Tag Archives: public

GDP Growth Anemic? Blame the Weather!

Mother Jones

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A reader emailed this morning suggesting that GDP growth in the first quarter was low because GDP growth in the first quarter is always low:

Something I’ve long wondered is if the seasonal adjustments BLS is making on these numbers is artificially skewing the 1Q results every year. As you recall 1Q09 was the bottom of the Great Recession, it feels like they are overcorrecting for that phenomenon. When you look at the quarterly progression of every year (minus 2015 it looks like) 1Q sucks and then you get q/q improvement during the year.

I remember having read some criticisms of BEA’s seasonal adjustments, so I got curious. Is Q1 growth routinely lower than later quarters?

NOTE: The original chart I used showed GDP growth compared to the previous year. That’s not what BEA reports. The headline number is annualized growth from the previous quarter. I’ve revised the chart, which significantly revises the text below too.

On average, reported first quarter growth really is considerably lower than it is in the other three quarters. Nor is this an issue of unusually high revisions from the advance print to the final print. For the past seven years, the advance number has been a little higher on average than the final revision.

FWIW, if you look at GDP compared to the previous year (i.e., Q1 of 2017 compared to Q1 of 2016 etc.), average growth rates are about the same in all four quarters. This is probably a better measure.

While we’re on the subject, though, the weather is one of my favorite topics when it comes to making excuses for poor growth. Here is Nelson Schwartz in the New York Times today:

Michelle Meyer, chief United States economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said healthier business investment indicated that the overall economy was performing better than the headline numbers would suggest. “Warm weather meant consumers weren’t spending as much on electricity and natural gas and home heating,” Ms. Meyer said. “Government spending can also be affected by seasonal factors, and defense spending is especially volatile.”

Here is Nelson Schwartz in the New York Times three years ago:

In their initial estimate for growth in the months of January, February and March, government statisticians said output expanded at an annual rate of just 0.1 percent, although experts noted that figure was affected by one-time headwinds like unusually cold weather and slower inventory gains after businesses aggressively built up stockpiles in the second half of 2013.

Too hot, too cold, the weather is never just right, is it?

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GDP Growth Anemic? Blame the Weather!

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Trump Names Anti-Abortion Activist to Top Health Care Job

Mother Jones

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Charmaine Yoest, the former president and CEO of anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, has been tapped to be the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House announced on Friday.

Yoest, a long-time anti-abortion advocate, has helped orchestrate some of the anti-abortion movement’s most significant legislative victories. From 2008 to 2016, Yoest headed AUL, a small but mighty law firm whose goal is to end all abortion in the United States. Under her leadership, AUL helped spur a wave of anti-abortion restrictions around the country, writing model bills and distributing them to state legislatures. In 2011, for instance, 24 of 92 anti-abortion laws passed around the country originated with AUL. Before AUL, Yoest was the vice president for communications at the Family Research Council (another conservative group focused on abortion and family policy), worked on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, and in the Reagan administration.

Read Mother Jones‘ 2012 profile of Americans United for Life.

In 2016, Yoest left AUL to be a senior fellow at American Values, a conservative group focused on “defending life” and traditional values. In 2012, Yoest said that she hopes to help create a “post-Roe nation” and touted the claim that abortion causes breast cancer, despite medical consensus to the contrary. Yoest has also questioned whether contraception access reduces the abortion rate, and told the New York Times that she opposes birth control and believes that IUDs “have life-ending properties.” Under her leadership, AUL did not take a position on birth control. Yoest explained why on PBS in 2011: “It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control.”

As a top communications staffer at HHS, Yoest will be instrumental in shaping the public persona of an agency that oversees a number of programs that enable reproductive healthcare, including contraception. These include Medicaid—which many low-income women use to obtain non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood—and the Title X family planning program, which offers grants to states to help subsidize the cost of non-abortion services such as contraception, cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, and other medical procedures for low-income men and women. Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress have sought to curtail both of these funding streams for reproductive healthcare. Bills to prohibit the use of Medicaid by patients at Planned Parenthood were introduced in both the House and the Senate and are still awaiting a vote. A bill allowing states to withhold Title X family planning funds from health care providers that offer abortion, like Planned Parenthood, was signed into law by Trump this month.

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Trump Names Anti-Abortion Activist to Top Health Care Job

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

Mother Jones

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Students in Washington, DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school, according to a new federal analysis released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students who left public schools as part of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program performed significantly lower on math scores than those who did not. (They also scored lower in reading, but researchers noted that those results were not statistically significant.) In 2010, when the DOE’s research division previously evaluated the voucher program, it found that it had no significant impact on reading and math scores but a significant increase in high school graduation. Notably, Thursday’s study found that parents in the voucher program were more likely to feel like their child’s school was safe.

US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

The analysis comes as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to promote the expansion of school choice at the national level. The administration has proposed a $1.4 billion investment toward school choice programs for the coming fiscal year, including $168 million in spending for charter schools and $250 million in school vouchers for families.

