During the run-up to the Supreme Court oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the latest legal assault on Obamacare, the four people named as plaintiffs in the case were mysteriously absent from public view. They never made any public statements. They never appeared at any conferences. These four Virginia residents who were supposed to be victims of Obamacare were essentially invisible in the highly politicized case. And their lawyers had good reason to keep them under wraps: It's unclear if any of them have been injured by Obamacare and truly have standing to sue. One of the four, Brenda Levy, even toldMother Jones she didn't want the lawsuit to end up stripping millions of Americans of their health insurance, which is what will likely happen should the plaintiffs prevail.
But finally, today, after oral arguments in the case, one of the plaintiffs, Doug Hurst, appeared outside the Supreme Court with his lead counsel, Michael Carvin, and lawyers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank that has propelled this lawsuit. CEI had promised that Hurst would speak. But he said nothing. He took no questions. Rather, his wife, Pam Trainor Hurst, read a prepared statement to the assembled reporters. Her comments were largely drowned out by protesters with bullhorns—anti-Obamacare protesters. But soon after, CEI released her statement.
Decisions made here in Washington directly affect middle-class families like ours, and we believe it's time for those who have been hurt by Washington to take a stand—that's why Doug joined the case. We never imagined we would end up at the Supreme Court, but that just shows how important this case is, not just for us, but for so many others around the country who are hurt by Obamacare.
There are millions of Americans who have lost their plans or their doctors. Or who, like Doug and I, are forced by the Internal Revenue Service to either buy insurance we don’t want or face a tax penalty. We want Americans to have options. We believe there is a better way to take care of the people who need help. But there is no reason to force millions of us to pay tax penalties if we don't join a government program.
It seemed odd that Trainor Hurst was speaking, given she was not a party to the lawsuit. Where were the other plaintiffs? On this big day for the anti-Obamacare crusaders, it seemed, CEI was sticking to its strategy: Keep the plaintiffs out of sight.
Today the Justice Department released its scathing 105-page report on Ferguson's pervasive discrimination against black residents. The report included references to blatantly racist emails from local officials: One said Obama wouldn't last in office because he's black; another attached a photo of bare-chested group of women, apparently in Africa, captioned "Michelle Obama's High School Reunion." The DOJ found plenty of other evidence of racial bias; below are a few examples. (We're making our way through the report and will add to the list.)
One black Ferguson resident told Justice Department officials about his interaction with a Ferguson police officer, in which the officer told him "N*****, I can find something to lock you up on":
Ferguson city officials and police interviewed by the DOJ "nearly uniformly" said that it was due to a lack of "personal responsibility," not the failure of the law, that African-American members of the Ferguson community were disproportionately targeted by law enforcement:
The DOJ found that Ferguson officials commonly dismissed tickets for friends, showing a "double standard grounded in racial stereotyping":
Ferguson police routinely used Tasers "where less force—or no force at all—would do." Almost 90 percent of the time cops used force, it was against African Americans, and often they used unnecessary force against people with mental health disabilities:
All of the police canine attacks reviewed by the DOJ targeted black residents, including a 14-year-old boy who was hiding in a storage closet. The dog bit his arm, causing puncture wounds:
The DOJ called out the following emails sent by Ferguson officials as "illustrative" of racial bias:
During the Supreme Court oral arguments Wednesday morning in King v. Burwell, the case that threatens to destroy Obamacare, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wasted no time in grilling the attorney seeking to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act about a significant technical matter that could blow up his case. As soon as Michael Carvin, the Jones Day partner representing the four plaintiffs named in the anti-Obamacare suit, started his opening statement, Ginsburg interrupted him with a slew of questions about whether his plaintiffs had a recognizable injury that would allow the case to proceed. A plaintiff, she declared, "has to have a concrete stake in the question…you would have to prove the standing if this gets beyond the opening door."
