Blogs

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 17, 2014

Mon Nov. 17, 2014 2:57 PM EST

Light armored vehicles fire on targets during a training mission. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

America Is the Developed World's Second Most Ignorant Country

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 12:20 PM EST

A couple of days ago Vox ran a story about a new Ipsos-MORI poll showing that Americans think the unemployment rate right now is an astonishing 32 percent—higher than during the Great Depression. The correct answer, of course, is about 6 percent. And this is not just a harmless bit of ignorance, like not being able to name the vice president. "It matters," we're told, "because the degree to which people perceive problems guides how they make political decisions."

My first thought when I saw this is the same one I have a lot: how has this changed over time? After all, if Americans always think the unemployment rate is way higher than it is, then it doesn't mean much. But I couldn't find any previous polling data on this. I made a few desultory attempts in between football games this weekend, but came up empty.

Luckily, John Sides is a stronger man than me, and also more familiar with the past literature on this stuff. It turns out there's not very much to look at, actually, but what there is suggests that this Ipsos-MORI poll is a weird outlier. Generally, speaking, most people do know roughly what the unemployment rate is:

In this 1986 article....two-thirds, stated that the unemployment rate was 10 percent, 11 percent, or 12 percent — a substantial degree of accuracy.

In this 2014 article....approximately 40-50 percent of respondents could estimate this rate within 1 percentage point.

In this 2014 article....most respondents gave fairly accurate estimates — which is reflected in the median.

So the whole thing is a little odd. In past polls, people weren't too far off. In this one, they're off by more than 25 points. Something doesn't add up, but it's not clear what. In any case, it's worth taking this whole thing with a grain of salt.

But all is not lost. If you decide to take this poll seriously anyway, you might be interested to know that the unemployment results are merely one part of a broader report titled "Perils of Perception." Basically, it's an international survey showing just how wrong people in different countries are about things like murder rates, number of Muslims, teen birth rates, voting, and so forth. This is then compiled into a handy "Index of Ignorance."

So who's #1? Not us. We came in second to Italy. But that's not too bad! We're pretty damn ignorant, and with a little less effort we might take the top spot next year. Still, even though Germans and Swedes may feel smug about their knowledge of demographic facts, can they launch pointless wars in the Middle East whenever they feel like it? No they can't. So there.

POSTSCRIPT: On a slightly more serious note, Sides tells us that not only is the Ipsos-MORI poll an odd outlier, but that his research suggests that ignorance of the unemployment rate has very little impact on people's attitudes anyway. I'd say the Ipsos-MORI poll accidentally confirms this. The German public, for example, has a much more accurate view of the unemployment rate than the American public. So has that helped their policymaking? It has not. Over the past few years, Germany has probably had the worst economic policy of any developed country, while the US has had among the best. A well-informed public may be less important than we think.

1 in Every 30 US Children Is Homeless

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 11:07 AM EST

The number of homeless children in America reached nearly 2.5 million last year, an all-time high, according to a new report released by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

The report, titled "America's Youngest Outcasts" and published Monday, concluded the current population amounts to 1 child out of every 30 experiencing homelessness. From 2012 to 2013, the number of homeless children jumped by 8 percent nationally, with 13 states and the District of Columbia seeing a spike of 10 percent or more.

National Center on Family Homelessness

"The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children," co-author of the report and director of the center Carmela DeCandia told the Associated Press. "As a society, we're going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms."

Researchers behind the study cited several major drivers behind the recent surge including high poverty levels, insufficient affordable housing across the country, and traumatic stress experienced by mothers. Different reports have cited 90 percent of homeless mothers have been assaulted by their partners, with children overwhelmingly exposed to similar acts of violence.

According to Monday's report, youth homelessness is particularly problematic in some parts of the South, Southwest, and California:

National Center on Family Homelessness

 

Sunni Awakening 2.0? Don't Hold Your Breath.

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 10:57 AM EST

Back in 2007, the military success of the famous "surge" in Iraq was due largely to the fact that many Sunni tribal leaders finally turned against al-Qaeda and began cooperating with the American army. This so-called Sunni Awakening was a key part of the tenuous peace achieved a year later.

