Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Welcome home

The Trevor Project to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth has posted a powerful picture (HT: Roger Canaff).

This marine came home and for the first time, publicly kissed his partner without fear of being discharged. Welcome home and thank you for your service.
Semper Fi!

What? It wasn't the CRA?

Rick Santorum trotted out a new Republican explanation for the financial collapse in 2008--higher gas prices.
During a campaign appearance in Michigan, Santorum said the housing bubble burst in 2008 because people could no longer afford to pay their mortgages because of high gas prices.

"We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices," Santorum said in Michigan according to Buzzfeed. "The bubble burst in housing because people couldn’t pay their mortgages because of $4 a gallon gasoline."
If you're wondering why you haven't heard this explanation before, it's because no one else would be dumb enough to espouse it.

The price on gasoline was $4 a gallon or higher in June and July of 2008. The Great Recession began more than half a year before this in December 2007, and the housing bubble burst even earlier in the spring of 2006.

Either homeowners were incredibly far-sighted and started cutting back on mortgage payments more than two years in advance of the run-up in gas prices, or Santorum is a boob.

Friday, February 24, 2012

More gun tragedies

A nine year old faces possible jail time after a .45-caliber gun that he brought from his mother's house accidentally fired and wounded a classmate.
Crying and wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, a frightened 9-year-old boy accused of accidentally shooting a classmate sat before a judge in juvenile court Thursday as his father gently rubbed his back.

The scene — coming a day after police said the boy accidently shot a fellow third-grader — raised questions that will be played out in the legal system: Did he know what he did was wrong? And is anyone else responsible?
The father is quoted as saying, "I just want everyone to know that my kid made a mistake. It was a terrible mistake;" however, no one is quoted about the abject stupidity of leaving a gun lying around where a nine year old could access it.

Cdogzilla links to a story about a pastor's 20 year old daughter who was mortally wounded in her father's church when her fiancée was showing another church member his gun.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office says 20-year-old Hannah Kelley was pronounced dead at about 10:20 a.m. Saturday at Bayfront Medical Center. An autopsy is pending.

Kelley had been hospitalized since Feb. 12, when she was struck in the head by a bullet at Grace Connection Church in St. Petersburg, where her father Tim Kelley is pastor.

Investigators have said Moises Zambrana was showing his gun in a small closet to another church member interested in buying a firearm. The St. Petersburg Times reports that the other church member, Dustin Bueller, was Hannah Kelley's fiancée.
Closer to home, a 102 year old Greensboro man shot his 84 year old wife before turning the gun on himself.

Just another average week of gun-related mayhem.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Those horrible, dastardly contraceptive insurance mandates--that are already in place in 28 states

Conservatives are beside themselves with indignation over the Obama administration's mandate that insurance plans include coverage for contraception and reproductive health services.

For example, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has written to the Secretary of Health and Human Services
This rule highlights this Administration’s continued invasive role in designing the health care benefits available to Americans and underscores one of the numerous concerns Americans have with the Affordable Care Act. That the definition of a preventative benefit services has morphed into a requirement to force Americans to buy a product that violates their conscience demonstrates the dramatic overreach of the law into Americans’ personal freedoms and liberties. This burdensome and morally dubious regulation stands against more than 200 years of our nation’s proud history of religious and individual liberty.
Harumph! It's odd though that Sen. Grassley doesn't criticize his own state, which has an insurance mandate that employers provide contraception and outpatient services, with no exclusions.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) has also criticized the compromise version of the mandate, saying
It’s still clear that President Obama does not understand this isn’t about cost – it’s about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions. President Obama believes that he should have that control. Our Constitution states otherwise.

Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you’ve satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms that all Americans are guaranteed.

I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we reverse this unconstitutional mandate in its entirety.
Sen. Blunt has gone so far to introduce legislation to allow any employer opt out of providing contraception through insurance plans. Maybe Sen. Blunt should first convince Missouri to drop that state's insurance mandate that includes religious exemptions but requires that insurers still allow individuals to obtain coverage.

In fact, contraception is already part of mandated insurance coverage in 28 states. Twelve of those states either have no exemptions or have exemptions that are weaker than what the Obama administration is proposing.

