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Achtung! Don't Help Your Kids With Their Math Homework.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 10:54 PM EDT

Pacific Standard reports today on a recent study about learning math, but I think they bury the lede. "New research finds that when parents with math anxieties try to help their kids, their efforts could backfire," says the headline. But here's the text:

Remarkably, the more that math-anxious parents helped their kids with their homework, the worse the kids did on end-of-year math tests, an effect that in the worst cases cut students' progress in math nearly in half. Meanwhile, among low-anxiety parents, the team found that parents helping their children with math homework had little to no effect on the kids' test scores. That effect remained even after controlling for parents' education levels, teachers' math anxiety and ability, and other factors, such as a school's socioeconomic status—a good indication that parents were passing their arithmetic-specific anxieties on to their kids.

In other words, forget about whether you have math anxieties or not. Don't help your kids with their math homework, full stop. At worst, you'll screw them up. At best, you'll do nothing. Use the time for something more constructive, like cutting your fingernails or watching Judge Judy.

Anyway, while we're on the subject, here's a math story from my childhood that backs up the results of this study. I guess this would have been around first or second grade. I must have asked my father some question or another, and the upshot was that he told me about negative numbers and how one arrived at them. Some time later, I was filling out an arithmetic workbook at school, and one of the problems was something like "What is 2 - 3?" I wrote in -1, probably feeling kind of smug, and got marked down. I protested to no effect. I was supposed to say that there was no answer because you can't subtract a bigger number from a smaller one. Thanks a lot, dad!

Is this story true? I don't know. I swear I remember it, but it sounds kind of unlikely, doesn't it? Maybe it's just a trick of memory? Could be, but it's an odd thing to invent out of whole cloth. In any case, my father is no longer around to protest his innocence, so we'll never know for sure.

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Los Angeles Just Found an Awesome Way to Fight the Drought. It Involves Balls. Here Is a Video.

#shadeballs

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 5:40 PM EDT

On Monday afternoon, the mayor of Los Angeles found a ballsy way to fight California's unprecedented drought:

 

LA just completed a project at the LA Reservoir to save 300 million gallons of water by deploying shade balls on its surface, saving our city over $250 million dollars while keeping our water clean & safe.

Posted by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday, August 10, 2015

There are now 96 million "shade balls" floating on the surface of the LA Reservoir. They're made of plastic, the same kind of polyethylene that gallon-sized milk jugs are made of, so they don't pose a threat to the drinking water, according to the LA Times. They're designed to keep water from evaporating and are expected to conserve 300 million gallons per year. And at a cost of $35 million, they're about $250 million cheaper than the alternative, a tarp-like covering.

So, saving California from the drought just takes leadership from someone with a pair of…sorry I'll just stop now.

#shadeballs.

Three Studies Confirm: Obamacare Isn't a Job Killer

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 5:13 PM EDT

Among the many (many, many) catastrophes predicted by opponents of Obamacare was that a lot of workers would find their hours reduced against their wishes. Why? Because Obamacare requires firms to provide health insurance only to employees who work 30 hours or more. So lots of companies would do their best to reduce worker hours to 29 or less in order to avoid having to pay for health coverage.

Unlike a lot of the gloomy scenarios tossed out by Obamacare opponents, this one wasn't entirely ridiculous. Any employer mandate is going to have a cutoff somewhere, and there really is an incentive for companies to drop as many workers as possible below that cutoff. So it's something that can only be settled by actual research. The question is: was there an increase between 2013 and 2014 of workers just under the 30-hour threshold? Max Ehrenfreund surveys a few recent studies and says the answer is no:

Analysts at ADP studied the payrolls of the firms' clients, about 75,000 U.S. firms and organizations. They expected that as businesses prepared for the mandate to take effect, they would adjust their employees' schedules, limiting them to no more than 30 hours a week. Yet ADP found no overall change in employees' weekly schedules between 2013 and last year.

According to ADP's analysis, shifts in scheduling were trivial in every sector of the economy, even in industries that rely heavily on part-time work, such as leisure and hospitality.

....ADP's findings were confirmed in another study by Aparna Mathur and Sita Nataraj Slavov of George Mason University and Michael Strain of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Their paper, published this month in the journal Applied Economics Letters, uses data from the federal Current Population Survey and finds no statistically significant change in the proportion of part-time workers in the sectors most likely to be affected by Obamacare, such as janitorial and restaurant work.

