Thursday, October 11, 2012

Miscellaneous:  Blog Suspended

Recently I haven't had enough time for the wide reading needed to make this blog interesting. Check back in April. -- DougL

Monday, September 10, 2012

Health:  Pot Dependence in Adolescence Is Linked to a Long-Term Drop in IQ

With the Dunedin study data, researchers could compare subjects' IQ scores from age 13, before they began using any drugs, with their scores at age 38, and they could also eliminate confounding factors like education level and other drug and alcohol use. They found that those who used pot heavily showed a significant decline in IQ, particularly if they began during adolescence. The most frequent users experienced the most damage. And cutting down on marijuana after adolescence did nothing to alleviate the decline.

While these results suggest that developing adolescent brains are particularly vulnerable to the effects of marijuana and can suffer permanent harm from smoking pot, the drop occurred only in users diagnosed with cannabis dependence, which indicates more than just a fondness for marijuana, points out epidemiology blogger Suzi Gage. Such frequent users are not only more rare than casual consumers, they also tend to have other problems that getting high may help them face, such as depression.

For more, see Pot Dependence in Adolescence Is Linked to a Long-Term Drop in IQ by Sophie Bushwick, August 29, 2012 at 80beats.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Government:  Privately Funded Congressional Trips

One of the most famous travel boondoggles -- a golf trip to Scotland for members of Congress and staff members, hosted by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- led Congress in 2007 to tighten restrictions on who could sponsor trips and for how long. But despite the new restrictions, the number of Congressional trips paid for by outside groups has actually increased since 2007, to more than 1,600 from about 1,300, according to Legistorm, a research group that tracks Congressional data. To comply with the new restrictions, many political and lobbying groups have turned to nonprofit groups they set up and finance to host the Congressional trips.

For more, see Skinny-Dipping in Israel Casts Unwanted Spotlight on Congressional Travel by Eric Lichtblau and Jodi Rudoren, August 21, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Education:  College Graduates' Non-Recession

For more, see College Graduates' Non-Recession by Dylan Matthews, August 16, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Economics:  Yes, We Have No Inflation

For more, see Yes, We Have No Inflation by Dylan Matthews, August 15, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Government: The No. 1 Political Fantasy in America Today

About Paul Ryan's vote against Simpson-Bowles debt reduction commission's proposal as an example of political fantasy:

Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.

In order to get this ultimate solution, though, Ryan was betting that three things would happen. First, he was betting that Republicans would beat President Obama. Second, he was betting that Republicans would win such overwhelming Congressional majorities that they would be able to push through measures Democrats hate. Third, he was betting that a group of Republican politicians would unilaterally slash one of the country's most popular programs and that they would be able to sustain these cuts through the ensuing elections, in the face of ferocious and highly popular Democratic opposition.

To put it another way, Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy.

Ryan's fantasy happens to be the No. 1 political fantasy in America today, which has inebriated both parties. It is the fantasy that the other party will not exist. It is the fantasy that you are about to win a 1932-style victory that will render your opponents powerless.

Every single speech in this election campaign is based on this fantasy. There hasn't been a speech this year that grapples with the real world -- that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context.

It's obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they'll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn't forget that it's almost entirely make-believe.

In the real world, there are almost never ultimate victories, and it is almost never the case (even if you control the White House and Congress) that you get to do what you want.

In the real world, leaders have a dual consciousness. They have a campaign consciousness in which they argue for the policies they think are best for the country. But then they have a governing consciousness, a mind-set they put on between elections. It says: O.K., this is the team the voters have sent to Washington. How can we navigate our divides to come up with something suboptimal but productive?

Paul Ryan has a great campaign consciousness, and, when it comes to things like Medicare reform, I agree with him. But when he voted no on the Simpson-Bowles plan he missed the chance to show that he also has a governing consciousness. He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn't the best he or I would wish for.

For more, see Ryan's Biggest Mistake by David Brooks, August 23, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Taxes:  How Romney Could Raise Taxes on 95% of the Country

For more, see How Romney Could Raise Taxes on 95% of the Country--in 1 Tall Graph by Derek Thompson, August 1, 2012 at The Atlantic.

Technology:  Skilled Work, Without the Worker

A good article about the advance of robotics in manufacturing is Skilled Work, Without the Worker by John Markoff, August 18, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Healthcare:  Five Takeaways from the Kaiser Tracking Poll

For more, see Five Takeaways from the Kaiser Tracking Poll by Sarah Kliff, August 16, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Taxes:  Indigestion for 'Les Riches' In a Plan for Higher Taxe

For more, see Indigestion for 'Les Riches' In a Plan for Higher Taxe, August 7, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Politics:  The Truth About Voter Fraud

The Republican National Lawyers Association -- devoted to promoting "open, fair and honest elections" -- frequently cites the figure of 375 cases of voter impersonation fraud.

But News21, a national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, investigated each of those cases and found that not one showed evidence of impersonation fraud. News21 reporters also reached out to election personnel in all 50 states, requesting information on every single reported case of alleged fraud at the polls. The organization's analysis of 2,068 cases found only 10 related to impersonation. Using those figures, the frequency of poll impersonation is about one in 15 million.

