Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Should Black Voters Favor Democrats?

One of the memes that was circulated in some quarters during the last election is that Black people are excessively loyal to the Democrats. In this post I will examine whether that is true using real median incomes.

The figure below shows the Black Median Income as a Percentage of the Total (i.e., all ethnicities) Median Income, with Democratic Presidential administrations shaded in gray:

Black Median Income as a Pct of Total Median Income 20161224a

Black median income was 48.5% of total median income in 1948, and increased to 78.9% of total median income in 2015. In any given year, however, the ratio of Black median income tended to increase by 0.9% when a Democrat was President, and by only 0.2% when a Republican was President. But… the big increase under Democrat is due largely to two periods: the JFK/LBJ administrations and the Clinton administration. In fact, the ratio barely budged in the Truman years (for which data is available) and the Carter administration, and actually declined under Obama so far.

But of course, the ratio of median income for Black people to the total median income can increase while still making everyone worse off if the entire pie is decreasing. So here’s what real median income (total, and for Black people only) looks like since 1948:

Real Median Income 20161224a

Once again, the performance is better under Democrats than under Republicans. But if we drill down, once more it appears the difference is due entirely to the JFK/LBJ and Clinton years. In fact, during the Truman, Carter and Obama presidencies, the total real median income increase was about $130 a year (beating the Republican average), but the increase in real median income for Black people was only $8 a year, which was less than the Republican average.

So we can conclude… Black people have gotten a bigger share of a growing pie under Democrats than under Republicans, but this is only true because of the extraordinary performance of the JFK/LBJ and Clinton administrations. On the other hand, hapless and ineffective Presidents like Carter and Obama have not, on average, posted positive income outcomes for the Black community.

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Female Doctors

This has been widely reported over the past few days:

 

Doctors from Harvard have an intriguing suggestion for saving 32,000 lives each year: Make sure all senior citizens who wind up in the hospital are treated by female doctors.

After examining the medical records of Medicare patients from across the country, the Harvard researchers calculated that 10.82% of those treated by physicians who were women died within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital. Among patients treated by male physicians, the 30-day mortality rate was 11.49%, according to a study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

That gender gap persisted even after the researchers accounted for factors like the age, gender and income of patients, how sick those patients were when they first checked into the hospital, the resources of the hospitals and the experience of the doctors. In that analysis, the Harvard team found that 11.07% of patients treated by women died within 30 days of being hospitalized, compared with 11.49% of patients treated by men.

I haven’t had time to check out the original study, but I can’t see any particular reason why the effect being reported wouldn’t be true.

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Crime and Punishment – A Thought Experiment

Imagine two neighborhoods in the same city subject to the same laws. Assume the crime rate is the same. Then you would expect arrest and prosecution rates to be the same.

Now, assume two other neighborhoods, also in the same city and subject to the same laws. Call them A and B. Assume the arrest and prosecution rate is X times higher in A than in B. Assume that has been the case for a long time.

Given this scenario, under what conditions do you expect crime in Neighborhood A to exceed crime in Neighborhood B? Under what conditions would you expect the reverse to be true?

Note. A good answer is generalizable.

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How What We Eat Has Changed

From Pew:

The American Diet - From Pew

Americans eat more chicken and less beef than they used to. They drink less milk – especially whole milk – and eat less ice cream, but they consume way more cheese. Their diets include less sugar than in prior decades but a lot more corn-derived sweeteners. And while the average American eats the equivalent of 1.2 gallons of yogurt a year, he or she also consumes 36 pounds of cooking oils – more than three times as much as in the early 1970s.

Americans’ eating habits, in short, are all over the place, at least according to our analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

The post goes on:

Broadly speaking, we eat a lot more than we used to: The average American consumed 2,481 calories a day in 2010, about 23% more than in 1970. That’s more than most adults need to maintain their current weight, according to the Mayo Clinic’s calorie calculator. (A 40-year-old man of average height and weight who’s moderately active, for instance, needs 2,400 calories; a 40-year-old woman with corresponding characteristics needs 1,850 calories.)

Nearly half of those calories come from just two food groups: flours and grains (581 calories, or 23.4%) and fats and oils (575, or 23.2%), up from a combined 37.3% in 1970. Meats, dairy and sweeteners provide smaller shares of our daily caloric intake than they did four decades ago; then again, so do fruits and vegetables (7.9% in 2010 versus 9.2% in 1970).

