Category: History

Feds plan to cut census questions that offend Right-Wing nutballs

If the Census Bureau proceeds with a recently released plan, then in a few years’ time, we will know very little about how the contours of family life are changing.

We will not even know whether marriage and divorce rates are rising or falling. For all the talk of evidence-based policy, the result will be that important debates on issues including family law, welfare reform, same-sex marriage and the rise of nontraditional families will proceed in a statistical void.

Much of what I, an economist who has studied family issues, and my colleagues in this field have learned about recent trends in marriage and divorce has come from questions in the American Community Survey. It asks people whether they have given birth, married, divorced or been widowed in the past year. Their answers allow demographers to track marriage and divorce rates by age, gender, race and education.

These data have revealed many important social trends, including the rise of sharply different marriage and divorce patterns between rich and poor, and the increase in divorce among older Americans, even as it has fallen for younger people. And they have provided the only statistical window into the adoption of same-sex marriage.

The Census Bureau is proposing to eliminate these questions. It would follow a series of steps taken over recent decades that have collectively devastated our ability to track family change. This isn’t being done as a strategic policy choice but rather is the result of a series of isolated decisions made across several decades by statisticians scattered across various government agencies who have failed to understand the cumulative effect of their actions.

But, why should they care? The decision-making body of the United States hasn’t a whisper of concern about knowledge. Science and society is even further down the list of their concerns.

In principle, tracking marriage and divorce shouldn’t be too hard. Every wedding, like every divorce, requires a trip to City Hall or the county courthouse to file the relevant paperwork. The resulting paper trail should be enough to allow analysts to map the contours of our changing family life over time. Indeed, until the mid-1990s, the federal government collated data from all those marriage and divorce certificates into a coherent set of marriage and divorce statistics that detailed the changing nature of marriage.

But in 1996, the National Center for Health Statistics stopped collecting these detailed data. If you subsequently got married or divorced, the forms you filled out still exist, but only as unexamined documents in a filing cabinet at your county courthouse…

The rationale the health statisticians offered for no longer collecting the more detailed data was that much of this information could be gleaned from a special survey taken every five years as a supplement to the Current Population Survey. But a different set of government statisticians killed that supplement in the late 1990s.

In the end, the decision to shorten the survey reflects political calculation – an effort to mollify Tea Party Republicans who tried to eliminate the American Community Survey altogether, arguing that it is an unconstitutional breach of privacy. A briefer questionnaire may yield less political opposition.

Once again, our government rolls over and plays dead for anachronistic nutballs rather than challenge their standing. What passes for leadership from elected and appointed bureaucrats in the United States wouldn’t pass muster in a Marx Brothers movie.

Report Card for 10 top world leaders

In a rare poll, citizens on five continents and in 30 countries, including China, were asked to identify and evaluate the job performance of 10 of the most widely recognized global leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. President Barack Obama…

Respondents in India (87.8 percent), Russia (79.6 percent), and China (78.6 percent) overwhelmingly said that their home country was moving in the right direction, while only a minority in the United States (44.8 percent), Japan (30.4 percent), and South Africa (29.3 percent) felt their nation was making progress.

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The results also offer a glimpse into what kinds of information about other nations filter down to the average citizen, Anthony Saich said, “so you can begin to ask questions about how both geopolitics and about how national presses begin to report activities and behavior of other countries and how that reflects onto particular leaders.”

“Two things did surprise me — how well Modi came out. I just put that down to the fact that he’d only just been elected and so I suspect that a lot of people didn’t really know very much about him, and his own nationals were probably still in the phase of him having won the election,” said Saich. “I thought what was interesting, though, was how well Merkel came out across the board. From the surveys, she really emerges as a leader of international respect.”

Saich, who serves as faculty chair of HKS’s China program, said granular data about how Chinese citizens viewed other world leaders was groundbreaking and supports what was generally known already. Their positive assessment of Xi’s performance both at home and abroad is explained by a multitude of factors…

“For a large number of people, life has generally gotten better year by year — more freedom of choice, probably more income, better living conditions, better material conditions, a lot more to watch on the television,” Saich added. “I think that also plays into it.”

Saich doesn’t try to draw too much from the results of this initial survey. It can and will serve as a baseline for returning efforts in the future.

That doesn’t mean that TV talking heads and directly-employed government PR-types won’t try for a special spin. Not that I expect much of that in a nation as parochial as the United States.

Which states are years ahead of Congress and the White House?

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Over the last nine months, Vox writing fellow German Lopez found himself covering two major policy changes in the U.S.: the rapid growth in support of same-sex marriage across the country, and the smaller, but gaining-in-momentum movement to legalize marijuana. German found inspiration to bring the two threads together after seeing politics writer Phil Bump compare the two policies at the Washington Post. With the visuals team, German created a chart comparing medical marijuana laws, full marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage rights around the country. The end result: a playful chart that shows where you can legally get high at a same-sex wedding. It’s simple, it’s fun, and, yet, it delivers so much information about the state of affairs in the U.S. right now.

