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BREAKING Merrick Garland News

[ 77 ] April 4, 2016 |


His chances of being confirmed remain 0%. Don’t be fooled by the occasional Republican senator who decides to meet with him.


Stop Trying To Fix Poor People

[ 124 ] April 4, 2016 |


One of the two fundamental problems with American welfare policy is that at its core, it assumes that the poor are morally deficient and need to be fixed instead of just poor. So rather than just increase the money in these programs, politicians blather on about the morality of the poor, which is an excuse not to fully fund them.

We know growing up poor is bad for kids. But instead of focusing on the money, U.S. anti-poverty policy often focuses on the perceived moral shortcomings of the poor themselves. We don’t try to address poverty directly, or alleviate it; we simply try to change the way poor people behave, especially poor parents. Specifically, we offer two choices to poor parents if they want to escape poverty: get a job, or get married. Not only does this approach not work, but it’s also a cruel punishment for children who cannot be held responsible for their parents’ decisions.

Policy that addresses poverty by punishing the poor for their perceived misdeeds plays on some popular misunderstandings, especially about marriage and parenting. Many non-poor people mistakenly believe that our lax attitude toward marriage is behind the child poverty problem. That’s why a Heritage Foundation claim that marriage reduces the chance of living in poverty by 82 percent has been a staple on the Republican campaign trail this season, and welfare money has been diverted from alleviating poverty to promoting marriage among the poor.

First, single parenthood doesn’t just cause these social ailments, it also reflects them. Some of these problems are merely the consequence of whatever caused their parents to be single in the first place: poverty, illness, incarceration, weak relationship skills, and so on. In other words, successful people are more likely to raise successful children and to have successful marriages. Research on marriage among poor Americans clearly shows that the majority want to be married, but they aren’t for a variety of reasons related to their poverty. Faced with poor prospects in a marriage partner, some women reason, “I can do bad by myself,” as reported in the book “Promises I Can Keep,” by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. Some couples place marriage on a pedestal, and plan to postpone it until they are financially stable. As one young man with a pregnant girlfriend put it, “I’d rather get engaged for two years, save money, get a house, make sure … the baby’s got a bedroom.” For too many, however, that moment never arrives.

Poverty clearly lowers the chance of a successful marriage, even as being single may make it harder to escape poverty. This pattern is the subject of a long-running debate among social scientists. Although we can’t agree on the exact breakdown of cause and effect, any reasonable researcher will concede it runs both ways.

But the second answer is perhaps more important for today’s poverty debates. It is that the number of single-parent families doesn’t drive the poverty rate – rather, it mostly helps determine which families and children will be poor, not how many will be. How many people live in poverty is largely the outcome of our policy choices, about jobs and wages, and support for poor families. A key study compared poverty rates and family structure in 18 countries, finding that the United States had the highest rate of poverty among single-mother families – more than 40 percent, compared with 5 or 10 percent in the Nordic countries. No country had as large a difference in poverty rates between single mothers and the rest of the population as the United States – that’s our unique penalty for single parenthood.

This has always been a problem with the nation’s response to the poor. From the early charity programs of the antebellum period to Social Darwinism to the Salvation Army to the present, the poor’s poverty is consistently seen as their own fault and something that can be fixed if we intervene in the right way. So the problem becomes unwed mothers instead of a lack of economic opportunity. Why blame capitalists when you can blame 23 year old women who lack a GED?

Meanwhile what the poor actually need are good-paying jobs for people without college educations, which are fewer and farther between in our outsourced, automated, subcontracted, franchised, temp worker economy.

The other fundamental problem with our welfare policy is racism. While not all the poor are people of color or immigrants, many are. And if West Virginia and eastern Kentucky they are mostly white, we find ways to denigrate them anyway. The problem of the poor is also “the problem of black people.” Or Mexicans. Or the Irish in 1850. Or Italians in 1910. Or whatever. But always black people. Focusing on actual poverty alleviation would mean having to deal with the inequalities at the heart of our society, which means dealing with white supremacy and structural racism. And we can’t be having that, now can we.

Self-Driving Cars

[ 441 ] April 4, 2016 |


Atrios is right. Self-driving vehicles ain’t going to happen, at least not in the United States.

Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“It can’t find the lane markings!” Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. “You need to paint the bloody roads here!”

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say.

And I am glad they won’t happen either, as trucking is one of the last OK paying job for working people without college educations.