My home state, North Carolina, is one of those states that mandates coverage for contraception and outpatient services. It also has exclusions that are similar to those in the federal proposal.

Insurance coverage for contraception was a widely accepted (and implemented) policy a few weeks ago. Once the Obama proposed a rule along the same lines, Party of No, began gainsaying just like Pavlov's dinner bell just rang.

Gov. Romney's "conversion" debunked

William Saletan has written a powerful, carefully researched, and at times chilling article detailing the evolutions in former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's public position on reproductive choice.
Romney wants to persuade pro-lifers that the pro-choice position he took in 1994 was based on ignorance. Had he known the reality of abortion firsthand, he would have stood for life. But Romney did know the reality of abortion. He knew it from Sandy Catalano, Carrel Sheldon, and possibly other women he had counseled. And he knew it from Ann Keenan.

Looking at the 1994 and 2007 videos, it’s hard to know which Romney to believe. The transformation they convey is more than a change of mind. It’s a rewriting of emotional experience, or at least what was advertised as emotional experience. Was Romney telling the truth in 1994 when he described how Ann Keenan’s death had shaken his family? Or was he telling the truth in 2007 when he told Tim Russert that abortion was only theoretical to him until he became governor? How can you forget or minimize something you portrayed as so wrenching? How can one man be real unless the other is acting?

That isn’t the only thing Romney blacked out between 1994 and 2007. On June 12, 1994, he and his wife, Ann, attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at the home of a Republican activist in Massachusetts. In May 2007, somebody outed the Romneys for having written a $150 check to Planned Parenthood, presumably for attending the event. The check, signed by Ann, was from their joint account. At this point, only the check was public. Reporters hadn’t yet learned about the event. Mitt Romney responded by attributing the check to Ann: "Her contributions are for her and not for me, and her positions I do not think are terribly relevant to my campaign." ...Six months later, a photo of Mitt at the event turned up. Did he not remember being there? Or was it just easier to pin the check on his wife and hope nobody found out more?

Nothing in Romney’s evolving autobiography is more misleading than his claim that he never called himself pro-choice...

...He’s also a gifted salesman. He learns your language and puts you at ease. He gives you the version of his record, position, or motive that will please you most. When he comes down on your side, it’s intentional. When he doesn’t, it’s inadvertent. He focuses not on communicating his beliefs but on formulating, framing, or withholding them for political effect. He tells moving stories of personal experience to show you his sincerity. Then, if necessary, he erases those stories from his playbook and his memory.

...Romney will always be what he needs to be. Count on it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Serious lapse of ... judgement and ethics" by climate researcher

Dr. Peter Gleick, a renowned climate expert on water issues and President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security posted a blog on the Huffington Post, confessing to obtaining internal information from the Heartland Institute under false pretenses and then distributing that information.
In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues.
As Dr. Gleick undoubtedly knows, the conduct of science depends on ethical behavior and above all on a reputation for honesty. No one observes us in our laboratories or pouring over survey results, and even with peer review of the final product, much of what scientists do comes down to a matter of trust.

Indeed, part of the strategy of the Heartland Institute and others is to erode that trust by whatever means necessary.

Sadly, Dr. Gleick's deceit has helped that effort far more than the Heartland Institute could have dreamed.

As frustrating as it can sometimes be, science isn't a discipline where you can fight fire with fire. Scientific ethics can't be a sometimes thing.

Update (11:40 a.m., 2/21/12):While Dr. Gleick's actions were shameful, it's hard to have much sympathy for the Heartland Institute, which repeatedly exulted in the release of private e-mails and documents from others.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What did Santorum say?

It's amazing how many things Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, didn't say over the last few days--about so many topics!

On Saturday, the former senator told Tea Party supporters that the President's policies are "not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology," but later said he wasn't saying anything about the President's religion and certainly wasn't saying that the President wasn't a Christian.

The candidate's press secretary tried to further explain. "As he has clarified the statement, he was talking about radical environmentalists... There is a type of theological secularism when it comes to the global warmists in this country. That's what he was referring to. He was referring to the president's policies, in terms of the radical Islamic policies the president has." The secretary later said that she misspoke by using the word, "Islamic" (she apparently meant everything else).