This short piece is a VOX specialty. It illustrates the growth and usefulness – therefore importance if you find thinking useful – of this new information source.

I’ve grown to accept their decision to omit reader comments. Of course, I qualify for Barry Ritholtz’s infamous acronym – if you don’t like the rules, GYOB. Get your own blog.

Though I have functioned as contributing editor at blogs with traffic as high as 5 million visitors per week, ideas and issues I consider important always start out here at my personal blog.

Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeAP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Ben Atreu Flegel, 25, a German survivor of the Asian tsunami who lost his grandparents ten years ago in this very beach, stands facing the sea in quiet reflection during a commemoration and religious ceremony for German, Austrian and Swiss victims of the tsunami, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in Khao Lak, Thailand. Dec. 26 marks the 10th anniversary of one of the deadliest natural disasters in world history: a tsunami, triggered by a massive earthquake off the Indonesian coast, that left more than 230,000 people dead in 14 countries and caused about $10 billion in damage.

We watched the tsunami coming from thousands of miles away.

Kinfolk were visiting for the holidays and one of them – a science teacher – had an app on his iPhone for global alerts of planet-affecting events. We knew of the tsunami alert before the poor buggers on the beaches of Thailand.

12 million routers may not have been patched for Misfortune Cookie

Researchers at the security software company Check Point say they’ve discovered a serious vulnerability lurking inside the routers and modems used to deliver Internet connectivity to 12 million homes and small businesses around the world, and it’s going to be a complicated matter to fix it.

Dubbed the Misfortune Cookie, the weakness is present in cable and DSL modems from well-known manufacturers like D-Link, Huawei and ZTE, and could allow a malicious hacker to hijack them and attack connected computers, phones and tablets. An attacker exploiting Misfortune Cookie could also monitor a vulnerable Internet connection, stealing passwords, business data or other information. Check Point didn’t disclose how an attack might be carried out. Spokespeople for D-Link, Huawei and ZTE had no immediate comment on the vulnerability.

In an interview with Re/code, Shahar Tal, a researcher at Israel-based Check Point, said the company traced the vulnerability to a programming error made in 2002. That error originated with Allegro Software, the Massachusetts-based developer of RomPager, which unwittingly introduced it into the widely used embedded Web server…

The list of devices affected by Misfortune Cookie includes some 200 products from more than 20 companies. All told there are more than 12 million devices with the vulnerability in use today, including some that were manufactured as recently as this year. And yet to date, no real-world attacks using Misfortune Cookie have been detected.

Reached for comment, Allegro Software downplayed the severity of the vulnerability and its responsibility for it. “It’s a 12-year-old bug that was fixed nine years ago,” said CEO Bob Van Andel. He conceded, however, that many of Allegro’s customers haven’t bothered to install the code that protects RomPager against Misfortune Cookie — nor can the company force them to do so.

So, if you suspect your router or modem has the Misfortune Cookie – Tal suggests calling the manufacturer or the company that provided the equipment. See if they’re one of the bright ones that actually keeps up with patches. Of course, if that was true you would have already received notice of the update.

Right?

George Stinney Jr. – executed at 14 – cleared of murder 70 years later


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George Stinney Jr., who was 14 when he died in South Carolina’s electric chair 70 years ago, was cleared Wednesday of killing two young girls.

Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen found “fundamental, constitutional violations of due process” in Stinney’s one-day trial before an all-white jury. During a two-day hearing in January, Mullen said she could not determine if the boy was guilty or innocent, only if the proceedings were fair.

Stinney, the youngest person to be executed in the United States, at least in the 20th century, was so small he had to sit on a book when he was strapped into the electric chair. He was put to death 81 days after Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, were killed in the small town of Alcolu, S.C.

The only real evidence against the boy was a confession he allegedly gave police officers after hours of questioning without his parents or a lawyer. He was alone during the trial because his family had been warned they would be lynched if they remained in Alcolu.

No written record of the confession was presented during the trial, and George Frierson, a historian who has been fighting to clear Stinney, said he has been unable to find one. Stinney later denied confessing.

Just in case you wondered why so many think it impossible for Black folks to receive a fair trial for anything in the United States – this is a pretty ordinary example of where it comes from.

Do you think the folks picked for juries, grand juries, in racist towns governed by racist politicians have changed much in three generation? Or one generation? Do you think cops in towns with a tradition of “white means right!” have changed in a couple of generations?

Quiet heroes of the US-Cuba deal: Pope Francis and Canada

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The historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, after 50-plus years of hostility, is being credited primarily to President Obama and Raul Castro, Cuba’s current de facto leader and the brother of Fidel. That is with good reason: Obama has been working on this issue throughout much of his presidency and Castro is taking a significant risk by allowing wider Internet access into Cuba as part of the deal.

But there are two actors that quietly played a major role in this: Canada and Pope Francis.

The negotiations that led to today’s announcement, in which the US and Cuba will take major steps toward normalization, took 18 long months, according to a report in the New York Times. And many of those negotiations were held in Canada, formally but secretly hosted by the Canadian government.

