How we think about poor people

Great post from Thomas Mills.  I think a huge difference between Republicans and Democrats really comes down to our basic conception of what it means to be poor.  Obviously, it is a combination of individual choice and societal circumstance, but Republicans put far more emphasis on the former, the Democrats on the latter.  Personally, I would say Democrats allow for individual choice to play a role more than Republicans allow for societal context, but that’s an empirical question to be settled.  Anyway…

Back in the early 1990s, I went to work as a human resource director for an aluminum die cast company. The company had moved to rural North Carolina from the Midwest because of low wages, low taxes and no unions…

On dispute after dispute, I found myself siding with employees rather than management. 

I believed in the carpal tunnel syndrome that management denied existed. I thought the guy who got his hand permanently disfigured should continue to get workers’ compensation despite the company’s claim that he had received job training and now should be on his own. And when employees walked out after management insisted on leaving garage sized-doors open despite temperatures in the low 20s, I explained that they were not on a “wildcat strike,” as management contended, but that their mamas had taught them a long time ago to have enough sense to shut the door and come in from the cold. 

Needless to say, I didn’t last long. After six months, I quit. In my exit interview, my supervisor, who was gruff but basically a good guy, told me, “You’re just so naive. These people will get away with as much as they can while doing as little work as possible.”

And that, I believe, is a common Republican world view. They think the majority of poor people and working folks aren’t trying to get ahead in life; they are trying to get over on the system. [emphasis mine]…

Like my former bosses, Republicans are probably thinking “What a bunch of naive liberal bunk.” And that’s the difference in the Democrats who ran the state and the Republicans who control it now. 

Nobody ever considered Marc Basnight, Tony Rand or Jim Hunt anti-business. But those Democrats also weren’t anti-poor. They understood that poverty was often caused by circumstances beyond people’s control and they also believed that government had a role in alleviating the impact of hardship on families. Most importantly, though, they believed that children were victims of poverty, not causes of it, and that education and support, from early childhood through college, offered the children of poverty the chance to escape it. 

As long as we have leaders who see our poorest citizens as burdens and grifters, we’re doomed to make poverty harsher and ensure a permanent underclass. The free market may be the vehicle to create jobs, but it does little to soften the blow of poverty. To create the type of society I believe in, we need to do both. [emphasis mine]

Amen.

Who wants to lower the drinking age?

So, this was a little different in my daily Gallup email.  They looked at support for lowering the drinking age to 18.  It’s held pretty stable at roughly 75% favoring the current age of 21 for the past decade.  What was most interesting was how this breaks down by various groups.  I actually found the lack of variation to be the most interesting part.  For the most part, these are not large gaps:

Favor or Oppose Lowering Drinking Age to 18, by Subgroup

Interestingly, about the biggest gap there is between any clearly opposed groups is the liberal-conservative gap.  The conservatives and weekly church attenders sure do like their 21 drinking age.  The gender gap os 6 points is fairly small.

For me, I hate the moralism that lies behind support for the current drinking age.  Not to mention, it seems crazy to me that you can buy an assault weapon, legally die for your country, buy a house, etc., but not a beer.  That said, given what we know about brain development, I think there’s a decent case to be made for postponing the judgement impairment effects of alcohol until the brain’s judgment centers have developed a little more.

Obamacare has helped nobody! 

Or so believes a striking majority of Republicans.  Via Greg Sargent:

With the political world still pondering what yesterday’s court rulings mean for the future of Obamacare, CNN has published a fascinating new poll that asks a question I haven’t seen before. It asks whether the law has personally helped respondents, but then follows up and asks whether respondents think the law has helped others.

And guess what: A huge majority of Republicans and conservatives don’t think the law has helped anybody in this country…

Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn’t helped anyone…

Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare can’t be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.

Ummm, wow.  Again, I wonder what the response would be with a follow up question of “really?” but Sargent is certainly right that it demonstrates Republicans in a separate universe (I hesitate to call it an intellectual universe :-) ) on this.  Alternatively, many of the big beneficiaries are poor people, so maybe they are just nobody.