Later on Saturday, Mr. Santorum said
One of the things that you don't know about Obamacare and one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing in every insurance policy in America. Why? Because it saves money in health care. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.
He later explained that he wasn't saying that prenatal testing shouldn't be offered or that people shouldn't have access to it.

He also said
But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly, much less that the state government should be running schools is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home school or have the little neighborhood school and into these big factories. So we built equal factories called public schools.
He later explained that he didn't say that state governments couldn't help fund schools.

On Sunday night, he told other supporters
Your country needs you. It’s not as clear a challenge. Obviously, World War II was pretty obvious. At some point, they knew. But remember, the Greatest Generation, for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, where our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia. America sat from 1940, when France fell, to December of ’41, and did almost nothing.

“Why? Because we’re a hopeful people. We think, ‘Well, you know, he’ll get better. You know, he’s a nice guy. I mean, it won’t be near as bad as what we think. This’ll be okay.’ Oh yeah, maybe he’s not the best guy, and after a while, you found out things about this guy over in Europe, and he’s not so good of a guy after all. But you know what? Why do we need to be involved? We’ll just take care of our own problems. Just get our families off to work and our kids off to school, and we’ll be okay.

“It’s sort of the optimistic spirit of America but sometimes, sometimes it’s not okay. It’s going to be harder for this generation to figure this out. There’s no cataclysmic event. It’s going to be hard. You understand it — you’re here. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t get it. But what about the rest of America, do they understand what’s happening? Is anybody telling them what’s happening? Is anybody reminding us who we are, what made us great, and what these assaults are all about — to clear the way?
However, he later explained that he wasn't saying that President Obama was like Hitler. No nothing of the sort.

Maybe if Mr. Santorum and his staff would just come out and "say say" things instead of "not say" things, we'd be able to understand him better.

Just sayin'.

Higher education is a consitutionally-enshrined right in North Carolina

The local paper has a letter to the editor berating students protesting tuition increases at UNC for claiming a "right" to a college education.
The front page of the Feb. 11 News and Record shows a picture of students protesting the university budget cuts. What caught my attention were the signs proclaiming “Education is a right.” No, it is not! It is an earned privilege (after public secondary school). Where in the U.S. Constitution are individuals guaranteed the right to an education? It is this Constitution that ensures your right to protest.

Is it ignorance of the Constitution or just plain effete entitlement? Is it a reflection of the public education system’s failure to teach basic civics and how our great nation was created to operate? Be aware that the government governs only at the pleasure of the people. Government does not afford rights to the people, as we are all born with inalienable rights that government neither grants, affords nor can legally infringe. Read the Bill of Rights. The Constitution limits the powers of the federal government. During our liberal/progressive periods, this is lost by the public and our leaders.

This limit escapes our university students, apparently. It is the era of entitlements that led our young people to believe someone else (taxpayers) is obligated to ensure their higher education.
The letter writer focuses on the U.S. Constitution, which is indeed silent about a right to higher education.

However, the applicable document in this case is the North Carolina Constitution, which does provide such rights. Specifically, Article IX, section 8 states
The General Assembly shall maintain a public system of higher education, comprising The University of North Carolina and such other institutions of higher education as the General Assembly may deem wise. The General Assembly shall provide for the selection of trustees of The University of North Carolina and of the other institutions of higher education, in whom shall be vested all the privileges, rights, franchises, and endowments heretofore granted to or conferred upon the trustees of these institutions. The General Assembly may enact laws necessary and expedient for the maintenance and management of The University of North Carolina and the other public institutions of higher education.
Section 9 states
The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.
And Section 10 states that the funds from escheats will be directed toward financial aid for needy in-state higher-education students.

Is the letter writer showing ignorance of his state's Constitution, or just effete entitlement to overlook rights and obligations that are inconvenient?

On this one, the UNC students are right, and the letter writer is wrong. Affordable higher education is a constitutionally-enshrined right in North Carolina.

