Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 18, 2014

September 17, 2014

Is There a Link Between Concussions and Violent Behavior?

In light of recent stories about violent acts committed by NFL players, Dan Diamond, writing in Forbes, examines the link between violence and head injuries.

“There’s increasing evidence that the NFL’s domestic violence arrest rate — which is ‘downright extraordinary,’ Benjamin Morris writes at FiveThirtyEight — could be associated with more than the culture of football.”

“NFL players get arrested for domestic violence at an ‘extremely high [rate] relative to expectations,’ Morris writes. ‘Domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to [an] estimated 21 percent nationally.’”

morris datalab nfl vaw 2 Is There a Link Between Concussions and Violent Behavior?

“You can’t draw a straight line between players who are known to abuse their partners and a record of football head injuries. At this point, that data is incomplete, partly because NFL concussion data is so piecemeal.”

“But neurologists have repeatedly found a neurobiological link in individuals who commit repeated acts of violence.”

Morris explains that it’s like smoking and cancer: “Many people smoke and do not have cancer. But certainly smoking raises the odds of lung cancer, just as damage to the prefrontal cortex can raise the odds of impulsive, aggressive behavior.”

Posted at 12:02 p.m.
Social Issues

Jindal Claims Ignorance of Science

Rebecca Leber of the New Republic comments on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent response to reporters’ questions about how he views the theory of evolution. ‘The reality is I’m not an evolutionary biologist,’ Jindal said.”

Jindal joins the ranks of Republicans who claim ignorance of any issues remotely related to science.

Leber: “Marco Rubio, John Boehner, and Rick Scott, have all used versions of ['I'm not a scientist'] to dismiss climate change science or promote creationism.”

President Obama’s response:  ‘I’m not a doctor either, but if a bunch of doctors tell me that tobacco can cause lung cancer then I”ll say, ‘OK! It’s not that hard. I’m not a scientist, but I read the science.'”

Leber concludes: “No one would mistake these Republicans for scientific experts. But as policymakers they have a responsibility to understand what the actual scientists tell us.”

Posted at 11:27 a.m.
Energy & Environment

A Grassroots Response to Climate Change

Mark Bittman contends that the upcoming United Nations Climate Summit “is a little like a professional wrestling match: There appears to be action but it’s fake, and the winner is predetermined. The loser will be anyone who expects serious government movement dictating industry reductions in emissions.”

“Carbon polluters clearly have more political clout than makers of hair spray, and there’s another tragic element at work here, a hole in the heart of government that developed at about the same time as that in the ozone layer: Neoliberalism.”

“Neoliberalism has given us a ‘system’ in which corporate power is stronger than ever and government controls weaker than they’ve been in a century. The net result is that some corporations are more powerful than governments, both domestically and globally. To fix, or combat, or deal with a threat to the wellbeing of citizenry like climate change is the business of government, but governments are no longer able to dictate what industry does.

“That’s what makes [the People's Climate March] important … It’s not so much about changing light bulbs as it is about changing the system that’s powering our destruction.”

“The only choice is for people to fight climate change ourselves, by confronting the fossil fuel industry and fighting plutocracy.”

Little Trust in Our Mass Media

Gallup: “Americans’ confidence in the media’s ability to report ‘the news fully, accurately, and fairly’ has returned to its previous all-time low of 40%. Americans’ trust in mass media has generally been edging downward from higher levels in the late 1990s and the early 2000s.”

Bottom Line: “Americans’ overall trust in the Fourth Estate continues to be significantly lower now than it was 10 to 15 years ago.”

“As the media expand into new domains of news reporting via social media networks and new mobile technology, Americans may be growing disenchanted with what they consider ‘mainstream’ news as they seek out their own personal veins of getting information. At the same time, confidence is down across many institutions, and a general lack in trust overall could be at play.”

“Americans’ opinions about the media appear affected in election years, however.”

oxaql7cfykw0gma1z24e1a Little Trust in Our Mass Media

American Taxes Are More Regressive Than You Think

Danny Vinik comments on how regressive our state and local tax rate structure is.

“You would expect the actual rate structure of state and local taxes to be somewhat similar [to the federal tax rate strucutre.] But that’s not the case. In fact, state and local taxes are extremely regressive, with the poor paying a much higher rate than the rich do. WalletHub cites a report from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Fairness that determined the combined rate of state and local taxes for different income levels.”

www.itep .org pdf whopaysreport.pdf  American Taxes Are More Regressive Than You Think

Posted at 7:24 a.m.

