"But the game is rigged."
A gun to the gut, asked how many times I’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates and muttered “Damn he’s good,” I’d probably be sporting a new hole in my stomach. The man is…just that good. In particular these two ‘graphs, on poverty, privilege, and power:
We talk about a culture of poverty as a way of damnation, but not as a way of comprehension. America loves winners, and tells us that we can all be winners, and it says this at such a volume that when you do not win, you might believe that something deep in your bones condemns you to losing—and believing that you might take whatever is given to you. You might be thankful for your squalor. You might come to believe that it is a divine plan for you to be under and down. I don’t want to overstate this. I simply want to say that if I punch you in the face enough times, and you lack the power to stop me, you might come to believe that it is what you deserve. Rousseau says that strength must be transformed into right; likewise, weakness becomes destiny.
But the game is rigged. I know this because I loved my craft for many years and it meant nothing to anyone save my mother, my father, my siblings, my wife and a few close friends. At 25 my only noteworthy success was playing some part in the creation of my son. I stayed loyal to his mother. I think I stayed loyal because I could park myself there—perhaps I failed at all other things. But I was a good father and I was a loyal spouse. And then one day a man of some privilege (bearing his own struggles) spoke to another man of some privilege and I became a man of some privilege with a megaphone, which I now employ, across an ocean, to bring these thoughts to you. And I love both of these men of privilege—power is a fact, it is not morality. Losing is tragic, but it is not noble. How many freedom fighters turned despots in the possession of superior guns?
Read the rest here.
Jonathan Cohn has a great post about the Affordable Care Act’s alleged bro problem that I think can be made a bit pithier: It turns out to be a huge win once you consider the income redistribution element. The chart above compares the “teaser” rate on a catastrophic insurance plan…
A rather (typical) straight-foward post from Matt Yglesias. Most policies involving the redistribution of money from the top to the bottom elicits the the umbrage of conservatives. Everything else is filler or, especially in the case of the still-occuring rate shock debate, a grand exercise in concern trolling.
Trickle-down Austerity in Greece
From a haunting NYTimes photo essay, shot by Angelos Tzortzinis, on Greece. The caption for this picture starts, “A prostitute who bears scars on her arm from the time she tried to kill herself in jail sat in her hotel room.” Grecian austerity is being written on the veins of drug-addicted prostitutes and the homeless. From the essay:
For Mr. Tzortzinis, who grew up in the area, seeing women give themselves for as little as 5 euros underscores one of the many horrors of Greece’s drawn-out crisis.
"These women need help," he said. "But they cannot help themselves. Nobody is helping them."
More comments over at The McLean Parlor.
Star Trek Into Mundanity
Here’s the thing about the new Star Trek Into Darkness; if you don’t think about it too much, it’s pretty good. A solid summer popcorn sci-fi action flick, even. JJ Abrams is good at that sort of thing. Any more thought and it’s laughingly bad compared to it’s original inspiration, and even to the first one (which I enjoyed).
Enter this absolutely joyful, and explicit, io9 faux “Spoiler FAQ,” which also counts as fair warning here for those who’ve not seen it yet:
Why don’t you like it?
I liked it just fine, the first time I saw it in Wrath of Khan. Of course, the reason I like it is is because Kirk and Spock’s friendship has been part of pop culture for 15 years, so Spock’s death and Kirk’s anguish was given some actual agency, instead of now, when Kirk and Spock have known each other for four hours of screentime, two of which they didn’t like each other. I also liked it the first time because it was new and not a crass, creatively bankrupt attempt to manipulate the audience’s emotions, not through sadness because there’s clearly no way Kirk is actually going to stay dead, but because the scene is nothing more “HERE IS SOMETHING YOU HAVE SEEN BEFORE WITH A SLIGHT DIFFERENCE SO YOU WILL LIKE IT” as opposed to even trying to give us something, anything, genuinely new.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up for me. Perhaps I’ll feel differently when it’s released in a few months and I muster the willingness to watch Into Darkness again.
