Breasts versus puberty

It’s reading articles like this terrific NYT Magazine piece on the seeming increase of early puberty in girls that used to make me glad to be a father of just boys.   Not easy for the girl and not easy for her parents when she starts developing as young as 6.  The article traces the various difficulties involved and how the medical establishment is struggling to understand what’s going on.  Toward the end, we learn what’s really disturbing: puberty (as officially defined by onset of menstruation) is only getting a little bit earlier, rather it is the growth of breasts that just keeps getting earlier.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, though it’s definitely worth it, there’s a nice summary in the Motherlode blog:

researchers at three big institutions — Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York — published [a] study in Pediatrics, finding that by age 7, 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls and 2 percent of Asian girls had started developing breasts.”

But that earlier average age  for breast development hasn’t been accompanied by a similarly early age of first menarche (the arrival of a girl’s first period). It’s remained nearly constant since the 1970s, only dropping from 12.8 to 12.5 years. The broad question of why has researchers confused, and the individual question — why one particular 7-year-old rather than another begins to develop breasts at an early age — has the doctors that the girls and their families consult just as mystified. “We can tell you what is happening but we can’t tell you why or what, if anything, to do about it,” Paul Kaplowitz, chief of endocrinology at Children’s National Medical Center, admitted to Ms. Weil.

What’s so disturbing about that is that it suggests that the chemical signals to start breast growth are not coming from within a girls own body (as they are obviously supposed to), but from chemicals in the external environment.  There’s just no way that’s a good thing.  And, of course, doctors and scientists aren’t quite sure the source of the hormonal mimics that are causing the early breast growth.  So, sure, as a parent you don’t want your daughter to face additional social/psychological challenges that may come from early breast growth, but it’s even worse to realize that a possible cause is unnatural exposure to chemicals in the environment.

Photo of the day

From a NYT slideshow on a new museum exhibition on bioluminescent life:

Credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Limiting Principle

Conservative Justices this week kept insisting that unless there was a “Limiting principle” by which we could distinguish how the government could force you to buy health insurance, but no force you to broccoli, than clearly the individual mandate is unconstitutional.   Jon Chait has a really nice piece summarizing many people on the nuttiness of this.   You should read it.  What I’m going to post here, though, is legal scholar par excellence Jack Balkin’s first of three options on the matter:

Hey kids? Are you down in the dumps after Tuesday’s oral argument? Do you want a limiting principle that justifies the individual mandate but doesn’t give Congress unlimited power under the Commerce Clause? Fine. Here are three of them. Pick your favorite.

1. The Moral Hazard/Adverse Selection Principle. Congress can regulate activities that substantially affect commerce. Under the necesary and proper clause, Congress can require people to engage in commerce when necessary to prevent problems of moral hazard or adverse selection created by its regulation of commerce. But if there is no problem of moral hazard or adverse selection, Congress cannot compel commerce.  Courts can choose different standards of review to decide how much they want to defer to Congress’s conclusion. Even under the strictest standard of review the individual mandate passes muster.

Explanation:  The guaranteed issue and community rating rules prevent insurers from discriminating against uninsured people because of preexisting conditions.  These rules create a moral hazard: people will wait until they get sick to buy insurance. (this might be better described as an adverse selection problem)  Congress can require them to buy insurance early to prevent gaming the system. (Actually, it exacerbates an already existing problem in all health insurance, because insureds know more about their health condition than insurers).

Why not broccoli? There is no moral hazard or adverse selection problem created when people refuse to buy broccoli. It’s true that buying and eating broccoli might make you healthier, but people don’t wait until they are sick to buy broccoli. That’s because broccoli is not going to do them much good at that point. In this sense, broccoli doesn’t work like health insurance.

Why not cars? Under this principle, Congress can’t make everyone buy a car in order to help the auto industry. There is no moral hazard or adverse selection problem that Congress is responding to that is caused by people strategically waiting to buy cars. Note, by the way, that if fewer people buy cars, the price of cars might go down, not up, as Justice Scalia thought.

The others two are entirely sensible and logical as well.  If the conservative justices want a limiting principle, it is really not hard.  Being forced to buy health insurance is  dramatically different in so many ways from being forced to buy broccoli.   Seems to me, that Kennedy aside (that’s unclear) they very much don’t want a limiting principle so they can simply get rid of a law that they don’t like.  That’s most certainly not what the Court is there for.


