out its 38th rewrite of the law, Halbig v. Sebelius is even more important for the contours of executive power and the rule of law.
This ought to be a straightforward matter of statutory construction. Democrats put conditions on the subsidies to pressure Governors to join ObamaCare on the familiar U.S. federal-state cooperative model, but they never anticipated lasting unpopularity and opposition. To resolve this political problem, the IRS brushed off the statute and expanded the subsidies to both types of exchanges.
Arguing before a three-judge panel, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery pointed up "interpretive tension" among various complex provisions. But he also suggested that reading the text literally would undermine ObamaCare's purpose and structure of a nationwide system of subsidized health care. Try to parse that one: This is a law that its defenders argue will self-destruct if implemented as drafted by its architects.
As Chief Justice John Roberts famously wrote upholding the insurance purchase mandate, "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." It is also not their job to protect politicians from the consequences of their policy choices.
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson has a history of illegal behavior and controversial comments -- facts that were left out of mainstream print reporting on GOP candidates trying to win his favor last week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition met March 27-29 in Las Vegas, and the event was dubbed the "Adelson Primary" as GOP presidential hopefuls used the meeting to fawn over magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a casino and resort operating firm, who reportedly spent nearly $150 million attempting to buy the 2012 election with donations to a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney and other outside groups (including Karl Rove's American Crossroads). Before switching allegiance to Romney, Adelson had donated millions to Newt Gingrich. He has also given generously in the past to super PACs associated with a variety of Republican politicians, including Scott Walker, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor.
Hoping to benefit from Adelson's largesse, potential 2016 Republican candidates including Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gathered at Adelson's casino to "kiss the ring."
While Republicans' efforts to court Adelson made big news in print media over the past week, none of the articles mentioning Adelson in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, or The Wall Street Journal mentioned that he has come under investigation for illegal business practices, including bribery, or his history of extreme remarks.
Right-wing media have been Hobby Lobby's biggest fans in the Supreme Court showdown between the federal government and the company over the health care law's contraception coverage mandate, championing Hobby Lobby as only interested in protecting its religious liberties. But according to new documents obtained by Salon, the company is an active partner to activist groups pushing their Christian agenda into American law.
This week the Supreme Court took on the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage mandate, hearing arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case which could allow secular, for-profit corporations an unprecedented religious exemption from the requirement that all health insurance cover preventive services like birth control. The conservative plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, is arguing that some emergency contraceptives covered by the mandate amount to abortion -- even though they don't.
Over at National Review, editor Rich Lowry framed the Green family -- Hobby Lobby's owners -- as "law-abiding people running an arts-and-craft-chain," "minding their own business," until "Uncle Sam showed up to make an offer that the Greens couldn't refuse -- literally." Jonah Goldberg, in an op-ed in USA Today, claimed that all Hobby Lobby is asking is to leave birth control decisions up to women and their doctors.
The conservative media sphere has repeatedly characterized Hobby Lobby as merely seeking "religious freedom." As Fox News host Eric Bolling described the case, "your religious freedom, guaranteed to you by the constitution, hangs in the balance." He added that the mandate "feels like political ideology trumping small business." The network has even given Hobby Lobby's attorney the platform to champion the company's small town virtues.
It turns out that the company right-wing media have worked so hard to champion has a significant hidden political agenda. On March 27 Salon broke the story that it had obtained a document revealing Hobby Lobby's political funding ties to a network of activist groups "deeply engaged in pushing a Christian agenda into American law."
According to Salon, a 2009 Tax Filing Form revealed that Crafts Etc., a Hobby Lobby affiliate company, and Jon Cargill, the CFO of Hobby Lobby, contributed a total of nearly $65 million in 2009 alone to the National Christian Charitable Foundation -- one of the biggest contributors to the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy.
These organizations pushed SB 1062 -- the anti-gay legislation recently vetoed by AZ Governor Jan Brewer -- to the AZ Statehouse, and their agendas include many other discriminatory and dangerous policies including legislation that forces women to have invasive ultrasounds before abortions.