I guess its not just me. Or you.

On the other hand, I don’t like chicken, so this is more you than me:

Several interesting shifts are happening within food groups. For the past decade, for instance, chicken has topped beef as the most-consumed meat. In 2014, Americans ate an average of 47.9 pounds of chicken a year (2.1 ounces a day), versus 39.4 pounds (1.7 ounces a day) of beef. While average chicken consumption has more than doubled since 1970, beef has fallen by more than a third.

How healthy any of this is another story. (Warning: link to Youtube.)

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Discussing Differences: A Letter to My Son (a few years from today)

The letter below summarizes my thoughts on a touchy subject. I have put them in the form they are in because I don’t think my son is old to have that discussion in its entirety right now.

To My Dear Son,

One of your mother’s hobbies is investigating her ancestry. She spends a lot of time on various websites, tracking down distant cousins and having email conversations with strangers about whether they might possibly related. She also took a genetic test to give her more information about her ancestry and convinced me to do the same.

I didn’t pay enough attention, but my recollection is that taking into account your mother’s background and my own, your blood, so to speak, is primarily Ashkenazi, Irish and Iberian. In our culture you learn a lot about the Ashkenazi and the Irish, but not so much about Iberia, so let me share some of its key history with you. Perhaps more important than anything else was the conquest by the Moors and the long campaign to drive them out. In 711 AD, these Arab-African invaders crossed the straights of Gibraltar. It took two decades for the Moorish expansion in Western Europe to be halted. A Frankish army under Charles Martel defeated the Moors at the Battle of Tours, but that didn’t help your ancestors; the invaders would enslave and subjugate Iberia for almost 800 years.

Over 8 centuries, a lot happens. There were times when the Moors could be described as benevolent overlords. At other times, the Moors were vicious, crushing their subjects underfoot with little remorse. But the desire for freedom remained through all of that, and eventually, there was the Reconquista. In 1492, the Portuguese and Spanish people finally managed to take back their countries.

A natural reaction might be anger or even hatred toward Arabs and Africans for perpetrating such an outrage on your ancestors. You might even think restitution is in order. That might be a natural reaction, but it is a bad one for a number of reasons:

1. These events happened a long time ago, and they didn’t happen to you. Sure, there is path dependence, and perhaps your circumstances would be very different had the Moors been less cruel, but that is conjecture and wishful thinking. What you deserve, morally, for the suffering of your ancestors is nothing. Absolutely nothing. For the same reason, I might add, you don’t owe anyone else for what happened to their ancestors either.

2. The people who invaded Spain and Portugal and oppressed your forebears are long since dead. Their descendants who were expelled to Africa in the decade or two beginning in 1492 bear no guilt. How could they?

3. 800 years is a long time. Time enough for the invaders and the invaded to mix and match a little bit. The Moors bred with the locals, sometimes by force and sometimes with consent. As a result, there may even be a touch of Moor, however diluted, in your gene pool. It doesn’t show up in the tests your Mom took, but that may well be due to imprecision of the current commercially available technology.

4. In the same way, some Africans today have Iberian genes. Perhaps more than you do, in fact.

5. The sad fact is, we are all, with the possible (but extremely unlikely) exception of the San, descended from oppressors and invaders. And we know one thing with certainty: your ancestors gave better than they got. This is self-evident from the fact that you are here and an uncountable number of bloodlines were wiped out.

As a result, the wise thing to do is to treat everyone with the same respect, at least until they prove they don’t deserve it. But not everyone has wisdom. Sleights perpetrated against their forebears motivate a lot of people. Making matters worse, one person’s oppression is another person’s heroism. For instance, Osama bin Laden, whom you will one day study in a history class, talked frequently about reclaiming Al-Andaluz (i.e., the Iberian Peninsula). To him, the Moors were conquering heroes spreading the One True Faith, and their expulsion was an injustice that must be avenged.

So while you should treat everyone the same at first, try to develop the ability to tell if a person feels the same way. Be very, very wary of those who carry around the past like a crutch or a club. Some of them are dangerous. Most will accomplish nothing, and the reasons for it will generally lie close to home. But people don’t easily accept mediocrity, especially when it is self-induced. People like that will blame you for their failure. These people don’t respect themselves, and they certainly don’t deserve respect from you.