Maybe someone should also remind the Republican legislature, which seems to have forgotten its Constitutional obligations to higher education.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Questionable investment

Wow, and Republicans criticize Solyndra as a bad investment. The Center for Public Integrity reports
Another $10 million donation is expected to arrive within days from casino owner Sheldon Adelson to the outside group that’s provided life support to Newt Gingrich’s beleaguered presidential campaign, say fundraisers with ties to the multibillionaire.

The $10 million infusion from Adelson would bring total donations from Adelson and family to the pro-Gingrich super PAC “Winning Our Future” to a stunning $21 million, far more than any super PAC donor has given to date.
If Mr. Adelson would is looking for other places to waste his money, I'd be happy to oblige.

"Tebow" bill in Virginia would disadvantage public-school students

Virginia's House of Delegates has recently passed a bill that would have the effect of allowing home-schooled children to participate in public-school sports teams. In principle, the legislation is a good idea. Public-school sports teams are publicly-financed, and home-schooled children should be allowed to participate on the same basis as other children. To do otherwise is to discriminate against home-schooling.

An op-ed in this morning's Washington Post argues that the legislation will result in some public-school children losing their spots on sports teams and that some of these children may be more deserving because of their ties to the school. The author is right that some existing public-school students will be displaced, but students are also displaced when new students enroll in a school or when the distribution of talent changes at a school (e.g., when other students work out harder and out-compete them). No student is guaranteed a spot on a school team, and a hard fact of life is that limited spots will mean that some students will be left aside. So, my concern isn't with fair competition from home-schooled students.

The concern instead is about unfair competition. Student athletes are subject to a host of requirements regarding their academic progress and behavior. The academic requirements include course grade and GPA standards across the entire curriculum and on a quarterly or semester basis. In Virginia, public-school students must also pass standardized tests across a broad set of subjects to advance in some grades and subjects.

The Virginia bill applies some standards to home-schooled students. In particular, these students would have to show evidence of academic progress for two consecutive years and would also be subject to some disciplinary standards. However, the home-school standards are much weaker than the public school standards. For example, annual academic progress for home-schoolers can be demonstrated by passing the math and language arts sections of a national standardized test at the 23 percentile. Thus, home-schooled students don't have to master the same breadth of subject material as public-school students and don't have to show the same consistency in performance (are subject to a single annual measure rather than period-by-period measures).

Similarly, the disciplinary requirements are different. Parents are not required to maintain the same standards within their homes or report any in-home disciplinary problems. Short of the child coming to the attention of law enforcement, there would be no record of disciplinary issues.

My guess is that most home-school students would be able to meet the public-school standards (just as most public-school students do). However, the lax rules for home-school students mean that some could be advantaged relative to public-school students.

The different standards also create some perverse incentives. The Washington Post op-ed complains that allowing home-school students to participate in public-school sports could encourage more home-schooling. However, we don't want unfair restrictions on sports participation to drive decisions to home-school. If unfair restrictions are keeping some students in public schools, a shift to more home-schooling when the playing field is leveled could be a good thing. There is nothing perverse about the incentives created by a level playing field.

Problems might arise, however, from students shifting into home-schooling to evade the behavioral and academic restrictions placed on other students. Sadly, there are unscrupulous public-school sports coaches and unscrupulous parents who will bend the eligibility rules to get children onto particular sports teams. For example, residency rules for children are frequently an issue. Under the proposed Virginia rules, a coach could encourage parents to remove a child with marginal academic or behavioral performance from a public school, substitute a marginally-qualified tutor for instructional purposes, and still have the child participate in sports.

The Virginia legislation purports to be fair and even-handed but does not appear to be. The Virginia Senate has a chance to correct some of these problems by applying equivalent standards to home-school and public-school students.

The proposed legislation also has a sunset clause and would expire on June 30, 2017. The Virginia Senate would do well to maintain this clause but also require an independent evaluation of the effects of the legislation on student outcomes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

And Maryland will make it 9

Maryland is poised to join Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington in allowing same-sex marriage. The Washington Post reports
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage won narrow approval Friday night in the Maryland House of Delegates, setting the stage for the state to join seven others and the District in allowing gay nuptials.

The 72 to 67 vote, which followed a day of emotional and contentious debate, capped a dramatic turnaround from a year ago and all but assures the measure will be sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for his promised signature.