I don’t know. I joked earlier to someone that for longtime sci-fi fans, before Abrams reboot, there was already a franchise standard bearer for don’t-think-about-it-too-much flashy entertainment; Star Wars. Given that Abrams has been given that series too, well, I imagine it’ll be right up his alley.
The military’s sexual assault epidemic
File under ‘news you could use to make yourself incredibly angry:’
The number of servicemembers who reported being sexually assaulted rose consistently over the past four years, according to an internal Pentagon report released Tuesday, despite recent efforts by the Obama administration to address the problem. But because only a fraction of servicemembers ever report assaults to their superiors, the Pentagon also conducts an anonymous survey to estimate the true scope of the problem, and those reveal a much larger number: For 2012, for example, the report estimates that the real number servicemembers experiencing “unwanted sexual contact” is closer to 26,000, which means about 90 percent of servicemembers assaulted kept quiet about it.
For an extra dose of rage-face also read about the recent sexual battery arrest of the man in charge of investigating such assaults in the military.
The ACA’s part-time conundrum
This isn’t an issue specific to Indiana: From movie theater chains to state governments, there is a lot of debate over how large businesses will react to the requirement to provide insurance to full-time employees who work more than 30 hours a week.
The health care law requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide affordable insurance coverage to workers. For part-time employees, who work fewer than 30 hours, the story is different: A company does not get penalized for not providing health insurance coverage.
Of course it’s a little more complicated than that; firms must have fifty plus one full-time, non-seasonal, workers to incur the penalty portion of the Affordable Care Act.
Still. There is definitely a strain of relatively straight-forward logic accompanying the decision to grow your part-time workforce in response. Of course that has consequences as well, something rarely kept in mind by ACA detractors (though Kliff covers it). There’s also a compelling logic to not avoid the penalty and simply have a more well-rounded semi-professional employee base.
Everybody assumes the worst, which is a fair-minded populist cynicism, and that firms will make their employees ‘pay’ for such new restrictions. Yet somehow that remains a indictment of the legislation for many rather than the companies themselves. I’m mystified that some assign such innocent reverence for the inevitable logic of firm reactions and not for the logic of elected officials pursuing their ideological priors.
Anyway, assuming the worst case scenario and Wal-Mart and McD’s and others vastly increase their part-time workforce, does that make the ACA an unintended job’s bill?
On the Oregon Medicaid study: “Keep calm and collect more data”
The New England Journal of Medicine sent out a press release Wednesday evening with the click-bait title of “The Oregon Experiment — Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes” (abstract here, the full paper is gated). Some background: because of a lack of funding the state of Oregon conducted a lottery system for Medicaid enrollment, and the ensuing results are being studied as a rare randomized controlled trial (RCT). The lottery has allowed healthcare researchers to, essentially, study the effects of Medicaid coverage in a way that people can begin to talk in terms of empirical causality. The first results (see here & here) were promising; for those who ‘won’ the lottery Medicaid appeared to provide increased health benefits and greater income security. This second result, however, is a little bit more mixed:
Let’s review. The good: Medicaid improved rates of diagnosis of depression, increased the use of preventive services, and improved the financial outlook for enrollees. The bad: It did not significantly effect the A1C levels of people with diabetes or levels of hypertension or cholesterol.
There is much, much more on this from folks smarter and more able to suss out the details behind this study than I can. For a wonderfully BS-free version go see Matt Yglesias’ take. I’ve read them all and so should you. For what it’s worth, on matters such as these, at the very least you will should be reading the folks at The Incidental Economist (where the above quote comes from). They’re serious, fair, and do this sort of thing for a living.
Unfortunately it was also an opportunity for some conservatives to, what in some cases I can only describe as gloatingly, declare everything they’ve ever argued negatively about Medicaid as validated. That is, yet another opportunity for them to delegitimize the program. I won’t bother linking to those simply because their arguments are (to be polite) disingenuous at best, or (to be impolite) a massive dollop of conservative derp at worst.