It was a fragile peace, however, and eventually it broke down thanks to the lack of a serious political effort to include Sunnis in the central government. By last year, the Sunni areas of Iraq had once again begun to rebel, and ISIS took advantage of this to storm into Iraq and take control of a huge swath of territory. If we want to regain this ground from ISIS, the first step is to once again persuade Sunni tribal leaders to cooperate with us, but it looks an awful lot like that particular playbook isn't going to work a second time:

Officials admit little success in wooing new Sunni allies, beyond their fitful efforts to arm and supply the tribes who were already fighting the Islamic State — and mostly losing. So far, distrust of the Baghdad government’s intentions and its ability to protect the tribes has won out.

....Much of the Islamic State’s success at holding Sunni areas comes from its deft manipulation of tribal dynamics. Portraying itself as a defender of Sunnis who for years have been abused by Iraq’s Shiite-majority government, the Islamic State has offered cash and arms to tribal leaders and fighters, often allowing them local autonomy as long as they remain loyal.

At the same time, as it has expanded into new towns, the Islamic State has immediately identified potential government supporters for death. Residents of areas overrun by the Islamic State say its fighters often carry names of soldiers and police officers. If those people have already fled, the jihadists blow up their homes to make sure they do not return. At checkpoints, its men sometimes run names through computerized databases, dragging off those who have worked for the government.

“They come in with a list of names and are more organized than state intelligence,” said Sheikh Naim al-Gaood, a leader of the Albu Nimr tribe. The most brutal treatment is often of tribes who cooperated with the United States against Al Qaeda in Iraq in past years, mostly through the so-called Sunni Awakening movement supported by the Americans.

Obviously ISIS may overplay its hand here, or simply overextend itself. They aren't supermen. At the same time, it's obvious that ISIS is well aware of how the original Sunni Awakening played out, and they're doing an effective job of making sure it doesn't play out that way again. Sunni leaders are already distrustful of Americans, having been promised a greater role in governance in 2007 and then seeing that promise evaporate, and ISIS leaders are adding a brutal element of revenge to make sure that no one thinks about believing similar promises this time around.

All this is not to say that things are hopeless. But a replay of the Sunni Awakening isn't going to be easy. Sunni leaders have already been burned once and were unlikely from the start to be easily persuaded to give reconciliation another chance. ISIS is reinforcing this with both deft politics and brutal retaliation against collaborators. It's not going to be an easy dynamic to break.

Love's New Album Is Finally Released—40 Years Late

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Love
Black Beauty
High Moon

Fans have been waiting a long, long time for this one. The LA ensemble Love, best known for the 1967 folk-pop classic Forever Changes, assumed a variety of guises during its turbulent and intriguing history. On the band's 1966 debut, frontman Arthur Lee and company displayed a heavy debt to the Byrds, though his songwriting was too original to qualify the band as imitators. By the time Love recorded Black Beauty in 1973, Lee was the only remaining original member, and the sound echoed the psychedelic hard rock of his friend Jimi Hendrix.

While this previously unreleased album isn't a lost masterpiece, it's well worth hearing. The quartet is brawny and nimble at once, while songs like "Young & Able (Good & Evil)" and "Lonely Pigs" range from romance to meditations on social justice and race. (Like Hendrix, Lee was a black man navigating the predominantly white rock-and-roll world.) Lee subsequently experienced extreme ups and downs, including jail time in the '90s and an overdue celebratory comeback after his 2001 release from prison, before passing away in 2006. Black Beauty fills in a significant gap in his story.

Elevate Your Mood With the Cool Ghouls

| Mon Nov. 17, 2014 6:00 AM EST

Cool Ghouls
A Swirling Fire Burning Through the Rye
Empty Cellar

Psychedelic in the sense of "anything goes," as opposed to tired DayGlo nostalgia, San Francisco's Cool Ghouls project a sloppy party-going-overboard vibe that belies their considerable assets. This vibrant sophomore album was recorded by Sonny Smith, leader of Sonny and the Sunsets, and like that lovably slackerish crew, this snappy quartet uses a studied casualness to mask major pop smarts. Guitars veer abruptly from snarling fuzztones to folk-rock chimes and back, while the cascading three-part vocal harmonies are sunny exuberance exemplified, but never fussy or precise, and the songs are downright catchy. Recommended to fans of the Beau Brummels or Robyn Hitchcock—and anybody else needing a quick mood elevator.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Squirrel Steals GoPro Camera, Runs Up Tree, Becomes Internet Celebrity

| Sun Nov. 16, 2014 10:30 PM EST

Via Mike Issac, here is a cute video of a squirrel stealing a GoPro, running off with it, trying to eat it, then returning it.