While decades of research has shown voucher programs have had little to no effect on student achievement, studies of newer programs in the last two years have mostly revealed worse academic outcomes for participating students:

A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans. The program had no impact on students’ non-academic skills.
Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004, provides tuition vouchers for 1,100 low-income students who transfer from public schools to private ones in the nation’s capital. Earlier this year, House Republicans filed legislation to renew the DC voucher program, even as a majority of city council members submitted a letter in March expressing “serious concerns” about the use of public funds to send kids to private school. Mayor Muriel Bowser split from the council, saying at the time she supported the program’s extension. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz filed a bill that would expand the voucher program to cover the entire school district.

In response to the study, DeVos said in a statement that people should look beyond its one-year assessment, arguing that voucher programs didn’t hurt public schools. “When school choice policies are fully implemented,” she said, “there should be no differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” But Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students.”

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

Mother Jones

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Like everyone, I’ve been watching as the free speech debate on college campuses has morphed from its usual steady background hum into a Big Issue Of The Day. First there was Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Then Charles Murray at Middlebury. Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna. Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The right is naturally outraged that these speakers were harassed or banned, and the left is—well, what is the left’s reaction to all this? At first, it was mostly a matter of not really sticking up for free speech rights on campus. That was bad enough, but then the conversation changed. Instead of a collective mumble, I began reading affirmative arguments that there was absolutely nothing wrong with “no-platforming” these folks. For example, a few days ago a New Republic article showed up in my Facebook feed and got high fives from several people I follow. Here is Aaron Hanlon:

When departments or groups arrange for a speaker, invitations are usually authorized by small committees or localized administrative offices without a campus-wide discussion or debate….Instead of community-wide discussion and debate over the merits of bringing a given speaker to campus, the debate happens after the invitation, giving the misleading impression that no-platforming is about shutting down speech.

….But no-platforming is better understood as the kind of value judgment that lies at heart of a liberal arts education….This has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

….No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it’s just some small group that invites someone, then it’s OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don’t need to know. It may “look like censorship from certain angles,” but it’s actually the very zenith of free expression. Juliet Kleber followed up today:

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform.

Enough. I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the latest outrages on college campuses because college campuses are teeming with smart, verbal, overconfident 19-year-olds. Of course they do stupid things. We all did stupid things at that age. I’m generally happy for all these micro-outrages to remain local controversies handled by local administrators.

But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we’re caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he’s concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that’s not a reason to shut it down. That’s the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

Mother Jones

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Texas is about to become the second state to outlaw sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that refuse to fully comply with federal enforcement of immigration laws. On Thursday, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives gave approval to legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime for local law enforcement to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, with penalties of up to $25,500 in fines for local governments and jail time for individual law enforcement officials who maintain sanctuary cities. The legislation would also allow local police officers to inquire about someone’s immigration status during routine encounters such as traffic stops. A slightly different version of the bill already passed in the state senate, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made passing legislation banning sanctuary cities a top priority this legislative session, will likely sign the final measure.

Texas became one of the battlegrounds in the national debate over sanctuary cities when Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, after taking office earlier this year, instituted a new policy for her department to not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Gov. Abbott cut off funding in retaliation and even threatened to oust the sheriff. In a parallel effort, the Trump administration is also trying to cut off federal funding to jurisdictions that refuse to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Thursday’s vote followed an initial 16-hour overnight hearing on the House floor. State Rep. Mary González, a Democrat who was once an undocumented immigrant herself, told her colleagues that she was a victim of sexual assault, and that the proposal would actually make Texas less safe by discouraging immigrants from talking to the police when a crime has been committed. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people empowered by this piece of the amendment will be criminals,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people who will feel the biggest effects of this are the most vulnerable—the women and children who are victims of rape, sexual assault, human trafficking.”

González also beseeched other lawmakers to limit questioning about immigration status to those who were under arrest. “If you ever had any friendship with me, this is the vote that measures that friendship,” González pleaded during the hearing.

According to the Texas Observer, hundreds protested in the Capitol rotunda, where their chants opposing the legislation could be heard during the marathon debate. The protest didn’t dissuade Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who added language to the bill that would allow police to check someone’s immigration status during routine “detainments” like traffic stops. “This was about making sure that our law enforcement officers can continue to do what they have a duty to do, which is to make sure that we’re safe,” he said. “That means using every reasonable tool available under the law to inquire about criminal activity.”

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, a Democrat who was also undocumented as a child, fought back tears as she described her fears growing up. “I knew I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and I feared the reactions from my classmates if they knew I wasn’t a citizen,” Hernandez said. “I see myself in many of those students now that share the same fear of being deported, or having their parents deported.”

Sanctuary city legislation is expected to head to the governor’s desk soon, but local leaders and civil rights advocates opposing the bill say the fight is only getting started, and they plan to file lawsuits challenging the legality of the measure. “The legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our own resident’s constitutional rights,” Austin City Council member Greg Casar said on a press call. “I believe we have no responsibility to follow an unconstitutional law, and we should not be complying with a law that is so discriminatory and dangerous in its mandate.”

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

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