A third study confirmed these findings, and also found that eligibility for Medicaid didn't discourage people from holding down a job (since they no longer needed a job in order to get health insurance). The study found no difference between states that expanded Medicaid and those that didn't.

Why does it turn out that employers didn't cut their workers' hours? One possibility is that a year isn't long enough for a study like this. Maybe over the next few years, as the cost of the mandate becomes clearer, companies will start getting more aggressive about cutting worker hours.

But I'd offer another possibility: the mandate didn't have a big effect because most companies already do something like this on their own. They offer health insurance as a standard benefit only to full-time workers, and the cutoff for full-time status is usually somewhere between 25 and 35 hours. So when the mandate came along, it just didn't change anything for most employers.

This is why two of the studies looked specifically at things like hospitality and restaurant work. These are sectors where employers (a) already maintain highly variable schedules and (b) mostly didn't offer health insurance at all prior to Obamacare. When the mandate came along, these folks were faced with a sudden additional cost, but one that they could reduce pretty easily reduce by limiting schedules to less than 30 hours. And yet, even there the researchers found no change—or at least, no change large enough to measure.

This is not the final word, but it's the best we have right now. Three research teams, including one not especially sympathetic to Obamacare, have all found the same thing: Obamacare isn't a job killer. Nor is it even a schedule killer. Life goes on normally, except for the fact that millions of people now have health insurance who didn't before.

Jimmy Carter Reveals He Has Cancer

In a statement, the former president said he will undergo treatment.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 4:54 PM EDT

In a statement posted on the Carter Center website on Wednesday, 90-year-old former President Jimmy Carter revealed he has cancer that has spread throughout parts of his body:

Recent liver surgery revealed that I have cancer that now is in other parts of my body. I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare. A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.

On August 3, Carter announced he had undergone a surgery to remove a small mass in his liver. Carter's father and all of his three siblings died from pancreatic cancer.

This is a breaking news post.

This Silicon Valley Giant Is Actually Hiring Women and Minorities

Intel sets impressive diversity goals—by tech-industry standards.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 3:51 PM EDT

In January, Intel raised the bar in Silicon Valley by setting concrete targets for hiring women and minorities. While other major tech firms had cut big checks to groups that promote workplace diversity, Intel was the only one to commit to measurable change, pledging to make its workforce reflect the diversity of the tech talent pool by 2020. Some saw the goal as overly optimistic, but Intel's midyear diversity report, released today, shows that it is largely on track to meet its goals.

Overall, more than 43 percent of the company's new hires since January have been women or racial minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics:

These numbers may not seem particularly high—African-Americans, after all, make up 13 percent of the American workforce but just 3.5 percent of Intel's. But they do compare favorably with the talent pipeline for technical jobs. (Just 4.5 percent of computer science degrees last year went to African-Americans). And the overall demographics in the tech sector are pretty skewed to white dudes:

Compared to those industry-wide numbers, Intel is still falling behind in hiring African-Americans. Yet a comparison of workplace demographics in December and July shows that it's making progress on several fronts: 

Though these shifts aren't huge in percentage terms, they are notable for a company with tens of thousands of employees. The biggest jumps in minority representation have come within the company's leadership ranks—which still remain heavily white and male:

Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition has played a major behind-the-scenes role in Intel's efforts to diversify, issued a press release praising the company. "Rainbow PUSH argues that companies must set measurable diversity and inclusion goals, targets, and timetables," he said. "Due to CEO Brian Krzanich's steady and visionary leadership, Intel is doing that and more."

The Pentagon Just Realized It Gave Too Much Military Equipment to the Ferguson Police

But Ferguson still has plenty of combat gear to go around.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:54 PM EDT

As new clashes between the police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, revive concerns about the growing use of military-type gear by local cops, the Pentagon has ordered Ferguson to return two Humvees that came straight off the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.

But it's not because of the way Ferguson police officers have responded to the demonstrators, government officials say; it's a paperwork issue.

The Guardian, which broke the story, reports that the government is repossessing the vehicles because Missouri's state coordinator for the Pentagon's controversial 1033 program gave Ferguson four Humvees when it was only authorized to give two.

