Map of the day

I’ve likely posted some version of this before, but Yglesias share it last month and I love it.  It shows vote change between 2004 and 2012.  Notice anything about the places that got more red?

But the two striking trends here are the vast gash of dark red associated with the upland South and Appalachia, and the dark blues associated with heavily Latino counties.

Whether (and to what extent) these trends hold up next time is a key question for 2016. Democrats don’t like to talk about it too loudly, but quietly there’s considerable optimism that a white candidate could drastically outperform Obama in Greater Appalachia, strengthening the party’s hold on Pennsylvania and putting Missouri back into contention. Conversely, many Republicans are hopeful that Obama’s successor won’t be able to maintain his extraordinary performance with black and Latino voters.

We’ll see, of course, but my guess is that Hilary will perform almost as well as Obama with minority voters and modestly improve upon his performance with some of these white voters.

The real Magna Carta

Seen a lot of Magna Carta worship about lately.  In truth, what we think the Magna Carta represents (checks on power, rule of law, etc.) are great things and it is presumably handy to have a simple and coherent foundation story on these matters.  That said, the most interesting part of the Magna Carta is how it has been used politically over the years, rather than what it actually says (and did) in 1215.  Nice Op Ed in by political scientist Tom Ginsburg in the NYT:

In reality, Magna Carta was a result of an intra-elite struggle, in which the nobles were chiefly concerned with their own privileges. When they referred to the judgment of one’s peers, for example, they were not thinking about a jury trial. Indeed, in 1215, the jury trial as we know it did not exist; guilt was often determined by seeing how suspects reacted to physical ordeal. The reference to one’s peers meant that nobles could not be tried by commoners, who might include judges appointed by the king…

Magna Carta has everything going for it to be venerated in the United States: It is old, it is English and, because no one has actually read the text, it is easy to invoke to fit current needs. A century ago, Samuel Gompers referred to the Clayton Act as a Magna Carta for labor; more recently the National Environmental Protection Act has been called an “environmental Magna Carta.” Judges, too, cite Magna Carta with increasing frequency, in cases ranging from Paula Jones’s suit against Bill Clinton to the pleas of Guantánamo detainees. Tea Party websites regularly invoke it in the battle against Obamacare…

Americans aren’t alone in revering Magna Carta. Mohandas K. Gandhi cited it in arguing for racial equality in South Africa. Nelson Mandela invoked it at the trial that sent him to prison for 27 years. We are not the only ones, it seems, willing to stretch old legal texts beyond their original meaning. Like the Holy Grail, the myth of Magna Carta seems to matter more than the reality.

And, I think that’s okay.  It’s a good myth.  Still, I think it is good to understand that it is largely myth we are dealing with.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of the centuries-old Appleby Horse Fair:

 Horses splash in the river Eden at Appleby in Westmorland, northern England, on June 9, 2013. The horses are washed as part of the annual fair which has taken place since the 1600’s.

Darren Staples / Reuters


Poverty leads to bad choices leads to poverty

Really enjoyed this Kristof column on poverty.  I’ll start with the part I didn’t like, as it feels like the standard “look how even-handed I am” sop:

Too often, I believe, liberals deny that poverty is linked to bad choices. As Phillips and many other poor people acknowledge, of course, it is.

Poverty is linked to bad choices.  There, in bold.  Of course it is!!  (I wonder how many liberals actually would not admit that).  Does that mean we somehow shouldn’t work to ameliorate the worst impacts of poverty?!  Why, yes… if you are a political conservative.  That bit out of the way, Kristof continues to make a really important argument: to a not inconsiderable degree, poverty causes bad choices.  Yes, if you just stop and think about all the related research on child and brain development, of course it does:

Yet scholars are also learning to understand the roots of these behaviors, and they’re far more complicated than the conservative narrative of human weakness.

For starters, there is growing evidence that poverty and mental health problems are linked in complex, reinforcing ways. In the United States, a Gallup poll a few years ago found that people living in poverty were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with depression as other Americans. One study in 2010 found that 55 percent of American babies living in poverty in 2001 were raised by mothers showing signs of depression.

The journal JAMA Psychiatry last year estimated that millions of low-income Americans suffer from parasitic infections such as toxocariasis and toxoplasmosis that, in turn, are associated with cognitive impairment or mental health disorders.

“I estimate 12 million Americans living in poverty suffer from at least one neglected parasitic or tropical disease,” says Dr. Peter Hotez, the author of that study. “The media places so much emphasis on imaginary infectious disease threats, when millions of people in poverty, mostly people of color, have neglected infections that are almost completely ignored.”

If you’re battling mental health problems, or grow up with traumas like domestic violence (or seeing your brother shot dead), you’re more likely to have trouble in school, to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, to have trouble in relationships.

“There’s a strong association between poverty and low mental health,” notes Johannes Haushofer, a psychologist at Princeton University.

A second line of research has shown that economic stress robs us of cognitive bandwidth. Worrying about bills, food or other problems, leaves less capacity to think ahead or to exert self-discipline. So, poverty imposes a mental tax…

It turns out that when people have elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, they are less willing to delay gratification. Researchers have raised cortisol levels in research subjects — who then became more impatient for immediate rewards, and thus more prone to “bad choices.”

This bit is the key:

“This is a really difficult conversation,” notes Haushofer, “because you very quickly can end up in the corner of blaming the poor for poverty, and that’s not the message I’ve been telling. Rather, it’s circumstances that can land you in a situation where it’s really hard to make a good decision because you’re so stressed out. And the ones you get wrong matter much more, because there’s less slack to play with.”

And finally, Kristof ends on the policy level.  We absolutely, positively need to do more here.  And it’s not just in the interests of the actual poor people, but all of society benefits when we take people and help them lead more productive lives that contribute to society (I hate how conservatives are so short-sighted on this when they seem more interested in punishing poor people for bad decisions).  For example:

Let’s also remember, though, that today we have randomized trials — the gold standard of evidence — showing that certain social programs make self-destructive behaviors less common. Infant home visitation can reduce lead exposures and help moms with breast-feeding and reading to their children. Mental health outreach reduces homelessness. Career Academies, which give at-risk teenagers work experience, boost earnings. Family-planning programs for the needy pay for themselves: An IUD or implant costs $800, a Medicaid birth is around $13,000.

So as long as we’re talking about personal irresponsibility, let’s also examine our own. Don’t we have a collective responsibility to provide more of a fair start in life to all, so that children aren’t propelled toward bad choices?

When the evidence is overwhelming that we fail kids before they fail us, when certain programs would actually save public money while elevating personal responsibility, isn’t it also time to stop making excuses for our own self-destructive behaviors as a society? [emphasis mine]


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