2011 - %3, October

Regulatory Uncertainty Debunked, Part Infinity

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 10:52 AM EDT

Bloomberg takes yet another crack at the idea that the Obama administration has unleashed a tsunami of regulations that are crippling the American economy:

Obama’s White House approved 613 federal rules during the first 33 months of his term, 4.7 percent fewer than the 643 cleared by President George W. Bush’s administration in the same time frame, according to an Office of Management and Budget statistical database reviewed by Bloomberg.

....The average annual cost of regulations under Obama [is] about $7 billion to $11 billion, compared with the $6.9 billion average from 1981 through 2008 in current dollars, according to the OMB data....Those numbers [...] encompass the expense of new regulations, and do not take into account the economic benefits of healthier children, safer roads or fewer industrial accidents.

....Of the 7,247 mass layoffs last year -- those involving at least 50 workers -- 18 were the result of government regulation, according to department data. Of the 3,114 mass layoffs in the first half of this year, 11 were related to government regulation. By comparison, 1,053 mass layoffs were attributed to business demand.

....“This is a perennial problem,” said [Sally] Katzen, a senior adviser at the Podesta Group in Washington, said in an interview. “When the Democrats are in the White House, the Republicans complain that there are too many costly, burdensome regulations inundating them.”

I'm not sure how many ways it's possible to debunk a single meme, but in this case it's a helluva lot. It turns out that (a) Obama has issued fewer regulations than Bush, (b) adjusted for inflation, they cost about the same as the average over the past 30 years, (c) this doesn't take into account the benefits of any of his regs anyway, and (d) only about 0.3% of mass layoffs during the Great Recession were related to new regulatory issues.

In other words, Sally Katzen is right: this is just something Republicans routinely gripe about whenever a Democrat is in the White House, much as they gripe about deficits and domestic spending, but only when a Democrat is in the White House. It's just a partisan scam. Time to move on.

UPDATE: I misread the Bloomberg piece and adjusted for inflation incorrectly. The Obama regs cost slightly more than the 1981-2008 average, not less. The text has been corrected.

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Quote of the Day: Patented Blogging

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 10:34 AM EDT

From Matt Yglesias:

What if Mickey Kaus held some kind of patent on policy blogging?

The mind reels. I suppose we'd all owe him royalties and be forced to write a certain minimum quota of anti-union posts every month.

More realistically, of course, blogging never would have taken off and the world would have to continue making do with the likes of Tom Friedman and George Will. All of which is an excellent argument for not allowing the patent office to issue patents for vague, moderately obvious evolutionary trends expressed via software. Congress should get on that, since they don't really seem to have anything better to do at the moment.

Mississippi Dem Unsure What Personhood Does, Still Supports It

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 8:24 AM EDT
Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Johnny DuPree (D).

The New York Times has a story on something we've written about a bit before—the push to pass state-level constitutional "personhood" amendments to ban abortion (among other things) by defining life as beginning at conception. Previous initiatives have fallen short, but Mississippi's personhood movement, which was initiated by a one-time Christian secessionist who backed a plan to create an independent theocracy in upstate South Carolina, has a decent chance of passing this November—at least if its high-profile endorsers are any indication:

Mississippi will also elect a new governor on Nov. 8. The Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, is co-chairman of Yes on 26 and his campaign distributes bumper stickers for the initiative. The Democratic candidate, Johnny DuPree, the mayor of Hattiesburg and the state’s first black major-party candidate for governor in modern times, says he will vote for it though he is worried about its impact on medical care and contraception.

Yes, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee supports the measure, which would ban abortion even in cases of rape. DuPree fleshed out his views a bit at a debate at the Mississippi College School of Law:

Virtual Classes, Real Cheating

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 6:23 AM EDT

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been crisscrossing the country over the past year touting the benefits of virtual education for elementary and secondary students—and for cash-strapped state budgets. (I wrote a lengthy story about that enterprise here.) Earlier this month at a summit he convened in San Francisco, his new advocacy group, Digital Learning Now, outlined the steps he thinks states should take to expand digital learning in public schools. Among the requirements are such controversial things as repealing teacher-student ratio requirements or teacher credentialing mandates, as well as letting more for-profit providers have a crack at public school money. He also recommends that states mandate that proficiency tests be taken online or digitally. Bush will be checking up on the states over the next year and "grading" them on how well they follow his recommendations. One thing Bush's education summit and state report cards don't address, though, is what states ought to do to prevent cheating in online classes, which has become a chronic problem.

