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The federal government's online marketplace for Obamacare policies, HealthCare.gov, is shown on Dec. 15, 2017.
The federal government's online marketplace for Obamacare policies, HealthCare.gov, is shown on Dec. 15, 2017. (Jon Elswick / Associated Press)

In baseball, the winning pitcher is the one who was on the mound just before his team took the lead for good — regardless of how well he pitched. So a reliever who gets hammered, turning a three-run lead into a two-run deficit, nevertheless will get credit for the win if his teammates retake the lead the next time they’re at bat.

Keep that in mind whenever President Trump talks (or writes) about health insurance premiums for Obamacare policies, which are sold to people not covered by a large employer’s group plan.

The administration announced Thursday that the average premium for the “benchmark” Obamacare plan — the second-lowest-cost plan that covers 80% of the customer’s expected medical costs — will drop 1.5% in 2019 in the 27 states where the federal government operates the marketplaces (called exchanges) for Obamacare policies. That’s the first decrease since the program’s inception in 2014. Nationwide, analysts at Avalere Health project that average premiums will go up a little more than 3% — a far smaller increase than previously seen.

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  • Trump
  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
  • The Swamp
Maybe we could get somewhere if we started naming good policies after President Trump and bad ones after Barack Obama.
Maybe we could get somewhere if we started naming good policies after President Trump and bad ones after Barack Obama. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

My colleague Jon Healey had a good overview Wednesday on the tricky road ahead for a national carbon tax. The short version: Republicans won’t support anything with the word “tax” attached to it.

And President Trump likely won’t like a carbon tax, either, unless the proceeds flow up to his fellow one-percenters.

But the world knows Trump does like a couple of things: using his name as a brand, and having his ego stroked.

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  • Opinion
  • Rule of Law
Gay rights activist Gareth Lee stands outside the British Supreme Court in London on Wednesday.
Gay rights activist Gareth Lee stands outside the British Supreme Court in London on Wednesday. (Victoria Jones / Associated Press)

Remember the “gay wedding cake” case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year? 

Officially known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case involved Jack Phillips, a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to “create” a cake for the wedding celebration of a gay couple and found himself the target of a complaint that he had engaged in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

By a 7-2 vote, the court ruled in favor of  Phillips. But the justices punted on what seemed for a while to be the key issue in the case: whether requiring Phillips to bake a cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins would have forced him to engage in “compelled speech” in violation of the 1st Amendment.

  • Opinion
  • We're All Doomed
Gas prices are displayed at an Exxon gas station in Woodbridge, Va., on Jan. 5, 2016.
Gas prices are displayed at an Exxon gas station in Woodbridge, Va., on Jan. 5, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The carbon tax proposal that Exxon Mobil is backing is the only one that has a prayer of becoming a reality in the United States. I’m not saying it’s likely to be enacted anytime soon, I’m just saying it’s a tax increase designed with some political savvy.

On Monday the giant oil and gas company announced that it would contribute $1 million over the next two years to Americans for Carbon Dividends, a nonprofit group lobbying for a gradually rising federal tax on carbon. That  tax revenue would be returned to the public in the form of monthly checks. The group is led by two former U.S. senators, Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.), known for their friendliness to the energy industry, and its plan was written by two luminaries from previous Republican administrations, James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz.

The main argument in favor of carbon taxes is that increasing the price of carbon would provide a powerful incentive for people to use less fossil fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, it harnesses market forces to combat climate change, rather than imposing regulations to dictate reductions in carbon use.

  • Opinion
  • The Golden State
  • Election 2018
Republican candidate John Cox speaks during a California gubernatorial debate with Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom on Monday.
Republican candidate John Cox speaks during a California gubernatorial debate with Democratic candidate Gavin Newsom on Monday. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

It’s no surprise that California’s insanely high housing costs were the first topic that gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom and John Cox tackled during their one and only debate Monday.

What is surprising – and frustrating – is that Cox actually has expertise in the real estate development business and should be able to offer some practical ideas for lowering the cost of new construction. Instead, his answers to questions about the state’s housing affordability crisis were vague pronouncements rather than substantive plans.

