Quick hits (part I)

Well, it was get quick hits done in time for you to read it over the weekend or fully enjoy my time at my sister’s house on the Potomac River.  Obviously, I chose the latter.  Good stuff here, though.

1) John Oliver takes on prosecutors!  (About time this part of our criminal justice system got the John Oliver treatment).

2) Yes, having a state-run monopoly on selling liquor is absurd public policy, but whether this will end in North Carolina will not depend on whose policy arguments make the most sense, but which interest groups end up having the most sway with legislators.

3) Of course Republicans want to make it easier for payday lenders to defraud military servicemen.

4) Noah Smith is right, “Domino’s Pizza Fixing Potholes Is an Ominous Sign: Either government is failing, inequality is worsening, or both.”

I recently noticed a string of interesting news stories, all with the same theme. Domino’s Pizza is donating money to 20 U.S. cities, to be used for fixing potholes and cracked roads. Salesforce has donated $1.5 million to reduce homelessness in San Francisco, and its CEO, Marc Benioff, has spoken of grander schemes to end homelessness in the city entirely. And Facebook is talking about renovating a defunct bridge that runs across the San Francisco Bay near its offices.

All of these initiatives, in and of themselves, are good things. It’s good for potholes to be fixed, homeless people to be housed, and traffic congestion to be relieved. But the fact that it’s private companies taking these steps is an ominous sign for the nation. It suggests a breakdown in the government’s ability or willingness to carry out one of its core functions — the efficient provision of public goods.

5) Had an interesting conversation earlier this week about my very religious little sister versus her not particularly religious older sister (both my half-sisters).  In looking to explain the difference, I suggested it was likely genetics as much as anything.  SAR went right to the google and found this:

Social scientific research assumes that religious involvement is primarily, if not exclusively, the product of social‐environmental influences There is growing evidence, however, that genetic or other biological factors also play a role Analyzing twin sibling data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), this study addresses this issue by showing that individual‐level variation on four different aspects of religious life—organizational involvement, personal religiosity and spirituality, conservative ideologies, and transformations and commitments—is indeed the product of both genetic and environmental influences Specifically, genetic factors explain 19–65 percent of the variation, while environmental influences account for the remaining 35–81 percent depending upon the aspect of religion under investigation [emphasis mine] Research of this type enhances contemporary social science by providing a new perspective that nicely supplements existing ones, but it also highlights potential implications, including explanatory power deficiencies and potentially bias.

6) Speaking of religion, I saw the Book of Mormon and loved it.  Just super-entertaining.  And, part of the enjoyment was seeing the conventions of musical theater used in utterly profane and taboo ways.  And I did find David Brooks‘ take on the show to be thought-provoking.

7) Great interactive piece from Nate Cohn on the Trump coalition.  Check it out.

8) This was really fascinating from Ed Yong, “An Ancient Genetic Quirk Could Doom Whales Today: After losing an unnecessary gene millions of years ago, marine mammals are now uniquely vulnerable to pesticides that have only existed for a century.”

9) Loved this NYT interactive essay on why all the popular songs of recent years sound the same.  (Max Martin).  Actually, very cool visuals with this one.

10) In a different week, I would have written a nice post on the Trump administration’s appalling proposal on legal immigration.  This week, I’ll just tell you to make sure you read Catherine Rampell:

Second, this rule is ostensibly about making sure immigrants are self-sufficient and not a drain on public coffers. But NBC reports that the rule could disqualify immigrants making as much as 250 percent of the poverty level.

Moreover, an immigrant’s past use of benefits does not necessarily mean he or she will need them forever. Even the immigrant populations that you might expect to have the most trouble achieving economic self-sufficiency have proved to be a good long-term investment for the nation’s fiscal health…

Third, and most important, is that under the proposal, it’s not only immigrants who must forgo safety-net benefits if they don’t wish to be penalized by the immigration system. It is  everyone in a given immigrant’s household.

That includes — based on an earlier leaked draft of the proposal published by The Post — an immigrant’s own children, even if those children are U.S. citizens who independently qualify for safety-net benefits.

That’s right. Legal-immigrant moms and dads may soon face a choice between (A) guaranteeing their U.S.-born children medical care, preschool classes and infant formula today, or (B) not threatening their own ability to qualify for green cards or citizenship tomorrow.

The universe of U.S.-citizen children who could be affected is large. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that, in Medicaid and CHIP enrollment alone in 2016, about 5.8 million citizen children had a noncitizen parent…

Any policy that discourages, even a little bit, poor families’ use of such services is not just heartless. From an economic perspective, it is foolish. We need healthy, well-nourished, well-educated children to become healthy, well-nourished, productive workers.

But once again, children and the economic future they represent are the casualties of Trump’s casual cruelty.

11) Hmmm, lots of great NYT stuff this week.  Here’s a really cool interactive Upshot feature on the “age gap” for new mothers:

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

12) Whatever the politics of “Medicare for All” even a conservative thinktank admits it saves money (though, they kind of hid that).  Drum doesn’t:

Here’s some good news. The libertarians at the Mercatus Center did a cost breakdown of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan and concluded that it would save $2 trillion during its first ten years:

Now, as you might guess, this was not the spin the Mercatus folks put on their study. Their headline is “M4A Would Place Unprecedented Strain on the Federal Budget.” This isn’t really true, of course, since M4A would absorb all the costs of our current health care system but would also absorb all the payments we make to support it. That includes current taxes (for Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare), premiums paid by employers, premiums paid by individuals, and out-of-pocket costs from individuals. Instead of going straight to doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, it would go instead to the federal government, which would then pay everyone else. It’s a lot of money, but it’s no particular “strain” on anything.

And overall we’d save at least $2 trillion over ten years.

13) Science ways in on “boxers vs briefs” and the answer is “boxers.”  At least if you want to reproduce.

 

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