Race and criminal injustice

So, I listened to this slightly old Gist podcast this morning.  Sure, I know about the role of race and social class in our criminal justice system, but it still remains bracing and distressing to hear first-hand accounts of the institutional racism.  Then I watched this (again, terrific) John Oliver segment on our prison system.  Such an indictment.  Middle-class white people doing drugs?  No problem.  Black people?  Prison for you.  And so much more.  If you care about criminal justice in America, you really owe it to yourself to watch:

Then I (finally) read from a conservative taking our criminal justice system to task.  Nice to see from somebody who writes for the National Review, rather than just a libertarian, like Balko:

Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.

No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.

I’m talking about the police.

We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.

Yep.  And again a litany of horrible police misconduct that all too often is barely punished.  I am ashamed to admit I had not heard of the case of Eric Garner in New York City.  The police killed him by choking him and sitting on him while he cried out “I can’t breathe.”   The above piece links to the horribly disturbing video.  His offense?  Allegedly selling cigarettes on the street.  More here from the NYT Editorial:

Mr. de Blasio and the police commissioner, William Bratton, say there will be a thorough investigation into Mr. Garner’s death. The undercover officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had to surrender his badge and gun; another officer was put on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were placed on modified duty. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, meanwhile,has promised to re-examine the last five years of chokehold complaints. The board received 1,022 such complaints since 2009 and substantiated nine of them, recommending administrative trials for the credibly accused officers. But, in all but one of those cases, they received the lightest sanctions or no punishment at all. This is not reassuring.

It should go without saying that neighborhoods should feel protected by law enforcement, and that officers should be expert at defusing conflicts and avoiding lethal violence.

And lastly, you should really take some time and read this fabulous Sarah Stillman piece on the criminal justice system’s war on poor people.  Truly disgusting and depressing.

Photo of the day

Apparently they have raised the wreck of the Costa Concordia.  Fascinating In Focus gallery:

The upright — but still partially submerged — Costa Concordia, near the harbor of Giglio Porto, on September 17, 2013. The ship’s horn sounded for the first time since the January 13, 2012 tragedy, its sound mixing with applause and cheers in the port in a dramatic climax to the massive salvage operation. (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Extreme Conservative judicial activism

Just wow.  It is hard to imagine a more extreme case of judicial activism than what came out of the DC Circuit Court yesterday.  In the Halibig case, two Republican-appointed judges basically argued that the ACA intentionally included the seeds of its own destruction.  And chose to argue this rather than the lights-years far more obvious interpretation that there was simply a drafting error.  Whatever the opposite of Occam’s Razor is, this is it.  The dissent on the 2-1 decision, which Drum quotes extensively from here, completely eviscerates the majority opinion

Their conclusion is that Congress deliberately withheld subsidies from federal exchanges as an incentive for states to set up exchanges of their own. On this point, Judge Harry Edwards was scathing in his dissent:

Perhaps because they appreciate that no legitimate method of statutory interpretation ascribes to Congress the aim of tearing down the very thing it attempted to construct, Appellants in this litigation have invented a narrative to explain why Congress would want health insurance markets to fail in States that did not elect to create their own Exchanges. Congress, they assert, made the subsidies conditional in order to incentivize the States to create their own exchanges. This argument is disingenuous, and it is wrong. Not only is there no evidence that anyone in Congress thought § 36B operated as a condition, there is also no evidence that any State thought of it as such. And no wonder: The statutory provision presumes the existence of subsidies and was drafted to establish a formula for the payment of tax credits, not to impose a significant and substantial condition on the States. [emphases are Drum's]

It makes little sense to think that Congress would have imposed so substantial a condition in such an oblique and circuitous manner….The simple truth is that Appellants’ incentive story is a fiction, post hoc narrative concocted to provide a colorable explanation for the otherwise risible notion that Congress would have wanted insurance markets to collapse in States that elected not to create their own Exchanges.

