The vast majority of interactions between police officers and
civilians end routinely, with no one injured, no one aggrieved and no one making
the headlines. But when force is used, a new study has found, the race of the
person being stopped by officers is significant.
The study of thousands of use-of-force episodes from police departments across
the nation has concluded what many people have long thought, but which could not
be proved because of a lack of data: African-Americans are far more likely than
whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even
when racial disparities in crime are taken into account.
The report, to be released Friday by the Center for Policing Equity, a New
York-based think tank, took three years to assemble and largely refutes
explanations from some police officials that blacks are more likely to be
subjected to police force because they are more frequently involved in criminal
The researchers said they did not gather enough data specifically related to
police shootings to draw conclusions on whether there were racial disparities
when it came to the fatal confrontations between officers and civilians so in
The study’s release comes at a particularly volatile time in the relationship
between the police and minority communities after high-profile fatal police
shootings of African-American men this week in Louisiana and Minnesota prompted
Portions of the episodes, both captured on video and released publicly, have
intensified calls for police reform as many departments across the nation have
been slow to deploy body cameras or to mandate changes in officer training
standards after the high-profile deaths of a number of African-Americans at the
hands of police officers in the past two years.
African-American activists who have demanded greater police accountability since
the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., set off days
of rioting, said Thursday that the study was critical to the conversation, but
far from surprising.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Is water wet?’” said Aislinn Sol, organizer of the Chicago
chapter of Black Lives Matter. “But what we gain with each study, each new piece
of information is that we are able to win people over who are on the fence. The
evidence is becoming overwhelming and incontrovertible that it is a systemic
problem, rather than an isolated one.”
The organization compiled more than 19,000 use-of-force incidents by police
officers representing 11 large and midsize cities and one large urban county
from 2010 to 2015. It is the sort of data the Obama administration and the
Justice Department have been seeking from police departments for nearly two
years, in many cases, unsuccessfully.
The report found that although officers employ force in less than 2 percent of
all police-civilian interactions, the use of police force is disproportionately
high for African-Americans — more than three times greater than for whites.
The study, “The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force,” did
not seek to determine whether the employment of force in any particular instance
was justified, but the center’s researchers found that the disparity in which
African-Americans were subjected to police force remained consistent across what
law enforcement officers call the use-of-force continuum — from relatively mild
physical force, through baton strikes, canine bites, pepper spray, Tasers and
“The dominant narrative has been that this happens to African-Americans because
they are arrested in disproportionate numbers,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, a
founder and president of the Center for Policing Equity, based at the John Jay
College of Criminal Justice. “But the data really makes it difficult to say that
crime is the primary driver of this. In every single category, the anti-black
The study found that the overall mean use-of-force rate for all black residents
was 273 per 100,000, which is 3.6 times higher than the rate for white residents
(76 per 100,000) and 2.5 times higher than the overall rate of 108 per 100,000
for all residents.
For those who were arrested, the mean rate of use of force against blacks was 46
for every 1,000 arrests, compared with 36 per 1,000 for whites.
The Obama administration has been nudging police departments to adapt
de-escalation tactics and to fix broken relationships with poor and minority
communities across the nation, which typically experience far more intensive
policing because of what are frequently higher crime rates.
But because police departments often refuse to release use-of-force data that
would illustrate such trends, the federal government has had a difficult time in
determining whether police departments are employing force less often.
The federal government cannot generally compel police departments to hand over
such material, and many local agencies say they do not require officers to
submit use-of-force reports.
Other departments say they lack the resources to collect such information, and
others acknowledge privately that they fear that the release of their data would
subject them to unwanted scrutiny from the public and the federal government.
But when the Justice Department has had the ability to review use-of-force
records, it has found evidence of abuse.
In Seattle, federal investigators found that one out of every five use-of-force
episodes had been excessive.
In Albuquerque, the Justice Department determined that most police shootings
from 2009 to 2012 had been unjustified.
Researchers for the center said Thursday that the compilation of the
use-of-force material after years of failed efforts to determine whether racial
bias was present represented a significant success. The data is so closely held
by police departments that the agencies that cooperated with the project did so
Though the 12 municipalities that provided data were not named, they represented
a large urban county in California and 11 cities spanning the nation with
populations that range from less than 100,000 to several million, with an
average population of 600,000.
The center said that given the diversity of the municipalities — six are
predominantly white, one is predominantly black or Latino, and five have
populations in which no single racial or ethnic group represents 50 percent or
more of the population — that the findings are likely to hold true for most
Cameron McLay, the police chief of Pittsburgh, said his agency had been among
those to share its use-of-force data. He said use of force by his officers had
decreased in recent years, but acknowledged that there remained concerns about
disparities in use of force when it came to African-Americans.
“We are responsible for not just bringing down the crime rate, but for making
people feel safe in their communities,” he said.
A version of this article appears in print on July 8, 2016,
on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline:
Study Supports Suspicion That Police Use of Force Is
More Likely on Blacks.
BURKEVILLE, Va. — Lenny Singleton is the first to admit that he
deserved an extended stay behind bars. To fuel his crack habit back in 1995, he
walked into 13 stores over eight days and either distracted a clerk or pretended
to have a concealed gun before stealing from the cash register. One time, he was
armed with a knife with a six-inch blade that he had brought from his kitchen.
Mr. Singleton, 28 at the time, was charged with robbery and accepted a plea
deal, fully expecting to receive a long jail sentence. But a confluence of
factors worked against him, including the particularly hard-nosed judge who
sentenced him and the zero-tolerance ethos of the time against users of crack
cocaine. His sentence was very long: two life sentences. And another 100 years.
And no possibility for parole.
There is a growing consensus that the criminal justice system has incarcerated
too many Americans for too many years, with liberals and conservatives alike
denouncing the economic and social costs of holding 2.2 million people in the
nation’s prisons and jails. And Congress is currently debating a criminal
justice bill that, among other provisions, would reduce mandatory minimum
sentences for nonviolent offenders.
But a divide has opened within the reform movement over how to address prisoners
who have been convicted of violent crimes, including people like Mr. Singleton,
who threatened shop owners but did not harm anyone. Groups like the American
Civil Liberties Union favor a swift 50 percent reduction in prison populations,
while conservative prison reform organizations like Right on Crime prioritize
the release of nonviolent offenders and worry that releasing others could
backfire and reduce public support.
Nonviolent drug offenders make up only about 17 percent of all state prison
inmates around the nation, while violent offenders make up more than 50 percent,
according to federal data.
As the prison population has increased sharply over the past 30 years, so too
has the number of those sentenced to life. Mr. Singleton is among nearly 160,000
prisoners serving life sentences — roughly the population of Eugene, Ore. The
number of such inmates has more than quadrupled since 1984, and now about one in
nine prison inmates is serving a life term, federal data shows.
“People are celebrating the stabilization of the prison population in recent
years, but the scale of mass incarceration is so substantial that meaningful
reduction is not going to happen by tinkering around the edges,” said Marc
Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based
nonprofit that advocates changes in sentencing policy.
The United States, which has about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, holds
22 percent of its prisoners, according to the International Centre for Prison
Studies, a research organization based in England.
Mr. Singleton’s prison term, which makes it likely that he will die behind bars,
attracted little attention in 1996. It was common then for judges in Virginia
and the rest of the country to impose long prison terms for crack-related
crimes. Still, even hard-line prosecutors who were active during that period say
Mr. Singleton’s sentence seemed unduly harsh for crimes in which no one was
“Crack cocaine scared the hell out of a lot of people,” said William G.
Broaddus, a former Virginia attorney general who is now in private practice and
had no role in the case. “It’s disappointing there wasn’t more consideration as
to why this man did this. Do we really want to keep him in jail for the rest of
his life? Having said that, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this
judge meted out the sentence that he did.”
William F. Rutherford, the judge who sentenced Mr. Singleton, has been retired
for years. During a recent series of interviews, he said he had no recollection
of the case, but after he reviewed Mr. Singleton’s court files, he said he had
no regrets about how he handled it.
“Under the circumstances,” he said, “it would not be unusual for me to give out
that kind of sentence.”
Mr. Rutherford, who turned 89 in June, was known in Norfolk, Va., legal circles
for his tough sentences, and he acknowledged that he was an intimidating
presence on the bench.
“I’m a no-nonsense guy and I wouldn’t take any crap off of defense lawyers or
anybody,” he said. “The people in jail did not like coming into Courtroom No.
D. J. Hansen, the prosecutor in Mr. Singleton’s case, said Mr. Rutherford “had a
reputation for being one of the tougher judges” in the courthouse. Mr. Hansen,
who is now a deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Chesapeake, Va., added that
“Virginia is a hard state” when it comes to doling out punishments, and pointed
out that he sought a life sentence for Mr. Singleton because of the serious
nature of the robberies.
When compared with recent cases, Mr. Singleton’s sentence appears to be
disproportionately harsh. The maximum penalty for second-degree murder in
Virginia is 40 years, and people convicted in recent months of attempted murder
and similar crimes have received sentences far shorter than Mr. Singleton’s. For
example, Tamar Harris, 21, who shot and wounded a police officer, was sentenced
in April to 23 years in prison, and Jermaine Rogers, 30, of Norfolk, who pleaded
guilty to two counts of attempted murder, was sentenced in March to 10 years.
Mr. Singleton, 49, who is called “Pops” by other inmates here at the Nottoway
Correctional Center in central Virginia, has largely forgotten the details of
his weeklong crime spree. Unlike many of his fellow inmates, he does not claim
he is innocent.
He recalled in an interview that before each robbery, he would smoke crack and
drink a 12-pack of beer. In all, he got about $500.
“After I sobered up, I couldn’t believe what I had done,” he said. “I was like,
‘Damn, Lenny, what the hell?’”
Mr. Singleton played football at Langston University, the historically black
college in Oklahoma from which he graduated, and later joined the Navy, but was
kicked out for using drugs. In prison, he has attended substance abuse classes
and become a devoted reader of self-help books from the prison library.
He works in a furniture plant at the prison and earns 80 cents an hour building
furniture used in Virginia’s universities. But a percentage of his pay is
subtracted for court costs and fines, and he still owes the state $1,800.
Last year, he married a high school classmate, Vandy, with whom he had lost
touch. They recently compiled a book of their letters detailing his
incarceration and her battles with cancer.
Mr. Singleton, who prison officials acknowledge has never committed an
infraction behind bars, has filed for a conditional pardon with Gov. Terry
McAuliffe, saying in part that his court-appointed lawyer failed to adequately
represent him. Mr. Singleton said he had been unaware that he could be sentenced
to life in prison until he had already pleaded guilty.
His lawyer at that time, Jon M. Babineau, said he was legally prohibited from
discussing Mr. Singleton’s case because of Virginia’s attorney-client privilege
laws, but said he had done his best to represent his client.
In a prison administrative office on a recent morning, Mr. Singleton said he had
seen inmates convicted of murder and rape come and go, and was hopeful that he
would not die in prison.
“I was out of my mind on drugs, but I wasn’t going to hurt anybody,” he said. “I
was just after the money.”
A version of this article appears in print on July 5, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
A ’90s Legacy That Is Filling Prisons Today.
Like practiced horseplayers at a racetrack, wealthy campaign
donors are adjusting their bets as the primary season ends and the political
field narrows. This is particularly true of Republican megadonors who cannot
abide Donald Trump and are thus doubling down on keeping G.O.P. control of the
Senate as a firewall against a possible Democratic president, while investing
heavily in keeping statehouses in Republican hands.
One constant is the vast amount of money sluicing through the political system
in what is certain to be the most expensive election in the nation’s history.
Experts estimate that campaign spending, which has risen inexorably in recent
years, will easily surpass the $6.28 billion record set in the 2012 federal
elections and could conceivably reach $9 billion, much of it for political
Both parties are busy exploiting the power of barely regulated super PACs to
accept unlimited six- and seven-figure donations for candidates. At the same
time, campaigns are concealing the names of other rich donors in “dark-money”
operations palmed off as tax exempt “social welfare” agencies supposedly
dedicated to doing good, not to bare-knuckle politics.
Prominent among the Republican super-spenders shying away from Donald Trump are
the billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, whose political machine
has invested $42 million-plus to keep control of the Senate. Other Republican
contributors have also indicated a preference for spending on lesser races down
the line rather than on the presidential campaign.
Some superstar check writers like Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, have no
problem with Mr. Trump’s erratic policy proposals, bluster, and past vows to
self-fund. Mr. Adelson is talking of a $100 million effort to boost Mr. Trump’s
performance in the finale against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump, having
flip-flopped on a primary promise to shun wealthy donors, now seems only too
happy to accept a pledge by Mr. Adelson and others to raise as much as $1
billion for his campaign.
For now, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, leads the fund-raising
pack with a money machine that has sucked in more than $80 million in super PAC
support. Democrats are not shying away from the big-check power of super PACs,
creating a new $50 million operation started by major labor unions and the
billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. At the same time, Mrs. Clinton is
campaigning on proposals to rein in the runaway money race. She says it
undermines American politics.
What voters think of all this as the price of a particularly raucous display of
democracy remains to be seen. But the power of money in politics has grown so
much since the 2010 Citizens United decision that its presence is felt ever
deeper down the ballot. Ominously, there has been a flood of special-interest
money into state judicial races that raises questions about whether judges’
decisions might be affected, according to a Brennan Center for Justice study.
The toughest race in Kansas this year is being waged by furious conservative
Republicans aiming to oust four members of the state Supreme Court because of
their decisions striking down the G.O.P. Legislature’s shortchanging of the
state constitution’s school-aid requirements.
Shrewd big-money campaigns financed by the Koch brothers and others have upended
the Democrats’ one-time dominance of state legislatures. There are now
Republican majorities in 70 percent of two-party statehouses. That success, in
turn, has created a farm system for the G.O.P.’s current control of Congress.
There, the twin powers of big money and statehouse gerrymandering have made
incumbents of both parties unbeatable 90 percent of the time, compounding the
gridlock voters complain about. For all the job security, big donors are
expected to drive this year’s congressional election spending well beyond the
$3.8 billion record set two years ago. Much of this money will surely be wasted,
further enriching the new breed of fat-cat campaign operatives, and further
alienating voters with toxic advertising. But some of it may tip key races.
As the money torrent rises, it’s no coincidence that for the first time in
history, most members of Congress are millionaires (268 of 534 House members),
according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Republican control of the
agenda has snuffed out Democratic proposals to control or at least disclose the
true extent of the wealth now driving elections. Theoretically, this election
should be a forum for dealing with this open invitation to political corruption.
Unfortunately, big money’s main effect on the campaign so far has been a
frenzied pace to raise and spend more of it.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on June 5, 2016, on page SR8 of the
New York edition with the headline: Big Money Adjusts Its Election Bets.
Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30
years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group
except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also
substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a
group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.
The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent
over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age
range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose
by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health
Statistics, which released the study on Friday.
The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate
to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a
year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the
study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in
“It’s really stunning to see such a large increase in suicide rates affecting
virtually every age group,” said Katherine Hempstead, senior adviser for health
care at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who has identified a link between
suicides in middle age and rising rates of distress about jobs and personal
Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide
rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed
themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,”
said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.
American Indians had the sharpest rise of all racial and ethnic groups, with
rates rising by 89 percent for women and 38 percent for men. White middle-aged
women had an increase of 80 percent.
The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only
one age group: men and women over 75.
A Growing, Widespread Toll
From 1999 to 2014, suicide rates in the United States rose among most age
groups. Men and women from 45 to 64 had a sharp increase. Rates fell among those
age 75 and older.
The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans.
Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing
surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol
poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The
new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who
reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with
that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American
“This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between
poverty, hopelessness and health,” said Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public
policy at Harvard and the author of “Our Kids,” an investigation of new class
divisions in America.
The rise in suicide rates has happened slowly over many years. Federal health
researchers said they chose 1999 as the start of the period they studied because
it was a low point in the national suicide rate and they wanted to cover the
full period of its recent sustained rise.
The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013,
noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have
risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since
2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they
issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.
Policy makers say efforts to prevent suicide across the country are spotty.
While some hospitals and health systems screen for suicidal thinking and operate
good treatment programs, many do not.
“We have more and more effective treatments, but we have to figure out how to
bake them into health care systems so they are used more automatically,” said
Dr. Jane Pearson, chairwoman of the National Institute of Mental Health’s
Suicide Research Consortium, which oversees the National Institutes of Health
funding for suicide prevention research. “We’ve got bits and pieces, but we
haven’t really put them all together yet.”
She noted that while N.I.H. funding for suicide prevention projects had been
relatively flat — rising to $25 million in 2016 from $22 million in 2012 — it
was a small fraction of funding for research of mental illnesses, including mood
disorders like depression.
The new federal analysis noted that the methods of suicide were changing. About
one in four suicides in 2014 involved suffocation, which includes hanging and
strangulation, compared with fewer than one in five in 1999. Suffocation deaths
are harder to prevent because nearly anyone has access to the means, Ms.
Hempstead said. Death from guns fell for both men and women. Guns went from
being involved in 37 percent of female suicides to 31 percent, and from 62
percent to 55 percent for men.
The question of what has driven the increases is unresolved, leaving experts to
muse on the reasons.
Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide
among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks.
Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while
divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She
calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely
than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much
as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for
middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.
Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated
white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said.
They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” —
characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.
“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive
means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.
Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of
families on the lower rungs of the income ladder.
Dr. Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, said he had studied the association between economic downturns and
suicide going back to the 1920s and found that suicide was highest when the
economy was weak. One of the highest rates in the country’s modern history, he
said, was in 1932, during the Great Depression, when the rate was 22.1 per
100,000, about 70 percent higher than in 2014.
“There was a consistent pattern,” he said, which held for all ages between 25
and 64. “When the economy got worse, suicides went up, and when it got better,
they went down.”
But other experts pointed out that the unemployment rate had been declining in
the latter period of the study, and questioned how important the economy was to
The gap in suicide rates for men and women has narrowed because women’s rates
are increasing faster than men’s. But men still kill themselves at a rate 3.6
times that of women. Though suicide rates for older adults fell over the period
of the study, men over 75 still have the highest suicide rate of any age group —
38.8 per 100,000 in 2014, compared with just four per 100,000 for their female
A version of
this article appears in print on April 22, 2016, on page A1 of the New York
edition with the headline: Sweeping Pain as Suicides Hit a 30-Year High.
WHEN we talk about how the United States can be more competitive
with the rest of the world, childhood poverty rarely comes up. Yet America has a
higher rate of childhood poverty than all but a few developed nations.
Children are America’s poorest age group. In 2013, more than 12 million
children lived below the poverty line, which for a family of four is slightly
more than $24,000 a year. This comes to roughly 17 percent of American children.
A third of these kids are white, another third are Latino, and about one-quarter
are black, while the rest are American Indian and Asian-American.
On average, children in poverty have lower I.Q. scores than their wealthier
peers. Recent research has made it clear that just the stress of growing up in a
poor family can be toxic to the growing brain.
It almost goes without saying that the cost to the American economy is severe.
We need quick-acting, powerful solutions. Cash allowances, ideally paid to a
child’s parents on a monthly basis, are a clean, direct way to raise a high
proportion of children out of poverty.
The United States once had a welfare program — Aid for Families With Dependent
Children — that provided cash to families in need, but A.F.D.C. was hardly
generous. Not only were the benefits paltry, the incentives were perverse: If
you worked, you frequently lost most or all of your benefits. According to
calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, A.F.D.C. pulled only
10 percent of children out of poverty in the 1990s.
Even so, many argued that without a work requirement, the program encouraged
poor people to remain on welfare. In 1996, legislation put forward by
congressional Republicans and ultimately supported by President Bill Clinton
ended A.F.D.C. — “welfare as we know it” — and put Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families in its place.
But the welfare payments to families with children under T.A.N.F. — in part
because of the program’s rules about work and looking for work and in part
because the time period during which you can receive welfare is capped — reach a
much smaller number of families than A.F.D.C. did. According to the Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities, only 23 out of 100 poor families receive any
T.A.N.F. benefits at all. In some states, which set their own rules for
eligibility, remarkably few families get T.A.N.F. payments.
One result, according to the social scientists Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke
Shaefer, is that in 2011, 1.5 million families with children lived on $2 per
person a day. Though food stamps help ease the burden, they are inadequate. To
survive, these families depend on food banks, collect aluminum cans for refunds,
do the occasional odd job and live in crowded, unsafe quarters.
This is not to say that America has not tried to reduce poverty. Besides food
stamps, the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit also aid poor
parents substantially. The problem is that these programs still leave the rate
of childhood poverty unconscionably high.
Per-child cash allowances may have the greatest impact. They do not change if
you find work; they are generally larger than standard welfare payments; and
they don’t have eligibility requirements.
Many other prosperous nations provide such allowances, as do some developing
ones. Cash allowances in Europe and Canada, for example, are usually
unconditional. In Canada the allowance is up to about $230 a month per child.
How is this money used? A book by Jane Waldfogel, a social scientist at
Columbia, shows that in Britain the cash allowance is largely spent by parents
on the needs of the children. The program has helped cut child poverty sharply
Other so-called natural experiments corroborate these findings. For example, a
Cherokee tribe in North Carolina built a profitable casino and distributed a
portion of its profits each year to every enrolled citizen. The cash raised
families around the federal poverty line over it, increased school attendance
and graduation rates, and decreased criminal behavior among teenagers.
A new study completed by researchers at Columbia (sponsored by the Schwartz
Rediscovering Government Initiative, where I work) has extensively modeled just
how much cash allowances could reduce child poverty in the United States.
The results are eye-opening. A per-child allowance of $2,500 a year for kids
under 6 (leaving the child tax credit intact) would raise more than three
million poor children out of poverty. Its annual cost, the researchers estimate,
would be $17.7 billion.
Given the general stagnation of wages over the past several decades, it might
well make sense to provide a cash allowance not just to the poor, but to all
children. A universal child allowance in America of $2,500 a year would lift 5.5
million out of poverty, roughly reducing the poverty rate by a third. The price
tag would come to $109.3 billion a year (reduced in part because higher-income
families would pay income tax on the allowance).
To cut child poverty in half, it would cost us $200 billion a year, about 1.1
percent of gross domestic product, or one-fourth of the cost of Social Security.
If America makes cutting childhood poverty a priority, it can afford to do so.
Why not just expand the child tax credit? That’s a good idea and perhaps more
politically practicable. But the Columbia research shows that a dollar spent on
cash allowances reduces child poverty more than the equivalent increase in the
tax credit because the benefits reach the very poorest families, who don’t
qualify for the tax credit. We should supplement new cash allowances with new
jobs programs, but direct cash payments to parents is a widely tested and
powerful weapon to combat the poverty that afflicts so many right now.
Jeff Madrick is director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering
Government Initiative at the Century Foundation.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 7, 2016, on page A27 of the
New York edition with the headline: Handouts Are Often Better Than a Hand Up.
In 2015, 149 people convicted of crimes large and small — from
capital murder to burglary — were exonerated. It is the highest yearly total
since this grim form of record-keeping began, in 1989.
In that time, there have been at least 1,733 exonerations across the country,
and the pace keeps picking up. On average, about three convicted people are
now exonerated of their crimes every week, according to the annual report of the
National Registry of Exonerations. The registry defines an exoneration as a case
in which someone convicted of a crime is cleared of all charges based on new
evidence of innocence.
The individual cost to those wrongly convicted is steep: Last year’s group spent
an average of more than 14 years behind bars. Five had been sentenced to death.
Amazingly, half of the exonerations involved cases in which no crime occurred at
all — for example, a conviction of murder by arson that later turned out to be
based on faulty fire science.
Equally eye-opening is the list of reasons behind these miscarriages of justice.
For instance, 27 of last year’s exonerations were for convictions based on a
false confession. This happened most often in homicide cases in which the
defendant was a juvenile, intellectually disabled, mentally ill or some
combination of the three. In nearly half of all 2015 exonerations, the defendant
pleaded guilty before trial.
These numbers are a bracing reminder that admissions of guilt are unreliable far
more often than is generally believed. Some defendants, especially the young or
mentally impaired, can be pushed to admit guilt when they are innocent. Some
with prior criminal records may not be able to afford bail but don’t want to
spend months in pretrial detention or risk a much longer sentence if they choose
to go to trial.
Official misconduct — including perjury, withholding of exculpatory evidence and
coercive interrogation practices — occurred in three of every four exonerations
involving homicide, and it was an important factor in many other cases as well.
As high as these exoneration numbers are, they still understate the scope of the
problem, since not all cases involving misconduct come to light.
The good news is that Americans are starting to grasp the depth of the problem.
The Innocence Project, now more than 20 years old, has shown again and again how
many ways a conviction can be obtained wrongfully. And in-depth investigations
of questionable murder convictions by popular shows like “Serial” and “Making a
Murderer” have led to calls for greater prosecutorial accountability.
As technologies like DNA testing have become more widely used, some prosecutors’
offices have begun to take responsibility for correcting their own errors. In
the last seven years, almost two dozen offices in 11 states and the District of
Columbia have opened conviction-integrity units to re-examine old cases. But the
units vary widely in effectiveness. Half have never exonerated anyone, while
two, in Brooklyn and in Harris County, Tex., were responsible for one-third of
last year’s exonerations.
It is good to see any degree of self-reflection and accountability from
prosecutors, who wield enormous and often unreviewed power in the criminal
justice system. It would be even better for them to put in place safeguards that
would prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on February 13, 2016, on page A20
of the New York edition with the headline: Prisoners Exonerated, Prosecutors
For decades that has been an abstract question. Now there may be an answer in
the case of Shonda Walter, a 36-year-old black woman on Pennsylvania’s death
row. On Friday, the Supreme Court met to discuss whether to hear a petition from
Ms. Walter, who is asking the justices to rule that in all cases, including
hers, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual
Ever since 1976, when the court allowed executions to resume after a
four-year moratorium, the abolition movement has avoided bringing a broad
constitutional challenge against the practice, believing that it would not
succeed. In that time, 1,423 people have been put to death.
Yet there is no question that the national trend is moving away from capital
punishment. Since the late 1990s, almost every year has seen fewer executions,
fewer new death sentences and fewer states involved in the repugnant business of
killing their citizens.
In 2015, there were 28 executions and 49 new death sentences, the lowest numbers
in decades. Seven states have abandoned the practice entirely since 2004, for
a total of 19 that no longer have the death penalty. Many others have not
executed anyone for years. And only three states — Texas, Georgia and Missouri —
were responsible for almost all of last year’s executions.
A majority of Americans still support capital punishment, but the percentage
favoring it has dropped from around 80 percent in the 1990s to about 60 percent
now. When polls offer a choice between death and life without parole, people
roughly split evenly.
In the past 14 years alone, the Supreme Court has barred the execution of
several categories of people: minors, the intellectually disabled, and those
convicted of a crime other than murder. In that last case, decided in 2008,
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court, “When the law punishes by death, it
risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional
commitment to decency and restraint.”
Taken together, these signs have led some abolitionists to conclude that the
conditions for ending capital punishment entirely are now as favorable as they
might ever be. That argument got a major boost last June, when Justice Stephen
Breyer, in a long dissent from a 5-to-4 ruling that allowed Oklahoma to proceed
with its inhumane lethal-injection drug protocol, suggested he would be open to
a case challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.
In his dissent, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Breyer
explained in detail how the death penalty was unreliable, arbitrary and racially
discriminatory. He said it was no longer sufficient simply “to patch up the
death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” because the practice as a whole
“most likely” violates the Eighth Amendment.
Shonda Walter’s case is the first to take up Justice Breyer’s challenge. Ms.
Walter was convicted of murdering an 83-year-old man named James Sementelli. Her
appointed lawyers put on no defense and offered no argument that might have
spared her from a death sentence. Pennsylvania appeals courts agreed that she
had inexcusably bad representation, but they still upheld her conviction and
sentence. Since Ms. Walter does not fit the special categories of defendants who
are shielded from the death penalty, her appeal is based on the claim that all
executions violate the Constitution.
The justices may not grant Ms. Walter’s petition (others are also expected to be
filed in the coming weeks), but they can no longer ignore the clear movement of
history. They already have all the evidence they need to join the rest of the
civilized world and end the death penalty once and for all.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on January 17, 2016, on page SR10
of the New York edition with the headline: The Death Penalty Endgame.
Since no amount of dead bodies seems enough to spur lawmakers to
rein in access to guns, let’s focus on the living — the children gun violence
Start with the little boy and girl belonging to Jennifer Markovsky, a
35-year-old mother who was one of three people murdered last Friday during the
latest mass shooting of 2015 — this time, a lone gunman’s hourslong siege of a
Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. For the crime of accompanying her
friend to an appointment at the clinic, Ms. Markovsky lost her life in the most
brutal and pointless, yet entirely American, manner.
Here’s a thought for lawmakers who refuse to consider any meaningful legislation
to reduce the daily carnage of gun violence across America: Thanks to your
single-minded defense of unfettered gun rights at the expense of all reason and
respect for life, there is an endless supply of children to be consoled. The
other two victims of Friday’s assault — Garrett Swasey, a police officer, and
Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq war veteran — also each had two children.
Of course, children aren’t the only ones who endure this unnecessary suffering.
So do parents and grandparents. Grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Husbands
and wives and brothers and aunts. Lifelong friends and beloved colleagues. Every
life unique and irreplaceable, yet all equally defenseless in the face of a
But rather than taking action to address the full measure of destruction
America’s gun violence inflicts, many politicians appear more comfortable
offering rote words of shallow sympathy to the victims’ families, then jumping
quickly behind distractions like the state of mental-health care in America. Was
Robert L. Dear Jr., the suspect in last week’s shooting, mentally ill? Did he
oppose abortion? Or was he just extremely angry?
The truth is, the characteristics of killers may vary, but the result is always
the same — a massacre of the innocent, made possible by virtually unimpeded
access to guns. Mr. Dear had several run-ins with the law and still had plenty
of weapons at hand.
Many who oppose sensible gun-safety measures point to the 350 million or so
guns already in circulation and say it’s too late to turn back now. Their
chilling solution is for everyone to be armed, and ready to shoot, at all times.
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado was right to call mass shootings “a form of
terrorism.” Even as politicians and those in Congress pump up public fears at
the supposed threat of refugees fleeing Syria, every day in America people —
mostly white men — are walking into movie theaters, restaurants, churches, grade
schools and health care centers armed to the teeth, determined to take as many
people out as they can.
This is not an intractable problem. Countries from Australia to Britain have
dealt with mass shootings quickly and effectively with better laws. As a result,
more of their residents are alive today, and none of those laws have created the
tyrannies that fuel the paranoid fantasies of some activists.
Even in America, where the Second Amendment provides robust protection of gun
rights, there are reforms that modestly brave politicians could pass if they
wanted to, including universal background checks; expanding the categories of
people deemed too dangerous to have guns; funding research into gun violence;
and gun buyback programs.
Instead, the rhetoric on this issue swerves between the irrational and the
deranged. Consider a recent sampling from the leading Republican presidential
candidates. Ben Carson said, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more
devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Donald Trump, who once
supported expanding background checks, said the murders in the terrorist attacks
in Paris were connected to France’s strict gun controls. Senator Ted Cruz
suggested Mr. Dear could be a “transgendered leftist activist.” Days earlier he
proudly announced the endorsement of Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion
group Operation Rescue, who has advocated the execution of doctors who perform
Meanwhile, the killings go on. More than once a day on average this year, mass
shootings have destroyed lives and families. President Obama on Saturday said
this endless ritual of murder is “not normal,” but that is precisely the
problem: In America, it has become all too normal.
A version of this editorial appears in print on December 1, 2015,
on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: The Children Left Behind.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now, a community
college in Roseburg, Ore. One after another, mass shootings have horrified the
nation, stoking debate about the availability of legal guns and anguish over the
inability of society to keep weapons out of the hands of seething killers.
But such rampage killings are not the typical face of gun violence in America.
Each day, some 30 people are victims of gun homicides, slain by rival gang
members or drug dealers, trigger-happy robbers, drunken men after bar fights,
frenzied family members or abusive partners. An additional 60 people a day kill
themselves with guns.
In Chicago alone in September — the city’s deadliest month in recent years —
there were 57 homicides, most by gunfire, and 351 were shot and wounded. In
total, counting suicides, 33,636 people in the United States were killed by
firearms in 2013, according to the latest federal data.
“Mass shootings focus the public’s attention,” said Garen J.
Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the
University of California, Davis, School of Medicine. “But we lose on the
order of 90 people a day to firearms. We need to keep our eyes focused on
the larger picture.”
Yet there is bitter disagreement over how to respond in this gun-saturated
country and, especially in the current political campaign, over whether
expanded, tougher background checks would make a difference.
Complicating any solutions is a stark reality about the origins of many of the
guns used in crimes. Most of the up to 300 million guns in the United States,
now kept by at least a third of American households, were bought legally, but
few criminals obtained their firearms that way, turning instead to an
In the largest federal survey of prison inmates on the subject, done in 2004,
only about 10 percent of convicts who had carried guns said they bought them
from licensed dealers. Most said they bought them from, or traded with,
relatives, friends or street acquaintances such as fences, drug dealers and gang
Gun theft is a major source of such weapons. Evidence suggests that at least
250,000 guns are stolen in home and store burglaries each year. Some
criminologists say the number may be significantly higher.
Once weapons start circulating in this underworld, they tend to change hands
frequently, said Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke
Two years ago, Mr. Cook questioned 100 prisoners in the Cook County, Ill., jail
about how they obtained weapons. Some of the Chicago-area inmates said they had
purchased from traffickers from another state, or sent fellow gang members to
Indiana or other states where gun laws are looser. Many of those questioned
stressed the primacy of family, friends and fellow gang members as sources of
guns. They said they were reluctant to deal with strangers, fearing a police
sting or the purchase of a “dirty” gun that could link them to a crime.
In some gangs, the inmates said, gun sharing is common; 15 youths in a
neighborhood might have access to four guns, as needed. Guns may also be given
as gifts to friends or comrades getting out of prison.
Conservative opponents argue that controls on legal firearm sales cannot
directly keep firearms away from criminals.
Yet applying background checks to private gun sales as well as commercial ones,
with stronger criteria for denying purchases, remains a top goal of many gun
control advocates and scholars who study firearms violence. They point to major
gaps in the current system of checks as well as evidence that extending checks
to private transactions can slow the flow of weapons into the underground
The issue has flared up in the presidential campaign. President Obama and some
Democrats — Hillary Rodham Clinton among them — have called for universal
background checks as an important step. Many of the Republican candidates join
pro-gun groups in arguing that such rules will hinder only law-abiding citizens.
A primary concern of those calling for expanded checks is the absence in most
states of any vetting procedure when a gun is purchased from a private party — a
friend, a seller advertising online, a small-scale seller at a gun show. By
federal law, background checks are required only for purchases from licensed
dealers; people with felony records or certain official records of mental
illness are barred from buying.
A significant minority of guns are acquired legally but without background
checks, which many authorities call a worrisome loophole. In a national survey
of more than 2,000 gun owners, conducted this year by the Harvard School of
Public Health and not yet published, 40 percent of owners said they had acquired
their most recent firearm without a background check. While in some cases these
guns were inherited or given by relatives, most of them were purchased, said
Deborah Azrael, one of the study’s leaders.
Seventeen states have established their own checking system and also applied it
to private handgun transactions.
Daniel Webster, an expert on gun violence at the Johns Hopkins University Center
for Gun Policy and Research, cites two recent examples as evidence that expanded
background checks can affect gun markets and violence.
In 2007, Missouri ended a decades-old system of background checks and licensing
for handgun purchases, including private sales. According to research by Mr.
Webster and colleagues, the change quickly led to an increase in gun diversions
to criminals and to a 25 percent increase in firearm homicides over the three
years that followed, while homicides committed by other means did not rise.
In contrast, Connecticut in 1995 extended background checks to private sales and
established a handgun permit system. Over 10 years, the rate of gun murders fell
by 40 percent.
“There is a connection between regulating the formal market and the number of
guns that enter the underground market,” Mr. Webster said. A large share of
violent criminals, he added, are “dirt-poor,” and to them, price matters.
Still, general controls on gun sales may do little, by themselves, to block a
determined mass killer.
In the shooting last week in Oregon, in which Christopher Harper-Mercer killed
nine people, all 14 of the guns available to him — either used in the attack or
left at home — were bought legally by him or by a relative from a licensed
“This is the sort of killing you’re least likely to prevent with gun control
laws, partly because the killers are so motivated,” said Gary Kleck, a
criminologist at Florida State University.
But a new initiative in California is directed specifically at such people. In a
law that will take effect in January, family members or the police will be able
to ask a judge for a temporary gun violence restraining order if they see
someone in an ominous emotional spiral, threatening violence and perhaps
Disputes over civil liberties appear likely. But with legal procedures modeled
on restraining orders for domestic violence, the law says, officials could
obtain a search warrant and seize the person’s guns for a brief period, pending
The idea builds on “threat assessment” efforts by some schools and police
departments, which focus on people seen as threatening. Support for the idea
grew after a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., last year.
Before the rampage, the family of the gunman, Elliot O. Rodger, had feared that
he was becoming dangerous and had even notified law enforcement. Officers
visited him but saw no evidence of mental illness that would warrant taking any
action. They did not check his gun purchase records or search his home.
“If they had searched, they’d have found not only three guns, but 40 loaded
magazines,” said Dr. Wintemute of the University of California, Davis.
“That would have just screamed, ‘Trouble coming!’ ” he said.
We’ve mourned too often, seen too many schools and colleges
devastated by shootings, watched too many students get an education in grief.
It’s time for a new approach to gun violence.
We’re angry, but we also need to be smart. And frankly, liberal efforts, such as
the assault weapons ban, were poorly designed and saved few lives, while brazen
talk about banning guns just sparked a backlash that empowered the National
What we need is an evidence-based public health approach — the same model we use
to reduce deaths from other potentially dangerous things around us, from
swimming pools to cigarettes. We’re not going to eliminate guns in America, so
we need to figure out how to coexist with them.
First, we need to comprehend the scale of the problem: It’s not just occasional
mass shootings like the one at an Oregon college on Thursday, but a
continuous deluge of gun deaths, an average of 92 every day in America. Since
1970, more Americans have died from guns than died in all U.S. wars going back
to the American Revolution.
When I reported a similar figure in the past, gun lobbyists insisted that it
couldn’t possibly be true. But the numbers are unarguable: fewer than 1.4
million war deaths since 1775, more than half in the Civil War, versus about
1.45 million gun deaths since 1970 (including suicides, murders and accidents).
If that doesn’t make you flinch, consider this: In America, more preschoolers
are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of
duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the FBI.
More than 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, and most of the rest are
homicides. Gun enthusiasts scoff at including suicides, saying that without
guns people would kill themselves by other means. In many cases, though, that’s
In Great Britain, people used to kill themselves by putting their heads in the
oven and asphyxiating themselves with coal gas. This accounted for almost half
of British suicides in the late 1950s, but Britain then began switching from
coal gas to natural gas, which is much less lethal. Sticking one’s head in the
oven was no longer a reliable way to kill oneself — and there was surprisingly
little substitution of other methods. Suicide rates dropped, and they stayed at
a lower level.
The British didn’t ban ovens, but they made them safer. We need to do the same
When I tweeted about the need to address gun violence after college shooting in
the Roseburg, Ore., a man named Bob pushed back. “Check out car accident
deaths,” he tweeted sarcastically. “Guess we should ban cars.”
Actually, cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns. We
don’t ban cars, but we do require driver’s licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded
dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we’ve reduced the
auto fatality rate by 95 percent.
One problem is that the gun lobby has largely blocked research on making guns
safer. Between 1973 and 2012, the National Institutes of Health awarded 89
grants for the study of rabies and 212 for cholera — and only three for firearms
Daniel Webster, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, notes that
in 1999, the government listed the gun stores that had sold the most weapons
later linked to crimes. The gun store at the top of the list was so embarrassed
that it voluntarily took measures to reduce its use by criminals — and the rate
at which new guns from the store were diverted to crime dropped 77 percent.
But in 2003, Congress barred the government from publishing such information.
Why is Congress enabling pipelines of guns to criminals?
Public health experts cite many ways we could live more safely with guns, and
many of them have broad popular support.
A poll this year found that majorities even of gun-owners favor universal
background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements
in homes; and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of
domestic violence, assault or similar offenses.
We should also be investing in “smart gun” technology, such as weapons that fire
only with a PIN or fingerprint. We should adopt microstamping that allows a
bullet casing to be traced back to a particular gun. We can require liability
insurance for guns, as we do for cars.
It’s not clear that these steps would have prevented the Oregon shooting. But
Professor Webster argues that smarter gun policies could reduce murder rates by
up to 50 percent — and that’s thousands of lives a year. Right now, the
passivity of politicians is simply enabling shooters.
The gun lobby argues that the problem isn’t firearms; it’s crazy people. Yes,
America’s mental health system is a disgrace. But to me, it seems that we’re all
crazy if we as a country can’t take modest steps to reduce the carnage that
leaves America resembling a battlefield.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 4, 2015, on page SR9 of the
New York edition with the headline: A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths.
The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live
to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our
minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.
The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun
violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States.
Three quick data points:
■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have
died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq combined.
■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on
battlefields of all the wars in American history.
■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other
developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author
of an excellent book on firearm safety.
Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a
broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina
church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have
been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then
posted them on Facebook.
“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,”
Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.
Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not
least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out
of the hands of people waiting to go boom.
The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition
(that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that
we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public,
we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we
regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages of regulations
concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet
the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to
regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in
America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(that includes suicides, murders and accidents).
Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but
we don’t try to ban them!
Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should
apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars
safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers,
cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better
crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.
This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the
same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying
annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.
Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has
for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun
industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has
ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a
PIN; guns don’t.
We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might
reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a
The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward
guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S.
firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world
on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.
We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun
purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements,
serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to
buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If
the federal government won’t act, states should lead.
Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united
behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes
that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven
years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.
Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to
reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely
we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.
Gail Collins is on book leave.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 27, 2015, on page A23 of the
New York edition with the headline: Learning From 2 Murders.
Lately it seems as though every few months there’s another urban
riot and the nation turns its attention to urban poverty. And in the midst of
every storm, there are people crying out that we should finally get serious
about this issue. This time it was Jon Stewart who spoke for many when he said:
“And you just wonder sometimes if we’re spending a trillion dollars to rebuild
Afghanistan’s schools, like, we can’t build a little taste down Baltimore way.
Like is that what’s really going on?”
The audience applauded loudly, and it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not really
The problem is not lack of attention, and it’s not mainly lack of money. Since
1980 federal antipoverty spending has exploded. As Robert Samuelson of The
Washington Post has pointed out, in 2013 the federal government spent nearly
$14,000 per poor person. If you simply took that money and handed it to the
poor, a family of four would have a household income roughly twice the poverty
Yet over the last 30 years the poverty rate has scarcely changed.
In addition, American public spending on schools is high by global standards. As
Peter Wehner pointed out in Commentary, in 2011 Baltimore ranked second among
the nation’s largest 100 school districts in how much it spent per pupil,
$15,483 per year.
The Sandtown-Winchester area of Baltimore, where Freddie Gray lived, has not
lacked for attention either. In the late 1980s, Baltimore’s then-Mayor Kurt
Schmoke decided he would make the neighborhood a model of urban restoration. He
gathered public and private actors like developer James Rouse and Habitat for
Humanity. They raised more than $130 million and poured it into everything from
new homes, new school curriculums, new job training programs and new health care
centers. Townhouses were built for $87,000 and sold to residents for $37,000.
The money was not totally wasted. By 2000, the poverty rate in the area had
dropped by 4.4 percent. The share of residents who lived in owner-occupied homes
had risen by 8.3 percent, according to a thorough study by The Abell Foundation.
But the area was not transformed. Today there are no grocery stores in the
neighborhood and no restaurants. Crime is rampant. Unemployment is high.
Despite all these efforts, there are too many young men leading lives like the
one Gray led. He was apparently a kind-hearted, respectful, popular man, but he
was not on the path to upward mobility. He won a settlement for lead paint
poisoning. According to The Washington Post, his mother was a heroin addict who,
in a deposition, said she couldn’t read. In one court filing, it was reported
that Gray was four grade levels behind in reading. He was arrested more than a
It is wrong to say federal efforts to tackle poverty have been a failure. The
$15 trillion spent by the government over the past half-century has improved
living standards and eased burdens for millions of poor people. But all that
money and all those experiments have not integrated people who live in areas of
concentrated poverty into the mainstream economy. Often, the money has served as
a cushion, not a ladder.
Saying we should just spend more doesn’t really cut it. What’s needed is a phase
shift in how we think about poverty. Renewal efforts in Sandtown-Winchester
prioritized bricks and mortar. But the real barriers to mobility are matters of
social psychology, the quality of relationships in a home and a neighborhood
that either encourage or discourage responsibility, future-oriented thinking,
and practical ambition.
Jane Jacobs once wrote that a healthy neighborhood is like a ballet, a series of
intricate interactions in which people are regulating each other and encouraging
In a fantastic interview that David Simon of “The Wire” gave to Bill Keller for
The Marshall Project, he describes that, even in poorest Baltimore, there once
were informal rules of behavior governing how cops interacted with citizens —
when they’d drag them in and when they wouldn’t, what curse words you could say
to a cop and what you couldn’t. But then the code dissolved. The informal
guardrails of life were gone, and all was arbitrary harshness.
That’s happened across many social spheres — in schools, families and among
neighbors. Individuals are left without the norms that middle-class people take
for granted. It is phenomenally hard for young people in such circumstances to
Yes, jobs are necessary, but if you live in a neighborhood, as Gray did, where
half the high school students don’t bother to show up for school on a given day,
then the problems go deeper.
The world is waiting for a thinker who can describe poverty through the lens of
social psychology. Until the invisible bonds of relationships are repaired, life
for too many will be nasty, brutish, solitary and short.
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on May 1, 2015, on page A31 of the New
York edition with the headline: The Nature of Poverty.
Thirty-five years ago, the United States ranked 13th among the 34
industrialized nations that are today in the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development in terms of life expectancy for newborn girls. These
days, it ranks 29th.
In 1980, the infant mortality rate in the United States was about the same as in
Germany. Today, American babies die at almost twice the rate of German babies.
“On nearly all indicators of mortality, survival and life expectancy, the United
States ranks at or near the bottom among high-income countries,” says a report
on the nation’s health by the National Research Council and the Institute of
What’s most shocking about these statistics is not how unhealthy they show
Americans to be, compared with citizens of countries that spend much less on
health care and have much less sophisticated medical technology. What is most
perplexing is how stunningly fast the United States has lost ground.
The blame for the precipitous fall does not rest primarily on the nation’s
doctors and hospitals.
The United States has the highest teenage birthrate in the developed world —
about seven times the rate in France, according to the O.E.C.D. More than one
out of every four children lives with one parent, the largest percentage by far
among industrialized nations. And more than a fifth live in poverty, sixth from
the bottom among O.E.C.D. nations.
Among adults, seven out of every 1,000 are in prison, more than five times the
rate of incarceration in most other rich democracies and more than three times
the rate for the United States four decades ago.
The point is: The United States doesn’t have a narrow health care problem. We’ve
simply handed our troubles to the medical industry to fix. In many ways, the
American health care system is the most advanced in the world. But whiz-bang
medical technology just cannot fix what ails us.
As economists from the University of Chicago, M.I.T. and the University of
Southern California put it in a recent research paper, much of America’s infant
mortality deficit is driven by “excess inequality.”
American babies born to white, college-educated, married women survive as often
as those born to advantaged women in Europe. It’s the babies born to nonwhite,
nonmarried, nonprosperous women who die so young.
Three or four decades ago, the United States was the most prosperous country on
earth. It had the mightiest military and the most advanced technologies known to
humanity. Today, it’s still the richest, strongest and most inventive. But when
it comes to the health, well-being and shared prosperity of its people, the
United States has fallen far behind.
Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades
or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.
How did we get here? How do we exit?