Head on over to the Daily Mail if you're the type that likes your viral videos explained.

 

Have a great night.

Why Won't Orrin Hatch Blame Republicans For the Failure of Immigration Reform?

| Sun Nov. 16, 2014 10:28 AM EST

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch cracks me up:

[Hatch] expressed concern that President Barack Obama may soon take executive action on immigration and protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. "It would be catastrophic for him to do that," said Hatch. "Part of it is our fault. We haven't really seized this problem. Of course, we haven't been in a position to do it either, with Democrats controlling the Senate. I'm not blaming Republicans. But we really haven't seized that problem and found solutions for it."

...."Frankly, I'd like to see immigration done the right way," Hatch added. "This president is prone to doing through executive order that which he cannot do by working with the Congress, because he won't work with us. If he worked with us, I think we could get an immigration bill through ... He has a Republican Congress that's willing to work with him. That's the thing that's pretty interesting to me."

You know, it was only 17 months ago that the Senate passed a vigorously negotiated and tough-minded bipartisan immigration bill that was actively supported by President Obama. You know who voted for it? Orrin Hatch. The only reason it's not the law of the land today is....Republicans in the House. That's it.

So what's the problem here? Why shouldn't we blame Republicans?

Here Is a Photo of President Obama Holding a Koala

| Sat Nov. 15, 2014 6:01 PM EST

President Obama and other world leaders are in Australia for the G20. They spent the day doing world leader things like talking about climate change and tourist things like holding koalas.

 

President Obama holds a koala before the start of the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia.

A photo posted by Pete Souza (@petesouza) on

 

Also, via Mother Jones' Senior Australian correspondent James West, the Daily Telegraph has had better days:

 

 

Our friends at the Huffington Post have a whole gallery of heads of state passing koalas around like they're going out of style..

Two Important Notes For Anyone Renewing Obamacare Coverage

| Sat Nov. 15, 2014 12:17 PM EST

Today is the first day of the 2015 signup period for Obamacare. If you currently have coverage, you need to decide whether to keep the plan you have or shop around for a different one. Here are a couple of key things to keep in mind—whether you're buying coverage for yourself or know friends who are:

  • As the New York Times points out today, it's possible that the net price of your current coverage could go up substantially this year. Here's why: the size of the federal subsidy depends on the price of your plan relative to other plans. If your plan was the cheapest on offer last year, it qualified for a maximum subsidy. But if other, cheaper plans are offered this year, and your plan is now, say, only the fourth cheapest, you'll get a smaller subsidy. So even if your actual plan premium stays the same, your net cost could go up a lot.

    This is, naturally, becoming a partisan attack point, but don't ignore it just because the usual suspects are making hay with it. It's a real issue that anyone buying insurance on a state or federal exchange should be aware of.

    Bottom line: shop around. Don't just hit the renew button without checking things out.
  • Andrew Sprung has been writing tirelessly about something called Cost Sharing Reduction. It's not well known, but it could be important to you. Today, Sprung tells us that the new version of healthcare.gov has a pretty nice shoparound feature that allows you to enter some basic information and then provides a comparison of all plans in your area. I tried it myself, and sure enough, the "window shopping" feature works nicely and is easily accessible from the home page.

    However, it doesn't do a good job of steering you toward silver-level plans, which are the only ones eligible for Cost Sharing Reduction. For example, I shopped for a plan for a low-income family of three in Missouri, and the cost of the cheapest bronze plan was $0. The cost of the cheapest silver plan was $90 per month. That's an extra $1,000 per year, and a lot of low-income families will naturally gravitate toward the cheaper plan, especially since it's the first one they see.

    But the bronze plan has both a deductible and an out-of-pocket cap of $12,600. The silver plan with CSR has a deductible of $2,000 and an out-of-pocket cap of $3,700. Unless you're literally rolling the dice that you're never going to see a doctor this year, you're almost certain to be better off with the silver plan, even though the up-front monthly premium is a little higher.

    Bottom line: shop around. The plan that looks cheapest often isn't, and for low-income buyers a silver plan is often your best bet. For more, here's the CSR page at healthcare.gov. And for even more, Sprung has details about shopping at the new site here and here.

I guess the bottom line is obvious by now: shop around. Even if you can navigate the website yourself, be careful. Not everything is obvious at first glance. And if you're not comfortable doing it by yourself, don't. Get help from an expert in your state. You have three months to sign up, so there's no rush.