START HERE for the quite wonderful story of landing on a comet.. And when you get there, click PREV to continue (in reverse chronological order) seeing xkcd’s live comicking of the Philae lander’s arrival on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-P for short).
For background on the European Space Agency’s 20-year Rosetta mission to land on a comet, see previous posts at On Science Blogs here and also here. Several bloggers have been regularly updating this week’s actual landing, although as I write things have gotten a bit sticky. First, the horse’s mouth: ESA’s Rosetta blog.
John Timmer at Ars Technica on Philae’s post-landing state–exact locale uncertain, and in shadow, with perhaps not enough solar power to keep its battery going beyond 60 hours. Here’s the Ars Technica home page, which will have the latest.
At io9, George Dvorsky has details about how the uncertain landing spot will complicate Philae’s mission. It’s still sending good data to Rosetta from its onboard instruments, but it’s not clear if it will be able to do chemical analyses of the surface as planned.
At ScienceInsider, Eric Hand is updating and live blogging from Rosetta mission control in Germany. Jacob Aron has been doing that too, and Creativist is carrying his New Scientist posts and stories, open access. Of course Phil Plait is writing updates at Bad Astronomy.
VOX is selecting photos for magnificent display, nothing like the tiny snippets posted here. Here’s Day 1. And here’s Day 2. Caleb Scharf at Life, Unbounded explains why the Rosetta mission is time travel back 4.57 billion years.
Dan Satterfield, who blogs at the American Geophysical Union, loved Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC explanation of why Philae’s landing was so scary. EarthSky is one of the places where you can hear Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s “song.”
The snafus are a bit of a downer, to be sure. Still, what with the Middle East, and Ukraine, and the economic picture, and the election, and glaciers melting, and the future of health insurance (see below) etc., etc., etc., it’s cheering to be reminded, as Josh Witten observed at The Finch and the Pea, “No matter what else we might be, we are a species that landed a robot on a comet about 500 million kilometers away for the purpose of scientific exploration. Not too shabby.”
The fate of Obamacare
Also at Vox, Joseph Sternberg notes that the Rosetta mission has cost 1.4 billion euros ($1.74 billion). He finds that cost, spread over a couple of decades, compares favorably with a number of other expensive recent projects. For example, it’s about 47 percent of what was spent on the 2014 US midterm elections ($3.67 billion).
Which brings us to the terrifyingly uncertain topic of Obamacare (aka ACA).
First, the guesses about what the new Republican majorities in both houses of Congress will do, or try to do. At Covering Health, the blog at the Association of Health Care Journalists, Joanne Kenen says there will be attempts at repeal, but they will fail. The House will vote overwhelmingly for repeal, but even with the new Republican majority in the Senate, there won’t be enough votes there–60 are needed–to overcome a filibuster. And in any case, Obama would veto a repeal.
But certain features of Obamacare might be voted away. For example, the medical device tax, which helps fund patient subsidies. The Republicans might also try to repeal the employer mandate requiring that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees offer affordable health insurance coverage. Kenen mentions other possibilities too, and includes links explaining the possible consequences.
She points out that at this stage no one knows whether the Republicans will be merely confrontational or whether some changes to the law that Obama might accept could be negotiated.
Enter the Supreme Court
Another possibility is that Congress will wait to see what the Supreme Court does, a ruling that is expected in June.
And the Supreme Court is where the real terror lies. A week ago, at least four of the Justices unexpectedly agreed to hear a weird challenge to the ACA. If they rule in favor of the challengers, the decision would possibly, or maybe probably, destroy Obamacare. That’s because it would kill off most of the federal subsidies that make it possible for poorer people to buy health insurance.
The argument in the case, usually called King v. Burwell but sometimes referred to as Halbig, is a bit technical and intricate. It’s based on sloppy wording in the ACA law that makes it possible to say–although not with an entirely straight face–that only people who buy insurance through the few state insurance exchanges, not the numerous federal insurance exchanges, are entitled to apply for those subsidies.
That would mean only people who bought insurance in the 15 states that established their own exchanges could qualify for subsidies. Such a ruling would immediately snatch away the subsidies that have made it possible for 5 million previously uninsured people to buy health insurance.
Even though it’s completely clear that Congress always intended subsidies to be available to everybody everywhere.
Even though the Internal Revenue Service has issued a regulation declaring that anyone who bought insurance through either state or federal exchanges is eligible.
The politics of destroying Obamacare
In a series of tweets amounting to a Twitter Essay, Grist’s David Roberts observes: “The Halbig argument, in my mind, marks the point at which the right finally & completely embraced postmodernism. . . It’s like pointing to an apple and saying, “this is an orange.” It takes practice to train your mind to be able to do it. . . Halbig is endpoint of that process: arguing that a law says something that literally everyone involved knows it doesn’t.. . . In this way every dispute, even over matters of fact, becomes a contest of power — loudest, best funded, most persistent voices win.”
Grist has reprinted the entire essay. A stunning political analysis, highly recommended.
Under the headline Obamacare Is Doomed! Everybody Panic!, at Slate Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick consider the Court’s decision to take case and conclude that it is not inevitable that the justices will rule against the ACA. At a Stanford Law School blog, Hank Greely agrees that panic is not the correct response. He recommends “concern and righteous anger.” But he’s not hopeful about the outcome for the ACA.
I gotta say that it’s hard to cling to any shred of hope that Obamacare will survive after Linda Greenhouse’s demoralizing take at the New York Times. I’ve been reading Greenhouse on the Supremes for decades, and I’ve never known her to say things like this:
“This is a naked power grab by conservative justices who two years ago just missed killing the Affordable Care Act in its cradle, before it fully took effect.”
And this, “There is simply no way to describe what the court did last Friday as a neutral act.”
And this, “It bears repeating that what’s at stake is whether the Affordable Care Act can continue on its successful trajectory or whether it will collapse into the “death spiral” it was structured to avoid.”
And, finally, “[The case's] arrival on the Supreme Court’s docket is also profoundly depressing. In decades of court-watching, I have struggled — sometimes it has seemed against all odds — to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week, I’ve found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender.”