As the presidential campaign draws the political debate to our national
priorities, these questions must take center stage. As candidates argue over the
budget deficit and the national debt, debate what to do about income inequality,
address the problem of mass incarceration or refight the battles over the
Affordable Care Act and the minimum wage, they should be forced to address how
their policy wish list adds up to an answer.
Looking at how the United States compares with other nations is illuminating. As
I noted in last week’s column, over the last four decades or so, the labor
market lost much of its power to deliver income gains to working families in
many developed nations.
But blaming globalization and technological progress for the stagnation of the
middle class and the precipitous decline in our collective health is too easy.
Jobs were lost and wages got stuck in many developed countries.
What set the United States apart — what made the damage inflicted upon American
society so intense — was the nature of its response. Government support for
Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society
The conservative narrative of America’s social downfall, articulated by the
likes of Charles Murray from the American Enterprise Institute, posits that a
large welfare state, built from the time of the New Deal in the 1930s through
the era of the Great Society in the 1960s, sapped Americans’ industriousness and
undermined their moral fiber.
A more compelling explanation is that when globalization struck at the jobs on
which 20th-century America had built its middle class, the United States
discovered that it did not, in fact, have much of a welfare state to speak of.
The threadbare safety net tore under the strain.
Call it a failure of solidarity. American institutions, built from hostility
toward collective solutions, couldn’t hold society together when the economic
underpinning of full employment at a decent wage gave in.
The question is, Is there a solution to fit these ideological preferences? The
standard prescriptions, typically shared by liberals and conservatives, start
with education, building the skills needed to harness the opportunities of a
high-tech, fast-changing labor market that has little use for those who end
their education after high school.
Ensuring everybody has a college degree might not stanch the flow of riches to
the very pinnacle of society. But it could deliver a powerful boost to the
incomes and the well-being of struggling families in the bottom half.
And yet the prescription — embedded in the social reality that is contemporary
America — falls short. In contemporary America, education is widening inequity,
not closing it. College enrollment rates have stagnated for lower-income
Americans. Sean Reardon from Stanford University notes that the achievement gap
between rich and poor children seems to have been steadily expanding for the
last 50 years.
On the left, there are calls to build the kind of generous social insurance
programs, which despite growing budget constraints remain largely intact among
many European social democracies. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of
Massachusetts, for example, is calling for an expansion of Social Security, paid
for by lifting the cap on payroll taxes so the rich pay the same share of their
income to support the system as everybody else.
That may be desirable, though at the moment, our greatest problems are not about
the elderly. And at least for the foreseeable future, it remains a political
nonstarter in a nation congenitally mistrustful of government. Just in time to
kick off the presidential campaign, Republicans in the House and Senate were
working on a budget that would gut Obamacare — most likely increasing the pool
of the nation’s uninsured — and slash funding for programs for Americans of low
and moderate income.
Yet despite the grim prognosis, there is hope. The challenge America faces is
not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates and rock-bottom
life expectancy, the unraveling families and the stagnant college graduation
rates amount to an existential threat to the nation’s future.
That is, perhaps, the best reason for hope. The silver lining in these dismal,
if abstract, statistics, is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that
our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent
However much Americans may disagree about the morality of capital
punishment, no one wants to see an innocent person executed.
And yet, far too often, people end up on death row after being convicted of
horrific crimes they did not commit. The lucky ones are exonerated while they
are still alive — a macabre club that has grown to include 152 members since
The rest remain locked up for life in closet-size cells. Some die there of
natural causes; in at least two documented cases, inmates who were almost
certainly innocent were put to death.
How many more innocent people have met the same fate, or are awaiting it? That
may never be known. But over the past 42 years, someone on death row has been
exonerated, on average, every three months. According to one study, at least 4
percent of all death-row inmates in the United States have been wrongfully
convicted. That is far more than often enough to conclude that the death penalty
— besides being cruel, immoral, and ineffective at reducing crime — is so
riddled with error that no civilized nation should tolerate its use.
Innocent people get convicted for many reasons, including bad lawyering,
mistaken identifications and false confessions made under duress. But as
advances in DNA analysis have accelerated the pace of exonerations, it has also
become clear that prosecutorial misconduct is at the heart of an alarming number
of these cases.
In the past year alone, nine people who had been sentenced to death were
released — and in all but one case, prosecutors’ wrongdoing played a key role.
The latest was Anthony Ray Hinton, who on Apr. 3 walked out of the Alabama
prison where he had spent almost 30 years, half his life, on death row. Mr.
Hinton was convicted of two murders largely on faulty evidence that the bullets
had come from his gun. His prosecutor at the time said he knew Mr. Hinton was
guilty and “evil” just by looking at him. And later prosecutors continued to
insist on his guilt even when expert testimony clearly refuted the case against
Why does this keep happening? In a remarkable letter to the editor published
last month in The Shreveport Times, A.M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in
Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, offered a chillingly frank answer: “Winning became
In 1984, Mr. Stroud convinced a jury to convict a man named Glenn Ford and
sentence him to death for murder. But Mr. Stroud now admits that because he was
so focused on winning rather than on seeking justice, he failed to identify and
turn over evidence that would have cleared Mr. Ford.
“How totally wrong was I,” Mr. Stroud wrote, apologizing to Mr. Ford — who spent
30 years in prison, 26 of those on death row — as well as his family, the judge,
the jury, and the family of the murder victim, a jeweler named Isadore Rozeman.
This is little consolation to Mr. Ford, who was released in 2014 but is now
dying from lung cancer that developed, and went untreated, while he wasted away
in prison. (Last month a Louisiana judge denied Mr. Ford any compensation beyond
the $20 debit card he received upon his release.) Still, Mr. Stroud’s powerful
message is a rare admission of prosecutorial hubris and the outrageously high
price many people pay for it.
Unfortunately, that message is unlikely to be heeded in places where it needs to
be heard most — in Caddo Parish itself, for example, which sentences more people
to death per capita than anywhere else in the country. Responding to the searing
honesty of Mr. Stroud’s letter, the parish’s current first assistant district
attorney, Dale Cox, offered up some candor of his own: “I’m a believer that the
death penalty serves society’s interest in revenge,” Mr. Cox told The Shreveport
Times. “I think we need to kill more people.”
The all-too-common mind-set to win at all costs has facilitated the executions
of people like Cameron Todd Willingham or Carlos DeLuna, whose convictions have
been convincingly debunked in recent years. And that mind-set led to the
wrongful conviction of people like Mr. Hinton, Mr. Ford and Henry Lee McCollum,
who was exonerated last year after spending three decades on North Carolina’s
If not for the extraordinary after-the-fact efforts of lawyers, investigators,
or just plain dumb luck, these men would be dead too, and neither Mr. Cox nor
anyone else would be the wiser.
A version of this editorial appears in print on April 13, 2015, on page A18 of
the New York edition with the headline: 152 Innocents, Marked for Death.
The number of black immigrants in the United States has more than
quadrupled since 1980, a new study has found, and that group is expected to make
up an increasing share of the nation’s black population in the decades ahead.
The study, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, found that 3.8 million
black immigrants lived in the United States in 2013, and their share of the
black population in the country “is projected to rise from 9 percent today to 16
percent by 2060,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of Hispanic research at Pew
and an author of the study along with Monica Anderson.
That differs from the Hispanic population, Mr. Lopez said, because the share of
Hispanics in America who are immigrants is declining.
Part of the reasons for the growth has been a number of federal laws over the
years that have eased restrictions on immigrants, particularly for nations that
had been underrepresented.
Half of the United States’ black immigrants are from Caribbean nations like
Jamaica and Haiti, and 9 percent are from South and Central American countries.
But the primary driver of the growth from 2000 to 2013 was the 137 percent
increase in African immigrants, who now number 1.4 million.
About 30 percent of the sub-Saharan immigrants who arrived during that period
came as refugees or were seeking asylum, fleeing the violence and fighting in
that region of the continent.
More than 80 percent of the nation’s black immigrants live in the Northeast or
the South. The New York-New Jersey-Newark metropolitan area is home to 27
percent of the nation’s black immigrants, and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West
Palm Beach metropolitan area has 12 percent.
“Africa has a relatively young population, and many worldwide migration
projections project that Africans will play a wider role in worldwide migration
going forward,” Mr. Lopez said. “We are starting to see some of the beginnings
Black immigrants have become increasingly prominent in American culture; in
recent years, novels like “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and “Open
City,” by Teju Cole, featured immigrants from Africa as protagonists. The Pew
study found that black immigrants over 25 are more likely than their
American-born counterparts to have a bachelor’s degree and that all black
immigrants are less likely to live in poverty.
Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University and the author of
“Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” said
that might be because many immigrants who leave their home country can afford to
do so, and there are often prior social networks to ease their transition.
Black immigrants, Ms. Greer said, often identify strongly with their home
countries even as they are settling here, instead of assimilating quickly as
many other immigrant groups have done.
“We’re not seeing that same desire among black immigrants to just become black
Americans,” Ms. Greer said, “because there are certain assumptions and
stereotypes about becoming black Americans in this country, and so many black
immigrants just prefer to maintain their ethnic identity in ways that we haven’t
seen white immigrants in the past.”
Correction: April 12, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Mexico. It is in
North America, not Central or South America.
A version of this article appears in print on April 10, 2015, on page A16 of the
New York edition with the headline: Black Immigrants Have Quadrupled Since 1980,
nearly 40,000 Americans kill themselves. The majority are men, and most of them
use guns. In fact, more than half of all gun deaths in the United States are
Experts and laymen have long assumed that people who died by suicide will
ultimately do it even if temporarily deterred. “People think if you’re really
intent on dying, you’ll find a way,” said Cathy Barber, the director of the
Means Matters campaign at Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
Prevention, it follows, depends largely on identifying those likely to harm
themselves and getting them into treatment. But a growing body of evidence
challenges this view.
Suicide can be a very impulsive act, especially among the young, and therefore
difficult to predict. Its deadliness depends more upon the means than the
determination of the suicide victim.
Now many experts are calling for a reconsideration of suicide-prevention
strategies. While mental health and substance abuse treatment must always be
important components in treating suicidality, researchers like Ms. Barber are
stressing another avenue: “means restriction.”
Instead of treating individual risk, means restriction entails modifying the
environment by removing the means by which people usually die by suicide. The
world cannot be made suicide-proof, of course. But, these researchers argue, if
the walkway over a bridge is fenced off, a struggling college freshman cannot
throw herself over the side. If parents leave guns in a locked safe, a teenage
son cannot shoot himself if he suddenly decides life is hopeless.
With the focus on who dies by suicide, these experts say, not enough attention
has been paid to restricting the means to do it — particularly access to guns.
“You can reduce the rate of suicide in the United States substantially, without
attending to underlying mental health problems, if fewer people had guns in
their homes and fewer people who are at risk for suicide had access to guns in
their home,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, a director of Harvard Injury Control
About 90 percent of the people who try suicide and live ultimately never die by
suicide. If the people who died had not had easy access to lethal means,
researchers like Dr. Miller reason, most would still be alive.
The public has long held the opposite perception. In 2006, researchers at the
Harvard center published an opinion survey about people who jump from the Golden
Gate Bridge. Seventy-four percent of respondents believed that most or all
jumpers would have completed suicide some other way if they had been deterred.
“People think of suicide in this linear way, as if you get more and more
depressed and go on to create a more specific plan,” Ms. Barber said.
In fact, suicide is often a convergence of factors leading to a sudden, tragic
event. In one study of people who survived a suicide attempt, almost half
reported that the whole process, from the first suicidal thought to the final
act, took 10 minutes or less.
Among those who thought about it a little longer (say, for about an hour), more
than three-quarters acted within 10 minutes once the decision was made.
“We’re very bad at predicting who from a group of at-risk people will go on to
complete suicide,” Dr Miller said. “We can say it will be about 10 out of the
100 who are at risk. But which 10, we don’t know.”
Dr. Igor Galynker, the director of biological psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth
Israel, noted that in one study, 60 percent of patients who were judged to be at
low risk died of suicide after their discharge from an acute care psychiatric
“The assessments are not good,” he said. So Dr. Galynker and his colleagues are
developing a novel suicide assessment to predict imminent risk, based upon new
findings about the acute suicidal state.
“What people experience before attempting suicide is a combination of panic,
agitation and franticness,” he said. “A desire to escape from unbearable pain
and feeling trapped.”
Sometimes, depression isn’t even in the picture. In one study, 60 percent of
college students who said they were thinking about ways to kill themselves
tested negative for depression.
“There are kids for whom it’s very difficult to predict suicide — there doesn’t
seem to be that much that is wrong with them,” said Dr. David Brent, an
adolescent psychiatrist who studies suicide at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Brent’s research showed that 40 percent of children younger than 16 who died
by suicide did not have a clearly definable psychiatric disorder.
What they did have was a loaded gun in the home.
“If the kids are under 16, the availability of a gun is more important than
psychiatric disorder,” Dr. Brent said. “They’re not suicidal one minute, then
they are. Or they’re mad and they have a gun available.”
Availability is a consistent factor in how most people choose to attempt
suicide, said Ms. Barber, regardless of age. People trying to die by suicide
tend to choose not the most effective method, but the one most at hand.
“Some methods have a case fatality rate as low as 1 or 2 percent,” she said.
“With a gun, it’s closer to 85 or 90 percent. So it makes a difference what
you’re reaching for in these low-planned or unplanned suicide attempts.”
Statistically, having a gun in the home increases the probability of suicide for
all age groups. If the gun is unloaded and locked away, the risk is reduced. If
there is no gun in the house at all, the suicide risk goes down even further.
Findings like these are far from popular. Taxpayers resist spending public money
on infrastructure that they believe will not prevent people determined to die by
suicide, and the political tide has turned against gun control. But growing
evidence of suicide’s unpredictability, coupled with studies showing that means
restriction can work, may leave public health officials little choice if they
wish to reduce suicide rates.
Ken Baldwin, who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived, told reporters
that he knew as soon as he had jumped that he had made a terrible mistake. He
wanted to live. Mr. Baldwin was lucky.
Ms. Barber tells another story: On a friend’s very first day as an emergency
room physician, a patient was wheeled in, a young man who had shot himself in a
suicide attempt. “He was begging the doctors to save him,” she said. But they
A version of this article appears in print on March 10, 2015, on page D2 of the
New York edition with the headline: Blocking the Paths to Suicide.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Terri Hall’s anxiety was back, making her hands
shake as she tried to light a cigarette on the stoop of her faded apartment
building. She had no appetite, and her mind galloped as she grasped for an
answer to her latest setback.
In January, almost immediately after she got Medicaid coverage through the
Affordable Care Act, she had called a community mental health agency seeking
help for the depression and anxiety that had so often consumed her.
Now she was getting therapy for the first time, and it was helping, no question.
She just wished she could go more often. The agency, Seven Counties Services,
has been deluged with new Medicaid recipients, and Ms. Hall has had to wait up
to seven weeks between appointments with her therapist, Erin Riedel, whose
caseload has more than doubled.
“She’s just awesome,” Ms. Hall said. “But she’s busy, very busy.”
The Affordable Care Act has paved the way for a vast expansion of mental health
coverage in America, providing access for millions of people who were previously
uninsured or whose policies did not include such coverage before. Under the law,
mental health treatment is an “essential” benefit that must be covered by
Medicaid and every private plan sold through the new online insurance
The need is widely viewed as great: Nearly one in five Americans has a
diagnosable mental illness, according to the Department of Health and Human
Services, but most get no treatment. If the law’s goal is met, advocates
say, it will reduce not only personal suffering but also exorbitant economic
costs, like the higher rate of general health problems among those with mental
illnesses, and their lost productivity.
Kentucky has been trying to overhaul its mental health system, partly by
allowing private psychologists and social workers to accept Medicaid patients
for the first time. The change is crucial, state officials say, because 85
percent of the 521,000 Kentuckians who got coverage through the state’s new
insurance exchange this year were poor enough to enroll in Medicaid. Previously,
only psychologists and social workers at community health centers like Seven
Counties, which are quasi-governmental agencies, could provide outpatient
therapy to Medicaid recipients here. Now, more than 1,000 private mental health
providers statewide have signed up to treat Medicaid enrollees, according to the
But shortfalls in care persist. In Louisville, a city of 600,000 where The New
York Times is looking periodically at the law’s impact, most new Medicaid
enrollees are flowing to four adult mental health clinics run by Seven Counties.
Calls to the agency’s access line, the starting point for new clients, are up by
more than 40 percent this year, said Kelley Gannon, its chief operating officer.
Seven Counties declared bankruptcy last year in the face of spiraling pension
costs, and a federal judge ruled that the agency could leave the state pension
system. Ms. Gannon says the services it provides are not in jeopardy.
Continue reading the main story
The last time Ms. Hall had seen Ms. Riedel, in late June, they had talked about
her plans to return to school with a Pell Grant and work toward an associate
degree. But the next day, an eviction notice arrived in Ms. Hall’s mailbox. She
had fallen behind on her rent and was being ordered to court. The coping
techniques she learned in therapy — taking long walks and deep, slow breaths,
for example — were not helping. Nor were the antidepressants and mood stabilizer
that a Seven Counties psychiatrist prescribed. And her next therapy appointment
was still more than four weeks away.
Ms. Hall is 52, with spiky, short blond hair and a deeply lined face that
attests to a life roiled by stress. Addictions to alcohol and the anti-anxiety
drug Xanax ended her marriage and gravely damaged her relationship with her son,
who is now 27. She faced losing her small downtown apartment, and with no income
at the moment other than a $600 monthly alimony check, her forward momentum was
“I haven’t felt this way since I got my divorce,” she said as she stamped out
her cigarette, speaking fast and sweating in the damp morning heat. “Then, I
went back to Xanax, and I don’t want to do that this time. I want to be able to
handle this somehow.”
Treating the Community
Tana Jo Wright is doing her part to treat new Medicaid recipients with mental
health problems. It is just not as easy as she would like.
A licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Wright opened her own practice last fall
after working at a busy community clinic in the blighted West End of Louisville.
In a tiny rented office with a vase of peacock feathers on her desk, she is
seeing 15 clients, several of them new Medicaid recipients.
Like their physician counterparts, many private therapists refuse to accept
Medicaid, which pays on average about 66 percent of what Medicare does. In
addition, some therapists say, the paperwork takes too much time and the poor —
who often experience more violence and trauma than those who are better off —
are too challenging to treat. But Ms. Wright, 47, has a different outlook. She
grew up in rural Lebanon, Ky., had a tumultuous relationship with her adoptive
parents and was battered by a boyfriend at 16.
“Those experiences told me that people really need someone who will listen to
them,” she said. “And I thought: ‘You can do that. You would be a good therapist
because you know what people go through.’ ”
She has worked with drug addicts at a methadone clinic, with abused children and
teenagers at Seven Counties, and with low-income adults at Family Health
Centers, the clinic in the West End. Now that she is building her own practice,
she sees more clients with Medicare and private insurance. But she said she
remained committed to treating people on Medicaid, motivated by the therapists
who agreed to see her when she was struggling.
“I believe in treating the whole community,” Ms. Wright said, “including people
who can’t afford to pay.”
The new law is a big opportunity for mental health providers to reach more
people of all income levels. But in Kentucky and the 25 other states that chose
to expand Medicaid, the biggest expansion of mental health care has been for
poor people who may have never had such treatment before.
Still, private providers face considerable headaches in taking on Medicaid
patients, beyond the long-term deterrent of low reimbursement. Ms. Wright, for
instance, is still waiting to be approved by some of the managed care companies
that provide benefits to Medicaid recipients. Eager to build her client base,
Ms. Wright has taken on a handful of new Medicaid enrollees for free while she
waits for those companies to approve her paperwork.
“It’s been months and months,” she said. “It’s always there in my mind: Am I
going to make it?”
Her clients, and the progress she sees in them, are her sustenance. There is a
young man scarred by gang violence; an older woman whose daughter was murdered
years ago; a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. And there is Sarah
Davis, a Louisville native struggling to get past the bullying she experienced
as a child and her negative feelings about her hometown.
Ms. Davis, 30, was teaching English in Japan when the devastating earthquake and
tsunami struck in 2011. She came home, suffering nightmares and panic attacks
and clashing with her parents as she tried to readjust. Earning less than
$15,000 a year as a home health aide, Ms. Davis qualified for Medicaid under the
new law. She heard about Ms. Wright from someone at a meditation session and has
been seeing her once a week.
“So what’s happening?” Ms. Wright asked as Ms. Davis settled into a soft chair
in her office one summer afternoon, tucking her legs underneath her.
They talked about Ms. Davis’s precarious finances and her trouble finding a job
she loved. Then they returned to a familiar theme: Ms. Davis missing her life
abroad and chafing against the realities of adulthood in Louisville, where she
felt isolated and judged.
“My life used to be so beautiful and colorful, and I want that back,” she told
“There are some great things about this town if you open yourself up to
experiences,” Ms. Wright countered as a small fan ruffled the peacock feathers.
Ms. Davis allowed that she had gotten back in touch with an old friend the
previous week and struck up a conversation with a new neighbor. Ms. Wright, who
has an emphatic laugh and a penchant for colorful “bling rings,” leaned forward
“Two times you’ve told me you stepped out of your comfort zone. That is
progress!” she said. “Take that in.”
As a teenage loner in Elizabethtown, Ky., Ms. Hall never felt normal. “I knew
something was wrong with me,” she said, “but I didn’t know what.” She had a
chronically ill mother and a domineering father. Always anxious, swinging
between high moods and low, she started drinking heavily after she got married
Ms. Hall temporarily stopped drinking when her son was born a few years later.
But then she became addicted to Xanax — “I was still numbing myself,” she said —
and resumed drinking once her son started kindergarten.
Her husband divorced her in 2004 and married one of their friends. She made
several suicide attempts, she said. After her father paid for her to go to
rehab, she moved to Louisville in 2011 to live in a halfway house for recovering
addicts. When she found the rental apartment last year, she sold her last asset,
a car, so that she could afford the rent of $475 a month plus utilities. She was
working at the time, running concession stands at sporting events, but making
only about $500 a month.
By the beginning of this year, loneliness and grief about her severed
relationships with her ex-husband, son and other family members threatened to
swallow her again.
Without therapy, “I would have gone back to drinking and using drugs, because I
was hurting so bad that there was nothing left for me to do,” she said. “I knew
I would not live the rest of this year.”
In an interview, Ms. Riedel, 33, said that Ms. Hall’s therapy sessions had been
successful because she had been so motivated — so desperate — to change.
“She’s still struggling with some pretty serious life issues,” she said, “but
her attitude has changed so much. She’s so much more optimistic.”
As her outlook improved in recent months, Ms. Hall busied herself with other
projects. Besides registering for community college and applying successfully
for a Pell Grant, she used her new health insurance to get treatment for spinal
stenosis, which causes pain and numbness in the legs and back, and forced her,
she said, to leave her job. She also sought assistance from an agency that helps
people with disabilities, which gave her some tuition money and is helping her
look for jobs.
Even when adversity struck, Ms. Hall stayed purposeful. Within a day of getting
the eviction notice, she gathered the names of a dozen organizations that might
provide rent assistance, dialing one after the other from her mother’s antique
rocking chair in her apartment. She did not find any organization willing to
help pay her back rent, but her relentless research did lead to another option.
For $248 a month, she could move to a privately operated “sober living” house.
She started packing her apartment, but took a break one recent morning to attend
a group-therapy session with Ms. Riedel.
“We haven’t really gotten to talk, and so much has happened,” she said. “I just
want her to be proud.”
As of that morning in mid-July, Ms. Riedel’s schedule was booked six weeks out;
her caseload had grown in the past year to 263 clients, up from 100 just a year
before. But Seven Counties was hiring new therapists, Ms. Riedel said, and she
hoped to soon return to seeing Ms. Hall once every two weeks.
Given the long waits for individual therapy sessions, Seven Counties is urging
new clients to also try group therapy, for which there is no wait. Ms. Hall has
sometimes attended Ms. Riedel’s weekly “Empowering Women” group, and at one
recent session, she sat at an oval table with Ms. Riedel and four other women,
paper and pen before her in case she gleaned something interesting. She was
quiet as several of the others discussed their own problems: an abusive
relationship; binge-eating; regret about growing old.
Finally, it was her turn. “Terri, how about you?” Ms. Riedel asked.
“Well, I got an eviction notice,” she said. “But I found a place, it’s for sober
living. The woman who runs it accepted my application, but she wants to meet
with me and talk first. I’m just praying everything goes well.”
A week later, things took another turn for the worse. Ms. Hall went home to
Elizabethtown and stayed a day longer than she had planned to attend a family
funeral. When she returned, she learned that she had lost the room in the
sober-living house because she had not arrived on the appointed date.
She moved in temporarily with a neighbor, and then a friend, leaving her few
possessions in the basement of her former building. She attended more group
therapy sessions, thought about college starting and pictured herself in her
first class: psychology. Last week, she finally returned to Ms. Riedel’s office,
her hands shaking again as she unloaded weeks’ worth of tribulations. She talked
about the pain of being judged by her family — if they knew about her eviction,
she said, “they’d be madder than heck at me.” With Ms. Riedel’s support, she
decided to stop contacting them for now.
She also discussed her fear of not finding a new home, and Ms. Riedel offered
reassurance. “You are taking steps toward a career that will give you a steady
income,” she said. “You are a very resilient person. I see this as you
The 45 minutes flew and they made another appointment, only two weeks away. Ms.
Riedel said that in the meantime, she would see if Medicaid would pay for a
caseworker to help Ms. Hall with things like finding housing.
“Are you feeling O.K. right now?” Ms. Riedel asked as Ms. Hall got up to leave.
“Yes,” Ms. Hall said, tucking away her appointment card. “I’ll be fine.”
A version of this article appears in print on August 28, 2014,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Expansion of Mental Health
Care Hits Obstacles.
EVERY year, antibiotic-resistant infections kill at least
23,000 Americans and make another two million sick, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why a recent ruling by the United
States Second Circuit Court of Appeals is so appalling.
It allows the federal Food and Drug Administration to leave an antibiotic used
in animal feed on the market even if the agency openly states that the drug’s
use is not safe and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance in people. This
means that the dangerous misuse of antibiotics in industrial livestock and
poultry can continue unabated.
For years industrial meat and poultry producers have fed healthy animals
antibiotics to fatten them up fast. The antibiotics also prevent disease in what
are often overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. This practice breeds
antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten us all.
The F.D.A. has issued a toothless voluntary guidance document for the industry,
which requires no action to reduce antibiotic use and will therefore do little
to nothing to stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Why should we be concerned? Because the superbugs bred on industrial farms can
easily travel to us in our food — as in the recent antibiotic-resistant
salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that has sickened over 600
people. The superbugs also get into our water and our soil. Some of the
antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause life-threatening infections.
While prescribing unnecessary antibiotics to people is one widely known cause of
the problem, the C.D.C. and leading medical groups have identified the misuse of
drugs in livestock and poultry operations as another important contributor. Dr.
Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director, has said of antibiotic resistance, “If
we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the
antibiotics we need to save lives.” That’s a truly terrifying prospect.
And it’s one we don’t need to face. Although many industrial farmers claim that
cleaning up their act will cost the rest of us at the cash register, responsible
producers from Missouri to Denmark are already raising healthy livestock and
poultry at competitive prices without the use of unnecessary drugs. Some
mainstream food companies and their suppliers are starting to move in that
direction, but it’s time all of the big meat and poultry firms joined them.
A fifth-generation pork producer, Russ Kremer of Missouri, is showing the way.
In 1989, after an antibiotic-resistant infection from one of his pigs nearly
killed him, he realized the danger of his antibiotic-dependent methods and
decided to start over. He now raises pigs the natural way — free-roaming and
without drugs — for his company, Heritage Acres Food. Today, buyers of his pork
include Chipotle and Costco. He also leads a thriving pork cooperative, showing
dozens of producers that they, too, can make similar conversions at a profit.
And Mr. Kremer is hardly alone. In Denmark, one of the world’s largest pork
exporters, industrial farmers have cut overall antibiotic use by more than 40
percent while increasing production. The European Union, with its additional 27
member nations, also prohibits the misuse of growth-promoting antibiotics.
While the F.D.A. continues to drag its feet, it’s time for cooks and consumers
to step in. We can play an important, proactive role in protecting against
superbugs by changing the marketplace. Insist that your supermarkets stock meat
and poultry raised without antibiotics. Demand that your restaurants do the
same. An increasing number of major food companies, including Whole Foods,
Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Applegate and Panera Bread, have gotten on board, proof
that as we vote with our wallets and our roasting pans, producers will rise to
Food should be delicious. It should also be good for you. We shouldn’t have to
worry that we’re endangering our health each time we put a morsel of meat into
our mouths. Rather than protecting the unsafe practices of the country’s animal
agriculture industry, it’s time the F.D.A. followed its mandate and put
America’s health first.
Ruth Reichl, a food writer and author, is a former restaurant critic for The New
York Times and editor of Gourmet.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on July 31, 2014,
on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline:
The F.D.A.’s Blatant Failure on Food.
June 23, 2014
The New York Times
By JANE E. BRODY
Hot weather kills more Americans than all other natural
disasters combined, and the casualties continue to climb despite decades of
warnings about how to recognize the signs of heat stress and take prompt
With climate change, some experts predict ever-worsening summer heat waves and
even more related illnesses and deaths. The Natural Resources Defense Council
estimates that excessive heat caused by climate change could kill more than
150,000 Americans by the end of the century in the 40 largest cities.
“As carbon pollution continues to rise, the number of dangerously hot days each
summer will increase even further, leading to a dramatic increase in the number
of lives lost,” the council reported.
Extreme heat claims an average of 117 lives each year, but the real incidence
is likely far higher. In addition, about 1,800 people die from illnesses made
worse by heat, the council estimates.
“Death rates from many causes rise during heat waves that are related to heat
but not reported as such,” said Dr. Christopher B. Colwell, director of
emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center. “Lots of deaths that occur
during heat waves are attributed to natural causes like heart attacks, kidney
disease or respiratory disease.”
Especially at risk are the elderly, young children, athletes of all ages and
weekend warriors whose bodies are not adapted to heat stress.
“As common as the problem is, it’s not common enough to grab people’s attention
until it hits close to home,” Dr. Colwell said in an interview.
Even a high-profile death, like that of Korey Stringer, 27, a Minnesota Vikings
offensive tackle who suffered heatstroke after a summer morning practice in
2001, has not prompted all coaches to take necessary precautions.
“Many coaches have held practices in the heat for years and no one died, so they
think a bigger deal is being made of the problem than it really is,” Dr. Colwell
In the six years before Stringer’s death, 19 high school and college players
died from heatstroke, according to researchers at the University of North
Carolina. Too often, a player suffering from heat exhaustion, the first stage of
a potentially life-threatening heat illness, is sent back on the field after a
brief rest instead of being benched for the day or longer.
While deaths of healthy young athletes tend to be well publicized, the elderly
are much more likely to succumb to extreme heat. Dr. Colwell explained that with
age, the body’s ability to cool itself declines. Among other changes, blood
vessels don’t dilate as readily to allow heat to escape, a problem made worse by
conditions like congestive heart failure and peripheral vascular disease.
Many older people without air-conditioning or fans may not know when to get out
of the heat, or they may be physically unable to leave an overheated dwelling.
Dehydration, a common problem among the elderly as well as among younger people
who exercise strenuously, raises the risk of heat illness by diminishing the
body’s ability to lose heat.
Medications taken by many older people also increase their vulnerability to heat
stress, among them beta blockers prescribed for high blood pressure and
anticholinergics used to treat lung problems and urinary incontinence.
Other drugs, too, can contribute to a hypersensitivity to heat, including
lithium, tricyclic antidepressants, antihistamines and antispasmodics.
Recreational drugs, like cocaine, amphetamines, PCP and alcohol, can be a
problem as well.
Heat illness often occurs several days into a heat wave, as the effects on the
The body normally operates within a rather narrow temperature range. If body
temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, enzymes begin to break down and
normal metabolic processes are disrupted. When Stringer collapsed, his
temperature registered above 108 degrees.
Body heat is dissipated through four mechanisms: conduction, convection,
radiation and evaporation. When the air temperature rises above 98.6 degrees,
heat cannot be conducted away from the body unless a significant breeze creates
a convection current, or windchill.
Heat radiates from the body when blood vessels are maximally dilated and the air
temperature is lower than body temperature. But the most effective natural
coolant is sweat; as it collects on the skin and evaporates, it draws heat from
The risk of heat illness rises with the heat index, a combined measure of air
temperature and relative humidity. When the humidity is high (or too much
clothing is worn), sweat simply rolls off the skin without evaporating and
Coaches, take note: depending on athletes’ ages, intensity of activity and
degree of acclimatization, you should consider canceling practice and games when
the heat index exceeds 105, experts say. City dwellers are most at risk during
heat waves because paved surfaces, tall buildings and minimal tree cover enhance
heat absorption, creating a “heat island.”
Heat illness is a form of hyperthermia, defined as a rise in core body
temperature. But it does not respond to fever-reducing medications, making it
extremely important to recognize heat exhaustion, an early sign of trouble.
Common complaints include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea and
Dr. Colwell explained that the brain’s cerebellum is especially sensitive to
heat, which explains the early signs of a heatstroke: unsteady gait, confusion
and disorientation. Heatstroke, characterized by a rise in body temperature
above 104 degrees, has a death rate as high as 50 percent. Symptoms typically
include a change in mental status, like delirium, seizures or even coma.
Among the elderly, heatstroke most often develops gradually, over several hot
days. But among otherwise healthy people engaged in strenuous exercise, it tends
to occur suddenly, within minutes to hours, which demands particular attention
to early symptoms.
JUNE 20, 2014
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Post-traumatic stress disorder has reached staggering
levels in the American military. An estimated 7 percent to 20 percent of all
service members and veterans who have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
may have the disorder, and rising percentages of veterans from earlier conflicts
are also afflicted.
The Departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs have poured billions of
dollars into treating the debilitating condition. Yet neither department really
knows whether the treatments offered and applied are effective, according to a
report issued Friday by the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National
Academy of Sciences, which had been asked by Congress to evaluate the programs.
The disorder is characterized by severe mental health problems — like repeatedly
reliving a battlefield trauma, hiding from anything that might trigger those
memories, and adverse swings in moods or thoughts — that persist for at least a
month and impair functioning.
Such symptoms can occur soon after a traumatic event or not until years later.
The disorder can last a lifetime, and it can impair physical and mental health,
family and social relationships and the ability to perform a job.
Since October 2001, more than 2.6 million American military personnel have been
deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The proportion of service members who have
PTSD increased from less than 1 percent in 2004 to more than 5 percent in 2012.
In that year, some 500,000 veterans made at least two visits to veterans’
hospitals or clinics for outpatient care of the disorder; they made up 9 percent
of all users of V.A. health services, up from 4 percent in 2002. The Defense
Department spent some $294 million and Veterans Affairs some $3 billion on care
for the disorder in 2012.
The agencies have combined to develop and disseminate clinical guidelines to
help doctors choose the best treatments, such as various psychotherapies and
pharmacotherapies that are backed by scientific evidence. Yet none of this
knowledge is applied consistently. The Institute of Medicine said it was unclear
what therapies most military members or veterans get and whether their symptoms
improve as a result.
Although the departments have substantially increased their mental health
staffing in recent years, the demand for services has increased even faster,
causing yearslong waits for what V.A. doctors consider “minimally adequate
mental health care.” Another impediment is lack of coordination between the two
What is needed, the institute’s report says, is a better integrated approach and
the collection of data to document which practices and treatments work best and
how patients progress over the years. Those who have suffered mental trauma on
the battlefield deserve the best care the nation can provide.
A version of this editorial appears in print on June 21, 2014,
on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline:
2014 2:30 pm
The New York Times
By ROBERT BALFANZ
- A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
month, more than three million high school students will receive their diplomas.
At more than 80 percent, America’s graduation rate is at a record high. More
kids are going to college, too. But one-third of the nation’s African-American
and Latino young men will not graduate.
In an era when there is virtually no legal work for dropouts, these young men
face a bleak future. It is not news that the students who don’t make it out of
high school largely come from our poorest neighborhoods, but the degree to which
they are hyper-concentrated in a small set of schools is alarming. In fact,
according to new research I conducted with my colleagues at Johns Hopkins
University, half of the African-American boys who veer off the path to high
school graduation do so in just 660 of more than 12,600 regular and vocational
These 660 schools are typically big high schools that teach only poor kids of
color. They are concentrated in 15 states. Many are in major cities, but others
are in smaller, decaying industrial cities or in the South, especially in
Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
This seemingly intractable problem is a national tragedy, but there is a
solution. In the high schools where most of the young men are derailed, the
number of ninth-grade boys who desperately need better schooling and extra
support is typically between 50 and 100. Keeping many or even most of those boys
on track in each entering ninth-grade class in 660 schools does not seem
If we know where to focus our efforts, we can put strategies in place that have
shown promise, particularly over the last few years. While early childhood is
critical, the most treacherous time for young African-American and Latino men is
from ages 11 to 21. At the very moment they are the most developmentally
vulnerable, the response from schools, foster care, the health system and child
protective services gets weaker, while the response from the justice system is
harsher. Their family responsibilities grow, and their neighborhoods turn
meaner. Their middle and high school experience becomes make or break.
But the secondary schools these students attend are not specifically designed
for them. It is not unusual for up to half the students to miss a month or more
of school, and often more students are suspended in a year than graduate. In a
22-school sample that we studied closely, nearly all ninth-grade students were
either too old for their grades, had repeated ninth grade, needed special
education, were chronically absent or had academic skills at the seventh grade
level or below. The norm in this environment is to fail classes and then repeat
ninth grade. But most students do no better the second time around. Either they
drop out then or they may briefly transfer to another school before dropping out
later. This is a highly predictable, almost mechanical course, which is why we
call those schools dropout factories.
We have also learned that most students who eventually drop out can be
identified as early as the sixth grade by their attendance, behavior and course
performance, according to studies by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns
Hopkins, where I am the director, and the University of Chicago Consortium on
Chicago School Research. Using those indicators, it is possible to identify by
the middle of ninth grade virtually everyone who will drop out. These young men
are waving their hands early and often to say they need help, but our
educational and student-support systems aren’t organized to recognize and
respond to their distress signals.
In 2008, my colleagues and I decided to focus on those struggling sixth and
ninth graders. What if we reorganized entire schools with teams of teachers who
shared a common group of students? What if we added more time for English and
math and offered coaching for teachers and principals? What if we welcomed
students to school, called them if they didn’t show up and helped with homework?
What if we used an early warning system that identified struggling students
based on their poor attendance, behavior and course performance and then worked
to get each student back on track?
To try to provide all that, we developed Diplomas Now, a partnership of three
national nonprofits, which works with more than 30,000 students in 40 of the
toughest middle and high schools in 14 big cities. (Although I am focusing here
on boys, because they have lower graduation rates than girls, the program is
To evaluate our progress, MDRC, a social policy research organization, is
conducting a randomized field trial. Initial indications are positive. In the
2012-13 school year, the program achieved a 41 percent reduction in chronically
absent students, a 70 percent reduction in suspended students, a 69 percent
reduction in students failing English and a 52 percent reduction in students
This is not an anomalous result. A recent study of public schools in Chicago
shows that getting students back on track in the ninth grade leads to higher
graduation rates and that African-American males in particular experience the
greatest benefits when schools are reorganized to focus on ninth grade.
What do we need to do on a national scale? First, high-poverty secondary schools
need to be redesigned with the special problems of their students in mind, with
a focus on freshman year. In practice, this means starting new schools and
transforming existing ones.
Second, early warning systems need to be instituted so that teachers and other
committed adults can step in at the first sign a student is in trouble, whether
it’s cutting class, mouthing off or floundering in English or math.
Third, we should employ additional adults to support students who need daily
nagging and nurturing to succeed, especially during the key transitional years
in sixth and ninth grades.
We also need the larger community, including local businesses and faith-based
organizations, to mentor students by showing them how to set goals, apply to
college and acquire workplace skills.
This sounds expensive, but it does not have to be, particularly if we stop
wasting money on failed strategies like holding kids back in high school. Asking
struggling students to repeat a grade under the same circumstances almost
guarantees the same result.
We are already paying a lot for failure. On average, holding a student back
costs $11,000. The 660 high schools that produce half of African-American male
dropouts spend more than $500 million a year to retain more than 46,000 boys and
girls in ninth grade.
There is an unexpected path forward, the outlines of which are in view. We can
provide our most vulnerable children with a better chance for adult success.
They deserve no less.
is a research professor
Hopkins University School of Education
director of the Everyone Graduates Center.
A version of this article appears in print on 06/08/2014,
on page SR5 of
the NewYork edition with the headline:
MAY 21, 2014
The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributors
By MADELINE HALPERT
and EVA ROSENFELD
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — MOST of our closest friends didn’t know
that we struggled with depression. It just wasn’t something we discussed with
our high school classmates. We found that we both had taken Prozac only when one
of us caught a glimpse of a prescription bottle in a suitcase during a
journalism conference last November. For the first time, we openly discussed our
feelings and our use of antidepressants with someone who could relate. We took a
risk sharing our experiences with depression, but in our honesty, we found a
support system. We knew we had to take the idea further.
In the United States, for people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is
the third leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Untreated depression is one of the leading causes of suicide.
According to the National Comorbidity Survey: Adolescent Supplement, 11 percent
of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.
We were not alone. We wondered why, with so many teenagers dealing with
depression, it was still addressed in such impersonal ways.
As editors at our high school newspaper, we decided to fight against the stigma
and proposed devoting a whole edition to personal stories from our peers who
were suffering from mental illness. We wanted honesty with no anonymity.
We knew that discussing mental health in this way would be edgy, even for our
progressive community in Michigan. But we were shocked when the school
administration would not allow us to publish the articles.
With the help of other journalism students, we interviewed teenagers from around
our school district who shared stories of depression, eating disorders,
homelessness, prescription abuse, insomnia and anxiety. Many discussed their
personal struggles for the first time. All agreed to attach their full name — no
anonymity or pseudonyms. Following online recommendations of the Student Press
Law Center, we asked the parents of each student to sign consent forms for the
As we were putting the stories together, the head of our school called us into
her office to tell us about a former college football player from our area who
had struggled with depression and would be willing to let us interview him. We
wondered why she was proposing this story to us since he wasn’t a current high
school student. We declined her suggestion. We didn’t want to replace these
deeply personal articles about our peers with a piece about someone removed from
the students. After we asked her why she was suggesting this, she told us that
she couldn’t support our moving forward with the articles.
From an administrative perspective, this made some sense. It is her job to
protect the students to the best of her ability. She believed that the
well-being of those who shared their experiences — and most important, their
names — would be put at risk because of potential bullying. She also mentioned
that she had consulted a mental health professional, who told her that reading
about their own depression could trigger a recurrence in some of the students
and that those who committed to telling their stories might regret it later.
Our school has a very tolerant atmosphere, and it even has a depression
awareness group, so this response seemed uncharacteristic. We were surprised
that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness
were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not
talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were
trying to eliminate.
The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be
exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals
to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer
who has faced similar struggles. And, most important to us, no one afflicted
with a mental illness should have to believe that it’s something he should feel
obliged to hide in the first place. If someone has an illness such as diabetes,
she is not discouraged from speaking about it. Depression does not indicate
mental weakness. It is a disorder, often a flaw of biology, not one of
By interviewing these teenagers for our newspaper, we tried — and failed — to
start small in the fight against stigma. Unfortunately, we’ve learned this won’t
be easy. It seems that those who are charged with advocating for our well-being
aren’t ready yet to let us have an open and honest dialogue about depression.
Madeline Halpert, a junior,
and Eva Rosenfeld, a sophomore,
are managing editors at their high school newspaper
A version of this op-ed appears in print on May 22, 2014,
on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline:
MAY 4, 2014 The New York Times
The Opinion Pages | Editorial
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The good news from last week’s economic reports is this: April
was the best month for job growth in quite a while. Employers added 288,000
jobs, bringing the average for the last three months to a respectable 238,000.
But let’s keep this milestone in perspective: wages remained flat, nearly 10
million unemployed people are looking for jobs, and millions more have become so
disenchanted that they have given up on finding work altogether. That the
unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent in April from 6.7 percent a month earlier
is due mainly to the fact that the number of people looking for jobs fell. The
percentage of Americans 16 and over who are working or looking for work was just
62.8 percent, the lowest level since the late 1970s.
Moreover, even if job growth continued at last month’s solid, steady pace, the
country would not have a labor market as healthy as the one it had before the
recession started in December 2007 until the end of 2016, according to
calculations by Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
Put differently, it would take the economy nine years to recoup the jobs lost
during the recession plus those needed to employ new workers during the slow
The economic recovery that began in June 2009 has been the weakest the country
has experienced since World War II, according to an analysis by the Federal
Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. But it did not have to be. Lawmakers in Washington
have repeatedly undermined the recovery by emphasizing deficit reduction rather
than economic growth. They have also stood in the way of proposals that would
have helped the unemployed and workers at the lowest rungs of the economy.
To take two recent outrages, the Republican-controlled House has refused to take
up a measure passed by the Senate that would reinstate extended unemployment
benefits to people who have been out of work for six months or more. The
long-term unemployed make up more than one-third of everyone who is classified
as unemployed — those out of work and looking for a job — but helping them
strikes legislators like Tom Cole of Oklahoma as “pie in the sky.”
And last week, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a bill that would have
raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25 an hour, which
would help the working poor while providing a much-needed boost to the economy.
But Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, would have you believe
that giving the poorest workers a raise is a “stale, bankrupt, ineffective
People like Mr. Cole and Mr. Alexander speak as if the formal end of the
recession five years ago put everything right. But everything is not right for
the millions of Americans whose jobs, wages and livelihoods disappeared in those
A version of this editorial appears in print on May 5, 2014,
on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline:
2014 The New York Times
The Opinion Pages|Op-Ed Contributor
By STEVE COHEN
admission notifications have begun to arrive. With every thrilling acceptance
comes something far less welcome: the heart-stopping reality of what it all
Tuition has risen almost 1,200 percent in the last 35 years, and the sticker
price for many four-year private colleges and out-of-state public universities
exceeds $250,000. Even at state universities, the average four-year cost for
residents is more than $80,000 for tuition, room, board and expenses. But
every college offers need-based financial aid, right? Well, sort of.
A college aid package can be made up of three elements: grants (sometimes called
scholarships), loans and work-study programs. The biggest single source of aid
is the federal government — but in the form of loans ($68 billion, 37 percent of
all aid, in 2013). About 5 percent of aid comes from states and a large part
from the college’s own resources. Much of the college’s contribution comes in
the form of a discount from the school’s already inflated tuition, which, with a
straight face, administrators call a grant.
When colleges compute their aid packages, they start with a student’s expected
family contribution — that is, what the government expects a family to be able
to contribute, not what the family expects. The E.F.C. is calculated by the
federal government based on data submitted by the family on the Fafsa form (the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is mandatory if the student
wants any sort of financial aid, even work-study jobs in the school cafeteria).
The Fafsa’s complexity rivals that of a tax return, but it is less user
Weeks after submitting their Fafsa to the federal Department of Education,
families are told what their expected contribution is. The formula itself is set
by Congress. For most middle-class families, the number is shocking because it
has little basis in real-life economics.
Consider a family of four, earning $100,000 in income and having $50,000 in
savings. The E.F.C. says that this family will contribute $17,375 each year to a
child’s college expenses. A $100,000 income translates into take-home pay of
about $6,311 monthly. An E.F.C. of $17,375 means the family must contribute
about $1,500 a month — every month for four years. But cutting family expenses
by 25 percent every month is unrealistic.
Alternatively, the family could use its savings. But that would deplete their
$50,000 before the start of the child’s senior year, leaving nothing for the
proverbial rainy day, or for the second child’s education.