The National Christian Charitable Foundation also contributed over $90,000 in 2012 to the Becket Fund, the legal group representing Hobby Lobby in its current Supreme Court battle over Obamacare's contraception mandate. As Salon explained the relationship:
Seen in this light, the ideological connection between the Hobby Lobby suit and Arizona's recently vetoed legislation becomes clearer: One seeks to allow companies the right to deny contraceptive coverage while the other would permit businesses to deny services to LGBT people. "There are really close legal connections between [Arizona's anti-gay SB 1062 bill] and the [Hobby Lobby] Supreme Court case," Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told Salon. "Ideologically, the thing that unites the two efforts is an attempt to use religious exercise as a sword to impose religious belief on others, even if it harms others, which would be a radical expansion of free exercise law," said Martin.
And the common thread is the much bigger trend across the country. "Individuals and entities with religious objections to certain laws that protect others are seeking to use their religion to trump others," Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, told Salon.
After the Supreme Court heard arguments in the legal challenge to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), The Wall Street Journal's editorial board was quick to celebrate by pushing tired myths about the case and encouraging the judicial creation of new rights for corporations.
On March 25, the Supreme Court heard Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could allow secular, for-profit corporate employers the ability to deny their employees preventive health insurance coverage based on their owners' religious objections. The owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, identify as conservative Christians who oppose some forms of birth control that they have decided -- in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary -- cause abortions.
Right-wing media have relished this opportunity to reject reproductive rights and come out in support of the Green family and Hobby Lobby. In their first editorial since oral arguments, the WSJ's editors were predictably pro-Hobby Lobby, calling the Obama administration's argument that a for-profit, secular corporation is incapable of religious belief "remarkable":
[T]he Administration's remarkable argument is that if a business is incorporated and for-profit, it forfeits normal constitutional rights. Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores that is a closely held, family-run corporation that tries to operate in accord with biblical principles.
Trying to distinguish between for-profit and nonprofit corporate forms for this regulatory purpose is constitutionally unprecedented. Corporations are often treated as "persons" for legal purposes, such as protecting free speech, and prosecutors can indict entire corporations for breaking laws. As Chief Justice John Roberts observed, minority-owned businesses can bring racial discrimination lawsuits. So why can't Christian- or Muslim-owned businesses exercise religion? Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had no good answer.
Liberal Justices rolled out a parade of dubious hypotheticals, arguing that if a business can invoke religion to refuse to pay for abortifacients, couldn't it also refuse to pay for blood transfusions or vaccinations? "Could an employer preclude the use of those items as well?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the day's first question.
Yet no one is "precluding" anything. Contraception is cheap, plentiful and covered by most health plans. Most corporations are run for profit, not piety. Mr. Verrilli claimed the mandate is necessary to promote public health and gender equality, but HHS could have aided those goals without forcing a minority of business owners with moral aims to implicate themselves in what they consider to be grave moral wrongs.
But the fact that "most health plans" cover contraception is precisely the point, just not in the way the WSJ thinks.
On the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a significant reproductive rights case under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), right-wing media continued to push discredited misinformation about a different ACA case that could do even more damage to health care reform.
On March 25, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (finally fully-staffed) heard oral arguments in Halbig v. Sebelius. Unlike Hobby Lobby, Halbig has the potential to undermine the ACA as a whole by rendering the new federal health insurance marketplaces of the exchanges useless.
Since 2012, right-wing media have engaged in a loud campaign to push this challenge all the way to the conservative justices of the Supreme Court, even though legal experts agree this lawsuit is far-fetched and a distortion of the text, history, and purpose of the ACA. In the wake of yesterday's appellate arguments, conservative media is continuing to lecture Congress that legislators really meant to counter-intuitively destroy the ACA when they passed it, a bizarre argument that the editors of the National Review Online claimed "Democrats might have anticipated if they'd bothered reading the law." The Wall Street Journal took it as an opportunity to again accuse Obama of executive overreach, and invited the judiciary to "check on those abuses" and "vindicate the rule of law" by rewriting history to pretend Congress never intended tax credits in the federal exchanges.
A federal district court has already ruled against this unlikely argument, holding their "unpersuasive" legal theory about Congress' true intention contrary to common sense, because it would lead to "strange or absurd results."
