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Men Complain Far More Than Women About Work-Family Conflicts

| Fri Feb. 20, 2015 12:13 PM EST

Danielle Kurtzleben points to an interesting chart today from the White House's Economic Report of the President. It's based on only two data points (1977 and 2008), but it's still kind of intriguing.

Since 1977, two things have happened. First, more women have entered the paid workforce. Second, more men have started doing housework. It's hardly surprising, then, that both men and women report more work-family conflicts than they used to. But among women, this number has gone up only 6 points. Among men, it's gone up a whopping 25 points. Why the difference? Here are some possibilities:

  • In the period 1977-2008, female participation in the workforce went up only about 11 percentage points. So a rise of 6 points in work-family conflicts is within the range you'd expect.
  • Men feel worse about adding housework to an existing job than women do about adding a paid job to existing housework. Some of this might be about the pay. Some of it might be about men feeling that housework is humiliating in some way. Some of it might be about workplaces being less sympathetic to men who want more flexibility for family reasons.
  • "Conflict" can also be another word for guilt. There's always a certain amount of badgering from the boss in any kind of job, and badgering from your wife might produce more feelings of resentment and guilt than badgering from your employer.
  • Men are just bigger whiners than women.

I'd probably put my money on the first and third reasons—though the last one has a lot going for it too. And if I had to pick only one, I'd pick the first. Over the past few decades, there has just been way more growth in the number of men expected to do housework than in women entering the paid workforce. So it's hardly surprising that there's also more growth among men in work-family complaints.

But that's just a guess. Feel free to school me in comments.

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Media Reactions to Mother Jones Report on Bill O'Reilly's "War Zone" Stories

| Fri Feb. 20, 2015 11:27 AM EST

It didn't take long for Bill O'Reilly to hit back against Mother Jones's in-depth look at his questionable accounts of reporting during the Falklands War, firing off a string of insults to Politico Thursday night. This morning, Daniel Schulman, who co-wrote the report with MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn, appeared on CNN's "New Day," where he laid out the details of the story, and defended the reporting:

"The only place combat took place during that war was in the remote Falklands Islands, which were 1,200 miles from Buenos Aires where Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the press corps is," Schulman told host Chris Cuomo. "The combat situation that he says he was involved in now, actually, was a very violent protest that took place after the war was over. Now, it was violent, but it was not a combat situation."

CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter also appeared on the program to discuss the story, highlighting the fact that O'Reilly was quick to dismiss the report only after ignoring requests for comment by Mother Jones for most of the day on Thursday.

"Brian Williams apologized and went silent," Stelter said. "O'Reilly started calling your colleague David Corn a 'guttersnipe,' a 'piece of garbage,' a 'liar' a 'left-wing assassin.' I think O'Reilly was talking less about your allegations and more about the personalities involved here."

Stelter also spoke to Don Lemon about the Mother Jones report Thursday night:

For more media reactions, check out Erik Wemple of the Washington Post's thoughts. You can read the exclusive report in its entirety here.

Despot-in-Chief Back to His Lawless Ways Yet Again

| Fri Feb. 20, 2015 11:00 AM EST

Cue up the cries of tyranny, folks. The despot-in-chief is at his lawless ways yet again:

The Obama administration said it would allow people to sign up for plans on HealthCare.gov through April to avoid tax penalties for going uncovered in 2015. The extension, which adds more than two months to the enrollment period for health coverage this year, was announced by Health and Human Services officials on Friday.

....People who pay penalties for going uncovered in 2014 and are still uninsured will be allowed to visit HealthCare.gov until the end of April....They will be able to apply for coverage starting March 15 as long as they attest that they didn’t learn about the health law’s requirement to carry insurance or pay the fine when they filed their taxes.

This is basically a recognition of the real-world reality that a lot of people are going to be pissed off when they realize they have to pay a tax penalty for lacking health insurance. So HHS is giving them a choice: once you find out about the penalty, you can either pay it or sign up for health coverage.

Does this make sense? Is HHS within its rights to do this? Will it help lots of people who are genuinely confused about the law? Is it just a bit of ass-covering from the Obama administration, which knows it will otherwise face a big backlash from folks who have to pay a penalty?

It doesn't really matter. It's lawlessness. It's tyranny. It's Obama shredding the Constitution yet again. It's the end of the America we love. The soundtrack for this movie is a beloved conservative classic, and it's coming to a TV screen near you in 3, 2, 1....

