Which States Are the Most Obese?

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 6:24 PM EDT

Bulging waistlines have become the new normal in the United States, according to Monday's "State of Obesity" report. Though only five states saw increases in adult obesity last year, researchers noted little improvement to the nation's weight crisis overall: The average American adult is 24 pounds heavier than in 1980, when obesity rates were less than half of their present levels. The report is published annually by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

With more than one-third of Americans considered obese and nearly 70 percent of them overweight, rates of obesity-linked diseases have also risen steadily. Across the South and the Midwest, where the obesity crisis is most severe (Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi topped the scales in this year's report), rates of hypertension and diabetes climbed past record highs. Racial and economic disparities are also acute: Nearly half of black adults are now obese, compared with just under one-third of white adults. The researchers said higher rates of food insecurity, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods, and unequal health care access were all factors contributing to the disparity.

But the researchers also note a few areas where policy and lifestyle have curbed crisis-level rates. Obesity was less of an issue in states out West and in the Northeast, where sedentary lifestyles are less common. (The nation's slimmest state, Colorado, also had the lowest rate of physical inactivity). And while the child obesity rate remains three times its level from 1980, the researchers add that outreach to parents, programs offering nutrition assistance, and healthy-eating campaigns in schools seem to be making a difference: Obesity among children has declined since 2004.

Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Advertise on

Capitalism and Machines Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 5:29 PM EDT

James Pethokoukis says that economist Deirdre McCloskey has written "the most powerful defense of market capitalism you will ever read." It's based on the chart on the right, which shows the fantastic growth of the world economy since about 1800:

Now, McCloskey does not like the word “capitalism.” She would prefer our economic system be called “technological and institutional betterment at a frenetic pace, tested by unforced exchange among all the parties involved.”

Or perhaps “fantastically successful liberalism, in the old European sense, applied to trade and politics, as it was applied also to science and music and painting and literature.”

Or simply “trade-tested progress.”

I am a considerable fan of capitalism by nearly any standard (aside from the current Republican Party one, which essentially holds that you're a socialist if you believe in any regulation of large corporations at all). So sure: capitalism or free market exchange or whatever you want to call it certainly deserves plenty of credit here.

But was it the main driving force of the post-1800 economy? McCloskey says the Great Expansion wasn't the result of "coal, thrift, transport, high male wages, low female and child wages, surplus value, human capital, geography, railways, institutions, infrastructure, nationalism, the quickening of commerce, the late medieval run-up, Renaissance individualism, the First Divergence, the Black Death, American silver, the original accumulation of capital, piracy, empire, eugenic improvement, the mathematization of celestial mechanics, technical education, or a perfection of property rights." Those had existed for a long time. Rather, it's the fact that European elites "came to accept or even admire the values of trade and betterment."

Does that seem right? I don't know much about China or India—and I might be wrong about Europe too—but I've always thought that trade and commerce were also relatively free during, say, the height of the Roman Empire. The landed elites made a lot of money in trade, and if merchants weren't quite pillars of society, they were hardly social lepers either. The legions were routinely used to protect trade routes. Corruption was endemic, but tariffs and regulations on trade were fairly mild. The pursuit of wealth was respectable, and accounting practices were sophisticated.

Is this all roughly correct? Maybe I'm woefully misinformed. But it seems like the big difference between AD 0 and AD 1800 wasn't so much attitudes toward trade as it was the obvious thing that McCloskey left off her list: machines. As long as humans and animals were the only source of power, there was a limit to how much wealth could be generated. But if the Romans had invented steam engines and electrification, we'd all be speaking Latin today and arguing about what made classical Roman culture so special.

This is something that's been a subject of academic study for a long time, and I hardly expect to break any new ground here. But while a respect for fairly free trade might be a prerequisite for exponential economic growth, the example of Rome suggests that more than that is needed. The truly interesting question, then, is: why did 18th century Europeans invent machine power but 1st century Europeans didn't?

Fired Scott Walker Aide Is Tweeting Up a Shitstorm About What He Did Wrong

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 5:20 PM EDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will announce at 6 p.m. Monday that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The move is surprising—Walker was, until recently, a favorite among major Republican donors—but not unforeseeable. In the past two months, Walker's support in the Iowa caucuses, the first voting contest of the race, has plummeted, from first in the polls to seventh. His campaign has already racked up six figures in debt to campaign vendors. And he clocked the least amount of time out of the 11 Republicans who shared the stage in the latest GOP presidential debate.

Immediately after the announcement, Liz Mair, a digital strategist for Walker's bid who was fired for tweeting negatively about Iowa, began spouting her thoughts about why Walker's campaign failed to attract enough money and momentum to keep it afloat. For example, "Hiring people who spent a lot to build out a massive operation that would not be sustainable unless financing remained amazing forever." Here's a selection:

Read the rest here.

Scott Walker Is Reportedly Dropping Out of the Presidential Race

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 4:23 PM EDT

Scott Walker is preparing to announce that he is dropping out of the race for the White House. The New York Times reports three Republicans confirmed the decision:

“The short answer is money,” said a supporter of Mr. Walker’s who was briefed on the decision. “He’s made a decision not to limp into Iowa.”

The Wisconsin governor, who is polling at less than one-half of 1 percent, will hold a press conference at 5 p.m. central time.

A perfect time for Walker to start focusing his attention on this other little problem.

Donald Trump Talked to Twitter Today and It Wasn’t Insane. His Campaign May Be Doomed.

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

In an attempt to showcase a bit of social media savvy—which thus far has been astonishingly lacking—Donald Trump's campaign stopped by Twitter today to give voters an opportunity to freely query the Republican front-runner using the hashtag #AskTrump.

