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Per the NYT, the Census Bureau, on Monday, is going to release a new, alternate measure of poverty.  The NYT itself did it’s own study based on various different methods of calculating poverty.  These methods incorporate “food stamps, work expenses, taxes, and the cost of living.”  While cautioning that the Census Bureau will not be using the same data, the NYT found that poverty did decrease, most prominently in rural America from 16.4% to 10.9%, where the cost of living is lower.  Poverty did, however, increase in metropolitan areas, from 13.9% to 14.9%.

The NYT found, when comparing those who are considered poor under the traditional standard versus those not considered poor under the newer methods, that over 2/3 benefited from food stamps.  This should be further proof that government aid does benefit people and make their lives better than without these benefits.

Also, this reminds me of that old West Wing episode where a new economic formula led to 4M more people being considered poor, with Josh and Sam finding a way to spin that news into a positive.

Josh : “Well, I’m not an expert but wouldn’t we have a better chance of getting re-elected if we could say there were four million fewer poor people? Hang on, wait, I am an expert.”

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So, been meaning to write about this New Statesman article for a few days, and am doing so now because of another post from Feministe regarding the same topic: misogyny of (presumably) men online.  Not being female and having a blog that, currently counting, has 2 comments and less than 100 hits, I certainly do not fear being left absurd, very violent (gang-rape appears to be a favorite topic???), and sexist comments.  The desire to express oneself in such a vile manner baffles me.  What is so threatening to the male ego about a woman blogging? (or succeeding in a corporation, as a scientist, or any other endeavor????) And, even if a guy is threatened, why respond in that manner?

Being a lawyer, and hence going to law school, I’d like to think that this type of behavior mostly exists for the age range of kids playing XBox Live and taunting each other with racist or sexist comments and dies out the higher one goes with education & employment, but that is very far from being true.  I forget the website now, but during law school, there was some message board (I believe the person who ran it had a summer or FT offer rescinded because of the site) filled with anonymous venomous comments against women, or rankings of women based on their attractiveness, etc.  I remember a female classmate asking me about it, and then showing it to me since I’d never seen/heard of it before.  So, presumably I did know some of the posters, as I doubt my school was immune to this.  But again, why behave like this? I’ve never seen, in all my many years of viewing blogs, comments from women threatening men with gang rape.

After I finished reading Ezra Klein’s review of Ron Suskind’s The Confidence Men, I came to the same conclusion as Matthew Ygelsias:

I really liked Ezra Klein’s review of Ron Suskind’s book in the NYRB for its wholesome focus on monetary policy errors as the most plausible way the Obama administration could have made things better. Nobody was stopping them from replacing Ben Bernanke with someone more committed to full employment, and it seems likely that they could have filled two existing Board of Governors vacancies with people more committed to full employment. If the chairman and those two empty seats all felt the way Charles Evans feels, we’d be in much better shape today. None of that is to deny that fiscal policy could have been better, but as Klein says the key blocking points on fiscal policy were in Congress.

It was, and still is, very confusing to me why the one institution that can address the current economic ills and operates more independently from political control/manipulation was ignored by this Administration.

This is why the circus sucks

A fantastic piece by Mother Jones regarding how Ringling Bros. treats its elephants:

Shirley gave birth on December 5, 2003, at age eight. She was chained by three legs and surrounded by human handlers, who poked her with bullhooks during labor. When the slippery newborn dropped, trainers whisked him away. Riccardo was placed in the care of center training director Jacobson and his wife. His training started at three months, while he was still being bottle-fed. The couple tied ropes to his trunk and feet to get him to climb on the tub or attempt other tricks. By six months, he developed knee problems. “Not laying down, seems to be uncomfortable,” read a notation by the animal care staff for June 15, 2004. “Left rear leg, knee appears to be swollen.” They administered a painkiller and training resumed. On July 9, 2004, another notation said, “Front leg stiff.” He received a painkiller and training resumed.

