News and Words that Caught My Eye this Week

Teacher of the Year‘ kneels during college football championship attended by Trump,”ABC News, January 16, 2020

During a ceremony honoring the 2019 “Teachers of the Year,” one in particular stood out.

The honoree from Minnesota, Kelly Holstine, chose to kneel during the national anthem at the NCAA football championship game on Monday, where the ceremony took place, “to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people,” according to a tweet she wrote, which included a photograph of her kneeling.

“Like many before, I respectfully kneeled during Nat’l Anthem because, ‘No one is free until we are all free,'” she wrote, referencing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and citing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Virginia school board refuses to ban Confederate flag” from the dress code, Today, Alyssa Newcomb, January 16, 2020

A Virginia school board is refusing a dress code ban on clothing showing the Confederate flag, despite the appeals of the board’s only black member.

The Franklin County School Board in Rocky Mount, Virginia, voted 7-1 on Monday against formally writing a ban on the Confederate flag into the dress code. The board cited Tinker vs. Des Moines, a 1969 case that ruled students were allowed to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War and did not lose their right to free expression, even while attending school.

“In Franklin County, we do not have any documented cases of a substantial disruption caused by the Confederate flag

The Miseducation of the American Boy,” The Atlantic, Peggy Orenstein, January 15, 2020

I knew nothing about Cole before meeting him; he was just a name on a list of boys at a private school outside Boston who had volunteered to talk with me (or perhaps had had their arm twisted a bit by a counselor). The afternoon of our first interview, I was running late. As I rushed down a hallway at the school, I noticed a boy sitting outside the library, waiting—it had to be him. He was staring impassively ahead, both feet planted on the floor, hands resting loosely on his thighs.

My first reaction was Oh no.

It was totally unfair, a scarlet letter of personal bias. Cole would later describe himself to me as a “typical tall white athlete” guy, and that is exactly what I saw. At 18, he stood more than 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and short-clipped hair.

Additional after the Leap

Bankers flooding JPMorgan event bemoan San Francisco squalor,” Bloomberg, Sophie Alexander and Riley Griffin, January 16, 2020

Hotel rates of $2,000 a night. Meeting-table rentals costing $150 an hour. Swank parties held steps from people bundled in sleeping bags on the street.

Thousands of bankers and executives are descending on San Francisco this week for the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, inundating the tech capital for days of schmoozing and dealmaking. With it comes the annual complaints about the city’s high prices, lack of space and street squalor.

“It comes up with our members every year,” said Steve Ubl, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the world’s largest drugmakers.

The health-care industry’s premier event, a celebration of innovation and money to be made, also highlights San Francisco’s vast wealth disparities as well-to-do attendees hobnob at parties while stepping around people living in cardboard boxes.

Why Manhattan’s Skyscrapers Are Empty,” The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, January 16, 2020

Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold. Me: On the other side of the world are any number of homeless people or living in homeless shelters.

In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.

Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.

Police Said They Wouldn’t Be “Confrontational.” Then They Came in Riot Gear to Arrest Homeless Moms. MotherJones, Marisa Endicott, January 14, 2020

Before dawn on Tuesday, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office descended on a residential block in West Oakland with armored vehicles, guns drawn. The thirty-some officers—including a contingent in military-style fatigues and helmets—showed up not to respond to a riot or the apocalypse, but rather to enforce the eviction of a handful of mothers and their children, a group who has turned their occupation of a house into a (peaceful) protest movement under the banner Moms 4 Housing.

Trump tax cut hands $32 billion windfall to America’s top banks,” Bloomberg, Yalman Onaran , January 16, 2020

Savings for the top six U.S. banks from President Donald Trump’s signature tax overhaul accelerated last year, now topping $32 billion as the lenders curbed new borrowing, pared jobs and ramped up payouts to shareholders.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley posted earnings this week showing they saved $18 billion in 2019, more than the prior year, as their average effective tax rate fell to 18% from 20%. Bloomberg News calculated the haul by comparing the lower tax rates to what they paid before the law took effect, which averaged 30%.

Opinion: Will the Secure Act make your retirement more secure?,” Market Watch, Mark Hulbert, January 16, 2020

How big a deal is it that your 401(k) is now more likely to offer annuities alongside other investment options such as mutual funds and ETFs?

That’s a timely question, because the Secure Act — which took effect on Jan. 1 — makes it easier for your employer to include annuities as one of the investment options offered in its 401(k). Though employers up until now were theoretically able to offer annuities in their 401(k)s, few actually did so.

In an interview this week, Hopkins allowed that this legislation’s annuity-related provisions would be beneficial to the extent it leads more retirees to having guaranteed lifetime income. But those changes will carry a heavy price.

The Empirical Failures of Neoliberalism,” Issue Brief, Mike Konczal, Katy Milani, and Ariel Evans, January 202

Over the past several decades, an empirical revolution in economics has undermined many of the assumptions of the reigning approach to economic policy, which we refer to here as “neoliberalism.” This issue brief elevates five of the leading arguments made by advocates of neoliberalism and explores their theoretical claims. It then tracks these arguments against recent research by leading scholars of economic inequality to show how neoliberalism has failed to deliver increased growth, equality, or mobility.

