Infographic of the day

Where the energy jobs are, via NYT story:

Amazing the power that coal holds in symbolic impact.  Especially on Trump.

 

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What it takes for kids to get ahead

Yesterday’s post reminded me of this terrific Thomas Edsall column from about a month ago that I had meant to share.  It’s about the role of non-cognitive skills in how children get ahead.  One of my favorite topics ever since reading How Children Succeed.  (Seriously, read it).  Edsall:

In a 2014 paper, “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence,” Reeves and two co-authors, Kimberly Howard and Joanna Venator, focus on what they call “performance character strengths” and the crucial role played by noncognitive skills in educational attainment, employment and earned income. These character strengths — “perseverance, industriousness, grit, resilience, curiosity, application” and “self-control, future orientation, self-discipline, impulse control, delay of gratification” — make significant contributions to success in adulthood and upward mobility…

Paul Tough, a writer heavily influenced by Heckman’s work, noted last year in an essay in the Atlantic, “How Kids Learn Resilience,” that research reveals that “students will be more likely to display these positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence, and growth” and where they “experience relatedness, autonomy, and competence.”

This kind of environment is difficult to replicate in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Instead, Tough writes, many of the kids brought up in these desolate areas have developed “a hyperactive fight-or-flight mechanism,” which conveys the warning

at car-alarm volume: I don’t belong here. This is enemy territory. Everyone in this school is out to get me. Add to this the fact that many children raised in adversity, by the time they get to middle or high school, are significantly behind their peers academically and disproportionately likely to have a history of confrontations with school administrators.

The result is a vicious circle: family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation…

What is to be made of all these findings?

First, the spectrum of noncognitive skills and character strengths are a major factor in American class stratification. Whether these factors are more or less important than extrinsic forces like globalization, automation and declining unionization remains unclear, but changing family structures are evidently leaving millions of men and women ill-equipped to ascend the socioeconomic ladder.

Second, neither religious leaders nor practicing politicians nor government employees have found the levers that actually make disadvantaged families more durable or functional. As a corollary, the failure of government efforts to affect or slow down negative developments has left an opening for conservatives to argue that government interventions make things worse.

For liberals and the Democratic Party, the continued failure of government initiatives to achieve measurable gains in the acquisition of valuable noncognitive skills by disadvantaged youngsters constitutes a major liability.

So, here’s the damn agenda.. figure out what policies and programs (and there’s increasing evidence and research on the matter) best promote non-cognitive skills (and if they are not government programs, figure out how to encourage them through public policy) and advocate like hell for these policies.

 

 

Perverse incentives to the left; greed to the right. Stuck in the middle with American health care

love Elisabeth Rosenthal’s  2013 NYT series on the high cost of American health care and have been assigning portions of it to my classes for years (including this semester).

So, when I learned she had written a new book about the American health care system, I was all over it and ordered it the day it was published and finished it in less than a week (that’s definitely fast for me– too much time with the internet, not enough with books).

The book is terrific.  I literally cannot recommend it highly enough.  Even if you think you are not interested in health care policy, chances are you’ve had plenty of interactions with our medical establishment and would be fascinated to learn just how perverse so many of the incentives are.   I’ve been a health care policy junkie for at least a decade and I still learned a lot that was new to me.  To some degree, what I learned was just how absurdly depraved and money-hungry the whole system has become.  In many ways, we are looking at a medical system of capitalism amok.  So many people are looking to monetize every last dollar off of human sickness and suffering.  There’s lots and lots of good people who just want to help, but they have been caught up into a perverse and greedy system where, often just practicing medicine, means partaking in a series of sleazy and ethically dubious practices and organizations that are looking to squeeze every last dollar out of patients and the government (i.e., all of us).  And it’s working.  And, as I’ve written time after time, this is largely a matter of policy choice.  Political Scientist Jacob Hacker sums it up quite nicely in his NYT review of the book:

