Kevin Drum

Just How Racist Are Schoolteachers?

| Fri Apr. 17, 2015 9:20 AM EDT

It's no secret that black kids are more likely to be suspended from school than white kids—three times more likely, according to a 2012 report from the Office of Civil Rights. And now a study published this week in Psychological Science may shed some light on just how much of a role racial bias on the part of educators may play.

Stanford psychology grad student Jason Okonofua and professor Jennifer Eberhardt designed a study where active K-12 teachers from across the country were presented with mocked-up disciplinary records showing a student who had misbehaved twice. Both infractions were relatively minor: one was for insubordination, the other for class disturbance. The records' substance never changed, but some bore stereotypically black names (Darnell or Deshawn) while others had stereotypically white names (Jake or Greg). Teachers answered a series of questions about how troubled they were by the infractions reflected in the documents, how severe the appropriate discipline should be, and the likelihood that the student was "a troublemaker."

The teachers' responses after learning about the first infraction were about equal, regardless of the student's perceived race. But after hearing about the second infraction, a gap in discipline emerged: On a scale of one to seven, teachers rated the appropriate severity of discipline at just over five for students perceived to be black, compared to just over four for students perceived to be white. That may not seem like a big difference, but on one-to-seven scale, a single point is a 14 percent increase—well beyond what is typically accepted as statistically significant.

A follow-up experiment of over 200 teachers took the questioning further, and found that teachers were more likely (though by smaller margins) to judge students perceived as black as engaging in a pattern of misbehavior, and were more likely to say they could "imagine themselves suspending the student at some point in the future."

Okonofua and Eberhart, Association for Psychological Science

"Most school teachers likely work hard at treating their students equally and justly," says Okonofua. "And yet even amongst these well-intentioned and hard-working people, we find cultural stereotypes about black people are bending their perceptions towards less favorable interpretations of behavior."

Many studies have looked at the subconscious racial prejudice of snap judgments—my former colleague, Chris Mooney, wrote an excellent feature on the subject last December. But according to the authors, this is the first study to look at the psychology behind the racial gap in school discipline. And, as Okonofua said, "The research shows that even if there's no race effect for an initial interaction, the stereotyping can play out over time. That's really important because in the real world, there are sustained relationships."

And the research may have implications for other kinds of sustained relationships between two levels of authority: say a boss and an employee, a prison guard and a prisoner, or a judge and a repeat offender.

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Vaping Among Teens Skyrockets in 2014

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 5:50 PM EDT

Is this chart on the right, from the Washington Post, good news or bad? On the one hand, teen cigarette use has plummeted from 16 percent to 9 percent over the past four years. On the other hand, the total rate of teen smoking—cigarettes plus e-cigarettes—has risen from 17 percent to 22 percent. The rise in e-cigarette use spiked especially sharply in 2014, more than tripling in a single year.

I've heard pros and cons about e-cigarettes for the past couple of years, and I can't say I have a settled opinion about them. Taken in isolation, it's safe to say that no kind of nicotine delivery system is good for you. But traditional cigarettes are certainly more harmful than e-cigarettes, so to the extent that vaping replaces tobacco smoking, it's a net positive.

But that huge spike in 2014 is cause for concern. At some point, teen vaping starts to look like a serious net negative even if it's accompanied by a small drop in traditional cigarette consumption. I'm still not sure what to think about this, but I'd say these latest figures from the CDC move my priors a bit in the direction of stronger regulation of e-cigarattes.

And if you don't live in California and are wondering what the fuss is over my state's anti-vaping campaign, here's the ad that's been assaulting my TV for the past couple of months. It's paid for by revenue from good ol' Proposition 99, I assume.

Corporate Lobbyists Outspend the Rest of us 34 to 1

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 1:55 PM EDT

Lee Drutman looks at the real problem with lobbying in the American political system:

Looking at lobbying in the aggregate, what jumps out is the stark imbalance in resources. Corporations blow everyone else out of the water. Business accounts for roughly 80 percent of all reported lobbying expenditures, about $2.6 billion dollars a year now.

