Kevin Drum

Half of All Americans Are Diabetic or Pre-Diabetic

| Wed Sep. 9, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

A new study finds that half of all Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. But there's supposedly good news lurking there:

After two decades of linear growth, the prevalence of diabetes in the United States has finally started to plateau.

....Herman and Rothberg, who were not involved in the research, said the study suggests the implementation of food, nutrition and physical activity policies and regulations by federal, state and local governments as well as other efforts to curb obesity and diabetes have finally started to pay off.

Color me skeptical. Consider a thought experiment. Suppose we had done nothing about this. No government regulations. No haranguing by doctors. No PR campaigns. Nothing. What would the results be?

At a guess, half the population is naturally prone to eating (more or less) properly and isn't especially susceptible to diabetes. So if we did nothing at all, I'd wager that about half the population would remain free of diabetes.

This is just a guess, and I doubt there's any way to prove it one way or another. But it hardly seems like an unreasonable guess. And what it means is that all the regulating and haranguing and advertising has probably accomplished nothing. Maybe it's time to try something else?

Advertise on

Quote of the Day: Even Donald Trump's Lottery Number Is Better Than Yours

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 10:20 PM EDT

From Donald Trump, explaining why he never served in Vietnam:

My number was so incredible, and it was a very high draft number. Anyway, so I never had to do that, but I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.

The part of this that we're all supposed to be amused/outraged/stupefied by is the second sentence. I don't think anyone who's actually served in the military—especially in a warzone—would think much of Trump's assertion that he served "in the true sense" because he attended a tony military prep school as a teenager.

But it's the first sentence that tickles me. Trump's draft lottery number was completely random. And yet it's not just high, it's "incredible." Because, by God, if it's Donald Trump's lottery number, then it's just got to be the very best. Low draft numbers are for losers.

Apple Is Yet Again Making a Play for the Corporate Market

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 6:18 PM EDT

Tim Lee provides a rundown today of the new products Apple is expected to announce tomorrow. Here's one of them:

Rumors suggest that Apple will make a move in the opposite direction, unveiling a new tablet, possibly called the iPad Pro. It's expected to be larger than the current iPad, at around 13 inches.

Aimed at business users, it's rumored to sport a stylus — aiding the kind of precision work business users need to do — and allow users to run two apps side by side. Apple may partner with companies like IBM to help it sell the product to corporate customers.

This made me curious. One of my biggest complaints about the original iPad was its lack of an accessible file system. If all you want to do is play games and update your Facebook page, this is no problem. But if you want to do anything approaching real work, it's a deal killer. It's probably the single biggest reason I finally gave up and switched to an Android tablet (and later a Windows tab).

So has Apple ever addressed this? Sort of. It turns out that you can now save files directly to the cloud, and if you install a dedicated app you can save your files to a third-party local file system. That's progress. But I wonder how well that's going to go over with corporate IT departments? The good: a third-party file system potentially gives them fine-grained control over things that a native file system doesn't. The bad: native file systems are easier to support, since they're the same on every machine and users can't bollix them up.

In any case, it's interesting that Apple is yet again trying to go after the corporate market. That's never been a winner for them, and it's probably not a great sign that this is apparently their big idea going forward to get iPad sales back on track.

The Competition for Trains Is Mostly Air Travel

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 5:47 PM EDT

Atrios has a complaint about the way people talk about rail travel:

One thing I find annoying is that when people are discussing SUPERTRAINS — even rail advocates — there's a tendency to feel the need to "compete" with air travel. You know, saying that yes, it takes longer, but not when you account for the need to get to/from airports, airport security, and that trains are generally city center to city center. All good points! But it overlooks the fact that lots (and lots) of people regularly make 10-12 hour drives. Apparently driving long distances is highly competitive with air travel!

This isn't an argument justifying public expenditure on rail infrastructure. I'm just pointing out that plenty of people do not choose air travel when doing 400+ mile journeys. They drive. Yes we know it doesn't take long to fly from LA to San Francisco. It takes quite a long time to drive. And lots of people drive.

Well, yes, but once you get past a couple hundred miles, trains really are competing primarily with air travel. Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but you'll be in the ballpark if you figure that air and auto travel each account for about 6-8 million passengers per year between the LA metro area and the Bay Area. But the people who choose to drive from LA to San Francisco are usually doing it for a specific reason. They need to make stops along the way. They want a car once they get up there. It's cheaper for a family of four (or four college kids) than four plane tickets. Etc. These are all people who could take a plane, but choose not to. But if they choose not to take a plane, why would they take a train?