There’s no evidence that Congress ever thought it needed to provide incentives for states to set up their own exchanges. Certainly they could have made that clear if that had been their intention. As Edwards says, this claim is simply made up of whole cloth. In fact, he says acerbically, the entire suit is little more than a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “:

Don’t worry, though, writes Ezra, no way the SC is going to go along with this:

The Halbig case could destroy Obamacare. But it won’t. The Supreme Court simply isn’t going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people in order to teach Congress a lesson about grammar…

This is plainly ridiculous. The point of Obamacare is to subsidize insurance for those who can’t afford it. The point of the federal exchanges is to make sure the law works even in states that can’t or won’t set up an exchange.

For Congress to write a law that provides for federal exchanges but doesn’t permit money to flow through them would have been like Congress writing a transportation law that builds federal highways but doesn’t allow cars, bikes or buses to travel on them…

For Halbig to unwind Obamacare the Supreme Court would ultimately have to rule in the plaintiff’s favor. And they’re not going to do that. By the time SCOTUS even could rule on Halbig the law will have been in place for years. The Court simply isn’t going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people due to an uncharitable interpretation of congressional grammar.

For five unelected, Republican-appointed judges to cause that much disruption and pain would put the Court at the center of national politics in 2015 and beyond. It would be a disaster for the institution. Imagine when the first articles come out recounting the story of someone who lost their insurance due to the SCOTUS ruling and then died because they couldn’t afford their diabetes or cancer treatment. Imagine when every single Democrat who had any hand at all in authoring the law says the Court is completely wrong about what the law meant. Imagine when every single Democrat runs against the Court.

Similar “don’t worry” take from Emily Bazelon.  This case is going to the full DC Circuit, where most seem confident wiser (and Democratic-appointed) heads will prevail.  Bazelon also nicely takes to task the textualism approach of the majority opinion:

Please. This is not about deferring to Congress. It’s about reading a text so myopically that you miss its larger meaning. More from Gluck: It “does a disservice to textualism and all those who have defended it over the years—turning it into a wooden unreasonable formalism rather than the sophisticated statutory analysis that textualists have been claiming they are all about.” The IRS lets people get subsidies when they sign up for health insurance, whatever the type of exchange, because this is what federal agencies are supposed to do: Choose the most plausible reading of a law, the one that fits with the consensus understanding of it. That’s how regulations are made. And once an agency has made its choice, courts are supposed to go along, unless it’s clear that the agency really blew it. Which is hardly true of granting subsidies to people who sign up for health insurance—the basic mechanism of Obamacare.

And, finally, Drum makes the point that in the event this truly absurd argument somehow gets five votes from the Supreme Court, the politics for conservatives become really, really tough.  It’s one thing to prevent a benefit from coming into being.  It’s quite another to yank the health insurance away from literally millions of Americans.  Those stories of the 40-year mom of four who can no longer get her chemotherapy will be politically devastating:

So what’s the political reaction? The key point here is that people respond much more strongly tolosing things than they do to not getting them in the first place. For example, there are lots of poor people in red states who currently aren’t receiving Medicaid benefits thanks to their states’ refusal to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. This hasn’t caused a revolt because nothing was taken away. They just never got Medicaid in the first place.

The subsidies would be a different story. You’d have roughly 6 million people who would suddenly lose a benefit that they’ve come to value highly. This would cause a huge backlash. It’s hard to say if this would be enough to move Congress to action, but I think this is nonetheless the basic lay of the land. Obamacare wouldn’t be destroyed, it would merely be taken away from a lot of people who are currently benefiting from it. They’d fight to get it back, and that changes the political calculus.

And I’m going to close this long post by just lamenting on how truly sad I find it that two judges on the second most important in the country can write an opinion of such pathetic intellectual merit and such transparent partisanship that it takes not a law degree, but simply a high school education to see through it.  This makes Bush v. Gore look like a magisterial legal decision.

How much sleep is best?

So, we’ve been hearing for years about how 8 hours of sleep (or maybe 7-9) is best.  Now, a lot of researchers are actually arguing that about 7 is truly optimal and that it goes downhill from there.  WSJ:

Several sleep studies have found that seven hours is the optimal amount of sleep—not eight, as was long believed—when it comes to certain cognitive and health markers, although many doctors question that conclusion.