Right-wing media have spent nearly a decade making false claims about birth control -- and now those falsehoods have found their way into the mouths of Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court on March 25 heard consolidated arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage based on the owners' personal religious beliefs, a radical revision of First Amendment and corporate law. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga argue they should not be forced by the government to provide their employees insurance which covers certain forms of contraception, because they believe those types of birth control can cause abortions.
The owners are wrong. Medical experts have confirmed they are wrong, repeatedly and strenuously, including experts at the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic and the International Federation of Gynecology. The contraceptives Hobby Lobby objects to -- which include emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term contraceptives like Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) -- delay an egg from being fertilized, and as the former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA noted, "their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."
Despite this overwhelming medical evidence, the myth that some of the contested forms of birth control are "abortifacients" has gone all the way to the Supreme Court -- and now has been repeated by some of the justices themselves. During the oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to a point made by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the lawyer for the government, by referring to "birth controls ... that are abortifacient."
JUSTICE SCALIA: You're talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That's not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, to the contrary. And two points to make about that. First, of course the -- one of the methods of contraception they object to here is the IUD. And that is by far and away the method of contraception that is most effective, but has the highest upfront cost and creates precisely the kind of cost barrier that the preventive services provision is trying to break down.
Justice Stephen Breyer, while describing the position of the Hobby Lobby owners, also referred to "abortifacient contraceptives."
This misunderstanding matters because it could determine the outcome of the case. In order to win, a majority of justices may have to understand there is a compelling government interest in facilitating equal access to contraceptives across health insurance plans. It is an entirely different and more difficult question if the justices examine whether there is a compelling interest in the government facilitating access to abortion. Even though federal law explicitly prohibits federal funding of abortion and these birth control methods are not abortifacients, if the justices mistakenly think abortion is involved, this case becomes far more dangerous.
So whether the employees of for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby are guaranteed access to basic preventative health care could ultimately come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether for-profit companies are considered religious persons, a drastic change to constitutional corporate law, could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions. Whether the rights of gay and lesbian employees are respected, and whether taxes, vaccines requirements, minimum wage, overtime laws are all upheld could come down to whether the justices act on the reality that these forms of birth control do not cause abortions.
This simple lie about birth control could set up a chain of events that drastically alter health care by rewriting First Amendment and corporate law in this country -- and it's a lie that comes straight from the media, who have been pushing it for almost a decade.
Studies came out as early as 2004 pushing back on the idea that Plan B caused abortions, but Media Matters has repeatedly noted the tendency of journalists to get their facts wrong when addressing the issue. In 2005, CNN host Carol Costello gave a platform to a pharmacist who refused to fill a prescription for birth control pills because she thought they were equivalent to "chemical abortion." In 2007, Time magazine called the morning-after pill "abortion-inducing," while an AP article pushed the false Republican claims that emergency contraception destroys "developing human fetuses." In 2010, The Washington Times repeatedly equated emergency contraception to abortion.
And there was Lila Rose, the anti-abortion activist who in 2011 released videos heavily edited to deceptively portray practices at Planned Parenthood clinics, and who has equated contraception to "abortion-inducing drugs" which she claims exploit women. Rose and her mentor, James O'Keefe, defended their manipulation and falsification of evidence as "tactics" against the "genocide" of abortion, and she was supported and promoted on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity's America, The Glenn Beck Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, while her work was been featured by Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and National Review.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, and medical experts including the Institute of Medicine recommended including comprehensive coverage for contraception as part of the preventative care provisions, right-wing media freaked out, calling it "immoral" and "a way to eradicate the poor." Fox News ignored the overwhelming support for the resulting contraception policy, instead pretending that Catholic hospitals and employers were being victimized -- even as exemptions and accommodations were included for churches and religious nonprofits. By 2012, Fox News' Michelle Malkin was referring to the contraception regulations as an "abortion mandate." Now, right-wing media figures have used the Hobby Lobby case and others to bring back this lie, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, while Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have become particularly fond of discussing these "abortifacients."
As Media Matters has previously explained, right-wing talking points demonizing birth control made their way into the amicus briefs presented to the court before the case was even argued, and Justice Scalia in particular has been known to repeat verbatim right-wing myths, such as the dubious idea that if the Supreme Court upheld the ACA the federal government could ultimately require consumers to purchase broccoli.