Sorry, But Working for the Government Is Not a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card

| Fri Feb. 20, 2015 10:31 AM EST

First it was the police union in New York City, now it's the transport workers union:

The arrest last week of a bus driver who struck a 15-year-old girl angered union officials, who sent a memo to members this week warning that bus drivers were under attack and were being treated like “criminals.”

The union, Transport Workers Union Local 100, says the arrest on Friday of the driver, Francisco DeJesus, a veteran with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was uncalled-for....Mr. DeJesus was charged with failure to yield after his bus struck the girl as she was crossing the street with a walk signal in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on her way to school. She was pinned under the front of the bus, and her leg was severely injured.

....Union officials argue that accidents can happen despite bus operators’ best efforts. Making a left turn without a traffic signal can be difficult, city streets are chaotic, and there are blind spots in the bus equipment, John Samuelsen, president of the Transport Workers Union, said on Wednesday. “In this case,” he said, referring to Mr. DeJesus, “there was no indicator, despite the heartache of the tragedy, that the bus operator did anything reckless.”

Come on. This is the worst excuse ever. Making a left turn without a signal on a busy street is difficult for everyone, not just bus drivers. That's hardly a good reason to just let it pass.

I sympathize with the union's position to the extent that anyone who drives a lot is more likely to be involved in an accident, and that's not necessarily evidence of recklessness. It's just evidence that you drive a lot. But plenty of people drive a lot. Truckers. Delivery vans. Taxi drivers. Sales people. And if they hit someone, they're held accountable. That doesn't mean they're always convicted and jailed, but it does mean they're (sometimes) arrested and then investigated. What else are police supposed to do?

A bus driver's union card is not like a 007 license to kill. Working for the government is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card. If you run over someone, you're probably going to be arrested and you're certainly going to be investigated. If you did nothing wrong, then charges will be dropped. If a prosecutor concludes you did do something wrong, you'll get a fair trial. It's crazy to expect anything different.

The NSA Has Access to Your Cell Phone's Encryption Key. And Everyone Else's Too.

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 11:38 PM EST

The surveillance state, it turns out, is even bigger and badder than we thought. Previously, the story from the NSA has been: yes, we have access to petabytes of telephone metadata (who you called, what time you called, etc.), but we don't have routine access to your actual conversations. And this even made a kind of sense: telephone companies store bulk metadata and can make it available to the NSA. They don't record phone conversations. Besides, on cell phones those conversations are encrypted anyway.

But guess what? That encryption depends on a key stored on the SIM card inside your cell phone. If you have access to the key, you can listen in to all the conversations you want.

You know what's coming next, don't you? Here is Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept:

American and British spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

....The company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world.

....According to one secret GCHQ slide, the British intelligence agency penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks, planting malware on several computers, giving GCHQ secret access....Most significantly, GCHQ also penetrated “authentication servers,” allowing it to decrypt data and voice communications between a targeted individual’s phone and his or her telecom provider’s network. A note accompanying the slide asserted that the spy agency was “very happy with the data so far and [was] working through the vast quantity of product.”

The folks at Gemalto say they had no idea any of this had happened. Apparently it was a very stealthy hack indeed. As you might expect, there is much, much more at the link.

Here's What the Government Thinks You Should Be Eating in 2015

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 8:09 PM EST

Earlier this week, I wrote about some of the nutrition controversies surrounding the release of new United States Dietary Guidelines in 2015. The Guidelines, which inform public health initiatives, food labels, and what health-conscious parents decide to make for dinner, are revised every five years, with help from a scientific committee.

Today, that committee released its initial scientific report, an extensive 572-page tome on all the current thinking about healthy diets.

So what are we eating—and what should we be eating—in 2015?