Financial advisers familiar with the peculiarities of the college aid world say
there isn’t much they can do to help once families receive their E.F.C. As Ian
Welham, the founder of Complete College Planning Solutions, told me, “When
families see their E.F.C. number for the first time, most parents ask, ‘Is this
for four years?’ I have to tell them, ‘No, that’s just for one year.’ I also
have to explain that the E.F.C. is the minimum a family is going to pay. In many
cases, they’re asked to pay considerably more.”
When colleges craft a student’s financial aid package, the school deducts the
E.F.C. from the sticker-price tuition, room, board and expenses to establish a
family’s need. It then allocates federal money the child is eligible for, and
only last does it dip into its own resources, if the school has money available.
Private colleges have more flexibility. Because some of the wealthiest schools,
like Princeton, have basically eliminated loans entirely from their packages for
middle-class families, it can be less costly to attend a private college with a
higher sticker price than a state university with lower tuition. State schools
have smaller endowments and less money for financial aid.
But what about the huge federal scholarship programs Congress regularly
trumpets? Most are not available to middle-class families; only federally
subsidized loans are. And at 3.86 percent subsidized interest rates — plus loan
origination fees — federal education loans are available on less attractive
terms than car loans.
The largest and best-known scholarship program is the $34 billion Pell Grant.
But 95 percent of all Pell Grants go to families earning under $58,875 annually.
For the 5 percent of middle-class families who do get Pell grants, the average
award is $2,500.
Congress has done little to help middle-class families. Seventy-one percent of
college students graduated last year with an average of $29,400 in debt.
Estimates suggest that parents have taken on almost as much.
Meanwhile, lobbying expenditures by colleges, universities and higher-education
organizations have totaled more than a half-billion dollars over the past five
years — the eighth highest special-interest category attempting to influence
I’m not suggesting that students and their parents shouldn’t contribute. But
burdening students with huge loans and parents with depleted savings is a bad
policy that is driven, in part, by unrealistic E.F.C.s.
“The E.F.C. gives colleges ‘plausible deniability,’ ” said Scott Farber,
president of A-List Education, a tutoring and education consulting company. “It
allows them to say, ‘We didn’t set these family contribution figures; the
government did.’ That artificially high E.F.C. is essentially creating an
artificial price support for colleges.”
Since Congress controls the E.F.C. formula, it makes sense for political leaders
who are serious about controlling college costs and student debt to start by
making the E.F.C. more realistic. But tinkering with the E.F.C. formula won’t be
sufficient because there are so many problems with it. For example, it doesn’t
take into consideration geographic differences in cost-of-living, or the lack of
liquidity in one’s home.
So let’s get serious instead. Congress and the president should drastically cut
the E.F.C. — by around 75 percent, to reflect the fact that since 1980 tuition
has risen at nearly five times the rate of the Consumer Price Index. Doing so
would force colleges to construct financial aid packages without the artificial
price supports of inflated contribution numbers — and make paying for college
Steve Cohen is
a lawyer at Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore
in New York
and a co-author of “Getting In: The Zinch Guide
Admissions & Financial Aid in the Digital Age.”
A version of
this op-ed appears in print on March 21, 2014,
on page A29 of
the New York edition with the headline:
MARCH 8, 2014 The New York Times
ATLANTA — WHAT strikes one American woman in four and
claims a life in the United States every six hours?
This scourge can be more unsettling to talk about than colonoscopies, and it is
so stigmatizing that most victims never seek help.
Paula Denize Lewis, an executive assistant here in Atlanta, was among those who
kept quiet about domestic violence, for that’s what I’m talking about. She tried
to cover up the black eyes and bruises when she went to work, and when she
showed up with her arm in a sling she claimed that she had fallen down the
Then one evening, she says, her alcoholic boyfriend was again beating her,
throwing beer cans at her and threatening to kill her. She ran for a telephone
in the kitchen to call 911, but he reached it first and began clubbing her on
the head with it.
Lewis reached frantically into a kitchen drawer for something to defend herself
with. “I grabbed what I could,” she said.
What she had grabbed turned out to be a paring knife. She stabbed her boyfriend
once. He died.
Lewis was jailed and charged with murder. With the help of the Women’s Resource
Center to End Domestic Violence, the charge was reduced to involuntary
manslaughter and she was sentenced to probation.
That episode underscores the way our silence and squeamishness about domestic
violence hurts everyone. If there had been earlier intervention, Lewis might
have avoided years of abuse and a felony conviction — and her boyfriend might
still be alive.
Domestic violence deserves far more attention and resources, and far more police
understanding of the complexities involved. This is not a fringe concern. It is
vast, it is outrageous, and it should be a national priority.
Women worldwide ages 15 to 44 are more likely to die or be maimed as a result of
male violence than as a consequence of war, cancer, malaria and traffic
accidents combined. Far more Americans, mostly women, have been killed in the
last dozen years at the hands of their partners than in the wars in Iraq and
American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer,
and the abuse is particularly shattering because it comes from those we have
“He’s the only person I’ve ever loved,” Ta’Farian, 24, said of her husband, whom
she met when she was an 18-year-old college student. He gradually became
violent, she says, beating her, locking her up in a closet, and destroying
“My family was like, ‘He’s your husband. You can’t leave him. How would you
support yourself?’ ”
Still, she says, it became too much, and she called 911. Police arrested him.
But she says that the day before the trial, her husband called and threatened to
kill her if she testified against him, so she says that out of a mix of fear and
love she refused to repeat in court what had happened. Her husband was let off,
and she was convicted of false reporting of a crime.
Ta’Farian is now in hiding, fearful of her husband as well as of the courts; she
dissolved into tears as she was telling her story, partly out of fear that her
conviction could cost her the custody of her son. Ayonna Johnson, who works for
the Women’s Resource Center, comforted her, saying: “You should not have gotten
punished for trying to stay alive.”
Domestic violence is infinitely complex in part because women sometimes love the
men who beat them: they don’t want the man jailed; they don’t want to end the
relationship; they just want the beatings to end.
Women can obtain temporary protective orders to keep violent boyfriends or
husbands away, but these are just pieces of paper unless they’re rigorously
enforced. Sometimes the orders even trigger a retaliatory attack on the woman,
and police officers around the country don’t always make such a case a priority
— until it becomes a murder investigation.
One way of addressing that conundrum is mandated classes for abusers, like one
run by the group Men Stopping Violence. One session I sat in on was a little
like Alcoholics Anonymous in its confessional, frank tone, but it focused on
domestic abuse. The men were encouraged to be brutally honest in examining their
shortcomings in relationships; it’s surely more effective than sending abusers
to jail to seethe at their wives and wallow in self-pity.
Sometimes there’s a perception that domestic violence is insoluble, because it’s
such a complex, messy problem with women who are culprits as well as victims.
Yet, in fact, this is an area where the United States has seen enormous
Based on victimization surveys, it seems that violence by men against their
intimate partners has fallen by almost two-thirds since 1993. Attitudes have
changed as well. In 1987, only half of Americans said that it was always wrong
for a man to beat his wife with a belt or stick; a decade later, 86 percent said
that it was always wrong.
A generation ago, police didn’t typically get involved. “We would say, ‘don’t
make us come back, or you’re both going to jail,’ ” recalled Capt. Leonard
Dreyer of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. In contrast, sheriff’s officers
now routinely arrest the aggressor.
Three steps are still needed. First, we must end the silence. Second, we must
ensure that police departments everywhere take the issue seriously before a
victim becomes a corpse. Third, offenders should be required to attend training
programs like the one run by Men Stopping Violence.
A young mom named Antonya Lewis reflects the challenges. She stayed with a
violent boyfriend for years, she said, because he was the father of her
daughters and was always so apologetic afterward — and also because that was
what she had been told was a woman’s lot in life.
“My mom always told me to suck it up,” she said. But then her boyfriend beat her
up so badly that he broke a bone near her eye and put her in the hospital. She
told him that she was done with him, and when he continued to stalk her and
threaten to kill her, she called the police — repeatedly — with little effect.
Now she has moved to a new city and is starting over.
“I didn’t want my daughters to see him beat me,” she said. “I didn’t want them
to think this is what a man can do to a woman.”
That, too, is progress.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 9, 2014,
on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline:
I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack
Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a
community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a
system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an
advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets
unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those
who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He
would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of
offenders were often two sides of the same coin.
It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago
chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the
low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to
son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the
shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration
became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the
abject failure of rehabilitation.
Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had
In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch
something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project
(after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and
devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It
seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this
president has lived up to those high expectations so far.
I’ll begin by making his excuses. The president’s powers in this area are
limited. The action (and there is a lot of it right now) is mostly at the state
level. His first term was entangled in economic crisis and health care. This
president has faced tireless and often petty resistance from the Republican
House on almost every initiative. Historically Democrats have risked being
Willie-Horton’ed if they don’t maintain a tougher-than-tough-on-crime posture.
And African-American constituents — who are also disproportionately the victims
of crime — are not necessarily bleeding-heart voters. In short, it was probably
naïve to assume that Obama was going to be the Criminal Justice Reform
And yet Obama took office at a time of tidal shifts. The economics of
imprisonment, the ebbing of crime rates, the horror stories of overcrowded
penitentiaries and the persistent activism of reform advocates had begun to
generate a public consensus that merely caging people is not a crime-fighting
strategy. Fiscal conservatives alarmed at the high cost of incarceration,
evangelicals shocked by the waste of lives, and libertarians who spotted another
realm of government power abused have clambered onto what was once a liberal
bandwagon. (How much those conservatives will be willing to invest in
alternative ways of protecting the public — drug treatment, more intensive
parole and probation programs, job training and so on — is another question.)
In his first term Obama did not make this a signature issue; he rarely mentioned
the subject. But his proxy, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., was outspoken from
the start. Six months into the first term, he was already at the Vera Institute
of Justice in New York talking about the social costs of mass incarceration and
pressing for policies that would divert low-level drug offenders to treatment
and ease the re-entry of former prisoners into a productive life. In the last
five years, Holder has become increasingly bold, and encountered little
backlash. This month he exhorted states to repeal policies that deny felons the
right to vote, policies that disenfranchise 5.8 million Americans, including
nearly one in 13 African-American adults. He framed it not just as an act of
compassion but as a way of re-engaging prodigal souls.
“By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated
individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes,”
“All that sounds very good,” said Michelle Alexander, the legal scholar who
wrote “The New Jim Crow,” a scorching 2010 indictment of the racialized war on
drugs. ”And it is good, because for decades the rhetoric was running in the
other direction. But if the rhetoric is not matched with action ... then it is
fair to wonder whether the shift in rhetoric reflects significant shifts in
public opinion in recent years, rather than a real commitment to these issues
and a willingness to take political risks.”
In practice, the administration’s record has been more incremental than its
By the crudest metric, the population of our prisons, the Obama
administration has been unimpressive. The famously shocking numbers of Americans
behind bars (the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s people, incarcerates nearly
a quarter of all prisoners on earth) have declined three years in a row. However
the overall downsizing is largely thanks to California and a handful of other
states. In overstuffed federal prisons, the population continues to grow, fed in
no small part by Obama’s crackdown on immigration violators.
The administration has some achievements to tout. Obama signed the 2010 Fair
Sentencing Act, and has put some muscle behind the Smarter Sentencing Act, two
measures aimed at making drug-sentencing laws less absurd. Holder has issued
guidance to prosecutors to avoid routinely seeking maximum sentences for
low-level offenders — though it’s not clear yet whether prosecutors are going
along. The administration created an Interagency Reentry Council that uses
federal guidance to whittle away at the barriers to employment, housing and
education so that released prisoners have some hope of becoming productive
At the same time, long after the War on Drugs has been recognized as a failure,
there has been little serious effort to cut the number of federal drug
prosecutions, or to shift money from incarceration to drug treatment. Alexander
cites as a significant disappointment the continued federal reluctance to
decriminalize marijuana, despite Obama’s acknowledgment to David Remnick of The
New Yorker that pot is less harmful than alcohol and that the laws are mostly
enforced against poor minorities. Another missed opportunity: he could have
pushed more aggressively to fill district and circuit court vacancies with
judges who would buck the status quo.
Obama has also been the stingiest of recent presidents in using his powers of
pardon and commutation to undo the damage of the crack panic and of sentencing
that keeps prisoners in lockup long past the age when they represent a danger.
Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public
Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with a justice reform agenda,
points out that in his first term Obama pardoned one in 50 applicants while
Ronald Reagan pardoned one in three. Late last year Obama commuted the sentences
of eight drug offenders, out of more than 8,000 federal convicts serving time
under outdated crack laws.
Obama is, we know, a cautious man, leery of getting ahead of public opinion and
therefore sometimes far behind it. And some reform advocates argue that it made
sense for Obama to keep a low profile until a broad bipartisan consensus had
gathered. That time has come. Now that Obama-scorners like Senators Rand Paul
and Mike Lee and even Ted Cruz are slicing off pieces of justice reform for
their issue portfolios, now that red states like Texas, Georgia, South Carolina,
Missouri and Kentucky have embraced alternatives to prison, criminal justice is
one of those rare areas where there is common ground to be explored and tested.
The Obama presidency has almost three years to go, and there is reason to hope
that he will feel less constrained, that the eight commutations were not just a
pittance but, as he put it, “a first step,” that Holder’s mounting enthusiasm
for saner sentencing is not just talk, but prelude, that the president will use
his great pulpit to prick our conscience.
“This is something that matters to the president,” Holder assured me last week.
“This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this
I’ll be watching, and hoping that Holder’s prediction is more than wishful
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 24, 2014,
on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline:
February 15, 2014 4:20 pm
The New York Times
The Great Divide
By SAMUEL BOWLES
and ARJUN JAYADEV
Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many
private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or
nearly double their number in 1980.
And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition
to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed
forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and
those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far
larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.
What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and
virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force
devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you
were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.
Is this the curse of affluence? Or of ethnic diversity? We don’t think so. The
guard-labor share of employment in the United States is four times what it is in
Sweden, where living standards rival America’s. And Britain, with its diverse
population, uses substantially less guard labor than the United States.
In America, growing inequality has been accompanied by a boom in gated
communities and armies of doormen controlling access to upscale apartment
buildings. We did not count the doormen, or those producing the gates, locks and
security equipment. One could quibble about the numbers; we have elsewhere
adopted a broader definition, including prisoners, work supervisors with
disciplinary functions, and others.
But however one totes up guard labor in the United States, there is a lot of it,
and it seems to go along with economic inequality. States with high levels of
income inequality — New York and Louisiana — employ twice as many security
workers (as a fraction of their labor force) as less unequal states like Idaho
and New Hampshire.
When we look across advanced industrialized countries, we see the same pattern:
the more inequality, the more guard labor. As the graph shows, the United States
leads in both.
Note that, in 1979 (shown by the pink dot), the United States was less unequal
and employed less guard labor. In the graph, inequality in income takes account
of payment of taxes and receipt of government transfers such as Social Security.
(We measure inequality by the Gini index, a measure that varies from 0 for
complete equality — that is, if all families have the same income — to a value
of 1 if a single person has all of the income.) The data shown are the most
recent for all nations on which comparable measures of inequality and guard
labor are available.
For the same countries, guard labor is also more common where those starting out
in life face a sharply tilted playing field, such as America, Britain and Italy.
These are countries in which the income of a father is a good predictor of the
income of his adult son. The countries with the least guard labor are those in
which there is greater equality of economic opportunity by this measure: These
are Denmark and Sweden, countries in which knowing the father’s income does not
enable a very accurate guess of the son’s income when he grows up.
Nobody has a good explanation of why the United States is a standout when it
comes to guard labor. Some of the differences in the guard-labor fraction across
nations arise because, in many countries, the job of getting people to play by
the rules is not left up to enforcement specialists. Anyone who has tried
jaywalking in Germany will know what we mean: It’s not the police who are on
your case, but your fellow pedestrians. In the United States, when the
neighbor’s boisterous party is disturbing sleep, it’s often the police who will
get the irate call, not the neighbor. Some of the increase in guard labor over
the past century in America may reflect a shift from the informal enforcement of
social norms to their enforcement by specialists in uniform.
Does the graph show that inequality causes a country to devote more of its labor
force to guard labor? It is hard to be sure. It could be that people with a
strong commitment to economic justice are, for some unknown reason, also more
law-abiding, explaining the difference between Denmark and the United States.
But the correlation evident in the graph could be evidence that economic
disparities push nations to devote more of their productive capacity to guarding
people and property. Fear and distrust of one’s neighbors and fellow citizens
fuel the demand for guard labor. Economic disparities can contribute to both.
Among the countries shown, a common measure of distrust of strangers is strongly
correlated with both the guard-labor fraction and inequality.
Social spending, also, is strongly and inversely correlated with guard labor
across the nations shown in the graph. There is a simple economic lesson here: A
nation whose policies result in substantial inequalities may end up spending
more on guns and getting less butter as a result.
Nobody doubts that the work of guard labor is essential. One of us, Samuel
Bowles, knows this firsthand: His son-in-law is a corrections officer whose work
is skilled, demanding and necessary. Every society divides its labor between
those who produce things and those who guard the store. But how much guard labor
is too much?
“You have money spent on guarding stuff rather than making stuff,” said Michael
Hood, an economist at Barclays Capital. “There’s a large population standing
around in blue blazers rather than engaged in more productive activities.” He
was talking about Latin America, but could have been describing things in the
“It is lamentable to think,” wrote the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in 1848,
“how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in
merely neutralizing one another.” He went on to conclude, “It is the proper end
of government to reduce this wretched waste to the smallest possible amount, by
taking such measures as shall cause the energies now spent by mankind in
injuring one another, or in protecting themselves from injury, to be turned to
the legitimate employment of the human faculties.”
This venerable call to beat swords into plowshares resonates still in America
and beyond. Addressing unjust inequality would help make this possible.
Samuel Bowles, a research professor of behavioral sciences
at the Santa Fe Institute, is the author
of “The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution.”
Arjun Jayadev, an associate professor of economics
at the University of Massachusetts, Boston,
also teaches at Azim Premji University, Bangalore,
and works at the Institute for New Economic Thinking,
FEB. 7, 2014 The New York Times
By MEHRSA BARADARAN
ATHENS, Ga. — PEOPLE like to complain about banks popping up
like Starbucks on every corner these days. But in poor neighborhoods, the
phenomenon is quite the opposite: Over the past couple of decades, the banks
have pulled out.
Approximately 88 million people in the United States, or 28 percent of the
population, have no bank account at all, or do have a bank account, but
primarily rely on check-cashing storefronts, payday lenders, title lenders, or
even pawnshops to meet their financial needs. And these lenders charge much more
for their services than traditional banks. The average annual income for an
“unbanked” family is $25,500, and about 10 percent of that income, or $2,412,
goes to fees and interest for gaining access to credit or other financial
But a possible solution has appeared, in the unlikely guise of the United States
Postal Service. The unwieldy institution, which has essentially been self-funded
since 1971, and has maxed out its $15 billion line of credit from the federal
government, is in financial straits itself. But what it does have is
infrastructure, with a post office in most ZIP codes, and a relationship with
residents in every kind of neighborhood, from richest to poorest.
Last week, the office of the U.S.P.S. inspector general released a white paper
noting the “huge market” represented by the population that is underserved by
traditional banks, and proposing that the post office get into the business of
providing financial services to “those whose needs are not being met.” (I wrote
a paper years ago suggesting just such an idea.) Postal banking has a powerful
advocate in Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has
publicly supported the plan.
The U.S.P.S. — which already handles money orders for customers — envisions
offering reloadable prepaid debit cards, mobile transactions, domestic and
international money transfers, a Bitcoin exchange, and most significantly, small
loans. It could offer credit at lower rates than fringe lenders do by taking
advantage of economies of scale.
The post office has branches in many low-income neighborhoods that have long
been deserted by commercial banks. And people at every level of society have a
certain familiarity and comfort in the post office that they do not have in more
formal banking institutions — a problem that, as a 2011 study by the Federal
Deposit Insurance Corporation demonstrated, can keep the poor from using even
the banks that are willing to offer them services.
Many will oppose the idea of a governmental agency providing financial services.
Camden R. Fine, chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America,
has already called the post office proposal “the worst idea since the Ford
Edsel.” But the federal government already provides interest-free “financial
services” to the largest banks (not to mention the recent bailout funds). And
this is done under an implicit social contract: The state supports and insures
the banking system, and in return, banks are to provide the general population
with access to credit, loans and savings. But in reality, too many are left out.
It wasn’t always this way. In 1910, President William Howard Taft established
the government-backed postal savings system for recent immigrants and the poor.
It lasted until 1967. The government also supported and insured credit unions
and savings-and-loans specifically created to provide credit to low-income
But by the 1990s, there were essentially two forms of banking:
regulated and insured mainstream banks to serve the needs of the wealthy and
middle class, and a Wild West of unregulated payday lenders and check-cashing
joints that answer the needs of the poor — at a price.
People need credit to increase their financial prospects — that’s the theory
behind government backing of student loans and mortgages. The Latin root of the
word “credit” is credere — to believe. But belief is something that mainstream
lenders lack when it comes to assessing the creditworthiness of the poor. And
yet establishing credit not only allows individual families and communities to
grow wealth, but also allows our economy to do so. Everyone benefits.
There is, of course, a certain irony in the post office, cash-strapped and maxed
out on credit, looking to elbow in on the business of check-cashing and
payday-loan storefronts. And while the U.S.P.S. white paper stresses that its
own offerings, rates and fees would be “more affordable,” a note of alarm is
raised when it highlights the potential bonanza that providing financial
services to the financially underserved could yield, stating that the result
could be “major new revenue for the Postal Service” estimated at $8.9 billion a
year. It’s a plan that could indeed save the post office, which last year
recorded a $1 billion operating loss.
In this potential transaction between an institution and a population that are
both in need, it would be wise to look back a century ago, at the last time a
similar experiment was conducted. In 1913, the chief post office inspector,
Carter Keene, declared that the postal savings system was not meant to yield a
profit: “Its aim is infinitely higher and more important. Its mission is to
encourage thrift and economy among all classes of citizens.” Any benefit to the
post office’s bottom line should not come at the expense of those who can least
Mehrsa Baradaran is an assistant professor of law
at the University of Georgia, specializing in banking regulation.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 8, 2014,
on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline:
It has been a year since my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I
started publishing The Gun Report, an effort to use my blog to aggregate daily
gun violence in America. Our methodology is pretty simple: We do a Google News
search each weekday morning for the previous day’s shootings and then list them.
Most days, we have been finding between 20 and 30 shootings; on Mondays, when
we also add the weekend’s violence, the number is usually well over 100.
From the start, we knew we were missing a lot more incidents than we found.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after all, says that nearly
32,000 people are killed by guns each year. Slate, the online magazine,
which tried to tally every gun death in the year after the tragedy in Newtown,
Conn., arrived at a number of 12,042, far higher than ours. (We include gun
injuries as well as gun deaths.)
Part of the issue, as Slate has noted, is that it is impossible to track
suicides using news media accounts — and suicides, according to the C.D.C.,
account for some 60 percent of gun deaths. But it was also obvious that a Google
News search was bound to miss plenty of examples; that’s just the nature of the
beast. Comprehensiveness was never really the point, though. Mostly we were
trying to get a feel for the scale and scope of gun violence in America. A year
later, it seems like a good time to take stock.
First, the biggest surprise, especially early on, was how frequently either a
child accidentally shot another child — using a loaded gun that happened to be
lying around — or an adult accidentally shot a child while handling a loaded
gun. I have written about this before, mainly because these incidents seem so
preventable. Gun owners simply need to keep their guns locked away. Indeed, one
pro-gun reader, Malcolm Smith, told me that after reading “about the death toll,
especially to children” in The Gun Report, he had come to believe that some gun
regulation was necessary. He now thinks gun owners should be licensed and
“should have to learn how to store guns safely.” No doubt he’ll be drummed out
of the National Rifle Association for expressing such thoughts.
Second, the N.R.A. shibboleth that having a gun in one’s house makes you safer
is demonstrably untrue. After The Gun Report had been up and running for a
while, several Second Amendment advocates complained that we rarely published
items that showed how guns were used to prevent a crime. The reason was not that
we were biased against crime prevention; it was that it didn’t happen very
often. (When we found such examples, we put them in The Gun Report.) More to the
point, there are an increasing number of gun deaths that are the result of an
argument — often fueled by alcohol — among friends, neighbors and family
members. Sadly, cases like the recent shooting in a Florida movie theater — when
one man killed someone who was texting during the previews — is not all that
Third, gang shootings are everywhere. You see it in the big cities, like
Chicago, Detroit and Miami, and you see it in smaller cities in economic decline
like Flint, Mich., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Drive-by shootings are prevalent in
California, especially Los Angeles and Fresno. As often as gang members shoot
each other, they kill innocent victims, often children who happen to be in the
wrong place at the wrong time.
Among the readers who post daily comments to The Gun Report are a number of gun
rights advocates. What has been astonishing to me is the degree to which they
tend to dismiss inner-city violence, as if to say that such killings are
unavoidable. The code word they often use is “demographics.”
It is unquestionably true that the most gun homicides occur in the inner cities
— the anecdotes we collect in The Gun Report are confirmed by such studies as a
May 2013 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. And, yes, plenty of them are the
result of gang violence. But why should that make them any less lamentable, or
There are an estimated 300 million guns in America, and that’s not going to
change anytime soon. But to read The Gun Report is to be struck anew at the
reality that most of the people who die from guns would still be alive if we
just had fewer of them. The guys in the movie theater would have had a fistfight
instead of a shooting. The momentary flush of anger would pass. The suicidal
person might have taken a pause if taking one’s life were more difficult. And
on, and on. The idea that guns, on balance, save lives — which is one of the
most common sentiments expressed in the pro-gun comments posted to The Gun
Report — is ludicrous.
On the contrary: The clearest message The Gun Report sends is the most obvious.
Guns make killing way too easy.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 4, 2014,
on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline:
December 22, 2013
The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Despite lawmakers’ copious sympathy for the 26 victims of the
Newtown, Conn., school massacre, all members of Congress were able to manage in
the way of gun safety as they left town was renewal of the ban on the
manufacture of plastic firearms. This is a type of arcane weapon that figured
not at all in the Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage in 2012, nor in the mass
shootings featuring adapted weapons of war that have occurred on average every
two weeks somewhere in America.
The measure is needed because guns made of plastic could render metal gun
detectors ineffective. But it does nothing to control metal guns, and little to
confront the awful challenge of Newtown and the nation’s ongoing history of gun
carnage. In a politically safe gesture, both the House and the Senate voted by
voice so members could duck individual accountability.
The process was a sad reminder of this Congress’s determined avoidance of
meaningful laws controlling the lethal (metal) weapons regularly scourging the
An analysis of mass killings by USA Today found that the youngsters murdered in
Newtown in rapid sprays of rifle fire were not alone. Nearly one-third of the
victims of mass killings since 2006 have been children younger than 18 — 363 of
them shot dead at an average age of 8 years old.
The grieving parents of Newtown were armed with facts like these when they
visited Congress last summer to plead for gun safety. Their ghastly losses
repeatedly drew tears from lawmakers but no determined action. Congress’s
failure is part of the tragedy of Newtown.
December 14, 2013
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
A YEAR ago, America was shocked by the murder of 26 children
and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But momentum to take action has
faded, and we still lose that many lives to gun violence every eight hours on
The price of our gun policy can be seen in this breathtaking statistic: More
Americans have died from guns here in the United States since 1970 (nearly 1.4
million) than American soldiers have died in all the wars in our country’s
history over more than 200 years (about 1.2 million).
Those gun killings have been committed by people like John Lennon (his real
name, but no relation to the Beatles star), who, in 2001, used an assault rifle
to shoot an acquaintance dead in a quarrel over drugs. Lennon is now locked up
at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y., and he underscores that while
people kill people, so do guns.
“I do take responsibility for the murder; I’m sorry for taking his life, and all
the life he could have had,” Lennon writes in an essay that he sent me out of
the blue and that I’ve published on my blog. “But without a gun, I would not
Lennon says that only “that perfect killing machine” of a gun assured that the
murder would succeed.
“Could I have stabbed him?” he adds. “Strangled him? Bludgeoned him? If I had
done so and he hadn’t died, why would that have made me less culpable than I am
now, a man who swiftly and cowardly shot another man to death? A killer
nonetheless, I hash these things out, in my head, in my cell, in Attica serving
28 years to life.”
Lennon does not deny that people will still try to kill each other without guns.
Indeed, he knows that firsthand, for he writes about being the target of a
“He sneaked upon me in the prison yard like I sneaked upon his friend in a
Brooklyn street. When I turned, I saw his arm swing for my neck. I weaved. Then
I felt the piercing blows, as he gripped my shirt and dug into my side.
Pressured by the blood-thirsty crowd, he stabbed me six times because I shot his
friend to death. The ice pick didn’t do the job, though. He got away with it
because we were in a blind spot of the yard, and I never told on him. Prison
ethics. While my assailant’s intent was clear, the weapon he had access to was
insufficient. Therefore I lived.”
“It’s clear that the only reason I’m alive is because my assailant didn’t have
his weapon of choice,” he adds. “Can you imagine if we had access to guns in
Lennon says that he has been tempted to commit suicide but that hanging himself
— the best option in prison — is grim and difficult. So he settles for living.
Indeed, he notes the irony that it is only because he is in a safe refuge
without guns that he has not been murdered or killed himself; at large, he
believes he would be dead.
In quoting a murderer and publishing an essay by him on my blog, I’m not
diminishing his crime or romanticizing it. But Lennon speaks a blunt truth that
Washington politicians too often avoid.
“I’m all for the market system,” Lennon says, “but when the products are killing
machines, why shouldn’t we tighten measures to keep guns out of the hands of
people like me?”
He’s right. Take cars, which are also potentially lethal instruments ubiquitous
in America. We’ve undertaken a remarkable half-century effort to make
automobiles far, far safer — and that is precisely the model for what we should
do with guns. We’ve introduced seat belts, air bags, prominent brake lights and
padded dashboards. We’ve cracked down on drunken drivers, improved road layouts
and railings, introduced graduated licenses for young drivers and required
insurance for drivers.
The upshot is that we have reduced the vehicle fatality rate per 100 million
miles driven by more than 80 percent — so that firearms now claim more American
lives each year than vehicles.
We need to approach gun safety in the same meticulous way we approach safety in
motor vehicles and so many other aspects of life: It’s ridiculous that a
cellphone can require a code to use, but a gun doesn’t.
One of the heroes at Sandy Hook was Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher who was
killed while trying to hide and protect her students. It would be nice if
Washington could show a fraction of that courage, but instead, on this issue of
guns, politicians display paralysis and fecklessness. So, as Lennon writes, and
he should know: “we parade through life to the relentless drumbeat of death.”
October 19, 2013
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
After a seven-day stretch in which no homicides were recorded
in New York City, five occurred in 10 hours on Friday and Saturday.
Three killings occurred in the Bronx, and two in Brooklyn. As of Saturday
evening, no arrests had been made.
Despite the five homicides, the number of killings this year is down over 25
percent compared with 2012. And last year, the city recorded its lowest annual
homicide total, 419, in at least half a century.
The first killing occurred at 6 p.m. on Friday in the South Bronx. Two friends
were standing in front of 680 Tinton Avenue near the John Adams Houses when a
gunman opened fire, the police said. Tyrek Singleton, 28, of the Bronx was shot
in the torso and pronounced dead at Lincoln Medical Center.
His 26-year-old friend, who was not immediately identified, was shot in the leg.
He told investigators he did not know the gunman, the police said.
Two and a half hours later, two men were shot in the chest and killed in
Brownsville, Brooklyn, the police said. The men were identified as Tevin
Beckles, 21, and Randolph Williams, 37, both of Brooklyn. The police said Mr.
Williams had 52 arrests, most of them drug-related.
At 2:15 a.m. on Saturday, police officers found Pablo Pagan, 40, dead with a
gunshot wound to the head close to his home in the Arthur H. Murphy Houses on
Vyse Avenue in the Bronx.
About three miles away and two hours later, police officers discovered Marco
Castillo, 24, with a gunshot wound to the chest. Mr. Castillo was pronounced
dead at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.
The police said that Mr. Castillo was walking on Westchester Avenue when two men
approached and one started a physical fight with him. When the man began to
lose, the other man shot Mr. Castillo in the head and torso.
October 5, 2013 The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The basic outlines of poverty in America are sadly
familiar. At last count, 46.5 million people were poor — 15 percent of the
population. Women and children, especially in single-mother families, were, as
always, hit hardest.
Another group, people 65 and older, now seems vulnerable as well. In analyzing
the recent Census Bureau report on poverty, researchers at the National Women’s
Law Center found that from 2011 to 2012, the rate of extreme poverty rose by a
statistically significant amount among those 65 and older, meaning that a
growing number of them were living at or below 50 percent of the poverty line.
In 2012, this was $11,011 a year for an older person living alone.
An additional 135,000 older women became extremely poor in 2012, raising the
extreme-poverty rate in that group to 3.1 percent, And 100,000 older men were
extremely poor in 2012, raising the extreme-poverty rate in that group to 2.3
percent In all, nearly 1.2 million people age 65 and up were classified as
extremely poor in 2012.
The increase in extreme poverty requires utmost attention. For the most part,
Social Security has protected older Americans from poverty. In cases where older
people are poor, the afflicted often have been very old women, who have long
outlived their spouses and any nest egg.
In the law center’s research, however, the increase in extreme poverty was
concentrated in the 65-to-75 age group. Some of them could be among the
long-term unemployed, whose jobless benefits have been cut or run out. Or they
might be people who would generally qualify for public assistance in addition to
Social Security but are having trouble getting those benefits in the face of
administrative cutbacks at the state and federal levels.
The numbers alone don’t say why extreme poverty has risen or whether the rise
will be lasting or fleeting. But other data echo the law center’s findings. The
Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which tracks a larger sample than in
its poverty report, shows an increase in poverty among those 65 and older, from
9.0 percent in 2010 to 9.3 percent in 2011 and 9.5 percent in 2012. That is not
a record; poverty rates for that group have reached 9.9 percent
But it would be devastating if recent increases became a growing trend. For now,
the best policy response is to do no harm. For example, budget proposals to cut
Social Security’s cost-of-living benefit, ill advised in any case, would be
especially unwise and untimely.
September 17, 2013 The New York Times
By SHELDON H. DANZIGER
THE Census Bureau reported yesterday that the poverty rate
in America held stable between 2011 and 2012, at about 15 percent. According to
the official measure, poverty today is higher than it was in 1973, when it
reached a historical low of 11.1 percent.
To many, this dismaying fact suggests that taxpayers waste billions of dollars a
year fighting a war on poverty that has been largely lost. As Representative
Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said earlier this year, “We have spent
$15 trillion from the federal government fighting poverty, and look at where we
are, the highest poverty rates in a generation, 15 percent of Americans in
But this position is wrong, for two reasons. The first is that the official
measure is misleading — it measures only cash income, and it does not count
benefits from many programs that help the poor. If they were counted, the rate
would be closer to 11 percent.
Consider the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food
stamps, which was first put into nationwide use in the 1960s. The immediate
benefits are easy to calculate: a dollar of SNAP subsidies spent on food frees
up a dollar for low-income families to spend on rent, utilities or other needs.
When SNAP benefits are counted as income, they lift almost four million people
above the poverty line.
And SNAP benefits not only reduce food insecurity and poverty this year; they
also reduce poverty in the next generation. Recent research that tracked
children into adulthood found that families’ access to food stamps improved
their infants’ health and birth weight. Children who benefited from the program
later posted better health, higher educational attainment, less heart disease
and, for women, greater earnings and less reliance on welfare as adults.
The earned-income tax credit is also ignored in calculating the poverty rate.
Yet this program offers working low-income families with children about $3,000 a
year. When these tax refunds are counted, they reduce the number of people in
poverty by about 5.5 million people.
Social Security benefits are counted in the official measure, but their large
antipoverty effect receives little attention. Without these benefits, the
elderly poverty rate would have been more than 44 percent, instead of the actual
rate of less than 9 percent.
The next time critics of the safety net claim that we fought a war on poverty
and poverty won, remind them that without these and other programs, poverty
would be much higher.
But, says the critic, if all these programs have such broad effects, why has the
poverty rate stayed so frustratingly stable? That’s the second flaw in the
All things being equal, such programs, whether we count them or not, should have
reduced the official poverty rate across generations. But all things have not
been equal. Although these programs help the poor, poverty remains high because
inequality of economic outcomes has increased sharply since the 1970s.
Before income inequality took off, the poverty rate fell more rapidly with
G.D.P. growth. But while the economy grew by 2.8 percent in 2012 and corporate
profits went up as a share of national income, the earnings of full-time
workers, median household income and the poverty rate barely changed.
Antipoverty programs do help, but their recipients don’t move forward because
they no longer benefit much from that other great poverty-ameliorating factor,
That’s not to say that growth is no longer necessary for reducing poverty. But
in our gilded age of inequality, growth alone is insufficient.
A few changes would make a difference. First, a poverty measure that
incorporated all anti-poverty policies would show that the safety net is more
effective than critics say, and would show how painful cuts to those programs
In fact, the Census Bureau has already developed a supplemental measure that
reveals the importance of these programs to low-income families. But when it is
released next month, it will receive far less attention than the official rate
from policy makers and the press.
Second, more benefits from growth must reach the poor, and the best way to do
that is through matching robust antipoverty measures with policies that lower
the unemployment rate and increase wages. During the full employment years of
the late 1990s, even low wages rose in step with productivity, and poverty fell
more sharply than it had in a generation. A minimum-wage increase helped then,
and an increase now would help again.
Lowering poverty means both recognizing the successes of safety net programs we
now have and devising new policies that can spread the gains generated by
economic growth. If we don’t, then we will continue to face poverty rates that
are unacceptably high, and wonder why we can’t do anything about them.
Sheldon H. Danziger
is the president of the Russell Sage Foundation
and a co-editor of “Legacies of the War on Poverty.”
The New York Times
By CHARLES M. BLOW
States — and indeed the world — is straining under the weight of an aging
population, and that strain is only expected to grow.
Life expectancy at birth in this country at the turn of the 20th century was
nearly 50 years. According to the United States Census Bureau, it’s now over 78.
And by 2050, it’ll be over 80. Others estimate it could be even higher.
A 2009 report by the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society estimated
that by 2050 “life expectancy for females will rise to 89.2-93.3 years and to
83.2-85.9 years for males.”
One of the authors of the study, S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at the School of
Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said at the time: “The
economic implications for the U.S. economy are huge. We estimated we would be
spending $3.2 to $8.3 trillion more in today’s dollars than currently
The Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans over 65 will more than
double by 2060.
And this top-heavy population pyramid may only become more warped. A 2009 study
published in The Lancet predicts that more than half of babies born in 2000 in
“countries with long life expectancies” will live past 100 years old.
All of this raises tricky economic and ethical questions about how a society
survives and prospers when so many of its citizens are beyond what we currently
conceive as working-age, and live longer in the twilight, when disease ravages
the mind and body, and people are more likely to be dependent than independent.
For instance, think of the raging debates we are now having about entitlements
in light of a rapidly aging population. How can they be shored up? Can they
survive as currently constructed?
Think of the pension problems that cities like Detroit are experiencing. Will
those pension liabilities become even more unsustainable as more people grow
Having examined Americans’ feelings about living substantially longer lives, the
Pew Research Center released a report on Tuesday titled “Living to 120 and
Beyond: Americans’ View on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension.”
Most Americans hadn’t heard of radical life extension, but as the report
explained, it’s the prospect — raised by scientists, bioethicists and other
experts — “that advances in biotechnology and other fields could slow down or
turn back the biological clock and allow many humans to live to 120 years or
When asked if they’d like to live to be 120, most Americans said no, but most
said that their ideal life span was between 79 and 100 years old, higher than
the current average life expectancy.
Half thought treatments allowing people to live to be 120 would be bad for
society, while 4 in 10 thought they would be good. Two-thirds thought that the
treatments prolonging life would strain natural resources.
But aside from the economic and scarcity issues, there are ethical and
Pew points out that longer life spans could have real effects on relationships
and family structures, calling into question how and when people considered
marriage and childbearing and care for the elderly.
And as they explain: “There are many ethical issues, too. At a very basic level,
some fear life extension could fundamentally alter people’s sense of what it
means to be human — and not for the better.”
How do people value life when death is increasingly delayed?
Before Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he led a theological
commission that wrote: “Disposing of death is in reality the most radical way of
disposing of life.”
That’s one religious view, although there are many others.
The point is that we are living longer and our life expectancies are predicted
to keep rising. This presents real challenges for us as a society and an
The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
fast-food workers who have been walking off their jobs illustrate a central fact
of contemporary work life in America: As lower-wage occupations have
proliferated in the past several years, Americans are increasingly unable to
make a living at their jobs. They work harder and are paid less than workers in
other advanced countries. And their wages have stagnated even as executive pay
As measured by the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour,
low-paid work in America is lower paid today than at any time in modern memory.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation or average wages over the past
nearly 50 years, it would be about $10 an hour; if it had kept pace with the
growth in average labor productivity, it would be about $17 an hour.
In contrast, the median hourly pay of fast-food workers — most of whom are in
their 20s or older and many of whom are parents — is less than $9 for front-line
workers and just above $9 when shift supervisors are included. Not surprising,
the strikers demanded better pay — $15 an hour — and the right to organize
Also not surprising, they have been motivated to act by the inaction of the
nation’s leaders. Republicans are against a higher minimum wage, and Democrats
are too timid. Legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats would raise the
hourly minimum to $10.10 over nearly two-and-a-half years from the date of
enactment. President Obama has proposed a similarly gradual increase to $9 an
hour. Congress and the White House also squandered a chance to try to improve
workers’ earnings prospects when they let right-to-organize legislation die
Activism among fast-food workers is almost certain to continue and is likely to
spread to other underpaid workers. Most of the jobs lost during the recession
were midwage jobs, while most of the new jobs have been lower paying. In
addition to food-service jobs, big growth areas today include home care and
retail sales, with median hourly wages of roughly $10 and $11, respectively.
According to the Labor Department, six of the 10 occupations that are projected
to add the most jobs by 2020 pay wages at the lower end of the scale.
At some point, as strikes continue, well-paid executives in low-wage industries
will have to confront the fact that low worker pay is at odds with their
companies’ upbeat corporate images and their self-images as top executives. (The
chief executives of McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut
and KFC, are among the nation’s highest-paid corporate leaders.)
Political leaders will likewise have to confront their own failures. The
strikers did not ask for Washington’s help, but there is a lot that Congress and
the Obama administration could do. In addition to raising the minimum wage,
there needs to be more enforcement of fair labor laws, including crackdowns on
employers that misclassify employees as salaried workers, independent
contractors or interns in order to deny them overtime, benefits or other pay. It
would help, too, for Congress to end the foot-dragging around implementation of
a law passed years ago requiring disclosure of the ratio of chief executive pay
to that of a company’s work force.
The Great Recession and the slow recovery have reinforced trends toward
inequality and inadequate pay that were evident even before the last downturn.
Fast-food workers are fighting back, in just cause.
population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year,
according to federal statistics released on Thursday, in what criminal justice
experts said was the biggest decline in the nation’s recent history, signaling a
shift away from an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment.
The number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased by 1.7 percent,
to an estimated 1,571,013 in 2012 from 1,598,783 in 2011, according to figures
released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department.
Although the percentage decline appeared small, the fact that it followed
decreases in 2011 and 2010 offers persuasive evidence of what some experts say
is a “sea change” in America’s approach to criminal punishment.
“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” said Natasha Frost,
associate dean of Northeastern University’s school of criminology and criminal
About half the 2012 decline — 15,035 prisoners — occurred in California,
which has decreased its prison population in response to a Supreme Court order
to relieve prison overcrowding. But eight other states, including New York,
Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, showed substantial decreases, of more than
1,000 inmates, and more than half the states reported some drop in the number of
prisoners. (Figures for three states were estimated because they had not
submitted data in time for the report.) The population of federal prisons
increased slightly, but at a slower rate than in previous years, the report
Imprisonment rates in the United States have been on an upward march since the
early 1970s. From 1978, when there were 307,276 inmates in state and federal
prisons, the population increased annually, reaching a peak of 1,615,487 inmates
But in recent years, tightened state budgets, plummeting crime rates, changes in
sentencing laws and shifts in public opinion have combined to reverse the trend.
Experts on prison policy said that the continuing decline appears to be more
than a random fluctuation.
“A year or even two years is a blip and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but
three years starts to look like a trend,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of
the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. But he
said that the rate of inmates incarcerated in the United States continued to be
“dramatically higher” than in other countries and that the changes so far were
“relatively modest compared to the scale of the problem.”
Most observers agree that the recession has played a role in shrinking prison
populations. In 2011 and 2012, at least 17 states closed or were considering
closing prisons partly for budgetary reasons, representing a reduction of 28,525
beds, according to a report by the Sentencing Project published last year.
But Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance
project, said that while fiscal concerns might have led to the turnaround in
some states, the need to cut budgets had not been the deciding factor.
“They’re not simply pinching pennies,” Mr. Gelb said. “Policy makers are not
holding their noses and saying we have to scale back prisons to save money. The
states that are showing drops are states that are thinking about how they can
apply research-based alternatives that work better and cost less.”
Changes in state and federal sentencing laws for lower-level offenses like those
involving drugs have played a central role in the shift, he and others said,
with many states setting up diversion programs for offenders as an alternative
to prison. And some states have softened their policies on parole, no longer
automatically sending people back to prison for parole violations.
But changing public attitudes are also a major driver behind the declining
prison numbers. Dropping crime rates over the last 20 years have reduced public
fears and diminished the interest of politicians in running tough-on-crime
campaigns. And public polls consistently show that Americans are now more
interested in spending money on education and health care than on building more
“People don’t care so much about crime, and it’s less of a political focus,”
said Professor Frost, who is a co-author of a forthcoming book, “The Punishment
The result has been an unusual bipartisan effort to reduce the nation’s reliance
on prisons, with groups like Right on Crime, devoted to what it calls the
“conservative case for reform,” pushing for lower-cost and less punitive
solutions than incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Marc Levin, senior policy adviser for Right on Crime, described the change in
conservatives’ position on parole violators: It used to be “Trail ’em, nail ’em
and jail ’em,” he said, “but there’s been a move to say, ‘Yes, there’s a
surveillance function, but we also want them to succeed.’ ”
Some of the most substantial prison reductions have taken place in conservative
states like Texas, which reduced the number of inmates in its prisons by more
than 5,000 in 2012. In 2007, when the state faced a lack of 17,000 beds for
inmates, the State Legislature decided to change its approach to parole
violations and provide drug treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of
building more prisons.
In Arkansas, which reduced its prison population by just over 14,000 inmates in
2012, legislators in 2011 also passed a package of laws softening sentencing
guidelines for low-level offenders and steering them to diversion programs.
“It’s a great example of a state that made some deliberate policy choices to say
we can actually reduce recidivism and cut our prison group at the same time,”
Mr. Gelb said.
Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford and a co-director of the Stanford
Criminal Justice Center, said in an interview last year that she thought
Americans had “gotten the message that locking up a lot of people doesn’t
necessarily bring public safety.” California’s example, she said, has also
spurred other states to consider downsizing for fear of facing similar
But Professor Petersilia added that though the trend may have begun out of a
need for belt-tightening, it had grown into a national effort to rethink who
should go to prison and for how long.
“I don’t think in modern history we’ve seen anything like this,” she said.
last decade, the United States has become a less violent country in every way
save one. As Americans commit fewer and fewer crimes against other people’s
lives and property, they have become more likely to inflict fatal violence on
In the 1990s, the suicide rate dipped with the crime rate. But since 2000, it
has risen, and jumped particularly sharply among the middle-aged. The suicide
rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010;
for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent. More Americans now die of
suicide than in car accidents, and gun suicides are almost twice as common as
This trend is striking without necessarily being surprising. As the University
of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox pointed out recently, there’s a strong link
between suicide and weakened social ties: people — and especially men — become
more likely to kill themselves “when they get disconnected from society’s core
institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a
dive (e.g., unemployment).” That’s exactly what we’ve seen happen lately among
the middle-aged male population, whose suicide rates have climbed the fastest: a
retreat from family obligations, from civic and religious participation, and
from full-time paying work.
