Sugar Tariffs and the Bible

What can Passover teach us about international relations?  Dan Drezner explains.

This is hardly news to the couples' therapists out there but kids stress marital bliss. An eight-year study of 218 couples found that 90 percent experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction once the first child was born.

"Couples who do not have children also show diminished marital quality over time," says Scott Stanley, research professor of psychology at the University of Denver. "However, having a baby accelerates the deterioration, especially seen during periods of adjustment right after the birth of a child."

The research appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and shows that couples who live together before marriage experience more problems after birth than those who live separately before marriage. As did those whose parents fought or divorced. However, some couples said their relationships were stronger post-birth. Longer-married couples  or those with higher incomes had fewer marital problems after a baby than those with lower incomes or who had been married more recently.

On the other hand, another study in the Journal of Family Communication found that fighting couples live longer. Not happier, I guess. But longer.

Yet another study had the audacity to point out the fact that the happiness of the world at large also hinges on your decision to have or not have a kid. You know, the 10,000-megaton-carbon-footprint baby. Not to mention the 3,800 diapers.


 

Quote of the Day - 4.8.09

From Major Randy Schmeling, a 43-year-old Army National Guardsman who commands the American police mentoring teams in Ghazni, on the endemic corruption in Afghanistan:

Right now, there is no meritocracy here. It's, "Hey, your sister has a pretty mouth — do you want to be a general?"

There's nothing in this article to be surprised about if you've been paying even the slightest attention to Afghanistan.  But you should read it anyway, just to remind yourself all over again of just what we're up against there.

Unemployment Armageddon

According to the minutes of the latest Fed meeting, their staff economists believe that weaker than expected economic growth will result in "the projected path of the unemployment rate rising more steeply into early next year before flattening out at a high level over the rest of the year."  An artist's conception of unemployment growing steeply all the way through the first quarter of 2010 is shown below.  I sure hope the Fed economists are just kidding about this.

Boys Are Pilots. Girls Are Stewardesses.

Back in the '70s everything was so much simpler. This collection of gender unbending images apparently exists in the nebulous space between satire and not satire.

Washington Post Scolds Itself

The fact that Washington Post op-ed star George Will has been accused of inaccurate reporting isn't so surprising. What is surprising is that the accuser is The Washington Post.

In a story published yesterday, WaPo writers Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan cite evidence they say "contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979."

Grist writer David Roberts notes, "I can’t think of another instance when a news story at a newspaper explicitly called out an op-ed writer in the same paper for lying, by name." The closest I can think of is when New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt publicly reproached Maureen Dowd for gender bias. But that was an opinion, not a rebuke of reporting.

The paper's decision to call out Will was no doubt difficult, but props to them for doing the right thing—even if it leads to some awkwardness around WaPo.

The Sunlight Foundation has long worked to bring transparancy to the lobbying process, and yesterday the good folks there made something of a breakthrough. They've developed an online lobbying disclosure form. That may not sound important, but here's why it matters.

Currently, lobbyists file disclosure forms four times a year. They are required only to disclose who their clients are, how much they got paid, what topics or bills they worked on for each client, and whether or not they visited the House, the Senate, or the executive branch. What that means is that if a defense contractor is using a lobbyist to make sure it gets a piece of the pie in an upcoming DOD budget, the public gets no info about the specific appropriation being targeted or the lawmakers who got the full-court press. We may only find out that the contractor was lobbying at all after the budget is passed.

The online disclosure form that Sunlight has developed -- you can see a mock-up here -- changes all of that. A lobbyist can pull up this form on her BlackBerry after each lobbying contact and easily fill out a very comprehensive range of fields: date and time of the meeting; name and client for the lobbyist; name, agency, and position of the federal employee(s) lobbied; topics discussed and specific actions promoted or urged.

If every lobbyist filled out a form like this after every meeting, a group like the Sunlight Foundation could build a constantly up-to-date database of lobbying contacts that would allow the public to sort by lobbyists, clients, federal agencies, bills, topics -- any and all relevant metric by which money in politics can be overseen and rooted out. John Wonderlich, writing on Sunlight's blog, adds, "This is just the beginning. What else can you imagine tracking? Would you set up an RSS feed of all lobbying related to your interests? Would you, as an agency head, track all lobbying directed at your agency?"

Now it's just a matter of getting folks in government to see the (sun)light.

Caving on Auctions

That Washington Post reports that the Obama administration has all but caved on the principle of auctioning 100% of emission credits in a cap-and-trade system:

The Obama administration might agree to postpone auctioning off 100 percent of emissions allowances under a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas pollution, White House science adviser John P. Holdren said today, a move that would please electricity providers and manufacturers but could anger environmentalists.

...."The idea, obviously, is to end up with a bill that reflects both the thinking of Congress and the administration, a bill that the president can sign," Holdren said, adding that when it comes to a 100 percent auction, "Whether you get to start with that or get there over a period of time is something that's being discussed."

Getting there over time is what the Europeans tried, of course, and it was a disaster.  Basically, it meant nearly a decade of wasted effort until they finally got close to a 100% auction.  Blecch.  Still, at this point I suppose I'll be grateful if we put any kind of plan in place at all, since I assume the one thing we will get 100% of is Republican opposition.

Ending Privatized Medicare: A First Step

The Obama administation has taken an important first step toward reducing what are basically a set of handouts to private insurers, embedded in the Medicare system. These government subsidies to private industry enrich insurance companies at the expense of taxpayers and beneficiaries.

The particular handouts in question come in the form of subsidies to so-called Medicare Advantage plans. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday:

The federal government made good on its plan to cut 2010 payments for private Medicare plans, whittling the subsidies to health insurers sooner than the industry originally expected.

The cuts, announced late Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are slightly less severe than the 5% reduction the federal agency signaled in February, but still raise concerns about what has been a critical source of profit growth for many health insurers. Reimbursements to private insurers that administer so-called Medicare Advantage plans would fall by as much as 4% to 4.5% next year.

Even the WSJ acknowledges that “Republicans during the Bush administration pushed the plans’ extra benefits for seniors and subsidies to insurers to promote more private-sector involvement in Medicare.” 

Even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates initiates an historic review of the Pentagon's budget, recommending that many of the department's big-ticket programs be scrapped after years of mismanagement and bloat, a new report from the National Priorities Project is a useful reminder of just how bad things have gotten. The report breaks down how Washington spent a median-income family's 2008 tax dollars. The results speak for themselves: 

As taxes come due on April 15, taxpayers can take stock of how the federal government spent each 2008 income tax dollar: 37.3 cents went towards military-related spending, while environment, energy and science-related projects split 2.8 cents...

37.3 cents for military-related spending breaks down as follows: 29.4 cents for current military and war spending coupled with 7.9 cents for military-related debt. At 3.8 cents of each dollar, veterans' benefits receive similar proportions of a federal tax dollar as housing and community programs and food-related programs.