  • Perhaps the biggest change this year could breathe some life into your breakfast habits: The cholesterol in egg yolks is no longer as much of a health concern. The US Dietary Guidelines used to recommend that you eat no more than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day, or under two large eggs. But this year, the committee has scrapped that advice as new research suggests that the cholesterol you consume in our diets has little to do with your blood cholesterol. Saturated fats and trans fats, on the other hand, could boost your blood cholesterol levels, as could unlucky genes.
  • The committee found that Americans lack vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber in their diets. We also eat too few whole grains. On the other hand, we eat far too much sodium and saturated fat. Two-thirds of people over age 50, those most at risk for cardiovascular disease, still eat more than the upper limit, or 10 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat.
  • Gardeners, rejoice: The committee applauds vegetables in its latest report, describing them as "excellent sources of many shortfall nutrients and nutrients of public health concern." Unfortunately, our veggie intake has declined in recent years, especially for kids. Only 10 percent of toddlers eats the recommended 1 cup of vegetables a day.
  • Added sugars, which make up 13.4 percent of our calorie intake every day, contribute to obesity, cavities, high blood pressure, and potentially cardiovascular disease. If you are in tip top shape, the committee suggests keeping your added sugar consumption under 10 percent of your daily energy intake, or roughly 12 teaspoons (including fruit juice concentrates and syrups). But for most people, the report adds, the ideal amount of added sugars is between 4.5 to 9.4 teaspoons a day, depending on your BMI.
  • Most adults are fine to keep drinking alcohol in moderation—one cup a day for women, and up to two for men. "However," writes the the committee, "it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits."
  • Be it máte, espresso, or chai, your caffeine habit is fine in moderation, up to 400 mg a day (3-5 cups of coffee). But before you start handing out the Rockstars: The committee found evidence that high levels of caffeine, such as those found in energy drinks, are harmful to kids and pregnant women. (Plus: See above for the danger of the added sugars found in many of these energy drinks).
  • Seafood is a pretty healthy thing to eat from a dietary standpoint, and concerns about mercury don't outweigh the health benefits of eating fish, according to the committee. And yet, the collapse of fisheries due to overfishing "has raised concern about the ability to produce a safe and affordable supply." The report suggests that both farm-raised and wild caught seafood will be needed to feed us in the future.
  • The committee found that a diet "higher in plant-based foods...and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current US diet." A group of 49 environmental and animal-welfare groups sent a letter to the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to urge them to embrace this sustainability-oriented message in their Dietary Guidelines, which are set to be released later in 2015.

 

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How Big a Deal Would It Be If Red States Lost Their Obamacare Subsidies?

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 5:51 PM EST

What happens if the Supreme Court somehow persuades itself that Obamacare subsidies shouldn't be available to people in states that rely on the federal exchange? Answer: in the red states that have refused to operate their own exchanges, lots of people would lose their subsidies—and most likely lose their health insurance too, since they could no longer afford it.

We already know that most red-state governors don't care about that. After all, if they did care they'd accept Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which would provide health care to millions of their residents. So Greg Sargent takes a different tack today. What would it mean to state economies if their subsidies go away? Sargent's rough calculations are on the right. Florida, for example, would lose about $5 billion per year, which would be a hit to its economy. Would that be likely to convince its governor to start up a state exchange so that subsidies would keep flowing?

Sadly no. Florida has a state GDP of about $750 billion. The loss of $5 billion would represent about half a percent of the state's economy. That's not nothing, but it's close. And it's certainly not enough to make up for the opprobrium of being thought soft on Obamacare.

So....nice try. But I think we're pretty much where we've always been: it's going to be yelling and screaming from constituents and lobbyists that eventually gets red-state governors (and legislatures) to accept any part of Obamacare that they have a choice about. It's anyone's guess when that yelling will finally get loud enough.

Walmart Is Finally Raising Its Minimum Wage

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 3:19 PM EST

On Thursday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced the company would be raising its baseline pay to at least $9 an hour beginning this spring and then up to $10 an hour by February 2016, a move that will affect an estimated 500,000 employees.

The decision, announced in both a press release and during a quarterly earnings call Thursday morning, follows years of mounting public pressure from both outside and within Walmart to boost its notoriously low wages and improve labor practices. The company has repeatedly responded to such criticism by pointing out that it pays more than the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour; of course, 29 states require a higher minimum wage. (An estimated 6,000 Walmart employees currently make the federal minimum.)

While McMillon described the move as a moral decision to do "the right thing," Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder said the move is more an indication of an improving economy than anything else. 

"While the economy isn't exactly booming right now, it is doing very well, with labor markets tightening and the unemployment rate continuing to fall," Vedder said. "That means it's becoming increasingly difficult for Walmart to attract good, dependable workers than it was two to three years ago. Right now, they are thinking the economy will continue to boom, and they need to stay competitive."

"Could they afford to go further and still remain hugely profitable? Probably, but would that be good policy is another question," Vedder added, referring to the reaction by Walmart stockholders today:

The nation's largest private retailer, Walmart recently admitted that 825,000 of its 1.4 million employees earn only $25,000 annually, with 600,000 part-time workers on Medicaid and other food assistance programs. Walmart employees have staged strikes protesting their low wages, with advocacy groups demanding the retailer raise its minimum wage to $15. The company says that with the new increase, the average hourly wage will rise to $13 from $12.85.