The hard question facing 21st-century America is whether this retreat from
community can reverse itself, or whether an aging society dealing with
structural unemployment and declining birth and marriage rates is simply
destined to leave more people disconnected, anxious and alone.
Right now, the pessimistic scenario seems more plausible. In an essay for The
New Republic about the consequences of loneliness for public health, Judith
Shulevitz reports that one in three Americans over 45 identifies as chronically
lonely, up from just one in five a decade ago. “With baby boomers reaching
retirement age at a rate of 10,000 a day,” she notes, “the number of lonely
Americans will surely spike.”
There are public and private ways to manage this loneliness epidemic — through
social workers, therapists, even pets. And the Internet, of course, promises
endless forms of virtual community to replace or supplement the real.
But all of these alternatives seem destined to leave certain basic human
For many people, the strongest forms of community are still the traditional ones
— the kind forged by shared genes, shared memory, shared geography. And neither
Facebook nor a life coach nor a well-meaning bureaucracy is likely to compensate
for these forms’ attenuation and decline.
This point is illustrated, richly, in one of the best books of the spring, Rod
Dreher’s memoir, “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming,” an account of his sister’s
death from cancer at the age of 42. A journalist and author, Dreher had left
their small Louisiana hometown behind decades before and never imagined coming
back. But watching how the rural community rallied around his sister in her
crisis, and how being rooted in a specific place carried her family through its
drawn-out agony, inspired him to reconsider, and return.
What makes “The Little Way” such an illuminating book, though, is that it
doesn’t just uncritically celebrate the form of community that its author
rediscovered in his hometown. It also explains why he left in the first place:
because being a bookish kid made him a target for bullying, because his
relationship with his father was oppressive, because he wasn’t as comfortable as
his sister in a world of traditions, obligations, rules. Because community can
imprison as well as sustain, and sometimes it needs to be escaped in order to be
In today’s society, that escape is easier than ever before. And that’s a great
gift to many people: if you don’t have much in common with your relatives and
neighbors, if you’re gay or a genius (or both), if you’re simply restless and
footloose, the world can feel much less lonely than it would have in the past.
Our society is often kinder to differences and eccentricities than past eras,
and our economy rewards extraordinary talent more richly than ever before.
The problem is that as it’s grown easier to be remarkable and unusual, it’s
arguably grown harder to be ordinary. To be the kind of person who doesn’t want
to write his own life script, or invent her own idiosyncratic career path. To
enjoy the stability and comfort of inherited obligations and expectations,
rather than constantly having to strike out on your own. To follow a “little
way” rather than a path of great ambition. To be more like Ruthie Leming than
Too often, and probably increasingly, not enough Americans will have what the
Lemings had — a place that knew them intimately, a community to lean on, a
strong network in a time of trial.
And absent such blessings, it’s all too understandable that some people enduring
suffering and loneliness would end up looking not for help or support, but for a
way to end it all.
I invite you
to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.
— The turnout rate of black voters surpassed the rate for whites for the first
time on record in 2012, as more black voters went to the polls than in 2008 and
fewer whites did, according to a Census Bureau report released Wednesday.
The survey also found that Hispanics and Asians continue to turn out at much
lower rates than other groups, and that women turn out at higher rates than men.
The increase in black turnout was driven in significant part by more votes from
According to the Census report, 66.2 percent of eligible blacks voted in the
2012 election, compared with 64.1 percent of eligible non-Hispanic whites. An
estimated two million fewer white Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, just as
about 1.8 million more blacks went to the polls, more than 90 percent of them
voting to re-elect President Obama, exit polls showed.
“In 2008, we changed the guard. In 2012, we guard the change,” said Michael
Blake, who ran the Obama campaign’s effort to reach out to black and minority
voters, Operation Vote.
The overall turnout rate nationwide was 61.8 percent in 2012, a decline from
63.6 percent four years earlier. Researchers cautioned that their estimates
might overstate how many people voted across all categories, because they are
based on surveys in which people were asked whether they had voted — a “socially
Some researchers cautioned against treating 2012 as a watershed moment for the
black vote. For example, Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor at George
Mason University — using the same data but with a slightly different calculation
— determined that black voters first turned out at a higher rate than whites in
The increase in black turnout seemed to stem from both energized voters and a
successful voter-mobilization effort by the Obama campaign and civil rights
groups. Many black voters were motivated not only to protect the president,
political organizers said, but also to demonstrate their own right to vote.
In several states, Republican legislators tried to increase voter-ID
requirements, limit voting times and make registration more difficult, efforts
that civil rights groups aggressively opposed.
“We are accustomed to people trying to deny us things, and I think sometimes you
wake the sleeping giant, and that’s what happened here,” said Marvin Randolph,
the N.A.A.C.P.’s senior vice president for campaigns.
Mr. Randolph cited an Obama campaign memo boasting that the black early vote was
up by at least 17 percent in a series of battleground states that offered the
option, including Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina.
“They stood in line so they wouldn’t get their vote denied,” Mr. Randolph added.
But geographic figures also suggest that black voters flocked to the polls even
with little nudging from political organizers. Among the states where blacks had
the highest turnout rates relative to whites were Republican bastions where
neither campaign devoted many resources, like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee
Thom File, the Census report’s author, said in a conference call with reporters
on Wednesday, “Blacks for the first time in 2012 actually voted at rates higher
than their eligibility would indicate.”
It remains unclear how lasting the increase in black turnout will be. Mr.
Randolph acknowledged that 2016, when a black candidate may not be at the top of
the ticket, would present more of a test.
Dan Pfeiffer, a top adviser to Mr. Obama, said in a Twitter message that it was
“not written in stone” that the next Democratic nominee would generate the same
enthusiasm, calling it a challenge for 2016 and beyond.
Democrats also face the challenge of raising turnout among Latino and
Asian-American voters, both of whom voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama, while
also holding on to their support as Republicans woo them.
For Republicans, the new data showed that the newly diverse electorate of recent
years is likely to become only more so. In 2012, 73.7 percent of voters were
white, according to the census, down from 82.5 percent in 1996.
The key to increasing Hispanics’ share of the vote is “closing the registration
gap,” said Clarissa Martinez, director of civic engagement and immigration for
NCLR, a Latino organization also known as the National Council of La Raza. The
study, which showed that fewer than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2012,
foreshadows their “tremendous additional potential,” Ms. Martinez said.
The study also found a significant gender gap, with women voting at a rate 4
percentage points higher than men. Among blacks, the gap was 9 percentage
May 6, 2013
The New York Times
By LINCOLN CAPLAN
is scheduled to execute Willie Manning on Tuesday for his 1994 conviction for
two murders. Mr. Manning is seeking DNA testing of hair, fingernail scrapings
and other evidence connected to the crimes. His lawyers argue that no physical
evidence links him to the crimes and that DNA testing could prove him innocent
and identify another killer.
But last week, by 5-4, the Mississippi Supreme Court approved the state’s motion
to proceed with the execution, having denied Mr. Manning’s motion for DNA
testing last month by the same vote.
Since 1989 in the United States, there have been 306 people exonerated by DNA
evidence after they were convicted, 18 on death row. In seven previous
cases, DNA testing has exonerated men convicted and imprisoned in Mississippi.
In each case, the killer left DNA at the crime scene.
Last week, the Justice Department provided extraordinary grounds for the state
to allow DNA testing in the Manning case. In a letter to the prosecution and
defense, the department said that testimony of an F.B.I. analyst who was a key
prosecution witness “exceeded the limits of the science and was, therefore,
That analyst testified that he could match a hair found at the crime scene to an
individual with “a relatively high degree of certainty” and that the hair
fragments collected from a victim’s car “came from an individual of the black
race.” The Justice Department concluded that it was “error for an examiner to
testify that he can determine that the questioned hairs were from an individual
of a particular racial group.”
The F.B.I. has now offered to do the DNA testing requested by Mr. Manning, who
is black. One dissenting opinion from the Mississippi Supreme Court said, “In
asking the jury to convict Manning, an African American, of the murder of two
white students, the prosecution seems to have placed great emphasis on the fact
that hair samples, originating from an African American” were found in the car.
The prosecution, however, did not connect the hair to Mr. Manning. Clearly, the
Justice Department’s letter makes the emphasis placed on the hair samples deeply
Mr. Manning’s lawyers went back to the Mississippi Supreme Court on Monday to
ask that the court stay his execution and set aside his convictions based on the
Justice Department’s acknowledgment that the F.B.I. analyst’s testimony was
false. That new evidence is crucial and stunning. The court should stay the
execution and let the DNA testing go forward, but if it does not, then Gov. Phil
Bryant must do that.
The whole case underscores the often racially discriminatory application of the
death penalty in cases where the victims are white and the defendants are black,
one of many reasons that capital punishment should be abolished.
May 3, 2013
The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The employment report released on Friday showed some economic
resilience. Job growth for March was revised upward to 138,000 new jobs, while
the tally for April, at 165,000 jobs, was stronger still.
But both tallies represent a big drop from February, which showed a healthy gain
of 332,000 jobs. One interpretation is that the sequester-induced economic
headwinds that began in March are hurting job growth, which might otherwise have
taken off this year. Seen in that light, the April report portends elevated
joblessness and low wages for at least as long as the sequester lasts, and
possibly longer, depending on the extent of the economic damage from the
At the average pace of job growth this year, it would take more than five years
to return to the prerecession unemployment rate of 5 percent. It is doubtful
that even the current pace can be sustained. The length of the average workweek
dropped in April, to 34.4 hours, a sign that there is less work in the economy.
That measure very likely overstates the demand for workers, because it includes
only private-sector workers and does not capture the reduction in work hours for
government workers furloughed because of the sequester. Another sign of weak
labor demand is the increase in April, by 278,000, of the number of part-time
workers who want full-time work.
New jobs are being added in low-wage fields typically filled by women — in
restaurants and bars, retailers, temporary help services and home health care.
In manufacturing and construction, typically higher-paying jobs filled by men,
there was either no job growth or job losses. The biggest losses were in
generally stable and decent-paying government jobs, with 11,000 positions shed
in April, a chunk of them related to the sequester. Over all, the numbers
suggest continued deep strains on families, even those whose breadwinners are
For the 11.7 million who are unemployed — and especially the 4.4 million who
have been out of work for more than six months — the picture is even
bleaker. So far, 18 states have made cuts under the sequester to federal
unemployment benefits, taking $39 a week on average from the typical benefit of
about $300. That hurts those directly affected, but it also reduces demand in
the economy. The likely result from these and other sequester cuts is job and
May 2, 2013
The New York Times
By TARA PARKER-POPE
rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade,
prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of
economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly
vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s
issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687
deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.
Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and
the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly
30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide
rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their
own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000,
while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which
suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women,
the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased
by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.
Suicide rates can be difficult to interpret because of variations in the way
local officials report causes of death. But C.D.C. and academic researchers said
they were confident that the data documented an actual increase in deaths by
suicide and not a statistical anomaly. While reporting of suicides is not always
consistent around the country, the current numbers are, if anything, too low.
“It’s vastly underreported,” said Julie Phillips, an associate professor of
sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide
rates. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”
The reasons for suicide are often complex, and officials and researchers
acknowledge that no one can explain with certainty what is behind the rise. But
C.D.C. officials cited a number of possible explanations, including that as
adolescents people in this generation also posted higher rates of suicide
compared with other cohorts.
“It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” said
the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. “There may be something about that
group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make
The rise in suicides may also stem from the economic downturn over the past
decade. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and
economic setbacks. “The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial
standing for a lot of families over the same time period,” Dr. Arias said.
Another factor may be the widespread availability of opioid drugs like OxyContin
and oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in large doses.
Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials said there
was a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses
of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over
all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.
Dr. Arias noted that the higher suicide rates might be due to a series of life
and financial circumstances that are unique to the baby boomer generation. Men
and women in that age group are often coping with the stress of caring for aging
parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.
“Their lives are configured a little differently than it has been in the past
for that age group,” Dr. Arias said. “It may not be that they are more sensitive
or that they have a predisposition to suicide, but that they may be dealing with
Preliminary research at Rutgers suggests that the risk for suicide is unlikely
to abate for future generations. Changes in marriage, social isolation and
family roles mean many of the pressures faced by baby boomers will continue in
the next generation, Dr. Phillips said.
“The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I
think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way,” she said. “All these conditions
the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these
conditions as well.”
Nancy Berliner, a Boston historian, lost her 58-year-old husband to suicide
nearly two years ago. She said that while the reasons for his suicide were
complex, she would like to see more attention paid to prevention and support for
family members who lose someone to suicide.
“One suicide can inspire other people, unfortunately, to view suicide as an
option,” Ms. Berliner said. “It’s important that society becomes more
comfortable with discussing it. Then the people left behind will not have this
The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
senators, the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a forgotten tragedy.
The toll of 270 Americans who are shot every day is not a problem requiring
action. The easy access to guns on the Internet, and the inevitability of the
next massacre, is not worth preventing.
Those senators, 41 Republicans and four Democrats, killed a bill on Wednesday to
expand background checks for gun buyers. It was the last, best hope for
meaningful legislation to reduce gun violence after a deranged man used
semiautomatic weapons to kill 20 children and six adults at the school in
Newtown, Conn., 18 weeks ago. A ban on assault weapons was voted down by 60
senators; 54 voted against a limit on bullet magazines.
Patricia Maisch, who survived a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011, spoke for many
in the country when she shouted from the Senate gallery: “Shame on you.”
Newtown, in the end, changed nothing; the overwhelming national consensus to
tighten a ridiculously lax set of gun laws was stopped cold. That’s because the
only thing that mattered to these lawmakers was a blind and unthinking fealty to
the whims of the gun lobby.
The National Rifle Association once supported the expansion of background
checks, but it decided this time that President Obama and gun-control advocates
could not be allowed even a scintilla of a victory, no matter how sensible. That
group, and others even more militant, wanted to make sure not one bill emerged
from the Newtown shooting, and they got their way. A vast majority of
Republicans meekly followed along, joined by a few nervous red-state Democrats,
giving far more weight to a small, shrill and largely rural faction than to the
country’s overwhelming need for safety and sanity.
Guns had not been on the president’s campaign agenda, but, to his credit, he and
Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. came up with a solid package of proposals after
Newtown that would have reduced the number of dangerous weapons on the street
and in the hands of criminals. Mr. Obama traveled the country to promote it in
13 speeches, and he has spent the last weeks unsuccessfully trying to pry
senators out of the pocket of the gun lobby.
The most important aspect of his proposal, in the eyes of many gun-control
advocates, was the expansion of background checks, both because it closed an
important loophole and because it seemed the easiest to pass. From 20 percent to
40 percent of all gun sales now take place without a background check, and the
bill rejected on Wednesday would have required the check for buyers at gun
shows, on the Internet and at other commercially advertised sales. It was
sponsored by two pro-gun senators with the courage to buck the lobby, Joe
Manchin III, a Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican of
The critical need for this measure was illustrated by a report in The Times on
Wednesday that showed how easy it is for criminals to buy weapons on the
Internet without a look at their backgrounds. One widely popular Web site
contains tens of thousands of private postings of gun sales, and The Times’s
investigation found that many buyers and sellers were criminals. Some of the
guns have been used to kill.
A vote to continue this practice would be hard to explain to constituents, so
lawmakers simply invented reasons to oppose background checks. Some insisted it
would lead to a national gun registry, though the plain language of the bill
prohibited that. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said it would raise taxes.
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said it would require checks even when a gun sale
is posted on an office bulletin board. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but it
wouldn’t.) Mr. Obama, after the vote, said those who made these arguments had
It’s now up to voters to exact a political price from those who defied the
public’s demand, and Mr. Obama was forceful in promising to lead that effort.
Wednesday was just Round 1, he said; the next step is to replace those whose
loyalty is given to a lobby rather than the people.
“Sooner or later, we are going to get this right,” he said. “The memories of
these children demand it, and so do the American people.”
April 1, 2013
The New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Americans who are unfamiliar with the immigration justice
system might be surprised to learn how much it skimps on actual justice. The
notion of a fair day in court becomes only theoretical when immigrants lack
attorneys, as most do, when their deportation cases are not reviewed by judges,
as too often happens, and when they are locked up in prisons unable to see their
families, even though they have been accused only of civil violations — and many
have never been convicted of anything.
Then there are the times the system inflicts arbitrary cruelty. This happens
when detainees are held in solitary confinement, an extreme form of punishment
that risks causing severe mental damage. New federal data show that about 300
immigrants on any given day are held in isolation at the country’s 50 largest
detention centers overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, many for 23
hours a day, sometimes in windowless cells barely bigger than bathroom stalls.
And nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more.
Why ICE resorts to such extreme punishment is unclear. It could be for rule
infractions, fighting or for detainees’ own protection, if they are seen as
vulnerable to abuse, perhaps for being gay. In any case, ICE’s detention system
— which handles about 34,000 people a day, and 400,000 a year — is not a model
of humane incarceration. It’s a ramshackle network of private and public
lockups, prone to abuses and lacking legally enforceable standards for how
detainees are treated.
For those held for civil violations, solitary confinement is wildly
inappropriate. Civil detention is imposed not as punishment, but simply to make
sure somebody shows up for a hearing. Many detainees are victims of political
oppression or human trafficking, many are only seeking better lives, some are
ill. These are people America should be sheltering, not arbitrarily brutalizing.
The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, has promised a review of
solitary-confinement policies. If she doesn’t fix this, then Congress should
step in, and now is the perfect time. Lawmakers are preparing a sweeping
overhaul of immigration so that it meets the country’s economic needs. They
should do just as much to bring the system in line with American values.
March 9, 2013
The New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF
The share of American households with guns has declined over
the past four decades, a national survey shows, with some of the most surprising
drops in the South and the Western mountain states, where guns are deeply
embedded in the culture.
The gun ownership rate has fallen across a broad cross section of households
since the early 1970s, according to data from the General Social Survey, a
public opinion survey conducted every two years that asks a sample of American
adults if they have guns at home, among other questions.
The rate has dropped in cities large and small, in suburbs and rural areas
and in all regions of the country. It has fallen among households with children,
and among those without. It has declined for households that say they are very
happy, and for those that say they are not. It is down among churchgoers and
those who never sit in pews.
The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in
the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in
the 2000s, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times.
In 2012, the share of American households with guns was 34 percent, according to
survey results released on Thursday. Researchers said the difference
compared with 2010, when the rate was 32 percent, was not statistically
The findings contrast with the impression left by a flurry of news reports about
people rushing to buy guns and clearing shop shelves of assault rifles after the
massacre last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof,” said
Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and
Research. “But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to
current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the
share of households with guns.”
That decline, which has been studied by researchers for years but is relatively
unknown among the general public, suggests that even as the conversation on guns
remains contentious, a broad shift away from gun ownership is under way in a
growing number of American homes. It also raises questions about the future
politics of gun control. Will efforts to regulate guns eventually meet with less
resistance if they are increasingly concentrated in fewer hands — or more
Detailed data on gun ownership is scarce. Though some states reported household
gun ownership rates in the 1990s, it was not until the early 2000s that
questions on the presence of guns at home were asked on a broad federal public
health survey of several hundred thousand people, making it possible to see the
rates in all states.
But by the mid-2000s, the federal government stopped asking the questions,
leaving researchers to rely on much smaller surveys, like the General Social
Survey, which is conducted by NORC, a research center at the University of
Measuring the level of gun ownership can be a vexing problem, with various
recent national polls reporting rates between 35 percent and 52 percent.
Responses can vary because the survey designs and the wording of questions
But researchers say the survey done by the center at the University of Chicago
is crucial because it has consistently tracked gun ownership since 1973, asking
if respondents “happen to have in your home (or garage) any guns or revolvers.”
The center’s 2012 survey, conducted mostly in person but also by phone, involved
interviews with about 2,000 people from March to September and had a margin of
sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Gallup, which asks a similar question but has a different survey design, shows a
higher ownership rate and a more moderate decrease. No national survey tracks
the number of guns within households.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said he was
skeptical that there had been a decline in household ownership. He pointed to
reports of increased gun sales, to long waits for gun safety training classes
and to the growing number of background checks, which have surged since the late
1990s, as evidence that ownership is rising.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to make the case that there
are fewer gun owners in this country, but the stories we’ve been hearing and the
data we’ve been seeing simply don’t support that,” he said.
Tom W. Smith, the director of the General Social Survey, which is financed by
the National Science Foundation, said he was confident in the trend. It lines
up, he said, with two evolving patterns in American life: the decline of hunting
and a sharp drop in violent crime, which has made the argument for
self-protection much less urgent.
According to an analysis of the survey, only a quarter of men in 2012 said they
hunted, compared with about 40 percent when the question was asked in 1977.
Mr. Smith acknowledged the rise in background checks, but said it was impossible
to tell how many were for new gun owners. The checks are reported as one total
that includes, for example, people buying their second or third gun, as well as
those renewing concealed carry permits.
“If there was a national registry that recorded all firearm purchases, we’d have
a full picture,” he said. “But there’s not, so we’ve got to put together
The survey does not ask about the legality of guns in the home. Illegal guns are
a factor in some areas but represent a very small fraction of ownership in the
country, said Aaron Karp, an expert on gun policy at the Small Arms Survey in
Geneva and at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He said estimates of the
total number of guns in the United States ranged from 280 million to 320
The geographic patterns were some of the most surprising in the General Social
Survey, researchers said. Gun ownership in both the South and the mountain
region, which includes states like Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming, dropped to
less than 40 percent of households this decade, down from 65 percent in the
1970s. The Northeast, where the household ownership rate is lowest, changed the
least, at 22 percent this decade, compared with 29 percent in the 1970s.
Age groups presented another twist. While household ownership of guns among
elderly Americans remained virtually unchanged from the 1970s to this decade at
about 43 percent, ownership among young Americans plummeted. Household gun
ownership among Americans under the age of 30 fell to 23 percent this decade
from 47 percent in the 1970s. The survey showed a similar decline for Americans
ages 30 to 44.
As for politics, the survey showed a steep drop in household gun ownership among
Democrats and independents, and a very slight decline among Republicans. But the
new data suggest a reversal among Republicans, with 51 percent since 2008 saying
they have a gun in their home, up from 47 percent in surveys taken from 2000
through 2006. This leaves the Republican rate a bit below where it was in the
1970s, while ownership for Democrats is nearly half of what it was in that
Researchers offered different theories for these trends.
Many Americans were introduced to guns through military service, which involved
a large part of the population in the Vietnam War era, Dr. Webster said. Now
that the Army is volunteer and a small fraction of the population, it is less a
gateway for gun ownership, he said.
Urbanization also helped drive the decline. Rural areas, where gun ownership is
the highest, are now home to about 17 percent of Americans, down from 27 percent
in the 1970s. According to the survey, just 23 percent of households in cities
owned guns in the 2000s, compared with 56 percent of households in rural areas.
That was down from 70 percent of rural households in the 1970s.
The country’s changing demographics may also play a role. While the rate of gun
ownership among women has remained relatively constant over the years at about
10 percent, which is less than one-third of the rate among men today, more women
are heading households without men, another possible contributor to the decline
in household gun ownership. Women living in households where there were guns
that were not their own declined to a fifth in 2012 down from a third in 1980.
The increase of Hispanics as a share of the American population is also probably
having an effect, as they are far less likely to own guns. In the survey results
since 2000, about 14 percent of Hispanics reported having a gun in their house.
The New York Times
By RICHARD A. DAYNARD
PERHAPS no public official was as synonymous with the antismoking movement as C.
Everett Koop, who died last Monday at age 96. Dr. Koop, who worked tirelessly to
turn America into “a smoke-free society,” did not live to see that goal reached.
But the rest of us have the power to make it happen.
Fewer than one in five American adults smoke, a share that’s plunged by about
half since the 1960s — an achievement due, in some measure, to Dr. Koop’s
antismoking crusade as surgeon general, from 1981 to 1989. Revelations in the
1990s about tobacco companies’ cover-up of smoking’s dangers also played a role.
So have a host of other strategies that have included consumer taxes, minimum
ages for cigarette purchases, restrictions on smoking in public spaces and
programs to help people quit. Continuing on the same path, with some luck, we
might be able reduce the smoking rate a little more.
But that would still leave us with a profound public health tragedy:
cigarettes continue to kill more than 400,000 Americans a year and cost
untold billions in health care spending.
To its credit, the Food and Drug Administration has tried more aggressive
approaches, including a recent effort to require hard-hitting graphic warnings
on cigarette packages. That proposal, already the rule in dozens of countries,
has been held up in United States federal courts over concerns that the ads
might infringe on cigarette manufacturers’ First Amendment rights. But even if
implemented, more scare tactics would not go far enough.
What we need is an all-out push to reduce smoking rates to well below 10
percent. The notion is nothing new to tobacco-control advocates, many of whom
gathered last week in Cambridge, Mass., for a conference on the governance of
tobacco, sponsored by Harvard with support from the World Health Organization.
But outside of such academic meetings and journals, little has been said about
two possible approaches that could have an immediate impact.
One involves federal action; the other, state or local action. Both are made
possible by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which
President Obama signed in June 2009.
Under the act, the F.D.A. has the power to establish tobacco product standards
including “provisions, where appropriate, for nicotine yields of the product.”
The only limitation on this power is that the F.D.A. may not require that
nicotine yields be reduced to zero. The law calls on the F.D.A. to apply public
health criteria — “the risks and benefits to the population as a whole” — in
designing its regulations. It also encourages the F.D.A. to create tobacco
standards that will help existing users stop smoking and decrease the risk that
nonsmokers will start.
The F.D.A. would be well within its authority to require nicotine content to be
below addictive levels — an idea that originated with a 1994 article in The New
England Journal of Medicine urging a nonaddictive nicotine standard.
Cigarette makers would lobby hard to block such a standard. But if the F.D.A.
insisted on the change, and cigarettes ceased to be addictive, ample evidence
shows that most smokers would quit or switch to less toxic nicotine products.
Current nonsmokers, moreover, would be far less likely to become addicted.
Another part of the act affirms the authority of states and municipal
governments to prohibit the sale, distribution and possession of — and even
access and exposure to — tobacco products by individuals of any age.
This provides an opportunity for states, counties and cities to adopt the
Smokefree Generation, a proposal by A. J. Berrick, a mathematics professor in
The idea is simple: no one born in or after 2000 can ever be sold cigarettes.
Under such legislation, which jurisdictions like the Australian state of
Tasmania are considering, the vast majority of this cohort — the oldest are now
13 — would never begin smoking. It’s hard to imagine too many parents objecting,
and it would be easy for retailers to enforce. In the United States, it would
provide a useful focus for state and local public health officials to do
something game-changing, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for
Washington to act.
Critics will say that, even if a state or city passed such a law, would-be
smokers could go to an adjoining one to buy cigarettes. But evidence suggests
that border-crossing and smuggling would be minimal. States that have sharply
raised their cigarette taxes, after all, have not only increased tax revenue but
also reduced rates of smoking prevalence, even among nicotine addicts. Young
people, who are generally not addicted (yet) and who tend not to have peers who
smoke, are even less likely to chase cigarettes across state or county lines.
Some antismoking advocates who support existing approaches (smoking-cessation
programs, higher taxes) fear that pushing for an “end game” — a smoking rate
below 10 percent — is too ambitious. But then, banning smoking in restaurants,
workplaces and bars was once seen as crazy, too. Sometimes, a little crazy goes
a long way.
Daynard is a professor of law at Northeastern University
of its Public Health Advocacy Institute.
2, 2013 The New York Times
By ALAN SCHWARZ
BEACH — Every morning on her way to work, Kathy Fee holds her breath as she
drives past the squat brick building that houses Dominion Psychiatric
It was there that her son, Richard, visited a doctor and received prescriptions
for Adderall, an amphetamine-based medication for attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder. It was in the parking lot that she insisted to Richard
that he did not have A.D.H.D., not as a child and not now as a 24-year-old
college graduate, and that he was getting dangerously addicted to the
medication. It was inside the building that her husband, Rick, implored
Richard’s doctor to stop prescribing him Adderall, warning, “You’re going to
It was where, after becoming violently delusional and spending a week in a
psychiatric hospital in 2011, Richard met with his doctor and received
prescriptions for 90 more days of Adderall. He hanged himself in his bedroom
closet two weeks after they expired.
The story of Richard Fee, an athletic, personable college class president and
aspiring medical student, highlights widespread failings in the system through
which five million Americans take medication for A.D.H.D., doctors and other
Medications like Adderall can markedly improve the lives of children and others
with the disorder. But the tunnel-like focus the medicines provide has led
growing numbers of teenagers and young adults to fake symptoms to obtain steady
prescriptions for highly addictive medications that carry serious psychological
dangers. These efforts are facilitated by a segment of doctors who skip
established diagnostic procedures, renew prescriptions reflexively and spend too
little time with patients to accurately monitor side effects.
Richard Fee’s experience included it all. Conversations with friends and family
members and a review of detailed medical records depict an intelligent and
articulate young man lying to doctor after doctor, physicians issuing hasty
diagnoses, and psychiatrists continuing to prescribe medication — even
increasing dosages — despite evidence of his growing addiction and psychiatric
Very few people who misuse stimulants devolve into psychotic or suicidal
addicts. But even one of Richard’s own physicians, Dr. Charles Parker,
characterized his case as a virtual textbook for ways that A.D.H.D. practices
can fail patients, particularly young adults. “We have a significant travesty
being done in this country with how the diagnosis is being made and the meds are
being administered,” said Dr. Parker, a psychiatrist in Virginia Beach. “I think
it’s an abnegation of trust. The public needs to say this is totally
unacceptable and walk out.”
Young adults are by far the fastest-growing segment of people taking A.D.H.D
medications. Nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for the condition were
written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, two and a half times the 5.6
million just four years before, according to the data company I.M.S. Health.
While this rise is generally attributed to the maturing of adolescents who have
A.D.H.D. into young adults — combined with a greater recognition of adult
A.D.H.D. in general — many experts caution that savvy college graduates, freed
of parental oversight, can legally and easily obtain stimulant prescriptions
from obliging doctors.
Suicides Rise in U.S., Veterans Are Less of Total
1, 2013 The New York Times
By JAMES DAO
among military veterans, though up slightly in recent years, account for a
shrinking percentage of the nation’s total number of suicides — a result of
steadily rising numbers of suicides in the general population, according to a
report released on Friday by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The report, based on the most extensive data the department has ever collected
on suicide, found that the number of suicides among veterans reached 22 a day in
2010, the most recent year available.
That was up by 22 percent from 2007, when the daily number was 18. But it is
only 10 percent higher than in 1999, according to the report. Department
officials described the numbers as “relatively stable” over the decade.
In the same 12-year period, the total number of suicides in the country rose
steadily to an estimated 105 a day in 2010, up from 80 in 1999, a 31 percent
As a result, the percentage of the nation’s daily suicides committed by veterans
declined to 21 percent in 2010, from 25 percent in 1999.
“What’s happening with veterans is a reflection of what’s happening to America,”
Jan Kemp, the national mental health director for suicide prevention at the
Department of Veterans Affairs, said in an interview. “The suicide rate in
America has been creeping up.”
Dr. Kemp said the fact that veterans accounted for a smaller percentage of the
nation’s suicides suggested that improved outreach and suicide prevention
programs might have had an effect.
But other experts said that for a variety of reasons — including the fact that
many veterans have access to health care through the department — the suicide
rate for veterans should be much lower than it is.
“This remains a crisis,” said Paul Sullivan, a founder of Veterans for Common
The new report does not provide a suicide rate for veterans, because the
department is still refining that number, Dr. Kemp said. But she acknowledged
that the rate was higher than for the general population, which is 12.4 suicides
per 100,000 people.
Dr. Kemp said veterans tend to fall into higher-risk groups, which include:
being male; living in a rural area, particularly in the West; and having access
Past reports on suicide among veterans have been based on data collected by the
federal government from only about a third of the states. But because of growing
concerns about veteran suicide, the department asked every state to provide data
The new report — which was previously described in The Washington Post — is
based on a database built from information on more than 147,000 suicides in 21
states — a large enough number to develop accurate estimates for the entire
veteran population, department officials said. Dr. Kemp added that the
department now had data from 40 states and tentative agreements to receive
information from the remaining 10.
Among the report’s other important findings was that male veterans who commit
suicide tend to be older than nonveteran male suicides, with the largest number
of veterans’ suicides occurring among men between 50 and 59. Dr. Kemp said the
department intended to increase outreach to that age group.
At the same time, the new data suggested that veterans under 30 are committing
suicide in smaller numbers than their nonveteran peers. That would seem to
contradict theories that the recent wars have contributed to increased suicide
among new veterans.
Somewhat surprisingly, the study confirmed an estimate first reported in 2008
that 18 veterans commit suicide each day. That figure had been viewed
skeptically by many experts because it was not based on detailed data. But the
new, more comprehensive data resulted in the same estimate.
The New York Times
By ARTHUR C. BROOKS
MUCH is being written about the preposterously high cost of college. The median
inflation-adjusted household income fell by 7 percent between 2006 and 2011,
while the average real tuition at public four-year colleges increased over that
period by over 18 percent. Meanwhile, the average tuition for just one year
at a four-year private university in 2011 was almost $33,000, according to the
National Center for Education Statistics. College tuition has increased at
twice the rate of health care costs over the past 25 years.
Ballooning student loan debt, an impending college bubble, and a return on the
bachelor’s degree that is flat or falling: all these things scream out for
One idea gaining currency is the $10,000 college degree — the so-called 10K-B.A.
— which apparently was inspired by a challenge to educators from Bill Gates, and
has recently led to efforts to make it a reality by governors in Texas, Florida
and Wisconsin, as well as by a state assemblyman in California.
Most 10K-B.A. proposals rethink the costliest part of higher education — the
traditional classroom teaching. Predictably, this means a reliance on online and
distance-learning alternatives. And just as predictably, this has stimulated
antibodies to unconventional modes of learning. Some critics see it as an
invitation to charlatans and diploma mills. Even supporters often suggest that
this is just an idea to give poor people marginally better life opportunities.
As Darryl Tippens, the provost of Pepperdine University, recently put it, “No
PowerPoint presentation or elegant online lecture can make up for the surprise,
the frisson, the spontaneous give-and-take of a spirited, open-ended dialogue
with another person.” And what happens when you excise those frissons? In the
words of the president of one university faculty association, “You’re going to
be awarding degrees that are worthless to people.”
I disagree. I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the
most important intellectual and career move I ever made.
After high school, I spent an unedifying year in college. The year culminated in
money problems, considerably less than a year of credits, and a joint decision
with the school that I should pursue my happiness elsewhere. Next came what my
parents affectionately called my “gap decade,” during which time I made my
living as a musician. By my late 20s I was ready to return to school. But I was
living in Spain, had a thin bank account, and no desire to start my family with
a mountain of student loans.
Fortunately, there was a solution — an institution called Thomas Edison State
College in Trenton, N.J. This is a virtual college with no residence
requirements. It banks credits acquired through inexpensive correspondence
courses from any accredited college or university in America.
I took classes by mail from the University of Washington, the University of
Wyoming, and other schools with the lowest-priced correspondence courses I could
find. My degree required the same number of credits and type of classes that any
student at a traditional university would take. I took the same exams (proctored
at local libraries and graded by graduate students) as in-person students. But I
never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day have never laid
eyes on my beloved alma mater.
And the whole degree, including the third-hand books and a sticker for the car,
cost me about $10,000 in today’s dollars.
Now living back in the United States, I followed the 10K-B.A. with a 5K-M.A. at
a local university while working full time, and then endured the standard penury
of being a full-time doctoral fellow in a residential Ph.D. program. The final
tally for a guy in his 30s supporting a family: three degrees, zero debt.
Did I earn a worthless degree? Hardly. My undergraduate years may have been
bereft of frissons, but I wound up with a career as a tenured professor at
Syracuse University, a traditional university. I am now the president of a
Washington research organization.
Not surprisingly, my college experience has occasionally been the target of
ridicule. It is true that I am no Harvard Man. But I can say with full
confidence that my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and
it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a
society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.
The 10K-B.A. is exactly the kind of innovation we would expect in an industry
that is showing every indication of a bubble that is about to burst, as Thomas
K. Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation shows in a new report titled,
“Anatomy of a Revolution? The Rise of the $10,000 Bachelor’s Degree.” When
tuition skyrockets and returns on education stagnate, we can expect a flight to
value, especially by people who can least afford to ride the bubble, and who
have no choice but to make a cost-effective college investment.
In the end, however, the case for the 10K-B.A. is primarily moral, not
financial. The entrepreneurs who see a way for millions to go to college
affordably are the ones who understand the American dream. That dream is the
opportunity to build a life through earned success. That starts with education.
Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute
29, 2013 The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER
LAS VEGAS —
Seizing an opening to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws, President Obama
challenged Congress on Tuesday to act swiftly to put 11 million illegal
immigrants living in the United States on a clear path to citizenship.
But his push for speedy action and his silence on proposals to defer the
opportunity for legal residency until the country’s borders are deemed secure
provoked criticism from a Republican leader on the issue. The response suggests
that reaching consensus on immigration law changes remained difficult despite a
new bipartisan push since the November elections.
Speaking at a high school here in a state that has seen rapid growth in its
Hispanic population, the president praised a bipartisan group of senators who
proposed their own sweeping immigration overhaul a day earlier, saying their
plan was very much in line with his own proposals.
Mr. Obama warned, however, that “the closer we get, the more emotional this
debate is going to become.” He said that if Congress did not move forward “in a
timely fashion” on its own legislation, he would send up a specific measure —
something the White House has put off for now — and demand a vote.
The president’s speech immediately exposed potential fault lines in the coming
debate. He said, for example, that there must be a path to citizenship for
illegal immigrants “from the outset,” a statement that would seem at odds with
the assertion by some senators that citizenship must be tied to tighter border
Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican seen as an influential party voice
on an issue that cost Republicans in last year’s voting, said he was “concerned
by the president’s unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers
before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card.”
“Without such triggers in place,” he went on, “enforcement systems will never be
implemented, and we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of
new undocumented people in our country.”
Although Mr. Obama did not say it in his speech, the White House is also
proposing that the United States treat same-sex couples the same as other
families, meaning that people would be able to use their relationship as a basis
to obtain a visa — another element likely to be resisted by some conservative
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, said in a statement that
House Republicans “hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the
left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and
A senior administration official said the speech was the start of a concerted
campaign to force Republicans to follow through on the bipartisan proposal. He
predicted that given the president’s popularity with Hispanic voters, they would
find it hard vote down a bill with his name on it.
Mr. Obama offered a familiar list of proposals: tightening security on borders,
cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and temporarily issuing
more visas to clear the huge backlog of people applying for legal status in the
His speech, on the heels of the bipartisan Senate proposal, sets the terms for
one of the year’s landmark legislative debates. These are only the opening steps
in a complicated dance, and both the politics and the policy can be treacherous
ground, as shown by the failed effort to overhaul immigration laws in the George
W. Bush administration.
But the flurry of activity underscores the powerful new momentum behind an
overhaul of the system, after an election that dramatized the vulnerability of
Republicans on the issue, with Mr. Obama piling up lopsided majorities over Mitt
Romney among Hispanic voters.
“Most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way
too long,” Mr. Obama said to an audience of about 2,000 high school students,
many of them Hispanic. They applauded loudly when he mentioned the Dream Act,
which offers amnesty to children of immigrants who are in the United States
In scrambling to present their blueprint on Monday, the day before Mr. Obama’s
speech, the senators stole a march on the president. But their intent appeared
less to undermine his efforts than to stake out their own role in drafting a
“It is a fascinating Washington horse race that you don’t always see, and a
signal of the seriousness to get across the finish line,” said Angela Kelley, an
expert on immigration at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research
With the senators hoping to pass legislation by this summer, the White House has
shelved, for now, plans to introduce its own immigration bill, officials said.
Indeed, after two years of feuding with Congress, Mr. Obama finds himself in
rare alignment with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on at least the need to
address a major issue.
That is what made Mr. Obama’s speech such a novelty: rather than criticize
Congress as do-nothing and obstructionist, as he did nearly every day during the
campaign, he applauded the lawmakers for racing ahead of him, at least for a
Beneath the expressions of harmony, however, Ms. Kelley cautioned: “There’s so
much they don’t agree on. There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching.”
Among the main differences is whether to make the path to citizenship for
illegal immigrants contingent on stricter border controls and visa procedures.
Mr. Obama, in his remarks, emphasized that as long as immigrants registered with
the authorities and fulfilled other obligations like paying their taxes, there
should be no doubt that they would eventually obtain citizenship.
“If you’re able to meet some basic criteria,” he said, “then we’ll consider
offering you the chance to come out of the shadows.”
Mr. Obama defended his record in securing the borders, saying that illegal
border crossings had dropped 80 percent from their peak in 2000 because of
increased patrols. Six unmanned surveillance drones now fly over the southwest
border, in addition to 124 other aircraft.
Mr. Obama’s remarks differed little from the main points in his 29-page
blueprint for overhauling immigration laws, which he issued last May and used as
a plank in his re-election campaign. But his language was plainer and more
forceful — speaking of a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants, for
example, not merely to legal status.
The provision on same-sex couples was not in the blueprint, though an
administration official said the Department of Homeland Security began using it
in 2010 when deciding cases involving families.
The president’s goal, the officials said, will be less to underline differences
with the bipartisan plan than to marshal public support behind comprehensive
immigration legislation. Mr. Obama, having failed to achieve that in his first
term, has put it at the top of his agenda for his second.
January 26, 2013
The New York Times
Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around
By ERIN HATTON
Politicians across the political spectrum herald "job
creation," but frightfully few of them talk about what kinds of jobs are being
created. Yet this clearly matters: According to the Census Bureau, one-third of
adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support
themselves and their families.
A quarter of jobs in America pay below the federal poverty line for a family
of four ($23,050). Not only are many jobs low-wage, they are also temporary
and insecure. Over the last three years, the temp industry added more jobs in
the United States than any other, according to the American Staffing
Association, the trade group representing temp recruitment agencies, outsourcing
specialists and the like.
Low-wage, temporary jobs have become so widespread that they threaten to become
the norm. But for some reason this isn't causing a scandal. At least in the
business press, we are more likely to hear plaudits for "lean and mean"
companies than angst about the changing nature of work for ordinary Americans.
How did we arrive at this state of affairs? Many argue that it was the
inevitable result of macroeconomic forces - globalization, deindustrialization
and technological change - beyond our political control. Yet employers had (and
have) choices. Rather than squeezing workers, they could have invested in
workers and boosted product quality, taking what economists call the high road
toward more advanced manufacturing and skilled service work. But this hasn't
happened. Instead, American employers have generally taken the low road:
lowering wages and cutting benefits, converting permanent employees into
part-time and contingent workers, busting unions and subcontracting and
outsourcing jobs. They have done so, in part, because of the extraordinary
evangelizing of the temp industry, which rose from humble origins to become a
The story begins in the years after World War II, when a handful of temp
agencies were started, largely in the Midwest. In 1947, William Russell Kelly
founded Russell Kelly Office Service (later known as Kelly Girl Services) in
Detroit, with three employees, 12 customers and $848 in sales. A year later, two
lawyers, Aaron Scheinfeld and Elmer Winter, founded a similarly small outfit,
Manpower Inc., in Milwaukee. At the time, the future of these fledgling agencies
was no foregone conclusion. Unions were at the peak of their power, and the
protections that they had fought so hard to achieve - workers' compensation,
pensions, health benefits and more - had been adopted by union and nonunion
But temp leaders were creating a new category of work (and workers) that would
be exempt from such protections.
To avoid union opposition, they developed a clever strategy, casting temp work
as "women's work," and advertising thousands of images of young, white,
middle-class women doing a variety of short-term office jobs. The Kelly Girls,
Manpower's White Glove Girls, Western Girl's Cowgirls, the American Girls of
American Girl Services and numerous other such "girls" appeared in the pages of
Newsweek, Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, Good Housekeeping, Fortune,
The New York Times and The Chicago Daily Tribune. In 1961 alone, Manpower spent
$1 million to put its White Glove Girls in the Sunday issue of big city
newspapers across the country.
The strategy was an extraordinary success. Not only did the Kelly Girls become
cultural icons, but the temp agencies grew and grew. By 1957, Kelly reported
nearly $7 million in sales; in 1962, with 148 branches and $24 million in sales,
it went public. Meanwhile, by 1956 Manpower had 91 branches in 65 cities (and 10
abroad) and, with sales at $12 million annually, employed some 4,000 workers a
day. In 1962, Manpower also went public, boasting 270 offices across four
continents and over $40 million in sales.
The temp agencies' Kelly Girl strategy was clever (and successful) because it
exploited the era's cultural ambivalence about white, middle-class women working
outside the home. Instead of seeking to replace "breadwinning" union jobs with
low-wage temp work, temp agencies went the culturally safer route: selling temp
work for housewives who were (allegedly) only working for pin money. As a Kelly
executive told The New York Times in 1958, "The typical Kelly Girl... doesn't
want full-time work, but she's bored with strictly keeping house. Or maybe she
just wants to take a job until she pays for a davenport or a new fur coat."
Protected by the era's gender biases, early temp leaders thus established a new
sector of low-wage, unreliable work right under the noses of powerful labor
unions. While greater numbers of employers in the postwar era offered
family-supporting wages and health insurance, the rapidly expanding temp
agencies established a different precedent by explicitly refusing to do so. That
precedent held for more than half a century: even today "temp" jobs are beyond
the reach of many workplace protections, not only health benefits but also
unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination laws and union-organizing rights.
By 1967 Manpower employed more workers than corporate giants like Standard Oil
of New Jersey and the U.S. Steel Corporation. Manpower and the other temp
agencies had gained a foothold, and temporary employment was widely considered a
legitimate part of the economy. Now eyeing a bigger prize - expansion beyond
pink-collar work - temp industry leaders dropped their "Kelly Girl" image and
began to argue that all employees, not just secretaries, should be replaced by
temps. And rather than simply selling temps, they sold a bigger product: a lean
and mean approach to business that considered workers to be burdensome costs
that should be minimized.
For example, in 1971 the recently renamed Kelly Services ran a series of ads in
The Office, a human resources journal, promoting the "Never-Never Girl," who,
the company claimed: "Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise.
Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.)
Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never
costs you for unemployment taxes and Social Security payments. (None of the
paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of
every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If your Kelly Girl employee
doesn't work out, you don't pay.)"
Around the same time, the New York agency Olsten Temporary Help Services
announced a new product: "The Semi-Permanent Employee." Comparing its innovation
to the wireless, the phonograph and the telephone, company leaders presented the
"Semi-Permanent" as "a new kind of temporary employee...not for days or even
weeks, but for two- and three-month periods to help your business grow more
profitably." This new "invention," Olsten told businesses, would boost profits
by shrinking the payroll (to "a slim, trim personnel budget, not one which
chokes profitability"); by smoothing over the ebb and flow of the business cycle
("you needn't carry 'dead wood' for months when business is slow"); and by
cutting training costs (employers would get "trained personnel without having to
engage in expensive and unprofitable retraining").
By peddling products like the "Semi-Permanent Employee," the "Never-Never Girl"
and more, temp industry leaders promoted a model in which permanent employees
were a "costly burden," a "headache" that needed relief. "Stop paying help you
don't use," Western Services advised in 1969. It even urged employers to convert
their own permanent employees to temps, as in a 1971 advertisement in The
Personnel Journal: "Just say goodbye... then shift them to our payroll and say
According to the temp industry, workers were just another capital investment;
only the product of the labor had any value. The workers themselves were
Paradoxically, this model ran counter to the conventional management wisdom of
the day. The same year that the "Never-Never Girl" appeared in the pages of
national business journals, one of the best-selling management books was "Up the
Organization: How to Stop the Organization From Stifling People and Strangling
Profits," in which the former Avis Rent-a-Car president Robert Townsend argued
for treating workers as valuable assets rather than headaches to be squelched.
