Map of the day

This cool Economist graphic is from 2010, but it’s new to me.

Why I can’t have more berries

I found this piece on why healthy food (i.e., fruits and vegetables) are inherently more expensive to produce than grain-based foods, subsidies aside, quite fascinating:

Have you heard that junk food is cheaper than fruits and vegetables because of the farm bill? It sure seems reasonable, because the ingredients in the junk — sugar from corn, oil from soy, flour from wheat — benefit from far more subsidy money than broccoli and beets…

The idea that wholesome foods are expensive and junk foods are cheap because of the system of subsidies in the farm bill pervades the conversation about food policy. But that idea has one very big problem. It’s false.

I have pointed this out before, but people keep saying it, so now I’m going to shout: IT’S FALSE…

A serving of raw broccoli (1 cup, chopped) costs 14 cents to grow. The same size serving of bell peppers costs 9 cents. A cup of strawberries costs 32 cents; blackberries come in at 74 cents. [emphasis mine] (I was, alas, unable to find current production costs for carrots, although it was not for lack of trying.) Keep in mind that this is the cost to grow and harvest them. They also have to be shipped and stored (and kept cold all the while), and everyone along the food chain gets a cut. By the time they get to you, they’re more expensive.

Now let’s look at commodity crops. The first ingredient in Twinkies is wheat, and a 1-ounce serving of it (enough to make a slice of bread) costs about half a cent. The fourth ingredient in Twinkies is corn syrup, and corn also rolls in at a half-cent per serving. So do lentils, although they don’t figure in Twinkies. If you go up to a whole cent, you can get an ounce of oats or a half-cup of potatoes. A penny and a half buys you an ounce of rice or peanuts. Because these crops don’t require refrigeration and have low water content (which means they weigh less), storage and shipping are much less expensive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls fruits and vegetables “specialty crops” for a reason. They’re a whole different animal from grains and legumes — a much more expensive animal. Vegetables cost at least 10 times what grains cost to grow (and that’s on a per-serving basis; look at it by calories and the difference is much larger)…

So, if we redirect our subsidies away from commodities and toward fruits and vegetables, the Twinkies would cost a penny or two more and the carrots a few pennies less — assuming those subsidies get passed on to consumers and not simply absorbed along the food chain.

My biggest takeaway?  Berries are depressingly expensive to grow :-).  Based on grocery story prices, I’m sure my beloved raspberries cost even significantly more than blackberries.  Anyway, it was pretty interesting to get this perspective on how changing our subsidy policies would likely have only a very small impact.

Onion, for the win

Sometimes, you just can’t beat good satire.  The Onion:

Alabama Forced To Release Thousands Of Sex Offenders After Inmates Deny Charges

MONTGOMERY, AL—Saying that the state had no choice but to take them at their word, Alabama officials on Tuesday announced that thousands of sex offenders would be released after the inmates firmly denied the charges. “If they said they didn’t do it, then what choice do we have but to let them go?” said Alabama Department of Corrections administrator Clay Buxton, adding that penitentiaries statewide would be interviewing prisoners and releasing them immediately upon receiving their sworn declaration of innocence. “We sometimes ask these individuals not just once but multiple times if they’re guilty of sex crimes, and when they say no, often very emphatically, our hands are pretty much tied.” Buxton emphasized, however, that any inmates who admitted that they did commit a sex crime will remain behind bars and continue to carry out their sentences as originally handed down.

Photo of the day

Liked how my G7x’s HDR effect turned out on this image during the Thanksgiving trip to Burnsville, NC:

This chart is really good news

Via Kevin Drum:

Since that is not immediately clear why it’s good news, here’s Drum:

If alcohol and marijuana are substitutes, it means that higher sales of marijuana will likely produce lower sales of alcohol. This would, generally speaking, be a good thing, since marijuana smoking is less hazardous than alcohol on multiple levels: It does less physiological damage to the imbiber and less damage to others (drunks tend to get mean while smokers tend to get stoned).

However, if alcohol and marijuana are complements, then higher sales of marijuana are likely to lead to higher sales of alcohol too. There would be nothing good about this…

Then they tracked the parameter over time and found that after MML laws were enacted, sales of alcohol were lower in the MML states:

We find that marijuana and alcohol are strong substitutes. Counties located in MML states reduced monthly alcohol sales by 15 percent, which is a consistent finding across several empirical specifications. When disaggregating by beer and wine we find that legalization of medical marijuana had a negative effect on corresponding sales by as much as 13.8 and 16.2 percent, respectively.

The authors also measured sales of alcohol in border counties. The effect was the same: after medical marijuana laws were enacted, counties in MML states had lower alcohol sales than counties across the state border.

One study, etc., but this is very promising.  Ideally, people would not use either alcohol or marijuana, but in the real world lots of people like to alter their brain chemistry for all sorts of reasons.  And the evidence is clear that it is a hell of a lot better for the individual than society for that to be done with marijuana rather than alcohol.

Short version– more clear evidence that we should liberalize our marijuana laws.

No really, NC Republicans really do hate poor people

Radley Balko on the case:

This story from the Marshall Project is just infuriating. North Carolina, like many states, has added layers of fees and fines for roadway infractions — and then for not being able to pay those fees and fines — that for low-income people can make even something as banal as a seat-belt violation grow into a crushing debt.

As post-Ferguson reports have drawn national attention to the debilitating nature of these fines and fees, some North Carolina judges have begun waiving them for people who can demonstrate that they’re too poor to pay them. Enter the state legislature, which Republicans control with a veto-proof majority.

A new North Carolina law takes effect Friday that is designed to hamstring the ability of judges to waive fines and fees for poor people.