Love,

Dad

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Hacked Netflix: A Sort of Modest Analogy

I don’t have the patience to sit on the couch and just stare at the tube like a lot of people seem to enjoy doing. I do however watch movies while exercising or doing chores. The result is that I start and stop whatever I am watching frequently, and there are times it might take me a week or more to watch a movie. That makes Netflix perfect for me.

 

A couple of weeks ago my Netflix account was hacked. The first indication was that the default language for my account kept changing from English to Portuguese or Spanish. Since I am almost as likely to watch a foreign language movie than an English language one, it took me a few days to realize what was going on. And what was going on was that people were accessing my account from Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Columbia, Spain, etc. It got a bit irritating – occasionally my son or I (the two authorized users on the account) had trouble getting on. Eventually one of the unauthorized users helpfully went into my account selections and upped the number of screens that can be on simultaneously from two to four (for an added $2 a month charged to my credit card).

 

So I changed my password… and it didn’t stop. I changed the email address associated with my account… and it didn’t stop. I am trying to isolate the problem scientifically now, first to determine whether the problem is on my end, and if so, where the leak is happening. I am running an experiment to try to determine whether somehow, someone can read information off of my computer/router/etc. After all, if that is the case, I have bigger problems than people messing with my Netflix account.

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In Celebrity News

I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of being star struck. I pay very little to celebrities, and I probably couldn’t tell you who most of the people being profiled in any given edition of People magazine are. With the exception of Jimmy Stewart, who was way before my time, I don’t recall ever admiring an actor as a person. But Mark Wahlberg explaining why celebrities should avoid discussing politics when they know nothing about it may make me reconsider:

A lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family. Me, I’m very aware of the real world. I come from the real world and I exist in the real world. And although I can navigate Hollywood and I love the business and the opportunities it’s afforded me, I also understand what it’s like not to have all that.

A tip of my non-existent hat to Mark Wahlberg.

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The Democratic Party Presidential Platform of 1996 – On Immigration

What follows is from Today’s Democratic Party: Meeting America’s Challenges, Protecting America’s Values, a.k.a., the 1996 Democratic Party Platform. This is the section on immigration.  I took the liberty of bolding pieces I found interesting.

Democrats remember that we are a nation of immigrants. We recognize the extraordinary contribution of immigrants to America throughout our history. We welcome legal immigrants to America. We support a legal immigration policy that is pro-family, pro-work, pro-responsibility, and pro-citizenship, and we deplore those who blame immigrants for economic and social problems.

We know that citizenship is the cornerstone of full participation in American life. We are proud that the President launched Citizenship USA to help eligible immigrants become United States citizens. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is streamlining procedures, cutting red tape, and using new technology to make it easier for legal immigrants to accept the responsibilities of citizenship and truly call America their home.

Today’s Democratic Party also believes we must remain a nation of laws. We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it. For years before Bill Clinton became President, Washington talked tough but failed to act. In 1992, our borders might as well not have existed. The border was under-patrolled, and what patrols there were, were under-equipped. Drugs flowed freely. Illegal immigration was rampant. Criminal immigrants, deported after committing crimes in America, returned the very next day to commit crimes again.

President Clinton is making our border a place where the law is respected and drugs and illegal immigrants are turned away. We have increased the Border Patrol by over 40 percent; in El Paso, our Border Patrol agents are so close together they can see each other. Last year alone, the Clinton Administration removed thousands of illegal workers from jobs across the country. Just since January of 1995, we have arrested more than 1,700 criminal aliens and prosecuted them on federal felony charges because they returned to America after having been deported.

However, as we work to stop illegal immigration, we call on all Americans to avoid the temptation to use this issue to divide people from each other. We deplore those who use the need to stop illegal immigration as a pretext for discrimination. And we applaud the wisdom of Republicans like Mayor Giuliani and Senator Domenici who oppose the mean-spirited and short-sighted effort of Republicans in Congress to bar the children of illegal immigrants from schools — it is wrong, and forcing children onto the streets is an invitation for them to join gangs and turn to crime. Democrats want to protect American jobs by increasing criminal and civil sanctions against employers who hire illegal workers, but Republicans continue to favor inflammatory rhetoric over real action. We will continue to enforce labor standards to protect workers in vulnerable industries. We continue to firmly oppose welfare benefits for illegal immigrants. We believe family members who sponsor immigrants into this country should take financial responsibility for them, and be held legally responsible for supporting them.

 

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