The "human relations" school of management touted employee satisfaction as the
best route to boosting profits.
But temp industry leaders continued to encourage companies to "rent" workers
rather than "buy" them. And perhaps even more persuasive than their arguments
were the practical tools they were able to offer: thousands of low-cost temps,
without the hassle of having to hire, train, supervise and fire them. Becoming
lean and mean had never been easier, and thousands of companies began to go the
temping route, especially during the deep economic recessions of the 1970s.
Temporary employment skyrocketed from 185,000 temps a day to over 400,000 in
1980 - the same number employed each year in 1963. Nor did the numbers slow when
good times returned: even through the economic boom of the '90s, temporary
employment grew rapidly, from less than 1 million workers a day to nearly 3
million by 2000.
The temp industry's continued growth even in a boom economy was a testament to
its success in helping to forge a new cultural consensus about work and workers.
Its model of expendable labor became so entrenched, in fact, that it became
"common sense," leaching into nearly every sector of the economy and allowing
the newly renamed "staffing industry" to become sought-after experts on
employment and work force development. Outsourcing, insourcing, offshoring and
many other hallmarks of the global economy (including the use of "adjuncts" in
academia, my own corner of the world) owe no small debt to the ideas developed
by the temp industry in the last half-century.
A growing number of people call for bringing outsourced jobs back to America.
But if they return as shoddy, poverty-wage jobs - jobs designed for "Never-Never
Girls" rather than valued employees - we won't be better off for having them. If
we want good jobs rather than just any jobs, we need to figure out how to
preserve what is useful and innovative about temporary employment while
jettisoning the anti-worker ideology that has come to accompany it.
Erin Hatton, an assistant professor of sociology
at the State University of New York, Buffalo,
is the author of "The Temp Economy:
From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America."
26, 2013 The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
IT’S the annual conclave of the presumed powerful, the World Economic Forum in
Davos, with the wealthy flying in on private jets to discuss issues like global
poverty. As always, it’s a sea of men. This year, female participation is 17
Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that global business and political
leaders are overwhelmingly male. In America, only 17 percent of American
Fortune 500 board seats are held by women, a mere 3 percent of board chairs are
women — and women are barely represented in President Obama’s cabinet.
Indeed, I’m guessing that the average boardroom doesn’t have much better gender
equality than a team of cave hunters attacking a woolly mammoth 30,000 years
So what gives? A provocative answer comes from Sheryl Sandberg, the chief
operating officer of Facebook, who has written a smart book due out in March
that attributes the gender gap, in part, to chauvinism and corporate obstacles —
but also, in part, to women who don’t aggressively pursue opportunities.
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence,
by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,”
Sandberg writes in the book, called “Lean In.”
“We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages
that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We
lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the
majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make
room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.”
Sandberg and I discussed the issue on a panel here in Davos, and I think that
there is something real and important in what she says. When I lecture at
universities, the first questions are invariably asked by a man — even at a
women’s college. When I point at someone in a crowd to ask a question, the women
in the area almost always look at each other hesitantly — and any man in the
vicinity jumps up and asks his question.
A McKinsey survey published in April found that 36 percent of male employees at
major companies aspired to be top executives, compared with 18 percent of the
women. A study of Carnegie Mellon M.B.A. graduates in 2003 found that 57 percent
of the men, but only 7 percent of the women, tried to negotiate a higher initial
Sandberg, one of the most prominent women in corporate America, is not known as
a shrinking violet. She confesses that when she was in elementary school, she
trained her younger brother and sister to follow her around, listen to her give
speeches and periodically shout: “Right!”
Yet she acknowledges that she has harbored many insecurities, sometimes shedding
tears at the office, as well as doubts about her juggling of work and family.
When she joined Facebook as its No. 2, she was initially willing to accept the
first offer from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder. She writes that her husband and
brother-in-law hounded her to demand more, so she did — and got a better deal.
“I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with
gusto,” Sandberg writes. “And I am hoping that each man will do his part to
support women in the workplace and in the home, also with gusto.”
Yet I wish that there could be two versions of Sandberg’s book. One marketed to
young women would encourage them to be more assertive. One marketed to men (and
women already in leadership) would emphasize the need for structural changes to
accommodate women and families.
Is Sandberg blaming the victim? I don’t think so, but I also don’t want to relax
the pressure on employers to do a much better job of recruiting and promoting
Nature and social mores together make motherhood more all-consuming than
fatherhood, yet the modern job was built for a distracted father. That’s not
great for dads and can be just about impossible for moms — at least those who
don’t have great wealth or extraordinary spouses.
Sandberg famously leaves the office at 5:30 most days to be with her kids, but
not many women (or men) would dare try that.
Some people believe that women are more nurturing bosses, or that they offer
more support to women below them. I’m skeptical. Women can be jerks as much as
But we need more women in leadership positions for another reason: considerable
evidence suggests that more diverse groups reach better decisions. Corporations
should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them
perform better. Lehman Brothers might still be around today if it were Lehman
Brothers & Sisters.
So, yes, let’s encourage young women to “lean in,” but let’s also change the
workplace so that when they do lean in and assert themselves, we’re directly
behind them shouting: “Right!”
The New York Times
By WENDY BUTTON
A FEW years
ago, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to more than a “rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”
It was a full-force pounding of a body trying to break into my little house in
Washington, D.C. It was the sound and scenario that, as a single woman living
alone, I feared more than spiders in the house.
Because I was writing political speeches at the time, my BlackBerry slept on the
pillow beside me. I grabbed it and looked out my bedroom window at the stoop
below. There he was: tall, dark clothes, big. He backed up and then raced to the
door, pounding his body against it. Then he kicked at it the way actors take
boots to the heads of bad guys in the movies.
I dialed 911 and ran downstairs, my 100-pound Newfoundland with me.
I gave the dispatcher my address, let her know that I lived around the corner
from a police station and said, “Please hurry.” She heard the loud noise and
remained on the line with me.
I put the BlackBerry on speaker and pushed a heavy armchair toward the door. I
watched as the wood expanded with each pound. The white paint splintered some.
The deadbolt held at the top, but the bottom half of the door popped open,
letting in the steam heat from the summer night. I took that chair and slammed
it so the side pushed the door back in line with the frame. I held that chair
with everything my 5 foot 3 inches had. My dog sat right by me on the rug,
“The police are outside,” the dispatcher said.
I let go of the chair’s arms and thanked the woman for staying on the phone with
me. I answered the questions from the police and looked at the drunk man in the
back of the patrol car, kicking at the seats. When they left, I pushed the
couch, chair, coffee table and even a lamp in front of the locked door. I did
that every night for a week until a steel-gated security door was installed.
And then, I did more.
I considered buying a gun. The threat of violence rattles you like that. What
rolled round my head after that dark morning was: what if I hadn’t heard the
noise, what if it’s different next time? While I held that chair with all of my
strength, I wished that I had had a gun because if he had gotten in, then I
could have pointed it at him, maybe deterred him and if necessary pulled the
So I looked at guns. Some had mother-of-pearl handles and looked like something
Mae West would use in a movie. Others were Glocks, shotguns and rifles. I had
gone as far as to dial the number of the Metropolitan Police Department’s
firearms registration division and begin the process. Then I stopped and put my
I remembered who I am.
I am one of the millions of people in this country who live with depression. I
knew that in the gun registration form there would be a version of this
question: Have you ever voluntarily or involuntarily been committed to a
hospital? The answer is yes — voluntarily. But because my hospitalization was
years earlier and I wasn’t in treatment at the time, I could have gotten a gun.
My depression appeared for the first time in the late ’90s, right before
I began writing for politicians. It comes and goes like fog. Medicine can help.
I have my tricks to manage and get through it. Sometimes it sticks around for a
day or a week, and sometimes it stays away for a couple of years. But it never
leads me to sleep all day, cry and wear sweat pants like the people in the
commercials. You’d look at me and never know that sometimes my fight against the
urge to die is so tough the only way I get through it is second by second; I
live by the second hand.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,364 Americans
lost that fight in 2010 and committed suicide; 19,392 used a gun. No one
ever attempted to break down my door in the early morning again, but I had an
episode when my depression did come back in full force in the early winter of
2009, after I made a career-ending decision and isolated myself too much; on a
January night in 2010; and again in May 2012, after testifying in the federal
criminal trial of John Edwards, my former boss. If I had purchased that gun and
it had been in my possession, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist and
would be here typing these words.
The other day, the president and the vice president announced their plans to
curb gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I agree with all
of their measures. But I believe they should be bolder and stop walking on
eggshells about what to do with people like me and those not even close to being
like me but still labeled with the crazy term “mentally ill.” The executive
actions the president signed to increase access and treatment are all good,
although the experts will struggle with confidentiality and privacy issues.
But since most people like me are more likely to harm ourselves than to turn
into mass-murdering monsters, our leaders should do more to keep us safe from
Please take away my Second Amendment right. Do more to help us protect ourselves
because what’s most likely to wake me in the early hours isn’t a man’s body
slamming at my door but depression, that raven, tapping, rapping, banging for
I have a better chance of surviving if I never have the option of being able to
pull the trigger.
January 8, 2013 The New York Times
By JUSTIN GILLIS
The numbers are in: 2012, the year of a surreal March heat wave, a severe
drought in the Corn Belt and a huge storm that caused broad devastation in the
Middle Atlantic States, turns out to have been the hottest year ever recorded in
the contiguous United States.
How hot was it? The temperature differences between years are usually measured
in fractions of a degree, but last year’s 55.3 degree average demolished the
previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit.
If that does not sound sufficiently impressive, consider that 34,008 daily high
records were set at weather stations across the country, compared with only
6,664 record lows, according to a count maintained by the Weather Channel
meteorologist Guy Walton, using federal temperature records.
That ratio, which was roughly in balance as recently as the 1970s, has been out
of whack for decades as the country has warmed, but never by as much as it was
“The heat was remarkable,” said Jake Crouch, a scientist with the National
Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which released the official climate
compilation on Tuesday. “It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree
is quite a big deal.”
Scientists said that natural variability almost certainly played a role in last
year’s extreme heat and drought. But many of them expressed doubt that such a
striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming
caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was
probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat
extremes more likely.
Even so, the last year’s record for the United States is not expected to
translate into a global temperature record when figures are released in the
coming weeks. The year featured a La Niña weather pattern, which tends to cool
the global climate over all, and scientists expect it to be the world’s eighth-
or ninth-warmest year on record.
Assuming that prediction holds up, it will mean that the 10 warmest years on
record all fell within the past 15 years, a measure of how much the planet has
warmed. Nobody who is under 28 has lived through a month of global temperatures
that fell below the 20th-century average, because the last such month was
Last year’s weather in the United States began with an unusually warm winter,
with relatively little snow across much of the country, followed by a March that
was so hot that trees burst into bloom and swimming pools opened early. The soil
dried out in the March heat, helping to set the stage for a drought that peaked
during the warmest July on record.
The drought engulfed 61 percent of the nation, killed corn and soybean crops and
sent prices spiraling. It was comparable to a severe drought in the 1950s, Mr.
Crouch said, but not quite as severe as the legendary Dust Bowl drought of the
1930s, which was exacerbated by poor farming practices that allowed topsoil to
Extensive records covering the lower 48 states go back to 1895; Alaska and
Hawaii have shorter records and are generally not included in long-term climate
comparisons for that reason.
Mr. Crouch pointed out that until last year, the coldest year in the historical
record for the lower 48 states, 1917, was separated from the warmest year, 1998,
by only 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why the 2012 record, and its one degree
increase over 1998, strikes climatologists as so unusual.
“We’re taking quite a large step above what the period of record has shown for
the contiguous United States,” Mr. Crouch said.
In addition to being the nation’s warmest year, 2012 turned out to be the
second-worst on a measure called the Climate Extremes Index, surpassed only by
Experts are still counting, but so far 11 disasters in 2012 have exceeded a
threshold of $1 billion in damages, including several tornado outbreaks;
Hurricane Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast in August, and, late in the year,
Hurricane Sandy, which caused damage likely to exceed $60 billion in nearly half
the states, primarily in the mid-Atlantic region.
Among those big disasters was one bearing a label many people had never heard
before: the derecho, a line of severe, fast-moving thunderstorms that struck
central and eastern parts of the country starting on June 29, killing more than
20 people, toppling trees and knocking out power for millions of households.
For people who escaped both the derecho and Hurricane Sandy relatively
unscathed, the year may be remembered most for the sheer breadth and
oppressiveness of the summer heat wave. By the calculations of the climatic data
center, a third of the nation’s population experienced 10 or more days of summer
temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Among the cities that set temperature records in 2012 were Nashville; Athens,
Ga.; and Cairo, Ill., all of which hit 109 degrees on June 29; Greenville, S.C.,
which hit 107 degrees on July 1; and Lamar, Colo., which hit 112 degrees on June
With the end of the growing season, coverage of the drought has waned, but the
drought itself has not. Mr. Crouch pointed out that at the beginning of January,
61 percent of the country was still in moderate to severe drought conditions. “I
foresee that it’s going to be a big story moving forward in 2013,” he said.
— National health spending climbed to $2.7 trillion in 2011, or an average of
$8,700 for every person in the country, but as a share of the economy, it
remained stable for the third consecutive year, the Obama administration
The rate of increase in health spending, 3.9 percent in 2011, was the same as in
2009 and 2010 — the lowest annual rates recorded in the 52 years the government
has been collecting such data.
Federal officials could not say for sure whether the low growth in health
spending represented the start of a trend or reflected the continuing effects of
the recession, which crimped the economy from December 2007 to June 2009.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said that “the
statistics show how the Affordable Care Act is already making a difference,”
saving money for consumers. But a report issued by the Centers for Medicare and
Medicaid Services, in her department, said that the law had so far had “no
discernible impact” on overall health spending.
Although some provisions of the law have taken effect, the report said, “their
influence on overall health spending through 2011 was minimal.”
The recession increased unemployment, reduced the number of people with private
health insurance, lowered household income and assets and therefore tended to
slow health spending, said Micah B. Hartman, a statistician at the Centers for
Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In the report, federal officials said that total national spending on
prescription drugs and doctors’ services grew faster in 2011 than in the year
before, but that spending on hospital care grew more slowly.
Medicaid spending likewise grew less quickly in 2011 than in the prior year, as
states struggled with budget problems. But Medicare spending grew more rapidly,
because of an increase in “the volume and intensity” of doctors’ services and a
one-time increase in Medicare payments to skilled nursing homes, said the
report, published in the journal Health Affairs.
National health spending grew at roughly the same pace as the overall economy,
without adjusting for inflation, so its share of the economy stayed the same, at
17.9 percent in 2011, where it has been since 2009. By contrast, health spending
accounted for just 13.8 percent of the economy in 2000.
Health spending grew more than 5 percent each year from 1961 to 2007. It rose at
double-digit rates in some years, including every year from 1966 to 1984 and
from 1988 to 1990.
The report did not forecast the effects of the new health care law on future
spending. Some provisions of the law, including subsidized insurance for
millions of Americans, could increase spending, officials said. But the law also
trims Medicare payments to many health care providers and authorizes experiments
to slow the growth of health spending.
“The jury is still out whether all the innovations we’re testing will have much
impact,” said Richard S. Foster, who supervised the preparation of the report as
chief actuary of the Medicare agency. “I am optimistic. There’s a lot of
potential. More and more health care providers understand that the future cannot
be like the past, in which health spending almost always grew faster than the
gross domestic product.”
Evidence of the new emphasis can be seen in a series of articles published in
The Archives of Internal Medicine, now known as JAMA Internal Medicine, under
the title “Less Is More.” The series highlights cases in which “the overuse of
medical care may result in harm and in which less care is likely to result in
Total spending for doctors’ services rose 3.6 percent in 2011, to $436 billion,
while spending for hospital care increased 4.3 percent, to $850.6 billion.
Spending on prescription drugs at retail stores reached $263 billion in 2011, up
2.9 percent from 2010, when growth was just four-tenths of 1 percent. The latest
increase was still well below the average increase of 7.8 percent a year from
2000 to 2010.
Federal officials said the increase in 2011 resulted partly from rapid growth in
prices for brand-name drugs.
Prices for specialty drugs, typically prescribed by medical specialists for
chronic conditions, have increased at double-digit rates in recent years, the
government said. In addition, spending on new brand-name drugs — those brought
to market in the previous two years — more than doubled from 2010 to 2011,
driven by an increase in the number of new medicines.
“In 2011,” the report said, “spending for private health insurance premiums
increased 3.8 percent, as did spending for benefits. Out-of-pocket spending by
consumers increased 2.8 percent in 2011, accelerating from 2.1 percent in 2010
but still slower than the average annual growth rate of 4.7 percent” from 2002
January 5, 2013 The New York Times
By GARY KING and SAMIR S. SONEJI
CONGRESS and President Obama have pushed through a relatively
modest stopgap measure to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” but over the coming years,
the United States will confront another huge cliff: Social Security.
In the first presidential debate, Mr. Obama described Social Security as
“structurally sound,” and Mitt Romney said that “neither the president nor I are
proposing any changes” to the program. It was a rare issue on which both men
agreed — and both were utterly wrong.
For the first time in more than a quarter-century, Social Security ran a
deficit in 2010: It spent $49 billion dollars more in benefits than it received
in revenues, and drew from its trust funds to cover the shortfall. Those funds —
a $2.7 trillion buffer built in anticipation of retiring baby boomers — will be
exhausted by 2033, the government currently projects.
Those facts are widely known. What’s not is that the Social Security
Administration underestimates how long Americans will live and how much the
trust funds will need to pay out — to the tune of $800 billion by 2031, more
than the current annual defense budget — and that the trust funds will run out,
if nothing is done, two years earlier than the government has predicted.
We reached these conclusions, and presented them in an article in the journal
Demography, after finding that the government’s methods for forecasting
Americans’ longevity were outdated and omitted crucial health and demographic
factors. Historic declines in smoking and improvements in the prevention and
treatment of cardiovascular disease are adding years of life that the government
hasn’t accounted for. (While obesity has rapidly increased, it is not likely, at
this point, to offset these public health and medical successes.) More retirees
will receive benefits for longer than predicted, supported by the payroll taxes
of relatively fewer working adults than projected.
Remarkably, since Social Security was created in 1935, the government’s
forecasting methods have barely changed, even as a revolution in big data and
statistics has transformed everything from baseball to retailing.
This omission can be explained by the fact that the Office of the Chief Actuary,
the branch of the Social Security Administration that is responsible for the
forecasts, is almost exclusively composed of, well, actuaries — without any
serious representation of statisticians or social science methodologists. While
these actuaries are highly responsible and careful and do excellent work
curating and describing the data that go into the forecasts, their job is not to
make statistical predictions. Yet the agency badly needs such expertise.
With considerable help from the actuaries and other officials at the Social
Security Administration, we unearthed how the agency makes mortality forecasts
and uses them to predict the program’s solvency. We learned that the methods are
antiquated, subjective and needlessly complicated — and, as a result, are prone
to error and to potential interference from political appointees. This may
explain why the agency’s forecasts have, at times, changed significantly from
year to year, even when there was little change in the underlying data.
We have made our methods, calculations and software available online at
j.mp/SSecurity so that others can replicate or improve our forecasts. The
implications of our findings go beyond social science. As the wave of retirement
by the baby boomers continues, doing nothing to shore up Social Security’s
solvency is irresponsible. If the amount of money coming in through payroll
taxes does not increase and if the amount of money going out as benefits remains
the same, the trust funds will become insolvent less than 20 years from now.
To save Social Security, which has lifted generations of elderly people out of
poverty, tough choices have to be made. One option is to continue raising the
retirement age, perhaps to as high as 69 or 70. While the full retirement age is
gradually increasing to 67 (for people born in 1960 or later) from 65, this
increase is not enough to counterbalance the gains in longevity.
A second option is to increase payroll taxes, for example by taxing wages over
$113,700, the current earnings limit. A third is to limit the annual
cost-of-living adjustments, possibly by changing how those adjustments are
calculated. A fourth is to reduce benefits — for example, by lowering the
initial benefits for workers whose lifetime wages are above the national average
(currently $43,000 a year). Other choices, in numerous combinations, are
One factor that might be considered is new research suggesting that retirement
itself, although popular, may reduce life expectancy by breaking lifelong
routines and disrupting deep social connections. One might question how much
government policy should actively encourage retirement, as opposed to merely
making it an option.
Americans need to discuss these difficult choices — and the Social Security
Administration needs the ability to improve its forecasting technology by adding
statisticians and social science methodologists to help its actuaries institute
more formalized quantitative and statistical procedures.
In 1983, after the last time the trust funds ran a deficit, the National
Commission on Social Security Reform, led by Alan Greenspan and with members
appointed by President Ronald Reagan and Congressional leaders, produced a
report that led to changes in payroll taxes. But in the quarter-century since,
there have been only modest changes in the program.
We know much more now about mortality and demography, and so an open debate
today about Social Security’s future could be even more productive than it was
then. The high levels of partisan strife may not make the present seem like the
best time to reach a bipartisan agreement. But few issues are more important to
more Americans, of both parties, and the longer we ignore the problem, the more
disruptive any change will need to be to keep Social Security alive.
Gary King is a professor of government
and director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science
Samir S. Soneji, a demographer, is an assistant professor
Nearly a million low-wage workers in 10 states will get a modest raise this
year. In Rhode Island, a new law has raised the state’s minimum wage by 35 cents
an hour, to $7.75, which will work out to an average annual raise of $510 for
11,000 Rhode Islanders. In nine other states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida,
Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — laws that peg the
minimum wage to inflation will result in increases of 10 cents to 15 cents an
hour, for hourly wages ranging from $7.35 in Missouri to $9.19 in Washington.
By contrast, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since
2009. In all, 19 states and the District of Columbia set their minimums above
that level, providing a much needed lift for the lowest-paid workers. But
state efforts are no substitute for a higher federal minimum because the ability
to earn a minimally acceptable income should not depend on where a worker lives.
Will Congress finally raise the federal minimum wage this year? It would be the
least that lawmakers could do. In the fiscal cliff deal, lawmakers locked in big
tax breaks for wealthy investors and for heirs of multimillion-dollar estates.
At the same time, they allowed the payroll tax cut for low- and middle-income
taxpayers to expire, without enacting new provisions to ease the blow. The
lowest-paid workers will be hit the hardest. In the states that raised their
minimum wage this year, much of the increase will be eaten up by the higher
payroll tax. In the other states, paychecks will simply be smaller.
Efforts to raise the minimum invariably run into arguments that employers,
especially small businesses, cannot afford to pay a higher wage. But the
evidence shows that most low-wage employees work for large companies, which have
largely recovered from the recession and have reinstituted generous pay packages
for executives. As for low-wage workers at small businesses, many are waitresses
and other “tipped” workers for whom the federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour,
where it has been since 1991. Clearly, there is ample room for an increase.
A related argument is that a higher minimum wage destroys jobs, especially
employment for teenagers. But research shows that most low-wage workers are over
the age of 20 and suggests that paying them a higher wage could actually create
jobs by bolstering consumer spending.
A higher minimum wage is also an obvious way to counter the accelerating trend
toward low-wage work and growing income inequality. For decades, various forces,
including the decline in unionization and the global competition for jobs, have
pushed down wages in the United States. But the situation has become worse in
the last few years, as most of the middle-wage jobs lost during the recession
have been replaced with lower-paid work.
Raising the minimum wage is always a fight. Congress has approved legislation to
do so only three times in the last 30 years. President Obama promised to take on
this fight back in 2008, when he called for a federal minimum wage of $9.50 an
hour by 2011, indexed to inflation. It is past time to keep the promise.
When the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, it said there were
two social purposes for imposing capital punishment for the most egregious
crimes: deterrence and retribution. In recent months, these justifications for a
cruel and uncivilized punishment have been seriously undermined by a growing
group of judges, prosecutors, scholars and others involved in criminal justice,
conservatives and liberals alike.
A distinguished committee of scholars convened by the National Research Council
found that there is no useful evidence to determine if the death penalty deters
serious crimes. Many first-rate scholars have tried to prove the theory of
deterrence, but that research “is not informative about whether capital
punishment increases, decreases, or has no effect on homicide rates,” the
A host of other respected experts have also concluded that life imprisonment is
a far more practical form of retribution, because the death penalty process is
too expensive, too time-consuming and unfairly applied.
The punishment is supposed to be reserved for the very worst criminals, but
dozens of studies in state after state have shown that the process for deciding
who should be sent to death row is arbitrary and discriminatory.
Thanks to the Innocence Project and the overturning of 18 wrongful convictions
of death-row inmates with DNA evidence and the exonerations of 16 others charged
with capital crimes, the American public is increasingly aware that the system
makes terrible mistakes. Since 1973, a total of 142 people have been freed from
death row after being exonerated with DNA or other kinds of evidence.
All of these factors have led the states to retreat from the death penalty in
recent years — in both law and in practice. In 2012, Connecticut became the
fifth state in five years to abolish the penalty. Nine states executed inmates,
the fewest in two decades. Three-fourths of the 43 executions in 2012 were
carried out in only four states. The number of new death sentences remained low
at 77 — about one-third the number in 2000 — with just four states accounting
for almost two-thirds of those sentences. While 33 states retain the death
penalty on their books, 13 of them have not executed anyone for at least five
Those 13 states plus the 17 without the penalty means that 30 states are not
carrying it out — and that includes California, which retained the death penalty
in a November referendum vote. Almost one-quarter of the 3,146 death row inmates
in the United States, as of October, are imprisoned in California, but that
state has not executed anyone in seven years.
California’s chief justice said recently that the state’s official moratorium,
which has been in place for six years, is likely to continue for at least three
more because of problems with the execution method.
In January, executions are scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania, Virginia and
Texas. As it happens, major reviews of the death penalty are under way in each
of those states. The reviews are very likely to find that those states have
failed to meet standards of fairness under the Constitution, just as reviews of
the capital systems in other states have concluded in the last decade.
The large number of states no longer carrying out executions indicates a kind of
national consensus. It points to “the evolving standards of decency that mark
the progress of a maturing society,” an idea that the Supreme Court has evoked
in judging the constitutionality of punishments. The court used that analysis
most recently when it ruled that mandatory life sentences without possibility of
parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders even if they are convicted of
It should similarly recognize that under evolving standards capital punishment
is cruel and unusual and should be abolished.
25, 2012 7:34 pm
The New York Times
By MARK BITTMAN
ago few doctors - not even pediatricians - concerned themselves much with
nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains
recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly
expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.
"I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago," David Ludwig, a
pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called
"adult-onset" diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. "Never. Now
about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we're seeing are Type 2."
Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center
in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay
("Viewpoint") in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Association titled "Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity."
That title that would once have been impossible, but now it's merely
paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the
United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have
inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down,
are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are
underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now
officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the
consumption of unhealthy calories.
The doctors' piece, which addresses these issues, was written by Ludwig along
with Susan Blumenthal, a former assistant Surgeon General and U.S.D.A. medical
adviser, and Walter Willett, chair of Harvard's Department of Nutrition (and a
stalwart of sound nutrition research for more than 30 years). It's essentially a
plea to tweak SNAP regulations Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits, the
program formerly and more familiarly known as Food Stamps) so that the program
concerns itself with the quality of calories instead of just their quantity.
"It's shocking," says Ludwig, "how little we consider food quality in the
management of chronic diseases. And in the case of SNAP that failure costs
taxpayers twice: We pay once when low-income families buy junk foods and sugary
beverages with SNAP benefits, and we pay a second time when poor diet quality
inevitably increases the costs of health care in general, and Medicaid and
Medicare in particular."
The argument that soda and other junk masquerading as food should be made
ineligible for purchase by food stamps, as are alcohol and tobacco, is one
that's been gaining momentum in the last few years. It's also one that has led
to a split in what might be called the nutrition advocacy community.
On the one side are "anti-hunger" groups who want to maintain SNAP's status quo;
on the other are those who believe SNAP must be protected but also that it must
be adjusted to take into account the changes in agriculture, marketing and diet
that have occurred since SNAP was born 50 years ago, changes that have led to
the obesity crisis.
I'm in that second camp, as are the authors of this article, who make a case
that the rift is artificial, though both sides share the same fear: if we
advocate any tinkering with SNAP, it may make the program more vulnerable to
cuts which it can ill afford.
But the reality is that some billions of SNAP dollars (exact figures are
unavailable, but the number most experts use is four) are being spent on soda,
which is strictly speaking not food, and certainly not a nutritious substance,
and is a leading cause of obesity. Seven percent of our calories come from
sugar-sweetened beverages, none of them doing any of us any good.
Though there were those who argued against including soda when food stamps were
created, the most pressing need was to address calorie deficiency, and that
remains important. But the situation is different now: we recognize the harmful
properties of added sugar, the importance of high-quality nutrients in children
has been better analyzed, and obesity is a bigger problem than hunger. So
funding low-quality, harmful calories is detrimental to both funders and
"It's time," says Ludwig, "for us to realize that the goals of anti-hunger and
obesity prevention are not at cross purposes. In fact poor quality foods can
actually increase hunger because they are inherently less filling." A child will
become hungrier, sooner, after consuming 200 calories from a sugary beverage,
compared to an apple and peanut butter with the same calories.
What's to be done? How to improve the quality of calories purchased by SNAP
recipients? The answer is easy: Make sure that SNAP dollars are spent on
This could happen in two ways: first, remove the subsidy for sugar-sweetened
beverages, since no one without a share in the profits can argue that the
substance plays a constructive role in any diet. "There's no rationale for
continuing to subsidize them through SNAP benefits," says Ludwig, "with the
level of science we have linking their consumption to obesity, diabetes and
heart disease." New York City proposed a pilot program that would do precisely
this back in 2011; it was rejected by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) as
Simultaneously, make it easier to buy real food; several cities, including New
York, have programs that double the value of food stamps when used for purchases
at farmers markets. The next step is to similarly increase the spending power of
food stamps when they're used to buy fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole
grains, not just in farmers markets but in supermarkets - indeed, everywhere
people buy food.
Both of these could be set up as pilot programs by the USDA. Their inevitable
success would lead to their expansion, and ultimately to better health for SNAP
participants, who now number nearly 50 million. The impact of improving the diet
of that many Americans would be profound; the impact of not doing so is tragic.
21, 2012 The New York Times
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD
Arms, a gun dealer in Auburn, Wash., receives great Yelp reviews for its
responsiveness. But a call to the dealer on Friday led to a full voice mail box,
and an e-mail to its sales team drew this automatic response: “Thank you for
contacting Rainier Arms for your AR-15 needs. Due to an overwhelming response to
the latest political climate, we are experiencing longer-than-normal response
At Bud’s Gun Shop in Maryland, a message on the Web site said that customer
service was “completely overwhelmed” and it discouraged customers from calling
And on GunBroker.com, an Oracle .223 that normally retails for around $650 had
been bid up to $1,175 with three days left in the auction.
With gun-control legislation getting more serious discussion than it has in
years, gun sales are spiking as enthusiasts stock up in advance of possible
Gun sales have been increasing over the past five years, with marked
increases around the 2008 and 2012 elections, and after mass shootings like the
one in Aurora, Colo., and now in Newtown, Conn.
“The largest factor by far is fears over a potential change in gun laws — that’s
what’s driving most guns enthusiasts or even first-time buyers to go buy a gun,”
said Nima Samadi, senior guns and ammunition analyst for the research firm
There is increasing demands for guns in the United States. Last year, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 16.45 million background checks for
firearm sales through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a
14 percent jump from the previous year. In the first 11 months of this year, the
bureau conducted 16.8 million background checks, a record since the system’s
founding in 1998.
Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, though, a few
companies associated with gun sales have backed away. Cerberus Capital
Management put the company that makes the Bushmaster, a gun used in the
shootings, up for sale on Tuesday, saying, “The Sandy Hook tragedy was a
watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an
Dick’s Sporting Goods temporarily ceased selling all guns in its location
closest to Newtown, and has also put a hold on sales of so-called modern
sporting rifles, which include semiautomatic guns, nationwide.
And Deseret Digital Media, which owns KSL.com, a Web site that has been
criticized by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for allowing unregulated gun sales,
said it was suspending classified advertisements for guns.
Elsewhere, though, consumers are hurrying to buy guns, leading to some models
being out of stock, warnings of shipping and customer-service delays, and
significant premiums on assault rifles.
“We are seeing a total madhouse of buying everything in sight,” said Bob Irwin,
owner of the Gun Store, a Las Vegas shooting range and retailer. Thursday, he
said, was the largest sales day in the history of the store, which has been open
for 30 years. “We have not only a run on the guns, but a run on ammunition.”
Mr. Irwin has begun limiting how much of some types of ammunition customers can
buy, and he has canceled employees’ days off to handle the demand.
Walmart, the largest retailer of guns and ammunition in the United States,
indicated that several semiautomatic guns were out of stock at locations across
the country. Kory Lundberg, a spokesman, said the company was not sold out
of guns altogether, but had low inventory in some situations. Walmart carries
guns in about half its stores, and about one-third carry so-called modern
sporting rifles, the category including the Bushmaster and other AR-15 weapons.
Other retailers around the country were selling out of guns and accessories. On
Friday on ImpactGuns.com, the Bushmaster .223 was out of stock. Davidson’s, a
supplier to gun retailers, placed a notice on its Web site that said it was
seeing “unprecedented demand,” and at MidwayUSA.com, more than 100 parts for
AR-15 guns were out of stock and on back order.
On AR15.com, a gun-enthusiast Web site, a user posted that a barrel for a gun
disappeared from an online shopping cart overnight, and is now on back order.
Another user, named warplg8654, responded, “Dealers can’t keep anything in stock
for what I think are obvious reasons given the current political climate.”
When a user called JazzFan asked whether paying a $100 premium for a Stag Model
3 was a good deal, another user said that seemed “reasonable with all of the
Gavin Gear, the founder of the enthusiast site Northwest Gun, said gun owners
were feeling “apprehension.”
“People are trying to think ahead, and if they want to own a particular firearm
and they think it’s going to be outlawed or restricted, they’re more likely to
buy now,” he said.
20, 2012 The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER
years after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, its use is waning,
with prosecutors and juries preferring to sentence convicted murderers to life
in prison without parole. New data for 2012 show that nine states executed
inmates this year, the fewest in two decades, and the number of death sentences
handed down this year — 80 — was about a third of the total in 2000.
“We have done polling on this, and the biggest reason is lingering doubt about
guilt,” said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center, which tracks executions around the country and released the
numbers this week. “Between 90 and 95 percent of the people are aware that
there have been exonerations based on DNA evidence.”
While a majority of states — 33 — still have the death penalty on the books,
that number has also been on the decline. Connecticut banned capital punishment
this year, the fifth state in five years to do so, following Illinois, New
Jersey, New Mexico and New York. Twenty-nine states either do not have the death
penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years.
In addition, four states with histories of executing convicted murderers —
Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — sentenced no one to death
this year. Three-quarters of the 43 people put to death in 2012 were in four
states: Arizona, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.
Another major reason for the decline is that the death penalty involves enormous
expense and numerous appeals; some prosecutors say they prefer life
Stan Garnett, the district attorney in Boulder County, Colo., wrote recently
that as his state considered repealing the death penalty, he would like his
fellow citizens to know that he was “not morally or philosophically opposed” to
it. But he considers the death penalty impractical because it is expensive,
time-consuming and often unfairly applied.
“A 1994 Colorado death verdict currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court
has cost the state of Colorado nearly $18 million to fund through all the
appeals,” Mr. Garnett wrote. He said his office’s operating budget is $4.6
million and prosecutes 1,900 felonies a year.
In California, a referendum last month seeking to end the death penalty because
of its cost narrowly failed to achieve a majority. But the 47 percent of voters
who supported the referendum represents a much larger number of Californians
opposing capital punishment than ever before. The state has not carried out an
execution in nearly seven years.
A year ago, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani
Cantil-Sakauye, called for a re-evaluation of the death penalty system, saying
it was ineffective. Asked if she supported the death penalty, she replied: “I
don’t know if the question is whether you believe in it anymore. I think the
greater question is its effectiveness and, given the choices we face in
California, should we have a merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and
Texas executed 15 people this year, by far the most in the country. But for
the eighth consecutive year it executed more people than it sentenced to death,
signaling that fewer executions will be carried out in the future, according to
the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington. The total number of people
on death row in the country is 3,170, down from 3,670 in 2000.
James S. Liebman, a law professor at Columbia University, said he had studied
the death penalty’s use by county, rather than by state, because punishment is
sought at the county level, and he found that 60 percent of the nation’s
counties no longer seek it. In addition, he said, some counties that in the past
had led the country in its use, like Houston, did not hand down a single death
penalty this year.
“A lot of officials have come to the conclusion that if they are concerned about
deterrence and protection of their citizens and the diminishing of crime, the
death penalty is not a very good strategy,” Professor Liebman said. “The
counties that use it are ones that tend to spend a lot less money on law
enforcement, criminal justice and the courts. They are using it instead of
modern law enforcement.”
Professor Liebman, like Mr. Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center,
noted that murders account for a small percentage of crimes, yet seeking the
death penalty can take up most of a prosecutor’s budget. Death penalty cases
usually involve two trials — one to determine guilt, and the other to decide on
the death penalty — and better lawyers for the defense. In addition, prosecutors
do not like to lose death penalty cases, so they tend to put in far greater
effort and resources.
“If you get someone into jail, the likelihood of his committing murder will at
least be lower,” Professor Liebman said. “In addition, most people on death row
are never going to get executed. Death row incarceration is more expensive. It
requires single cells because the inmates are considered more dangerous and more
Mr. Dieter added: “Juries know that mistakes have been made and have lingering
doubts about absolute guilt. Life without parole gives them an alternative.”
National Rifle Association is scheduled to hold a news conference on Friday
where it says it plans to provide details about its promise of “meaningful
contributions” to prevent another a massacre like the one in Newtown, Conn.
We would like to believe that the N.R.A., the most influential opponent of
sensible gun-control policies, will do as it says, but we have little faith that
it will offer any substantial reforms. The association presents itself as a
grass-roots organization, but it has become increasingly clear in recent years
that it represents gun makers. Its chief aim has been to help their businesses
by increasing the spread of firearms throughout American society.
In recent years, the N.R.A. has aggressively lobbied federal and state
governments to dilute or eliminate numerous regulations on gun ownership. And
the clearest beneficiary has been the gun industry — sales of firearms and
ammunition have grown 5.7 percent a year since 2007, to nearly $12 billion this
year, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. Despite the recession,
arms sales have been growing so fast that domestic manufacturers haven’t been
able to keep up. Imports of arms have grown 3.6 percent a year in the last five
The industry has, in turn, been a big supporter of the N.R.A. It has
contributed between $14.7 million and $38.9 million to an
N.R.A.-corporate-giving campaign since 2005, according to a report published
last year by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that advocates
greater gun control. The estimate is based on a study of the N.R.A.’s “Ring
of Freedom” program and very likely understates the industry’s total financial
support for the association, which does not publicly disclose a comprehensive
list of its donors and how much they have given.
Officials from the N.R.A. have repeatedly said their main goal is to protect the
Second Amendment rights of rank-and-file members who like to hunt or want guns
for protection. But that claim is at odds with surveys that show a majority of
N.R.A. members and a majority of American gun owners often support restrictions
on gun sales and ownership that the N.R.A. has bitterly fought.
For instance, a 2009 poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that
69 percent of N.R.A. members would support requiring all sellers at gun shows to
conduct background checks of prospective buyers, which they do not have to do
now and which the N.R.A. has steadfastly argued against. If lawful gun owners
are willing to subject themselves to background checks, why is the association
resisting? Its position appears only to serve the interest of gun makers and
dealers who want to increase sales even if it means having dangerous weapons
fall into the hands of criminals and violent individuals.
Businesses and special-interest groups often cloak their profit motives in the
garb of constitutional rights — think Big Tobacco and its opposition to
restrictions on smoking in public places and bold warnings on cigarette
packages. The Supreme Court has made clear that the right to bear arms is not
absolute and is subject to regulations and controls. Yet the N.R.A. clings to
its groundless arguments that tough regulations violate the Second Amendment.
Many of those arguments serve no purpose other than to increase the sales of
guns and bullets.
2012 9:00 pm
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY EGAN
television, you can talk about the sordid details of your sex life, the depth of
your religious piety or your belief that an organization that no longer exists,
Acorn, stole the 2012 presidential election -- a fantasy held by half of
Republicans. You can call climate change a hoax, you can say the moon landing
never happened, you can even praise Alex Rodriguez, though you shouldn't.
But you cannot talk about the 300 million or more guns circulating in private
hands in the United States. The most armed society in the world, ranked first
among 179 nations in the rate of gun ownership, had 9,146 gun homicides in 2009.
The same year, Canada had 173. But don't bring that up.
In Florida, it was against the law -- until the law was blocked by a federal
judge last summer -- for hospital doctors to even ask about firearms ownership
of victims, even though gunshot wounds account for 1 in 25 emergency room
Conservatives complain about anti-free-speech vigilantes who keep incendiary
voices of the right from being heard on college campuses, and they have a valid
point. But some of these same First Amendment defenders are the first to smother
any talk about the American weapons culture. The gun gag rules.
The latest public figure to face the shame shower is Bob Costas, the sports
broadcaster who occasionally steps outside the chalk lines of the games he
covers. Last Sunday, a day in late autumn devoted as usual to the lucrative
violence of professional football, Costas spoke about a more tragic kind of
violence. In passing on the words of a local writer, he wondered whether the
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend might still be
alive had guns not been so readily available. Belcher, who kept a handgun on the
kitchen table and an assault rifle in the den, shot Kasandra Perkins, the mother
of their infant child, and then himself last weekend.
Costas made his brief remarks at halftime of the Sunday night game. Within
minutes, the censors went after him. Top Republicans called for his resignation.
Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, who are to reasoned argument what salt is to
a slug, condemned him. And Herman Cain, the pizza guy who at one point led the
Republican presidential primary field in the polls, passed on this tweet:
"Excuse me, Bob Costas, but you are an idiot, so shut up."
Those last two words pretty much define the current climate regarding debate
about guns and violence. In this country, it is the issue that dare not speak
Costas said later he had nothing against the Second Amendment. But our gun
culture more often than not leads to tragedy, he noted. In this, he was stating
a fact, not an opinion. "Give me one example of an athlete -- and I know it's
happened in society -- but give me one example of a professional athlete who by
virtue of having a gun took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the
better," he said.
My sentiments are with Costas. I've lost friends and family members to gun
violence. Still, I have nothing against people exercising their Second Amendment
rights. Adults can have all the guns they want, but please -- they should
understand that their arsenal makes them less safe.
People with guns in the home are at a far greater risk of dying of homicide than
those without, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported in 2004. For men,
the likelihood of death by suicide is much higher if a gun is nearby. And 90
percent of suicide attempts by gun are successful; for willful drug overdoses,
the rate is only 2 percent.
Understandably, people buy guns for self-defense. But a gun in the home is 12
times more likely to result in the death of a household member, or a visitor,
than an intruder, a 2010 study by the official journal of the Southern Medical
For all those grim numbers, the United States is not the most violent society.
Drug oligarchies and broken tribal nations are much more lethal places to live.
But among the 23 wealthiest countries, the United States is easily the
bloodiest: homicide gun rates are 19.5 times higher here than in any other
high-income country, Politifact reported.
Going into a theater or a mall in America can be a risky thing, as recent mass
shootings have shown. I just returned from Idaho, where people are buying guns
at a record clip because of the delusional fear that President Obama is going to
take them away. The safest place in Idaho, by far, is just inside the security
line at the Boise airport, where a big sign warns people that they will soon be
entering a mandatory gun-free zone.
How these basic truths came to be treated as unmentionables is a tribute to the
gun lobby's power to strangle debate on even simple safety questions. At the
same time, they have all but shut down public health research into gun violence.
For the politicians and pundits who do the gun industry's bidding, the First
Amendment does not apply to the Second Amendment. It took a sportscaster,
accustomed to parsing the nuances of a stunt blitz, to break the code of
2012 The New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
tight budgets, states have spent less on tobacco prevention over the past two
years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite
record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a
report to be released on Thursday.
States are on track to collect a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and
settlement money in the current fiscal year, but they are set to spend less than
2 percent of that on prevention, according to the report, by the Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids, which compiles the revenue data annually. The figures come
from state appropriations for the fiscal year ending in June.
The settlement awarded states an estimated $246 billion over its first 25 years.
It gave states complete discretion over the money, and many use it for programs
unrelated to tobacco or to plug budget holes. Public health experts say it lacks
a mechanism for ensuring that some portion of the money is set aside for tobacco
prevention and cessation programs.
“There weren’t even gums, let alone teeth,” Timothy McAfee, the director of the
Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
said, referring to the allocation of funds for tobacco prevention and cessation
in the terms of the settlement.
Spending on tobacco prevention peaked in 2002 at $749 million, 63 percent above
the level this year. After six years of declines, spending ticked up again in
2008, only to fall by 36 percent during the recession, the report said.
Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States,
killing more than 400,000 Americans every year, according to the C.D.C.
The report did not count federal money for smoking prevention, which Vince
Willmore, the vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free
Kids, estimated to be about $522 million for the past four fiscal years. The sum
— about $130 million a year — was not enough to bring spending back to earlier
The $500 million a year that states spend on tobacco prevention is a tiny
fraction of the $8 billion a year that tobacco companies spend to market their
products, according to a Federal Trade Commission report in September.
Nationally, 19 percent of adults smoke, down from over 40 percent in 1965. But
rates remain high for less-educated Americans. Twenty-seven percent of Americans
with only a high school diploma smoke, compared with just 8 percent of those
with a college degree or higher, according to C.D.C. data from 2010. The highest
rate — 34 percent — was among black men who did not graduate from high school.
“Smoking used to be the rich man’s habit,” said Danny McGoldrick, the vice
president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “and now it’s
decidedly a poor person’s behavior.”
Aggressive antismoking programs are the main tools that cities and states have
to reach the demographic groups in which smoking rates are the highest, making
money to finance them even more critical, Mr. McGoldrick said.
The decline in spending comes amid growing certainty among public health
officials that antismoking programs, like help lines and counseling, actually
work. California went from having a smoking rate above the national average 20
years ago to having the second-lowest rate in the country after modest but
consistent spending on programs that help people quit and prevent children from
starting, Dr. McAfee said.
An analysis by Washington State, cited in the report, found that it saved $5 in
tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent during the first 10
years of its program.
Budget cuts have eviscerated some of the most effective tobacco prevention
programs, the report said. This year, state financing for North Carolina’s
program has been eliminated. Washington State’s program has been cut by about 90
percent in recent years, and for the third year in a row, Ohio has not allocated
any state money for what was once a successful program, the report said.
November 24, 2012 The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President Obama might
not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before
the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by
unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and
procedures, according to two administration officials.
The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But with more than 300
drone strikes and some 2,500 people killed by the Central Intelligence Agency
and the military since Mr. Obama first took office, the administration is
still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and
disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified.
Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing
should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United
States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack
their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.
Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones,
behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the
C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice
Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism
adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the
More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many other
countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law. For years
before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned
targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still
object to such measures.
But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two
administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al
Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies
wherever they are found.
Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a
legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the
U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American
The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer
after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush
and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the
shifting procedures for compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though
national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful,
the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of
action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might
win the presidency.
“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one
official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the
proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous”
program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been
rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a
more leisurely pace, the official said.
Mr. Obama himself, in little-noticed remarks, has acknowledged that the legal
governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.
“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we
need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I
reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that
we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance on “The Daily Show”
on Oct. 18.
In an interview with Mark Bowden for a new book on the killing of Osama bin
Laden, “The Finish,” Mr. Obama said that “creating a legal structure, processes,
with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge
for me and my successors for some time to come.”
The president expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to
policy makers. “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that
somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems,”
Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for
targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court, fighting
lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times
seeking secret legal opinions on targeted killings, the government has refused
even to acknowledge the existence of the drone program in Pakistan.