With these queries, Ginsburg was picking up on a critical issue highlighted last month when Mother Jonesbroke the news that the four plaintiffs may have dubious claims of standing in this case. According to legal filings in the case, two of the plaintiffs were likely not adversely affected by Obamacare because they could claim an exemption from the law's requirement to purchase health insurance due to their low income levels and high health care costs. The other two plaintiffs, Doug Hurst and Brenda Levy, would have benefited substantially from the Affordable Care Act had they obtained insurance through an Obamacare health exchange. (Levy said she was paying $1,500 a month for non-Obamacare insurance, which she could have bought on the federal health care exchange for $148 a month. Hurst, according to bankruptcy filings, had been paying more than $600 a month for his insurance in 2010. The ACA would have provided him insurance for $62 a month.)
The Georgia Republican Party, and its chair, John Padgett, have already been sued once in the past year over allegations of racial discrimination and racial slurs. Now, Padgett, his wife, and the company he owns are being sued again, on the grounds that they frequently engaged in "bigoted, racist and sexist commentary" about the employees who work there, a possible violation of the federal Civil Rights Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The latest suit was filed by Vanessa Dewberry, a former manager at Southeast Ambulance Inc., a company owned and operated by Padgett. Dewberry, who is black, was usually the only person of color in higher-level meetings, the suit notes. That meant she was privy to the allegedly questionable comments of the predominately white management. In February 2014, Dewberry decided to record a meeting. What she heard became the basis of her lawsuit:
Padgett, talking about a black employee: "He's not a goddamn doctor…he's a black tech that's supposed to know better."
Padgett and others (including his wife, Mary) engaged in a conversation making fun of a female employee. "She's the one that looks like a boy," Padgett said. A male speaker interjected, "Nobody around the office knows what to refer to it." Mary Padgett responded: "What is she? Is she a—is she—it's a—if she's a she." According to Dewberry, John Padgett found the exchange humorous, and laughed during at mentions of the employee as "it."
"As shocking as this type of unlawful ridicule of SEA employees was," the suit states, "Ms. Dewberry recognized that it was typical of SEA meetings and was not likely to stop without some intervention." Dewberry complained to Padgett and company HR director Michelle Hayes directly after the meeting, but her lawyers say no action was taken to address the complaint. Less than a week later, Padgett fired her. Dewberry is suing not only for racial discrimination and wrongful termination, but also for wages—her suit also alleges she was not fully paid for her work.
Padgett's alleged bad behavior extended to his work as chairman of the state GOP, too. The earlier suit, filed in July 2014 by Padgett's ex-assistant, Qiana Keith, is still pending. Keith alleges that she endured consistent racial discrimination and racial slurs while working at the Georgia Republican Party, including being ordered not to park in front of the party offices. State party lawyers deny Keith's claims; attempts to reach Padgett for comment were unsuccessful, and SEA declined to comment. Padgett is a longtime conservative activist in Georgia, and was elected as chair in 2013 on a platform of "fighting the liberal media" and "building a new majority" by promoting diversity, according to a campaign ad.
Early last year, John Baucum, the political director of a group called Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), cornered Sen. Ted Cruz at a GOP event in Houston. Cruz, a former Texas prosecutor who talks the talk on states' rights, had criticized the Obama administration for declining to prosecute Colorado pot growers. Baucum wanted to point out the disconnect: "It sounded like you were making an argument against federalism," he recalls telling Cruz.
Perhaps his comment got Cruz thinking, because last week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, Cruz reversed course on pot: "Look, I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the laboratories of democracy,'" he told Sean Hannity during the Republican go-to event, where RAMP had a table set up. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative."
On the heels of CPAC, state representative David Simpson, a Republican from East Texas whom RAMP had lobbied heavily, introduced a new bill that would abolish dozens of state marijuana statutes, essentially legalizing pot in the Lone Star State. "I don't believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that the government needs to fix," Simpson wrote in the Texas Tribune. "The time has come for a thoughtful discussion of the prudence of the prohibition approach to drug abuse."
Okay, now forget all that. Because as it turns out, the concept of three square meals a day has practically zero to do with your actual metabolic needs. And our dogmatic adherence to breakfast, lunch, and dinner might actually be making us sick.
