Ed Kilgore reacts to the news that Indiana is set to become the first state in the industrial Northeast or Midwest to enact a right-to-work law that will almost certainly gut union organizing completely:

As someone who grew up in the right-to-work Deep South, I can assure Indianans that from a psychological point of view they are about to enter a brave new world where an ever-neurotic desire to keep corporations happy always seems to trump any consideration of fair play or workers' rights. Welcome to the Old South, Hoosiers! Misery loves company.

Unions are simply too weak these days to stop this from happening, and that trend shows no sign of slowing down. Republicans have always depended on money from corporations and the rich for their survival, and increasingly that's true of Democrats as well. Given this basic dynamic, it's very hard to see how unions survive in the long term.

Every day there are several stories that seem to show up in about half the blogs I read. Today, for example, Mitt Romney said he doesn't care about the poor; youth unemployment is sky high in Greece and Spain; and if we just let the Bush tax cuts expire, a big chunk of our deficit problem goes away. And then there's Cardiff Garcia's post over at Alphaville that reproduces a graph showing what the unemployment rate would be if all the discouraged workers who have left the labor force were still in it. Answer: bad. "This alternative measure has remained above 10 per cent since September 2009, and...has mostly just moved sideways."

But wait. There's nothing magical about this. The graph comes from Nomura, but the BLS already tracks this stuff in a variety of unemployment measures that are released every month. U3 is the usual headline measure, but there's also U4, which is U3 plus all discouraged workers, and U5, which is U4 plus marginally attached workers. As the modified FRED chart on the right shows, all three of these measures have been declining in lockstep over the past couple of years. So even if you include all the folks who have just stopped looking for work, you still see a decline of about 1.5 points since the peak in 2009.

So color me confused. Unless the Nomura folks have some reason for thinking their measure is better than any of the BLS's measures, it looks to me like unemployment has gone down no matter how you measure it.

UPDATE: Cardiff Garcia contacted the Nomura folks to ask about this, and they explained that their measure is a modification of U4. In a nutshell, U4 includes the unemployed plus "discouraged" workers — i.e., those who say they want to work but have given up because they believe there are no jobs available. That number has declined over the past two years.

The Nomura measure, by contrast, counts everyone who has exited the labor force for any reason other than retirement. They simply assume that all other labor force exits are for economic reasons of one kind or another.

I suppose either measure could make sense depending on what you're most interested in. There's probably always a small segment of the labor force that's only barely interested in working, and that decides to stay home with the kids or write the great American novel given even the slightest incentive. Those folks are captured in the Nomura calculation but not in U4. I guess it's up to you to decide which you find a more useful measure of the state of the economy.

Megan Garber points us to a new study of what we like and dislike in tweets, and summarizes it this way:

The Most Annoying Tweet Imaginable, in other words, would be overly long. It would contain stale information. It would #totally #overuse #hashtags. It would be excessively personal. It would be aggressively mundane. It would be whiny.

Overly long? Really? There are people who can't quite make it to the end if you use up your full quota of 140 characters?

In any case, the full study is here, and I actually took something different away from it: most of us don't really care that much. Take a look at the chart on the right and focus not on what we don't like, but on what we do like. There's surprisingly little difference. It ranges from about 47% for "Me Now" tweets down to 35% for "Presence Maintenance" tweets. That's not really a big range.

So with the exception of Presence Maintenance, which I think we can all agree has gone the way of the dodo, there's not much useful advice here. Go ahead and tweet whatever you want to.

The overriding theme of President Obama's last few months has been "We Can't Wait." Translated, this means that we can no longer wait for congressional Republicans, who are plainly unwilling to address the nation's problems, so we're going to do everything we possibly can by executive action alone.

But as Ezra Klein points out today, that theme suddenly disappeared when the subject turned to relief for homeowners. Instead of proposing a limited program that he could enact on his own, Obama has deliberately chosen an approach that requires congressional approval:

In choosing to expand the program beyond Fannie and Freddie, the administration has also expanded the program beyond what it has the executive authority to do on its own. If they just wanted to further streamline the HARP program, they could recess appoint a new director for Fannie and Freddie and get to work. Creating the new program through the FHFA -- and paying for it through a new tax on banks -- requires congressional approval, and few think House Republicans are likely to sign onto a new tax.

The administration argues that there has been bipartisan support for refinancing initiatives in Congress. In the Senate, for instance, Republican Johnny Isakson (Ga.) has cosponsored legislation with Democrat Barbara Boxer (Calif.). And there’s no doubt that legislation produced with Congress’s cooperation can do much more to extend refinancing help than executive actions. But the question remains: If Congress ignores this bill, as they have ignored so many of the Obama administration’s other initiatives, is the White House sufficiently committed to leave Congress behind and use Fannie and Freddie to go their own way?

If this were any other program, I'm not sure this question would come up. But Obama's attitude toward homeowner relief has been so weak and so plainly inadequate for so long that his credibility on this subject is close to nonexistent. It's hard not to think that his latest proposal is meant more to score political points when Republicans vote it down than it is to actually help homeowners.

One of my longtime medical pet peeves has been jokes about doctors' bad handwriting. Ha ha. But it's no joke. If you have sloppy handwriting, then prescriptions and procedures get mixed up and patients suffer. (Or maybe even die.)

Today Sarah Kliff points us to an Australian study that quantifies this. In two different hospitals, researchers replaced handwritten records with electronic records in some wards but not in others. Then they measured prescribing errors per 100 patient days. Here are the results:

  • Hospital A: Errors reduced from 51 ---> 17
  • Hospital B1: Errors reduced from 39 ---> 10
  • Hospital B2: Errors reduced from 48 ---> 17

Three control groups saw only slight drops in their error rates. Replacing handwriting with electronic records has a huge impact. So the moral of the story is: Switch to electronic records! These systems not only catch medication and dosage errors algorithmically, but they reduce the chance of errors from illegible written scripts. In the meantime, start taking handwriting as seriously as you do washing your hands.

Yesterday, writing about the Obama administration's refusal to grant Catholic-run organizations an exemption from their rule requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives, I said that if these organizations take public money then they need to follow public rules. Megan McArdle disagrees:

As Ross Douthat points out, the regulations seem to have nothing to do with whether the Catholic hospitals or other charities take public money; rather, it's the fact that they provide services to the public, rather than having an explicitly religious mission.

I've seen several versions of Kevin's complaint on the interwebs, and everyone who makes it seems to assume that we're doing the Catholic Church a big old favor by allowing them to provide health care and other social services to a needy public....In the universe where I live, some of the best charity care is provided by religious groups.

…In this world, I had been under the impression that we were providing Catholic charities with federal funds mostly because this was the most cost-effective way of delivering services to needy groups. Thus it's not obvious to me that we will be better off encouraging Catholic hospitals and other groups to provide services exclusively to their own flock, while exclusively employing members of their own flock. And I'm fairly certain that if I wanted to stage a confrontation with Catholic charities, it would not be over something as trivial as forcing them to provide birth control coverage to their employees.

I don't know if the Obama administration based its new regulations on the notion that taking public money obliges you to follow public rules. However, that's my belief, so that's why I used it as part of my argument.

But I want to make a broader point. I'm unhappy with the creeping growth of religious conscience exemptions to public policy, and this affects my belief that such exemptions ought to be pretty limited. I can live with exceptions for abortion, for example, but not contraception.

Here's an analogy. A century ago, if a Catholic hospital had refused to admit blacks, that would have been permissible. This isn't because no one thought such a policy was wrong. Plenty of people did, even then. But in that time and place it was a genuinely controversial question, and that's why the government didn't get involved.

But that changed. As the public came overwhelmingly to believe that racial discrimination was unsupportable, public policy changed and hospitals were required to admit all comers. If you claimed a religious exemption, too bad. You had to follow the rules.

The same thing has happened to contraception. Unlike abortion, which remains a genuine hot button, contraception simply isn't. Poll after poll shows that the public almost unanimously has no moral objection to contraception, and, by margins of 3- or 4-to-1, believes that insurance ought to cover contraception. This is true even among Catholics. It's almost literally the case that the only remaining objection to contraception in modern American society comes from the tiny, exclusively male group that makes up the church's leadership.

If the Catholic hierarchy wants to maintain its barbaric position that contraception is immoral, there's nothing I can do to stop it. But it's a position that maims and kills and immiserates millions throughout the world, and there's simply no reason that a secular government needs to—or should—humor them over this. I don't think the church will stop providing charity care because they object to the contraception rule, but if they do then we'll just have to find others to step in. We're living in the 21st century, and in the 21st century contraception is almost unanimously viewed as morally benign and practically effective. It's a boon, not a curse, and there's simply no reason that a secular government supported by taxpayer dollars should continue to indulge the pretense that it's not.

Say what you will about technocrats, but if there's one place where you really do want one it's in your statistical agency. But that hasn't worked out so well for Andreas Georgiou, who was appointed to run the newly established Hellenic Statistical Authority in 2010 after years of egregious misreporting of Greece's official economic figures:

Greece has won strong endorsements in the past year for shoring up its economic statistics after years of fudging data to conceal its deficits and financial mismanagement, but the man who's responsible for restoring the country's reputation is now the target of possible prosecution. He's been accused of exaggerating Greece's deficits in a conspiracy to strengthen the hand of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

....A Greek government official called the case "outrageous." Visiting European Union officials are said to be "speechless" over the dispute. But to an outside observer, the most disconcerting aspect of the case is that Georgiou couldn't name a top political figure who's publicly thrown his support behind him.

....A Greek government official, who said he wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, called the notion of a conspiracy outlandish. "It's as if ELSTAT, Eurostat" — the Luxembourg-based Statistical Office of the European Communities — "the Department of State and the planet Mars conspired to change the deficit numbers so that Greece would have to turn to the IMF for more help," the official said. "It's crazy. It's even crazier that we are devoting part of our time" to responding to the charges.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess. More here from Felix Salmon on why Greece is doomed.

Planned Parenthood has been thrown under the bus by an unexpected group:

The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates — creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women. The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.

....Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity's newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it's the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.

Seriously? That's their story? They're planning to respond to every politically-motivated witch hunt led by some two-bit state legislator or grandstanding county commissioner by cutting off funding to the target of the investigation? If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.

This was a craven political decision, pure and simple. Joan Walsh said this: "The Komen Foundation just destroyed its brand, and it's going to be very, very sorry." Yep. What a loathsome move.

Here's something to take our minds off politics for the next few hours as we await word from Florida about just how badly Mitt Romney and his George-Soros-Goldman-Sachs-New-York-Washington-establishment-money-power have crushed Newt Gingrich's people power in today's primary. It comes from a biography of Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor, and it's a reporter's description of her eyes:

It is her eyes that tell her story. Large and dark and vivid, they take their expression from her mood. If she is amused, they scintillate with little points of light. If moved to sympathy or compassion, they cloud over. At the slightest suspicion of insincerity or injustice, they can become keen and searching.

I'm pretty much oblivious to people's eyes. I could sit across from you for an hour in deep conversation and come away not even knowing the color of your eyes, let alone whether they scintillate or cloud over from time to time. So I am, sort of literally, a blind man when it comes to stuff like this.

So I turn to you, my faithful readers. Are descriptions like this for real? It's part of the whole "eyes are the window to the soul" schtick, which has always seemed more poetic than verifiably factual to me, but what do I know? And another thing: if this is real, how does it happen? That is, what physiological mechanism makes eyes scintillate or cloud over?

Help me out, those of you with normal human perceptions. What's the deal here?

POSTSCRIPT: And here's a fascinating historical tidbit that I learned today. In 1938, suspecting that Perkins, the first female cabinet member, was a communist sympathizer, conservatives concocted a story that she wasn't really American at all. Instead, she was supposedly a Russian Jewish immigrant who had lied about her real identity. Perkins eventually set the record straight in a letter outlining her genealogy, but there's no mention of whether she also had to release a copy of her long-form birth certificate to quell the rumors.

It's remarkable how history repeats itself, isn't it?

Adam Skaggs writes that Congress needs to do something about the tsunami of money coming into campaigns via supposedly independent Super PACs:

Super PACs make a mockery of the idea of independence. As Elizabeth Drew wrote recently in the New York Review of Books, today, the “connections between . . . candidates and the Super PACs supporting them aren’t very well hidden.”....The candidate Super PACs were all established by former campaign advisors to the candidates. They are funded by friends and associates with close ties to the candidates (or, in the case of former candidate Jon Huntsman, by the candidate’s father). As election law expert Rick Hasen explained, Super PACs can do a lot that sure sounds like coordination, including soliciting funds, attending fundraisers, appearing in ads, and using the same lawyers — all without coordinating, and still legally claiming to be independent.

....There are countless ways the existing system of campaign finance should be reformed, but cleaning up Super PACs is an obvious first step. Congress should adopt common-sense rules that make terms like independence and coordination mean something. Super PACs that function as adjunct campaigns should be treated like what they are — and they should be subject to the same contribution limits as candidates. Putting candidates in charge of their own campaigns is the first step toward putting the public back in charge of democracy.

I would really like to hear more about this from someone steeped in — something. I'm not sure what, actually. Election law? Insider trading law? Maybe both. In any case, I'd like to hear in some detail how, exactly, rules could be written that would guarantee genuine independence. Even if some of the most obvious loopholes were closed, it still sounds close to impossible to do this without creating a lot of unintended consequences that could end up being worse than the disease we're trying to cure. Here's Drew, for example, on various proposals to cure the plague of Super PACs:

Another route would be through new legislation to assure the independence of the Super PACs. But even if this could be achieved another serious problem would arise: political consultants could be making their own decisions about what would help their candidates, who could lose control of their own campaigns.

Would true independence be better or worse than what we have now? That's as unclear to me as it is to Drew. And it's unclear to me if we could really police independence effectively anyway. After all, how many successful prosecutions for insider trading have we seen recently? Not many. It's a similar principle, and it's really, really hard to prove even though financial records often make a prima facie case that's even stronger than suspicions of collusion in electioneering.

So: suggestions welcome. But I suspect this is a very, very hard problem.