Video of the day

Camera strapped to the back of an eagle flying through the French alps.  Yes, it is as cool as it sounds.

Chart of the day

Apparently, Arctic sea ice has expanded a good bit since an all time record low last year. Somehow, conservatives not understanding basic principles such as short-term variation in long-term series have taken this as proof that the climate is fine and global warming is a myth.   Via Wonkblog:

And more on the nuttiness from Phil Plait.

My contribution to understanding the government shutdown debate

It’s pretty simple, it’s to post this so on-point words from Paul Waldman (which I found via Drum, who also heartily endorsed the sentiment):

I try very hard to always addsomething, to not just repeat what everybody else is saying but to offer something different, so that people who read this blog will come away feeling they understand the world just a little bit better. Perhaps I don’t always succeed, and you may or may not get value out of any particular thing I’ve written. But what do you do when the news turns into some kind of hellish version of Groundhog Day, repeating the same abysmal scenario over and over, in which even the happy ending doesn’t involve finding true love and better understanding of yourself and your role in the world like Bill Murray did, but at best a return to the status quo ante of mindless political squabbles and unsolved problems?

What, then, can I add about the latest twist in the pending government shutdown? How many different ways are there to say that the Tea Party Republicans are both crazy and stupid? How often can you point out that John Boehner is pathetically weak, quite possibly the most ineffectual Speaker in the history of the House of Representatives? How many times can you remind people of all the awful things that would happen if the government shuts down and/or we don’t raise the debt ceiling? How many times can you scream at Republicans that they are never, ever, ever going to repeal the Affordable Care Act so they should just give it the hell up already? How many times can you cry that this would be an insane way to run a junior-high student council, much less the government of the mightiest nation on earth?

I figure you would’t have come across this Waldman post without me, so there’s my contribution.

Yes, we are Mississippi (at least Randolph County is)

When a friend whom I didn’t even know reads the blog tells me to blog on something, I damn well do it.  The forwarded email asks, “what are we, Mississippi?”  Apparently.  Here’s the deal:

A North Carolina school board has banned Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man from its reading list on Monday, citing a lack of “literary value.” The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported that the Randolph County Board of Education voted 5-2 to remove the book following a complaint by a parent, Kimiyutta Parson…

A motion to keep Invisible Man on the approved reading list was defeated 5-2 before the board voted to remove it.

“I didn’t find any literary value,” board member Gary Mason said at the meeting. “I’m for not allowing it to be available.”

I love the way the article concludes… no harsh words, etc., just lets the facts speak for themselves:

In 2010, Time magazine named the book one of the top 100 English-language novels of all time, calling it “the quintessential American picaresque of the 20th century.”

Personally, I read this in high school and hated it.  Didn’t get it at all.  I remember being quite surprised to learn it was the favorite novel of my best friend from grad school.  It’s a book I’ve long suspected I’d actually appreciate as an adult, but I’ve got so many other damn books to read.  That said, this news surely makes it a lot more likely I’ll find the time to crack it again.

Defunding the Affordable Care Act

So, the Republicans have taken the truly preposterous position that they will only compromise on the budget if Democrats agree to completely defund Obamacare.  I suppose a Democratic equivalent would be to claim no negotiations unless Republicans agree to raise taxes 50% on the richest 10% of Americans.   It’s ludicrous and not going to happen, but a nice piece from Jon Cohn to remind us what the policy implications of that would be:

Delaying or defunding Obamacare might or might not jeopardize these gains. But it would certainly stop the rest of the law from going forward. And the human toll from such a decision would be huge. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, because of the law, the number of people without health insurance will fall by 14 million next year—and then nearly double, to 27 million, in the three years after that. As Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted Tuesday, after the release of the latest Census report on income and health coverage, “This will represent the greatest improvement in nearly 50 years in health insurance or poverty due to a piece of legislation or other policy.”