But the presence of the "abortifacient" lie during oral arguments takes this worrying tendency to a new level, raising the prospect that right-wing media's lies could potentially determine the outcome of a crucial case for religious and corporate law, hugely damaging reproductive rights in the process. If women lose the guarantee for their basic preventative health care, and corporations are granted even more flexibility as "persons" with religious rights, right-wing media will be partly to blame.
An editorial from The Wall Street Journal is blaming environmentalists for slowing down a controversial process to export natural gas, overlooking the fact that members of the gas industry have condemned the procedure.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board has been calling for the the U.S. to export more natural gas, which would need to be condensed, liquefied, and shipped out of specialized liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. On March 24, the seventh LNG export facility, to be constructed in Oregon's Jordan Cove, was approved by the Department of Energy (DOE), a move widely criticized by environmental groups. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board dismissed the approval as well, but only because these export terminals aren't coming fast enough, with 24 projects still waiting for approval. The Board blamed "President Obama's green donors" for the "slow-roll process."
But members of the natural gas industry are critical of the controversial export terminals. America's Energy Advantage (AEA), a trade coalition of businesses and organizations that support the natural gas industry, released a statement denouncing the approval of the new export terminal. The group, which includes Dow Chemical and Alcoa Inc., wrote that the DOE's approval of the Jordan Cove facility is "a grievous error" that will "harm U.S. consumers and economy." From the AEA statement:
This is a grievous error that puts billions of dollars of investment and millions of jobs at risk. Stable and affordable natural gas is powering an American manufacturing comeback. According to IHS Chemical, more than $125 billion of new manufacturing investments are planned. This latest export approval will raise domestic natural gas, electricity, home-heating and propane prices for every American, undermine our manufacturing competiveness and cost the nation good-paying jobs. America's Energy Advantage renews its call for the Administration to take an immediate 'time out' from further LNG export approvals until a new, comprehensive review of current market conditions is completed."
Other studies and energy experts have warned of the economic dangers that may result from approving too many LNG export terminals, pointing out that it could lead to immense oversupply. As reported by Bloomberg, a Rice University analysis found that with "plans for dozens of the multibillion-dollar export terminals in North America alone, the industry is headed toward an overbuild that may depress Asian prices for a decade."
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) cited a 2012 study from the DOE itself, saying it found that a "high export scenario" of LNG could increase domestic gas prices by more than 50 percent. According to Markey, approval of the Jordan Cove facility would cause the nation's LNG exports to cross the threshold for that very scenario. Energy analyst Chris Nelder wrote in an email to Media Matters that export terminals might not even be able to fulfill their contracts if natural gas prices don't remain as low as they are today.
The Wall Street Journal gave credence to Hobby Lobby's scientifically-disproven view that emergency contraceptives are abortifacients by privileging the claims of the corporation, currently fighting to expand corporate personhood with the notion that the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate" violates its religious liberty.
On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, a case that could allow secular, for-profit corporations an unprecedented religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) "contraception mandate," which requires all insurance plans to cover preventive health services without co-pays, including birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby argue that the contraception mandate will force them to violate their religious beliefs by requiring them to offer insurance that covers forms of emergency contraception -- namely the morning after pill and IUDs -- that they incorrectly equate with abortion.
The Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin privileged that falsehood on March 24, highlighting Hobby Lobby's beliefs without mention that the science is settled against the corporation: IUDs and the morning-after pill are not akin to abortion:
The companies' owners, who are, respectively, evangelical and Mennonite Christians, say they consider emergency contraceptives--"morning after" pills and some intrauterine devices--to be forms of abortion, which is anathema to their religious beliefs. For the corporations to win, the court must find that including such contraceptives in company-sponsored insurance would "substantially burden" their owners' religious exercise, unjustified by a "compelling government interest."
Newspaper coverage of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood lawsuits downplayed the possibility that the Supreme Court could expand the concept of corporate personhood when ruling on the cases, which examine whether for-profit businesses can deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control based on the owners' personal religious beliefs. Only 3 out of 24 articles on the case in five major U.S. newspapers mentioned the potential unpopular expansion of corporate rights in the headline or first sentence.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
The Wall Street Journal doesn't understand how a federal anti-discrimination law that protects firefighters of color actually works, but that didn't stop one of its editorial board members from complaining about it.