Established in the 1990s, the 1033 program has stocked local police arsenals with $5.6 billion in combat equipment left over from two foreign wars. Protests in Ferguson over the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, thrust the program into the spotlight last summer after officers responded to the demonstrators with a militarized show of force, including mine-resistant vehicles, combat-style assault rifles, and gas masks.

At protests to mark the one-year anniversary of Brown's killing, the police show of force has been only a little less aggressive.

Civil liberties advocates have called for curtailing or ending the program, and for cutting off other, larger funding streams that help local cops buy combat equipment as a way to strengthen the line between the police and soldiers. But the Pentagon's move to take away two war-ready Humvees does not demilitarize Ferguson's police force. Ferguson acquired four Humvees through the 1033 program; the Pentagon is only forcing the return of two vehicles. And the Pentagon is not suspending or expelling the city of Ferguson from the 1033 program, the Guardian reports.

What's more, officers are streaming into the community from law enforcement agencies all over St. Louis County, bringing with them their own departments' combat gear.

The Obama administration has announced several changes to the controversial 1033 program since the chaos of last year. Civil rights advocates hope a new White House requirement—for police departments to receive community approval before acquiring armored tactical vehicles—will stanch the flow of some of the most intimidating vehicles. Mine-resistant, ambush-protected trucks, for example, are routinely made available through the program.

But the changes do not apply to weapons, equipment, and vehicles that are already in police armories across the country. And as Radley Balko, the top reporter covering police militarization today, noted in the Washington Post last year, very little of Ferguson's military-type vehicles, assault weapons, and protective gear actually came from the 1033 program:

Most of the militarization today happens outside the 1033 Program. As the Heritage Foundation reported last year, few of the weapons we saw in those iconic images coming out of Ferguson were obtained through 1033. That program created the thirst for militarization, but police agencies can now quench that thirst elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks.

Communities that decide on their own to get rid of equipment from the 1033 program often have a lot of trouble doing so. The Pentagon technically has a process for returning unwanted equipment. But in reality, as I reported last year, police departments across the country have found that the process doesn't always work.

Online law enforcement message boards brim with complaints that the Pentagon refuses to take back unwanted guns and vehicles—like this one, about a pair of M14 rifles that have survived attempts by two sheriffs to get rid of them.

"The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back," says Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina, police department. Local law enforcement officials and Pentagon liaisons interviewed by Mother Jones all agree that the Defense Department always prefers to keep working equipment in circulation over warehousing it. Trimmer has twice requested permission to return three M14 rifles that are too heavy for practical use. But the North Carolina point person for the Pentagon insists that Hillsborough can't get rid of the firearms until another police department volunteers to take them. Police in Woodfin, North Carolina, are facing the same problem as they try to return the town's grenade launcher.

Ultimately, the police and sheriffs have found, the easiest way to offload their combat gear is to transfer it to another local law enforcement agency—an option that obviously troubles local officials who wish to get rid of the gear on principle.

In fact, the Pentagon has already said the two extra Ferguson Humvees may go to another police department in Missouri. And they could end up with one of the many departments sending officers and equipment to the scene of these protests—meaning these very same vehicles could roam the streets of Ferguson once again.

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The Hillary Clinton Email Saga: Still No There There

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:16 PM EDT

Is Hillary Clinton starting to get into serious trouble over the personal email account she maintained as Secretary of State? Hard to say. So far there's no evidence that she did anything wrong, just a beef between State and CIA over whether some of the emails she sent and received were classified properly at the time. That may change, but for now that's all we've got.

So why is this getting so much attention? As Steve Benen points out, Clinton isn't the first Secretary of State to use a personal email account:

Politico published this report in March: "Like Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell also used a personal email account during his tenure at the State Department, an aide confirmed in a statement."....MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald added at the time: "....Powell, who served from 2001-2005, apparently did not keep a record of personal emails, unlike Clinton."

As best as I can tell, no one ever cared about the Republican secretary of state using a personal email account. It was, to borrow a phrase, a non-story.

Jeb Bush also used a personal account when he was governor of Florida. And he held onto those emails for seven years before he finally made them public. What's more, it's clear that, like Clinton, he decided which emails to release and which to hold back. "Gov. Bush does not have a plan to release his personal e-mails not related to state business," an aide said in March. That sounds awfully similar to what Clinton has said about her email archive.