The bill passed with one vote to spare and moves to the Senate, which approved similar legislation last year.
With California poised to restore marriage rights to same-sex couples and with several additional states (Colorado, Deleware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) already recognizing same-sex civil unions, the tide toward recognizing the civil rights of all citizens is clearly coming in.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rep. Tillis stifles progressives' free-speech, not Tea Partiers'

The News and Observer had an article this morning about Rep. Thom Tillis invoking an obscure and seldom used rule to remove progressive demonstrators from the second floor of the statehouse.
At the statehouse, North Carolina's people are prohibited from visiting the second floor - the floor where lobbyists lobby and lawmakers make laws.

The rule is posted on a concrete wall in the lobby, written in roughly 12-point font, behind glass and a black frame, tucked in a corner behind a leafy potted tree.

The language is nearly 25 years old, and few lawmakers knew it even existed until Thursday, when House Speaker Thom Tillis' office invoked it - for first time in anyone's memory - to clear a group of demonstrators from the hall outside his office.
When I read the article this morning, I wondered how long it would be until someone found evidence of differential and deferential treatment of Tea Party demonstrators.

It turns out, it didn't take long. NC Policy Watch reports
Police and House Speaker Thom Tillis — who defended the action and, depending upon who you believe, may have even participated in it — took a decidedly different approach toward a gaggle of Tea Party protesters who visited the General Assembly during a busy session day last March.

Check out the video below to watch yesterday’s eviction juxtaposed with footage (posted by our friends at the Pope-Civitas Institute) of the Speaker and his Chief of Staff Charles Thomas speaking amicably with conservative protesters in the exact same second floor hallway.
The videos are posted at their site.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mechanical rape?

While conservatives are besides themselves about giving a free lunch to a four-year-old girl, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick reports that Virginia may be preparing to forcibly, mechanically penetrate most women who seek early-week abortions.
This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.
Republicans countered in essence, "penetration, shmenetration, what's the big deal?" The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports
Del. Kathy J. Byron, R-Campbell, sponsored the bill and urged rejection of the amendment.

"If we want to talk about invasiveness, there's nothing more invasive than the procedure that she is about to have," Byron said.
In other words, they had it coming.

Tempest in a lunch box

Yesterday, the Pope-funded Carolina Journal misreported that
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.
Meanwhile the Pope-funded Civitas Institute added, "A state inspector assessing the pre-K program at the school said the girl also needed a vegetable, so the inspector ordered a full school lunch tray for her."

One teensy-weensy problem though--the state employee made no such statement to the girl and ordered no such meal. It's doubtful that the state employee "inspected" the girl's lunch at all.

The Carolina Journal was forced to backtrack on the story, changing the paragraphs from above to
A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.
Funny, I didn't know that schools could talk.
The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.
The Carolina Journal explained that "The first two paragraphs of this story were updated. Neither DHHS nor school officials would identify the person who inspected the homemade lunches and decided they did not meet USDA guidelines." Thus, the CJ's initial statements, which were reported as facts (not "alleged" or according to the child or parent), were never confirmed with the school, DHHS, or the person involved.

Indeed, the CJ actually has the gall to now run a story about not being able to identify the person involved, saying that "the government officials involved have provided sketchy — and sometimes conflicting — details" about the person involved, and then lists contradictions from the Civitas story as part of the evidence.

A spokesperson for the school district later admitted that it was likely the school's mistake.

After investigating, the DHHS determined
...no employee of DHHS, nor the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) or its contractors, instructed any child to replace or remove any meal items. Furthermore, it is not DHHS' policy to inspect, go through or question any child about food items brought from home. The facts we have gathered confirm that no DHHS employee or contractor did this.
The CJ has characterized the results of the DHHS investigation as one of the "sketchy" details.

Compounding the error, U.S. Representatives Larry Kissel and Renee Elmers sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, complaining that "a school official denied a child the right to eat the lunch provided to her by her mother" and "at no point should a government official be allowed to deny a 4-year-old child access to a parent packed lunch or imply to a child that their lunch is wrong or there is a problem with the food provided to them by their mother or father." This despite the fact that none of the people involved has claimed that the little girl was denied access to her lunch.