Democracy is generally a good thing.  Direct democracy, not so much.   You know, if a majority of NC likely voters actually opposed gay marriage and civil unions and then voted to Consitutionally ban both, I would think that this is just dumb policy and discriminatory, but hey, I could deal.  What drives me crazy, though, is that a majority of NC likely voters oppose gay marriage but not civil unions, but they appear likely to nonetheless pass an amendment that bans both.   Mark Binker (with Laura Leslie’s photo– they really should do something about that) posts the latest PPP results:

PPP found:

Although our poll finds support for the amendment, it also finds that 51% of voters in the state support some form of legal recognition for gay couples- 26% for marriage and 25% for civil unions- with only 45% completely opposed to any  [emphasis mine]. It may seem inconsistent that a majority supports either gay marriage or civil unions but also supports the amendment that would ban both of them. But what we find is that voters don’t actually know what it does:[emphasis mine]

— Only 31% of voters correctly identify that Amendment 1 bans both gay marriage and civil unions.

— 28% think that it only bans gay marriage.

— 7% think that it actually legalizes gay marriage.

— 34% admit that they don’t know exactly what the amendment does.

So, again, just to be clear… the majority of NC voters appears set to approve an amendment the majority of NC voters disagree with.  Argh indeed.

When is budget hawk not a budget hawk

I’m just going to borrow this lock, stock, and barrel from Kevin Drum:

Paul Ryan is a budget hawk’s budget hawk, never one to believe a government bureaucrat who self-servingly claims that a spending cut will cause real damage to his program and the people it benefits. But there are exceptions:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) expressed skepticism Thursday that U.S. military leaders were being honest in their budget requests to Congress. “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan said during a forum on the budget sponsored by the National Journal. “We don’t think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget.”

“You don’t believe the generals?” [managing editor Kristin] Roberts asked.

“What I believe is this budget does hollow out defense,” Ryan responded….”I think there’s a lot of budget smoke and mirrors in the Pentagon’s budget,” Ryan added, saying his proposal was an “honest Pentagon budget.”

Just to be absolutely clear here: if we’re talking about a program that helps the poor or the elderly or the sick, Ryan is eager to cut spending. In fact, he’s usually eager to be the biggest budget cutter in the room. But if it’s a program for the military, he won’t accept spending cutseven if the military brass supports them. In fact, he insists on raising their budget.

For some reason, this is known in mainstream circles as being a “deficit hawk.”

The fact that he is treated as such a serious and reasonable thinker by pretty much all the mainstream media just rubs salt into the wound.

On Judicial Activism

I found it especially ironic that the Pope foundation’s Biology major chose to critique my readings on Judicial restraint/activism as this is an area many conservatives seem to especially misunderstand.  The key tenet of judicial restraint is that judges should be restrained in making law and should defer, whenever possible, to the duly elected representatives of the people.  Now, in general, that’s a solid doctrine.  Of course, if those duly elected representatives of the people are using their majority power to systematically deny Constitutional rights to citizens based on their race, sex, etc., well, then, that’s where you obviously need “activist” judges to step in and remedy this (e.g., Brown v. Board of Ed, etc.)  But to be clear, using judicial power to overturn laws based on the judgement of the judges is activism (and again, there’s many a time I’m all in favor of that).  I think it is safe to say, though, if one is in favor of “judicial restraint” you most definitely do not want SC Justices overturning the signal piece of legislation of the current president.  It’s honestly hard to imagine an act of judicial activism more breathtaking (or threatening to the legitimacy of the court as a theoretically non-political body) than that.  Of course, that seems to be exactly what the conservatives on the Court are at least contemplating.  EJ Dionne:

Three days of Supreme Court arguments over the health-care law demonstrated for all to see that conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator, excuse me, Justice Samuel Alito quoted Congressional Budget Office figures on Tuesday to talk about the insurance costs of the young. On Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts sounded like the House whip in discussing whether parts of the law could stand if other parts fell. He noted that without various provisions, Congress “wouldn’t have been able to put together, cobble together, the votes to get it through.” Tell me again, was this a courtroom or a lobbyist’s office?