....Meanwhile, the types of organized interests who we might expect to provide a countervailing force to business — labor unions, groups representing diffuse public like consumers or taxpayers — spend $1 for every $34 businesses spend on lobbying, by my count. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying annually, consistently 95 represent business. In interviewing 60 corporate lobbyists for my book The Business of America is Lobbying, I asked them to identify the leading opposition on an issue on which they were currently working. Not a single lobbyist volunteered a union or a “public interest” group.

....This growing imbalance has had two major effects on the political system. First, it is increasingly difficult to challenge any existing policy that benefits politically active corporations....Second, the sheer amount of lobbying has created a policymaking environment that now requires significant resources to get anything done. Which means that, with increasingly rare exceptions, the only possible policy changes on economic policy issues are those changes that at least some large corporations support.

Lobbying is inevitable. You might even say that it's nothing more than politics in its purest form. But if that's true, American politics has become almost purely a game played by big corporations and their allies. The rest of us—which is to say, practically all of us—are left with nearly no say in what happens.

Republican Judges Set to Rule on Republican Objection to New EPA Regs

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 12:13 PM EDT

Things that make you go "hmmm":

Environmental attorneys say they are confident the court will reject the emergency appeal.

Nevertheless Thursday's hearing, before three Republican-appointed judges, marks the first of what promises to be a series of legal hurdles for climate-change rules.

The subject is Obama's new rules mandating greenhouse gas reductions from power plants, which energy industry attorneys say is "double regulation" since the EPA already regulates other stuff at power plants. No, that doesn't make much sense to me either. Still, the two bolded phrases above might have been believeable together a few decades ago, but not so much now. If it's a Republican panel, I think there's at least a decent chance that we'll get a Republican ruling, regardless of whether it makes any legal sense.

Chris Christie's Social Security Proposal is Cruel and Callous

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 11:14 AM EDT

So Chris Christie is going to campaign on the bold idea of reducing Social Security benefits. My guess is that Christie is going to learn that Social Security remains the third rail of American politics, and will get therefore get charred to a crisp before much longer. For this and many other reasons, we probably don't have to worry much about Christie.

Still, it's worth looking at his proposal. It has two parts:

  1. "I propose a modest means test that only affects those with non–Social Security income of over $80,000 per year, and phases out Social Security payments entirely for those that have $200,000 a year of other income."

Even a lot of us liberal types don't have a big objection to this. But there's a problem here: I don't have exact numbers in front of me, but I'd guess that perhaps 5 percent of retirees have outside incomes of $80,000 and maybe 1 percent have incomes over $200,000. A phaseout that affects such a small number of retirees would hardly save anything. At a guess, maybe it would reduce total payouts by 1-2 percent or so.

But here's the second part of Christie's proposal:

  1. "I’m proposing we raise the age to 69, gradually implementing this change starting in 2022 and increasing the retirement age by two months each year until it reaches 69."

Ouch! As Matt Yglesias points out, life expectancy for the poor at age 65 has barely budged over the past three decades, sitting stubbornly at about 15 years. A 2-year cut forces the poor to work longer and effectively slashes their lifetime Social Security payout by nearly 15 percent. This is a huge reduction for anyone with a low income, and it's especially cruel since it would mostly target people who perform manual labor and have the hardest time working into their late 60s.

I am part of a dwindling band of liberals who is willing to cut a deal on Social Security that would reduce future payouts in return for higher funding rates. Unfortunately, this was never going anywhere because conservatives weren't willing to deal on the funding side, and it's even deader today because liberals are increasingly demanding increases in Social Security, not cuts.

But regardless of how you feel about all this, you should hate Christie's proposal. As I and others have pointed out repeatedly, raising the retirement age is the worst possible way of fixing Social Security's finances, doing its work primarily on the backs of low-income workers while making only token demands on the rich. It's a cruel and callous proposal and everyone should recognize it for what it is.

As Cities Raise Their Minimum Wage, Where's the Economic Collapse the Right Predicted?

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 9:45 AM EDT
The Fight for 15 protest in New York City Fast Food Forward

Fast-food cooks and cashiers demanding a $15 minimum wage walked off the job in 236 cities yesterday in what organizers called the largest mobilization of low-wage workers ever. The tax-day protest, known as Fight 4/15 (or #Fightfor15 on Twitter), caused some backlash on the Right:

Conservatives have long portrayed minimum-wage increases as a harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven't played out. San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, DC, were among the first major cities to raise their minimum wages to substantially above state and national averages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the increases had little effect on employment rates in traditionally low-wage sectors of their economies:

Economists with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley have found similar results in studies of the six other cities that have raised their minimum wages in the past decade, and in the 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum. Businesses, they found, absorbed the costs through lower job turnover, small price increases, and higher productivity.