However, the CJ is now also reporting on the overblown uproar caused by its own irresponsible and incorrect reporting.

Ultimately, what is the great mistake that was made? People who were concerned that a little girl did not have an adequate lunch appear to have put her in a cafeteria line with the intention of having her get an additional free item to go along with the lunch that her mother packed but mistakenly giving her a full, free school lunch instead.

Which all goes to show that the economists' old adage is true--there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Update and note (6:50 p.m., 2/16): This post summarizes and extends a conversation at Doug Clark's blog.

As part of that conversation, the publisher of the CJ, John Hood, wrote
CJ did not report that the person in question personally intervened to keep the girl from eating her packed lunch. Nor did we report that the packed lunch was confiscated.

...The only reason we changed a couple of words in our initial story is that other news media were misreading them and inventing events that did not happen — and that CJ never reported as happening — such as a government health inspector confiscating the kid's turkey sandwich. We noted that there is no doubt which institution dealt with the kid. It was the school, not the inspector.
That's funny, because besides contradicting the explanation that the CJ actually posted, the statement is belied by CJ's headline on its initial story "Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria 'Nuggets:' State agent inspects sack lunches, forces preschoolers to purchase cafeteria food instead."

In addition to the economics free lunch adage, there is an even older adage that says "what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive."

Update #2 (8:00 p.m. 2/16): Covering its tracks, the CJ has sent the words "forces" and "to" from the article headline down the memory hole. No explanation given by CJ, and frankly, none expected.

People who tell the truth from the start never don't have to change their stories.

New Republican banking crisis

The country already knew the Republicans and banks were a bad combination. Now Bloomberg reminds us
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said 78 days ago that lawmakers could “take to the bank the fact that” a payroll tax cut extension “will be paid for.”

That resolve fizzled yesterday when he agreed to support a deal that would add about $100 billion to the budget deficit.
Rep. Boehner's insolvent banking also extends to his signature highway bill.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday moved to split up a major House transportation bill as Republicans looked to smooth its passage over objections from the right and left.

GOP leaders announced that the $260 billion highway bill would come to the House floor this week in three pieces, using a procedural maneuver that would allow the bill to be recombined after each component passes.

...While Republicans argued that the move adhered to the party’s commitment to transparency, it also served as an acknowledgement that Boehner was having trouble cobbling together the votes to send the bill — one of his top priorities — to the Senate. That effort was complicated further on Tuesday with the release of a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report finding that the GOP legislation would leave a $78 billion hole in the highway trust fund.
Don't worry though, Rep. Boehner has successfully guided the House in the last month to vote against an increase in the debt ceiling that these new measures will require.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So what was the fuss about?

After stalling and holding up the extension of the payroll tax cut, the House Republican "leadership" yesterday announced that they would let the remaining 10-month extension go through without demanding offsetting tax increases. The Hill reports
House Republican leaders on Monday backed down on their demand to offset the costs of extending the payroll tax cut for the remainder of 2012.

The election-year move marked a major concession for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants, who are seeking to avoid a rerun of the resounding political defeat they suffered in December on the same issue.

In their joint statement Monday, Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that Republicans would unveil a bill simply extending the payroll tax cut through December.
The opposition to the tax cut and the demand that they get a pound of flesh in return showed the Party of No at its most negative.

The recent history of the Republican Party up to the election of President Obama was one of supporting tax cuts and specifically ruling out compensating spending decreases. Republicans took this approach in passing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which never had fully offsetting spending decreases and in numerous temporary adjustments to the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Republicans have continued to make the argument, though in the context of keeping tax cuts in place for the wealthy.

Republicans have wised up and moved to cut their losses on this one. Regrettably, in holding up this tax cut, they needlessly contributed to several additional months of policy uncertainty.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All the good news that's not fit to print

Perusing the ultra-slim Monday edition of our local paper this morning over coffee, I read through the regular page-2 feature on GUILFORD COUNTY'S MOST WANTED (their font, not mine). One of the suspects who was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon sounded pretty dangerous; the other who was wanted for forgery and identity theft, a little less so.