It fell to the court’s liberals — the so-called “judicial activists,” remember? — to remind their conservative brethren that legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that some of the issues raised by opponents of the law were about “the merits of the bill,” a proper concern of Congress, not the courts. And in arguing for restraint, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked what was wrong with leaving as much discretion as possible “in the hands of the people who should be fixing this, not us.” It was nice to be reminded that we’re a democracy, not a judicial dictatorship.

And Chait:

What made Rosen’s piece so shocking was that, for decades, judicial activism had been primarily associated with the left — liberal judges handed down broad readings of laws to expand rights, enraging conservatives who believed they were taking upon themselves decisions better left to democratic channels. Their complaints were not wholly unfounded — even if you support, say, abortion rights, as I do, the notion that the Constitution requires the right to an abortion is quite a stretch of judicial activism. The whole conservative legal and political movement had come to orient itself around opposition to judicial activism, which actually remains the term Republican politicians use to disparage liberal judges.

The only thing Rosen truly failed to anticipate in his piece was how quickly Republican judges would pivot from impassioned defenses of judicial restraint to judicial activism when the opportunity arose to deploy it in their party’s behalf. In the piece, he described Antonin Scalia as a fierce opponent of this movement. Scalia, wrote Rosen, “was not in favor of striking down laws in the name of ambiguous and contestable economic rights.” At one point Scalia attacked the movement to read economic rights into the Constitution as a “threat to constitutional democracy.”

The spectacle before the Supreme Court this week is Republican justices seizing the chance to overturn the decisions of democratically-elected bodies. At times the deliberations of the Republican justices are impossible to distinguish from the deliberations of Republican senators. They are litigating the problem of adverse selection, and doing it very poorly. (Here are health economists Henry Aaron and Kevin Outterson tearing their hair out over the justices’ bungled attempts to describe the economic dynamics at work.)

Scalia himself offers the most blatant case. His famed thunderings against meddlesome judges are nowhere to be found. He is gleefully reversing his previous interpretation of the Commerce Clause, now that it is being deployed against big government liberals rather than pot smokers. He is railing against Obamacare like an angry Fox News-watching grandfather…

Just remember this next time you hear any conservative rail against “activist judges.”

Photo of the day

From Reuters:

U.S. servicemen sit after boarding a transport plane before leaving for Afghanistan at the U.S. transit center at Manas airport near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, March 27, 2012. REUTERS-Vladimir Pirogov

U.S. servicemen sit after boarding a transport plane before leaving for Afghanistan at the U.S. transit center at Manas airport near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, March 27, 2012. 
REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

The limit on Congressional power: Democracy

Well, I highlighted this point in a post yesterday, so it’s nice to see the same thing from a Yale Con Law Professor.  The conservatives on the Supreme Court keep insisting on a “limiting principle.”  I.e., if the government can force you to buy health insurance, what’s to stop them from forcing you to buy broccoli, a cell phone, etc.  From Akhil Amar’s interview with Ezra Klein (then again, he’s probably just a terrorist with a name like that):

EK: In terms of liberty, I think what Barnett and other opponents of the mandate are arguing is that this is a slippery slope. First you’re saying I have to buy health insurance. Then you’re saying I have to eat broccoli.

ARA: The most important limit, the one we fought the Revolutionary War for, is that the people doing this to you are the people you elect. [emphasis mine]  That’s the main check. The broccoli argument is like something they said when we were debating the income tax: If they can tax me, they can tax me at 100 percent! And yes, they can. But they won’t. Because you could vote them out of office. They have the power to do all sorts of ridiculous things that they won’t do because you’d vote them out of office. If they can prevent me from growing pot, can they prevent me from buying broccoli? Perhaps, but why would they if they want to be reelected? So if you ask me what the limits are, I’d say read McCulloch vs. Maryland. And reread it. And keep reading it till you understand it. The Constitution is a practical document,. it’s designed to work. And the powers are designed to be flexible in order to achieve the aims of the document.

Take that “limiting principle” unelected conservative Justices!

