2011 - %3, May

Mindshare vs. Demographics

| Fri May 27, 2011 12:58 PM EDT

Karl Smith notes a Gallup poll showing that half of all respondents think more than 20% of Americans are gay or lesbian:

What makes this interesting to me is not that people are bad at demographics.

It's that I would assume that people’s immediate experience is influencing their estimate of all of America. Yet, 52% of America can’t be experiencing anything like 1 out of every 5 people I know is gay.

So my guess is that most people don’t really get what these numbers mean in terms of their daily life. Of course, to some extent we already knew that but it always interesting to see it come out in actual data.

Yes, people in general are pretty bad with numbers, but I think the real explanation for this is a lot simpler: gay and lesbian issues have been getting a lot of attention in the news lately, and that naturally makes people think they're more numerous than they really are. And personal experience probably has little to do with it. They themselves might know very few gays, but they just figure that's because all the gay people live in San Francisco or Seattle or New York.

The real number, by the way, is around 3-4%.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

"How to Die in Oregon" Takes an Intimate Look at Physician-Assisted Death

| Fri May 27, 2011 12:43 PM EDT
Cody Curtis, who suffered from terminal cancer, took her own life under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.

How to Die in Oregon is a powerfully intimate documentary that could (probably) make just about anyone a fierce supporter of a person's right to stop living on their own terms. The film, directed by 31-year-old Peter D. Richardson, gives viewers a window into the lives of terminally ill Oregonians deciding if and when to end their lives by enacting the state's 1994 Death With Dignity law.

Richardson says he was inspired to make the film in 2006 when the Supreme Court upheld, after a lengthy legal attack by the Bush administration, an Oregon law that allows a patient given six months or less to live the option to take his or her own life using doctor-prescribed drugs. The rules: the patient must be lucid when they ask for the life-ending medication in front of two witnesses, and when the moment comes, the drugs must be self-administered. Viewers get to see one example of the law in action with the fiesty, geriatric Roger Sagner. He opens the film preparing to die in front of a swath of family and friends. He thanks the voters of Oregon for their wisdom in passing the law, drinks a cloudy glass of lethal medication mixed with water, and then just before he drifts off, says, "It was easy, folks."

When Complaining About a "Nanny State" is Sexist

| Fri May 27, 2011 12:42 PM EDT

In recent years, the term "nanny state" has become a favorite putdown on the Right. Conservatives routinely trot it out to defend their freedom to eat trans fats, inhale tobacco, or blaze incandescent light bulbs. Even the administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger fell prey to the label in more ways than one. But can the meme last? Dissing big government is one thing, but why bring nannies into it? Somebody's bound to get spanked. And that's pretty much what happened on the floor of the Texas House yesterday when a Democratic state Representative discovered that one of her bills was being opposed by a flyer depicting a baby nursing a bare breast beneath the words: "Don't expand the nanny state."

"I don't appreciate this attack on women," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston as she held a copy of the flier, which was made by members of the conservative Texas Civil Justice League, a tort reform group. "And I'm going to have to tell you something: I don't perpetrate violence against somebody, but if they were here I would probably bloody their nose."

A bipartisan collection of female lawmakers backed Thompson up at the podium. Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle questioned a misogynist climate created by "the way some of the men have treated some of the women--with pornography on the floor of this House."

The flyer's offensiveness seems to come less from the intimate photo it shows than the way it frames it: Portraying the breast as belonging to a nanny flatters neither mothers nor nannies (wet nursing stopped being popular decades ago). Add the negative political message, and the flyer comes off as a mockery of the bond between mother and child.

Female legislators were clearly exasperated. Houston Democrat Carol Alvarado alluded to the House's recent passage of a bill that requires women to view a sonogram of their unborn fetus before getting an abortion. "We have had almost 50-plus bills or amendments this session that I think have demeaned women," she said, "but this one takes us to an all-time low."

In an apology email, the president of the Texas Civil Justice League said the flyer was only a "draft" that had been given to somebody outside the group and then reproduced. But as of Thursday evening, that explanation seemed to have done little to quell a brewing gender war in the Texas legislature. The most forceful part of Thompson's speech, which received a standing ovation, starts around 4:45:

Free Money for Europe!

| Fri May 27, 2011 12:21 PM EDT

During the financial crisis the Fed made hundreds of billions of dollars available to European central banks in order to facilitate payments that needed to be made in U.S. dollars. But Bloomberg’s Bob Ivry reports that there was much more going on: the Fed was actually making direct — and very secret — loans to European banks at interest rates as low as 0.01%.

The $80 billion initiative, called single-tranche open- market operations, or ST OMO, made 28-day loans from March through December 2008, a period in which confidence in global credit markets collapsed after the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

....“I wasn’t aware of this program until now,” said U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee in 2008 and co- authored the legislation overhauling financial regulation. The law does require the Fed to release details of any open-market operations undertaken after July 2010, after a two-year lag.

....Credit Suisse’s borrowing peaked at about $45 billion in September 2008....RBS’s use of ST OMO hit about $30 billion in October 2008....Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank’s use peaked at about $20 billion in October 2008, its chart shows.