Historian Abigail Carroll, author of the book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, explained to me that the the thrice-daily eating schedule goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in Europe. When European settlers got to America, they also imported their meal habits: a light meal—maybe cold mush and radishes—in the morning, a heavier, cooked one midday, and a third meal similar to the first one later in the day. They observed that the eating schedule of the native tribes was less rigid—the volume and timing of their eating varied with the seasons. Sometimes, when food was scarce, they fasted. The Europeans took this as "evidence that natives were uncivilized," Carroll explained to me in an email. "Civilized people ate properly and boundaried their eating, thus differentiating themselves from the animal kingdom, where grazing is the norm." (So fascinated were Europeans with tribes' eating patterns, notes Carroll, that they actually watched Native Americans eat "as a form of entertainment.")
The three daily meals that the settlers brought evolved with Americans' lifestyles. As people became more prosperous, they added meat to breakfast and dinner. After the Industrial Revolution, when people began to work away from home, the midday meal became a more casual affair, and the cooked meal shifted to the end of the day, when workers came home. The one thing that did not change was the overall amount of food that people ate—despite the fact that they had largely abandoned the active lifestyles of the farm in favor of sedentary ones in cities and suburbs. "People were still eating these giant country breakfasts," says Carroll. Soon, doctors reported that more of their patients were suffering from indigestion.
In an effort to rein in caloric intake, nutritionists began advising people to eat a lighter breakfast—and marketers pounced on the opportunity. In 1897, brothers Will Keith Kellogg and John Harvey Kellogg introduced corn flakes as healthy alternative to heavy breakfasts. (The pair had an ulterior motive: They wanted to spread the gospel of the vegetarian diet because it was part of their Seventh Day Adventist faith.)
Corn flakes took off, and in the years that followed, breakfast became known as a meal for health food. Fruit-grower associations seized the opportunity to market juices, which, the ad campaigns announced, were chock full of a newly discovered thing called vitamins. The makers of breakfast foods warned of the dangers of skipping "the most important meal of the day."
That line of reasoning persists today—check out Kellogg's modern-day treatise on the health benefits of breakfast. But there's just one problem: Science shows that when it comes to maintaining your metabolism—the bodily system that helps us turn food into energy and, when out of whack, can lead to diabetes and other disorders—it doesn't make a whit of difference whether you eat breakfast or not. A 2014 study by the University of Bath showed that breakfast had practically zero effect on its subjects' metabolism. (Breakfast eaters did burn more calories than breakfast skippers, but net calorie consumption was the same, since the breakfast eaters burned off the extra calories they ate at breakfast.) A similar University of Alabama study of people who were trying to diet found that breakfast made no difference, either way, on weight loss.
And breakfast isn't the only metabolically unimportant meal. In fact, it doesn't seem to matter much at all how and when you get your calories. In a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, one group ate three meals a day while another ate six. (Total daily calorie counts were identical.) Researchers found no weight or hormonal differences between the groups. In 2014, University of Warwick researchers found no difference in metabolism between a group of women that ate two meals a day and another group that ate five.
The one thing that might actually improve your metabolism is periodic fasting—that's right, the very same eating pattern that the early European settlers deemed uncivilized. Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, has observed in a series of mice experiments over the past two decades that mice who skip feedings are leaner and live longer than their nonskipping counterparts. The fasting mice also have more robust brain cells than those who consume regular meals. Mattson, who skips breakfast and lunch most days, theorizes that caloric deprivation acts as a mild stress that helps cells build up their defenses—warding off damage from aging, environmental toxins, and other threats. Other research has shown that periodic fasting may also prevent heart disease.
Biologist Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, meanwhile, observed in a 2012 study that mice consuming all of their calories within an eight-hour window were less likely to develop metabolic diseases like diabetes than those who ate whenever they pleased. A follow-up study last year confirmed the results—though no one has conducted similar studies in humans.
So should you quit meals and fast intermittently instead? You could try it. Christopher Ochner, a weight loss and nutrition expert at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, notes that there's no one-size-fits-all solution: Some people do well eating all their calories at once; others prefer to split them into snack-size portions.
Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don't eat when it's time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry. That, he says, is a lost art: In industrialized societies, where food is abundant, we eat because of social cues "or just because something smells good." If we can teach ourselves to pay attention to our own bodies instead of our environment, he says, "that might be the best diet of all."
Our nation's school cafeterias are on track to serve more whole grains and less salt—but not if one Republican senator has anything to say about it.
On Monday, Rep. John Hoeven (R-ND) announced plans to introduce a bill that would roll back 2014 legislation requiring school cafeterias to ensure that 100 percent of their grains are whole-grain rich (meaning that at least 51 percent of a given food's grains are whole, rather than refined). In addition, the bill seeks to remove stricter sodium limits that were set to take effect in 2017.
The bill, said Hoeven, would allow schools to "serve meals that are not only well-balanced but also appealing to students."
Hoeven's comment on student "appeal" has been at the center of debate since 2010, when President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Aimed at curbing the nation's child obesity rate, it placed limits on the amounts of sugar, fat and salt being served on campuses and also ushered in mandates like the whole-grain requirement.
But opponents of the act argue that the requirements leave students with unappetizing choices that result in tons of waste. This notion was supported in a spring 2014 report from the Harvard School of Public Health, which found that nearly 75 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit being served in school cafeterias were ending up in trash cans. The School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 food service workers, which has been vocal in its desire to scale back the current restrictions, used the report to support its argument that the new rules don't work.
And the SNA is pleased with Hoeven's bill. "School nutrition professionals are committed to serving healthy meals, but minor adjustments to the most extreme restrictions under the new rules will help struggling schools bring students back to the cafeteria," School Nutrition Association president Julia Bauscher wrote in a press release in support of the new bill.
But critics have pointed out that helping "struggling schools" is not the sole agenda of the SNA—its sponsors include Domino's Pizza, General Mills Foodservice, PepsiCo Foodservice, and Tyson Foods, Inc.—all of whom contract with school cafeterias and would benefit from less stringent nutritional regulations.
Hoeven, too, is a friend of the food industry: In 2014, the senator received close to $20,000 from NORPAC Foods, Inc. (a frozen and canned foods company), $16,850 from American Crystal Sugar, $11,050 from Cargill, $10,600 from McDonald's Corps, and $10,000 from California Dairies Inc.
What's more, critics note that Hoeven and the SNA's argument about the importance of appealing to students might not hold water: A 2014 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Childhood Obesity found that kids are, in fact, pretty okay with the new healthier standards.
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the biggest challenge to the Affordable Care Act since the court first considered the law's fate in 2012. If the justices side with the Obamacare-hating activists and unlikely plaintiffs behind the latest case, they could nix subsidies for people buying health coverage on federal insurance exchanges. Here's a quick look at the potential impact of that decision:
New details have emerged about the Justice Department's forthcoming report finding patterns of racial discrimination among officials and police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. Among the findings is an email saying that Barack Obama wouldn't last long as president because he's black and data showing that for years, traffic stops, use of force, petty crime charges, and affronts by police canines disproportionately targeted the city's black residents.
Ferguson's black drivers were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be stopped and searched, according to records over two years. Black drivers were also 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of contraband.
According to the police department's internal records concerning force, 88 percent of those cases involved force against blacks. All 14 canine bite incidents involved blacks.
Blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed in municipal court. An arrest warrant was more likely to be issued for blacks.
The Justice Department found that the court uses petty crime charges to pad the city's budget. As of December 2014, 16,000 out of Ferguson's 21,000 residents have outstanding warrants for minor violations, including traffic tickets.
A 2008 message in a municipal email account stated that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years."
Over a six-month period in 2014, 95 percent of inmates who spent more than two days in the Ferguson jail were black.
Petty offenses disproportionately target black citizens. 95 percent of all "Manner of Walking in Roadway" charges were against blacks.
The DOJ's full report is expected as early as Wednesday.