It’s Hard to End Childhood Obesity

Time: “How are efforts to fight childhood obesity doing? As the chart below shows, the results are mixed: While childhood obesity among children between two and five years old dropped 3.7% from 2010 to 2012, the rate increased 2.1% for children 12-19 during the same period. The overall childhood obesity rate, meanwhile, remained at a constant 16.9% from 2008 through 2012.”

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“If there’s a silver lining in the numbers, it’s the reduction in obesity among very young children. If kids are being taught healthy habits at a younger age, they’re probably more likely to carry those behaviors into grade school and beyond, public health experts say. If that trend holds true, we should start to see a similar drop in obesity among older children over the next few years.”

Senate Will Vote on Whether Climate Change is a Hoax

Science Insider: “The U.S. Senate’s simmering debate over climate science has come to a full boil today, with lawmakers trading feisty remarks as they prepare to vote on at least two measures offered by Democrats that affirm that climate change is real—with one also noting that global warming is not ‘a hoax.”

“In an effort to highlight their differences with some Republicans on climate policy, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused. The backers are now pushing for votes on those measures as soon as today.”

“The Democratic amendments vary in detail and whether they call for specific actions on climate policy. But they share one thing in common: that lawmakers should at least accept climate science, regardless of party affiliation.”

Abstract of the Week

From the Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity by Lawrence Summers and Ed Balls:

“History tells us that societies succeed when the fruits of growth are broadly shared. Indeed, no society has ever succeeded without a large, prospering middle class* that embraced the idea of progress. Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before. The primary challenge democracies face is neither military nor philosophical. Rather, for the first time since the Great Depression, many industrial democracies are failing to raise living standards and provide opportunities for social mobility to a large share of their people. Some of those countries that have produced economic growth have done so in a manner that has left most of their citizens no better off. This is an economic problem that threatens to become a problem for the political systems of these nations—and for the idea of democracy itself.”

“The citizens of industrial democracies continue to value their freedom and their opportunity to participate in the task of self-government. But they also count on their political systems to create circumstances in which they can use their talents and their labor to provide a decent standard of life for themselves and their families. When democratic governments and market systems cannot deliver such prosperity to their citizens, the result is political alienation, a loss of social trust, and increasing conflict across the lines of race, class, and ethnicity. Inclusive prosperity nurtures tolerance, harmony, social generosity, optimism, and international cooperation. And these are essential for democracy itself.”

Richest 1% Will Soon Control Half of World’s Wealth

“The richest 1 percent are likely to control more than half of the globe’s total wealth by next year, the charity Oxfam reported in a study released on Monday. The warning about deepening global inequality comes just as the world’s business elite prepare to meet this week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,” the New York Times reports.

“The 80 wealthiest people in the world altogether own $1.9 trillion, the report found, nearly the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion people who occupy the bottom half of the world’s income scale. (Last year, it took 85 billionaires to equal that figure.) And the richest 1 percent of the population, who number in the millions, control nearly half of the world’s total wealth, a share that is also increasing.”

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From the report: “Between 2002 and 2010 the total wealth of the poorest half of the world in current U.S. dollars had been increasing more or less at the same rate as that of billionaires. However since 2010, it has been decreasing over that time.”

Obama Tax Plan Rekindles Debate on Income Gaps

“A White House tax plan released over the weekend promises to rekindle a long-simmering debate over how to use the tax code to close income gaps between the wealthy and the middle class,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“At a minimum, the plan represents President Barack Obama ’s opening bid to congressional Republicans in a potential negotiation over a comprehensive rewrite of the tax code, including the rules for individual taxpayers. Sharply negative reactions from GOP lawmakers suggested it is unlikely that many of Mr. Obama’s ideas would become law in the current GOP-run Congress.”

“The plan—which Mr. Obama will highlight in his State of the Union address on Tuesday—would raise taxes on high-income households’ investments by raising top capital gains tax rates and imposing capital gains tax on many inherited assets. The plan also would create or expand a range of tax breaks aimed at boosting incomes for low- and middle-income earners, including a new $500 tax credit for two-earner households.”

Jindal Says Goal Should Not Be Universal Coverage

Greg Sargent reviews Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s comments to conservatives on the Republican party’s health care policies.

Said Jindal: “I don’t think conservative health care reform is about, we’re going to compete with [the left] in terms of how many people we see have an [insurance] care. That not the ultimate goal.”

He later elaborated: “If we start with the premise that we’ve gotta give every single person a card, and that’s the only way we can be successful, we’re done. We’ve adopted their metric of success…if the metric of success is gonna be which plan can say ‘we’ve given people more cards,’ they always win. Because they will always spend more, they will always disrupt more.”

He also put it this way: “I do think it’s a mistake if we argue we can’t take back what Obama has already given.”