This is via Felix Salmon, who comments:

Why did the Fed set up a short-term lending program which seems to have been aimed overwhelmingly at European banks? And how does lending $45 billion to Credit Suisse support the flow of credit to U.S. households, in any but the most circuitous manner? It’s probably not worth asking the Fed these questions. But it does seem that the governments of Switzerland, Germany, France, and the UK should all be sending thank-you letters to 33 Liberty Street if they haven’t already done so: it’s entirely possible that the New York Fed bailed out their banks without those governments even knowing about it. That’s just how generous we are, in this country.

It's Gonna Be a Long Primary Season

| Fri May 27, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

A recent tweet from Tim Pawlenty:

Seriously? This is the kind of childishness it takes to compete for the tea party vote these days? "Aren’t there any grown-ups left in the GOP?" asks Mark Kleiman.

School Reform in New Orleans

| Fri May 27, 2011 10:59 AM EDT

Alex Tabarrok links to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story showing the dramatic effects of school reform in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It's impressive. Statewide, the number of kids scoring at basic or above went up about five percentage points. In New Orleans it went up around 25 points in the charter-oriented Recovery School District.

Still, be careful. New Orleans has changed a lot in the past six years. The median income has increased from $31,000 to $40,000. The black share of the population has decreased by five percentage points. And the share of residents living in high poverty neighborhoods has gone down by nearly ten percentage points. Those are pretty big changes, and all of them are well known drivers of test scores.

At a glance, the New Orleans test scores look even more impressive than you'd expect when you take those demographic changes into account. But we'll need a considerably more detailed analysis before we can genuinely conclude that their educational reforms have really worked.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The GOP Attack on Medicaid: More Ammo for Dems?

| Fri May 27, 2011 10:14 AM EDT

Still giddy about their political victory in the special congressional election in upstate New York, Democrats have resolved to put the GOP plan to phase out Medicare at the heart of their 2012 election strategy. But they may have more to thank Rep. Paul Ryan for. Though the Medicare provision in Ryan's budget, which has been embraced by House and Senate Republicans, has dominated headlines, his plan to roll back Medicaid dramatically is another essential element of the GOP budget, and a new poll has found that Americans are loath to support this effort to gut Medicaid. As NPR's Julie Rovner explains:

This month's health tracking poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that only 13 percent of those polled support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of congressional efforts to reduce the deficit. At the same time, 60 percent want to keep Medicaid as it is…

Perhaps even more striking, although maybe it shouldn't be given how much Medicaid has grown in recent years, is that more than half of respondents said they had a personal connection to the Medicaid program. That was defined as the respondent or a friend or family member having received assistance from the program at some point.

Medicaid has often been characterized as a program for the very poor, yet the economic downturn has put a record number of Americans into the program. What's more, senior citizens also receive a big proportion of Medicaid dollars through nursing homes, as even middle-class Americans have resorted to the program as their savings have run out. Medicaid is serving a larger and more diverse group of Americans than before, making the GOP proposal to eviscerate the program all the more unpopular—and politically dangerous for the Republicans.

John Boehner's Pathetic 10-Page Jobs Plan

| Fri May 27, 2011 9:48 AM EDT

On Thursday, House Republicans finally unveiled their grand plan for tackling America's jobs crisis and creating jobs for the unemployed. It clocks in at a mere 10 pages, in large type, chock full of slick images. What's missing is, well, any legitimate solutions to lowering the nation's 8.6 percent jobless rate. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote, "It looks like the staffer in charge forgot the assignment was due on Thursday rather than Friday, and so cranked the font up to 24 and began dumping clip art to pad out the plan."

The criticism is well deserved. Reading the "House Republican Plan for America's Job Creators" (PDF), released by the House GOP leadership, is an exercise in wonderment: you wonder what the GOPers actually propose. Several of the "Republican Solutions" are a bit vague. "After a systematic review of our visa system, the Congress should undertake prudent reforms," reads one "solution." Another "solution": "We will work to control the federal deficit to assure investors and entrepreneurs that our nation’s elected leaders are finally getting serious about paying off the debt over time." Details? Apparently, the GOP view was, why bother?

The GOP plan boiled down to its essence is rather retro: Roll back regulation, lower taxes, pass free trade agreements, shrink the US debt, and boost energy production. In other words,  the GOP's overall agenda for the past three decades. There's nothing in this plan that is specific regarding the current jobs crisis, nothing to address such key issues as long-term unemployment, skyrocketing youth unemployment, the war on unemployment benefits in the states (PDF), the use and efficacy of job retraining for laid-off workers, or the polarization of the American work force. It's empty rhetoric, recycled talking points, and campaign slogans.

Klein zeroed in on the fundamental flaw:

[T]he document doesn't admit the existence of a particular unemployment crisis that might require a tailored response. The only problem it admits is, well, Democrats. "For the past four years, Democrats in Washington have enacted policies that undermine these basic concepts which have historically placed America at the forefront of the global marketplace," the document explains on its first page. "As a result, most Americans know someone who has recently lost a job, and small businesses and entrepreneurs lack the confidence needed to invest in our economy. Not since the Great Depression has our nation’s unemployment rate been this high this long."