This is not the slam-dunk evidence you’re looking for
A new study from the Society of Actuaries this week made the rounds on various conservative outlets with headline number of 32 percent — the amount by which the SOA prediction that claims costs for insurance companies offering policies on the individual market will rise after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Unfortunately some have interpreted this as meaning that individual policy premiums will rise by the same amount, which isn’t true. Although traditionally claims costs are thought to strongly influence premiums the connection between the two after the ACA will be decidedly murkier to discern:
On “pulling a check” in disability
Over the weekend NPR’s “Planet Money” released a story on the rise of Americans on disability. I thought it decent overall, but I see some others had issues with the “This American Life” complimentary piece (which I haven’t listen to) on disability and children. In the past I’ve enjoyed both program’s work — their “guide" to the financial crisis is probably one of the best — but PM in particular is known for their ‘laymen’ approach to reporting on economics. Oftentimes that’s helpful, but not especially in the case of the section on kids:
As I got further into this story, I started hearing about another group of people on disability: kids. People in Hale County told me that what you want is a kid who can “pull a check.” Many people mentioned this, but I basically ignored it. It seemed like one of those things that maybe happened once or twice, got written up in the paper and became conversational fact among neighbors.
Then I looked at the numbers. I found that the number of kids on a program called Supplemental Security Income — a program for children and adults who are both poor and disabled — is almost seven times larger than it was 30 years ago.
The reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, goes into some anecdotal detail afterwards, but I think the impressionistic damage is already wrought upon the reader’s mind — here are the moochers we always knew existed! Parents retarding their children’s progress to get their grimy hands on undeserved cash from hard-working folks, as I imagine some people I know would instinctually respond. Furthermore, the contextual picture doesn’t really expand past that point. Joffe-Walt concludes that portion with something most people would agree with; namely, that a child’s education shouldn’t be held back by disability or a program that “stands in opposition” to their potential.
That’s all well and good, I suppose. Who would oppose such a safe, centrist judgement?
All of life is not a dependency tale
Apropos of my last post Jeff Spross over at ThinkProgress reminds us that the ‘dependency’ myth of people who benefit from the safety net — like food stamps, or SNAP — is an actual policy position from Paul Ryan and the House Budget Committee (as well as all those that just voted for H.Con.Res. 25). As he writes (emphasis mine):
In his latest budget, he introduced his cuts to Medicaid, nutrition assistance, and other support programs for low-income Americans with a warning that the safety net “can create a powerful disincentive to get ahead.”
This narrative of supposedly moralistic concern for a class of Americans Ryan once described as “takers” encounters some empirical issues; Spross highlights information from the CBPP showing that most SNAP households will pull in a paycheck within the year. Furthermore, as the CBPP also notes, the broader budget Ryan touts would remove those aspects of the safety-net that actually makes it easier to work.
Food stamps and verstehen in Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Scent and memory have a well-established connection in psychological research and our common cultural epistemology. They’re usually associated with joyful concepts: holidays at home, childhood weekends outside, or baking at the grandparents. We use them to evoke similar human experiences in personal anecdotes. Other times they’re often an avenue to giving people some verstehen on darker subjects — a subjective understanding of the hardship and tragedy affecting other people, like poverty and food insecurity. Those two bring scents from my past to the forefront: industrial sweet glue from reams of packaging tape, the type of stale dry dust that gets flung when you spend hours assembling cardboard boxes, and the sticky, clingy stench of mass-donated hotdogs portioned from a pallet-container lined with some mystery preservative. These are the smells I remember most from spending time in food banks packing charity for folks in Colorado and Missouri.
While that’s hardly representative of such a complicated subject like poverty, it helps me reach for verstehen when I read articles like this one in the Washington Post, “Food stamps put Rhode Island town on monthly boom-and-bust cycle.”
Read more — http://wp.me/p30RY5-4i