Foreign Entanglements: The Politician’s Daughter Was Accused of Drinking Water…

[ 1 ] April 4, 2016 |

On the latest Foreign Entanglements, Colin Snider and I jabber about Brazilian politics:


[ 10 ] April 4, 2016 |
Bynum Gymnasium.jpg

Bynum Gymnasium, first home of the North Carolina Tarheels Men’s Basketball team. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s your leaderboard for the LGM Tourney Challenge:

1 240 220 200 160 320 0 UNC 320 1140 99.5
2* 210 160 200 240 320 0 Villanova 320 1130 99.4
2* 250 200 200 160 320 0 UNC 320 1130 99.4
4 220 180 160 240 320 0 Villanova 320 1120 99.4
5 170 120 240 240 320 0 UNC 320 1090 99.1
6 210 200 160 160 320 0 Villanova 320 1050 98.6
7 240 200 240 160 160 0 UNC 320 1000 97.4
8* 190 200 200 240 160 0 UNC 320 990 97.0
8* 230 200 240 160 160 0 Kansas 0 990 97.0
10 240 220 200 160 160 0 Villanova 320 980 96.5

The dispiriting conclusion is that one of thefxc or the punchykoos will win.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 80 ] April 4, 2016 |


White nose in bats found in the West, a 1300 mile jump from its previous known location.

The disease that’s wiped out at least 7 million bats in the East and Midwest has now jumped to the West. Hikers in Washington, 30 miles east of Seattle, found a sick little brown bat on March 11 and took it to a wildlife sanctuary, where it died a few days later. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center analyzed the remains and announced that it had white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that irritates bats and rouses them from hibernation in the dead of winter. They leave their caves to forage, but soon starve from lack of insects. Once the infection gains a foothold in a bat colony, the mortality rate can reach 99 percent.

The deadly disease has jumped more than 1,300 miles from where it was last detected, in Nebraska and Minnesota. “This news is extremely disappointing and unnerving,” says Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, adding that it’s probably been spreading in Washington, and perhaps other parts of the Northwest, for a while. “Researchers in Eastern caves have found that it can take a few years for fungal loads to build up to the point of causing disease in bats,” says Coleman, “so it may be that the fungus has been in the area for a few years already and is widespread.”

As to how white-nose syndrome reached Washington in the first place, the most likely explanation is that a caver visited an infected cave in the East, then carried spores on gear or clothing to the Cascades. The stricken bat seems to be a Western subspecies of little brown bat, Coleman says, so it probably wasn’t a bat from back East that somehow got translocated. Another possible, but unlikely, route for transmission could have been a shipping container from Asia or Europe that came into Seattle or Vancouver carrying an infected bat. State and federal researchers will be combing the area where the bat was found to try to locate other sick bats, and the public is also requested to notify the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife about any bats they find dead or see flying in the daytime — usually an indication of illness.

Someday, our children and grandchildren will wonder what bats were. We will say they were real. They will think bats are like unicorns.

The Prejudice Against Late Sleepers Is Superstition

[ 105 ] April 4, 2016 |

Science confirms what we night owls have always known:

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the science of chronobiology, which finds we all have an internal clock that keeps us on a consistent sleep and wake cycle. But the key finding is that everyone’s clock is not the same. Most people fall in the middle, preferring to sleep around 11 pm to 7 am. But many — perhaps 40 percent of the population — don’t naturally fit in this schedule.

There are night owls among us — whose whole circadian schedules are shifted later — and morning larks, who are shifted earlier. (If you’re curious, you can assess your chronotype with this quiz here.) These traits are determined by genetics and are extremely hard to change. What’s more, the research is finding that if we fight our chronotypes, our health may suffer.

But most striking to me wasn’t the health implications of messing with your clock. It was the stigma late sleepers feel in a society ruled by early risers. Simply put: These late sleepers are tired of being judged for a behavior they cannot easily control. If they can’t change their sleep patterns, maybe society should become more accepting of them.

Saying No

[ 4 ] April 3, 2016 |

Tonight’s film is a genuinely useful PSA from 1982 about women taking control over their own bodies. Plus the biggest douche in the film has Larry Bird hair.


[ 10 ] April 3, 2016 |



If you are going to be at the OAH this week in Providence, drop me a line. Maybe we could do a get together or something. Not sure if Attewell is attending this year, but there’s never anything wrong with an LGM get together, even if it’s just with me.

Incidentally, I am participating in two historians talk off the cuff sessions roundtables. The first is on New Perspectives on American Socialism, which is the conference’s first slot on Thursday at 12. Then on Friday at 1:50, I am moderating a panel I organized titled “State of the Field: Intersections between Labor and Environmental History.” If anyone cares, come and say hi.

Profiles in Courage: Jay Inslee

[ 36 ] April 3, 2016 |

Jay Inslee, who campaigned against charter schools in his run for Governor in 2012, had the opportunity to prevent this drain on public schools. What did he do?

Gov. Jay Inslee took action on more than 150 bills this week, but not a measure to that aims to preserve the state’s system of charter schools.

On Sunday, the bill will become law anyway.

The measure, Senate Bill 6194, looks to solve constitutional issues with the state’s voter-approved charter-school law, which the Washington State Supreme Court struck down in September.

Inslee faced a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Saturday (April 2) to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

On Friday, he announced he had chosen the latter and the law will take effect Sunday.

In a letter explaining his decision, Inslee said he remains concerned about whether there will be adequate public oversight of charter schools, but said he doesn’t want to see the schools shut down.