On March 18, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city had settled a twelve-year lawsuit with a group of black firefighters who alleged that the entrance exams the department used resulted in impermissible racial discrimination that was unrelated to the skills necessary for the job. The group that filed the suit argued that the entrance exam had an unjustified disparate impact on black and Hispanic firefighters, a legal doctrine that has been codified in federal employment discrimination law and upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court. In NYC, according to The Associated Press, the discriminatory effect occurred because "black firefighters have never made up more than 4 percent of the department's total," even though "more than half of residents identify with a racial minority group."
But the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board is clearly no great fan of disparate impact litigation, was unimpressed by the numbers. In a recent post, the WSJ's Jason Riley argued that Mayor de Blasio's support of the settlement was misplaced since, despite the fact that the federal courts found the exams had an illegal disparate impact under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, "the city might have won" the case. Riley proceeded to label the long-standing legal doctrine prohibiting the city's illegal disparate impact on firefighters of color as "nonsense" (emphasis added):
"I think the numbers speak for themselves," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in announcing that the city had settled a discrimination lawsuit against the fire department. The mayor was suggesting that the FDNY's written exam is biased because blacks and Hispanics pass it at lower rates than whites.
But the numbers don't speak for themselves. Intent matters. Racially disparate outcomes alone are not proof of discrimination, yet advocates of such nonsense continue to exploit our legal system. "No speck of evidence is required from those who implicitly assume that employee composition would be similar to population composition, in the absence of discrimination," writes Thomas Sowell in "Intellectuals and Race." "Moreover, not one flesh-and-blood human being who even claims to have been discriminated against is necessary for 'disparate impact' cases to go forward in a costly legal process."
Right-wing media are newly outraged over the Affordable Care Act's "hardship" exemption, a provision of the original law that pardons qualifying persons from the individual mandate to purchase health insurance coverage.
One conspiracy theory, favored by the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and conservative blogs like The Daily Caller, is that the Obama administration 'secretly' changed the ACA last week by "quietly" adding a hardship exemption. Others like FoxNews.com suggested that the administration added the hardship exemption -- "a mega-exemption" -- to the law just three months ago. But the one thing all right-wing media agree on is that the hardship exemption "might be the death knell" for the individual mandate, as Fox put it. According to the Journal:
[L]ast week the Administration quietly excused millions of people from the requirement to purchase health insurance or else pay a tax penalty.
This latest political reconstruction has received zero media notice, and the Health and Human Services Department didn't think the details were worth discussing in a conference call, press materials or fact sheet. Instead, the mandate suspension was buried in an unrelated rule that was meant to preserve some health plans that don't comply with ObamaCare benefit and redistribution mandates. Our sources only noticed the change this week.
That seven-page technical bulletin includes a paragraph and footnote that casually mention that a rule in a separate December 2013 bulletin would be extended for two more years, until 2016. Lo and behold, it turns out this second rule, which was supposed to last for only a year, allows Americans whose coverage was cancelled to opt out of the mandate altogether.
But what right-wing media are missing in their most recent set of attacks against the ACA is that the hardship exemption has been a part of the ACA from the law's inception, and their attacks against the law's "new," "mega-exemption" guidelines are actually based on three-month old HHS guidance that was laid out under routine rule-making authority. As Jason Linkis of Huffington Post and Brian Beutler of Salon detailed, not only is the original provision old news, so too is the new hardship category that right-wing media like the WSJ editorial board suddenly discovered even though multiple outlets covered the change in December.
The hardship exemption was written into the ACA at the law's outset, with the intention of exempting certain individuals from the shared responsibility payment -- the "individual mandate." As the law was written, exemptions and exclusions from this penalty would be granted to a range of groups in addition to those experiencing hardship and an inability to find an affordable plan, including undocumented immigrants, members of health care sharing ministries, and Native Americans. A 2010 report from the Urban Institute examining the impact of the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act noted at the time that the ACA allows "financial hardship exemptions to be granted. The requirements for these are left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services." A Congressional Research Service report called the ACA a "particularly noteworthy example of congressional delegation of rulemaking authority to federal agencies," and "indicates that PPACA gives federal agencies substantial responsibility and authority to 'fill in the details' of the legislation through subsequent regulations."