Although the News21 study doesn't reveal evidence of impersonation in voting booths, it does show that other types of voter fraud -- especially in voter registration and manipulating absentee ballots -- are alive and well. The data contain 400 cases of registration fraud and 491 cases of alleged absentee ballot abuse.

If legislators in Texas, Pennsylvania or the seven other states with similar laws on the books genuinely cared about combating voter fraud, they'd do well to police the areas where there still is evidence of scamming. Any legislation against "voter fraud" should attack fraud, not voters.

For more, see The Truth About Voter Fraud by Editorial Board, August 13, 2012 at The Washington Post.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Education:  Investing in Teachers

For more, see The 11 Graphs That Allegedly Prove That the West Is Doomed by Derek Thompson, August 7, 2012 at The Atlantic.

Economics:  Leverage, Debt, and Entitlement

We must overcome the many years during which policymakers lost sight of sustainable drivers of growth and jobs and instead ended up relying on excessive leverage, over-indebtedness and an absurd sense of credit entitlement.)

For more, see Paul Ryan's Plan and the Next 'New Normal' by Mohamed a. EL-Erian, August 13, 2012 at The Washington Post.

Economics:  Fannie Mae Posts $2.2B Net Gain for Q2

Fannie Mae earned $2.2 billion from April through June, its second quarterly gain in net income since being taken over by the government during the 2008 financial crisis.
Fannie and smaller sibling Freddie Mac were taken over by the government after massive losses on risky mortgages threatened to topple them.

Fannie has received about $116 billion so far from the Treasury Department, the most expensive bailout of a single company. So far Fannie has repaid about $26 billion of that bailout.

Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to rescue Fannie and Freddie. It could cost roughly $260 billion more to support the companies through 2014 after subtracting dividend payments, according to the government.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans, which are worth more than $5 trillion. Along with several federal agencies, they backed nearly 90% of new mortgages over the past year.

Fannie and Freddie buy home loans from banks and other lenders, package them into bonds with a guarantee against default, and then sell them to investors around the world.

For more, see Fannie Mae Posts $2.2B Net Gain for Q2 by The Associated Press, August 8, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Taxes:  No One Pays the Estate Tax

For more, see No One Pays the Estate Tax by Dylan Matthews, July 26, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Healthcare:  Health Care in Israel

Romney's point about Israel's success in controlling health care costs is spot on: Its health care system has seen health care costs grow much slower than other industrialized nations.

How it has gotten there, however, may not be to the Republican candidate's liking: Israel regulates its health care system aggressively, requiring all residents to carry insurance and capping revenue for various parts of the country's health care system.

Israel created a national health care system in 1995, largely funded through payroll and general tax revenue. The government provides all citizens with health insurance: They get to pick from one of four competing, nonprofit plans. Those insurance plans have to accept all customers--including people with pre-existing conditions--and provide residents with a broad set of government-mandated benefits.

For more, see Romney Praises Health Care in Israel, Where Research Says 'Strong Government Influence' Has Driven down Costs by Sarah Kliff, July 30, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Healthcare:  A Quarter of Americans Expect to Pay Individual Mandate Tax

The Urban Institute gamed out the numbers and estimates about 6% of the population -- 18.2 million people -- "will be required to purchase coverage or pay a penalty."

For more, see A Quarter of Americans Expect to Pay Individual Mandate Tax by Sarah Kliff, July 31, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Friday, August 3, 2012

International:  Israel

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that "the Americans made me do it," because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.
On what matters to Israel's survival -- advanced weaponry and intelligence -- Defense Minister Ehud Barak told CNN on Monday, "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past."

For more, see Why Not in Vegas? by Thomas L. Friedman, July 31, 2012 at NYTimes.com.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Economics:  Wages Aren't Stagnating, They're Plummeting

Median wages of all US workers:

When you take all men, not just those working fulltime, into account, the slight decline in the above graph becomes a plummet of 28% in median real wages from 1969 to 2009.

For more, see Wages Aren't Stagnating, They're Plummeting by Dylan Matthews, July 31, 2012 at Wonkblog.

Education:  For-Profit Colleges Serve Shareholders over Students

... for-profit colleges have failed to support [their] students, the report states, by prizing recruitment over retention. The colleges studied spent 23% of their revenue on marketing and recruiting, the report found, and 17% on instruction.

The publicly traded companies that operate for-profit colleges yielded an average profit margin of 20% in 2009 and paid an average $7.3 million to their chief executives, the report found.

The companies are successful largely because they charge high tuition. Associate-degree programs at for-profit colleges cost at least four times as much as comparable programs at public community colleges, $34,988 vs. $8,313, the report found.

As of 2010, the for-profit colleges studied employed 35,202 student recruiters, far more than the staff charged with supporting the students who had already enrolled.

Recruiters were trained to make a hard sell on potential students, the report found, pushing "on the pain in students' lives" and creating "a false sense of urgency to enroll" as a path to a better life.

For-profit colleges have grown dramatically over the past decade and now consume one-quarter of all federal student aid; for-profit students represent about half of all federal student-loan defaults.

For more, see Report Finds For-Profit Colleges Serve Shareholders over Students by Daniel de Vise, July 29, 2012 at The Washington Post.