It’s the procedural/political game he’s trying to play that really annoys me. If he made the case that the people had spoken (The bill is a legal fix for a charter school amendment that passed in 2012 but was ruled unconstitutional) and want this passed, and he’s not going to stand in the way and signed the damn thing, or if he determined he needs to do this to win re-election, I wouldn’t support his decision but I could, on some level, respect it. But trying to have it both ways with a procedural gimmick that does nothing is insulting and worthless. Inslee has also spent much of the last three years scolding the legislature for not fully funding public schools to comply with the McCleary ruling; it’s difficult to see why anyone should take him seriously if he continues to pretend to shed crocodile tears about how the legislature won’t properly fund public schools.

It’s very difficult to see how a Democrat could lose the Governor’s office in Washington in a presidential year that isn’t a Republican wave. I have a feeling Inslee’s going to make it annoyingly interesting.

Deficit Spending

[ 104 ] April 3, 2016 |


Yglesias is making a lot of sense here. With interest rates this low, the nation should just borrow the money to rebuild its infrastructure and not worry about some existential need to pay off the debt. Of course, that no one can say this in the political realm is a sign of just how drastically Republicans have changed the debate in the 40 years, to the point that even as our freeway overpasses are collapsing beneath us and subway systems shutting down, we can’t even begin to talk about these issues without detailed plans on paying back the big, bad, evil debt. Instead, we should just build it and figure it out later if necessary.

The debate we ought to be having about federal infrastructure spending right now is whether we have a way to channel money into useful projects — not how to “pay for” the spending.

America is not currently experiencing a shortfall of financing options. On the contrary, global financial markets are practically begging us to go borrow some more money. The interest rates available are so outlandishly low that virtually anything that was useful at all (i.e., not a mixed-traffic streetcar or a relocation of a bus terminal to a less convenient location) would have a rate of return higher than the cost of funds.

Under the circumstances, there’s no good reason to try to finance projects with taxes rather than debt. Doing so is only going to increase political opposition to your plan — no tax reform, no matter how cleverly designed, can fail to offend a powerful interest group or two — and make it less likely that the project will get done.

And global markets, again, are telling us not that America’s taxes are too low but that we’re not borrowing enough money. There’s a global shortage of American debt. Indeed, a 2014 International Monetary Fund analysis concluded that in rich countries like the US, “public investment that is financed by issuing debt has larger output effects than when it is financed by raising taxes or cutting other spending.”

It’s better, in other words, to just build the projects than to fuss about paying for them. We need a good dose of irresponsibility.

Red Lives Matter

[ 127 ] April 3, 2016 |

The Black Lives Matter movement has been great in basically all conceivable ways. But I think there is one exception to that, which is that, at least in my readings and observations, been fairly blind or downplaying that not only are the cops killing black people for any reason imaginable, but are doing the same to Latinos and Native Americans as well. I have no doubt that many BLM leaders are well aware of this and no doubt part of the problem is that the media, including large swaths of the leftist media, see racial problems in the United States still primarily in terms of African-Americans and whites. But the interruption of the Netroots Nation presidential candidate forum last year that was specifically discussing immigration and the oppression Latinos face by BLM protestors was lacking in the intersectionality one would hope for from such a movement, something which almost no one noted in the aftermath. On the community level of course, this all has different dynamics, since police murders of people of color naturally enough unite the people who are in that community and who of course then tend to be of the same racial and ethnic groups. But still, more attention to the fact that racial discrimination in this country is not exclusively against black people would be really useful. Because the cops are slaughtering Native Americans too, in this case shooting a woman 5 times accused of stealing.

“Loreal is a victim of discrimination, and we want justice,” Curley said. “We can all relate to this case because we have all been racially profiled by law enforcement. While we are saddened at (Loreal’s) death, we’re not surprised because we know that this is a systemic issue.”

Curley said the group supported the independent investigation into the shooting and asked the Navajo Nation to take a more active role in this case.

In a statement, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, “We hear about these types of shootings happening across the country. If there is no legitimate justification for taking Tsingine’s life, then the Navajo Nation wants the fullest extent of the law to be taken in serving justice.”

Vice President Jonathan Nez posted the following statement on Facebook: “The Navajo Nation sends our condolences to her family during this tragedy. Significant numbers of Navajo citizens have expressed public outcry over this violence. We will continue to investigate.”

Tsingine’s family admitted she had some mental health issues, but they didn’t go into detail.

Organizers of a vigil scheduled for Saturday demanded that the name of the officer involved in the shooting be released and that their concerns on police brutality against Native Americans be taken seriously.

Of course, where this is happening is in Arizona, in New Mexico, in South Dakota, in Oklahoma–in other words, far away from the eastern media and where those journalists come from and pay attention to, including the leftist publications. That should change. Discrimination against Native Americans is widespread. They get slaughtered by cops all the time. We need an anti-police violence, anti-racist movement that is about all the oppressed races in the United States. Our racist past allows us to forget marginalized groups all too often. Our anti-racist organizations shouldn’t do the same.

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