White House Proposes New Cybersecurity Measures

President Obama “will announce a handful of new consumer cybersecurity proposals on Monday, citing the growing threat of identity theft, data breaches and online fraud to Americans,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“In a speech at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, Mr. Obama will unveil two legislative proposals designed to protect consumers’ personal and financial information, as well as the privacy of student data collected by schools and corporations… The proposals, which would outline corporate responsibilities in the event of a data breach and curtail companies’ ability to sell student data or advertise to students, will need a vote from Congress.”

“The president will also announce new voluntary commitments from companies in the financial services, energy and education sectors—all designed to help safeguard vulnerable consumer data. Those include new promises from banking giants J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. to offer their customers free access to their credit scores, a move designed to cut down on financial fraud.”

The (Real) Bank of America

Politico has a must-read piece on the largest financial institution in the United States.

wcr-logo-new“That bank currently has a portfolio of more than $3 trillion in loans, the bulk of them to about 8 million homeowners and 40 million students, the rest to a motley collection of farmers and fishermen, small businesses and giant exporters, clean-energy firms and fuel-efficient automakers, managed-care networks and historically black colleges, even countries like Israel and Tunisia. It has about 120 different credit programs but no consistent credit policy, requiring some borrowers to demonstrate credit-worthiness and others to demonstrate need, while giving student loans to just about anyone who wants one. It runs a dozen unconnected mortgage programs, including separate ones targeting borrowers in need, Native Americans in need, veterans in need and, yes, Native American veteran borrowers in need. Its problems extend well beyond deadbeat shipbuilders.”

“That bank, of course, is the United States government—the real bank of America—and it’s unlike any other bank.”

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“These unregulated and virtually unsupervised federal credit programs are now the fastest-growing chunk of the United States government, ballooning over the past decade from about $1.3 trillion in outstanding loans to nearly $3.2 trillion today.”

“One reason for the bank’s explosive growth is old-fashioned special-interest politics, as beneficiaries of credit programs—the real estate industry, for-profit schools, the farm lobby, small-business groups, even shipbuilders—push aggressively to grow them. A Washington money spigot, once opened, is almost never turned off.”

This phenomenon is further explored in the book, Uncle Sam in Pinstripes by Douglas Elliot: “It is a long-held perception that America is a nation where the government typically stays out of day-to-day business activities. Yet the U.S. federal government is in many ways the biggest and most influential financial institution in the world, with $10 trillion in federal guarantees and loans going to the private sector.”

More Guns Don’t Mean Less Crime

A new analysis of the impact of right to carry (RTC) laws by Stanford University’s Abhay Aneja and John Donohue and Johns Hopkins University’s Alexandria Zhang debunks the “more guns, less crime” thesis.

“On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the effects of RTC laws on crime are positive, meaning that adopting RTC laws appears to result in crime increases. This effect is strongest and most consistent for aggravated assault.”

“Different models yield different estimated effects: while no model shows that RTC laws decrease crime, the impact of RTC laws varies from model to model. In some models, RTC laws are associated with substantial and statistically significant crime increases across multiple crime categories. In others, the extent of the crime increase is more modest, or observable only in one crime category. In other words, the results are not robust to model specification.”

Harvard Faculty in Uproar Over Health Care Fixes

“For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar,” the New York Times reports.

“Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.”

“The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month, and the anger on campus remains focused on questions that are agitating many workplaces: How should the burden of health costs be shared by employers and employees? If employees have to bear more of the cost, will they skimp on medically necessary care, curtail the use of less valuable services, or both?”

How Obamacare Fell Short

Malcolm Gladwell reviews Steven Brill’s new book, America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.

“Brill’s intention is to point out how and why Obamacare fell short of true reform. It did heroic work in broadening coverage and redistributing wealth from the haves to the have-nots. But, Brill says, it didn’t really restrain costs. It left incentives fundamentally misaligned. We needed major surgery. What we got was a Band-Aid.”

“At the end of America’s Bitter Pill, Brill offers his own solution to the health-care crisis. He wants the big regional health-care systems that dominate many metropolitan areas to expand their reach and to assume the function of insuring patients as well… A system like this, Brill estimates, based on a few back-of-the-envelope calculations, could slice twenty per cent off the private-sector health-care bill.”

“It’s at moments like this that Brill’s book becomes problematic. The idea he is describing is called integrated managed care. It has been around for more than half a century—most notably in the form of the Kaiser Permanente Group. Almost ten million Americans are insured through Kaiser, treated by Kaiser doctors, and admitted to Kaiser hospitals. Yet Brill has almost nothing to say about Kaiser, aside from a brief, dismissive mention. It’s as if someone were to write a book about how America really needs a high-end electric-car company that sells its products online without being the least curious about Tesla Motors.”