I'm not trying to be faux naive here. Nobody cares about Powell because he's not running for president. Nobody cares about Jeb Bush because....actually, I'm not sure why nobody cares about Bush. The governor of Florida doesn't handle classified intel, but if that were the big difference then Powell would be under scrutiny too.

It may turn out at some point that Clinton did something wrong. So far, her only real sin is looking guilty—and I'll confess I don't understand why she's acting that way. All it does is give Republicans ammunition and give the press corps an excuse to treat her the way they used to in the 90s. But as near as I can tell, there's just nothing here, which is why I haven't bothered writing about it. Aside from the obvious political motivations (for Republicans) and personal animus (among the press), is there any reason this is getting such big play? What am I missing?

Massive Explosions Hit Tianjin

Initial reports say the blast was caused by inflammables at the container terminal.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

Update, August 14, 2015, 4:38 p.m. EST: Reports say 700 tons of cyanide was stored at the Rui Hai warehouse where the fire began. The death toll has climbed to at least 56 deaths.

Update, August 13, 2015, 8:00 a.m. EST: At least 50 deaths and more than 700 people wounded have been confirmed.

A large series of explosions erupted in the city of Tianjin, China, one of the country's largest industrial and shipping centers, around 11:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday. Initial reports from state-run media indicate the blast was accidental and caused by "explosive material in a container."

Images and footage of the explosions have been posted on social media and shared below:

Roughly 90 miles from Beijing, Tianjin is the fourth largest city in China and has a population of over 7 million people. One state-run media estimated 300 to 400 people have been hospitalized.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as news develops.

Donald Trump Calls Bernie Sanders "Weak" for Sharing Stage With Black Activists

Trump promises to never cede control of the mic.

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 12:57 PM EDT

At a press conference in Birch Run, Michigan, on Tuesday, Donald Trump weighed in on the widely discussed interruption of an appearance by Sen. Bernie Sanders by two black activists last Saturday.

"That showed such weakness," Trump said. "The way he was taken away by two young women—the microphone—they just took the whole place over."

Sanders was campaigning in Seattle when he was interrupted by activists who took control of the stage and the microphone and demanded that people who care about Black Lives Matter also hold the Vermont senator "specifically accountable for his actions." Sanders left the stage without delivering his planned speech.

This is the second time that Black Lives Matter activists have disrupted a Sanders event. Sanders was first disrupted at a Netroots Nation conference in mid-July, as was fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley.

Trump, however, promised that such a spectacle would never occur at any of his events, even hinting that he would resort to violence if necessary.

"That will never happen with me," Trump said. "I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if others will, but that was a disgrace."

 

Scott Walker Finally Finds a Big-Government Subsidy He Loves

| Wed Aug. 12, 2015 12:43 PM EDT

The owner of the Milwaukee Bucks wants a new stadium. But he doesn't want to pay for it himself. So he's threatened to move the Bucks to a new city if Wisconsin doesn't pony up $250 million to help finance the shiny new sports palace he wants.

Unfortunately for him, Wisconsin's governor is Scott Walker, a small-government Republican who's famous for being a fighter. He won't give into extortion like this. If the Bucks need a new stadium, they can jolly well —

Oh wait. It turns out that Walker caved in pretty easily and the Bucks got their bucks. Paul Waldman is properly dismayed:

One might have expected more from a politician who is basing his presidential campaign on his eagerness to “fight.” This combativeness is central to Walker’s appeal — but it turns out that he’s only interested in fighting people like union members. Extortionist plutocrats, not so much.

....Even more fundamentally, one has to ask why “small government” conservatives — as Walker and every other Republican candidate considers himself — think that government should be in the business of building stadiums. Don’t they believe in the power and wisdom of the market? If the shrewd businessmen who own the Bucks would increase their profits by building themselves a new stadium, then they’ll do it. If it wouldn’t increase their profits, then they won’t, and the market will have spoken.

For some reason, professional sports franchises float serenely above the free market for both Democrats and Republicans. Neither party has been especially impressive on this score. Still, it's Republicans who are the market purists. They're the ones who insist, for example, that providing health care for 15 million people is a travesty if the government is involved in subsidizing it. But basketball? Go Bucks! That seems like a screwed up set of values to me, but I guess I just don't understand economics as well as Scott Walker.