Even as states rush to embrace Bush's vision of "21st-century learning," the National Education Policy Center this week released a new policy paper on virtual K-12 education. Researcher Gene Glass and colleagues noted that one of the biggest issues dogging virtual K-12 education is "authenticity of student work." That cheating would be a problem in classes where there are only computers and no teachers seems sort of obvious. Anyone could be doing the work and taking the tests in those classes, after all. And there's little to prevent kids from simply Googling their way to an A.

Glass cites a school in Ohio run by K12 Inc., a large for-profit online provider, in which about half the students were discovered not to even own a computer, raising serious questions about how they were completing all the work they'd supposedly done. They also highlight the case of North High School in Denver, which earlier this year was profiled by the alt-weekly Westword in a story that suggested the school was allowing students to cheat on online classes for "credit recovery" that allowed them to graduate and boost the school's dismal profile.

In 2010, the school's graduation rate, previously among the worst in the state at 48 percent, soared to 64 percent after the online credit recovery classes had been implemented. But Westword didn't find that the online classes were just so fabulous that kids embraced them and suddenly succeeded where they'd failed in a regular classroom. Instead, they found multiple instances where the students weren't doing any of the coursework in the classes at all but were passing their final exams with flying colors.

Former school staffers reported that students were using their iPhones to find the answers to the multiple-choice questions. Others simply took the tests over and over again (which they could do online) until they figured out the right answers through the process of elimination, and then passed the answers on to friends. The company providing the online classes at North High? Apex Learning, one of the major donors to Jeb Bush's digital-ed lobbying campaign. Is it any wonder Bush doesn't want to talk about cheating?

Charts: How the One Percent Doubled Their Income

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

If you're looking for stats on the growing gap between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, the Congressional Budget Office is a good place to start. The staid bipartisan number-crunching agency is the source of some of Mother Jones' ever-popular (and poster-izable!) income inequality charts. Now the CBO has a new report full of data whose takeaway, Kevin Drum notes, is pretty simple: "The rich are getting richer, the rest of us are just kind of drifting along."

Here are a couple charts that illustrate the trend. First off, a look at how wealth has been steadily redistributed upward over the past 30 years (hover over a column to see more data):

Hover over a column to see more data.

The richest Americans have seen a nearly 120 percent increase in their income since the late '70s. Meanwhile, the middle quintile of earners have seen their incomes grow 30 percent (hover over a column to see more data):

 Hover over a column to see more data.

Want more charts like these? See our charts on the secrets of the jobless recovery, the richest 1 percent of Americans, and how the superwealthy beat the IRS.

Secret Tsunami Stowaways

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Tsunami debris afloat in the Pacific after the 11 Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami off Japan.: Credit: US Navy/ Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd.Tsunami debris afloat in the Pacific after the 11 Mar 2011 earthquake and tsunami off Japan. Credit: US Navy/ Specialist 3rd Class Alexander Tidd.The International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) in Hawaii reports that somewhere between 5 and 20 million tons of tsunami debris from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan is migrating quickly across the Pacific Ocean.

Crew from the Russian tall ship STS Pallada spotted furniture, appliances, and a fishing boat with the home port 'Fukushima' painted on it after passing the Midway islands, part of the Hawaiian Island Archipelago, last month. That's 2,000 miles from the epicenter of the quake. 

This is the first confirmed sighting since shortly after the disaster, when the massive floating remnants of coastal Japanese towns—more than 200,000 buildings—simply disappeared from view. 

Credit: IPRC.Credit: IPRC.

The image above shows the likely path of tsunami debris as of 25 Oct 2011. The IPRC research suggests this path based on 678,305 tracers released from the northeast coast of Japan beginning 11 March 2011, the same day as the quake.

You can watch an animation of the full dispersal here. The fluid dynamics are beautiful.

 

 


This video shows the IPRC prediction of the long-term—5-year-plus—travels of the tsunami debris. The original animation for the statistical model is here.