But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of the
targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders of Al
Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the purpose
Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in September that drones
were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United States” and counter
“terrorist networks that target the United States.”
But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s success
in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants
whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the
Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.
In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants
who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were
wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.
“Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an attack,
they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah Zenko, a
fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the strikes. “We
don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and
Somalia, but we are.”
Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown.
In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan
as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active
terrorists.” But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in
addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the
military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected,
Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known
high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the
word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance,
young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes
have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some
officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified
or worth the local backlash.
Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater candor
about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented public debate
in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts say the strikes
are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part because of allegations
of large numbers of civilian casualties, which American officials say are
Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s
War in Arabia,” argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In
Yemen, Al Qaeda is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the
Brookings Institution, in part because of the backlash against the strikes.
Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington,
said the United States should start making public a detailed account of the
results of each strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter
propaganda from jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama
administration to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their
objectives,” he said.
But the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such openness.
The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over
the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is
hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail.
round of state judicial elections broke previous records for the amounts spent
on judicial campaigns around the country. The dominant role played by
special-interest money — including money from super PACs financed by undisclosed
donors — has severely weakened the principle of fair and impartial courts.
In Florida, for example, three respected State Supreme Court justices won
their retention election battles, but only after they were forced to raise more
than $1.5 million in total. They had put on expensive campaigns because they
were targeted for defeat by moneyed conservatives who wanted to drive them off
the bench for their supposed liberal views. The justices were absolutely right
to fight back. Still, the bitter campaigns leave impressions of judicial
partisanship and indebtedness to campaign donors.
Nationally, spending on television advertisements in state supreme court
races reached nearly $28 million by Election Day, exceeding the $24.4 million in
2004, the previous record for a presidential election year, according to the
Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake, nonpartisan groups working for
fair courts. Groups not connected to candidate campaigns paid for more than
half of the TV ads run, compared with about 30 percent in 2010, making it much
harder for candidates to control their own message.
In Michigan, where three of seven seats on the State Supreme Court were up
for election, records were set for both spending and lack of accountability. The
$3.2 million raised by candidates and reported to the Michigan Bureau of
Elections was dwarfed by unreported spending by the political parties and
outside groups interested in tilting the balance on the court. One ad run by
an independent group against Bridget McCormack, a Democratic candidate for a
seat on the court, featured the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan and
suggested that Ms. McCormack’s legal work for a detainee released from
Guantánamo Bay in 2007 showed support for terrorism. Ms. McCormack won the race.
Of the $15 million or so spent for TV ads in Michigan, 75 percent cannot be
attributed to identifiable donors, notes Rich Robinson, executive director of
the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which advocates changing Michigan law to
bar undisclosed independent spending. That exceeds even the 2010 record,
when half the total spending on Michigan Supreme Court races came from secret
Regrettably, states that elect their top judges show no inclination to address
these distressing trends by replacing judicial elections with systems of merit
appointment that avoid retention votes. This year’s experience should at least
hasten state efforts to revise rules for judicial recusal to take campaign
contributions into account. Mandatory disclosure of all donations to a judicial
race is also essential. Litigants cannot know when they should request that a
judge step aside if they cannot tell whether their case involves a party that
supported the judge’s campaign.
2012 The New York Times
By DANIEL ALTMAN
you’re in the 99 percent, the 47 percent or the 1 percent, inequality in America
may threaten your future. Often decried for moral or social reasons, inequality
imperils the economy, too; the International Monetary Fund recently warned that
high income inequality could damage a country’s long-term growth. But the real
menace for our long-term prosperity is not income inequality — it’s wealth
inequality, which distorts access to economic opportunities.
Wealth inequality has worsened for two decades and is now at an extreme level.
Replacing the income, estate and gift taxes with a progressive wealth tax would
do much more to reduce it than any other tax plan being considered in
When economists try to measure inequality, they typically focus on income,
because the data are most readily accessible. But income is not always a good
gauge of economic power. Consider a group of people who all have high incomes
but differ widely in their wealth. Who’s going to get into the country club?
Who’s going to have the money to finance a new venture? Moreover, income data
may not reveal the true economic power of people who are retired, or who receive
their pay in securities like stocks and options or use complex strategies to
Trends in the distribution of wealth can look very different from trends in
incomes, because wealth is a measure of accumulated assets, not a flow over
time. High earners add much more to their wealth every year than low earners.
Over time, wealth inequality rises even as income inequality stays the same, and
wealth inequality eventually becomes much more severe.
This is exactly what happened in the United States. A common statistical measure
of inequality is the Gini coefficient, a number between 0 and 100 that rises
with greater disparities. From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the
Census Bureau recorded Gini coefficients for income in the low 40s. Yet by 1992,
the Gini coefficient for wealth had risen into the mid-70s, according to data
from the Federal Reserve.
Since then, it has risen steadily, to about 80 as of 2010. In 1992, the top
tenth of the population controlled 20 times the wealth controlled by the bottom
half. By 2010, it was 65 times. Our graduated income-tax system redistributes a
small amount of money every year but does little to slow the polarization of
These are stunning changes. The global financial crisis did make a dent in the
assets of the wealthiest American families, but its effects for the bottom half
were utterly destructive; the number of owner-occupied homes has fallen by more
than a million since 2007. People in different socioeconomic strata are living
ever more different lives, with dangerous results for society: erosion of
empathy, widening of rifts and undermining of meritocracy.
American household wealth totaled more than $58 trillion in 2010. A flat wealth
tax of just 1.5 percent on financial assets and other wealth like housing, cars
and business ownership would have been more than enough to replace all the
revenue of the income, estate and gift taxes, which amounted to about $833
billion after refunds. Brackets of, say, zero percent up to $500,000 in wealth,
1 percent for wealth between $500,000 and $1 million, and 2 percent for wealth
above $1 million would probably have done the trick as well.
These tax rates would garner a small portion of the extra wealth America’s
richest families could expect to accrue simply by investing what they already
had. The rates would also be enough to slow — if not reverse — the increase in
inequality. To see how the wealth tax would work, consider a family with
$500,000 in wealth and $200,000 in annual income. Right now, they might pay
$50,000 in federal income tax. With the wealth tax brackets described above,
they would pay nothing. On the other hand, a family with $4 million in wealth
and $200,000 in annual income would owe $65,000. Most families that depend on
their wealth for their income would pay more, and most that depend on their
earnings would pay less.
In fact, the majority of American families would receive an enormous tax cut.
Some would owe only payroll taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) and state
and local taxes every year, and others would pay less in wealth tax than they
did in income tax. Taxes on earnings, capital gains, dividends and interest, all
of which may distort decisions about working and investing, would disappear.
For most families, whose wealth may never reach $500,000, all disincentives to
save would vanish. And families trying to accumulate a fixed amount of wealth
for retirement or their children’s college fund could devote less of their
incomes to saving, since in most cases the wealth tax would take a smaller bite
of their interest, dividends and capital gains than the current income tax.
Though the remaining minority of families subject to the wealth tax might end up
saving less and spending more, this shift would also reduce inequality; the
dollars they spent would be more likely to end up in the pockets of people with
Scholars have recommended a wealth tax in the past, but not as a replacement for
the income, estate and gift taxes. Indeed, phasing in the new tax would present
some complications. People who already paid income tax on the money they used to
buy their assets would not want to pay a new tax on them. Yet a reduced wealth
tax — perhaps 1 percent in the top bracket to start — would collect less from
many of them than the current income tax.
Naturally a cottage industry would spring up to help wealthy people lessen their
exposure to the new tax. The federal government would need new rules for the
reporting and valuation of assets, as well as new auditing processes. Levying
the tax at the family level — perhaps parents and children up to a fixed age —
might make it harder for the wealthy to reduce their tax liability by allocating
their assets among multiple family members to reduce the wealth-tax liability.
By contrast, people with wealth tied up in property and small businesses might
have real trouble coming up with enough cash to pay the tax. This is a problem
that can be solved, or at least mitigated, by making payment periods flexible
over several years. In addition, new financial products could offer cash for tax
payments, either as loans or in return for partial ownership of assets — much
like home equity loans do today.
States with income taxes would have to decide whether to switch to the wealth
tax. Because some states collect tax from commuters who work within their
borders but live elsewhere, an income tax might still be attractive. Yet rather
than having two systems, it might be better to apportion state wealth taxes
between the states where families live and work.
The benefits of the wealth tax would make these adjustments worthwhile. The
economy would allocate opportunities more equitably and efficiently, and the tax
system would become simpler. It would help working class people to realize their
potential and ensure that society did not become unduly polarized. Of course, we
can do much more to improve access to opportunity for all Americans. But a
wealth tax would be a good place to start.
Daniel Altman, an adjunct associate professor of economics at the New York
University Stern School of Business and a former member of the New York Times
editorial board, is writing a book about what would happen if the United States
defaulted on its debts.
2012 The New York Times
By JULIA PRESTON
and FERNANDA SANTOS
predictions that their participation would be lackluster, Latinos turned out in
record numbers on Tuesday and voted for President Obama by broad margins,
tipping the balance in at least three swing states and securing their position
as an organized force in American politics with the power to move national
Over all, according to exit polls not yet finalized by Edison Research, Mr.
Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote while Mitt Romney won 27 percent. The
gap of 44 percentage points was even greater than Mr. Obama’s 36-point advantage
over John McCain in 2008.
After waiting in long lines in countless places — more than four hours at some
South Florida polls — Latinos had such a strong turnout that it lifted them to
10 percent of voters nationwide, an increase from 6 percent in 2000. Latino
leaders said their voters had cast ballots that ensured Mr. Obama’s relatively
narrow plurality — fewer than 2.8 million votes — in the popular count.
“Latino voters confirmed unequivocally that the road to the White House passes
through Latino neighborhoods,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, a top official
at NCLR, the Hispanic organization also known as the National Council of La
Raza, which joined in an extensive campaign this year to register and turn out
Latinos’ greatest impact was in several battleground states portrayed by polls
as close contests before Election Day. In Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, Mr.
Obama won the Hispanic vote by big percentages that well exceeded margins of
victory, exit polls showed. In each of those states, Latinos significantly
increased their share of total voters, gaining influence that could be decisive
in future elections.
In Florida, where Mr. Obama held a narrow lead on Wednesday in a race that had
not yet been called, the president won among Latinos by 60 percent to 39 percent
for Mr. Romney, among a group that now makes up 17 percent of the state’s
Mr. Romney’s weak showing prompted Latino leaders to warn that Republicans could
no longer afford to ignore or alienate Hispanics in national races. But they
also immediately laid out an ambitious agenda for Mr. Obama, saying they
expected to see jobs programs tailored to Latinos and quick action on
legislation to give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
“The sleeping Latino giant is wide-awake and it’s cranky,” said Eliseo Medina,
international secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union,
another group that played a central role in spurring Latinos to vote. “We expect
action and leadership on immigration reform in 2013. No more excuses. No more
obstruction or gridlock.”
In many states, Latinos did not wait for either the Democratic or the Republican
campaigns to come to them. Instead they mounted coordinated voter registration
and education efforts, giving them a degree of independence as a voting bloc and
creating popular networks that they said they planned to mobilize again to bring
pressure on the White House and Congress.
In Arizona, a conservative state known for tough immigration enforcement
policies that Mr. Romney won handily, Latinos saw setbacks. A bid to unseat Joe
Arpaio, the hard-line sheriff of Maricopa County, was declared to have failed. A
Hispanic Democrat, Richard Carmona, apparently was defeated in a Senate race by
Jeff Flake, a popular Republican who has served in the House of Representatives.
Records from the office of Secretary of State Ken Bennett showed Wednesday that
there were 600,000 votes yet to be counted statewide.
Luis Heredia, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said the
outcome of many close races could not be determined without the counting of
A crucial piece of Mr. Obama’s winning strategy among Latinos was an initiative
he announced in June to grant temporary reprieves from deportation to hundreds
of thousands of young immigrants here illegally. In a survey of 5,600 Latino
voters on the eve of the election by ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions, a polling
group, 58 percent said the reprieves had made them “more enthusiastic” about Mr.
Last month, Mr. Romney said that he would end the reprieves if he became
president, a move that solidified the view among many Latinos that he was
hostile to a program they liked. It gives young immigrants protection from
deportation for two years and also work permits that allow them to be employed
legally in this country for the first time.
A campaign led by young immigrants eligible for the deferrals was one of the
most effective voter mobilization efforts.
“Even though we could not vote, we had many friends and family members who
could,” said Lorella Praeli, advocacy director of the United We Dream network, a
youth group that led a voter campaign.
In Arizona, a dozen groups teamed up to increase Latino voter registration and
to add more Latinos to the state’s early-voting list, which entitles voters to
receive ballots by mail at their homes. The number of Latinos on early-voting
lists rose substantially, to 225,000 this year from 96,000 in 2008, said Petra
Falcón, director of Promise Arizona, one of the groups in that effort.
On Tuesday, the groups dispatched monitors to poll sites where they knew many
Latino voters would be casting ballots for the first time.
By midmorning, it had become clear that a lot of them were being forced to cast
provisional ballots because officials could not find their names on the rolls.
In a precinct in Tolleson, 300 out of 342 votes cast by 4 p.m. were provisional
ballots, according to poll monitors assigned to the site. At Word of Abundant
Life Christian Center in West Phoenix, 68 out of 123 voters had used provisional
ballots by that hour.
Adilene Montesinos, a poll worker at Progressive Baptist Church in Mesa, said
the problem had affected Latinos and also blacks. “There were so many, we almost
ran out of provisional ballots,” Ms. Montesinos said.
Officials in Maricopa County, which accounts for more than half of the state’s
voters, said the count of provisional ballots was not likely to begin until
Monday. The officials said Wednesday that 344,000 ballots remained to be
counted, among them 115,000 provisional ballots.
November 4, 2012 The New York Times
By BENEDICT CAREY
The rate of suicide in the United States rose sharply
during the first few years since the start of the recession, a new analysis has
In the report, which appeared Sunday on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical
journal, researchers found that the rate between 2008 and 2010 increased four
times faster than it did in the eight years before the recession. The rate had
been increasing by an average of 0.12 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999
through 2007. In 2008, the rate began increasing by an average of 0.51 deaths
per 100,000 people a year. Without the increase in the rate, the total deaths
from suicide each year in the United States would have been lower by about
1,500, the study said.
The finding was not unexpected. Suicide rates often spike during economic
downturns, and recent studies of rates in Greece, Spain and Italy have found
similar trends. The new study is the first to analyze the rate of change in the
United States state by state, using suicide and unemployment data through 2010.
“The magnitude of these effects is slightly larger than for those previously
estimated in the United States,” the authors wrote. That might mean that this
economic downturn has been harder on mental health than previous ones, the
The research team linked the suicide rate to unemployment, using numbers from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Bureau of Labor
Every rise of 1 percent in unemployment was accompanied by an increase in the
suicide rate of roughly 1 percent, it found. A similar correlation has been
found in some European countries since the recession.
The analysis found that the link between unemployment and suicide was about the
same in all regions of the country.
The study was conducted by Aaron Reeves of the University of Cambridge and
Sanjay Basu of Stanford, and included researchers from the University of
Bristol, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University
of Hong Kong.
November 1, 2012
The New York Times
By ANNIE LOWREY
and CATHERINE RAMPELL
WASHINGTON — In the economy-focused presidential campaign, the
two candidates and their teams have scarcely mentioned what economists describe
as not just one of the labor market’s most pressing problems, but the entire
country’s: long-term unemployment.
Nearly five million Americans out of work for more than six months are
left to wonder what kind of help might be coming, as the Federal Reserve, the
International Monetary Fund and a bipartisan swath of policy experts implore
Washington to act — both to alleviate human misery and to ensure the strength of
The pain of the long-term unemployed has persisted even as the overall jobs
picture has brightened a bit and the unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8
percent. The new government report for October was due to be released Friday
“The problem is incredibly urgent,” said Kevin A. Hassett, director of economic
policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an adviser to Mitt
Romney’s campaign. “Spain had a financial crisis in the late 1970s and has never
seen its unemployment rate drop back to where it was before that crisis. The
unemployed become discouraged, and ultimately the employment to population ratio
might take a permanent hit.”
On the agenda for the next Congress and the next president is ensuring that the
unusually long spells of unemployment now afflicting jobless workers remain a
temporary setback of the recession.
Economists warned that long-term unemployment could be transformed in the next
few years into structural unemployment, meaning that the problem is not just too
few jobs and too many job seekers, but a large group of workers who no longer
match employers’ needs or are no longer considered employable.
“Skills become obsolete, contacts atrophy, information atrophies, and they get
stigmatized,” said Harry Holzer of Georgetown University.
That has been the experience of millions of workers like Beatrice Hogg, 55, of
Sacramento, a college-educated white-collar worker who has slid from the middle
class into poverty.
Her last job — doing administrative work and advising students at a community
college — ended in June 2009. Her unemployment benefits ended more than a year
ago. She was evicted from her apartment in December and has been staying at
friends’ homes and occasionally at train stations. Despite her efforts, she has
been turned down for job after job after job, and is surviving on food stamps.
“I don’t enjoy being out of work,” Ms. Hogg said in an interview. “I don’t enjoy
having to ask friends to give me rides or get things for me. I want to take care
of myself. I’ve been on my own since I was 18 years old. It’s hard for me. It’s
demoralizing. It’s hard to ask people for things when you’ve been independent
the rest of your life.”
Stronger economic growth may help to whittle the ranks of the long-term
unemployed over time, experts said.
“There must have been a lot of workers badly scarred by long bouts of
unemployment in the Great Depression,” said Gary Burtless of the Brookings
Institution. “Even in 1939 we had unemployment somewhere around 14 percent, as
we’d measure it today. A lot of people who were jobless had been jobless for a
long, long time. But in the space of a couple of years those disadvantages
looked like nothing given that employers had voracious appetites for workers.”
But many economists contended that policies to help the long-term unemployed are
needed as well, to ensure that they have the skills necessary to compete for the
jobs that the economy is adding — turning construction workers into oil-and-gas
extractors and administrative assistants into home health care providers, for
In Washington, many politicians support measures for the long-term unemployed;
few demand them.
Both Democrats and Republicans have proposed or supported revamping job-training
programs, giving states more flexibility in using funds for the unemployed and
providing credits to companies that hire workers who have been out of a job for
more than six months, for instance.
The campaigns have offered their preferred policies as well. The White House put
out a range of proposals to aid the long-term jobless as part of its stalled
American Jobs Act legislation, a few of which made it into a bill extending a
payroll tax cut this year. Mr. Romney has proposed, among other measures,
creating “personal re-employment accounts” to give funds to unemployed workers
for community college or vocational training.
But experts worried about a lack of urgency. Gridlock in Washington, the focus
on cutting rather than spending, even the simple fact that discussing the topic
can be depressing might leave the issue by the wayside, as it has been in the
presidential and Congressional races.
“It’s not just the heat of the campaign” leaving the topic neglected, said
Christine L. Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law
Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “There’s a certain kind of
fatigue when talking about long-term unemployment, and as a result there hasn’t
been the level of attention and discussion that’s warranted.”
For new policies, “there is no political will, none whatsoever,” said Daniel
Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas.
He noted that during the recession and the recovery, relatively few workers have
cycled through unemployment, perhaps undercutting the problem’s political
“There are fewer of us experiencing unemployment, but those who are out are out
a lot longer,” Mr. Hamermesh said. “They then become increasingly isolated,
which decreases the will to do anything, because they are a less important
Statistics suggested that the long-term unemployment problem had begun to
recede. The number of workers who reported actively seeking a job for more
than six months fell to 4.8 million from 6.2 million in the past year, according
to government data. The proportion of jobless workers who counted as long-term
unemployed fell to 40 percent from its peak of 45.5 percent in March 2011.
But it remains a bleak situation. About 800,000 workers want a job but have
simply given up looking, and so are no longer even counted as unemployed. About
1.7 million people have joined the disability rolls since the recession began at
the end of 2007, an increase of 24 percent, as workers use the disability
program as a backdoor safety net when their unemployment insurance runs out.
After searching for a new position for a year, a worker trying to regain
employment finds that his chance to do so in the coming month falls below 10
As seen in the debates and on the campaign trail, the problem has largely fallen
off politicians’ list of priorities, even as the case for government action
When asked directly how to alleviate long-term unemployment in the second
debate, Mr. Romney addressed joblessness in general before quickly switching
topics to the Detroit auto bailout. Mr. Obama never addressed the question at
Texas | Wed Oct 31, 2012
By Corrie MacLaggan
Texas (Reuters) - A man convicted of fatally shooting his live-in girlfriend in
2003 after she refused to give him money was executed in Texas on Wednesday by
lethal injection, said state officials.
Donnie Lee Roberts, 41, became the 35th person executed in the United States
this year and the 12th in Texas. He was pronounced dead at 6:39 p.m. local time
at the state prison in Huntsville, the state Department of Criminal Justice.
Just before he died, Roberts apologized, officials said.
"I am truly sorry," they quoted him as saying. "I never meant to cause y'all so
He added: "God knows I didn't want to do what I did. I loved your daughter. I
hope to God he lets me see her in heaven so I can apologize to her."
His victim, dental assistant Vicki Bowen, 44, was found slain in her east Texas
house in October 2003 when a co-worker, concerned that she had failed to show up
for work, went to Bowen's home to check on her whereabouts, according to an
account of the case from the Texas Attorney General's Office.
Roberts, who was a crack cocaine user, confessed to officials that he killed
Bowen when she refused to give him money, the account said.
"I pointed the gun at her and I said, ‘If you'd just give me some money.' And
she said, ‘No,'" Roberts told officials, according to the attorney general's
account. "And then I said, ‘Look, it doesn't have to be this way.' That's all I
remember saying to her. And the next thing I know, I shot her."
Roberts told a different story at his trial in 2004, saying that he picked up
the gun because it was out of place, and that he saw what looked like another
gun in Bowen's pocket.
Former probation and parole officers testified that Roberts, who had been
convicted of armed robbery in Louisiana, fled from court-ordered supervision
just months before Bowen's murder, the attorney general's account said.
During the penalty phase of his trial, jurors learned that Roberts had confessed
to the 1992 murder of a man in Louisiana, the account said. He did not stand
trial for that crime.
Texas has executed more than four times as many people as any other state
since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according
to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)
2012 The New York Times
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
silliness began when Todd Akin claimed during his Senate campaign in Missouri
that in the case of “legitimate rape,” women “shut that whole thing down” to
prevent pregnancy. Then, a few days ago, Richard Mourdock of Indiana seemed to
blame God for such pregnancies, saying this was “something God intended to
happen.” I think God should sue him for defamation.
But our political system jumps all over verbal stupidity, while giving a pass to
stupid policies. If we’re offended by insensitive words about rape, for example,
shouldn’t we be incomparably more upset that rape kits are routinely left
untested in the United States? And wouldn’t it be nice if Democrats, instead of
just firing sound bites, tackled these underlying issues?
A bit of background: A rape kit is the evidence, including swabs with DNA, taken
at a hospital from a woman’s (or man’s) body after a rape. Testing that DNA
costs $1,200 or more. Partly to save money, those rape kits often sit untested
for years on the shelves of police storage rooms, particularly if the victim
didn’t come outfitted with a halo.
By most accounts, hundreds of thousands of these untested kits are stacked up
around the country. In Illinois, 80 percent of rape kits were going untested as
of 2010, Human Rights Watch reported at the time — embarrassing the state to
begin a push to test all rape kits.
In Michigan, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, said she was shocked to
discover more than 11,000 rape kits lying around untested — some dating to the
1980s. Worthy said that her office is now going through the backlog and testing
those that are running into statute of limitations deadlines.
So far, of 153 kits tested, 21 match evidence in a criminal database and may
involve serial rapists. But Worthy, who herself was raped while she was in law
school, says the broader problem is indifference to sex crimes.
“Sexual assault is the stepchild of the law enforcement system,” she said. “When
rape victims come into the criminal justice system, they are often treated
poorly. They may be talked out of pursuing the case.”
The bottom line, Worthy said, is that “sexual assault is not taken as seriously
as other crimes.” That — more than any offensive words — is the real scandal.
Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California, eliminated the rape kit
backlog in state crime labs after she took office. “If you don’t test it, you’ve
got a victim who is absolutely petrified, and you’ve got a rapist who thinks he
got away with it,” she said. “There could be nothing worse as a continuing
threat to public safety.”
The lackadaisical attitude toward much sexual violence is seen in another
astonishing fact: Sometimes, women or their health insurance companies must pay
to have their rape kits collected.
“No other forensic evidence collection is treated in this way,” said Sarah Tofte
of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which has focused attention on the rape kit
backlog. If her home is broken into, she notes, the police won’t bill her or her
homeowner’s insurance company “for the cost of dusting for fingerprints.”
Yet another indication of cavalier attitudes: In 31 states, if a rape leads to a
baby, the rapist can get visitation rights. That doesn’t happen often, but the
issue does come up. In Massachusetts, a convicted rapist is suing for access to
the child he fathered when he raped a 14-year-old girl.
One way to start turning around this backward approach to sex crimes would be to
support the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (Safer) Act, a bipartisan
bill in Congress that would help local jurisdictions count and test their rape
According to data from the Department of Justice, one person in the United
States is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes. A slight majority of rapes
are never reported to the police, and others are never solved. For every 100
rapes, only three lead to any jail time for the rapist, according to the Rape,
Abuse and Incest National Network.
There has been plenty of outrage this year, justifiably, at the Catholic Church,
the Boy Scouts and Penn State for averting their eyes from sexual abuse of
children. Yet America as a whole typically does the same thing when it comes to
the trafficking of teenage girls by pimps, which amounts to rape many times a
day. The police often treat those girls as criminals, rather than victims, even
as the pimps get away.
These problems are not insoluble, and we are seeing progress. Some prosecutors
are going after pimps in a serious way, and according to surveys, sexual assault
has fallen by 60 percent over the last couple of decades. Even the furor over
the comments by Senate candidates shows that times are changing.
So, sure, let’s pounce on politicians who say outrageous things. But even more,
let’s push to end outrageous policies. Routine testing of rape kits would be a
I invite you
to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground.
2012 The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
and JO CRAVEN McGINTY
Obama and Mitt Romney are both on pace to raise more than $1 billion with their
parties by Election Day, according to financial disclosures filed by the
campaigns on Thursday.
From the beginning of 2011 through Oct. 17, Mr. Obama and the Democrats
raised about $1.06 billion, and Mr. Romney and the Republicans collected $954
million, including some money for the party’s Congressional efforts, setting up
2012 to be the most expensive presidential campaign in history.
But the sources of that money, raised over the course of a deeply polarizing
campaign, echo the sharp divisions between the two men and their parties over
issues like abortion rights, the role of government in regulating industry and
the country’s economic future.
Wall Street has invested more heavily in Mr. Romney, a former financier who has
pledged to repeal Mr. Obama’s new financial regulations, than in any
presidential candidate in memory. Employees of financial firms had given more
than $18 million dollars to Mr. Romney’s campaign through the end of September
and tens of millions more to the “super PACs” supporting him.
Insurance companies, doctors and law, accounting and real estate firms are
giving less to Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee than they did
four years ago, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Yet donors in other industries have stepped in. With Mr. Obama making repeated
trips to Silicon Valley and holding round tables with executives there, the
technology industry has donated about $14 million to the president and the
Democrats, substantially more than in 2008.
Retirees, the biggest single source of money for both sides, have given the
Democrats much more than they did four years ago, as have employees of women’s
groups, retailers and hospitals and nursing homes.
To make up for the loss of business money that flowed to his campaign four years
ago, Mr. Obama has also turned to the very smallest donors, building an army of
millions of supporters who have given as little as a few dollars each. About 4.2
million people sent donations to Mr. Obama and the D.N.C., his campaign said on
Thursday, roughly one million more than in 2008.
Over all, 55 percent of the Obama campaign’s money through the end of
September came in donations of less than $200, including from many people who
have repeatedly sent in small checks over the course of the campaign. Just 13
percent of his checks were for $2,500, the maximum that donors are allowed to
contribute for either the primary or general election.
Mr. Romney, by contrast, has cultivated business leaders and benefited from a
Republican donor establishment that is eager to defeat Mr. Obama, raising an
unprecedented amount of money from wealthy donors who gave the maximum allowed.
Just 22 percent of his cash has come from donations of less than $200. Through
the end of September, 45 percent of checks to Mr. Romney’s campaign were for the
maximum $2,500 contribution.
Neither candidate is likely to raise as much money directly for his own
presidential committee as Mr. Obama did in 2008. A flood of online donations
that year, and support from many traditionally Republican donors, helped Mr.
Obama raise $748 million for his presidential committee. The D.N.C. raised
another $244 million, bringing the combined total to a little under $1 billion.
This time around, Mr. Obama, as an incumbent, has raised more of his total
through the D.N.C., which can accept five-figure checks from each of Mr. Obama’s
wealthiest supporters. By raising more money from his very biggest and very
smallest donors, Mr. Obama has been able to offset his losses from the business
world and from previous contributors who gave less or not at all this time,
whether because of the recession or fading enthusiasm.
Mr. Romney, after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee in the spring,
almost immediately began a fund-raising effort with the Republican National
Committee, several state parties and the two Congressional campaign committees.
Mr. Romney’s total through September included about $13.6 million that was
raised for and transferred to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and
the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The overall totals do not include hundreds of millions of dollars being raised
and spent by “super PACs” and other outside groups, mostly to benefit Mr. Romney
and other Republicans. Groups aligned with Mr. Romney have spent $302 million on
campaign advertising that they are required to disclose to the F.E.C., compared
with about $120 million for groups aligned with Mr. Obama. Tens of millions of
dollars more has been spent on issue advertisements whose precise costs are
difficult to measure.
“As the Romney campaign and their ‘super PAC’ allies continue to outspend us on
the air, we’re making every effort to expand our donor base heading into the
final stretch,” said Adam Fetcher, an Obama spokesman.
Mr. Romney and the Republicans raised about $21.3 million more than Mr. Obama
and the Democrats during the first 17 days of October, according to the
disclosures filed on Thursday, as Mr. Romney rose in the polls and performed
well in debates, emboldening his supporters.
Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee took in $92.4 million during
that period, after surpassing Mr. Romney in August and September.
Mr. Romney and the R.N.C. raised $113.7 million over the same period, the final
days for which the campaigns are required to report their fund-raising before
the election on Nov. 6. Mr. Romney and his party also spent about $146.2 million
during the first 17 days in October, slightly less than the $149.7 million spent
by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
While Mr. Obama’s team invested tens of millions of dollars early in the
campaign to identify, contact and raise money from grass-roots voters, those
expenditures have left the Republicans with more cash in the final weeks of the
election that could finance a late surge of advertising. Mr. Romney and the
G.O.P. ended the final filing period with $169 million in cash on hand,
significantly more than the $123.8 million held by Mr. Obama and the Democrats.
and Derek Willis contributed reporting.
Students who finance their educations through private lenders
often wrongly assume that private and federal loans work the same way. In fact,
they do not.
Most federal student loans have rates of 6.8 percent (or less) and offer
broad consumer protections that allow people who lose their jobs to make lower,
affordable payments or to defer payment until they recover financially.
Private student loans — from banks and other private institutions — typically
come with variable interest rates and fewer consumer protections, which means
that borrowers who get into trouble have few options other than default. Many
borrowers did not learn about the differences between private and federal loans
until after they became deeply indebted. And because of confusion about variable
rates, they are sometimes shocked to learn what they owe when that first bill
The problem is serious because private student loans now account for $150
billion of the $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the
country, according to the first annual report from the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau’s student loan ombudsman.
The report found that many loan servicers — the companies that collect the
payments for the lenders — make it extremely difficult for student borrowers to
manage their debts. Borrowers often have difficulty finding out how much they
owe or getting information about their payment histories. Some struggling
borrowers who need loan modification said that servicers forced them to pay more
per month than they could possibly afford, without telling them the payments
would not prevent default.
In some cases, those who made late or partial payments were subjected to
unauthorized checking account deductions that then led to overdrafts and costly
fees. One borrower learned that his loan was put into default when a parent who
had co-signed for the loan filed for bankruptcy protection. He reported that he
could get no information about how to cure the problem.
Slipshod loan servicing makes private student loans even riskier by increasing
the likelihood that people will fall behind in payments. The bureaucratic errors
and obstacles mean that conscientious borrowers who took out high-priced loans
are not only saddled with crushing debt, they may also have their credit ruined
— making it extremely hard to refinance their loans or get future loans to buy a
home or start a business.
The federal government needs to open up refinancing and debt relief
opportunities for these people, as it did for some mortgage holders. The bureau
should also set national standards for loan servicers to require clear
disclosure of conditions, advance notice of any changes in the status of the
account and prompt resolution of customer requests for information. And
borrowers who might be eligible for federal loans should be advised to examine
that option before plunging headlong into private debt.
September 28, 2012 The New York Times
By KATE ZERNIKE
CAMDEN, N.J. — Two gruesome murders of children last month
— a toddler decapitated, a 6-year-old stabbed in his sleep — served as reminders
of this city’s reputation as the most dangerous in America. Others can be
found along the blocks of row houses spray-painted “R.I.P.,” empty liquor
bottles clustered on their porches in memorial to murder victims.
The police acknowledge that they have all but ceded these streets to crime, with
murders on track to break records this year. And now, in a desperate move to
regain control, city officials are planning to disband the Police Department.
The reason, officials say, is that generous union contracts have made it
financially impossible to keep enough officers on the street. So in November,
Camden, which has already had substantial police layoffs, will begin terminating
the remaining 273 officers and give control to a new county force. The move,
officials say, will free up millions to hire a larger, nonunionized force of 400
officers to safeguard the city, which is also the nation’s poorest.
Hardly a political battle of the last several years has been fiercer than the
one over the fate of public sector unions. But Camden’s decision to remake
perhaps the most essential public service for a city riven by crime underscores
how communities are taking previously unimaginable steps to get out from under
union obligations that built up over generations.
Though the city is solidly Democratic, the plan to put the Police Department out
of business has not prompted the wide public outcry seen in the union battles in
Chicago, Ohio or Wisconsin, in part because many residents have come to resent a
police force they see as incompetent, corrupt and doing little to make their
A police union has sued to stop the move, saying it is risking public safety on
an “unproven” idea. But many residents, community groups and elected officials
say that the city is simply out of money, out of options, out of patience.
“There’s no alternative, there’s no Plan B,” the City Council president, Frank
Moran, said. “It’s the only option we have.”
Faced with tight budgets, many communities across the country are considering
regionalizing their police departments, along with other services like
firefighting, libraries and schools. Though some governments have rejected the
idea for fear of increasing police response time, the police in Camden —
population 77,000 — are already so overloaded they no longer respond to property
crimes or car accidents that do not involve injuries.
The new effort follows a push by New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, a
Republican, and Democratic leaders in the Legislature to encourage cities and
towns to regionalize government services. They maintain that in a new era of
government austerity, it is no longer possible for each community to offer a
full buffet of government services, especially with a new law prohibiting
communities from raising property taxes more than 2 percent a year.
Most municipalities have so far remained committed to local traditions, fearing
a loss of community identity, but officials in Camden County say they expect
others will soon feel compelled to follow the city’s example.
Camden’s budget was $167 million last year, and of that, the budget for the
police was $55 million. Yet the city collected only $21 million in property
taxes. It has relied on state aid to make up the difference, but the state is
turning off the spigot. The city has imposed furloughs, reduced salaries and
trash collection, and increased fees. But the businesses the city desperately
needs to attract to generate more revenue are scared off by the crime.
“We cannot move the city forward unless we address public safety,” the mayor,
Dana L. Redd, said. “This is about putting boots on the ground.”
Even union officials acknowledge that the contract is rich with expensive
provisions. For example, officers earn an additional 4 percent for working a day
shift, and an additional 10 percent for the shift starting at 9:30 p.m. They
earn an additional 11 percent for working on a special tactical force or an
Salaries range from about $47,000 to $81,000 now, not including the shift
differentials or additional longevity payments of 3 percent to 11 percent for
any officer who has worked five years or more. Officials say they anticipate
salaries for the new force will range from $47,000 to $87,000.
In 2009, as the economy was putting a freeze on municipal budgets even in
well-off communities, the police here secured a pay increase of 3.75 percent.
And liberal sick time and family-leave policies have created an unusually high
absentee rate: every day, nearly 30 percent of the force does not show up. (A
typical rate elsewhere is in the single digits.)
“How do I go to the community and say ‘I’m doing everything I can to help you
fight crime’ when some of my officers are working better hours than bankers?”
the police chief, J. Scott Thomson, asked.
Chief Thomson, who is well regarded nationally, is expected to lead the new
force. Though Camden County covers 220 square miles and includes 37
municipalities, the proposal calls for a division focused exclusively on the
nine-square-mile city of Camden.
Camden, in the shadow of Philadelphia’s glimmering towers, once had a thriving
industrial base — a shipyard, Campbell Soup and RCA plants along the waterfront.
About 60,000 jobs were lost when those companies moved or shifted them
Nearly one in five of its residents is unemployed, and Broadway, once the main
shopping strip, is now a canyon of abandoned buildings.
The burned-out shell of one house, a landmark built by one of the city’s
founding families, has become a drug den.
This month, a heroin user there demanded that a passer-by give her some privacy
to use it. “Can you show me a little respect?” she said. “I’m in a park.”
Camden reorganized its Police Department in 2008 and had a lower homicide rate
for two years. Then the recession forced layoffs, reducing the force by about
The city has employed other crime-fighting tactics — surveillance cameras,
better lighting, curfews for children — but the number of murders has risen
again: at 48 so far this year, it is on pace to break the record, 58.
The murder rate so far this year is above 6 people per 10,000. By contrast, New
York City’s rate is just over one-third of a person per 10,000 residents.
Many of the drug users come to Camden from elsewhere in the county, getting off
the light-rail system to buy from the drug markets along what police call Heroin
Highway in the neighborhood of North Camden.
“That is cocaine, that is heroin, that is crack,” Bryan Morton, a community
activist, said recently as he used his car key to flick away empty bags while
his 3-year-old daughter played nearby. This summer, Mr. Morton tried to set up
the city’s first Little League in 15 years in nearby Pyne Poynt Park. Drug users
colonized even the portable toilets set up for the players, littering them with
empty glassine drug packets and needle caps.
Like other residents, he is resentful of the police union for making it so
prohibitive to hire more officers. “The contract is creating a public safety
crisis,” Mr. Morton said. “More officers could change the complexion of this
John Williamson, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, blamed the city
for creating the problems by shifting officers onto patrols, where they receive
extra pay, from administrative positions. He said he was open to negotiation but
believed that the city simply wanted to get rid of the contract.
“They want to go back to a 1930s atmosphere where employees and officers have
absolutely no rights to redress bad management and poor working conditions,” he
Under labor law, the current contract will remain in effect if the new county
force hires more than 49 percent of the current officers. So county officials
say they will hire fewer than that. Nevertheless, they expect that the new force
will eventually become unionized.
Officials say that simply adding officers will not make all the difference,
given the deep suspicion many residents harbor toward the police. As the chief
and his deputy drove through the Whitman Park neighborhood this month, people
sitting on their stoops stood up to shake their fists and shout obscenities at
them. When police officers arrested a person suspected of dealing drugs in a
house on a narrow street in North Camden last year, residents set upon their
cars and freed the prisoner.
The new county officers will be brought in 25 at a time, while the existing
force is still in place, and trained on neighborhood streets, in the hopes that
they can become part of their fabric and regain trust.
Ian K. Leonard, a member of the Camden County Board of Freeholders and the state
political director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said
he did not blame the union officials who won the provisions. But he said he
believed that the contracts were helping to perpetuate the “most dangerous city
in America” title that he and others hate.
“If you add police, it will give us a fighting chance,” Mr. Leonard said.
“People need a fighting chance.”
September 26, 2012 8:30 pm
- A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
By THERESA BROWN
Wisconsin, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine. We all know these
place names and what happened there. By the time this column appears, there may
well be a new locale to add to the list. Such is the state of enabled and
murderous mayhem in the United States.
With the hope of presenting the issue of guns in America in a novel way, I'm
going to look at it from an unusual vantage point: the eyes of a nurse. By that
I mean looking at guns in America in terms of the suffering they cause, because
to really understand the human cost of guns in the United States we need to
focus on gun-related pain and death.
Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded,
according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to
school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never
returned. Whether they were dead on arrival or died later on in the hospital, 80
people's normal day ended on a slab in the morgue, and there's nothing any of us
can do to get those people back.
In a way that few others do, I became aware early on that nurses deal with death
on a daily basis. The first unretouched dead bodies I ever saw were the two
cadavers we studied in anatomy lab. One man, one woman, both donated their
bodies for dissection, and I learned amazing things from them: the sponginess of
lung tissue, the surprising lightness of a human heart, the fabulous intricacy
of veins, arteries, tendons and nerves that keep all of us moving and alive.
I also learned something I thought I already knew: death is scary. I expected my
focus in the lab to be on acquiring knowledge, and it was, but my feelings about
these cadavers intruded also. I had nightmares. The sound of bones being sawed
and snapped was excruciating the day our teaching assistant broke the ribs of
one of them to extract a heart. Some days the smell was so overwhelming I wanted
to run from the lab. Death is the only part of life that is really final, and I
learned about the awesomeness of finality during my 12 weeks with those two very
Of course, in hospitals, death and suffering are what nurses and doctors
struggle against. Our job is to restore people to health and wholeness, or at
the very least, to keep them alive. That's an obvious aim on the oncology floor
where I work, but nowhere is the medical goal of maintaining life more
immediately urgent than in trauma centers and intensive-care units. In those
wards, patients often arrive teetering on the border between life and death, and
the medical teams that receive them have fleeting moments in which to act.
The focus on preserving life and alleviating suffering, so evident in the
hospital, contrasts strikingly with its stubborn disregard when applied to lives
ended by Americans lawfully armed as if going into combat. The deaths from guns
are as disturbing, and as final, as the cadavers I studied in anatomy lab, but
the talk we hear from the gun lobby is about freedom and rights, not life and
Gun advocates say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. The truth,
though, is that people with guns kill people, often very efficiently, as we saw
so clearly and so often this summer. And while there can be no argument that the
right to bear arms is written into the Constitution, we cannot keep pretending
that this right is somehow without limit, even as we place reasonable limits on
arguably more valuable rights like the freedom of speech and due process.
No one argues that it should be legal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater; we
accept this limit on our right to speak freely because of its obvious real-world
consequences. Likewise, we need to stop talking about gun rights in America as
if they have no wrenching real-world effects when every day 80 Americans, their
friends, families and loved ones, learn they obviously and tragically do.
Many victims never stand a chance against a dangerously armed assailant, and
there's scant evidence that being armed themselves would help. Those bodies skip
the hospital and go straight to the morgue. The lucky ones, the survivors - the
120 wounded per day - get hustled to trauma centers and then intensive care
units to, if possible, be healed. Many of them never fully recover.
A trauma nurse I know told me she always looked at people's shoes when they lay
on gurneys in the emergency department. It struck her that life had still been
normal when that patient put them on in the morning. Whether they laced up
Nikes, pulled on snow boots or slid feet into stiletto heels, the shoes became a
relic of the ordinariness of the patient's life, before it turned savage.
So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time
in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence - the lucky survivors -
as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country's blind
embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it's playing
out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.
Before leaving, make sure to look at the patients' shoes. Remember that at the
start of the day, before being attacked by a person with a gun, that patient
lying on a stretcher writhing helplessly in pain was still whole.
Theresa Brown is an oncology nurse and the author of
September 20, 2012
The New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
For generations of Americans, it was a given that children
would live longer than their parents. But there is now mounting evidence that
this enduring trend has reversed itself for the country’s least-educated whites,
an increasingly troubled group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years
Researchers have long documented that the most educated Americans were making
the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that
life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting.
Four studies in recent years identified modest declines, but a new one that
looks separately at Americans lacking a high school diploma found disturbingly
sharp drops in life expectancy for whites in this group. Experts not involved in
the new research said its findings were persuasive.
The reasons for the decline remain unclear, but researchers offered possible
explanations, including a spike in prescription drug overdoses among young
whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, rising obesity,
and a steady increase in the number of the least educated Americans who lack
The steepest declines were for white women without a high school diploma, who
lost five years of life between 1990 and 2008, said S. Jay Olshansky, a public
health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the lead
investigator on the study, published last month in Health Affairs. By 2008, life
expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had surpassed that of
white women of the same education level, the study found.
White men lacking a high school diploma lost three years of life. Life
expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics of the same education level rose, the
data showed. But blacks over all do not live as long as whites, while Hispanics
live longer than both whites and blacks.
“We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates
haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,”
said John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the
National Institute on Aging, who was not involved in the new study.
The five-year decline for white women rivals the catastrophic seven-year drop
for Russian men in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said
Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity in London.
The decline among the least educated non-Hispanic whites, who make up a
shrinking share of the population, widened an already troubling gap. The latest
estimate shows life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma was
73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or
more. For white men, the gap was even bigger: 67.5 years for the least educated
white men compared with 80.4 for those with a college degree or better.
The dropping life expectancies have helped weigh down the United States in
international life expectancy rankings, particularly for women. In 2010,
American women fell to 41st place, down from 14th place in 1985, in the United
Nations rankings. Among developed countries, American women sank from the middle
of the pack in 1970 to last place in 2010, according to the Human Mortality
The slump is so vexing that it became the subject of an inquiry by the National
Academy of Sciences, which published a report on it last year.
“There’s this enormous issue of why,” said David Cutler, an economics professor
at Harvard who was an author of a 2008 paper that found modest declines in life
expectancy for less educated white women from 1981 to 2000. “It’s very puzzling
and we don’t have a great explanation.”
And it is yet another sign of distress in one of the country’s most vulnerable
groups during a period when major social changes are transforming life for less
educated whites. Childbirth outside marriage has soared, increasing pressures on
women who are more likely to be single parents. Those who do marry tend to
choose mates with similar education levels, concentrating the disadvantage.
Inklings of this decline have been accumulating since 2008. Professor Cutler’s
paper, published in Health Affairs, found a decline in life expectancy of about
a year for less educated white women from 1990 to 2000. Three other studies, by
Ahmedin Jemal, a researcher at the American Cancer Society; Jennifer Karas
Montez, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at Harvard;
and Richard Miech, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver, found
increases in mortality rates (the ratio of deaths to a population) for the least
Professor Olshansky’s study, financed by the MacArthur Foundation Research
Network on an Aging Society, found by far the biggest decline in life expectancy
for the least educated non-Hispanic whites, in large part because he isolated
those without a high school diploma, a group usually combined with high school
graduates. Non-Hispanic whites currently make up 63 percent of the population of
the United States.
Researchers said they were baffled by the magnitude of the drop. Some cautioned
that the results could be overstated because Americans without a high school
diploma — about 12 percent of the population, down from about 22 percent in
1990, according to the Census Bureau — were a shrinking group that was now more
likely to be disadvantaged in ways besides education, compared with past
Professor Olshansky agreed that the group was now smaller, but said the
magnitude of the drop in life expectancy was still a measure of deterioration.
“The good news is that there are fewer people in this group,” he said. “The bad
news is that those who are in it are dying more quickly.”
Researchers, including some involved in the earlier studies that found more
modest declines in life expectancy, said that Professor Olshansky’s methodology
was sound and that the findings reinforced evidence of a troubling pattern that
has emerged for those at the bottom of the education ladder, particularly white
“Something is going on in the lives of disadvantaged white women that is leading
to some really alarming trends in life expectancy,” said Ms. Montez of Harvard.
Researchers offered theories for the drop in life expectancy, but cautioned that
none could fully explain it.
James Jackson, director of the Institute of Social Research at the University of
Michigan and an author of the new study, said white women with low levels of
education may exhibit more risky behavior than that of previous generations.