Critics say the law will mean jail time for more poor people who can’t pay court costs that start at $179 for a seat belt violation and can easily surpass $1,000.

The law is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. It runs counter to reform efforts in other states that are attempting to reduce the number of people jailed because they are unable to pay fines or fees or make bail…

The argument in favor of the law, as near as I can tell, is that many public services in the state (including the courts) rely on these fines and fees for significant portions of their operational budgets. But the problem there is not that waiving these fees will starve the courts and some of these agencies of revenue; it’s that the state has a system in which so many basic government functions are reliant on fines and fees extracted from people accused of breaking the law. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the impartiality of the state’s municipal courts when their operating budgets grow fatter with every conviction and thinner with every acquittal…

Here’s what likely will happen: Under the new law, judges who frequently grant waivers are now looking at thousands of dollars in additional costs. If they stop granting waivers, those costs go away. The people who were too poor to pay before are probably still too poor to pay. It’s just that now their debts will continue to mount, they’ll eventually face the loss of their driver’s license and perhaps eventually wind up in jail. [emphases mine] (Also, please spare me the line about “if you’re too poor to pay the fine, just follow the law.” As I’ve explained here before, our roads and traffic laws are designed to encourage law-breaking and to generate revenue.)…

This legislation is abominable. In most jurisdictions where we see this odious system of fines, fees and predatory municipal courts, the system itself was the product of public officials who probably weren’t considering all of the ramifications and possible unintended consequences of the laws they were passing. That is, they’re guilty of careless and sloppy policymaking, but probably not of intentionally targeting the poor.

This North Carolina law is more sinister. These politicians are putting a boot to the necks of the state’s poor. And the fact that they’ve refused to put their names on the law is the big tell. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Wow.  It seems that every time you think, “damn, these Republicans running the state are stupid and evil, how much worse can it get?” they decide to show us.  Why not just pass a bill directly throwing poor people in prison.

Will the Millennials save us?

I’ve long been interested in the new generation gap we have.  In fact, I wrote a pretty good conference paper on the matter with Kyle Saunders seven years ago. Here’s the abstract– notice that it’s not just social issues driving the gap:

In 2008 a trend of growing political polarization between younger and older voters reached a new pinnacle, as voters under 30 supported Barack Obama by a full 20 points more than over 60 voters. In this paper, we examine the growing generation gap in partisanship and voting behavior and try to place 2008 in this historical context. We find that both younger and older voters have been shifting, but
the most dramatic shift is young voters away from the Republican Party. We then focus particularly on the results in 2008 to understand the underlying dynamics of the generation gaps in partisanship and voting. We find that social issues, social welfare issues, and the Iraq War have all served to drive apart young and old. Although much was made of the appeal of Obama to young people, we also find that only a fairly modest amount of the 2008 gap can be attributed to Obama’s candidacy. The generation gap, long dormant, now represents a major and consequential feature of the American political landscape and, were it to continue growing, will have important implications for the future of American elections.

Alas, it never became more mostly because I’m lazy and lame.  Regardless, I continue to think is a really interesting and increasingly important issue.  Thus, I really loved this analysis from Will Jordan:

Generally I think there is a belief out there that younger voters have always leaned further to the left than the rest of the county, only to grow more conservative as they grow older, marry, move to the suburbs, start paying taxes.  As the graphic above illustrates, this was not generally the case for Clinton or Bush 43 in terms of average job approval…


While 18-29 year-old age cohort, shown in turquoise, egregiously rejected Nixon in 1972, it had an average Democratic lean of less than three points from Jimmy Carter until Dubya’s re-election. Then, in 2008, the number shot up to a 14-point Democratic lean, then 10 points, then 9 points.

The trend isn’t limited to elections with Barack Obama – or Trump – on the ballot. Over the same 1976-2006 period the average Democratic lean of 18-29 year-olds in House elections was even smaller, just 2 points, and then it leapt to 9 points in 2008.

And because people vote more frequently as they age, this is going to be an increasingly big deal:

Another, maybe obvious, reason to believe yesterday’s young people will keep their allegiance to the Democratic Party is that Millennials are progressive. Millennials don’t just self-identify as liberal more than their elders, they take more consistently “liberal” positions, and fewer conservative positions, on a range of policy questions. The demographic make-up of the Millennial cohort – 44% come from communities of color, and they are set to be the most educated generation yet – would generally suggest Democratic leanings.

To many people this might feel like a waste of words. Didn’t we already know Millennials are liberals? The problem for Democrats isn’t that Millennials vote Republicans, it’s that they don’t vote at all… [emphasis mine]

There’s nothing remarkable about the rise of Millennials as a voting group per se. For a number of reasons – higher income, stable address, practice – previous generations voted more as they grew older, and most of the same factors apply to Millennials as well.

And, unlike in previous election cycles, we are further forward in time. By Pew’s definition (it is by no means the only one) the median Millennial was about 19 in 2008, and so s/he will be about 29 in 2018, a very different stage in life – and voting behavior.

A good illustration of this is from a Wonkblog article using data from Political Data Inc., a California firm. The curve shows turnout rates by age, and what you get is a spike for 18-year-olds and then a gradual, linear increase until turnout plateaus around age 70…

In other words, Millennials are entering a phase where the whole generation, across all ages, gets more likely to vote each passing year. Boomers and their elders, meanwhile, are declining in numbers (sad, but true) and, in many cases, declining or plateauing in average turnout rates.

On a related note, today’s youngest Americans (iGeneration?) are also a liberal-leaning group and Donald Trump’s everything -ist/-phobic presidency is only going to lock that in.  So long as Republicans don’t utterly destroy our democracy, the two youngest generations give us real hope for the future.

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