 

As you can see from the video, the debris, after bouncing off the west coast of North America, is likely to get trapped in the North Pacific Gyre along with all the other garbage collecting there. The plastics will last close to forever.

As an interesting aside, monstrously huge rafts of tsunami debris may well be one of the mechanisms by which life originally dispersed to the Hawaiian Islands. 

Pallus' rosefinch, Carpodacus roseus, native to China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia.: Credit: M. Nishimura via Wikimedia Commons.Pallus' rosefinch, Carpodacus roseus, native to China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia. Credit: M. Nishimura via Wikimedia Commons.

A new analysis of the genome of Hawaiian honeycreepers reveals they're not descended, as thought, from the honeycreepers of the Americas, but are instead a sister taxon to the Eurasian rosefinches of the genus Carpodacus.

Based on a genetic analysis, the precursors of Hawaiian honeycreepers probably arrived on Kauai and Niihau about 5.7 million years ago and continued to diverge into different species after Oahu emerged from the sea.

ʻIʻiwi, or scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, Vestiaria coccinea.: Credit: Paul Banko, NPS.ʻIʻiwi, or scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, Vestiaria coccinea. Credit: Paul Banko, NPS.It's possible that huge floating mats of tsunami debris—perhaps from Japan—brought the ancestors of Hawaii's present-day honeycreepers to the islands.

Those of you who've spent time at sea know how land birds get blown off course and will rest on any platform at sea—ship, boat, raft, the backs of sleeping whales—as they fight to stay alive.

Maybe the current tsunami debris will transport some newcomers to the Hawaiian Islands.

 Townsend's warbler rests on boat.: Credit: Andrew Revkin via Flickr.Townsend's warbler rests on boat. Credit: Andrew Revkin via Flickr.

Would we recognize them as naturally-delivered refugees? Or would we try to exterminate them as human-introduced aliens?

The papers:

  • Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner. Marine Debris. IPRC Climate, vol. 8, no. 2, 2008. pdf.

  • Heather R.L. Lerner, Matthias Meyer, Helen F. James, Michael Hofreiter, and Robert C. Fleischer. Multilocus Resolution of Phylogeny and Timescale in the Extant Adaptive Radiation of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2011.09.039.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 26, 2011

Wed Oct. 26, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army Spc. Phillips, 2nd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment talks with a young boy in the Matekzi Village, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 30, 2011. (Photo by Spc. Kristina Truluck, 55th Signal Company - The US Army)

Big Crowd Gathers at Occupy Oakland, Mayor Promises "Light" Police Presence

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 12:37 AM EDT

Occupy Oakland the night of Wednesday, October 26th.: jsight/yfrongOccupy Oakland the night of Wednesday, October 26th. j_sight/yfrogThe Occupy Oakland protests turned violent Tuesday evening when police officers cracked down with rubber bullets [OPD denies but said it could not speak from 15 other agencies on scene, see more on this below], tear gas, and flash-bang grenades on protesters marching through downtown Oakland. Around 75 people were arrested Tuesday morning when police dismantled the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. A crowd is gathered there again tonight. What follows is a Storify roundup of news and eyewitness accounts, including from our own Gavin Aronsen (@garonsen), Tim McDonnell (@TimMcDonnell), and James West (@jameswest2010), who are on the scene. 

NOTE: Because of some code updates at Storify, we haven't been able to update the live blog below. So here's the latest:

10:55 p.m. It was a peaceful night in Oakland. At a press conference, Mayor Jean Quan promised a "light police presence" for the next few days, to allow an opportunity for "dialogue" with the protesters. Shortly afterward, the Occupy Oakland General Assembly passed a proposal to organize a general strike November 2. (Historically, a general strike has meant that everyone participates—not just people in a particular union or industry, not even just workers. Students might stay home, cab drivers might park their vehicles, and so on. What this would look like in 2011 America has yet to be determined; as Gavin notes below, our last general strike came just after WWII. In Oakland.