“I build apartments for a living,” Cox said during the debate. Cox is president of Equity Property Management, which has developed and manages apartment buildings in the Midwest; his opponent, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, has a long track record in public office. That gives Cox a pretty good vantage point to critique California’s home building regulations.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) smiles during a ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the White House Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) smiles during a ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh at the White House Monday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

As Republicans bask in the glow of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, right-of-center pundits are coalescing around the view that Kavanaugh rescued his nomination by, as Matt Damon put it on “Saturday Night Live,” starting at an 11 and taking it to about a 15 real quick. The point was to cast Kavanaugh as a victim too — and someone who would forcefully defend his integrity.

I don’t buy that.

Another bit of conventional wisdom emerging from the right is that Democrats were their own worst enemies in the Kavanaugh fight, and they’re only hurting themselves more now.

  • Trump
  • Opinion
First Lady Melania Trump visits Egypt's Giza pyramids on Saturday, Oct. 6.
First Lady Melania Trump visits Egypt's Giza pyramids on Saturday, Oct. 6. (Saul Loeb/ AFP)

“I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear,” Melania Trump told a gaggle of reporters on Saturday, who had gathered in Giza, Egypt, to chronicle her blitz through Africa.

What she’d worn the day before, and what she was referring to, was a pith helmet. Whether planting trees in pale pink stiletto heels, sporting her infamous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” Zara jacket to visit children separated from their parents at the border, or tooling around in a 19th century colonial administrator hat, Melania’s sartorial choices have been terribly memorable.

Can’t a woman vogue around the pyramids in a linen suit without being personally victimized by the sexist media?

  • Opinion
  • Election 2018
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I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting! 🗳😃🌈

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Pop megastar Taylor Swift disrupted the space-time continuum over the weekend by endorsing a Democrat in the race for an open seat on the U.S. Senate in her home state of Tennessee.

This was viewed in some circles as cataclysmic (and in others as overdue) because, like so many contemporary pop hit makers, Swift has kept silent on many of the burning issues of our day. That may be a smart way to hold onto a fan base that crosses geographic ideological lines (although it skews young and female); the oft-cited cautionary tale here is that of the Dixie Chicks, whose criticism of President George W. Bush led many country radio stations to drop them while they were hot. But it also feeds the “shut up and play” mentality toward celebrities — whether it be music, sports or entertainment — that denies them the right to be actual humans with opinions that might just conflict with their fans’ view of the world.

But I digress. What struck me about Swift weighing in was that it wasn’t an endorsement of Democrat Phil Bredesen — a guy with a substantial track record, having served eight years as the state’s governor. Instead, it was a repudiation of Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, one of the music industry’s biggest and most reliable allies in Congress.

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A polar bear walks in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a habitat at dire risk from global warming.
A polar bear walks in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a habitat at dire risk from global warming. (Subhankar Banerjee / Associated Press)

The warning couldn’t be any more clear and direct: Without near-immediate action, the world will fail to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a new and highly anticipated report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the chances of the human race actually coming together to address the problem are not very good, the report says.

The result: A radically different environment, with rising seas, species disappearing, food chains in chaos and human migration and competition for resources leading to political instability. The poorest nations and the lowest-lying countries will suffer the most, but there will be plenty of impact to go around from bigger swings in extreme weather (more and stronger hurricanes), more extreme drought and more extreme flooding, depending on where people live.

The temperature rise can be combatted, if political and industry leaders show the will. The IPCC says the rise can be capped at 1.5 C (less than 3 degrees in Fahrenheit) if  global carbon pollution is cut 45% before 2030 (in 12 years), and reaches zero emissions by 2050. As the Guardian reports, “This would require carbon prices that are three to four times higher than for a 2 C target (set in the 2015 Paris agreement). But the costs of doing nothing would be far higher.”

Hell — its contours, qualities and contested existence — is an enduring source of fascination for many of us mortals. Saint Augustine, the fourth-century bishop and philosopher, wrote that “hell, which is also called a lake of fire and brimstone, will be material fire.” A thousand years later, poet Dante Alighieri wrote the Inferno, in which his narrator travels through nine concentric circles of Hell. In this depiction, however, it grows ever colder as they approach the core, where they find Satan trapped in a block of ice up to his waist. Several centuries after that, Robert Frost considered both fire and ice as a means of torture; “either would suffice,” he concluded. (The Bible, for its part, suggests neither.)