Other recent research has shown that skimping on a full night’s sleep, even by 20 minutes, impairs performance and memory the next day. And getting too much sleep—not just too little of it—is associated with health problems including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease and with higher rates of death, studies show.

“The lowest mortality and morbidity is with seven hours,” said Shawn Youngstedt, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University Phoenix. “Eight hours or more has consistently been shown to be hazardous,” says Dr. Youngstedt, who researches the effects of oversleeping…

Getting the right amount of sleep is important in being alert the next day, and several recent studies have found an association between getting seven hours of sleep and optimal cognitive performance.

study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience last year used data from users of the cognitive-training website Lumosity. Researchers looked at the self-reported sleeping habits of about 160,000 users who took spatial-memory and matching tests and about 127,000 users who took an arithmetic test. They found that cognitive performance increased as people got more sleep, reaching a peak at seven hours before starting to decline.

After seven hours, “increasing sleep was not any more beneficial,” said Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham…

Now, here’s the part I simply don’t buy…

Experts say people should be able to figure out their optimal amount of sleep in a trial of three days to a week, ideally while on vacation. Don’t use an alarm clock. Go to sleep when you get tired. Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol. And stay off electronic devices a couple of hours before going to bed. During the trial, track your sleep with a diary or a device that records your actual sleep time. If you feel refreshed and awake during the day, you’ve probably discovered your optimal sleep time.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices, I never wake up after only 7 hours feeling nicely refreshed.  It is always 8+ if not 9.  And anecdotally, I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in that.  That said, I used to always aim for 8, but after Sarah was born I found I was seemingly getting by just fine with 7, so that’s been my minimum goal ever since.  Maybe my cognitive performance suffers on those days I get to sleep in, but it sure feels good (and heck, I’ve got some cognitive performance to spare :-) ).

Meanwhile, Wired writes about “sleep drunkenness”

Oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. But, unlike the brute force neurological damage caused by alcohol, your misguided attempt to stock up on rest makes you feel sluggish by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle…

When you sleep too much, you’re throwing off that biological clock, and it starts telling the cells a different story than what they’re actually experiencing, inducing a sense of fatigue. You might be crawling out of bed at 11am, but your cells started using their energy cycle at seven. This is similar to how jet lag works

If everything’s just fine with your sleep zone but you still can’t get under the eight hour mark, you might need to go see a doctor. It could be a symptom of narcolepsy, which makes it hard for your body to regulate fatigue and makes you sleep in more.

Oh, give me a break.  Now they want people who sleep 8.5 hours a night to actually go their doctor over the issue?!  Just not buying it.

And, while I’m at it, I’m going to combine what was going to be a separate post about kids and sleep.  Basically, we need to have our children appreciate the value of sleep:

We tell children why it’s important to eat their vegetables. We tell them why they need to get outside and run around. But how often do we parents tell children why it’s important to sleep? “Time for bed!” is usually the end of it, or maybe “You’ll be tired tomorrow.” No wonder children regard sleep as vaguely punitive, an enforced period of dull isolation in a darkened room. But of course sleep is so much more, and maybe we ought to try telling children that…

There is evidence that educating children about the importance of sleep leads them to sleep more. Two studies conducted with seventh graders, for example, found that after participating in a “sleep smart” program, they went to bed earlier and slept longer on weeknights.

I was particularly intrigued by this because of what I’ve seen in my oldest son.  Years ago I told him about the research finding that chronically sleeping too little can impact the cognitive performance of children by as much as two grade levels.  I told him that not enough sleep might cause his 5th grade brain to function like that of a 3rd grader.  Damn, we he sold on it.  I never have to tell him to go to bed earlier.   In fact, on occasion I have to convince him that it is okay to stay up late on occasion for special events.  I love the degree that he has internalized the importance of good sleep.  I guess now I just have to worry about him wanting more than 7 hours when he is an adult :-).

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