Advocates of deregulation promised both more efficient markets and economic growth (as measured by gross domestic product) that would “trickle down” to benefit the economy as a whole. Such an approach, they promised, would be like a rising tide that lifts all boats. Contrary to the theory, however, regressive policies, including lower tax rates for corporations and the already wealthy, deregulation, and privatization, have resulted in slower growth, greater income inequality, wage stagnation, and decreased labor market mobility.

Why are Men Detaching from the Labor Force?,” CONVERSABLE ECONOMIST, Timothy Taylor, January 15, 2020

Labor economists refer to “prime-age” men and women, by which they mean those in the 25-54 age group who are in the prime age group for working. But there is half-century trend that prime-age males are becoming less likely to be in the labor force.

Eberstadt presents some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This measures being “out of the labor force,” which is to say neither employed nor officially “unemployed,” because the person does not have a job and also is not looking for work.

As Eberstadt writes: “This monthly exodus from the workforce has been so steady since 1965 that it almost traces a straight line. … [W]e might even be tempted to call this a “social-sciences straight line,” considering how unruly observed social patterns for collections of human beings tend to be.”

A young female reporter exposed a Michigan state senator,” Business Insider, Grace Panetta, January 15, 2020

Donahue said she approached Michigan State Senator Peter Lucido to ask him about a recent story in the Detroit Metro Times reporting that he was a member of a now-defunct Facebook group partly dedicated to posting incendiary and vitriolic content about Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Donahue recounted how Republican State Sen. Peter Lucido made acrude remark when she tried to ask him a question.

Michigan state Sen. Peter Lucido (R) later changed his story on the comment he made to local reporter Allison Donahue that a group of high school boys “could have fun” with her.

Initially, he painted the exchange as a “misunderstanding.”

“I said, ‘We’re going on the (Senate) floor to have some fun; you’re welcome to join us,’” he told WDIV-TV, blaming Donahue for misinterpreting his remark.

He changed his tune from the initial tweet as the story started attracting national attention and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) and Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D) asked the Senate Business Office to conduct a sexual harassment investigation into the interaction.

Hospital Megasystems: More Expensive and No Improvement in Care,” MedPage Today, Kevin Campbell MD January 14, 2020

Hospital merger-and-acquisition activity has surged in recent years, and new research from the New England Journal of Medicine found that the quality of care got worse or stayed the same.
In the last several years, there has been a flurry of consolidation activities among hospital systems across the U.S. In an effort to gain market share and stamp out competition, many systems in both large and small markets have implemented an acquisition strategy in order to improve revenues and eliminate the competition.

While executives with the American Hospital Association cite “internally funded research” that indicated a decrease in revenue and an improvement in quality in the first year following a hospital merger, a newly published study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that after a hospital merger, costs increase significantly and quality of care did not improve at all.

Having a Baby in the U.S. Is Becoming Less Affordable,” Medpage Today, Zeena Nackerdien PhD, CME, January 16, 2019

Childbirth remains the top reason for hospitalization among American women of reproductive age.

However, it is worth noting that giving birth may be one of the most expensive aspects of having a baby, even if you think you are fully insured, reported Michelle Moniz, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues in Health Affairs.

Moniz and colleagues defined maternity care as healthcare services used during the 12 months before delivery, during the delivery hospitalization, and up to 3 months after delivery. Average out-of-pocket spending for maternity care spiked from $3,069 in 2008 to $4,569 in 2015. Increased spending with high deductibles was the main driver of this trend.

The ACA has not protected families from shouldering this cost burden.

Trends in Pregnancy-Related Deaths,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Since the Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System was implemented, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the United States steadily increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016. The graph below shows trends in pregnancy-related mortality ratios defined as the number of pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births in the United States between 1987 and 2016 (the latest available year of data).

States sue Trump administration over drastic cuts to Food Stamp Program,” The Guardian, Kenya Evelyn, January 17, 2020

A coalition of 13 states, New York City and Washington DC are suing the Trump administration over new restrictions for food stamp benefits for unemployed Americans – a measure they say could disqualify nearly 700,000 from federal food assistance.

The new rule, introduced in December, would eliminate states’ discretion to waive work requirements in distressed economic areas, saving the federal government $5.5bn in spending over five years.

Trump administration to roll back school lunch rules and allow more pizza,” The Guardian, January 17, 2020

The Trump administration took further steps on Friday towards rolling back healthier standards for school lunches in America championed by Michelle Obama, proposing rules to allow more pizza, meat and potatoes over fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

The new proposals would allow schools more flexibility, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement, adding: “Because they know their children best.”

Brandon Lipps, a USDA deputy under secretary, outlined new menu standards drawn up by the Food and Nutrition Service agency. They would allow schools to cut the amount of vegetables and fruits required at school lunch and breakfasts while giving them greater scope to sell more pizza, hamburgers and french fries to students. The agency is responsible for administering nutritional programs that feed nearly 30 million students at 99,000 schools, the Washington Post reported.