Liberal Bias 101

A few weeks ago a graduate student whom I oversee (I supervise the Public Administration PhD students who get undergraduate teaching experience in our Political Science courses) wrote me that somebody at the Pope Center for Higher Education (if you are not familiar, try this) had received a copy of his syllabus and wanted to discuss the apparent liberal bias.  John chose to simply not respond.  Well, the emailer has now written up the conservative deconstruction of John’s syllabus on the Pope website.  I really got quite the kick reading this as I soon realized that every single article the writer was complaining about was from my very own syllabus (John had served as my PS 201 TA and I’m happy for them to use the same readings I do when they teach their own section).  A sampling:

Overwhelmingly, the readings blamed Republicans and the Constitution for the country’s problems.

The first article assigned for Strange’s class is “Our Godless Constitution” by essayist Brooke Allen. It opens with a swipe at George W. Bush’s intelligence and character. “It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell,” Allen writes, “but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts.”

Allen goes on to discuss the Constitution, minimizing the influence of religion in the creation of the Constitution by taking a close look at the non-Christian pronouncements of four of our Founding Fathers: Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. She seems to be unaware that only one of the four (Franklin) was actually in attendance at the Constitutional Convention. Nevertheless, the point in assigning the essay to students is clear: the Constitution isn’t what you thought it was, having been devised by people whose religion stemmed from a political agenda rather than genuine conviction.

There is no rebuttal in the assigned readings to demonstrate the profound effect religion had on early Americans…

Conservative jurisprudence also takes a rhetorical beating in Strange’s class. For instance, Stuart Taylor’s essay in the National Journal, “Is Judicial Review Obsolete?” complains that conservative jurists who argue for judicial restraint are hypocritical. Although conservatives say they want judicial restraint, Taylor says, “they have used highly debatable interpretations of original meaning to sweep aside a raft of democratically adopted laws.” In a 2006 article for Slate magazine, Seth Rosenthal makes a similar point. He claims that conservative jurists’ restrictions on government involvement in people’s lives are, in themselves, examples of intrusion in people’s lives.

So, I’m not actually going to waste my time getting into a debate on these points with someone who holds a 2010 B.S. in Biology.  I haven’t seen John’s complete syllabus, but to the degree it matches mine, it’s pretty clear that Cheston is cherry-picking and substantially mis-characterizing the basic nature of the class and the main point of these readings.  But, whatever.  I did try to honestly ask myself, though, if I am doing my students a disservice by not having more “balanced” readings in this area.

My answer?  Absolutely not.  And here’s why… it all comes back to the asymmetry.   I have conservative students all the time who are literally 180 degrees wrong on what judicial activism is really all about.  I’ve never had a liberal student make a misguided and uninformed argument about judicial restraint.  I definitely have students all the time who come into class seemingly thinking that Jesus basically wrote our Constitution.  Again, I’ve never had a liberal student try and tell me that the Constitution was written by radical atheists.  Similarly, I’m not sure what would “balance” George Packer’s fabulous article on obstructionism in the modern Senate and somehow deny that it has reached new procedural heights with Republican use of the filibuster, etc.

One of the major things I try and do in PS 201 is disabuse students of ideas they have about government that are simply wrong.  Whether you want to blame Fox News, Rush, or whatever, the simple fact is that my students are way more likely to hold false views that represent a conservative political perspective and I don’t apologize for one second for trying to change that.  There is the occasional very liberal student who might hold very uninformed views on the nature of capitalism, etc., and I’m quite happy to correct them as well.   There’s not, however, a corresponding left-wing noise machine (don’t even try MSNBC) filling them with false information.  Short version: if one of my goals is to correct widespread misunderstanding and misinformation about our government it’s going to look like liberal bias, but that’ s not actually what it is.

I’m thinking maybe I need a new sub-heading for my blog: “It’s the asymmetry, stupid.”

Race, Trayvon, and knee-jerk conservatism

Drum posted this today:

Conservative Josh Barro tells his fellow conservatives why they get attacked on racial issues so often:

Why do conservatives catch such heat? It’s probably because there is still so much racism on the Right to go alongside valid arguments on issues relating to race and ethnicity. Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race.

And this is the Right’s own fault, because conservatives are not serious about draining the swamp. In recent months, both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have gotten questions at public events that referred to President Obama being a Muslim. Neither candidate corrected the questioner. Santorum later told a reporter that’s “not his job.” PPP polls in Mississippi and Alabama have found that about half of Republican voters believe Obama is a Muslim, and others aren’t sure.

