Analytically speaking, murder is an especially interesting crime because we have pretty good homicide statistics going all the way back to 1900. Most other crimes have only been tracked since about 1960. And if you look at the murder rate in the chart below (the red line), you see that it follows an odd double-hump pattern: rising in the first third of the century, reaching a peak around 1930; then declining until about 1960; then rising again, reaching a second peak around 1990. It's been dropping ever since then.
This is the exact same pattern we see in lead ingestion among small children, offset by 21 years (the black line). Lead exposure rises in the late 1800s, during the heyday of lead paint, reaching a peak around 1910; then declines through World War II; and then begins rising again during our postwar love affair with big cars that burned high-octane leaded gasoline. Lead finally enters its final decline in the mid-70s when we begin the switch to unleaded gasoline.
This is powerful evidence in favor of the theory that lead exposure in childhood produces higher rates of violent crime in adulthood. It's one thing to have two simple curves that match up well. That could just be a coincidence. But to have two unusual double-humped curves that match up well is highly unlikely unless there really is an association. Put that together with all the statistical evidence from other countries; plus the prospective studies that have tracked lead exposure in individual children from birth; plus the MRI scans showing the actual locations of brain damage in adults who were exposed to lead as children—put all that together and you have a pretty compelling set of evidence. Lead exposure doesn't just lower IQs and hurt educational development. It also increases violent tendencies later in life. If we want less crime 20 years from now, the best thing we can do today is clean up the last of our lead.
It's not as if we didn't know this already, but today Major Garrett made it official: last week's leaks that misquoted the Benghazi emails came directly from Republicans. Here's the report on the CBS Evening News:
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: "We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation." But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
....Republicans also provided what they said was a quote from an email written by State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland. The Republican version quotes Nuland discussing, "The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda's presence and activities of al-Qaeda." The actual email from Nuland says: "The penultimate point could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings."
The CIA agreed with the concerns raised by the State Department and revised the talking points to make them less specific than the CIA's original version, eliminating references to al Qaeda and affiliates and earlier security warnings. There is no evidence that the White House orchestrated the changes.
So here's what happened. Republicans in Congress saw copies of these emails two months ago and did nothing with them. It was obvious that they showed little more than routine interagency haggling. Then, riding high after last week's Benghazi hearings, someone got the bright idea of leaking two isolated tidbits and mischaracterizing them in an effort to make the State Department look bad. Apparently they figured it was a twofer: they could stick a shiv into the belly of the White House and they could then badger them to release the entire email chain, knowing they never would.
But it was typical GOP overreach. To their surprise, the White House took Republicans up on their demand to make the entire email chain public, thus making it clear to the press that they had been burned. And now reporters are letting us all know who was behind it.
This has always been the Republican Party's biggest risk with this stuff: that they don't know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn't have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it's driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it's time to start impeachment proceedings.
The GOP's adults can't keep their lunatic fringe on a leash, which means it's only a matter of time until they make fools of themselves on all three of the pseudoscandals that are currently lighting up the airwaves. The Republicans have met the enemy, and it is them.
On April 24, 2005, US Marine Corps lance corporal Adam McCann was on patrol with his fire team, as he had been on many other occasions. His team was inspecting a weapons cache discovered in the city of Hīt in Iraq's Al-Anbar province. As they prepared to head back to base, they were met with a hail of mortar fire launched from the other side of street. The entire team was injured, and McCann sustained shrapnel wounds to his neck and both legs. But all escaped with their lives.
"Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann says. "And the after-party was pretty amazing."
Eight years later, on May 14, McCann, who is now 27, attended the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness—in which he plays a minor role. "Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann told me. "And the after-party was pretty amazing as well."
McCann is one of four post-9/11 American war veterans featured in the new film as the "Starfleet Ceremonial Guard." (The others are Melissa Steinman of the Coast Guard, Eric Greitens of the Navy, and Jon Orvrasky of the Marine Corps.) All have been involved with The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that awards community service fellowships to vets, and helps them apply the skills they learned in the armed forces to work and life at home. Greitens—an ex-Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar—founded the group in 2007, and was included in the 2013 Time 100, where he was praised by former Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen as "one of the most remarkable young men I have ever encountered."
Lori Montgomery reports today that House Republicans no longer plan to block a debt-limit increase that would force the government into default. Hooray! They do plan to ask for a pound of flesh in return, though. But what? They met yesterday to spitball some ideas:
At the meeting, 39 lawmakers lined up at microphones to offer suggestions. They ranged from tax and entitlement reform to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to passage of a bill that would require congressional approval for any federal regulation that would impose more than $100 million in new costs on business.
At least one person wanted to take on late-term abortion in the wake of the conviction of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell. Others suggested repeal or delay of Obama’s health-care initiative. But for the most part, lawmakers tried to be “realistic,” aides said, suggesting measures that could reasonably be expected to both improve the economy and pass the Democratic Senate.
Well, I'm glad to hear that Republicans plan on being realistic—though the fact that they're discussing this at all implies that they are, in fact, willing to block a debt limit increase and force the government into default. You can't have it both ways, after all. A hostage only does you any good if you make a credible threat to shoot him unless the ransom is paid.