It's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the government subsidizes the working poor.

Obviously, there's a limit to how high you can raise the minimum wage without harming the economy, but evidence suggests we're nowhere close to that tipping point. The ratio between the United States' minimum wage and its median wage has been slipping for years—it's now far lower than in the rest of the developed world. Even after San Francisco increases its minimum wage to $15 next year, it will still amount to just 46 percent of the median wage, putting the city well within the normal historical range.

The bigger threat to the economy may come from not raising the minimum wage. Even Wall Street analysts agree that our ever-widening income inequality threatens to dampen economic growth. And according to a new study by the UC-Berkeley Labor Center, it's the taxpayers who ultimately pick up the tab for low wages, because the federal government subsidizes the working poor through social-service programs to the tune of $153 billion a year.

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Even the World Bank Has to Worry About the Competition

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 8:20 AM EDT

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has just published a deep look into the World Bank's track record of ensuring that the projects it sponsors don't end up harming local communities.

Since 2004, more than 3.4 million people have been economically or physically displaced by Bank projects, according to the report's analysis of the lender's data. And while the Bank has policies requiring it to reestablish and resettle such communities, the ICIJ's investigation found that they were falling short, operating under a troubling lack of safeguards, through bank officials too willing to ignore abuses committed by local partners, and with an institutional culture that values closing big deals over following up on human rights.

After being presented with the ICIJ's findings, the bank quickly promised reforms. But one part of the investigation contains this interesting passage, which suggests an unexpected reason the Bank may not be able to clean up its act: competition has gotten too stiff.

As it enters its eighth decade, the World Bank faces an identity crisis.

It is no longer the only lender willing to venture into struggling nations and finance huge projects. It is being challenged by new competition from other development banks that don’t have the same social standards—and are rapidly drawing support from the World Bank’s traditional backers.

China has launched a new development bank and persuaded Britain, Germany and other American allies to join, despite open U.S. opposition.

These geopolitical shifts have fueled doubts about whether the World Bank still has the clout—or the desire—to impose strong protections for people living in the way of development.

United Nations human rights officials have written World Bank President Kim to say they're concerned that the growing ability of borrowers to access other financing has spurred the bank to join a "race to the bottom" and push its standards for protecting people even lower.

Today's package of stories, published with the Huffington Post, is the first installment of a series reported in 14 countries by over 50 journalists. More than 20 news organizations were involved in the effort.

Health and Logistical Update

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 8:45 PM EDT

Howdy everyone. I'm back. But I'll bet you didn't even know I was gone.

I spent most of the day up at City of Hope in Duarte getting a few final tests plus a final visit with my transplant physician before I go up next week for the final stage of chemo. For those who are interested, here's my final and (hopefully) firm schedule.

On Monday I go up to CoH and check in to the Village. This sounds like something from The Prisoner, but it's actually just a small collection of houses on the grounds of the campus. Unless something goes wrong that requires round-the-clock observation and care, this is where I'll be staying. It's obviously nicer and more convenient than being cooped up in a hospital room, and it comes complete with its own kitchen so I'm free to make my own meals if I want. (I can also order out from the hospital cafeteria if I don't feel like cooking my own stuff.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday I go into the Day Hospital for an infusion of high-dose Melphalan, a powerful chemotherapy drug. This will kill off all my remaining cancerous bone marrow stem cells, and, along the way, kill off all my healthy stem cells too. So on Thursday they'll pump my own frozen stem cells back into me.

And that's about it. Within a few days of all this I'll be laid low with fatigue, mouth sores, and loss of hair—and hopefully not much more, since that would require transfer to the hospital, which I'd sure like to avoid. For the two weeks after that, I'll take a wide variety of medications and check into the Day Hospital every morning for testing and whatever else they deem necessary (for example, IV fluids if I'm not drinking enough). The rest of the time I spend in my little house, waiting for my immune system to recover enough for me to be sent home.

That will take me through the middle of May, at which point I should be in fairly reasonable shape. Full and complete recovery will take longer—possibly quite a bit longer—but that's unknowable at this point. I'll just have to wait and see.

The next time you see me after this weekend I'll be bald as an egg, as any true cancer patient should be. Yes, there will be pictures. I wouldn't deprive you of that. Between now and then, wish me luck.

Democrats in Oregon of All Places Just Torpedoed a Bill to Expand Abortion Rights

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 4:21 PM EDT
An abortion protester shows off his pro-life tattoo, because Portland.

Here's how quickly the prospect of expanding abortion rights can kill a piece of legislation: In February, a group of state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require insurers to cover the full spectrum of women's reproductive services at an affordable price. Just two months later, the same lawmakers have killed the bill. The section calling for abortion coverage proved just too controversial.

This didn't happen in the Rust Belt, or in a purple state where Democrats hold the statehouse by just a vote or two. It happened in Oregon, where the Democrats control both chambers of the legislature by a supermajority and where the party has a lengthy history of going to the mat for abortion rights.

Nina Liss-Schultz of RH Reality Check (and a MoJo alum) has the full story. The tale is an illuminating one as progressives contemplate how to respond to the historic number of anti-abortion laws that have passed in the last five years.

It's also an important dose of reality.

Conservatives have enacted more abortion restrictions in the past few years than they have in the entire previous decade. In January, though, several news reports circulated that made it seem as though a full-fledged progressive counter strike was already under way. The stories were based on reports by the Guttmacher Institute and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, pro abortion-rights think tanks. They found that in 2014, dozens of lawmakers introduced dozens of bills—95, by Guttmacher's count—supporting women's reproductive rights, surpassing a record set in 1990. "A Record Number Of Lawmakers Are Starting To Fight For Reproductive Rights," one headline announced. Another read, "Inside the quiet, state-level push to expand abortion rights."

It's certainly true that the tidal wave of new abortion restrictions has inspired a progressive backlash. But the suggestion that the two sides are evenly matched, or even approaching that point, is out of line with reality. Just four of those 95 measures were eventually passed into law. One of them was a Vermont bill to repeal the state's long-defunct abortion ban, in case the makeup of the Supreme Court allowed the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade—a looming danger, but not the most pressing issue facing abortion rights.

By contrast, last year alone conservative lawmakers introduced 335 bills targeting abortion access; 26 passed. And in two states that are overtly hostile to abortion rights—Texas and North Dakota—the legislature wasn't even in session. That's part of why you can expect this year's abortion battles to be even uglier.

But it's not just about sheer numbers. At the same time that progressive lawmakers were pushing forward-thinking laws, the 2014 midterms undermined their efforts. In states where there were serious efforts to expand reproductive rights—Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington—Democratic losses on Election Day have placed those plans on indefinite hold.

Here's how things fell apart in Oregon, according to the Lund Report, an Oregon-based health news website.

[Democratic health committee chair Sen. Laurie] Monnes Anderson said the abortion language was so toxic that "leadership"—her caucus leaders—would not even allow her to have a public hearing on SB 894, let alone move it to the Senate floor. She said House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussion over whether the bill could see the light of day.

Meanwhile, in the time it took for Oregon to abandon this bill, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, and West Virginia passed 10 new abortion and reproductive rights restrictions. What happened in Oregon shows just how much reproductive rights advocates are playing catch-up, even in states that appear friendly to their agenda.

Drum vs. Cowen: Three Laws

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Today Tyler Cowen published his version of Cowen's Three Laws:

1. Cowen’s First Law: There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it)

2. Cowen’s Second Law: There is a literature on everything.

3. Cowen’s Third Law: All propositions about real interest rates are wrong.

I'd phrase these somewhat differently:

1. Drum's First Law: For any any problem complex enough to be interesting, there is evidence pointing in multiple directions. You will never find a case where literally every research result supports either liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

2. Drum's Second Law: There's literature on a lot of things, but with some surprising gaps. Furthermore, in many cases the literature is so contradictory and ambiguous as to be almost useless in practical terms.

3. Drum's Third Law: Really? Isn't there a correlation between real interest rates and future inflationary expectations? In general, don't low real interest rates make capital investment more likely by lowering hurdle rates? Or am I just being naive here?

In any case, you can take your choice. Or mix and match!