Video of the day

Global warming in 13 seconds.  I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, though, and has nothing to do with human use of fossil fuels.

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Minimum wage and our changing economy

Loved this James Surowiecki piece about the changing nature of the minimum wage.  Honestly found it quite enlightening.  Here was the key bit:

Still, the reason this has become a big political issue is not that the jobs have changed; it’s that the people doing the jobs have. Historically, low-wage work tended to be done either by the young or by women looking for part-time jobs to supplement family income. As the historian Bethany Moreton has shown, Walmart in its early days sought explicitly to hire underemployed married women. Fast-food workforces, meanwhile, were dominated by teen-agers. Now, though, plenty of family breadwinners are stuck in these jobs. That’s because, over the past three decades, the U.S. economy has done a poor job of creating good middle-class jobs; five of the six fastest-growing job categories today pay less than the median wage. That’s why, as a recent study by the economists John Schmitt and Janelle Jones has shown, low-wage workers are older and better educated than ever. More important, more of them are relying on their paychecks not for pin money or to pay for Friday-night dates but, rather, to support families. Forty years ago, there was no expectation that fast-food or discount-retail jobs would provide a living wage, because these were not jobs that, in the main, adult heads of household did. Today, low-wage workers provide forty-six per cent of their family’s income. It is that change which is driving the demand for higher pay.

Read the whole thing for more context and excellent insight into the changing American labor market.

Photo of the day

So, this is different.  Via Behold, a collection of portraits of crying young children.  Apparently (and not surprisingly) quite controversial.  Though, as the photographer says, at this age it doesn’t exactly take major trauma for serious tears, e.g., turning off Powerpuff Girls on the Ipad after an episode is over.  FB friends always say to me that Sarah is cute and happy/sweet.  She is generally a happy/sweet girl, but my standard response is that I don’t exactly post photos of her crying and throwing tantrums.  Of which she does plenty.  Maybe I should be inspired by these, though.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now
Jill Greenberg

We can’t prove the Tea Party is racist

But we sure cannot prove that they aren’t.  I was intrigued by this line in the abstract of this recent political science article:

In the heated rhetoric of the 2010 elections, there were some accusations that the Tea Party movement was racist, and charges of Tea Party racism persisted through 2011 as President Obama attempted to deal with an intransigent Republican majority. This paper seeks to refute the charge of Tea Party racism.

Well, that should be interesting, I thought when I read it.  Seems like a tough hill to climb.  Indeed it is.

The null hypothesis (H0) is of course that Tea Party freshmen support for Obama is not different from that of other conservative Republicans. Controlling for the most obvious competing hypotheses (party, ideology, district partisanship) while comparing the results to analogous control groups, the analysis is able to reject the null hypothesis:ceteris paribus, Tea Party freshman support is significantly lower than should be expected, and this behavior is different from that of control groups. Although these results fail to provide evidence to refute charges of racism, it does not prove that President Obama’s race is the cause of lower Tea Party support. In the end, it suggests that more research is needed to look for causes other than race to explain Tea Party behavior.

Very cautious in conclusions and, of course, this is very social science language, but the upshot… if you are looking to find evidence the Tea Party is not motivated by racial resentment, you will not find it here.

The most damaging war

I’ve been meaning to watch it for a while, but after it was featured in a segment on This American Life, I finally got around to watching Eugene Jarecki’s terrific documentary on our horribly failed war on drugs– “The House I Live In.”

Its one of those things where I actually knew almost all the material in the documentary, but it was expertly woven together to create a highly watchable and super compelling indictment of the utter disaster that it is our war on drugs.  One of the great features is extensive interviews with David Simon, creator of the Wire.  As he says it would be one thing to lock people away for decades it it were actually working.  But it’s not.  We’re basically destroying lives and communities for a totally misguided ideology about how to limit drug use.

Now, I don’t think many of us have much tolerance for violent drug dealers, but the simple truth is there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are wasting away in prison for an economic transaction with which both parties were happy over products that were often legal 100 years ago (not to mention that an equally, if not more dangerous, drug is sold in huge volume every day– alcohol).  Just thinking about the scale of the waste of human life and society’s resources is quite depressing.  We really, really have to do things differently.  Sure fully legalizing all drugs may not be the answer, but putting non-violent people in prison for decades because they sold cocaine or meth to another person really is crazy.  Cost-benefit wise, this is a huge loser.  We’re not cutting down on illegal drug use, and we’re paying tens of thousands of dollars per year per destroyed life.  And the benefit?  Ummm, yeah,, what exactly is it?  Again, maybe if there were evidence that this substantially cut down on overall drug use– but there’s no evidence whatsoever of that.

The one bit that was largely new to me was just how prominent race has been in determining what drugs are illegal.  If a disliked minority likes a particular drug, you can be sure it’s not long for legality.

So, find some time, watch this documentary (streams on Netflix and Amazon).  And stand against our insane drug laws.

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