Overdoses from prescription drugs have spiked since 1990, disproportionately
affecting whites, particularly women. Professor Miech, of the University of
Colorado, noted the rise in a 2011 paper in the American Sociological Review,
arguing that it was among the biggest changes for whites in recent decades and
that it appeared to have offset gains for less educated people in the rate of
Ms. Montez, who studies women’s health, said that smoking was a big part of
declines in life expectancy for less educated women. Smoking rates have
increased among women without a high school diploma, both white and black, she
said. But for men of the same education level, they have declined.
This group also has less access to health care than before. The share of
working-age adults with less than a high school diploma who did not have health
insurance rose to 43 percent in 2006, up from 35 percent in 1993, according to
Mr. Jemal at the American Cancer Society. Just 10 percent of those with a
college degree were uninsured last year, the Census Bureau reported.
The shift should be seen against the backdrop of sweeping changes in the
American economy and in women’s lives, said Lisa Berkman, director of the
Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. The overwhelming majority
of women now work, while fertility has remained higher than in European
countries. For women in low-wage jobs, which are often less flexible, this could
take a toll on health, a topic that Professor Berkman has a grant from the
National Institute on Aging to study.
5, 2012 The New York Times
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Calif. — Standing on the footsteps of the Fresno County Jail, where he had just
been released one recent afternoon, Juan Diaz rated the food inside a 2. The
state prison at Coalinga, where he served three years on a weapons conviction,
earned a 10.
Battle-hardened young men like Mr. Diaz, 33 — who is a member of the Bulldogs,
the largest Hispanic gang in California’s Central Valley, and who spent the
night in jail for missing a court date on charges of possessing a stolen car and
methamphetamine — used to deride the downtown Fresno jail as “Club Snoopy.”
Spending years in jail instead of prison is an increasing possibility
now, as California carries out the most far-reaching overhaul of its criminal
justice system in decades. And that idea fills Mr. Diaz with dread.
“I’d go insane,” he said. “I would probably hang myself, seriously. I would
probably do something stupid.”
Built for stays shorter than one year, the jail does not offer the kind of
activities, work programs and amenities found in most prisons. “You’re stuck
in a little cell,” Mr. Diaz said, while prisons with outdoor space provide
plenty of “yard time.” Soup costs $1 here, compared with 30 cents at the canteen
at Coalinga, which Mr. Diaz said he left in 2005. “My homie just got out a
couple of months ago,” he said, “and the canteen went up only, like, 3 cents, 4
Ordered by the United States Supreme Court to reduce severe overcrowding in its
prisons, California began redirecting low-level offenders to local jails last
October in a shift called realignment. Its prison population, the nation’s
largest, has since fallen by more than 16 percent to 120,000 from 144,000; it
must be reduced to 110,000 by next June.
Counties with already tight budgets are scrambling to house the influx of
newcomers in facilities that were never designed to accommodate inmates serving
long sentences, like a man who began serving 15 years for fraud recently in the
Fresno County — a sprawling agricultural area surrounding the city, which is
also facing financial problems and became a punch line for Conan O’Brien
recently — is adding 864 beds to its chronically overcrowded jail. Under a
longstanding federal consent decree that requires the Sheriff’s Department to
release inmates when the jail reaches capacity, 40 to 60 people are let go early
In a move watched by other states also facing prison overcrowding, California is
handing its 58 counties money and leeway to decide how to handle the new
arrivals. Liberal communities like San Francisco are using a greater share of
the state money on programs and alternatives to incarceration. But most
counties, particularly here in the conservative Central Valley, have focused on
building jail capacity.
That troubles organizations on both sides of the political spectrum. Sheriff
Keith Royal of Nevada County, the president of the California State Sheriffs’
Association, said members were worried about their capacity to provide “adequate
treatment” in jails and about “litigation at the location level.” The American
Civil Liberties Union warned that instead of making fundamental improvements to
the criminal justice system, many counties risked simply repeating the state’s
mistakes by reflexively putting people behind bars.
Criticized for its overemphasis on jails, a local committee overseeing
realignment in Fresno recently approved using $848,000 from its state total of
$20.8 million this year to expand drug rehabilitation programs for people
released from jail. But even that relatively small amount is facing deep
skepticism from the county’s Board of Supervisors, which will vote on the plan
“Some people, you’re not going to change their behavior until they’re
incarcerated and they have to pay the consequences,” said Debbie Poochigian, the
chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “I believe we’re keeping our community
safer because they’re not out there looking for their next victim.”
The county has used about 40 percent of its state money so far to reopen two of
three jail floors that were closed a few years ago because of budget cuts. The
priority, Ms. Poochigian said, should be to finance the reopening of the third
floor. If Fresno runs out of space, she added, inmates could be transferred to
jails in other counties or to private jails.
According to the Board of State and Community Corrections, the population in
county jails rose by about 4 percent from an average of 71,293 in last year’s
third quarter to 73,957 in the first quarter of 2012, the latest figures
available. In Fresno, like elsewhere, about two-thirds are inmates awaiting
Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. who co-wrote a study on the shift to
jails, said the population at county jails could be significantly reduced by
overhauling pretrial procedures. Many inmates, who present no risk, remain in
jail simply because they cannot afford bail, he said, adding that alternatives
like electronic monitoring and day reporting could free up jail space and save
But in counties where elected officials are afraid of appearing soft on crime,
such alternatives are particularly sensitive.
“Everything is political,” said Sheriff Margaret Mims of Fresno County.
Sheriff Mims said she had become “less optimistic” about the shift to jails
because of rising crime in the county, including burglaries and car thefts.
Though law enforcement officials acknowledge that rising crime cannot be linked
directly to the realignment policy, they say people engaging in nonviolent
offenses like property crime no longer fear being sent to prison.
Despite Fresno County’s conservative attitude toward crime, the policy shift has
fueled a debate about alternatives to incarceration by grouping various agencies
in the committee overseeing the change, said Emma Hughes, a criminologist at
California State University, Fresno, who is working as a consultant for the
Linda Penner, the chief probation officer and chairwoman of the realignment
committee, said that having secured money to reopen two jail floors, the
committee had the political room to approve the $848,000 for the rehabilitation
“Do I think we’re all getting on the same page in reckoning with the fact that
we have to create alternatives to detention?” she said. “Yes.”
Inside the Fresno jail’s north wing, where the newly reopened facilities are,
each floor is composed of six two-level “pods” housing 72 inmates. In one pod,
men were lying on three-level bunk beds, watching television, playing cards or
doing push-ups. They are given an hour a day at an indoor gym on each floor.
Inmates in the jail’s older wings get only three hours a week, split between an
indoor gym and a rooftop basketball court.
Violence among inmates has risen since the policy shift, Sgt. Terry Barnes said,
attributing it to inmates’ realization that they might spend years in a place
with few of the activities and amenities they enjoyed in prison.
“They’re very frustrated with the idea that this is it,” said Sergeant Barnes, a
corrections officer who has worked at the jail for 24 years.
Outside the jail, David Otero, 35, was chaining his bicycle to a handrail before
visiting his brother inside. Mr. Otero said he himself had spent seven months in
the jail and 38 days at a state prison for a hit-and-run conviction in 2006.
Prison had better amenities, he said, but there was “a lot more politics” there
than in Club Snoopy.
His brother, who spent more than 10 years in prison on various drug convictions,
was now serving his second year in jail for robbery, Mr. Otero said. He and his
mother visit often, giving his brother money for the canteen.
“If he knows he’s a block away from his mom and his brother, who can visit him
anytime, that’ll have a direct impact,” Mr. Otero said. “We’re just up the
2012 The New York Times
By COLIN A. CARTER
and HENRY I. MILLER
IT is not
often that a stroke of a pen can quickly undo the ravages of nature, but federal
regulators now have an opportunity to do just that. Americans’ food budgets
will be hit hard by the ongoing Midwestern drought, the worst since 1956.
Food bills will rise and many farmers will go bust.
An act of God, right? Well, the drought itself may be, but a human remedy for
some of the fallout is at hand — if only the federal authorities would act. By
suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the
Environmental Protection Agency could divert vast amounts of corn from
inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces and
common sense dictate it should go.
The drought has now parched about 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states.
As a result, global food prices are rising steeply. Corn futures prices on the
Chicago exchange have risen about 60 percent since mid-June, hitting record
levels, and other grains such as wheat and soybeans are also sharply higher.
Livestock and dairy product prices will inevitably follow.
More than one-third of our corn crop is used to feed livestock. Another 13
percent is exported, much of it to feed livestock as well. Another 40 percent is
used to produce ethanol. The remainder goes toward food and beverage production.
Previous droughts in the Midwest (most recently in 1988) also resulted in higher
food prices, but misguided energy policies are magnifying the effects of the
current one. Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2
billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7
billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop.
Other countries seem to have a better grasp of market forces and common sense.
Brazil, another large ethanol producer, uses sugar instead of corn to make
ethanol. It has flexible policies that allow the market to determine whether
sugar should be sold on the sugar market or be converted to fuel. Our government
could learn from the Brazilian approach and direct the E.P.A. to waive a portion
of the renewable-fuel standards, thereby directing corn back to the marketplace.
Under the law, the E.P.A. would first have to determine that the program was
causing economic harm. That’s a no-brainer, given the effects of sharply higher
grain prices that are already rippling through the economy.
The price of corn is a critical variable in the world food equation, and food
markets are on edge because American corn supplies are plummeting. The
combination of the drought and American ethanol policy will lead in many parts
of the world to widespread inflation, more hunger, less food security, slower
economic growth and political instability, especially in poor countries.
If the E.P.A. were to waive the rules for this year and next, the ethanol
industry and corn farmers, who have experienced a years-long windfall, would
lose out. Wheat and soybean farmers would also lose, because the prices of those
crops have also been driven up: corn competes with soybeans for acreage and is
substituted for wheat in some feed rations.
Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that
ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil
fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the
percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of
gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon
The ethanol lobby promotes these claims, and many politicians seem intoxicated
by them. Corn is indeed a renewable resource, but it has a far lower yield
relative to the energy used to produce it than either biodiesel (such as soybean
oil) or ethanol from other plants. Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy
per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. Finally, adding
ethanol actually raises the price of blended fuel because it is more expensive
to transport and handle than gasoline.
As the summer drags on, the drought is only worsening. Last week the
International Grains Council lowered its estimate of this year’s American corn
harvest to 11.8 billion bushels from 13.8 billion. Reducing the renewable-fuel
standard by a mere 20 percent — equivalent to about a billion bushels of corn —
would offset nearly half of the expected crop loss due to the drought.
All it would take is the stroke of a pen — and, of course, the savvy and the
will to do the right thing.
Carter is a professor of agricultural and resource economics
University of California, Davis. Henry I. Miller, a physician,
is a fellow in
scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.
REAGAN famously said, “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” With 46
million Americans — 15 percent of the population — now counted as poor, it’s
tempting to think he may have been right.
Look a little deeper and the temptation grows. The lowest percentage in
poverty since we started counting was 11.1 percent in 1973. The rate climbed as
high as 15.2 percent in 1983. In 2000, after a spurt of prosperity, it went back
down to 11.3 percent, and yet 15 million more people are poor today.
At the same time, we have done a lot that works. From Social Security to food
stamps to the earned-income tax credit and on and on, we have enacted programs
that now keep 40 million people out of poverty. Poverty would be nearly double
what it is now without these measures, according to the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities. To say that “poverty won” is like saying the Clean Air and
Clean Water Acts failed because there is still pollution.
With all of that, why have we not achieved more? Four reasons: An astonishing
number of people work at low-wage jobs. Plus, many more households are headed
now by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income
from the jobs that are typically available. The near disappearance of cash
assistance for low-income mothers and children — i.e., welfare — in much of the
country plays a contributing role, too. And persistent issues of race and gender
mean higher poverty among minorities and families headed by single mothers.
The first thing needed if we’re to get people out of poverty is more jobs that
pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy. The need
for good jobs extends far beyond the current crisis; we’ll need a
full-employment policy and a bigger investment in 21st-century education and
skill development strategies if we’re to have any hope of breaking out of the
current economic malaise.
This isn’t a problem specific to the current moment. We’ve been drowning in a
flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in
poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the
Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual
incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three.
They struggle to make ends meet every month.
Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the
Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of
four, less than $23,000 annually. Families that can send another adult to
work have done better, but single mothers (and fathers) don’t have that option.
Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40
Wages for those who work on jobs in the bottom half have been stuck since
1973, increasing just 7 percent.
It’s not that the whole economy stagnated. There’s been growth, a lot of it, but
it has stuck at the top. The realization that 99 percent of us have been left
in the dust by the 1 percent at the top (some much further behind than
others) came far later than it should have — Rip Van Winkle and then some. It
took the Great Recession to get people’s attention, but the facts had been
accumulating for a long time. If we’ve awakened, we can act.
Low-wage jobs bedevil tens of millions of people. At the other end of the
low-income spectrum we have a different problem. The safety net for single
mothers and their children has developed a gaping hole over the past dozen
years. This is a major cause of the dramatic increase in extreme poverty during
those years. The census tells us that 20.5 million people earn incomes below
half the poverty line, less than about $9,500 for a family of three — up eight
million from 2000.
Why? A substantial reason is the near demise of welfare — now called Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. In the mid-90s more than two-thirds
of children in poor families received welfare. But that number has dwindled over
the past decade and a half to roughly 27 percent.
One result: six million people have no income other than food stamps. Food
stamps provide an income at a third of the poverty line, close to $6,300 for a
family of three. It’s hard to understand how they survive.
At least we have food stamps. They have been a powerful antirecession tool in
the past five years, with the number of recipients rising to 46 million today
from 26.3 million in 2007. By contrast, welfare has done little to counter the
impact of the recession; although the number of people receiving cash assistance
rose from 3.9 million to 4.5 million since 2007, many states actually reduced
the size of their rolls and lowered benefits to those in greatest need.
Race and gender play an enormous part in determining poverty’s continuing
course. Minorities are disproportionately poor: around 27 percent of
African-Americans, Latinos and American Indians are poor, versus 10 percent of
whites. Wealth disparities are even wider. At the same time, whites
constitute the largest number among the poor. This is a fact that bears
emphasis, since measures to raise income and provide work supports will help
more whites than minorities. But we cannot ignore race and gender, both because
they present particular challenges and because so much of the politics of
poverty is grounded in those issues.
We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the
country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net,
and the like. But realistically, the immediate challenge is keeping what we
have. Representative Paul Ryan and his ideological peers would slash everything
from Social Security to Medicare and on through the list, and would hand out
more tax breaks to the people at the top. Robin Hood would turn over in his
We should not kid ourselves. It isn’t certain that things will stay as good as
they are now. The wealth and income of the top 1 percent grows at the expense of
everyone else. Money breeds power and power breeds more money. It is a truly
A surefire politics of change would necessarily involve getting people in the
middle — from the 30th to the 70th percentile — to see their own economic
self-interest. If they vote in their own self-interest, they’ll elect people who
are likely to be more aligned with people with lower incomes as well as with
them. As long as people in the middle identify more with people on the top than
with those on the bottom, we are doomed. The obscene amount of money flowing
into the electoral process makes things harder yet.
But history shows that people power wins sometimes. That’s what happened in the
Progressive Era a century ago and in the Great Depression as well. The gross
inequality of those times produced an amalgam of popular unrest, organization,
muckraking journalism and political leadership that attacked the big — and
worsening — structural problem of economic inequality. The civil rights movement
changed the course of history and spread into the women’s movement, the
environmental movement and, later, the gay rights movement. Could we have said
on the day before the dawn of each that it would happen, let alone succeed? Did
Rosa Parks know?
We have the ingredients. For one thing, the demographics of the electorate are
changing. The consequences of that are hardly automatic, but they create an
opportunity. The new generation of young people — unusually distrustful of
encrusted power in all institutions and, as a consequence, tending toward
libertarianism — is ripe for a new politics of honesty. Lower-income people will
participate if there are candidates who speak to their situations. The change
has to come from the bottom up and from synergistic leadership that draws it
out. When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand
for what they want, they will vote accordingly.
I have seen days of promise and days of darkness, and I’ve seen them more than
once. All history is like that. The people have the power if they will use it,
but they have to see that it is in their interest to do so.
is a professor of law at Georgetown University
THE beginning of the end of AIDS? The article with that title jumped out at me
last week, as I did my weekly table-of-contents scan of The New England Journal
of Medicine. I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotion that overcame me. The
beginning of the end? Could it really be?
For those of us who did our medical training in the late ’80s and early ’90s,
AIDS saturated our lives. The whole era had a medieval feel, with visceral
suffering and human decimation all around. Death was vivid, brutal and
Bellevue Hospital, where I trained, was one of those city hospitals that felt
like ground zero for the plague. Every third admission seemed to be a patient in
his mid-20s who looked as if he’d arrived from Dachau or Biafra, with nary a
T-cell to his name. Horrific Kaposi’s sarcoma ulcerated these patients’ bodies.
P.C.P., a brutal form of pneumonia, strangled their breathing. Fevers and
infections plundered every organ system. What few defenses their bodies mustered
were pummeled into insignificance.
The utter relentlessness of the disease pummeled the doctors-in-training as
well. It felt as if we were slogging knee-deep in death, with a horizon that was
a monochrome of despair. Witnessing your own generation dying off is not for the
faint of heart.
The 17 West AIDS ward in Bellevue was always full to capacity, so H.I.V.
patients overflowed into the general medical wards, and of course swamped the
prison ward, the tuberculosis ward, the pediatric ward and the emergency room.
We even had a “spillover” ward, 12 East, reserved for the “actively dying.” The
hospital had carved out a ward of private rooms — otherwise unheard-of in a city
hospital — so that these patients could have a modicum of privacy in their final
days. Needless to say, 12 East was also full to capacity, with a line of
patients waiting for a room to “open up.”
If you’d grabbed a random intern toward the end of my residency in 1995, and
asked her if she could envision the headline “The Beginning of the End of AIDS”
in less than 20 years, she would have simply stared uncomprehendingly at you
with bleary eyes. More than 50,000 Americans died of AIDS that year. By 2009,
the number had edged under 20,000.
In the worlds of both medicine and metaphor, the narrative arc of AIDS has
almost no peer. The transformation from hopelessness to pragmatic optimism is —
scientifically speaking — nothing short of miraculous. Potent combinations of
antiviral medications that brought patients off their deathbeds and back to
life, viral load testing and H.I.V. genotyping that helped tailor treatment
regimens, screening of the blood supply, aggressive public health campaigns,
prevention of maternal-fetal transmission — we could hardly have envisioned the
pace of development.
After years of disappointments, H.I.V. vaccine research is heating up again, as
breakthroughs in the understanding of H.I.V. immunology have identified nearly
two dozen potential vaccine candidates. The apparent H.I.V. cure as a result of
a bone-marrow transplant in a man known as the “Berlin patient” has stimulated
tantalizing gene therapy research.
The staggering progress of these past two decades leaves me breathless, and to
be honest, almost teary-eyed. For nearly every other category of disease that
afflicts my patients, the treatments are largely the same as when I was an
intern. Yes, we have fancier stents for our cardiac patients, and more targeted
chemotherapy for our cancer patients, but the overall paradigms have shifted
H.I.V. has been easier to target, in part, because it is caused by a single
infectious agent — as opposed to the diverse factors that influence
cardiovascular disease and cancer. And then there was the avalanche of resources
and the galvanizing of public activism that served to concentrate scientific
efforts in a manner never seen before. By no means do I wish to belittle the
impressive advances in other fields of medicine, but our oncology wards and
cardiac wards still do a brisk business.
AIDS patients in the hospital are a rarity now — they are more likely to be
admitted for an ulcer or a heart attack than for an H.I.V.-related illness. The
overwhelming majority receive their medical care in outpatient settings, like
everyone else who is living with a disease rather than dying of a disease. AIDS
has settled in next to hypertension and diabetes as one of those chronic
conditions that patients deal with over the course of a lifetime.
“Over the course of a lifetime.” Now there’s a concept we never thought about
There is still a long way to go, of course. The 19th annual International AIDS
Conference just ended on Friday, and no one is underestimating the gravity of
the challenges that remain, particularly in developing countries. But to even
contemplate, however tentatively, the beginning of the end is something that my
peers and I never imagined happening in our lifetimes.
I often think about grim days we spent doing rounds on 17 West and 12 East. I
remember the slow and tortured deaths of our patients, their emaciated bodies
disintegrating into nothingness before our eyes. More tears were shed on those
wards than any I’ve worked in since.
And what happened? The 17 West AIDS ward became a regular medical ward. The 12
East dying ward was turned into offices. And then, this month, the inpatient
AIDS service at Bellevue closed down entirely. If that doesn’t signify the
beginning of the end, I don’t know what does.
Danielle Ofri, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine,
is the editor of the Bellevue Literary Review and the author, most recently,
of “Medicine in Translation: Journeys With My Patients.”
June 19, 2012 The New York Times
By JOHN M. MacDONALD
and ROBERT J. SAMPSON
IMMIGRATION is in the headlines again, with President Obama’s
decision last week to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the
United States as children, and the Supreme Court’s approaching decision on the
constitutionality of Arizona’s crackdown on undocumented migrants.
But too much of the public debate has focused on the legality of immigration
without considering a more fundamental question: What effects has mass
immigration had on American society?
As a result of the 1965 immigration act, which opened the door widely to
non-European immigrants, 40 million foreign-born immigrants now live in the
United States. They make up 13 percent of the population, the largest such
proportion since the 1920s. More than half of these migrants are from Latin
America and the Caribbean, although a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research
Center found that Asians overtook Hispanics in 2009 as the fastest-growing group
For the May issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science, we commissioned some of the most meticulous research done to date about
the effects of immigration on a cross section of American communities — urban,
suburban and rural.
The scholars who participated were in remarkable agreement: while new immigrants
are poorer than the general population and face considerable hardship, there is
no evidence that they have reshaped the social fabric in harmful ways.
America is neither less safe because of immigration nor is it worse off
economically. In fact, in the regions where immigrants have settled in the past
two decades, crime has gone down, cities have grown, poor urban neighborhoods
have been rebuilt, and small towns that were once on life support are springing
Scholars can’t say for sure that immigration caused these positive developments,
but we know enough to debunk the notion that immigrants worsen social ills.
For example, in rural counties that experienced an influx of immigrants in the
1980s and ’90s, crime rates dropped by more than they did in rural counties that
did not see high immigrant growth. Higher immigration was associated with
reductions in homicide rates for white, black and Latino victims. In both
Hazleton, Pa., which has a recent history of hostility toward immigration, and
St. James, Minn., a much more welcoming community, migrants have also bolstered
dwindling populations and helped to reverse economic decline.
In large gateway cities, immigration has been associated not only with a
decrease in crime but also with economic revitalization and reductions in
concentrated poverty. Data from the 2005 American Community Survey showed, for
example, that the income of blacks in the New York City borough of Queens
surpassed that of whites for the first time, a development driven largely by
immigration from the West Indies.
Scholars found that immigrant youths in Los Angeles were involved in less crime
and violence than their native-born peers in similar economic circumstances.
Research also has shown that an increase in immigration in cities like San
Antonio and Miami did not produce an increase in the homicide rate. Furthermore,
social scientists found that people in immigrant communities in New York were
less cynical about the law than were people in less diverse communities; they
were also more likely to indicate that they would cooperate with the police.
If migration has had such beneficial effects, why, then, has there been such a
Part of the answer surely lies in the social changes — language, political
attitudes, religious mores — that immigrants bring, in addition to the effects
of the recession. The leveling-off of migration, especially from Mexico, may
bring a sense of relief to opponents of these social changes, but if the new
research is any guide, the consequences of the slowdown may be the opposite of
what the critics intend.
Comprehensive immigration reform — last attempted during the second term of
President George W. Bush — should be a priority for whoever wins in November.
Mr. Obama’s decision to exempt undocumented children who were brought to the
United States by their parents from harsh deportation rules is an overdue, but
welcome, first step.
Establishing a clear path to citizenship for undocumented adults, creating a
more permissive guest-worker program, reducing unwarranted police stops of
immigrants and preserving families rather than separating them through
deportation are controversial ideas, but they deserve a hearing.
John M. MacDonald is an associate professor of criminology
at the University of Pennsylvania.
Robert J. Sampson is a professor of the social sciences
2012 The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(AP) — More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious
crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according
to a new archive compiled at two universities.
Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline
in public schools than other students, according to new data from the Department
Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools
sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of
those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to
the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in
7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data
covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an
out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times
as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies,
Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56
percent of those expelled under such policies.
“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable
truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color
violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”
The department began gathering data on civil rights and education in 1968, but
the project was suspended by the Bush administration in 2006. It has been
reinstated and expanded to examine a broader range of information, including,
for the first time, referrals to law enforcement, an area of increasing concern
to civil rights advocates who see the emergence of a school-to-prison pipeline
for a growing number of students of color.
According to the schools’ reports, over 70 percent of the students involved in
school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.
Black and Hispanic students — particularly those with disabilities — are also
disproportionately subject to seclusion or restraints. Students with
disabilities make up 12 percent of the student body, but 70 percent of those
subject to physical restraints. Black students with disabilities constituted 21
percent of the total, but 44 percent of those with disabilities subject to
mechanical restraints, like being strapped down. And while Hispanics made up 21
percent of the students without disabilities, they accounted for 42 percent of
those without disabilities who were placed in seclusion.
“Those are extremely dramatic numbers, and show the importance of reinstating
the civil rights data collection and expanding the categories of information
collected,” said Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel at the American
Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office. “The harsh punishments,
especially expulsion under zero tolerance and referrals to law enforcement, show
that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being
pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”
While the disciplinary data was probably the most startling, the data showed a
wide range of other racial and ethnic disparities. For while 55 percent of the
high schools with low black and Hispanic enrollment offered calculus, only 29
percent of the high-minority high schools did so — and even in schools offering
calculus, Hispanics made up 20 percent of the student body but only 10 percent
of those enrolled in calculus.
And while black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the
survey, they were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented
The data also showed that schools with a lot of black and Hispanic students were
likely to have relatively inexperienced, and low-paid, teachers. On average,
teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their
colleagues elsewhere. In New York high schools, though, the discrepancy was more
than $8,000, and in Philadelphia, more than $14,000.
Many of the nation’s largest districts had very different disciplinary rates for
students of different races. In Los Angeles, for example, black students made up
9 percent of those enrolled, but 26 percent of those suspended; in Chicago, they
made up 45 percent of the students, but 76 percent of the suspensions.
In recent decades, as more districts and states have adopted zero-tolerance
policies, imposing mandatory suspension for a wide range of behavioral misdeeds,
more and more students have been sent away from school for at least a few days,
an approach that is often questioned as paving the way for students to fall
behind and drop out.
A previous study of the federal data from the years before 2006, published in
2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization,
found that suspension rates in the nation’s public schools, kindergarten through
high school, had nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006 — from 3.7
percent of public school students in 1973 to 6.9 percent in 2006 — in part
because of the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies.
But because the Department of Education has not yet posted most of the data from
the most recent collection, it is not yet possible to extend those findings. On
Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Duncan will announce the results at Howard Univerity, and
from then on the data will become publicly available, at ocrdata.ed.gov.
13, 2011 The New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
portion of Americans living in poverty last year rose to the highest level since
1993, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, fresh evidence that the sluggish
economic recovery has done nothing for the country’s poorest citizens.
An additional 2.6 million people slipped below the poverty line in 2010, census
officials said, making 46.2 million people in poverty in the United States, the
highest number in the 52 years the Census Bureau has been tracking it, said
Trudi Renwick, chief of the Poverty Statistic Branch at the Census Bureau.
That figure represented 15.1 percent of the country.
The poverty line in 2010 was at $22,113 for a family of four.
“It was a surprising large increase in the overall poverty rate,” said Arloc
Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “We
see record numbers and percentages of Americans in deep poverty.”
And in new evidence of economic distress among the middle class, real median
household incomes declined by 2.3 percent in 2010 from the previous year, to
$49,400. That was 7 percent less than the peak in 1999 of $53,252.
“A full year into recovery, there were no signs of it affecting the well being
of a typical American family,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at
Harvard. “We are well below where incomes were in the late 1990s.”
According to the census figures, the median annual income for a male full-time,
year-round worker in 2010 — $47,715 — was virtually unchanged from its level in
1973, when the level was $49,065, in 2010 dollars, said Sheldon H. Danziger,
professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
“That’s not about the poor and unemployed, that’s full time, year round,”
Professor Danziger said. Particularly hard hit, he said, have been those who do
not have college degrees. “The median, full-time male worker has made no
progress on average.”
The youngest members of households — those ages 15 to 24 — lost out the most,
with their median income dropping by 9 percent. The recession continued to push
Americans to double up in households with friends and relatives, especially
those ages 25 to 34, a group that experienced a 25 percent increase in the
period between 2007, when the recession began, and 2011. Of that group, 45.3
percent were living below the poverty line, when their parents’ incomes were not
taken into account.
“We’re risking a new underclass,” said Timothy Smeeding, director of the
Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
“Young, less educated adults, mainly men, can’t support their children and form
stable families because they are jobless.”
has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 13, 2011
An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect figure
for the number of
people the Census Bureau
found to be in poverty in the Unites States.
The number is 46.2 million people,
not 56.2 million.
(Reuters) - Gold struck a record high on Wednesday at slightly above $1,500
an ounce as a weak dollar buoyed sentiment in precious metals.
Following are key dates in gold's trading history since the early 1970s:
* August 1971 - U.S. President Richard Nixon takes the dollar off the gold
standard, which had been in place with minor modifications since the Bretton
Woods Agreement of 1944 fixed the conversion rate for one Troy ounce of gold at
* August 1972 - The United States devalues the dollar to $38 per ounce of gold.
* March 1973 - Most major countries adopt floating exchange rate system.
* May 1973 - U.S. devalues dollar to $42.22 per ounce.
* January 1980 - Gold hits record high at $850 per ounce. High inflation because
of strong oil prices, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the impact of the
Iranian revolution prompt investors to move into the metal.
* August 1999 - Gold falls to a low at $251.70 on worries about central banks
reducing reserves of gold bullion and mining companies selling gold in forward
markets to protect against falling prices.
* October 1999 - Gold reaches a two-year high at $338 after agreement to limit
gold sales by 15 European central banks. Market sentiment toward gold begins to
turn more positive.
* February 2003 - Gold reaches a 4- year high on safe-haven buying in the run-up
to the invasion of Iraq.
* December 2003-January 2004 - Gold breaks above $400, reaching levels last
traded in 1988. Investors increasingly buy gold as risk insurance for
* November 2005 - Spot gold breaches $500 for the first time since December
1987, when spot hit $502.97.
* April 11, 2006 - Gold prices surpass $600, the highest point since December
1980, with funds and investors pouring money into commodities on a weak dollar,
firm oil prices and geopolitical worries.
* May 12, 2006 - Gold prices peak at $730 an ounce with funds and investors
pouring money into commodities on a weak dollar, firm oil prices and political
tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
* June 14, 2006 - Gold falls 26 percent to $543 from its 26-year peak after
investors and speculators sell out of commodity positions.
* November 7, 2007 - Spot gold hits a 28-year high of $845.40 an ounce.
* January 2, 2008 - Spot gold breaks above $850.
* March 13, 2008 - Benchmark gold contract trades over $1,000 for the first time
in U.S. futures market.
* March 17, 2008 - Spot gold hits an all-time high of $1,030.80 an ounce. U.S.
gold futures touch record peak of $1,033.90.
* September 17, 2008 - Spot gold rises by nearly $90 an ounce, a record one-day
gain, as investors seek safety amid turmoil on the equity markets.
* Jan-March 2009 - Gold-backed exchange-traded funds report record inflows in
the first quarter as financial sector insecurity spurs safe-haven buying.
Holdings of the largest, the SPDR Gold Trust, rise 45 percent to 1,127.44
* February 20, 2009 - Gold rises back above $1,000 an ounce to a peak of
$1,005.40 as investors buy bullion as a safe store of value as major economies
face recession and equity markets tumble.
* April 24, 2009 - China announces it has raised its gold reserves by
three-quarters since 2003 and now holds 1,054 tonnes of the precious metal,
boosting expectations it may add further to its reserves.
* August 7, 2009 - European central banks opt to renew their earlier agreement
to limit gold sales over a five-year period, setting the sales cap at 400 tonnes
* September 8, 2009 - Gold breaks back through $1,000 an ounce for the first
time since February 2009 on dollar weakness and concerns over the sustainability
of the economic recovery.
* December 1, 2009 - Gold climbs above $1,200 an ounce for the first time as the
* December 3, 2009 - Gold hits record high at $1,226.10 an ounce, with dollar
weakness and expectations for central banks to diversify reserves into gold
driving prices higher.
* May 11, 2010 - Gold reaches fresh record high above $1,230 an ounce as fears
over the contagion of debt issues in the euro zone fuel safe-haven buying.
* June 21, 2010 - Gold jumps to a new high at $1,264.90 an ounce as underlying
fears over financial market stability and sovereign risk combine with dollar
weakness to push the metal through resistance at its previous high.
* Sept 14, 2010 - Gold climbs back to record highs, this time at $1,274.75, as
global markets reflect renewed uncertainty on the economic outlook.
* Sept 16-22, 2010 - Gold hits record highs for five successive sessions,
peaking at $1,296.10, as investors flock to bullion after the Fed signals it may
consider further quantitative easing, weakening the dollar and raising fears
over future inflation.
* Sept 27 - Spot gold prices touch the $1,300 an ounce mark for the first time.
* Oct 7 - Gold rallies to a record high above $1,360 an ounce as the dollar
comes under pressure from building expectations for the U.S. Federal Reserve to
take extra measures to keep interest rates low and prop up the economy.
* Oct 13 - Gold jumped to record highs near $1,375 an ounce as the dollar
continued to languish, with the U.S. unit coming under pressure after minutes
from the Fed's September meeting signaled the U.S. economy may need further
* Nov 8 - Gold prices break through the $1,400 an ounce mark for the first time
as haven buying prompted by renewed budget problems in Ireland more than offset
a sharp dollar bounce.
* Dec 7 - Gold reaches a fresh record high above $1,425 an ounce, driven by fund
buying ahead of year-end, jitters over the euro zone debt crisis and speculation
for further U.S. monetary easing.
* January 2011 - Gold prices fall more than 6 percent in their worst monthly
performance in over a year as a revival in risk appetite diverts investment to
* March 1 - Gold recovers to hit a record high at $1,434.65 an ounce as unrest
in Tunisia and Egypt spreads across the Middle East and North Africa, boosting
* March 7 - Gold extends record highs to $1,444.40 an ounce as oil prices hit
their highest in 2- years after protests are quashed in Saudi Arabia and as
violence in Libya rages.
* March 24 - The resignation of Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates pushes
the euro zone debt crisis back to center stage, lifting gold prices to a record
above $1,447 an ounce.
* April 20 - Gold climbed to a record high at $1,500.16 an ounce, supported by a
weak dollar and concerns over a sovereign debt crisis.
March 25, 2012
The New York Times
By STEVEN RATTNER
NEW statistics show an ever-more-startling divergence between
the fortunes of the wealthy and everybody else — and the desperate need to
address this wrenching problem. Even in a country that sometimes seems inured to
income inequality, these takeaways are truly stunning.
In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93
percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to
2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at
least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of
11.6 percent to each of these households.
Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster
than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to
just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households
with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes
rise by 21.5 percent.
The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in
2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is
$1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.
This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez
from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely
to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid
growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has
increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time,
old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.
The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32
years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a
high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.
Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts,
which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains
and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to
have a higher tax rate than he does.
As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic
recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of
the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, the
figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent.
Just as the causes of the growing inequality are becoming better known, so have
the contours of solving the problem: better education and training, a fairer tax
system, more aid programs for the disadvantaged to encourage the social mobility
needed for them escape the bottom rung, and so on.
Government, of course, can’t fully address some of the challenges, like
globalization, but it can help.
By the end of the year, deadlines built into several pieces of complex
legislation will force a gridlocked Congress’s hand. Most significantly, all of
the Bush tax cuts will expire. If Congress does not act, tax rates will return
to the higher, pre-2000, Clinton-era levels. In addition, $1.2 trillion of
automatic spending cuts that were set in motion by the failure of the last
attempt at a deficit reduction deal will take effect.
So far, the prospects for progress are at best worrisome, at worst terrifying.
Earlier this week, House Republicans unveiled an unsavory stew of highly
regressive tax cuts, large but unspecified reductions in discretionary spending
(a category that importantly includes education, infrastructure and research and
development), and an evisceration of programs devoted to lifting those at the
bottom, including unemployment insurance, food stamps, earned income tax credits
and many more.
Policies of this sort would exacerbate the very problem of income inequality
that most needs fixing. Next week’s package from House Democrats will almost
certainly be more appealing. And to his credit, President Obama has spoken
eloquently about the need to address this problem. But with Democrats in the
minority in the House and an election looming, passage is unlikely.
The only way to redress the income imbalance is by implementing policies that
are oriented toward reversing the forces that caused it. That means letting the
Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy and adding money to some of the programs
that House Republicans seek to cut. Allowing this disparity to continue is both
bad economic policy and bad social policy. We owe those at the bottom a fairer
shot at moving up.
Steven Rattner is a contributing writer for Op-Ed
and a longtime
Wall Street executive.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 26, 2012
Due to a typo, an earlier version referred incorrectly
2011 Filed at 11:58 p.m. EST
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(AP) — Far from slowing, the government's deficit spending will surge to a
record $1.5 trillion flood of red ink this year, congressional budget experts
estimated Wednesday, blaming the slow economic recovery and last month's tax-cut
The report was sobering new evidence that it will take more than President
Barack Obama's proposed freeze on some agencies to stem the nation's
extraordinary budget woes. Republicans say they want big budget cuts but so far
are light on specifics.
Wednesday's Congressional Budget Office estimates indicate the government will
have to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends this fiscal year, which ends
Sept. 30. Tax revenues are projected to drop to their lowest levels since 1950,
when measured against the size of the economy.
The report, full of nasty news, also says that after decades of Social Security
surpluses, the vast program's costs are no longer covered by payroll taxes.
The budget estimates will add fuel to the already-raging debate over spending
and looming legislation that would allow the government to borrow more money as
the national debt nears the $14.3 trillion cap set by law. Republicans
controlling the House say there's no way they'll raise the limit without
significant budget cuts, starting with a government funding bill that will
advance next month.
Democrats and Republicans agree that stern anti-deficit steps are needed, but
neither Obama nor his resurgent GOP rivals on Capitol Hill are — so far —
willing to put on the table cuts to popular benefit programs such as Medicare,
farm subsidies and Social Security. The need to pass legislation to fund the
government and prevent a first-ever default on U.S. debt obligations seems sure
to drive the two sides into negotiations.
Though the analysis predicts the economy will grow by 3.1 percent this year, it
foresees unemployment remaining above 9 percent.
Dauntingly for Obama, the nonpartisan agency estimates a nationwide jobless rate
of 8.2 percent on Election Day in 2012. That's higher that the rates that
contributed to losses by Presidents Jimmy Carter (7.5 percent) and George H.W.
Bush (7.4 percent). The nation isn't projected to be at full employment —
considered to be a jobless rate of about 5 percent — until 2016.
The latest deficit figures are up from previous estimates because of bipartisan
legislation passed in December that extended George W. Bush-era tax cuts and
unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and provided a 2 percentage
point Social Security payroll tax cut this year.
That measure added almost $400 billion to this year's deficit, CBO says.
The deficit is on track to beat the record of $1.4 trillion set in 2009. The
budget experts predict the deficit will drop to $1.1 trillion next year, still
very high by historical standards.
Republicans focus on Obama's contributions to the deficit: his $821 billion
economic stimulus plan, boosts for domestic programs and his signature health
care overhaul. Obama points out that he inherited deficits that would have
exceeded $1 trillion a year anyway.
The chilling figures came the day after Obama called for a five-year freeze on
optional spending in domestic agency budgets passed by Congress each year.
Republicans were quick to blame Obama for the rising red ink. Rep. Jeb
Hensarllng of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the
report "paints a picture that is more dangerous than most Americans could
"What is our leader in the White House doing about it? Asking Congress to raise
the debt ceiling, proposing new spending and sticking future generations with a
multi-trillion dollar tab," Hensarling said.
Democrat Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, pointed to a
problem lawmakers are sure to keep facing:
"When the American people are asked what they want done and to prioritize what
they want, they want the deficits and debt dealt with. But when they are asked
very specifically, will they support changes in Social Security, the polls say
no. Changes in Medicare? The polls say no. Changes in defense spending? The
polls say no."
"I would've liked very much if the president would have spent a bit more time
helping the American people understand how really big this problem is," added
Republicans are calling for deeper cuts for education, housing and the FBI —
among many programs — to return them to the 2008 levels in place before Obama
But those nondefense programs make up just 12 or so percent of the $3.7 trillion
budget, which means any upcoming deficit reduction package — at least one that
begins to significantly slow the gush of red ink — will require politically
dangerous curbs to popular benefit programs. That includes Social Security,
Medicare, the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled, and food
Neither Obama nor his GOP rivals on Capitol Hill have yet come forward with
specific proposals for cutting such benefit programs. Successful efforts to curb
the deficit always require active, engaged presidential leadership, but Obama's
unwillingness to thus far take chances has deficit hawks discouraged. Obama will
release his 2012 budget proposal next month.
"The proposals we've seen so far from the president and congressional
Republicans amount to little more than tinkering around the edges," said Concord
Coalition Executive Director Bob Bixby.
"Somebody is going to have to bite the bullet and get this process going," said
Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan
group that advocates fiscal responsibility. "And that somebody has to be the
Obama has steered clear of the recommendations of his deficit commission, which
in December called for difficult moves such as increasing the Social Security
retirement age and reducing future increases in benefits. It also proposed a
15-cents-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax and eliminating or scaling back
tax breaks — including the child tax credit, mortgage interest deduction and
deduction claimed by employers who provide health insurance — in exchange for
rate cuts on corporate and income taxes.
CBO predicts that the deficit will fall to $551 billion by 2015 — a sustainable
3 percent of the economy — but only if the Bush tax cuts are wiped off the
books. Under its rules, CBO assumes the recently extended cuts in taxes on
income, investment and people inheriting large estates will expire in two years.
If those tax cuts, and numerous others, are extended, the deficit for that year
would be almost three times as large.
Tax revenues, which dropped significantly in 2009 because of the recession, have
stabilized. But revenue growth will continue to be constrained. CBO projects
revenues to be 6 percent higher in 2011 than they were two years ago, which will
not keep pace with the growth in spending.
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
September 16, 2010
Filed at 3:28 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The rate of illegal drug use rose last year to the highest
level in nearly a decade, fueled by a sharp increase in marijuana use and a
surge in ecstasy and methamphetamine abuse, the government reported Wednesday.
Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy,
called the 9 percent increase in drug use disappointing but said he was not
surprised given ''eroding attitudes'' about the perception of harm from illegal
drugs and the growing number of states approving medicinal marijuana.
''I think all of the attention and the focus of calling marijuana medicine has
sent the absolute wrong message to our young people,'' Kerlikowske said in an
The annual report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration found marijuana use rose by 8 percent and remained the most
commonly used drug.
Mike Meno, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said
the survey is more proof that the government's war on marijuana has failed in
spite of decades of enforcement efforts and arrests.
''It's time we stop this charade and implement sensible laws that would tax and
regulate marijuana the same way we do more harmful -- but legal -- drugs like
alcohol and tobacco,'' Meno said.
On a positive note, cocaine abuse continues to decline, with use of the drug
down 32 percent from its peak in 2006.
About 21.8 million Americans, or 8.7 percent of the population age 12 and older,
reported using illegal drugs in 2009. That's the highest level since the survey
began in 2002. The previous high was just over 20 million in 2006.
The survey, which was being released Thursday, is based on interviews with about
67,500 people. It is considered the most comprehensive annual snapshot of drug
use in the United States.
Other results show a 37 percent increase in ecstasy use and a 60 percent jump in
the number of methamphetamine users. In the early 2000s, there was a widespread
public safety campaign to warn young people about the dangers of ecstasy as a
party drug, but that effort declined as use dropped off.
''The last few years, I think we've taken our eye off the ball on ecstasy,''
Meth use had been dropping after a passage of a 2006 federal law that put cold
tablets containing pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters. But law enforcement
officials have seen a rise in ''smurfing,'' or traveling from store to store to
purchase the medicines, which can be used to produce homemade meth in kitchen
Kerlikowske attributed the rise in meth abuse to more people getting around the
law and an increase in meth coming across the border with Mexico.
The rise in marijuana use comes as California voters prepare to decide in
November whether to legalize the drug. An Associated Press-CNBC poll earlier
this year found that most Americans still oppose legalizing marijuana, but
larger majorities believe it has medical benefits and want the government to
allow its use for that purpose.
Medical marijuana sales in the 14 states that allow it have also taken off since
the federal government signaled last year that it wouldn't prosecute marijuana
sellers who follow state rules. The survey does not distinguish between
medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana use.
The survey found the number of youths aged 12-17 who perceived a great risk of
harm from smoking marijuana once or twice a week dropped from 54.7 percent in
2007 to 49.3 percent in 2009.
About 10,000 Americans died by handgun violence, according to federal
statistics, in the four months that the Supreme Court debated which clause of
the Constitution it would use to subvert Chicago’s entirely sensible ban on
handgun ownership. The arguments that led to Monday’s decision undermining
Chicago’s law were infuriatingly abstract, but the results will be all too real
This began two years ago, when the Supreme Court disregarded the plain words of
the Second Amendment and overturned the District of Columbia’s handgun ban,
deciding that the amendment gave individuals in the district, not just militias,
the right to bear arms. Proceeding from that flawed logic, the court has now
said the amendment applies to all states and cities, rendering Chicago’s ban on
handgun ownership unenforceable.
Once again, the court’s conservative majority imposed its selective reading of
American history, citing the country’s violent separation from Britain and the
battles over slavery as proof that the authors of the Constitution and its later
amendments considered gun ownership a fundamental right. The court’s members
ignored the present-day reality of Chicago, where 258 public school students
were shot last school year — 32 fatally.
Rather than acknowledging Chicago’s — and the nation’s — need to end an epidemic
of gun violence, the justices spent scores of pages in the decision analyzing
which legal theory should bind the Second Amendment to the states. Should it be
the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, or the amendment’s immunities
clause? The argument was not completely settled because there was not a
five-vote majority for either path.
The issue is not trivial; had the court backed the immunity-clause path
championed by Justice Clarence Thomas, it might have had the beneficial effect
of applying more aspects of the Bill of Rights to the states. That could make it
easier to require that states, like the federal government, have unanimous jury
verdicts in criminal trials, for example, or ban excessive fines.
While the court has now twice attacked complete bans on handgun ownership, the
decision left plenty of room for restrictions on who can buy and sell arms.
The court acknowledged, as it did in the District of Columbia case, that the
amendment did not confer “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any
manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” It cited a few examples of what it
considered acceptable: limits on gun ownership by felons or the mentally ill,
bans on carrying firearms in sensitive places like schools or government
buildings and conditions on gun sales.
Mayors and state lawmakers will have to use all of that room and keep adopting
the most restrictive possible gun laws — to protect the lives of Americans and
aid the work of law enforcement officials. They should continue to impose
background checks, limit bulk gun purchases, regulate dealers, close gun-show
They should not be intimidated by the theoretical debate that has now concluded
at the court or the relentless stream of lawsuits sure to follow from the gun
lobby that will undoubtedly keep pressing to overturn any and all restrictions.
Officials will have to press back even harder. Too many lives are at stake.
November 17, 2009 The New York Times
By JASON DePARLE
WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who lived in households that lacked
consistent access to adequate food soared last year, to 49 million, the highest
since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” 14 years
ago, the Department of Agriculture reported Monday.
The increase, of 13 million Americans, was much larger than even the most
pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected and cast an alarming light
on the daily hardships caused by the recession’s punishing effect on jobs and
About a third of these struggling households had what the researchers called
“very low food security,” meaning lack of money forced members to skip meals,
cut portions or otherwise forgo food at some point in the year.