Conversely, virtually 100 percent of air travelers are part of the target market for trains. These are people who have already decided to travel via commercial carrier, and if the train is better (i.e., cheaper, more convenient, faster, whatever) there's no reason they won't switch to rail. In other words, of those 6-8 million air travelers, all of them are good targets for the rail market. But of the 6-8 million auto travelers, I'd guess that no more than a million of them are good targets. Every business plan I've seen for high-speed rail does include discussion of auto travel, but for the most part, it really does make sense to focus primarily on air travel here.

Iran Deal Passes Final Hurdle: 41 Votes

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 3:03 PM EDT

The Iran deal has now passed its final hurdle:

Three Democratic senators announced Tuesday they will vote in support of the nuclear deal with Iran....[This] mean 41 senators are now publicly backing the deal, enough to keep a disapproval resolution from emerging from the Senate and making its way to President Obama's desk and forcing a veto.

So there you have it. Democrats will filibuster the resolution of disapproval and it will die quietly in the Senate. Not only will the agreement go into force, but no veto will be required from Obama. The losers here are AIPAC, Republicans, and Benjamin Netanyahu—and deservedly so. They had a chance to play a constructive role, but chose not to. Now they have to pay the piper.

UPDATE: Several people have pointed out that although 41 Democrats have said they'll vote to support the deal, they haven't all said they'll support a filibuster. My guess is they will, since there's not much point in doing otherwise, but we'll see.

Welcome to Shutdown-orama. This Time It'll Work for Sure!

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

OK, folks, it's time to get down to business. Summer is over. Congress is back from its recess. Budgets need to be passed. And this time around, we're not going to put up with any shutdown shenanigans. Right?

Yet to be answered is how far Ted Cruz and other Republicans — powered by conservative outrage over Planned Parenthood — are willing to push Congress to the brink of a shutdown in order to defund the women’s health organization.

Cruz, one of a handful of senators vying for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, gave a preview of his strategy with a letter he began circulating last week....“The American people should no longer be forced to fund the abortion industry,” the letter, which Cruz’s aides are still circulating for signatures, reads. “Therefore we will oppose any government funding legislation that would authorize or provide federal funds for Planned Parenthood.”

....Top Republicans are also looking at poll numbers. An Aug. 31 Quinnipiac Poll found that 69 percent of Americans — including 53 percent of Republicans — oppose shuttering the government over a dispute over Planned Parenthood funding.

....All that has mattered little to conservatives. “If Barack Obama and Harry Reid think it’s more important that Planned Parenthood, after what we know about them, gets taxpayer money, they think that’s more important than funding our troops, that’s a sad commentary on Obama and Reid,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a conservative leader in the House, told POLITICO in a recent interview.

These guys really never learn. Jordan is playing the same game that Cruz and all the other shutdownistas play: flipping the script and claiming that it's Obama who's shutting down the government, not conservatives. But this never works. Never. Whether it's fair or not, the public generally blames the folks who insist on killing the budget over their pet issue, not the guy who's willing to keep funding everything the same as always. And again, fair or not, all the optics are on the president's side. He gets to selectively shut stuff down and then blame it all on Republicans.

It's also a little hard to figure out what the political strategy is here. It's true that a government shutdown might get the base excited, but (a) the base is already going to vote for them anyway, and (b) the base will get a lot less excited when the shutdown inevitably fails.

So what are we left with? One possibility is that, for some reason, Cruz and company think they can win this time. I've not heard even a peep about why they might think that. A second possibility is that this isn't aimed at the public, but at the Republican leadership in Congress. This shutdown is aimed at ousting John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and getting a team of their own at the top. Maybe Cruz himself! I wouldn't put it past the guy to think he ought to be in line.

Advertise on

Release the Outtakes!

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 1:45 PM EDT

We're all poring over Hillary Clinton's email these days, definitely an oddity for a presidential campaign. I suppose this is because Clinton left the State Department three years ago, which is enough time for the gears to turn and her email archives to be released. Most presidential candidates are legislators or sitting governors, whose emails are still under wraps.