So let's make one thing clear: President Obama would be insane to even hint that he's willing to bargain over this. That would institutionalize the whole idea that the debt ceiling should be a grand hostage-taking tool every time it comes up. This time around, he just needs to say no, and stick to it. I'm even willing to toss my principles in the gutter and go the trillion-dollar platinum coin route if that turns out to be the only option available. Enough's enough.
Everyone loves a morality play. “For the wages of sin is death” is a much more satisfying message than “Shit happens.” We all want events to have meaning.
When applied to macroeconomics, this urge to find moral meaning creates in all of us a predisposition toward believing stories that attribute the pain of a slump to the excesses of the boom that precedes it—and, perhaps, also makes it natural to see the pain as necessary, part of an inevitable cleansing process....By contrast, Keynesian economics rests fundamentally on the proposition that macroeconomics isn’t a morality play—that depressions are essentially a technical malfunction. As the Great Depression deepened, Keynes famously declared that “we have magneto trouble”—i.e., the economy’s troubles were like those of a car with a small but critical problem in its electrical system, and the job of the economist is to figure out how to repair that technical problem.
....I’d argue that Keynes was overwhelmingly right in his approach, but there’s no question that it’s an approach many people find deeply unsatisfying as an emotional matter. And so we shouldn’t find it surprising that many popular interpretations of our current troubles return, whether the authors know it or not, to the instinctive, pre-Keynesian style of dwelling on the excesses of the boom rather than on the failures of the slump.
I think Krugman is subtly wrong here. Or maybe not all that subtly. In the United States, at least, I'd argue that plenty of ordinary people view the economy the way he describes it here. They think of the macroeconomy as merely a jumbo version of a household economy, and they know that when a household overspends and goes into debt, it really does have to pay a price. It has to cut back on consumption and start paying down its debt. The moral conclusions from this are both obvious and justifiable, and they figure the same thing is true of the national economy.
But is this what elites believe? Some do, probably. But I think for most of them, austerity is just a convenient facade. Their real motivation is simpler: they want to cut spending on the poor. Unfortunately, they've learned that this appeals only to voters who are already hardcore conservatives. To win over a broader audience, they need to appeal to the conventional view that a high debt level betrays a lack of national discipline and needs to be corrected at a national level. Like a household that spent too much redecorating its kitchen with a home equity loan, the country has spent too much and now needs to cut back. For most people, this argument is far more palatable than a simple appeal to cut spending.
So yes: a lot of people view the economy as a morality play. But among conservative elites, I suspect there's less of this than you might think. Rather, it's used primarily as a cynical way of getting the spending cuts they want without overtly bashing the poor.
POSTSCRIPT: And what about liberal elites? Beats me, but if I had to guess I'd say that too many of them were burned by the 70s and have remained in a fetal crouch ever since. For them, every recession is a rerun of the 70s and needs the same kind of medicine if we want to recover. It's kind of sad, really.
Did President Obama make the right move when he ousted IRS commissioner Steven T. Miller yesterday? DC bureau chief David Corn joins the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman to discuss Miller's resignation on MSNBC'sHardball:
Yesterday I wrote a post about a study showing that even when unemployment was high, native-born Americans weren't willing to take jobs picking crops. "Most Americans just aren't willing to do backbreaking agricultural labor for a bit above minimum wage," I said, "and if the wage rate were much higher the farms would no longer be competitive."
I got some pushback on this this. First, from reader BE:
Competitive against whom? If immigrant labor weren't available and Americans weren't willing to work that hard for that wage, the competitive landscape would change. Some crops might become less competitive relative to other crops and food prices might rise a bit (not much, though: according to the USDA, all farm and agribusiness wages account for less than 3% of food costs), but since farms would be competing against other farms, the change wouldn't make farms uncompetitive against each other.
That's a good point, though that 3 percent figure is an average that includes processed food. It's higher for fresh food, and higher for some crops than for others. That said, raising the wage of field workers wouldn't raise overall food prices very much. Food from other countries would become more competitive than it is now, but maybe not by very much.
Next up is reader DS, who makes the same point plus another one:
Farm laborers in Australia make much more than American ones. And yet they still have a functional agricultural sector. It turns out that allowing companies to import an unlimited number of foreign workers desperate to work at a wage of epsilon will create shitty working conditions and low wages!
Labor costs as a percentage of consumer cost of most fruits and veggies are pretty tiny. Even for fruits like raspberries, they're on the order of 15-20%, and for most crops they're much lower. You could double or triple labor prices and, even if all the costs are passed off to consumers and there are no productivity boosts, there still wouldn't be particularly large increases in produce prices.
This is not a subject that I've spent a lot of time on, so I'm mostly passing this along without comment.
In recent months, we've already seen the first-ever filibuster of a cabinet nominee and a filibuster of a CIA nominee. Republicans have filibustered judicial nominees they don't like and judicial nominees they do like. GOP senators have promised to use filibusters to stop the Obama administration from enforcing the law as it relates to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to stop the president's nominee to lead the ATF and the EPA. All of this represents a level of abuse without precedent, and blocking Perez would only add weight to the argument that the status quo is untenable.