The difference between the United States and other countries isn’t the role of insurance; it’s the role of government. More specifically, it’s the way in which those who benefit from America’s dysfunctional market have mobilized to use government to protect their earnings and profits. In every country where people have access to sophisticated medical care, they must rely heavily on the clinical expertise of providers and the financial protections of insurance, which, in turn, creates the opportunity for runaway costs. But in every other rich country, the government not only provides coverage to all citizens; it also provides strong counterpressure to those who seek to use their inherent market power to raise prices or deliver lucrative but unnecessary services — typically in the form of hard limits on how much health care providers can charge. [emphasis mine]

In the United States, such counterpressure has been headed off again and again. The industry and its elected allies have happily supported giveaways to the medical sector. But anything more, they insist, will kill the market. Although this claim is in conflict with the evidence, it is consistent with the goal of maximum rewards to (and donations from) the industry.

There’s literally dozens of examples from the book that left me open-mouthed that people were able to get away with such greed and perversity, supposedly in the service of human health.  One that really stuck out though, is that of Duexis.  It’s literally a pill that’s just ibuprofen and famotidine.  You can dose yourself with those two for literally pennies a day.  Yet somehow– only in America, of course– they manage to charge $1500 a month for it and get doctors to prescribe it and insurance companies to pay for it.  Ugh.  If I ever had a doctor prescribe something like this to me, I would find a new doctor the next day.

Now, imagine a book full of other such shocking and disturbing examples.  Not exactly fun to read, but totally engaging, and disturbing.  And, also designed to be useful for helping readers navigate this giant mess with their own health care needs.  Or, at least listen to the terrific Fresh Air interview.

Photo of the day

In case you haven’t seen this awesome viral image of earth viewed through Saturn’s rings:

cassini-earth-saturn.jpg

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured this view of planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Environmental polarization

From Pew fact tank.  This is just sad:

Basically, what were modest differences between Democrats and Republicans on the environment have grown into substantial ones.  And most of this has been driven by the Republican Party increasingly subscribing to the view “screw the environment” as the party line.  Ugh.

Who benefits from child care? Moms and boys (and society)

Okay, daughters, too, but one of the interesting findings of research into this area is that boys benefit more than girls.  Lots of interesting stuff in this Upshot piece from Claire Cain Miller:

Helping parents pay for that care would be expensive for society, too. Yet recent studies show that of any policy aimed to help struggling families, aid for high-quality care has the biggest economic payoff for parents and their children — and even their grandchildren. It has the biggest positive effect on women’s employment and pay. It’s especially helpful for low-income families, because it can propel generations of children toward increased earnings, better jobs, improved health, more education and decreased criminal activity as adults. [emphasis mine]

Damn.  That’s an impressive list.  What a tremendous potential investment for government to make.  Alas, we wouldn’t want to take women away from their “essential” role or fail to ignore the fact that lots of women need to work for simple economic reasons.

For a country that struggles far too much with inter-generational mobility, the latest research should provide plenty of incentive:

A powerful new study — which demonstrated long-term results by following children from birth until age 35 — found that high-quality care during the earliest years can influence whether both mothers and children born into disadvantage lead more successful lives. The study was led by James J. Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago.

“They’re engaged more in the work force, they’re now active participants of society, they’re more educated, they have higher skills,” Mr. Heckman said. “So what we’ve done is promoted mobility across generations.”

And, it really is amazing how profound the impact is on males:

When the boys reached age 30, they earned an average of $19,800 more a year than those in the control group and had half a year more education. (The small sample size — 37 boys in the programs who stayed in the study — means the difference was not very precisely estimated.) When the girls reached 30, they had two more years of education and earned about $2,500 more, the study found.

In their mid-30s, men who attended the program were 33 percent less likely to be drug users, had fewer misdemeanor arrests and were less likely to have high blood pressure.

The conclusion that boys benefited more than girls meshes with other research findings that boys are more sensitive to disadvantage and responsive to intervention.

And dollars and cents– a hell of an investment:

The program was expensive — $18,514 per student a year — but after calculating effects like the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health, the researchers concluded that it returned $7.30 for every dollar spent. In addition to Mr. Heckman, the researchers were Jorge Luis García of the University of Chicago and Duncan Ermini Leaf and María José Prados of the University of Southern California.