The Wall Street Journal trotted out well-worn myths, many provided by the conservative lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to complain about the latest attack on class action lawsuits currently in front of the Supreme Court.
On March 5, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, a case that could make it more difficult for a class of shareholder plaintiffs to file lawsuits against corporations who commit fraud. At issue in this case is the "fraud on the market" theory, which was established by the Court in a 1988 case called Basic v. Levinson. The fraud on the market theory unremarkably assumes that a company's stock price reflects the information publicly available about that company -- including any false statements made by the CEO or other corporate officer. The fraud on the market theory allows plaintiffs to form a class action and sue based on that fraud, which have artificially inflated the stock price.
The WSJ, for its part, would like the Court to overturn Basic and get rid of this highly effective method of protecting everyday Americans from corporate fraud.
In a March 6 editorial, the paper essentially repeated all of the Chamber's talking points it presented at its February 28 event dedicated to the Halliburton lawsuit, including the idea that the only beneficiaries of securities litigation are plaintiffs lawyers, and that these class actions unfairly punish shareholders.
MSNBC host Chris Hayes blasted the myth that expanding unconventional energy sources in the U.S. will weaken Russia, an "absurd" claim that has been perpetuated by conservative media to pin the security crisis in Ukraine on President Barack Obama.
Conservative media are manipulating the Ukraine crisis to push a "drill, baby, drill" agenda, claiming that approving the Keystone XL pipeline and expanding the use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") will somehow weaken Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence in Ukraine. They are calling for expanding development of natural gas in the U.S. (including by the environmentally-contentious use of fracking) to ease the concern that Putin may cut off the natural gas supply to Ukraine and subsequently affect natural gas prices in Europe and around the globe.
Liquefying, exporting, and re-gassifying natural gas is more carbon intensive than domestically consuming it, and would likely drive up the price of natural gas in the U.S., so some oppose permitting further LNG export terminals -- at least until fugitive methane emissions are reigned in. Despite concerns, the Obama administration has permitted several LNG export terminals and is expected to permit more. Republicans and the oil and gas industry complain that it's still not fast enough. However, as LNG is very expensive, reports have suggested that even if they were approved, many LNG export terminals probably won't even be used, or at least not for years -- far too late to address the Ukraine crisis. MSNBC's Chris Hayes and his guest Dan Dicker, CEO of wealth management group MercBloc, explained on the March 5 edition of All In with Chris Hayes:
DICKER: The Russians do have a major control, major influence, on most of eastern Europe through natural gas. But we have to distinguish between natural gas -- which is a gas -- and crude oil which is a liquid. If you want to move a liquid from one place to another, you put in the a dixie cup and you can move it any way you like. Natural gas has two ways of being transported, one is through pipelines. Now, the United States can do nothing in terms of creating a pipeline to all of these eastern European nations.
The only other way you can get it across, and what they're talking about is permitting, is through what we call LNG, which is liquid natural gas. It needs to be cooled, natural gas, to be transported as LNG needs to be cooled to a minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit then put in very, very carefully into very select containers that you can now transport overseas. This costs a lot of money. This is why permitting -- you could permit all of the natural gas export plants you want, there are very few energy companies who are going to undertake building these things, they cost $2 billion to convert an import plant into an export plant.
"It's a situation basically directly out of a Kafka novel, and I can't think of anything more unjust."
That's how Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute of Legal Reform (ILR), framed the current state of securities class actions. When the Chamber talks, right-wing media listen -- which is why it matters when its representatives liken class action lawsuits to Kafkaesque hellscapes, worse than anything else in the world.
On February 28, the Chamber hosted "Erica P. John Fund & Beyond: The Past, Present, and Future of Securities Class Actions," an event where Chamber-selected panelists discussed the perils of the next big class action case before the Supreme Court, Halliburton Co v. Erica P. John Fund. At the heart of the case is the so-called "fraud on the market" theory, decades-old Supreme Court and legislative precedent that businesses interests are asking the conservative justices to overturn.