Next up is Tom Perez, Obama's nominee to head up the Labor Department. Republicans have delayed and obstructed and played games with the committee rules, all the time trying to create a sense of scandal among the Fox News set with some manufactured outrage over an obscure housing case. But Perez's nomination has finally reached the Senate floor, and now it's time for them to decide if they're going to filibuster yet another high-level executive branch appointment.
I halfway hope they do. Eventually, something needs to shake up centrist Dems from their dogmatic slumber and get them mad enough to change the filibuster rules. A few more like this might just do it.
"I would love to see Barack Obama be Bulworth." — actor Sean Penn, on Piers Morgan Tonight in Oct. 2011.
On Tuesday night, the New York Times ran a story examining the contrast between President Barack Obama's vision for his second term and the apparent deluge ofscandal (and non-scandal) that has swamped the White House for the past weeks. The piece quotes Obama insiders and runs down bullet points for a second-term agenda, but the bit that's gotten the most attention (at least on Twitter and among the Washington news media) is the president's reference to a Warren Beatty political satire:
In private, he has talked longingly of "going Bulworth," a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty's character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama's desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him.
At the White House Correspondents Association dinner last month, he bristled at the idea that he should be pattern himself after Michael Douglas's assertive character in "The American President." Turning to Mr. Douglas, who was in the audience, he jokingly asked what his secret was. "Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy?" Mr. Obama asked.
(The irony here is that both films bear the mark of writer Aaron Sorkin. The American President—which Sorkin wrote while high on crack cocaine—is a hilariously optimistic look at liberal politics in America that inspired much of Sorkin's successful NBC series The West Wing. And although Bulworth had three other credited writers—including Beatty—Sorkin served as an uncredited script doctor, and it shows.)
For those unfamiliar with the film, Bulworth is a middle-aged, cynical, and suicidal Democratic lawmaker who is in the pocket of health insurance companies. Shortly after hiring an assassin and putting a hit out on himself, he drunkenly embarks on his reelection campaign with a newfound, smirking nihilism that manifests itself in the form of politically incorrect straight talk about the US health care system, poverty, Newt Gingrich, American intervention in the Middle East, and so on. His political ballsiness quickly earns him a sharp spike in popularity and the privilege to make out with Halle Berry in front of the campaign press corps.
Also, the straight talk often involves Warren Beatty performing original and topical rap music in public, including this "Big Money" song in which he trolls the right by slamming the oil industry and promoting "socialism." Here's an excerpt from the scene:
It's safe to assume that the president did not mean to say that, in the face of recent outrages and pervasive Republican obstructionism, he regularly fantasizes about drunkenly spitting pro-socialist rhymes at high-profile fundraisers. It's merely an expression of the perfectly understandable desire of any American president to (on occasion angrily) tell it like it is, rather than be bound by the decorum of the office. "Probably every president says that from time to time," David Axelrod, a longtime Obama adviser, told the Times. "It's probably cathartic just to say it. But the reality is that while you want to be truthful, you want to be straightforward, you also want to be practical about whatever you're saying."
The pop-cultural reference provoked some snark and mockery from reporters and commentators on the internet. But with the lousy few weeks the White House has been experiencing, it's mildly surprising the president didn't express a private fantasy about "going James Marshall":
Did I, as a liberal columnist who called immediately on President Obama to seek Eric Holder’s resignation over the Associated Press scandal, provide aid and comfort to the enemy? First of all, I don’t care—what happened struck me as a serious abuse of power....And second, no, I don’t think I provided them aid and comfort anyway. In fact I think recent history shows beyond a doubt that foot-dragging and avoidance are the true aid-and-comforters; they always, always, always make these things worse.
…Obama may want to keep Holder because he thinks he’s a fine attorney general, and if that’s the case, well, then I guess it’s the case. But if he thinks this scandal is bad and Holder’s response is lame, he should cut him loose, and the sooner the better. I dispute in the strongest possible terms the mentality that says, “But that would just be giving the GOP a scalp.” No. It would be showing the American people, most of whom don’t think in terms of scalps, that some things cross your own moral line. It invests you with character.
A couple of things leap immediately to mind. First, I suspect that Obama heartily approves of what the Justice Department did in the AP leak investigation. It's probably a fantasy to believe that either Holder or DOJ were off the reservation here. Second, I suspect that the American public doesn't view this as a scandal in the first place, so firing Holder wouldn't do Obama any good. The public's view of the press is pretty dim—television news in particular ranks right up there with banks and HMOs—and I'll bet a sizable majority actively approves of reining in those elitist media bellyachers who are constantly hiding behind the skirts of the First Amendment as they carelessly compromise national security by publishing leaks of terrorist investigations.
Needless to say, this isn't my view. But the media is in a huge lather about the AP case because it affects the media, and I have a feeling that we journalist types are vastly overestimating how strongly the public is on our side over this. Sometime soon I imagine we'll get a few polls with a few different question wordings that will give us some idea of where we stand. Just don't be surprised if it turns out the public doesn't think as highly of us as we ourselves do.