August 2014 Was the Hottest Ever

The Hill: “The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.”

“While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius.”

“All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.”

“‘In the broader context, these continuing high ranked months and seasons confirm and add to the long-term trend in temperatures that have been seen in recent decades,’ said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Posted at 5:39 a.m.
Energy & Environment

September 16, 2014

Texas Feud Over Climate Education Reflects National Battle

Clare Foran of the National Journal reports on a Texas Board of Education proposal to introduce textbooks that “teach climate-science doubt—presenting the link between greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and global warming as an unsubstantiated and controversial theory.”

“The skirmish over Texas textbooks is part of a national battle over climate education.”

“Science-education activists are pushing states to adopt a new set of science standards that reflect the scientific consensus on global warming, rather than the popular controversy. The academic framework, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, has been endorsed by organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the American Meteorological Society.”

“But the standards have faced intense pushback from conservatives and tea-party groups in a number of states. Earlier this year, Wyoming legislators blocked the standards due to the climate-change requirement. South Carolina’s Legislature also passed a bill that would prohibit the standards from being adopted.”

“The Lone Star State adopted its own set of science guidelines in 2009—so for now there’s no room for debate. But a fight over how climate change should be taught in schools continues to rage in Texas. The focus has just shifted from standards to textbooks.”

Uninsured Rate Plummets

CNN: “The ranks of the uninsured plummeted in early 2014, as millions gained health insurance coverage through Obamacare, new government data released Tuesday found.”

“There were 41 million Americans lacking coverage in early 2014, down from 44.8 million last year, according to the National Health Interview Survey, the first official government look at the uninsured after Obamacare policies kicked in on January 1. The uninsured rate fell to 13.1%, from 14.4%.”

New York Times: Larry Levitt, a director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the first-quarter findings “’dramatically understate the effect’ of the law, as almost half of the people who signed up for insurance during the open enrollment period did so in March and did not get their insurance cards until later. Private surveys have shown that there were eight million to 10 million fewer uninsured by the second quarter, he said.”

140915101939 chart uninsured 620xa Uninsured Rate Plummets

Posted at 11:03 a.m.

A Peculiar Prosperity

Robert Samuelson: “We have a peculiar prosperity. The economy is escaping the confines of the Great Recession; auto sales now exceed 16 million annually, the highest since 2006. But people don’t feel reassured. They’ve lost confidence in the future. Americans feel roughed up by the economy, and their fears aren’t fading quickly.”

“People not only remember the economic cataclysm. They’re still suffering the aftershocks in lower incomes and wealth, as the tables below show. The figures come from the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances.”

“The first table provides annual pretax income from wages, interest and the like.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 16 at 9.30.54 AM A Peculiar Prosperity

The message: “The Great Recession hurled incomes all the way back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Median family income in 2013 was almost the same as in 1989.”

The second table shows these groups’ net worth: “People’s expectations about their living standards were set in the early 2000s, while their incomes and assets are stuck at levels 15 to 20 years earlier. The huge gap isn’t rapidly erased, even by a revived economy.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 16 at 9.31.05 AM A Peculiar Prosperity

“The financial crisis and Great Recession have powerfully affected the national psyche — for the worse. We will be living with that legacy for a long time.”

Posted at 9:35 a.m.

Encouraging News About Insurance Premiums

New York Times Editorial Board: “The rate of growth on premiums for employer-based health coverage in the first five months of this year was one of the lowest in 16 years. Despite longstanding concerns that employer-sponsored coverage might become too costly to sustain, that market seems to have stabilized for now.”

“That was one of several encouraging points in the latest survey of … employers conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation … While the political debate about health care reform has focused on premiums in the new exchanges where people who buy their own policies can shop for private plans, the Kaiser survey focuses on the far larger market where some 150 million Americans are covered through their employers.”

A separate survey by Kaiser found that “premiums for so-called benchmark silver plans on the exchanges will actually decline, on average, in 16 major cities across the country next year. If those trends hold when data from all states are available, the federal government will benefit by paying less in tax credit subsidies.”

Posted at 6:52 a.m.

Earth’s Ozone Layer is Recovering

Associated Press: “Earth’s protective but fragile ozone layer is beginning to recover, largely because of the phase-out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, a U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday in a rare piece of good news about the health of the planet.”

“Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world comes together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis.”

“For the first time in 35 years, scientists were able to confirm a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone, which shields us from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.”

“The ozone layer is still far from healed. The long-lasting, ozone-eating chemicals still lingering in the atmosphere create a yearly fall ozone hole above the extreme Southern Hemisphere, and the hole hasn’t closed up. Also, the ozone layer is still about 6 percent thinner than in 1980, by Newman’s calculations.”

Capitalism and The Climate: The ‘Greenwashing’ of Big Business

Naomi Klein, writing in The Guardian, asks why humanity is incapable of taking collective, substantive action on climate change.

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

“It is our collective misfortune that governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of ‘globalization.'”

“What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Posted at 6:02 a.m.
Energy & Environment

September 15, 2014

The Wide Gulf in Partisan Differences Over Key Issues

With the midterm elections on the horizon, a new Pew Research poll shows a large partisan split on the issues that matter most to Americans.

“Foreign policy, the budget deficit and immigration are among the most dominant issues for Republican voters; each is named by 70% or more as “very important” to their vote in the fall. But only about half of Democratic voters say each of these issues are very important to their vote decisions.”

“In contrast, both the environment and economic inequality rate as very important to about seven-in-ten Democratic voters—but no more than about four-in-ten Republicans.”

9 12 2014 011 The Wide Gulf in Partisan Differences Over Key Issues

Did Job Growth Plummet With an Increase in the Minimum Wage?

Danny Vinik reports on some good news about low-income wages.

“Between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institue found, the real wages of the bottom 10 percent of Americans grew 0.3 percent … The poorest workers generally see their wages stagnate, not rise. But there’s a good reason for why that trend reversed itself and it has to do with the minimum wage … In the meantime, states have raised their own minimum wagesand that has made a difference for the poorest workers.”

“In 2014, 13 states raised their minimum wages … Gould compared wage growth for the bottom 10 percent of Americans in those 13 states with the rest of America. In the former, real wages grew 0.9 percent, a non-negligible increase. In the remaining 37 states, real wages declined 0.1 percent. In other words, wage growth for the bottom 10 percent of Americans is entirely attributable to states that increased their minimum wages.”

gould min wage 2 Did Job Growth Plummet With an Increase in the Minimum Wage?

Conservatives oppose minimum wage increases because they claim “it will reduce job growth. So, did that happen in those 13 states? Jared Bernstein … found that job growth was higher in states that raised their minimum wages than it was in those that didn’t (1.8 percent versus 1.5 percent).”

Posted at 12:16 p.m.

A New Trend in Health Care: ‘Pay Less, Get More’

Sarah Kliff argues that the typical story of American health care — “a lousy deal where we get less and spend more” — may be changing.

There are two trends pointing to a new era of “get more, pay less.”

“The first is lots more people getting coverage. This is mostly Obamacare: the health care law is expected to expand insurance coverage to 26 million people by 2024.”

“The second big trend is in what we spend … Over the next decade, forecasters think our health spending will grow at a slower rate, even as millions and millions of Americans gain access to health insurance. After two decades of spending more and getting less, we’re entering an era of spending less and getting more.”

“We have had periods of relatively slow health care growth before. In the mid-1990s, for example, there was a stretch of time when health spending grew at the same rate as the rest of the economy.”

helath growth.0 A New Trend in Health Care: Pay Less, Get More

Most health economists attribute that to the rise of HMOs, which were unpopular, and ultimately declined.

“But some health economists say that this time feels different. For one, the changes are happening in private insurance and Medicare, suggesting there’s no single — and thus easily reversible — force driving the change.”

Posted at 10:58 a.m.

What Accounts for America’s ‘Missing Workers?’

Washington Post: A new paper by Federal Reserve staff analyzes “the number of people who consider themselves part of the workforce — including both people who have a job and those who are looking for work … This number, the labor force participation rate, has been decreasing steadily since 2000.”

labor force chart What Accounts for Americas Missing Workers?

The authors “argue that the number of people who aren’t working but would be if economic conditions were better is relatively small … America’s labor force has shrunk, the researchers find, largely because of an aging workforce and other, larger trends, not just because of a bad job market.”

“Most economists agree that an aging population accounts for about half of the decline in labor force participation since the crisis. The rest is a mystery.”