While the resulting responses didn't exactly match Trump's usual penchant for offensive, unfiltered candor, the poorly lit videos did provide a closer glimpse at what a Trump White House and its policies could look like. Take a look at what your future with President Trump may have in store:

But don't let these videos fool you—#AskTrump was roundly ridiculed by the internet. Here are some of the best takes:

Overall, the chat was remarkably unremarkable. Does this newly tame Trump signal that his momentum is finally dwindling? Stay tuned.

Advertise on

Raw Data: Here's How Black Kids Are Really Doing in School

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 2:09 PM EDT

Bob Somerby is pretty ticked off at the way our "journalistic elites" cover black kids. In particular, he's ticked off at liberals who seem to care only about black kids getting shot, and conservatives who care only about promoting scare stories that make our public schools look as horrible as possible:

You will never see those people ask how black kids are doing in school. The reason for that seems abundantly clear:

None of those people care!

Just for the record, this is what score gains in math look like over the past twenty years. You’ll see these data nowhere else.

Twenty years?!? How about 40 years? I've got that for you right here, courtesy of the NAEP long-term assessment, which has used a similar test for over four decades precisely so that it's possible to make reasonable long-term comparisons. On the math test, black kids have improved their performance significantly: by 36 points at age nine, 36 points at age thirteen and 18 points at age seventeen. If we use the usual rule of thumb that ten points equals one grade level, that looks pretty good. And the gap between white scores and black scores has shrunk as well.

So maybe our schools are doing pretty well, after all? Maybe so. But at the risk of being a wet blanket, I'll point out one thing that makes all these score gains a little less uplifting: Since 1990, 17-year-old black kids have made no gains in math at all—and the story is the same in reading. Over the past 25 years, younger black kids have improved by one or two grade levels, but those gains are completely washed out by age 17. There may be good explanations for this. School reforms haven't hit high schools yet. A lower dropout rate means there are more mediocre kids still in school at age 17. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But one way or another, nothing matters unless our kids are doing better by the time they finish school. Until we figure out how to keep high school from being the black pit that it apparently is, none of the score gains in lower grades really matter much.

VW Loses About $20 Billion in Value in 2 Hours

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 1:28 PM EDT

Guess what happens when you concoct a contemptible scheme to secretly blow off emission rules on your cars—and then it suddenly becomes not so secret? Answer: your respected multinational corporation loses about $20 billion of value over the course of a few minutes. Your stock gets downgraded by pretty much every analyst on the planet. And the folks who put together the Dow Jones Sustainability Index start suggesting that maybe VW isn't exactly a poster child for sustainability anymore.

By the way, it turns out that VW's deception was actually discovered a year ago, but they doggedly denied any wrongdoing:

For nearly a year, Volkswagen officials told the Environmental Protection Agency that discrepancies between the formal air-quality tests on its diesel cars and the much higher pollution levels out on the road were the result of technical errors, not a deliberate attempt to deceive Washington officials.

....The company was evidently concerned that actually meeting the federal emissions standards would degrade the power of the engines, which it marketed as comparable in performance to gasoline engines. Meeting the standard would also undercut the fuel efficiency that is one of the main selling points of diesels.

Volkswagen finally fessed up only after the EPA said it planned to withhold approval for the carmaker's new 2016 models. Until then, it was just deny, deny, deny.

CNN Poll: Hillary Clinton Gains Ground on Bernie Sanders

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 12:19 PM EDT

Yesterday I wrote about the new CNN/ORC poll taken after Wednesday's Republican debate. Today CNN released the results of its polling on the Democratic race, and they have it at 42 percent for Hillary Clinton vs. 24 percent for Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden is at 22 percent, but no one even knows if he's running yet, so take that with a big grain of salt. When he's excluded from the poll, Hillary leads Bernie by 57 percent to 28 percent. In other words, if Biden officially drops out, it's a big win for Hillary Clinton.

Compared to earlier this month, Sanders is down 3 points and Clinton is up 5 points. Sanders appears to be getting most of his support from liberals and Independent leaners—though this is a little confusing since the poll claims to be counting only registered Democrats.

In any case, I suppose this will all get lost in the mix amid Xi-mania and pope-mania. There's always some excuse, isn't there?

Volkswagen's Shares Veer off Cliff After Automaker Admits It Cheated Pollution Tests

| Mon Sep. 21, 2015 12:12 PM EDT

Investors severely punished Volkswagen when trading opened on Monday morning in Europe, driving the German automaker's stock price off a cliff. The steep decline comes after the US Environmental Protection Agency accused the company of evading federal clean air laws, and its CEO was forced to apologize. The rout wiped away nearly a quarter of the company's share value virtually overnight—about 15.4 billion euros ($17.4 billion), according to Bloomberg. As of Monday morning US time, the price had rebounded a bit.

On Friday, the EPA handed down a damning citation to VW outlining a plot that, while highly nefarious, is pretty impressive in its scope: According to the EPA, the company outfitted half a million diesel-powered cars sold in the United States with software called a "defeat device" that could detect when the car was being officially tested for toxic emissions. During the test, the cars' computers would apply extra pollution controls; for the rest of the time, when the cars were being driven on the road, smog-forming emissions were up to 40 times higher than the legal limit.

It's unclear how far up the chain of command the deception reached. On Sunday, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said he was "deeply sorry" for breaking the public trust and ordered an internal investigation. That won't stop the ongoing US investigation, which could ultimately result in up to $18 billion in fines. Monday's stock plunge wiped out nearly that same amount.