Four weeks after that entry, the fatal accident occurred. Testimony would later reveal it wasn’t during play, as Feld Entertainment had contended, but during a training exercise while being pulled by a rope tied to his trunk onto a 19-inch-high tub.

Also, the article shows how anemic budgets leads to horrific outcomes:

“You don’t take on an organization like Feld Entertainment without having strong evidence to support it.”

Since the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has a $16M budget and 111 employees, it doesn’t have the institutional support to go after an organization that earns between $500 million and $1 billion annually.  Therefore, elephants get cruelly abused.

I’ve never understood the hatred that Planned Parenthood generates in some people.  These are often the same people who cry about “welfare babies.”  Enter Texas and its recent foray into defunding Planned Parenthood under the idea that doing so will prevent abortions.  The Dallas Observer recently wrote a fantastic article detailing what happened, why, and what the proponents hope to accomplish and why they won’t accomplish it.

The part most interesting/depressing aspect to me is how women are again being limited in their ability to “plan” how they want to start a family.  First off, many of these services are not covered by insurance (though Cialis and Viagra are).  This by itself severely limits a woman’s ability to “plan.”  So, since insurance doesn’t cover these services, women seek out organizations like Planned Parenthood.  With mostly male legislatures controlling these funding decisions, women are again marginalized.  It’s a banal comment that I’m sure has been made numerous times before, but if men were the ones getting pregnant, we would be financing significantly more opportunities for men to “plan” when to be parents.  That’s what bothers me most, the discrepancy between the two sexes, and how the majority of decisions ultimately favor one sex over the other.

Equatorial Guinea is likely one of the most corrupt countries around.  I’ve just finished reading Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order,” and one of this claims is that for a country to be considered a modern democracy, it must meet three standards: be a “state;” have a rule of law; and accountability.  Many nations have two of three, but hitting the trifecta is rather hard.  Equatorial Guinea has the state part down; it’s the other two requirements that currently elude it.  That’s not to say that those running Equatorial Guinea don’t at least like to pay lip service to those other requirements (emphasis added):

Tang responded that they were not the only African country with a bad reputation. “People have tried to learn the truth of cultures before making accusations. Concerning what you say about diktats of government, let me say again: Equatorial Guinea is trying its best to be a country ruled by law. We are trying to do our best.” He closed the meeting by thanking his visitors for their sincerity.

Just because it says it’s trying does not mean that it is, but Equatorial Guinea is certainly under greater international scrutiny because of its oil wealth, so it pays lip service to the “rule of law” while repressing its citizens.

As an aside, the U.S. government is currently going after Teodorin Obiang, the dictator’s playboy son, in what may be the greatest case name ever: United States vs. One White Crystal-Covered “Bad Tour” Glove And Other Michael Jackson Memorabilia

When listening to The Big Short, I didn’t fully understand the brief mention re: Steve Eisman that he thought for-profit colleges were the next bubble.  The below chart helps explain why (from the College Board, through Wonkblog):

That is some serious cost increase.  Combined with recent default rates approaching credit card default rates (see chart below from the New York Fed’s Quarterly Report on Consumer Credit, from Rortybomb), and it appears that more pain, for both financial institutions and borrowers, will be coming.

Furthermore, from Mike Konczal (emphasis added):

It is good to see President Obama, as part of his “We Can’t Wait” campaign, pushing to get some fencing around the rules for future student loan debtors through an executive order. According to this press release, the government will accelerate the implementation of laws “to limit loan payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income starting in 2012 [instead of 2014]. In addition, the debt would be forgiven after 20 years instead of 25, as current law allows.” However, according to an early analysis of this move, ”[b]orrowers with loans from 2007 and earlier will not be eligible. Likewise, borrowers who don’t have at least one loan from 2012 or later, like students who graduated in 2011 or earlier, also won’t be eligible. Borrowers who are already in repayment will not be eligible.” So the problem remains for now.