Canada was helping to solve two crucial problems. First, the talks needed to remain secret to have any hope of succeeding — had they leaked, the political backlash in the US would have almost certainly killed the deal.

Second, for diplomatic reasons, the talks could not be held on US or Cuban soil, but the negotiators needed a physical meeting place. The Canadian government, which unlike the US does have ties with Cuba but is also extremely close to the US government, was an obviously attractive broker for the US. While Canadian officials did not officially participate in the talks, their role in providing a secret and official channel was crucial, according to US officials.

If Canada was essential for providing the Americans with a safe and secure forum for talks, then Pope Francis played a similar role in helping to bring the Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. And, unlike Canadian officials, who did not sit at from the formal talks, Vatican officials participated actively in discussions.

Pope Francis’ role included sending a personal letter to both Obama and Raul Castro over the summer urging them to reach a deal (talks were already ongoing at that point). Francis also reportedly raised the issue repeatedly in his meeting with Obama in March. And Francis hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican, where Vatican officials participated in the talks…

Nice to see a couple of competent, worldly participants take the lead in bringing the United States into reforming a diplomatic and political stance originated by thugs like the United Fruit Company in the era of Banana Imperialism. A half-century of embargo and blockade hadn’t dragged Cuba into subservience. Continuing the policy only reinforced the world’s perception of the United States as a bully.

Pope Francis continues to impress. I hope he has as much success bringing the Roman Catholic church into the modern era as he has – individually – as a representative of Christianity beginning to discover a bit of enlightenment.

Nice at least to see that Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism hasn’t yet affected Canada’s traditional leadership role in diplomacy among the Americas and beyond.

Australia tweeted #illridewithyou – and traveled in solidarity with Muslims

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Against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty following the hostage taking in Sydney, thousands of ordinary Australians turned to social media to spread a message of unprecedented tolerance and solidarity.

Trending worldwide, the #illridewithyou hashtag was a response to a number of Muslim listeners who called Australian radio stations to say they were scared to travel in public as the siege unfolded.

Users offered to ride on public transport with anyone feeling intimidated. They posted their travel plans and invited others to get in touch if they were going the same way and wanted a companion.

Police stormed the Lindt cafe in the central business district, bringing an end to a day-long standoff with gunman Man Haron Monis. There is still uncertainty about his motive for taking up to 30 people prisoner.

But the sight of hostages being forced to hold a black flag bearing the shahada, the basic Islamic creed – “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” – in the window of the cafe seemed enough to make innocent people concerned about a backlash if they wore Muslim dress in public.

There is little wonder that Australian Muslims are scared. As research has shown, terrorist attacks and events seen to be “the fault of Muslims” have been shown to catalyse a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslims going about their everyday lives…

All this might make the popularity of the #illridewithyou hashtag surprising. But what really underpins this social media phenomenon is the fact that ordinary people are not only aware but are prepared to do something about the Islamophobia that ordinary Muslims face in the current climate…

In the world of bigots you don’t even need to be Muslim to be lynched. You simply have to “look” like a Muslim or “dress” like a Muslim. The first person I recall being murdered by a bigot right after 9/11 was a Sikh in Arizona. Reality didn’t matter in the least. The distance between Sikh and Muslim beliefs includes centuries and are nations wide. Meaningless to a narrow-minded fool.

I mentioned this response to the siege in Sydney to my wife and her first recollection was folks in a software company she deals with in much of her IT work. They’re in Georgia. After 9/11, folks throughout their company made it a point to travel together with many of their fellow workers, Indian, Pakistani, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – everywhere – to act as an additional shield against the bigots and fools who wanted to kill a Muslim ar at least some kind of non-Christian foreigner.

China holds a Memorial Day for the victims of the Nanjing Massacre


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If there is anything I truly hate it is war.

I’ve experienced some small participation in wars. I have had dear friends more directly affected over longer periods. Now gone. One who survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – made it through the sewers of Warsaw, through the countryside eventually to the Soviet Union. After healing physically, she went back to Poland to fight in the underground against the Germans.

I asked her once why she kept her Polish name from the Underground instead of returning to her Jewish family name. She told me that all of that life died with her husband and her daughters in a German death camp. Who she became after that was a different person.

My closest friend most of my life was the most decorated soldier in WW2 from our home state in New England. He was awarded every medal except the Congressional Medal of Honor and he was nominated for that. Surviving injuries at the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded at the liberation of the Buchenwald Death Camp – and had sixteen months in a veterans’ hospital to reflect upon how he got there.

They’re both gone, now. Someone like me has to remember.

It doesn’t matter where or when my thoughts are stirred to recall. I’ve written about Nanjing before; but, tonight I happened to switch over to CCTV America just as the ceremonies at the Memorial Site in Nanjing were wrapping up.

I sat and watched the last half-hour of the live telecast. I cried some for 300,000 civilians slaughtered by Japanese soldiers over a few weeks starting on December 13, 1937. I won’t forget Nanjing. China won’t forget Nanjing.