But there is another candidate whose behind-the-scenes actions could be scrutinized right now. Conor Friedersdorf makes a modest proposal:

In the interest of giving the public as accurate an understanding as possible of a leading presidential candidate, NBC’s news division should upload all of the raw footage from The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice to the web. Let voters see what Trump was really like while the show was being filmed....If Trump is legally entitled to block the release of the footage and exercises that option, that, too, would be telling. But maybe he won’t mind extra publicity.

I wouldn't bother going the legal route on this. What we need is a whistleblower, someone who will leak the best (i.e., worst) of Trump's outtakes directly to YouTube. Let's make this happen, people.

Why Can't Johnny Read (And Understand Grade Level Terms, Including Prose, Poetry, and International Texts)?

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 1:02 PM EDT

Over at the Washington Post last week, Allison Klein explained how modern report cards work in Washington DC's elementary schools:

In some cases parents say terms are overbroad to the point where they don’t say anything. A couple of years ago, Montgomery County Public Schools switched to grading elementary students using P for proficient, ES for exceptional work, I for in-progress and N for no progress. Befuddled parents began referring to ES as “elusive secret.”

....D.C. schools takes a similar approach, only the school system supersized it. First-graders are assessed in 86 categories, including their ability to “choose high-quality health information, products and services,” and “promote health and prevent disease.” Second-graders are evaluated on their ability to “analyze data from tests of two objects to compare how each performs to solve a problem.”

Sure, I feel sorry for parents who have to navigate this stuff. But I really feel sorry for the poor teachers who have to fill it all in for a classful of students four times a year. There's simply no way that teachers can judge students on such fine-grained criteria. They can reasonably judge whether little Sally is reading at grade level, but the DC report card also demands that they provide separate grades for each of the following:

  1. Read and understand grade-level text, including both prose and poetry
  2. Answer questions about text
  3. Retell stories
  4. Identify main subjects
  5. Identify key arguments
  6. Compare character experiences
  7. Understand basic organization of print
  8. Understand spoken words
  9. Sound out new words
  10. Read accurately and fluently

And that's just reading! Once you randomly fill in grades for all this stuff, you've still got dozens more to fill in for writing, speaking, math (three categories), social studies, science, and music. I'd be crabby too if I had to face this kind of nonsense every couple of months on top of 74 days of testing a year—or whatever it is nowadays. Yeesh.

(Via Tyler Cowen.)

Dick Cheney Caught Out in a Lie Too Brazen Even for Fox News

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 11:43 AM EDT

This weekend, Chris Wallace asked Dick Cheney whether he and George Bush had any responsibility for the growth of Iran's nuclear program. Not really, Cheney said. That's all on Obama:

“But the centrifuges went from zero to 5,000,” Wallace pressed.

“Well, they may well have gone but that happened on Obama’s watch, not on our watch,” Cheney replied.

“No, no, no,” Wallace said. “By 2009, they were at 5,000.”

“Right,” said Cheney, who seemed to be losing air from somewhere in his lower back. “But I think we did a lot to deal with the arms control problem in the Middle East.”

These guys wreck the economy, and then complain that Obama hasn't fixed it fast enough. They blow a hole in the deficit, and then complain that Obama hasn't quite filled it yet. They pursue a disastrous war in Iraq, and then complain that Obama ruined it all by not leaving a few more brigades behind. They twiddle their thumbs over Iran, and then complain that Obama's nuclear deal isn't quite to their liking.

It's hard to believe that even their own supporters still listen to a word they say. And yet, somehow, conservative rage toward Obama for wrecking the country continues unabated. Truly, conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.

Pope Francis Decides to Make Divorce Easier

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

Here's the latest from the Vatican:

Pope Francis announced new procedures on Tuesday to make it easier for Roman Catholics to obtain marriage annulments, a change intended to streamline a process long criticized by many Catholics as too cumbersome, complicated and expensive.

Under the new rules, the process will be much faster for cases in which a couple is not contesting the annulment.

Such cases had required two separate judgments from a diocesan tribunal. Now, the process, overseen by local bishops, will require only one judgment. Moreover, the new rules require that the hearing process be held within 30 days of application, eliminating a longer waiting period.

Obviously, this is fine with me. But it's difficult to understand theologically. The Bible contains virtually nothing on the subject of abortion, and yet the church considers it a grave sin. Conversely, Jesus could hardly be clearer about his disapproval of divorce, and yet the church is making divorce easier.1 Aside from the fact that men often want divorces, while abortion is limited to women, what accounts for this?

1And let's hear no nonsense about annulment being different from divorce. Even church leaders admit that there's usually little substantive difference.