Chart of the Day

Everybody’s posting this chart from Ezra Klein today. I don’t want to be left out:

Budget graphinsurance.png

The title of the post is great, too: “The U.S. Government: An insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army.” The key point is that we’re trying to deal with our entire budgetary problem out of that blue 12.3% part.  That’s nuts, anyways you look at it.  Here’s the crux of Ezra’s smart argument on the matter:

Either way, it’s time to admit that there’s little in the budget that’s truly unpopular. If it was unpopular, it either wouldn’t be there in the first place, or it would’ve been zeroed out when politicians went hunting for offsets to pay for programs that interested them more. Anything that’s survived Congress’s occasional spasms of fiscal responsibility and constant hunger for easy money has some sort of a constituency behind it.

And though cutting non-defense discretionary spending might buy us some time on the deficit, we’re eventually going to have to do as legendary robber Willie Sutton did when he started hitting banks: We’ll have to go where the money is. That means our social insurance programs, and our military. Of this group, Social Security is in the best shape, and is by far the most efficient. It should be last on our list. Not, as it often seems to be, first.

The military remains largely untouched — and that is true in the budgets released by both the Republicans and the Democrats. This is one case where politicians are lagging behind the public: In the Pew poll, military spending was the third-least popular category of spending, even though in Washington, it’s frequently considered politically unassailable. But perhaps we’ll see more action on this soon: A bipartisan group of legislators including Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.) created the Sustainable Defense Task Force to look at ways to reduce our military spending, and the plan they developed could save us a trillion dollars over the next 10 years.

That said, it’s Medicare and Medicaid that pose the largest long-term threat to the budget. They’re big — about 20 percent of the budget right now — but the real problem is the speed with which they’re getting bigger. Left unchecked, they’re projected to double in size over the next 30 years. The health-reform law makes a start on curbing their growth, namely through experiments that encourage paying for quality rather than volume and the creation of an independent board able to imposecost-controlling reforms without getting tied up in Congress. But it’s just a start, and it’s under constant threat of being undone or rolled back. The reality is we need to go further and faster. We’re an insurance company now, and we can’t continue to dither when it comes to righting our core business.

Low hanging fruit

Yeah, it’s low hanging fruit to pick on Bill O’Reilly, but this one is too good:

Last month, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly stepped into instant Internet infamy when, in adebate with American Atheists president David Silverman, O’Reilly attempted to prove the existence of God by citing the mystery of the tides: “I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion. Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.” Only one problem: There’s this thing called the Moon which might have a little to do with tides.

Some very amusing visuals at the site to go along:

Of course, I’m a theist myself, but the idea that the tides somehow prove the existence of God is just laughably ignorant.  So depressing that millions of Americans look to the likes of O’Reilly and Glenn Beck to “educate” (I use the term very loosely) themselves.

How to keep weight off your kids

1) Wait to feed formula-fed babies solid foods.

2) Don’t be a mom working  for long hours.

What?  Both via NPR’s health blog.  On the solid foods, if your baby is bottle fed, you should wait till your baby is at least 4 months.  Interesting, in that this effect did not occur for breast fed babies.

At three years, 75 kids, or 9 percent of the group, were obese. After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that the formula-fed kids who started on solid food by four months were six times more likely to be obese. For kids who got breast milk, there was no difference in obesity tied to when solid foods were introduced.

To put a point on it, 7 percent of breastfed kids were obese 3-year-olds compared with 13 percent of the formula drinkers. About two-thirds of the kids were breastfed. One-third got formula.

It’s becoming clear that what and how much we eat early on in life can have a big influence on weight later on. Or, as an editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, put it a few years back:

[M]ounting evidence suggests that the first few months of life are critical for the development of obesity, an inference that raises a number of research imperatives.

As for the working moms:

Researchers have found a link between the total amount of time mothers have worked in their child’s lifetime and an increase in that child’s body mass index, or BMI. Other factors — including the amount of TV the kids watched or the time of day moms worked — didn’t explain the link.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47 percent of moms were in the labor force in 1975. By 2008, that number rose to 71 percent.

So does that mean Mom should stay at home and not work? Not at all, says Taryn Morrissey, a developmental psychologist at American University and lead author of the study appearing in the journal Child Development.

For one thing, the difference was small, Morrissey says. For every five months or so a mother was employed while her child was growing up, a kid of average height would gain about a pound more than otherwise expected.

Why?  Here’s one explanation:

Morrissey suggests that nutrition may play a role in the disparities. If families are pressed for time in general, Morrissey says, they probably have a hard time getting to the grocery store.

“Families in which most parents work tend to spend a lower proportion of their food budget on fruits and vegetables and spend a higher proportion on fast food and eating out, which we know has more calories,” Morrissey says.

At this point, we’ve got to work just to get enough calories into Evan and David (Alex would eat all day if we let him, but he also seems to burn off a ton of calories with nervous energy).  Anyway, more interesting evidence about how early childhood environment has life-long consequences.

No real conservatives

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, but when it comes to government spending, actual conservatives are very few and far between.  Sure, they are all for cutting government spending, but mostly on those items that represent a very small portion of the budget, e.g., environmental protection, international aid.  The will to cut the budget items that actually drive our deficit just isn’t there.  Here’s a nice graph of a a recent Pew poll from Ezra:

pewpollspending.jpg

And, its not just Democrats driving these results.  Ezra again:

And this comes alongside a new Pew poll (pdf) showing that the only category of federal spending that a majority of Republicans support cutting is foreign aid. On everything from Social Security to education to crime prevention to scientific research, more spending is preferred.

Just the other day, I was telling my class that if Americans had more of a clue on things, maybe public opinion would look quite different.  I’d argue that when it comes to government spending, that’s doubly true for Republicans.

Quotes of the day

Big Steve manages to pull off two of them in a single post about credit-claiming in the US for democracy in Egypt:

The Bush folks are taking credit, saying that Iraq set the stage.  Um, just like an arsonist might take credit for new development after he burned down a city block, I guess.

And quote #2:

The big difference between the Bush-style and the Clinton/Obama style [of democracy promotion] is that the former requires invasion and poor planning, whereas the latter involves diplomacy, public and private pressure, and some patience

The whole post is brief and good stuff.

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