The article mentions Ivanka Trump championing programs like this.  Encouraging, I guess.  But talk to me when Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell realize this is a far better use of taxpayer dollars than tax cuts for rich people.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Totally agree with Mark Joseph Stern that Democratic politicians need to get out in front on marijuana legalization:

The lack of mobilization from lawmakers is especially puzzling given how neatly marijuana legalization aligns with the goals of the self-styled resistance to Trump. Progressive Trump opponents not only tend to favor legalization on its own, they also broadly support the goals behind legalization. It’s true that the Trump era has reinvigorated liberals’ support for federalism, mostly out of necessity as blue states band together to protect sanctuary cities and fight Trump’s travel ban. But it has also intensified liberals’ opposition to mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system. Concerns about overpolicing and racism in law enforcement are what animate progressive support for legalization, along with a healthy respect for states’ rights and personal liberty.

And yet, on pot as on so many other issues, Democratic politicians are failing to respond to their base’s stated preferences.

2) Damn the militarization of the police and all the needless no-knock warrants.  And shame on our judicial system for making them way to easy to get.  People die and lives are ruined over these.  And, because, some police departments think it is a good idea to break into a house at 5am, basically unannounced, over a few ounces of marijuana.  Ugh.

3) Basically 75% of my twitter feed yesterday was about the NYT’s big Comey story. Many, many tweets mentioned the fact that the story completely ignores the role of the media in all this.  Relatedly, Drum lays out the clear case for why Comey’s letter was the decisive factor.  I agree.

4) Jacob Levy on Kushner and the problem of nepotism in a democracy.

5) I came across this latest example of classic interest group politics via a FB ad.  I’m 100% convinced that NC ophthalmologists are only interested in the welfare of their patients in attempting to stop optometrists from performing four types of simple surgery that they have been doing successfully in three other states.  I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with protecting their turf and their incomes.  My favorite is their “poll” stating, ” Almost nine out of 10 North Carolina voters oppose legislation that would allow eye-care providers who have not been to medical school to perform eye surgery, a new statewide public opinion poll found.”  As if 1 in 100 NC voters actually has any idea what this legislation is actually about.

6) Ben Mathis-Lilley, “There’s No News Right Now Because Trump Doesn’t Actually Do Anything.”

None of this is really surprising. As has been well-documented, Trump—though he claims to be a “builder”—actually made most of his hay in the private sector by licensing his name. He’s the guy who makes big promises at the ribbon-cutting and gets the name of the project in the newspaper, not the guy who gets the permits and arranges the funding and hires the subcontractors. He doesn’t make things; he talks. (When he does try to make things, they go bankrupt.)

7) While everybody was focused on Betsy DeVos and K-12 education, those in the know were aware that her real damage would be to higher education and college students.  When it comes to student loans, she’s already at it.

8) The saga of North Carolina’s contaminated water gets a nice feature in the Atlantic.  Thanks, NC Republicans!

9) Somehow I missed that prostate cancer screening is back in the news.  Good take on the latest from doctor/blogger Kenny Lin, whom I am now going to start following.  Short version: official take is now that you should at least discuss PSA test with your doctor.  Ongoing reality.  Getting a PSA test makes it about 10 times more likely you will end up incontinent or with sexual dysfunction than the likelihood it will save your life.  No thanks to that trade.

10) Great EJ Dionne column on Trump:

Two issues are paramount in American politics. The first is whether President Trump will get away with his arrogant dismissal of the public’s right to a transparent government free of corrupting conflicts of interest. The second is whether those who would hold him to account remain focused, mobilized and determined.

They are related. There are many reasons to stand against Trump, but the one that should take precedence — because it is foundational for decent governance — is his autocratic assumption that he is above the expectations that apply to us normal humans.

Should Trump separate himself completely from his business interests, as presidents had been doing for more than four decades? His implicit message is always: No, I can do what I want.

11) The political impact of helicopter parents.  Really.

Using a survey conducted at multiple universities in the U.S., we find that helicopter parenting has a significant impact on the policy attitudes of college students. Specifically, students with helicopter parents are more likely to express support for both government surveillance and social welfare policies than are students without helicopter parents. Given the growing trend of helicopter parenting, these findings will likely have substantial implications for both the political science classroom and public opinion in the near future.