You don't have to admire the Democratic policy agenda to wonder if someone in Speaker Boehner's office shouldn't have raised his hand and pointed out that George W. Bush was president four years ago and he was a Republican, and perhaps there should be a pro forma mention of Wall Street and the financial crisis somewhere in this narrative. Sadly, the most significant employment crisis in generations has stopped generating new thinking and has become simply another opportunity to bash the other party while pushing your perennial agenda. That's a shame, because with 15 million unemployed and the recovery sputtering slight, we really do need new thinking and a sense of urgency on behalf of both the unemployed and the economy. In fact, we need it now more than ever.

That new thinking isn't coming from the Republican Party. But the Democrats now have a chance to make hay out of the GOP jobs plan, like they did with Rep. Paul Ryan's attack on Medicare. With the economy the most pressing issue for American voters, this this puny plan provides more political ammo for the Ds. Yet if they attack the GOPers on jobs, they'll have to be able to present a strong case that they can do better, and the last election shows how much of a challenge that can be.

Here's the complete GOP plan:

HRP_JOBS

A New Birther Conspiracy Theory: Trump Tricked Us

| Fri May 27, 2011 8:29 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, the conservative news outlet WorldNetDaily published a story in which prominent birther Jerome Corsi claimed that Donald Trump had told him that President Barack Obama's recently released birth certificate was a fake. We asked Trump about that, and he told Mother Jones that he had done no such thing. After our story ran Thursday, WND editor Joseph Farah seemed shocked that Trump would try to put distance between himself and Corsi, author of the new book Where's the Birth Certificate?. In a WND story, Farah casts doubt on the "leftist Mother Jones" story, puzzling why Trump would say, as he told Mother Jones, that he had not even read Corsi's book. After all, Farah writes, Trump had asked for an advance copy. From WND:

Farah wonders aloud why Trump would ask for a copy of a book he had no intention of reading—even going to the extent of having his organization sign a non-disclosure agreement to get an early electronic copy. "If he wasn't going to read the book, why go to the trouble of requesting a PDF copy and having your representative sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] for it?" asked Farah. "Was his intent all along to violate the NDA and give it to someone else? Was his intent other than what he represented to us—to go to school on the eligibility issue? Trump needs to explain himself to someone other than Mother Jones. That doesn't sound like good faith to me."

Farah and Corsi can't understand why Trump might not want to continue the fight over Obama's citizenship, so they seem to have cooked up yet another conspiracy theory: someone else put Trump up to it. Trump couldn't have been persuaded by the long-form birth certificate that Obama released in April, or the mountains of other evidence that prove that the president was born in Hawaii. No, Farah writes, Trump must be in league with nefarious forces trying to undermine the birthers:

I have strongly begun to suspect that Trump had other motives than seeking the truth about Obama. I think he was pumping Corsi for information for some other purpose than being on the right side of history.

In a recent on-air conversation, Corsi and conspiracy theorist/talk show host Alex Jones suggested that Trump was now scheming with the White House—and perhaps had been plotting with the Obama crowd all along. They speculated that Trump had been bought off, pointing out that his retreat from birthersm and his attacks on GOP 2012 contenders suspiciously coincided with NBC's renewal of his reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Somehow, the pair said, the government had given money to NBC that ended up with Trump. (They didn't provide details.). Corsi did note, though, that when he recently told Trump that it looked as if Trump's political loyalties had been purchased by the other side, the billionaire developer told him that for him, the NBC money was "chump change."

Trump must be ruing the day he got in bed with these people. He's gone from being their champion to being their target. Perhaps he'll be the subject of Corsi's next book.

Gem of the Week: Big Pharma in Juvie

| Fri May 27, 2011 8:18 AM EDT

Instead of the usual Eco-News Roundup of stories from our other blogs, we're experimenting with a new format. This week, I'm shining a light on a news article from the past 5 days that covered an underreported environmental topic or illuminated a new side of an existing issue. Hopefully this format will be more relevant, and more interesting, than the old Eco-News Roundup.

This week's gem for reporting on science, health, and the environment goes to... the Palm Beach Post in Florida, for revealing ties between psychiatrists in juvenile halls and manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs. The Post's investigation found that a handful of psychiatrists working for Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) were paid high speaking fees or given gifts by pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca. "In at least one case, the number of Medicaid prescriptions a psychiatrist wrote for children rose sharply around the time he was paid, The Post found." Even worse, the antipsychotics were prescribed by the DJJ doctors were not approved for safe use in children.

Since the Post's investigation, the DJJ has launched an internal investigation about the use of antipsychotics in its system. However, as the Post found while reporting, the DJJ's record-keeping system is in bad shape, making it hard for even DJJ employees to find the information they're looking for. In addition, not all juvie programs are run directly by the DJJ. "No information was available," the Post noted, "on the amounts of antipsychotic drugs dispensed in the more than 100 remaining programs for juveniles... run by private contractors."

Read the Post's entire, in-depth investigation at their site, here.