“One possible explanation the authors consider in the paper is an increasingly automated, global economy with fewer and fewer jobs in the middle of the income distribution. An education has become necessary for a job that pays well, and competition for jobs that require little skill has become so intense that real wages are falling. Perhaps the economy just no longer has work for some people.”

Posted at 10:39 a.m.

Do Republicans Hate Obamacare or Just its Name?

Jonathan Cohn: “Obamacare isn’t very popular … But what about the law do people find so objectionable? … A new poll from Morning Consult sheds some light on that question.”

“The survey solicited opinion on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, but split respondents into two different groups. One group got the following question: Do you think all states should expand Medicaid as encouraged under the Affordable Care Act? Sixty-two percent of all respondents said yes, but there’s a sharp partisan split. Among self-identified Republicans, 49 percent said no and just 36 percent said yes.”

“The second group of respondents got a slightly different question: Do you think all states should offer Medicaid to low income adults who make below the federal poverty line. The new wording didn’t really change how Democratic respondents felt. But it had a clear effect on everybody else.”

The results are charted below.

morning consult medicaid 1 Do Republicans Hate Obamacare or Just its Name?

Implications: “When people say they have negative feelings about Obamacare, they may not be talking about the law itself. They may be reacting to the president who signed it.”

Posted at 10:26 a.m.

Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham: “Incarceration rates have risen steeply in the United States over the last 20 years, a period of time that also covers a precipitous decline in crime. These two facts … don’t necessarily mean that the one trend has driven the other.”

A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzing “state-level data also reinforce the idea that increases in the local prison population don’t predict decreases in crime very well.”

“The scatter plot below, which does not include local jail populations, shows the relationship between the change in incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012 in each state, compared to the change in its crime rate over the same period of time. Nationwide, the crime rate declined by 40 percent during this time, as the imprisonment rate rose by 24 percent. Notably, though, some of the states with the steepest declines in crime — New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland — actually decreased their imprisonment rates.”

“If anything, this picture suggests a narrative that runs counter to the common view that more prisoners lead to less crime: To the extent that there is any trend here, it’s actually that states incarcerating more people have seen smaller decreases in crime.”

 Incarceration Rates Not Correlated to Crime

America’s Trust in Government at New Low

Gallup: “Americans’ trust in each of the three branches of the federal government is at or near the lows in Gallup’s trends, dating back to the early 1970s. Americans’ trust in the legislative branch fell six percentage points this year to a new low of 28%. Trust in the executive branch dropped eight points, to 43%, and trust in the judicial branch, at 61%, is also the lowest measured to date.”

“Although trust in the executive branch was lower during the Watergate era, the erosion of trust at that time was limited to that branch. Today, less than a majority trust the executive and legislative branches, and judicial trust, though still high on a relative basis, is the lowest Gallup has measured.”

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September 12, 2014

How States Fared Implementing Obamacare

A new Brookings Institution study looks at the decisions various states made in implementing the Affordable Care Act and the ramifications of those decisions.

The Washington Post summarizes some of these findings:

“In the five states most resistant to Obamacare implementation — Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming — those purchasing their own health insurance were $245 worse off on an annual basis when compared to enrollees in all other states’ individual markets… Even though premiums in these states started out lower, they almost caught up by the end of the second quarter of 2014. And though the average cost per enrollee started much lower in direct enforcement states, the costs exceeded all other states by the end of the second quarter. The results indicate that these states saw a sicker mix of enrollees under the ACA, Kowalwski writes. This could reflect that these Obamacare-resistant states didn’t have a particularly strong effort to sign people up for coverage.”

“Interestingly, states that tried setting up their own exchanges and struggled to do so had bigger problem, the analysis finds. Kowalski here looks at trends in the six glitchy states — Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon — compared to states that built better-functioning exchanges. She finds that average costs per enrollee in the well-functioning exchanges increased in the second quarter of 2014, though the increase was below trend. This suggests those states were able to pull in healthier enrollees.”

“Enrollees in states that took a more ‘passive’ approach to the law — refusing the main elements of the coverage expansion without ceding direct enforcement to the federal government — were $330 better off annually compared to those in the six states experiencing the worst technical problems.”

Posted at 12:48 p.m.

Big Majority Think States Should Expand Medicaid Coverage

A new Morning Consult healthcare poll finds that voters in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage are better informed about the status of expansion than those in states that have expanded Medicaid coverage.