As we write this, what's left of the protest crowd, still several hundred strong, is march-dancing down Broadway to the strains of classic pop. Meanwhile our reporters (whom you can follow on Twitter for live updates: @garonsen, @jameswest2010, and @timmcdonnell, having found the downtown Oakland BART station closed, are headed over to San Francisco in our editorial web producer's (@DireWolf11) car. Josh Harkinson, who covered Occupy Wall Street for us for the past few weeks, is there as well. So are several San Francisco supervisors, trailing conspicuous entourages.

Earlier tonight, James filmed protesters pulling down the fence around their former encampment. Says one: "You know, I gotta be honest, I think there's got to be some cooler heads in this conversation somewhere, and I welcome protesters saying that. But I'm not one of those people. I'm upset. I'm upset enough that I'm going to pull down some fences in city park that I helped pay for. You know what I'm not gonna do? I'm not gonna spit on anybody, I'm not gonna curse, I'm not gonna denigrate anybody."

James also interviewed the "Notorious Irish Guy," who shows off what he says is an injury from a rubber bullet (plus the bullet itself).

Now back to our roundup of events up to about 7:45 p.m., via Storify:

 

A woman in a wheelchair is tear-gassed as police disperse protesters at Occupy Oakland.: @Adreadonymous/TwitterA woman in a wheelchair is teargassed as police disperse protesters at Occupy Oakland. @Adreadonymous/Twitter

For the Rich, Simple and Low Under Perry's Tax Plan

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 11:47 PM EDT

Yesterday I proposed that we all spare a thought for whichever poor analyst at the Tax Policy Center got drafted to make sense of Rick Perry's flat-tax plan. Now we have a name: Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at TPC who crunched some numbers at the behest of the New York Times' Catherine Rampell. The chart on the right summarizes his handiwork.

As you can see, low-income taxpayers mostly do better under the current tax system. Middle-income taxpayers vary. High-income taxpayers mostly do better under Perry's plan. And very high-income taxpayers make out like bandits under Perry's plan.

No surprise there. What's underappreciated, though, is that this means the rich not only pay lower taxes, they also benefit from having simpler taxes. They do so much better under Perry's plan that they'll almost all just fill in his postcard without even bothering to calculate how much they might owe under the current regime.

Low and middle-income taxpayers, however, have no such luck. There's a pretty good chance they'll do better under the current system, which means they need to fill out Perry's postcard and fill out a current 1040 to see which one comes out better. No simple taxes for them.

In more ways than one, it's good to be rich in Rick Perry's America.

UPDATE: James Pethokoukis passes along a revenue analysis from John Dunham and Associates that was commissioned by the Perry campaign. It that says Perry's tax plan would raise $4.7 trillion less than current law over the six years from 2014-2020. Hello, bigger budget deficits! Under a dynamic scoring method that assumes Perry's plan would supercharge the economy, it would raise $1.7 trillion less. Of course, dynamic scoring is mostly a scam, so something in the range of $4 trillion is probably in the ballpark.

AUDIO: Elizabeth Warren Clarifies Her Occupy Wall Street Comments

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 10:03 PM EDT
Elizabeth Warren (right) is the front-runner to take on Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012.

Elizabeth Warren isn't backing down from her support for the Occupy Wall Street movement, even as conservatives look to turn the nationwide protests movement into an electoral wedge issue. Speaking to reporters after an event in Framingham, Massachusetts on Tuesday, the Senate candidate downplayed her comments to the Daily Beast, suggesting that she had created the movement—but pointedly embraced their anti-Wall Street message and cast them as kindred spirits against a "rigged" economic system.

The controversy began when the Daily Beast's Samuel Jacobs published a profile of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect, in which  Warren was quoted saying of Occupy Wall Street: "I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do." Conservatives pounced—the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a statement noting that "the Boston Police Department was recently forced to arrest at least 141 of her Occupy acolytes in Boston the other day after they threatened to tie up traffic downtown and refused to abide by their protest permit limits." The Boston Globe moved Warren's comments closer to Al Gore-and-the-Internet territory, headlining its piece, "Warren claims credit for Occupy Wall St. protests."

So after an event in Framingham on Tuesday, Warren tried to clear things up a bit. She stood by her suggestion that her anti-Wall Street work had influenced the movement, while emphasizing that she believed Occupy Wall Street was a separate grassroots movement. Here's what she said when informed by a local reporter that her comments had not gone over well at Occupy Boston: