Kevin Drum - February 2012

Survey Says 24% of Kids Have Moved Back In With Their Parents

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 4:13 PM EST

Pew Research has a new survey out about the effect of the lousy economy on young people, and it's chock full of interesting things. Go read it! But I think I was most surprised by this:

It's not all that surprising that lots of young people are taking crappy jobs or going back to school or even postponing having a baby. But a full quarter of them have moved back in with their parents? Yikes. I'm not sure how much this has changed over time, but it's a helluva lot regardless.

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Quote of the Day: Ray LaHood Does Not Like the House Transportation Bill

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 3:00 PM EST

From Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation and former Republican congressman, on the mind-bending stew of tea party crankery being stuffed into the transportation legislation currently being jammed through the House by its Republican leadership:

This is the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen. And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety, and frankly, it hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we’ve been about for the last three years. It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Chart of the Day: Unleaded Gasoline and Teen Pregnancy

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:52 PM EST

Charles Murray is concerned about the moral collapse of the white working class and ascribes it to the breakdown of traditional values that began in the 60s. But Paul Krugman hauls out a couple of charts showing that violent crime and teen pregnancy have been dropping over the past few decades and makes a pointed observation: "So here’s a thought: maybe traditional social values are eroding in the white working class — but maybe those traditional social values aren’t as essential to a good society as conservatives like to imagine."

Maybe! But then again, maybe both Murray and Krugman are missing the boat. I've written before about Rick Nevin's research showing the startlingly strong correlation between the drop in childhood lead exposure (mostly thanks to the introduction of unleaded gasoline) and the drop in violent crime, but I've never mentioned the actual title of the original paper he wrote. Here it is:

How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy

Guess what? The reduction in blood lead levels over the past few decades seems to be a very strong predictor of the drop in teen pregnancy levels. Here's Nevin:

Although other social trends and government policies are often cited to explain the rise and fall in unwed pregnancy and crime rates over recent decades, the role of childhood lead exposure seems to be especially apparent in the best-fit lag structures for gasoline lead regressions. In the case of the unwed pregnancy regressions, the best-fit lag for each bracket is consistent with changes in lead exposure in the first years of life....The fit between the temporal patterns, with lags consistent with the known risks of lead exposure in the first years of life, provide striking visual support for the association between lead exposure and undesirable social behaviors.

His "striking visual support" is below. Make of this what you will. Just keep in mind that sometimes neither "traditional moral values" nor economic stagnation provides all the answers. Sometimes you ought to be looking elsewhere.

Yet Another Last-Minute Step Away From the Cliff in Europe

| Thu Feb. 9, 2012 11:59 AM EST

The financial situation in Europe keeps looking dodgier and dodgier, and yet I continue to persevere in my belief that, at the very last moment, European leaders will end up doing more or less the right thing. ("Right thing" being very broadly defined, mind you, to be anything that prevents collapse and a euro crackup.) That seems to have happened yet again today:

After days of dramatic talks, Greek political leaders reached a deal on Thursday to support a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s financial backers in return for the country’s latest bailout.

The deal is expected to unlock the €130 billion, or $172 billion, in new loans and save Greece from a potentially disastrous default.

Not everything is coming up roses, of course. The deal still has to be approved by a variety of folks in Greece, and there's always a chance of some last-minute theatrics. It's also true that the austerity measures agreed to will make Greece's economy spiral ever downward, so while the final implosion of the euro area has been delayed, it hasn't necessarily been prevented. That's going to depend a lot on Angela Merkel, the patience of the German populace, and the future actions of the European Central Bank.

But for now, collapse has been averted at the last minute. As usual. Whatever happens in the future, I think we can expect that this is when collapse is always going to be averted.

Today's Dilemma for Conservatives

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:26 PM EST

This cracks me up:

Florida’s poor can use food stamps to buy staples like milk, vegetables, fruits and meat. But they can also use them to buy sweets like cakes, cookies and Jell-O and snack foods like chips, something a state senator [Ronda Storms] wants stopped.

....[Her] bill would also require the state to launch a culturally sensitive campaign to educate people about the benefits of a nutritious diet. Supporters say it would help recipients follow healthy eating habits and prevent taxpayer funds from being used to purchase luxury foods like bakery cakes when they can whip up a cheaper box mix.

What a dilemma. On the one hand, this bill promotes the exact same nanny-state behavior that Republicans howl about when Michelle Obama or Michael Bloomberg starts nattering on about salt consumption or fatty foods. On the other hand, it punishes welfare recipients, something that's always good for a round of applause from right-wing audiences. What's a conscientious conservative to do?  

Bernie Goldberg on Conservative Bigotry

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:24 PM EST

I missed The O'Reilly Factor on Monday — I was probably in the middle of fighting with Expedia over some travel arrangements — but Bob Somerby tells us we missed a good one. Bernie Goldberg, the liberal-turned-conservative who's a regular guest, had something to say about the conservative campaign to get Ellen DeGeneres fired as a spokesman for JC Penney:

GOLDBERG: There's something that needs to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it makes some people listening to us. There is a strain of bigotry — and that's the word I want to use — running through conservative America.

It doesn't mean all conservatives are bigots or even that most conservatives are bigots. That's not what I'm saying. But there is a strain of bigotry, and it goes against gay people, for instance.

Ellen DeGeneres did nothing wrong. She's gay. Right? There is — reasonable people may disagree on gay marriage. That's fine. But to, but to call on somebody's dismissal to be fired, to lose her job because she's gay is bigotry. And I don't care how many people listening to us right now don't like that.

O'REILLY: Well, I mean, the argument though—

GOLDBERG: Let me say — let me say one other thing briefly, Bill. In the middle of the last century, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was another strain of bigotry on the right, and it was against black people. That has to leave the conservative movement.

I used to be a liberal. I became a conservative because liberals were a little too crazy for me. A lot too crazy for me, actually. But you know what? I am immensely uncomfortable with the bigotry on the right, and I don't care how many people don't like it. I am sick of it.

Bob thinks it's counterproductive to throw around charges of bigotry too casually, and I suppose I agree. At the same time, he was happy to see Goldberg say this on the air, and so am I. That's because the problem here isn't so much that there's a strain of bigotry on the right — there are strains on the left and the center too — but that conservative leaders are too tolerant of it when it wells up and conservative media are too willing to stoke it in order to goose ratings. That's the real crime, so it's nice to see Goldberg and O'Reilly call it out. I wish they'd do it more often, but good for them for doing it even occasionally.

Which reminds me: Bob is doing some fundraising for his site right now. I find him a huge pain in the ass on a bunch of levels, and I disagree with him about as often as I agree. That said, I also read him every day because he routinely talks about stuff that no one else on the left pays much attention to. It may not be obvious from my writing, but his site helps keeps me honest. He's worth donating a few dollars to if his stuff is up your alley.

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Chart of the Day: Homegrown Terrorism Has Shrunk to Minuscule Proportions

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 2:16 PM EST

Today's chart comes from Charles Kurzman of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. It shows the steady decline over the past decade in indictments for support of terrorist attacks in the United States:

The number of violent plots carried out by Muslim-Americans was also down substantially in 2011, and virtually all of them were disrupted early. From the report: "Of the 20 Muslim-Americans accused of violent terrorist plots in 2011 only one, Yonathan Melaku, was charged with carrying out an attack, firing shots at military buildings in northern Virginia. Nobody was injured."

This comes via Dan Drezner, who notes some recent remarks by a Pentagon official that we might have been overestimating al-Qaeda's capabilities all along. Then some snark:

Now, I'm sure that the reason for this lull is that Al Qaeda's remaining assets in the United States are focusing their energies on getting all turkeys to become halal or something. That said, I'm going to continue to insist that the United States faces a much less threatening threat environment now than it did fifty years ago. Oh, and that I don't need to listen to Representative Peter King when he opens his mouth on national security issues.

Nobody is suggesting that the threat of homegrown attacks is zero. But it's very much a manageable, garden-variety law enforcement problem at this point. It's way past time for everyone to dial down the panic.

Today's Shopping Tip: 3D Clip-Ons

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 1:10 PM EST

And now for something completely different: a shopping tip. This is for my readers who wear glasses and like going to the movies. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of 3D clip-ons, and I'm here to tell you that they're great. More and more movies are being released solely in 3D — which means we're getting to the point where it's hard to avoid 3D even if you don't like it much — and trying to wear those clown-size theater 3D specs over your usual prescription glasses is a huge pain. The clip-ons are far more comfortable and unobtrusive, which makes them a great investment, especially since they only cost four bucks. And I suppose they can even double as ordinary clip-on sunglasses if you're into such things. Highly recommended.

Everybody Loves Drones

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 12:55 PM EST

The Washington Post has a new poll out that asks about drone attacks on suspected terrorists. Everybody loves them. What's more, two-thirds of the country likes them even if the targets are American citizens:

Greg Sargent says these numbers are even more depressing than they seem:

The number of those who approve of the drone strikes drops nearly 20 percent when respondents are told that the targets are American citizens. But that 65 percent is still a very big number, given that these policies really should be controversial.

And get this: Depressingly, Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35. Those numbers were provided to me by the Post polling team.

OK, that's depressing. But I guess I'd still like to dig into this a little further. How many people approve of these attacks on American citizens if they understand that there's no court judgment involved, no finding of guilt, no warrant, no nothing? Just the executive branch unilaterally deciding they need to be killed. It would be tricky to phrase this in a neutral way, but without it I don't think we really have a clear picture here. Most people, when they hear a question like this, aren't primed to think about any of these things, and probably don't give them any thought. They might feel differently if they did.

The Month of Santorum

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 12:13 PM EST

So Rick Santorum won three states last night. Does this mean we all have to pretend to take him seriously for the next three weeks? I'm feeling a little queasy over the possibility already.

At the same time, I'm getting ready to concede that my valiant efforts to show that Mitt Romney isn't really all that strongly disliked were misguided. Republican voters just don't like the guy, do they?