“The survey also found that 6 in 10 voters believe Medicaid should be expanded as provided in the healthcare law. While only 36% of Republicans agree, 62% of all voters in states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage believe all states should expand the program as provided in the law.”

all states expand total Big Majority Think States Should Expand Medicaid Coverage

Posted at 12:40 p.m.

A Solution to Gun Violence That Doesn’t Involve Gun Bans

Pro Publica: “A 2004 Justice Department-funded evaluation found no clear evidence that the decade-long [assault weapons] ban saved any lives. The guns categorized as ‘assault weapons’ had only been used in about 2 percent of gun crimes before the ban.”

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, offers a different view: “When you look at this issue in terms of the greatest opportunity to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prevent gun violence, background checks are a bigger opportunity to do that.”

“While assault weapons do appear to be used more frequently in mass shootings, like the ones in Newtown and Aurora, Colorado, such shootings are themselves rare events that are only responsible for a tiny fraction of gun homicides each year. The category of guns that are used in the majority of gun murders are handguns.”

“Despite this data — and perhaps because many Americans do not have an accurate understanding of gun violence statistics — an assault weapons ban has continued to have broad public and political support.”

“Meanwhile, as gun control groups have moved their focus away from gun bans, Americans are buying fewer assault weapons than they did when a ban seemed imminent.”

Posted at 6:56 a.m.
Gun Control

Ted Cruz’s Obamacare Nightmare Becomes Reality

Jonathan Chait contends that Senator Ted Cruz’s Obamacare nightmare has become a reality.

“Once Americans had grown accustomed to the sweet comfort of affordable health insurance, Cruz foresaw, they would never give it up: ‘[Obama’s] strategy is to get as many Americans as possible hooked on the subsidies, addicted to the sugar. If we get to Jan. 1, this thing is here forever.’”

“Indications of Cruz’s prescience are popping up everywhere.”

“As the law shocked detractors last spring by exceeding its enrollment targets, the anti-Obamacare community fixated on a final hope: that consumers looking to enroll this fall for next year would encounter soaring premiums. Not only has the hoped-for premium shock failed to materialize, rates seem to be coming in actually lower than this year. In a market where annual large price hikes have occurred for decades, the result is almost unfathomably positive.”

“The Republican crusade against Obamacare is not ending; rather, it is shrinking and mutating … the next Republican candidate will be running in an environment where repealing the law would create millions and millions of now-identifiable victims. Since the start of the year, Obamacare has gone from a weakness Republicans were salivating at the chance to exploit to an issue they no longer want to talk about.”

Posted at 6:20 a.m.

A Surge in Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues

Christopher Ingraham: “New revenue figures out of Colorado show that legal recreational marijuana sales have surpassed medical marijuana sales. The milestone is largely symbolic, but the overall trend shows a strong increase in recreational sales since the spring.”

 A Surge in Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenues

“Recreational marijuana is taxed at a much higher rate than medical weed, making it considerably more expensive. Many users opted to stick with the medical market, and still more have continued to buy marijuana through black market channels where its even less expensive.”

“If the latest sales figures do portend a shift from the black market and legal market, it will likely be due to a combination of higher quality and decreasing prices.”

“One last finding: July marked the first time that Denver County represented less than half of the total marijuana sales. This suggests that the marijuana market in Colorado is truly becoming statewide.”

September 11, 2014

Education’s Critical Role in the Battle Against Income Inequality

Eduardo Porter comments on a recent analysis by labor economist Lawrence Katz who demonstrates the yawning gap between the wages of a family of two college graduates and a family of high school graduates. “Between 1979 and 2012, that gap grew by some $30,000, after inflation.”

“This clever calculation … amounts to a powerful counterargument to anybody who doubts the importance of education in the battle against the nation’s entrenched inequality.”

“But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.”

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 2.54.12 PM Educations Critical Role in the Battle Against Income Inequality

“This pattern of stagnant mobility and rising inequality of education adds up to a dumbfounding paradox. American workers with a college degree are paid 74 percent more than those with only a high school degree, on average, nearly the biggest premium in the O.E.C.D.”

Causes of this educational stagnation: the high cost of college, .and the inability of the educational system to prepare underprivileged Americans for college.

“But there is another critical factor that is more intangible, and that is a loss of faith in what might be called a national project.”

Posted at 2:55 p.m.

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