The paper has run this every week since February 2008. The implicit message is clear--crime is a big enough problem that the police can't handle it and need the community's help. The feature, another that shows a map of burglaries each week in Greensboro, and the general set of stories in the paper pound a constant drumbeat of fear that crime is out of control.

My guess is that many Greensboro residents would be genuinely shocked to learn that crime is substantially lower in the last few years than in previous years.

Below is the violent crime rate (number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents) from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. The reports have some flaws (they only include crimes reported to police, depend on jurisdiction, etc.; Tony Wilkins can tell you more), but reports over time within the same city tend to be comparable.

The statistics show that Greensboro's violent crime rate in 2010 (the last full year available) was at its lowest point since 1985. Preliminary statistics from 2011 indicate that that year was safer still.

The statistics are no comfort at all to the 1,500 or so victims of violent crime in 2010, but the population as a whole should feel much safer.

The property crime rate in 2010 was also at its lowest level since 1985, as the following chart shows. And again, preliminary statistics from 2011 indicate that the downward trend continued (despite fears expressed by some social scientists).


The one crime that has bucked the trend is burglaries (a component of property crime). The burglary rate in Greensboro spiked in 2007-8 but has decreased since. The recent trend is downward and seems to have continued into 2011. The overall property crime rate is down because the other components--larcenies/thefts, motor vehicle thefts, and arson--are way down (the car theft rate is less than half what it was in the late 1990s).

The statistics don't suggest that vigilance isn't warranted (I'm not about to start leaving my doors to my home or car unlocked), but they do indicate that safety has improved substantially.

Also, the general trends aren't unique to Greensboro. Crime nationally is down.

Maybe somebody should tell the newspapers. Somehow, however, I don't think that we'll see a weekly feature saying GREENSBORO'S CRIME RATE STILL LOWEST SINCE 1985.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A difference in contraception provision without much of distinction

The White House, feeling the heat from Catholics' and conservatives' hysterical reactions to its original decision to treat religiously-affiliated non-profits like other employers by requiring them to include contraceptive care in their health insurance plans, announced a new policy today--or did it?
Women still will be guaranteed coverage for contraceptive services without any out-of-pocket cost, but will have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds.

Religiously-affiliated non-profit employers such as schools, charities, universities, and hospitals will be able to provide their workers with plans that exclude such coverage. However, the insurance companies that provide the plans will have to offer those workers the opportunity to obtain additional contraceptive coverage directly, at no additional charge.

Families would have access to the same insurance coverage at the same cost as the original proposal. The only difference is that the coverage would not formally be part of the plan, and families would have to apply for coverage separately and directly with the insurer.

Pick your metaphor--fig leaf, shell game, smoke and mirrors--there isn't much of a change (though given the Catholic church's fondness for ritual and given the clergy's history of studied blindness and Catholics' general cognitive dissonance regarding contraception since Humanae Vitae in 1968, you could see how President Obama would think he could get this one past them).

Which isn't to say that the policy is costless.

The policy increases the paperwork burden for families and insurance companies. Although the coverage is "free" to families, these minor hassles along with people's inertia will undoubtedly reduce take-up. So in the end, fewer families will get coverage, and administrative costs will rise.

The usual practice of this blog is to argue on the basis of rationality. However, in this case, President Obama has proposed something so outrageously and audaciously irrational that it just might work.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Who schedules this guy?

For people with a sense of humor, former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney just keeps giving and giving.

In an effort to burnish his image among "the 99 percent" in Maine, Gov. Romney will address supporters at Portland Yacht Services. The Bangor Daily News reports
Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee frontrunner Mitt Romney is expected to campaign in Maine on Friday, just one day before the state GOP releases results of its presidential preference poll.

Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster told The Associated Press that Romney is expected to speak Friday evening at a rally at Portland Yacht Services.
As the rally is an evening affair, black tie is recommended.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

9th Circuit Court supports civil rights in California

A panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit today upheld a federal judge's decision that California's same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.
Restated, the ban is malicious discrimination, pure and simple.