Take away Obamacare, and those gains never happen. Nor is it just the uninsured who stand to lose out. Repeal Obamacare and people lose out on regulations guaranteeing them minimum levels of coverage, prohibitions of annual and lifetime limits, and (for low-income people buying on their own) extra protection against out-of-pocket spending. The benefits that Obamacare delivers come at a cost: Even the laws’ defenders concede that some young, healthy people will pay more for coverage; the wealthy already owe more in taxes; parts of the health care industry are facing changes and sometimes decreases in revenue. But while Republicans claim Obamacare will bankrupt the country, the CBO disagrees. It predicts that the law will save money—and the repeal would actually drive up the deficit.

Does insisting on Obamacare defunding and delay defy political logic? Yes. But it’s the substantive claims Republicans make—the argument that a world without Obamacare is better than a world with one—that deserve the most scrutiny.

Yep.  Let’s just remember, at the end of the day, this is about people suffering without needed health care (a lot harder to get without health insurance) than otherwise would be.  Republicans for human suffering– yeah!

The Parenting Gap

Fascinating, fascinating study from Brookings on “The Parenting Gap.”  Not surprisingly, quality of parenting varies dramatically by soci-economic status and a host of other measures (and I had a fun time learning all about the HOME inventory used to measure parental quality– the Greene family would certainly flunk the item on clutter).  Here’s some key figures:

To clarify, positive numbers indicate a greater likelihood of being a low quality parent, i.e., mothers without HS degree are 13 points more likely tto score among the weakest parents.  And, here’s another fascinating chart from the report:



And here’s some of the key conclusions:

  • Children of the strongest parents are more likely to succeed at each stage of their lives than children of the weakest parents. By the end of adolescence, three out of four children with the strongest parents graduate high school with at least a 2.5 GPA, while avoiding being convicted of a crime or becoming a teen parent. By contrast, only 30 percent of children with the weakest parents manage to meet these benchmarks.
  • Improving the parenting quality of the weakest parents to that of average parents would result in 9 percent more of their children graduating from high school, 6 percent fewer having a child by 19, and 3 percent fewer having a criminal conviction by 19.
  • Implementation of evidence-based parenting programs, such as HIPPY, could have meaningful effects for individuals and society. If all low-income children were enrolled in HIPPY, we estimate that 3 percent more of them would graduate from high school and 6 percent fewer would become teen parents.
  • Current U.S. policy is slanted toward supplementing the efforts of parents, with programs such as Head Start, rather than building the skills of parents themselves.

Meanwhile, also this week, James Heckman has a nice column about the importance of high-quality pre-school.

The family into which a child is born plays a powerful role in determining lifetime opportunities. This is hardly news, but it bears repeating: some kids win the lottery at birth, far too many don’t — and most people have a hard time catching up over the rest of their lives. Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less likely to succeed in school or in society, but they are also much less likely to be healthy adults. A variety of studies show that factors determined before the end of high school contribute to roughly half of lifetime earnings inequality. This is where our blind spot lies: success nominally attributed to the beneficial effects of education, especially graduating from college, is in truth largely a result of factors determined long before children even enter school.

Improving the early environments of disadvantaged children is a promising way to reduce inequality, but conventional wisdom is to level the playing field with cash transfers, tuition assistance and raising the minimum wage. High-quality early childhood programs are great economic and social equalizers — they supplement the family lives of disadvantaged children by teaching consistent parenting and by giving children the mentoring, encouragement and support available to functioning middle-class families. Children in these programs develop foundational skills on par with those of more affluent children and create a stronger family structure for themselves. Caring parents and early stimulation are essential ingredients of successful early childhood environments.

Heckman is not entirely explicit about actual parenting programs, but the language above, i.e., “teaching consistent parenting” suggests that he is likely on-board with the Brookings findings.  The talk has been very much about high-quality pre-school for at-risk youth.  And we should totally invest more in that.  But there’s a very good case to be made that we also very much need to invest directly in the parents of these at-risk youth.  The Brookings study shows it to be, not surprisingly, cost effective ($1.80 for ever dollar invested– in a conservative estimate), but pre-school only treats one poor kid at a time.  You teach people to be better parents, and that probably benefits >2 kids on average and sometimes even 3 or 4.

Anyway, I’ve long been intrigued by the clear and quantifiable gap in parenting quality between high and low SES.  It’s great to see that there are evidence-based ways to narrow it and we should certainly invest more in them.  Personally, I’d really like to understand better the origins of this gap.

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