While welcoming the move on Thursday, some say it is still not enough. "When compared to the $16 billion in profit that the company rakes in annually, Walmart's promise of $10 an hour, which even for a full-time worker is not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, is meager," Christine Owens, director of the National Employment Law Project, told the New York Times.

A more substantial change could come from McMillon's announcement, also on Thursday, pledging to bring scheduling enhancements for part-time workers currently struggling under unpredictable work hours. Last August, Starbucks announced the company would be improving scheduling policies to address such concerns.

"Walmart has been attacked over the years as being uncaring and tactless," Vedder said. "This is a chance to win some points with the American public. By waging their raises they can appear more compassionate than previously viewed, especially when they aren't put under the gun by federal law to do so."

Walmart's Surprise Wage Increase Might Be Good News About the Economy

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 2:09 PM EST

This is interesting news, especially in the wake of my earlier post about the dismal state of earnings growth in 2014. Walmart is raising wages:

The retail giant, which has been criticized for continuing to pay some employees the bare legal minimum, said that all of its United States workers would earn at least $9 an hour by April [and $10 per hour by 2016]. That would mean a raise for about 40 percent of its work force, to at least $1.75 above the federal minimum wage, the retailer said....Walmart's move follows in the footsteps of retailers like Gap and Ikea, which both took steps last year to keep pay above federal minimum wage level, in an effort to lessen turnover and attract more lower-wage workers.

....In trying to address other major complaints from workers, Walmart said it would work to make scheduling easier and more predictable, and would also improve employee training.

Why is Walmart doing this? I hope Neil Irwin is right:

The best possible news would be if Walmart’s executives made this decision not out of a desire for good press or for a squishy sense of do-gooderism, but because coldhearted business strategy compelled it.

....The company’s sales and profits rose nicely [between 2007 and 2014] while the company kept a lid on its payroll. Gains went to Walmart shareholders, not Walmart workers. So what has changed? The simple answer is that the world for employers is very different with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate (the January level) than it was five years ago, at 9.8 percent. Finding qualified workers is harder for employers now than it was then, and their workers are at risk of jumping ship if they don’t receive pay increases or other improvements. Apart from pay, Walmart executives said in their conference call with reporters that they were revising their employee scheduling policies so that workers could have more predictability in their work schedules and more easily get time off when they needed it, such as for a doctor’s appointment.

Megan McArdle highlights some recent changes in Walmart's business strategy, such as a stronger focus on e-commerce, groceries, and better inventory control:

What a lot of these changes have in common is that you need good workers to execute them well. (Terrible things happen in the grocery business unless you have an absolutely passionate commitment to rooting out expired meat and past-it produce.) Keeping stock on the shelves doesn’t sound hard until you try to get resentful teenagers to actually do so. And so forth.

One way to get a more dedicated and experienced workforce is to pay workers more. They’ll stay longer, and they’ll be very eager to keep that job. Wal-Mart had clearly previously concluded that it didn’t need a dedicated and experienced workforce composed of people who were really eager to keep their jobs. Now the company seems to have changed its mind.

From any other retailer, this would just be an isolated bit of news. From Walmart, it's potentially a big deal—thanks both to Walmart's sheer size and its impact on other retailers. Maybe, just maybe, it's a sign that the labor market really is starting to tighten.

Scott Walker's Tax Cuts Are Coming Back to Haunt Him

| Thu Feb. 19, 2015 1:27 PM EST

Via Ed Kilgore, this might prove to be Scott Walker's biggest Achilles' heel:

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, facing a $283 million deficit that needs to be closed by the end of June, will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to balance the books thrown into disarray by his tax cuts.

....“They need some cash,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan research group that examines taxes and government spending. “This is kicking the can down the road.”

For the time being, this is probably not a big deal. Walker says he's just "restructuring" the state's debt, and that will probably wash for now. But there's no question that Walker's tax cut zealotry puts him in a dilemma. If the economy continues to slog along, Wisconsin's finances will deteriorate and Walker's presidential chances will suffer. If the economy picks up, Wisconsin will benefit but so will Hillary Clinton. The path to presidential success often turns out to depend on the economy, and for Walker it might end up being a narrow path indeed.