….There has been a clear strategic calculation here among Republican elites. Better to leverage or at least accept the racism of much of the Republican base than try to clean it up….My challenge to conservatives who feel they get a bum rap on race is this. Stand up for yourself and your colleagues when you feel that a criticism is unfair. At the same time, criticize other conservatives who say racist things, cynically tolerate racism in the Republican base, or deny the mere existence of racial issues in America today. The conservative movement desperately needs self-policing on racial issues, if it ever hopes to have credibility on them.

This made me think of various postings by conservatives I’ve seen about the Trayvon Martin case on Facebook.  Sure, maybe the case is more complicated than it initially looks, but among things we know for sure is that an armed and clearly  racially hostile white man pursued and shot an unarmed Black teenager.  How this should not at dead minimum be adjudicated in a courtroom would seem to be something people across the political spectrum could agree upon.   Here’s what I think has happened, though.  As the case has become a liberal cause célèbre all too many conservatives have felt duty bound to try and defend Zimmerman and the Sanford police simply because liberals were attacking them.  Now that’s just stupid.  And, it certainly does not help their image with regards to race.

More broccoli

Well, my post on broccoli and slippery slopes certainly got quite the conversation going.  Was not planning on returning to it, but was really quite surprised to see that supposed intellectual giant, Antonin Scalia, relying on this tired and intellectually lame argument in oral arguments.  First, I’ll highlight Itchy’s wonderfully pithy response:

“What’s to stop the government making you buy broccoli?”

Democracy. Next question.

And now on to Drum (actually a quote from an attorney correspondent of his:

Toobin’s hair on fire response is interesting because I think legal watchers deep down believed that the Court would not be so superficial as to unhinge established jurisprudence for an ideological cause. It’s a fun parlor game, but they figure that when sobriety prevails the court will bow to precedent where — as here — the issue is squarely within existing precedent. Well, no, and they are perfectly free to channel right wing bullshit points such as inactivity vs. activity.  I think this really rattled Toobin to see justices behaving like congressmen from Alabama in their arguments.  [emphasis in original]

Lithwick points out that no one on the right discussed the case law. I mean …. why, who needs it!?

Really, this whole activity/inactivity bit is just a conservative canard.  I’ll go back to Itchy who said it best in comments (I was going to write much the same thing myself, but since he’s already gone to the trouble):

“the reason [the individual mandate] is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act.”

What does this actually mean? It seems like semantics.

Paying for an interstate highway is an affirmative act. Paying to educate children is an affirmative act. Paying for a drone strike is an affirmative act. Water treatment plants, garbage collection, prisons, fire services, food safety, space exploration … all affirmative acts.

What is a negative act?

“Justice Samuel Alito appears to be particularly concerned about the young, healthy person who “on average consumes about $854 in health services each year” being saddled with helping pay for the sick or infirm … ”

Guess what I’m saddled with paying for? National parks I’ve never visited, highways I’ve never traveled. Schools I’ve never gone to, clean air I’ve never breathed, safe food I’ve never eaten. Fire protection for property I don’t own, the killing and imprisonment of people who never harmed me. Fancy robes and mahogany desks for Supreme Court justices who rule against my wishes.

What a scam that all my money is going to rescue other people.

It actually does not take a Constitutional scholar to see through ideological BS posing as Constitutional scholarship.  Though, I’ll close with a quote from an actual Constitutional scholar, Reagan’s Solicitor General, Charles Fried:

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

And if you’re still with me, you should read Ezra’s whole interview with Charles Fried– it’s really quite devastating to the conservative case.

Photo of the day

Wow, great set of “a collection of kisses” via Alan Taylor.  Really hard to choose just one.  Ahhh, I’ll just go political:

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta (left), assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, kisses her partner Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, following the ship’s return to homeport after a three-month deployment in the Caribbean, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on December 21, 2011. History was made on a Virginia Beach pier on Wednesday when the two women sailors, one just home from 80 days at sea, became what was believed to be the first same-sex couple to share the Navy’s traditional first kiss.(Reuters/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Mann)

And heck, I’m feeling very Mad Men this week, and the season 5 premiere was entitled, “A Little Kiss” so here’s an added bonus:


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