The other two-thirds typically had enough to eat, but only by eating cheaper or
less varied foods, relying on government aid like food stamps, or visiting food
pantries and soup kitchens.
“These numbers are a wake-up call for the country,” said Agriculture Secretary
One figure that drew officials’ attention was the number of households, 506,000,
in which children faced “very low food security”: up from 323,000 the previous
year. President Obama, who has pledged to end childhood hunger by 2015, released
a statement while traveling in Asia that called the finding “particularly
The ungainly phrase “food insecurity” stems from years of political and academic
wrangling over how to measure adequate access to food. In the 1980s, when
officials of the Reagan administration denied there was hunger in the United
States, the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group, began
a survey that concluded otherwise. Over time, Congress had the Agriculture
Department oversee a similar survey, which the Census Bureau administers.
Though researchers at the Agriculture Department do not use the word “hunger,”
Mr. Obama did. “Hunger rose significantly last year,” he said.
Analysts said the main reason for the growth was the rise in the unemployment
rate, to 7.2 percent at the end of 2008 from 4.9 percent a year earlier. And
since it now stands at 10.2 percent, the survey might in fact understate the
number of Americans struggling to get adequate food.
Rising food prices, too, might have played a role.
The food stamp rolls have expanded to record levels, with 36 million Americans
now collecting aid, an increase of nearly 40 percent from two years ago. And the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed last winter, raised the average
monthly food stamp benefit per person by about 17 percent, to $133. Many states
have made it easier for those eligible to apply, but rising applications and
staffing cuts have also brought long delays.
Problems gaining access to food were highest in households with children headed
by single mothers. About 37 percent of them reported some form of food
insecurity compared with 14 percent of married households with children. About
29 percent of Hispanic households reported food insecurity, compared with 27
percent of black households and 12 percent of white households. Serious problems
were most prevalent in the South, followed equally by the West and Midwest.
Some conservatives have attacked the survey’s methodology, saying it is hard to
define what it measures. The 18-item questionnaire asks about skipped meals and
hunger pangs, but also whether people had worries about getting food. It ranks
the severity of their condition by the number of answers that indicate a
“Very few of these people are hungry,” said Robert Rector, an analyst at the
conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind
of food they buy. That is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”
The report measures the number of households that experienced problems at any
point in the year. Only a “small fraction” were facing the problem at a given
moment. Among those with “very low food security,” for instance, most
experienced the condition for several days in each of seven or eight months.
James Weill, the director of the food center that pioneered the report, called
it a careful look at an underappreciated condition.
“Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals,” he said. “Others say they
have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food
stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger.’ ”
October 11, 2009 The New York Times
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Coroners and medical examiners across the country are
reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with
states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families
The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service
programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to
help cover the costs of burials or cremations.
Oregon, for example, has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of unclaimed
bodies over the past few years, the majority left by families who say they
cannot afford services. “There are more people in our cooler for a longer period
of time,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state’s medical examiner. “It’s not that
we’re not finding families, but that the families are having a harder time
coming up with funds to cover burial or cremation costs.”
About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies,
including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the
state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that
has grown along with Medicaid rolls.
Financing in Oregon comes from fees paid to register the deaths with the state.
The state legislature in June voted to raise the filing fee for death
certificates to $20 from $7, to help offset the increased costs of state
cremations, which cost $450.
“I’ve been here for 24 years, and I can’t remember something like this happening
before,” Dr. Gunson said.
Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did
last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people
since the end of January, said Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin
Department of Health Services.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn tried to end the state’s indigent burial program
this year, shifting the financing to counties and funeral homes, but the state
eventually found $12 million to continue the program when funeral directors
The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city,
county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face
down wide budget gaps.
Boone County, Mo., hit its $3,000 burial budget cap last month, and took $1,500
out of a reserve fund to cover the rest of the year. While the sum is relatively
low, it comes as the county is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, tax
collections are down 5 percent and the number of residents needing help is
expected to grow.
“We’ve had a significant increase in unemployment, wages are dropping,
industrial manufacturing jobs go away and companies scaled back or even closed
their doors,” said Skip Elkin, the county commissioner. “But we feel an
obligation to help families who don’t have any assets.”
The medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich., Dr. Carl Schmidt, bought a
refrigerated truck after the morgue ran out of space. The truck, which holds 35
bodies, is currently full, Dr. Schmidt said. “We’ll buy another truck if we have
to,” he said.
Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price
of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial.
Clyde Gibbs, the chief medical examiner in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the office
typically averaged 25 to 30 unclaimed bodies each year. At the end of the 2008
fiscal year there were at least 60, Dr. Gibbs said. The office cremates about
three-quarters of the remains, and scatters the ashes at sea every few years.
In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners’ offices donate unclaimed remains to
the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the “Body Farm,” where
students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility had to
briefly halt donations because it had received so many this year, said its
spokesman, Jay Mayfield.
The increase in indigent burials and cremations is also taking a toll on funeral
homes, which are losing money as more people choose cremation over burial. In
2003, 29.5 percent of remains were cremated; by 2008 the number had grown to 36
percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and it is
expected to soar to 46 percent by 2015, according to the association’s
projection of current trends.
Don Catchen, owner of Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes in Elsmere, Ky., who
handles cremations of the poor in Kenton County, said the $831 county
reimbursement for cremations was “just enough to cover the cost of what I do — I
donate my time.”
In Florida, where counties switched to cremation a few years ago to save on
costs, Prudencio Vallejo, general manager of the Unclaimed Bodies Unit of the
Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said cremations were $425,
compared with $1,500 for a burial. They have risen about 10 percent this year,
Mr. Vallejo said.
“Most people, the first thing that they say is ‘We wouldn’t be coming to you if
we could afford to do it ourselves,’ ” he said.
Broward County, Fla., paid for the cremation of Renata Richardson’s daughter,
Jazmyn Rose, who was born stillborn on Sept. 25, 2008. Ms. Richardson, 26, lost
her job at an advertising agency in July and could not afford to pay.
The county spent about $1,000 on a cremation and pink urn, engraved with the
baby’s birth and death date, and a Bible passage. It now sits in the bassinette
where she was to sleep.
“I was strapped for cash, I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what they were
going to do with her,” Ms. Richardson, of Davie, Fla., said. “I was honored that
they went that far to help me.”
WASHINGTON — The government's terrorist watch list has hit 1 million entries,
up 32% since 2007.
Federal data show the rise comes despite the removal of 33,000 entries last
year by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center in an effort to purge the list of
outdated information and remove people cleared in investigations.
It's unclear how many individuals those 33,000 records represent — the center
often uses multiple entries, or "identities," for a person to reflect variances
in name spellings or other identifying information. The remaining million
entries represent about 400,000 individuals, according to the center.
The new figures were provided by the screening center and the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence in response to requests from USA TODAY.
"We're continually trying to improve the quality of the information," says
Timothy Edgar, a civil liberties officer at the intelligence director's office.
"It's always going to be a work in progress."
People put on the watch list by intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be
blocked from flying, stopped at borders or subjected to other scrutiny. About
95% of the people on the list are foreigners, the FBI says, but it's a source of
frequent complaints from U.S. travelers.
In the past two years, 51,000 people have filed "redress" requests claiming they
were wrongly included on the watch list, according to the Department of Homeland
Security. In the vast majority of cases reviewed so far, it has turned out that
the petitioners were not actually on the list, with most having been
misidentified at airports because their names resembled others on it.
There have been 830 redress requests since 2005 where the person was, in fact,
confirmed to be on the watch list, and further review by the screening center
led to the removal of 150, or 18% of them.
Without specific rules for who goes on the list, it's too bloated to be
effective, says Tim Sparapani, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.
A 2007 audit by the Government Accountability Office said more needed to be done
to ensure the list's accuracy, but still found that it has "enhanced the U.S.
government's counterterrorism efforts."
EXTON, Pa. — Casualties of the economic downturn include easy credit, rising
home values, stable retirement investment accounts and 4.4 million jobs.
Some fear that the American dream may be in peril as well.
The aspirations that have defined the American experience — that those who work
hard and play by the rules can get ahead, and that the next generation will have
a better life than this one — have been battered by a devastating recession that
shows few signs of having hit bottom.
"Maybe we were dreaming the American dream, you know what I mean?" says David
McLimans, a steelworker. The mill he works for in suburban Philadelphia
temporarily shut down last week amid the credit crunch. "I'm 63, so I'm not
dreaming it anymore. I have what I have and I hope I can keep what I have, but
my kids, I worry about. They're struggling."
His four grown children have a lot of company. More than 24 million Americans
shifted in 2008 from lives that were "thriving" to ones that were "struggling,"
according to a massive study by Gallup and Healthways, a Tennessee health
management company. Results from its Well-Being Index — including physical and
mental health as well as personal finances and job satisfaction — are being
For the project, Gallup has been surveying about 1,000 people every day except
major holidays since January 2008.
At the start of 2008, as the recession was beginning, slightly more people were
"thriving" than "struggling." By the end of the year, after an economic meltdown
that began with the subprime mortgage crisis, Americans by an overwhelming 20
percentage points were "struggling" rather than "thriving," 58%-38%.
The remaining 4% were "suffering," in more dire straits.
The index categorizes respondents based on how they rate their current lives as
well as their expectations of where they will be in five years. Among those
showing the steepest drop were African Americans, business owners and
executives, and people who were 35-39 years old — a stage in life when many are
building careers, expanding families and buying homes.
Among those with the smallest decline were Hispanics, seniors 65 and older, and
repair workers, whose skills suddenly may be more in demand as Americans try to
make do with what they have.
No group was immune, however. High levels of education and income have protected
many workers during previous downturns, but the Well-Being Index shows declines
in 2008 across all age groups and income levels, among both men and women and in
every major racial and ethnic group.
In Chester County, south of Philadelphia, the downturn has been felt not only by
steelworkers in Coatesville but also investment bankers in Exton and among
immigrants who toil on the mushroom farms in Kennett Square.
"People have lost their jobs and they're in the unemployment lines," says James
Kennedy, the 91-year-old mayor of South Coatesville. Even so, he recalls, the
Great Depression was worse.
"The current recession hits everyone and spares no one," says Andrew Dinniman,
the local state senator and a professor of global studies at West Chester
University of Pennsylvania. "The bottom line is: industrial worker, professional
worker — we're all in this together."
The wide reach of hard times has made it difficult for Americans to use some
traditional strategies to cope.
Get training for a new job? The index shows declines in every occupation, from
business managers and professionals to clerical staff and service workers. Move
to a different part of the country? The percentage of those "thriving" fell by
double digits in the West, South and Midwest and by more than 9 percentage
points in the East.
The findings underscore the enormous task the United States faces in pulling out
of the worst downturn since the Depression and in maintaining the sense of
possibility that has marked the nation since its founding.
Optimism that individuals could reach better days ahead fueled the westward
expansion, waves of innovation and the country's continued draw for immigrants
from around the world.
The concept of the American dream reflects aspirations for the long term that
have endured through good times and bad, but it is not indestructible, says
Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard.
"What people mean by the 'American dream' is something that is not a snapshot;
it's something that is played out over time and not just in their lifetime, but
the lifetimes of their children," she says.
"It may be impervious to a short-term job loss, to a short-run health problem,
but it's not going to be impervious to a slowdown of the entire economy that
lasts for a very long period of time," especially if traditional gains in
education are stalled.
In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last week, Americans by about 3-to-1 said they
believed that with hard work they could achieve the American dream. Even so, one
tenet of that dream — faith that the next generation will have a better life
than their parents — is eroding.
Ten years ago, during an economic boom, 71% of Americans said it was likely that
those in the next generation would be better off than their parents.
One year ago, 66% agreed.
Now, 59% do.
The pursuit of happiness
The groundbreaking Gallup-Healthways index makes clear how intertwined
individual lives are with the nation's well-being. Dramatic shifts in the stock
market and the jobless rate often correlated with changes in Americans'
assessments of where their lives stood now and where they would be in the
Consider the Declaration of Independence's assertion of a natural-born right to
The survey lists several emotions, including happiness, and asks if respondents
experienced them the previous day. Weekends tended to have the highest
percentage of those reporting happiness or enjoyment without much stress or
worry — no surprise there — and Thanksgiving was the happiest day of the year,
when 68% were upbeat.
The five days with the lowest levels of happiness all coincided with awful
Just 37% of Americans said they felt a lot of happiness and not a lot of stress
on four downbeat days: Sept. 17, when the Dow fell 449 points; Sept. 29, when
the Dow dropped 778 points and the House rejected President Bush's Wall Street
bailout plan; Nov. 20, when new jobless claims hit the highest level since 1992;
and Dec. 2, one day after the nation officially was declared in recession,
pushing down the Dow by 680 points.
The unhappiest day of all was Dec. 11, when new jobless claims reached a 26-year
high. A record-low 35% of Americans reported that day as a happy one.
For Amy Beers, the past year has been trying.
The 36-year-old woman from Perkasie, in Bucks County, had been on a fast track.
She built a career in direct marketing, worked with an inventor who had
developed a handheld device that could neutralize land mines without detonation,
attended a land-mine conference in Croatia to promote it, then started her own
firm to help local companies develop customer loyalty.
Last year, her business dried up. She tends bar at night to help pay the bills
for her and her 7-year-old son, Zack, while she looks for a job in her field by
"I've gone from corporate America to the top of Comcast's shut-off list," she
says ruefully. "It's been a truly humbling experience, and for a very long time
I was embarrassed not to have a job. You go through the emotional loss. In some
ways, it's like mourning. I've had those doubts and depression: 'Oh my goodness,
my life is falling apart in front of my eyes!'
"But at the end of the day, I know who I am. I know that this isn't permanent,
and I really have belief that things are going to get better."
Even Beers' job at a Bennigan's restaurant in Montgomeryville is an opportunity,
she says. The traveling business executives who stay in the adjoining hotel and
come in for a nightcap might have a job at their companies.
Her pitch: "Hi, is anyone out there looking for an employee?"
Obama: Keep 'the dream alive'
President Obama regularly talks about the American dream as threatened and its
restoration as a central goal. "We have begun the essential work of keeping the
American dream alive in our time," he said when he signed the $787 billion
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs ticks off what the White House sees as
elements of the American dream: "That you could get a job that pays a living
wage, that if you got sick you wouldn't go bankrupt, that you don't have to be
rich to send your kids to college, that you could have a secure retirement."
Safire's New Political Dictionary puts it this way: "The American System is
considered the skeleton and the American Dream the soul of the American body
politic." Author William Safire adds that the phrase "defies definition as much
as it invites discussion."
Karen Beltran's family epitomizes one classic version of the American dream.
Her father came to southern Pennsylvania from Mexico to work on the mushroom
farms and as a dishwasher, eventually bringing his wife and their two young
daughters here. At first illegal immigrants, Jose and Martha Beltran eventually
gained legal status and last month became U.S. citizens.
An organization in Kennett Square called La Comunidad Hispana helped them gain
their high-school equivalency diplomas. They own their home now — he is a
mechanic; she is employed at a potato-chip factory — and have sent their two
older daughters to college.
Karen, 25, who graduated from Penn State in 2005, now works as a social worker
at the same community center that helped them.
The downturn has postponed her father's hopes of moving to a new job and reduced
their ability to contribute toward college expenses for their youngest,
American-born daughter, who is now in high school. Still, ask Karen Beltran
about the American dream and she plays down financial strains to boast about how
close-knit her family remains: "We're still together."
In the face of a faltering economy, some analysts say, Americans may be
redefining some fundamental ambitions. A study sponsored by Northwestern Mutual
and being released today asked Americans to define "success." Topping the list
were spending time with family, having a good relationship with a spouse or
partner, being healthy and maintaining a good work/life balance.
Ranked near the bottom were such material goals as owning "the home of your
dreams" and earning a high income.
Still, three of four in the nationwide poll ranked financial security as
important — and only 12% said they felt secure in their finances these days.
Chris Connell, 50, owner of the Pig & Whistle Deli in Havertown, in
Pennsylvania's Delaware County, has cut back on hours for his employees and
stopped drawing a salary for himself as he struggles to deal with a cash-flow
His wife's paycheck as an emergency-room nurse is keeping the family afloat for
Connell feels confident the economy will be better by the time his 11-year-old
twin daughters, head into the workforce, but he worries about his three older
children, including two who are now in college.
"The twins, we don't want to scare them. We don't want them to think someone is
going to come along and take the house away," he says. "But we at least want to
let them know that things are very, very tight and we have to work at this
"I do still want the same things for them. Never going to stop the dream,
absolutely. Never lower my standard of dreaming."
December 5, 2008 The New York Times
By MICHAEL LUO
President-elect Barack Obama brought in nearly $750 million for his
presidential campaign, a record amount that exceeds what all of the candidates
combined collected in private donations in the previous race for the White
House, according to a report filed Thursday with the Federal Election
Underscoring the success of his fund-raising, Mr. Obama reported that he had
nearly $30 million in the bank as of Nov. 24, despite spending furiously at the
end of his campaign.
Mr. Obama, who became the first major-party nominee to bypass public financing
since the system began in the 1970s, spent more than $136 million from Oct. 16
to Nov. 24, the period covered in the report. By comparison, his Republican
opponent, Senator John McCain, who was limited to the $84 million allotted to
him from the Treasury under public financing, spent $26.5 million during that
time, according to his latest campaign finance report. Although Mr. McCain had
$4 million left over, he had $4.9 million in debt, the report said.
Mr. Obama reported taking in $104 million in contributions. Assuming most of
that money came in before Election Day, Nov. 4, it appears his fund-raising
stepped up significantly as the campaign drew to a close. In the first half of
October, he raised just $36 million.
An exact figure is difficult to calculate because of vagaries in the way
fund-raising numbers are reported. But it appears that Mr. Obama raised over
$300 million for the general election alone — more than triple what Mr. McCain
had at his disposal from public financing.
When Mr. Obama decided after he clinched the Democratic nomination to forgo
public financing, campaign officials said they needed to raise at least twice as
much as they would receive in public money, with a goal of raising three times
as much, to make it worth the added time away from campaigning that he needed to
devote to fund-raising.
Mr. Obama’s fund-raising total — fueled by both small donors giving incremental
amounts online and large donors who were wined and dined and given the chance to
mingle with him — appeared to more than validate his campaign’s gamble.
Indeed, it could very well mark the epitaph to the public financing system,
which critics have long declared is badly in need of updating to stay relevant
in presidential elections.
At a minimum, it sets an imposing bar for any potential Republican challenger to
Mr. Obama in 2012.
“Assuming Obama runs again and his fund-raising prowess is sustained, then it
will be a daunting undertaking for any opponent,” said Kenneth Gross, a campaign
finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
In one illustration of the scope of Mr. Obama’s fund-raising haul, all the
candidates running for president in 2004, including President Bush and Senator
John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, together collected less than $650 million,
not counting the money received under public financing during the primary and
the general elections, according to Federal Election Commission figures.
Mr. McCain collected less than $220 million for the campaign’s primary phase,
compared with the more than $410 million that Mr. Obama did in that period.
In the final two months of the race, the Obama campaign spent nearly $170
million on television advertising, compared with $61 million by the McCain
campaign, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks
Mr. McCain had hoped that money raised by the Republican National Committee,
which was able to spend on his behalf under certain restrictions, could help
compensate for his financial disparity with Mr. Obama. But the R.N.C. only spent
another $31 million on advertising, which left Mr. McCain still facing a large
deficit on television.
Obama officials said their final tally of individual contributors surpassed 3.95
million, including 547,000 new contributors in the period covered by their
latest finance report.
It is unclear what Mr. Obama plans to do with the leftover money. In 2004, when
Mr. Kerry reported that he had more than $14 million remaining in his account
for the primaries, some Democratic officials reacted in anger and disbelief that
he had not spent all of his resources. Kerry officials said they had reserved
some money to pay for a recount or legal challenges.
That type of second-guessing is less likely this time because Mr. Obama won. He
has several options for his remaining cash, Mr. Gross said, like transferring it
to the Democratic National Committee or another party committee, or rolling it
over to his 2012 re-election campaign.
What is not an option for Mr. Obama is to help Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
with paying off the debt from her campaign for the Democratic presidential
According to reports filed last month, Mrs. Clinton is still struggling to
retire about $7.5 million, and she faces fund-raising constraints should
Congress approve her as secretary of state in the Obama administration. Mr.
Gross said the most the Obama campaign could transfer to her was $2,000.
(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the
lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions during the past 30
years. This cleared the way for a resumption of executions halted since last
September pending the court's decision.
Following are some facts and figures about the death penalty in the United
States since 1977, when executions resumed following the lifting of a ban on the
practice by the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year.
- There have been 1,099 executions in the United States since 1977. The peak
year was 1999, when 98 were carried out while no inmates were put to death in
1978 and 1980.
- 42 people were executed in the United States in 2007, the lowest number since
1994 when 31 were put to death.
- 2005, the last year for which data is available, saw 128 death sentences
imposed, the lowest number over the past three decades. The peak year was 1996
when 317 were handed down.
- The death penalty is sanctioned by 37 of the 50 states and the U.S. government
and the military. Lethal injection is the main method used by all of the death
penalty states except for Nebraska which uses the electric chair.
- The standard method involves administering three separate chemicals: sodium
pentothal, an anesthetic to make the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide,
which paralyzes all muscles except the heart; and then potassium chloride, which
stops the heart, causing death.
- Texas has been by far the most active death penalty state in the post-1976 era
with 405 executions. Virginia is a distant second at 98.
- Amnesty International this week issued a report that ranked the United States
fifth in the world in the number of executions in 2007, behind China (470), Iran
(317), Saudi Arabia (143), Pakistan (135). These five countries accounted for 88
percent of all known executions.
(Sources: Death Penalty Information Center,
Texas Department of Criminal
Amnesty International, Reuters)
(Reporting by Ed Stoddard, editing by David Storey)
Once solidly Irish, Italian and Polish, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, the
largest Christian denomination in the country, has become increasingly Hispanic
in recent years.
Like other mainline denominations it is also losing members to competing faiths
such as evangelical Protestant churches.
Following are some facts and figures about the U.S. Catholic population, which
will greet Pope Benedict when he visits the United States from April 15 to 20.
- According to a recent nationwide survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and
Public Life, 23.9 percent of the adult U.S. population identifies itself as
Catholic. This tallies with estimates by the U.S. Catholic Church itself.
- Since the early 1970s the percentage of the population counting itself as
Catholic has remained stable at around 25 percent. But according to Pew, no
other major faith has experienced greater net losses with 31.4 percent of U.S.
adults saying they were raised Catholic and about one in 10 describing
themselves as former Catholics.
- In the face of these losses the Church has maintained its share of the U.S.
population by winning its own converts but mostly through immigration,
especially from Latin America. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
says that about 39 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic.
- The USCCB also says that since 1960, 71 percent of U.S. Catholic population
growth has been Hispanic and that by the second decade of the 21st century, more
than 50 percent of U.S. Catholics will likely be Hispanic.
- The USCCB estimates that there are 2.3 million African American Catholics.
There is also a growing population of Vietnamese Catholics in areas like north
- The U.S. Northeast remains one of the centers of American Catholicism, with 29
percent of all adults there belonging to the faith.
- One indicator of the resiliency of Catholicism in any country is the Mass
attendance rate among the flock. According to a 2007 survey by Georgetown
University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, about one fifth of
U.S. Catholics attend Mass at least once a week while 11 percent go almost every
(Sources: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life;
United States Conference of
Reuters; Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate)
(Reuters) - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the one-time "Sheriff" of Wall
Street who campaigned on a promise to clean up state politics, is embroiled in a
sex scandal that threatens to force his resignation.
Following are some other sex scandals involving politicians in the United
* IDAHO SEN. LARRY CRAIG was publicly admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee
for improper conduct after his arrest in a sex-sting operation in a men's toilet
in June 2007.
The Republican lawmaker pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was caught
in an undercover investigation of lewd behaviour in a men's room at the
Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. He later tried to recant saying he agreed to a
misdemeanour charge without consulting a lawyer and in hopes of quickly
disposing of the case. He remains in the Senate.
* LOUISIANA SEN. DAVID VITTER, a Republican and social conservative, apologized
and admitted "a very serious sin" after he was linked last July to a Washington
escort service. Vitter said his misdeeds occurred several years previously and
he had dealt with them in confession and marriage counselling. He remains in the
* MARK FOLEY, a Florida Republican, resigned from the House of Representatives
in 2006 after it was disclosed he had sent sexually explicit text messages to
teenage boys who served as interns in the House. The revelations led to charges
that Republican leaders tried to cover up the matter.
* NEW JERSEY GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY, a Democrat, stepped down in 2004 over a gay
affair with a man whom he hired in 2002 to head the state's Homeland Security
* PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON, a Democrat, had a sexual relationship with intern
Monica Lewinsky, then 21, which led to his impeachment after accusations he lied
about it under oath. He survived the impeachment process and was able to serve
out his term but his presidency, which ended in 2001, was badly damaged.
* FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH, a Republican, has admitted he was having
an extramarital affair while leading the impeachment charge in Congress against
* SEN. BOB PACKWOOD, a Republican from Oregon, resigned in 1995 after 26 years
in Congress. He had been accused of sexual misconduct with 17 women, among other
* REP. BARNEY FRANK, a Massachusetts Democrat who is homosexual, was reprimanded
in 1990 after it was learned that a lover had run a prostitution ring out of his
* SEN. GARY HART, a Colorado Democrat, saw his second presidential bid end in
1987 when it was learned he spent the night on a yacht, named the Monkey
Business, with a woman who was not his wife.
* REP. DAN CRANE, a Republican from Illinois, and REP. GERRY STUDDS, a Democrat
from Massachusetts, were censured in 1983 for illicit affairs with underage
pages. Crane, who had had sex with a teenage girl, was voted out of office but
Studds, who had had an affair with a boy, was returned to office many times.
* REP. WILBUR MILLS, a Democrat from Arkansas and chairman of the powerful Ways
and Means Committee, was caught in 1974 with stripper Fanne Foxe, who performed
as "the Argentine firecracker." Foxe leapt from Mills' limousine after it was
stopped by police and jumped into the Tidal Basin. Mills went into treatment for
alcohol and retired two years later.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama became the first black president of the United
States with his win in Tuesday's election, a milestone in a country with a long
legacy of racial oppression of African Americans.
Stark racial disparities persist in the United States.
Following is a list of some inequalities.
-- The infant mortality rate for babies of black women is 2.4 times the rate for
babies of white women, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention report in October.
-- Doctors are less likely to give black women radiation therapy after surgery
to remove early-stage breast cancer than white women, according to a study by
the Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in September.
-- The study was one of many to show that U.S. blacks get inferior care for
cancer and other ailments compared to that given whites, although doctors have
struggled to understand why.
-- Life expectancy for the white population exceeded that for the black
population by 5.1 years, the figures said.
-- The maternal mortality rate was 3.3 times greater for the black population
than for the white population.
-- 6.1 percent of the overall U.S. labor force was unemployed in the third
quarter of 2008, but 11.4 percent of the black labor force was out of work,
according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
-- The total median income for a white family was $64,427 in 2007. The total for
a black family was $40,143, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
-- 10.6 percent of the white U.S. population in 2007 lived below the official
poverty threshold of $21,000 for a family of four, compared to 24.4 percent of
the black population, the data said.
-- 14.3 percent of white Americans lacked health insurance compared to 19.2
percent of black Americans, according to 2007 U.S. census data.
-- 72 percent of white Americans own their own homes, compared with 46 percent
of African Americans, the data said.
* CRIMINAL JUSTICE:
-- 0.8 percent of the white male population is incarcerated as opposed to 4.6
percent of the black male population, according to U.S. Department of Justice
-- 10.7 percent of the black male population aged 30-34 was incarcerated, versus
1.9 percent of the white male population of the same age, according to the same
-- 1,406 black men are incarcerated in the United States for every 100,000
people. For white men that figure is 773 for every 100,000, according to U.S.
Department of Justice figures.
-- Rates for the number of women imprisoned were much lower than for males,
though for black women rates were higher than for white women.
-- Public schools in the United States are becoming more racially segregated and
the trend is likely to accelerate because of a Supreme Court decision in June,
according to a report by the Civil Rights Project of the University of
California Los Angeles.
-- The rise in segregation threatens the quality of education received by
nonwhite students, who make up 43 percent of the total U.S. student body, the
-- Many segregated schools struggle to attract highly qualified teachers and
administrators. This leads to soaring drop-out rates and students not well
prepared for college.
-- The percentage of white public school students fell from 80 to 57 percent
between 1968 and 2005 and Latino enrollment nearly quadrupled during that
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; U.S. Dept of Health
Services/CDC; U.S. Department of Justice;
U.S. Census Bureau.
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit,
(Reuters) - The Electoral College, not the popular vote, actually elects the
president of the United States. Here are some facts about the Electoral College:
* There are 538 members of the Electoral College, allotted to each of the 50
states and the District of Columbia based on their representation in the U.S.
Congress. The smallest states have three members while the largest state,
California, has 55. Washington, D.C., which has no voting representation in
Congress, has three, the same as the smallest state.
* It takes 270 votes to win election. The electors are pledged to one candidate
or the other but there is no federal law requiring them to vote that way. There
have been several incidents in which so-called faithless electors have voted for
someone other than the candidate to whom they were pledged.
* In 48 states and the district, the candidate who wins the popular vote wins
all of the state's electors. Nebraska and Maine have a proportional system of
* Electors, who are picked by the respective political parties, make two
selections -- for president and for vice president. They may not vote for two
candidates from their own state.
* Because a candidate could run up a big vote count in some states but lose
others by narrow margins, the winner of the popular vote might not have the most
electoral votes. The Electoral College has three times picked the candidate who
lost the popular vote -- Republicans Rutherford Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison
in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000.
* The Electoral College meets in each state to cast its votes on a Monday early
in December following the November popular election. The votes are then tallied
in a joint session of Congress on January 6 of the following year.
* If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes, the House of
Representatives chooses among the top three candidates with each state having
only one vote. If no vice presidential candidate receives a majority, the Senate
decides between the top two candidates.
* The House has twice decided the outcome of the presidential race -- in the
1800 and 1824 elections. The Senate decided the vice presidency once, in the
* This unique system was the result of a compromise by the writers of the U.S.
Constitution in the 18th century between those who wanted direct popular
election and those who wanted state legislatures to decide. One fear was that at
a time before political parties, the popular vote would be diluted by voting for
an unwieldy amount of candidates.
July 30, 2008 The New York Times
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN
If black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the
number of people living with the AIDS virus, the Black AIDS Institute, an
advocacy group, reported Tuesday.
The report, financed in part by the Ford Foundation and the Elton John AIDS
Foundation, provides a startling new perspective on an epidemic that was first
recognized in 1981.
Nearly 600,000 African-Americans are living with H.I.V., the virus that causes
AIDS, and up to 30,000 are becoming infected each year. When adjusted for age,
their death rate is two and a half times that of infected whites, the report
said. Partly as a result, the hypothetical nation of black America would rank
below 104 other countries in life expectancy.
Those and other disparities are “staggering,” said Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who
directs H.I.V. prevention efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the federal agency responsible for tracking the epidemic in the
“It is a crisis that needs a new look at prevention,” Dr. Fenton said.
In a separate report on Tuesday, the United Nations painted a somewhat more
optimistic picture of the worldwide AIDS epidemic, noting that fewer people are
dying of the disease since its peak in the late 1990s and that more people are
receiving antiretroviral drugs.
Nevertheless, the report found that progress remained uneven and that the future
of the epidemic was uncertain. The report was issued in advance of the 17th
International AIDS Conference, which begins this weekend in Mexico City.
The gains are partly from the Bush administration’s program to deliver drugs and
preventive measures to people in countries highly affected by H.I.V.
The Black AIDS Institute took note of that program in criticizing the
administration’s efforts at home. The group said that more black Americans were
living with the AIDS virus than the infected populations in Botswana, Ethiopia,
Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, Rwanda or Vietnam — 7 of the 15 countries that receive
support from the administration’s anti-AIDS program.
The international effort is guided by a strategic plan, clear benchmarks like
the prevention of seven million H.I.V. infections by 2010 and annual progress
reports to Congress, the group said. By contrast, it went on, “America itself
has no strategic plan to combat its own epidemic.”
In a telephone interview, Dr. Fenton said, “We recognize this is a crisis, and
clearly more can be done.”
The institute, based in Los Angeles, describes itself as the only national
H.I.V./AIDS study group focused exclusively on black people. Phill Wilson, the
group’s chief executive and an author of the report, said his group supported
the government’s international anti-AIDS program. But Mr. Wilson’s report also
said that “American policy makers behave as if AIDS exists ‘elsewhere’ — as if
the AIDS problem has been effectively solved” in this country.
The group also chided the government for not reporting H.I.V. statistics to the
United Nations for inclusion in its biannual report.
Dr. Fenton said the C.D.C. had ensured that its data were forwarded to officials
in the Department of Health and Human Services and was investigating why the
data were not in the United Nations report.
Others speaking for the agency said the answer would have to come from the State
Department, which did not respond to an inquiry.
Dr. Helene Gayle, president of CARE and a former director of H.I.V. prevention
efforts at the disease control centers, told reporters on Tuesday that the
United States needed to devote more resources to care for people with sexually
transmitted diseases. Such infections can increase the risk of H.I.V. infection.
The federal government and communities needed to promote more testing among all
people, particularly blacks, to detect H.I.V. infection in its earliest stages
when treatment is more effective, Dr. Gayle said.
Also, she said, more needed to be done to promote needle exchange programs,
which have proved effective in preventing H.I.V. infection among injecting drug
users but that are illegal in many places.
The United Nations report said that in Rwanda and Zimbabwe, changes in sexual
behavior had led to declines in the number of new H.I.V. infections.
Condom use is increasing among young people with multiple partners in many
countries and more young people are postponing their initial sexual intercourse
before age 15.
The percentage of pregnant women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent
transmission of H.I.V. to their infants increased to 33 percent in 2007 from 14
percent in 2005. During the same period, the number of new infections among
children fell to 370,000 from 410,000.
The United Nations report affirmed treatment gains in Namibia, which increased
treatment to 88 percent of the estimated need in 2007, from 1 percent in 2003;
and in Cambodia, where the percentage rose to 67 in 2007 from 14 percent in
2004. Other countries with high treatment rates are Botswana, Brazil, Chile,
Costa Rica, Cuba and Laos.
In most areas of the world, more women than men are receiving antiretroviral
therapy, the report said.
Despite inadequate monitoring systems in many countries, data suggest that most
of the H.I.V. epidemics in the Caribbean appear to have stabilized. A few have
declined in urban areas in the Dominican Republic and Haiti which have had the
largest epidemics in the region.
Increased treatment was partly responsible for a decline in AIDS-related deaths
to an estimated 2 million in 2007 from 2.2 million in 2005.
The AIDS epidemic has had less overall economic effect than earlier feared, the
report said, but is having profound negative effects in industries and
agriculture in high-prevalence countries.
The United Nations has set 2015 as the year by which it hopes to reverse the
epidemic. But even if the world achieved that goal, the report said, “the
epidemic would remain an overriding global challenge for decades.”
To underscore the point, the United Nations said that for every two people who
received treatment, five people became newly infected.
Overflowing rivers in Iowa and other Midwest U.S. states forced evacuations and
disrupted the region's economy on Friday with fears of worse to come from
fragile levees and more rain.
Following are some major floods to hit the United States:
* In June 2006, floods killed at least 16 people in the eastern United States.
Authorities ordered hundreds of thousands of people evacuated in New Jersey, New
York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Damage estimates exceeded $1 billion.
* In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and devastated the Gulf
Coast, causing more than 1,800 deaths. The $125 billion in damage made it the
most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
* In 1998, flooding and deadly tornadoes swept through central, southern and
eastern Texas, causing 31 deaths and prompting the evacuation of 14,000 people.
Flooding was reported in 60 counties -- about one-fourth of the state. Damage
estimates exceeded $1 billion.
* In 1993, floods ravaged nine Midwestern states, killing 48 people and leaving
nearly 70,000 people homeless. The cost of flood damage was estimated at $21
billion. The Mississippi River on August 1 crested in St. Louis at a record 49.4
* In 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes dumped 8 inches to 16 inches of rain over a
large portion of upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, with some
locations receiving nearly 20 inches of rain in three days. The storm killed 122
people and caused over $3 billion in damage.
* In 1969, Hurricane Camille's torrential rains struck mountainous west and
central Virginia. Sixty-seven people were reported dead and 106 missing after
floods virtually washed out towns in the mountains.
* In 1927, levees built to contain the Mississippi River broke, and a wall of
water pushed its way across Midwestern farmlands. The flood covered 27,000
square miles (69,920.000 sq km), an area about the size of Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The flood killed about 1,000
people and displaced some 700,000 more. At a time when the entire federal budget
was barely $3 billion, it caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.
* In 1889, more than 2,200 people died in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when the South
Fork dam broke after days of heavy rain. The town was destroyed within minutes
by a wall of water that rushed down a narrow valley.
28, 2008 Filed at 11:12 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
(AP) -- For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American
adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in
inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with
alternative sentencing programs.
The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50
states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than
$11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six
times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.
Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in
U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and
more than any other country in the world.
The steadily growing inmate population ''is saddling cash-strapped states with
soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on
recidivism or overall crime,'' said the report.
Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes
are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections
policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing
soft in crime.
''We're seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,''
she said in an interview. ''They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a
law-and-order state -- but they also want to save money, and they want to be
The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow
the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of
community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than
reimprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and
''The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to
ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less
dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,'' the report said.
According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states
and the federal prison system.
The largest percentage increase -- 12 percent -- was in Kentucky, where Gov.
Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last
month. He noted that the state's crime rate had increased only about 3 percent
in the past 30 years, while the state's inmate population has increased by 600
The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State's Public Safety
Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing
programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.
''For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and
convincing return for public safety,'' said the project's director, Adam Gelb.
''More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for
lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without
being so tough on taxpayers.''
The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a
parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it
said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures,
such as ''three-strikes'' laws, that result in longer prison stays.
''For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling,'' the
report said. ''While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars,
for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.''
The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and
federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost
230 million American adults.
The report said the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead
of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S.
also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of
Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the
rest of the Top 10.
20, 2008 Filed at 3:02 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
(AP) -- U.S. cancer deaths rose by more than 5,000 in 2005, a somewhat
disappointing reversal of a two-year downward trend, the American Cancer Society
said in a report issued Wednesday.
The group counted 559,312 people who died from cancer.
The cancer death rate among the overall population continued to fall, but only
slightly, after a couple of years of more dramatic decline.
In 2005, there were just under 184 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, down from
nearly 186 the previous year. Experts said it wasn't surprising that the rate
The cancer death rate has been dropping since the early 1990s, and early in this
decade was declining by about 1 percent a year. The actual number of cancer
deaths kept rising, however, because of the growing population.
So it was big news when the rate dropped by 2 percent in both 2003 and 2004,
enough to cause the total number of cancer deaths to fall for the first time
President Bush and others hailed that as a sign that federally funded research
was making strides against the disease.
But now the death rate decline is back to 1 percent. And the 2005 numbers show
annual cancer deaths are no longer falling, but are up more than 5,400 since
''The declining rate was no longer great enough to overcome the increase in
population,'' said Elizabeth Ward, a co-author of the cancer society report
Officials with the organization say they don't know why the decline in the death
It may be that cancer screenings are not having as big an effect as they were a
few years ago, said Dr. Peter Ravdin, a research professor in biostatistics at
the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
One possible example: In 2004, the largest drop in deaths among the major
cancers was in colorectal cancer. Experts gave much of the credit to colonoscopy
screenings that detect polyps and allow doctors to remove them before they turn
cancerous. They also mentioned ''the Katie Couric effect'' -- a jump in
colonoscopy rates after the ''Today'' show host had the exam on national
television in 2000.
In the new report, the colorectal cancer death rate decreased by about 3 percent
from 2004 to 2005, after plunging 6 percent from 2003 to 2004.
Colorectal cancer screening rates through 2003 did not show a decline. But it's
possible they have fallen since then, Ravdin said.
Cancer society officials have also voiced concern that cancer deaths may
increase as Americans lose health insurance coverage and get fewer screenings.
The good news is the cancer death rate is still declining, and that since the
early 1990s is down more than 18 percent for men and more than 10 percent for
women. Those reductions translate to more than half a million cancer deaths
avoided, according to the cancer society.
Experts attribute the success to declines in smoking and to earlier detection
and more effective treatment of tumors.
Filed at 10:56 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
(AP) -- The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans has reached its highest
point in at least 25 years, a new government report said Thursday.
The rate rose by about 20 percent between 1999 and 2004 for U.S. residents ages
45 through 54 -- far outpacing increases among younger adults, the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
In 2004, there were 16.6 completed suicides per 100,000 people in that age
group. That's the highest it's been since the CDC started tracking such rates,
around 1980. The previous high was 16.5, in 1982.
Experts said they don't know why the suicide rates are rising so dramatically in
that age group, but believe it is an unrecognized tragedy.
The general public and government prevention programs tend to focus on suicide
among teenagers, and many suicide researchers concentrate on the elderly, said
Mark Kaplan, a suicide researcher at Portland State University.
''The middle-aged are often overlooked. These statistics should serve as a
wake-up call,'' Kaplan said.
Roughly 32,000 suicides occur each year -- a figure that's been holding
relatively steady, according to the Suicide Prevention Action Network, an
Experts believe suicides are under-reported. But reported rates tend to be
highest among those who are in their 40s and 50s and among those 85 and older,
according to CDC data.
The female suicide rates are highest in middle age. The rate for males -- who
account for the majority of suicides -- peak after retirement, said Dr. Alex
Crosby, a CDC epidemiologist.
Researchers looked at death certificate information for 1999 through 2004.
Overall, they found a 5.5 percent increase during that time in deaths from
homicides, suicides, traffic collisions and other injury incidents.
The largest increases occurred in the 45 to 54 age group. A large portion of the
jump in deaths in that group was attributed to unintentional drug overdoses and
poisonings -- a problem the CDC reported previously.
But suicides were another major factor, accounting for a quarter of the injury
deaths in that age group. The suicide count jumped from 5,081 to 6,906 in that
In contrast, the suicide rate for people in their 20s -- the other age group
with the most dramatic increase in injury deaths -- rose only 1 percent.
A gunman opened fire from a balcony in a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, on
Wednesday, killing eight people, wounding five before taking his own life,
Following is a chronology of some of the deadlier mass shootings in the United
States in recent years:
March 1998 - At Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys aged 13
and 11 pulled a fire alarm and began shooting teachers and classmates as they
left the school, killing four students and a teacher.
April 1999 - Two students shot to death 12 other students and a teacher at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.
July 1999 - A day trader killed his wife and two children before shooting nine
people to death at two Atlanta brokerages. He then killed himself.
September 1999 - A 47-year-old loner killed seven people in a Fort Worth, Texas,
Baptist church. Then he killed himself.
November 1999 - A Xerox copier repairman in Honolulu gunned down seven
co-workers before fleeing, triggering one of the biggest manhunts in Hawaii
history. He was located and surrendered to police after a five-hour armed
March 2005 - A 16-year-old high school student gunned down five students, a
teacher and a security guard at Red Lake High School in far northern Minnesota
before killing himself. He also killed his grandfather and his grandfather's
companion elsewhere on the Chippewa Indian reservation.
October 2, 2006 - A local milk truck driver who was not Amish, tied up and shot
10 Amish schoolgirls aged 6 to 14 in their classroom, killing five of them
before turning the gun on himself in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 60
miles (97 km) west of Philadelphia.
April 16, 2007 - A university in Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech, became the
site of the deadliest rampage in U.S. history when a gunman killed 32 people and
December 5, 2007 - A gunman opened fire from a balcony in a shopping mall in
Omaha, Nebraska, killing eight people and wounding five, before taking his own
life, police said.
(Writing by Paul Grant, Washington Editorial Reference Unit,
serious mental illness treated in public systems die about 25 years earlier than
Americans overall, a gap that's widened since the early '90s when major mental
disorders cut life spans by 10 to 15 years, according to a report due Monday.
going in the wrong direction and have to change course," says Joseph Parks,
director of psychiatric services for the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
He's lead author of the report from eight states — Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Utah and Arizona — that will be released at a
meeting of state hospital directors in Bethesda, Md.
About 60% of the 10.3 million people with serious mental illness get care in
public facilities, 90% as outpatients, Parks says. They have illnesses such as
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Although the mentally ill
have high accident and suicide rates, about 3 out of 5 die from mostly
preventable diseases, he says.
Obesity is a serious problem. These patients often get little exercise, and many
take a newer type of anti-psychotic, on the market for 18 years, that can cause
drastic weight gains, promoting diabetes and heart disease, Parks says. He
thinks these drugs are contributing to deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Recent studies question the advantage of the newer drugs. "Many could be
switched to safer medicines," Parks says. Schizophrenics are thought to have a
higher risk for diabetes already, he says.
Mentally ill adults also are more likely than others to have alcohol and
drug-abuse problems, and to smoke.
Because of their mental disorder, patients often aren't good health advocates
for themselves, says Andrew Leuchter of the UCLA School of Medicine. When
patients do seek help, "I hear of great difficulty getting appointments even for
simple problems like high blood pressure. … The public health system is
underfunded, and it's gotten worse over the years."
Medical needs of the mentally ill are least likely to fall through the cracks
when psychiatrists and primary care doctors practice in the same facility,
according to a 2003 report from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. But
integrated clinics are "quite rare," says Bazelon policy director Chris
Sometimes internists disregard medical symptoms of the mentally ill, chalking
them up to the patient's disorder, says Kenneth Duckworth of the National
Alliance on Mental Illness. And needed treatment may be harder to get. He points
to a study showing that after the mentally ill suffer heart attacks, they're
less likely than other patients to get state-of-the-art care.
Parks thinks agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
should track the health of adults with mental illness, just as they do other
vulnerable groups, to identify problems and solutions. "Many struggle for
decades to overcome mental illness," he says, "and after all that struggle, it's
particularly cruel to think that you would die young."
Hurricane Wilma has strengthened to a catastrophic Category 5 storm as it
approaches western Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
The season's record-tying 21st storm, fueled by the warm waters of the northwest
Caribbean Sea, strengthened alarmingly as it headed into the Gulf of Mexico on a
path expected to lead across storm-weary southern Florida by Saturday.
Here are some of the deadliest hurricanes to strike the southern United States
since 1900 by number of casualties:
1900 - An
unnamed hurricane, since known as the Galveston Hurricane, slams into Texas,
killing at least 8,000 people.
1928 - About
2,500 people are killed in Florida by a hurricane that caused an enormous storm
surge in Lake Okeechobee.
Hurricane Katrina slams into Louisiana and Mississippi with 140 mile-per-hour
winds (224 kph) and a 30 foot (nine meter) storm surge. Katrina killed about
1,230 people and caused more than $30 billion in insured damage. Katrina was
followed in September by Hurricane Rita.
1935 - An
unnamed Category 5 hurricane, since referred to as the Labor Day Hurricane of
1935 and the most intense storm to hit the United States since records began,
sweeps over the Florida Keys, leaving 408 dead.
It's the most unlikely of Oscar contenders
- a remarkable film whose 87-year-old star
was one of the key architects of the
Now his startling views on the conflict that tore America apart
- and striking a chord with a new generation
The Fog of War
Production year: 2003
Runtime: 106 mins
Directors: Errol Morris Cast: Robert McNamara,
Robert S McNamara
Sunday 8 February 2004
[ . . . ]
The Vietnam War in numbers
47,378 Americans were killed in action in Vietnam
23.11 years was the average age of US soldiers killed
25% of US troops in Vietnam were drafted
76% of US troops were from lower-middle or working- class backgrounds
7,484 women served in the US Armed Forces
223,748 South Vietnamese soldiers were killed in action
2 million or more North Vietnamese troops and civilians were killed
20 million gallons of herbicides were dropped on Vietnam, mostly Agent Orange
3 times as many bombs were dropped as in the whole of the Second World War
$140 billion was the official cost of US military operations