With this ruling, Californians are one step closer to having their civil rights restored.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Republicans have put a more restrictive ban on the ballot for May. While I sincerely hope that voters will stand up for civil rights in this state, a broader court ruling that establishes these rights once and for all may not be too far off. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Republicans validate their own concerns about voter fraud

As the saying goes, politicians are prone to say one thing and then do something else and then vote in another place altogether.

From Politico
Indiana's top elections official could lose his job and his freedom after jurors convicted him of multiple voter fraud-related charges on Saturday, leaving in flux the fate of one of the state's most powerful positions.

Republican Secretary of State Charlie White has held on to his office for more than a year despite being accused of lying about his address on voter registration forms.

A Hamilton County jury found White guilty of six of seven felony charges, including false registration, voting in another precinct, submitting a false ballot, theft and two counts of perjury. He was acquitted on one fraud charge.
Indiana was an early adopter of Voter ID requirements. The state passed its law in 2005. That law, however, did nothing to prevent this particular fraud.

Freeway & Jake can take us out...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Birth-control "abhorrent" to Catholics?

President Obama has come under withering criticism from a segment of the Catholic community for his decision not to exempt religious-affiliated non-profits, such as the University of Notre Dame, from new health insurance rules that require health plans to cover the cost of contraception. For example the Catholic Action League has denounced the policy, calling it "an expression of unmitigated contempt for the rights, consciences, and sensibilities of Catholics” and complaining that the institutions "will be forced to pay for procedures, devices, and chemicals abhorrent to the consciences of Catholics."

Let's put aside the fact that the exemption to religious institutions and to organizations that primarily serve or employ people from a particular religious group stands.

Those procedures, devices, and chemicals aren't abhorrent to most Catholics, at least on revealed preference grounds.

Catholics contracept at approximately the same rates as other groups. In April 2011, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released a analysis of 2006-8 data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Among sexually-active women of reproductive age who were neither pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant, 89 percent of Catholics were using some form of birth control, which is identical to all women in that group. The types of contraception were also nearly identical. Rates of pill use were 31 percent for Catholics and for women generally; rates of IUD use were 5 percent for Catholics and women generally; rates of sterilization (of either the woman or her partner) were 32 percent for Catholics and 33 percent for women generally, and rates of condom usage were 15 percent for Catholics and 14 percent for women generally.

Thus, it appears that the "sensibilities" of the vast majority of Catholics include not just the tolerance but the regular use of contraceptives. The rights of these Catholics and the many non-Catholics who are employed at these tax-advantaged (and often taxpayer-supported) institutions also need to be considered.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hey Gov. Romney, the poor are Americans too!

Looking to erase the stigma of Romney-care, former Gov. Mitt ("Honey Badger") Romney unveiled a new social agenda--Romney-don't-care.

Gov. Romney: I'm in this race because I care about Americans.

With you so far Governor. It would be better to care with all of humanity, but voters will understand that you can only do so much and that someone whose heart is already two-sizes too small has to start somewhere.

Romney: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If that needs repair I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America. The 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I'll continue to take that message across the nation.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.

The poor aren't Americans? They're not included in "the very heart of America?" Governor Romney, who has previously criticized liberals, the Occupy movement, and his Republican rivals for sowing class warfare, has effectively disinherited the poor from America.

With respect to the Governor's 90-95 percent figure, he might be surprised (if he cared) to discover that 46.2 million Americans, 15.1 percent of our population, were officially poor in 2010. One third of Americans--more than 100 million people--lived in households with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line and were considered poor or near poor.  6.7 percent of American were in deep poverty, meaning that they were living in households with incomes that were less than half of the poverty threshold. Those are sizable groups that Governor Romney is tagging as un-American and unworthy of his concern.

Also,  the very poor would take issue with whether we have anything near a safety net. All of the poverty figures account for cash transfers, like welfare and social security. So, that's a 15.1 percent poverty rate after those safety net checks have gone out. An alternative poverty measure that accounts for in-kind transfers, like food, medical, housing, and energy assistance, but that also accounts more accurately for households' needs, indicates that 16 percent of Americans are poor. A safety net that lets nearly one out of every six people fall through seems moth-eaten and in serious need of repair.

But, at least it's not Americans who are falling through those holes.