12) Excellent Isaac Chotiner piece on how Bill O’Reilly was very much the proto-Trump:

But the aspect of The O’Reilly Factor that always shocked me was a different kind of resentment, which took the form of the anchor’s unrepentant solipsism. It’s simply impossible to overstate how much of each night’s show was consumed by O’Reilly’s own grievances. He skirmished with everyone from Matt Lauer to Rosie O’Donnell to Al Franken, and those fights would invariably become the topic of the day on his show. He spent countless hours talking about himself—usually as the victim of various conspiracies. (Frequently, George Soros was the conspiracy’s prime mover.) He would drone on about the New York Times and how it was out to make him look bad. It was endless, and it was exceptionally boring—to everyone except his legions of viewers and fans.

I never really had a theory for how this supposed man of the people got away with talking about nothing but himself. Then Donald Trump came along. Here was another rich guy who built a following speaking up for the working man. Like O’Reilly he seemed entirely driven by resentment: at President Obama, at the media, at the people who doubted him. And like O’Reilly, he spoke almost entirely of himself. His stump speeches were shocking, in part, because they were rarely about anything other than Donald Trump.

13) Interesting Rebecca Traister piece on the role of women’s reproductive rights within the Democratic party.  That said, I’m tired of throw-away lines like this:

For some time now, Sanders — who, it should be noted, has an extremely strong legislative record on reproductive rights — has spoken somewhat carelessly about a populist strategy that exchanges some core Democratic beliefs for the set of issues that are most important to him. “Once you get off the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues, there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand,” he said in 2015. In January of this year, at a CNN Town Hall, he reiterated, “Yes, of course, there are differences on issues like choice or on gay rights … But on many economic issues, you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views.”

Sanders is wrong that reproductive rights (or gay rights, for that matter) are separate from economic issues. The ability to control reproduction is central to women’s social, professional, and economic stability, and the women most likely to require abortion services and to be negatively affected by restrictions on access to reproductive health care are poor and low-income women, disproportionately women of color.

Really, I get it.  But still, let’s just not pretend people think about and conceptualize these issues the way they do matters like taxes, jobs, minimum wage, etc.  Oh, heck, as long as I’m letting Traister annoy me:

The deprioritization of reproductive rights was part of the strategy that helped Rahm Emanuel, chair of the DCCC, win the House for Democrats in 2006. But Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, argues that we should evaluate that strategy now with an understanding of its longer-term implications: “It did not result in more progressive legislation or in a durable governing coalition,” she says. “It depressed the base and predicated the rise of the Tea Party.”

Right.  That’s what led to the rise of the Tea Party.  Dumbest, most obviously self-serving political analysis ever?

14) The many forces pulling Trump in a more conventionally conservative direction.

15) Love Josh Marshall’s post on Trump’s “militant ignorance.”

What is endearing, terrifying and hilarious about Trump is not simply his ignorance, really his militant ignorance, but his complete lack of self-awareness about his ignorance. Trump told a reporter for The Wall Street Journal that his understanding of the problem of North Korea changed dramatically after hearing ten minutes of history from the President of China. Needless to say, Trump didn’t need to admit this. But neither was it candor.

So far the Trump Presidency has been a sort of Mr Magoo performance art in which the comically ignorant Trump learns elemental or basic things that virtually everyone in the world of politics or government already knew – things that the majority of adults probably know. Health Care: “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” North Korea: “I felt pretty strongly that they had tremendous power. But it’s not what you think.” There are perhaps half a dozen examples equally stark.

In other words, President Trump is open about his discoveries and even eager to share them but universally projects his previous state of comical ignorance onto the general public or whomever he is talking to. In other cases, this would make sense. If Trump discovered that humans could fly if they hold their nose, close one eye and say “Shazam!” I’d want to know. Because that’s awesome. And I wouldn’t think worse of Trump for not knowing it before. Because this is new and amazing information. But learning that health care policy is complicated is a different kind of discovery.

 

 

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