Support for Increasing Immigration Rising Steadily

Gallup: “The small amount of Americans who favor increased immigration include just 14% of Republicans. In fact, more Americans think immigration should be decreased than increased, and by a nearly two-to-one margin, 41% vs. 22%. A third in the U.S. are satisfied with the level as it is.”

Should Immigration be Increased, Decreased, or Stay the Same trend since 1999

“Americans’ views on immigration have varied a bit in the past 15 years, with the dominant view shifting between decreasing immigration and maintaining it at the current level. Some of these changes may reflect the ebb and flow of Americans’ reactions to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 as well as rocketing unemployment in 2009, with both events triggering a temporary surge in anti-immigration sentiment. However, the Gallup trend also chronicles a separate narrative: a steady increase in public support for increasing immigration, rising from 10% in 1999 to 21% in 2012 and 22% today.”

Why a 2% Inflation Target?

Neil Irwin: “A core piece of the Japanese government’s strategy to jolt its economy to life is to do “whatever it takes” to get to that magical 2 percent inflation level. In the United States, the same rationale has driven the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates near zero for six years and to pump nearly $4 trillion into the economy by buying bonds. The European Central Bank appears on the verge of its own huge effort to bring inflation closer to 2 percent.”

“Yet even as the idea of a 2 percent target has become the orthodoxy, a worrying possibility is becoming clear: What if it’s wrong? What if it is one of the reasons that the global economy has been locked in five years of slow growth?”

“Some economists are beginning to consider the possibility that 2 percent inflation at all times leaves central banks with too little flexibility to adequately fight a deep economic malaise.”

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Medicaid Rolls Surge Under Obamacare

Margot Sanger-Katz: “In Idaho, the number of people who signed up for Medicaid has jumped by 13.4 percent. In Georgia, it’s up 12.9 percent. In North Carolina, the rate has climbed 12.4 percent. None of those states opted to expand their Medicaid programs as part of the Affordable Care Act, but all have seen substantial enrollment increases in state health insurance.”

“The explanation for the change is a phenomenon sometimes called the woodwork effect or the “welcome mat effect.” I’ve written about the idea before: Essentially, people who were always eligible for a public program will often enroll when there’s publicity about an expansion. That’s what appears to have happened with the Affordable Care Act. Even though state policy wasn’t changing everywhere, all the talk about new health insurance options and the resources devoted to helping people sign up led to a surge among people who had always been eligible for the program.”

“Altogether, enrollment in the nonexpansion group of states has increased by 6.8 percent, or about 1.5 million people.”

Switzerland Will Adopt Negative Interest Rate

“Switzerland is introducing a negative interest rate on deposits held by lenders at its central bank, moving to hold down the value of the Swiss franc amid turmoil in global currency markets and expectations that deflation is at hand,” the New York Times reports.

“The Swiss National Bank said in a statement from Zurich on Thursday that it would begin charging banks 0.25 percent interest on bank deposits exceeding a certain threshold, effective Jan. 22.”

“The bank acted as the crisis in Russia and plummeting oil prices have caused a run on emerging market currencies. Switzerland, known for its fiscal rectitude and banking secrecy, tends to attract capital inflows as money flees chaos elsewhere. But that puts pressure on the franc, threatening to make exporters less competitive and raising the risk that very low price pressures will tip the economy into outright deflation.”

NHL Goes Carbon Neutral

“The National Hockey League has committed to becoming the first major sports league to go carbon-neutral,” National Journal reports.

“Under a partnership with the energy-services firm Constellation, the league will work with its 30 teams to slash its carbon emissions and purchase carbon offsets for all its emissions during the current 2014-15 season. The league is estimated to emit 530,000 metric tons of carbon this season through energy use at its arenas and offices, nearly 2 million miles of team air travel, consumption of goods, and other league operations.”

The Guardian: “As part of the plan, Constellation, a Baltimore-based energy company with 2.5 million customers, will provide carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates equivalent to the 550,000 metric tons of carbon the league uses in a season. That’s equivalent of taking about 115,000 cars off the road, or 50,000 US homes off the power grid, for one year, officials said.”

Immigrants Moving to Middle America

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Vox: “This map, from a Pew Charitable Trusts report on immigrant populations, looked at the native-born and foreign-born populations of each county in the US in 1990 — and then again, in 2008-2012. The coloring is based on two things: whether the native-born population increased or declined over those twenty or so years, and whether the immigrant population increased or dropped over the same time.”

“Check out the dark green parts of the map: there’s a concentration of them around the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Those are counties where the population grew from 1990 to 2012, even though there were fewer native-born Americans — the growth of the immigrant population was so great that it offset the decline of the native population.”

Panel Urges Deep Changes at Secret Service

“An independent panel Thursday recommended sweeping changes at the Secret Service, saying the elite protective agency is ‘starved for leadership’ and calling for a new director, hundreds of new agents and officers and a higher fence around the White House,” the Washington Post reports.

“The panel, created in October after a series of highly publicized security failures, said the fence protecting the executive mansion should be raised at least four feet to make it less vulnerable to jumpers. Panel members were reacting to a Sept. 19 incident in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the White House through an unlocked front door.”

“The four-person body also urged intensified training for agents, saying they should run crisis response scenarios that could use a mock White House. The report especially targeted the Secret Service’s highly insular culture, calling for a new director from outside the agency, a suggestion sure to rankle some in the service’s old guard.”

A Big Safety Net and High Employment Can Coexist

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Neil Irwin: “Some of the highest employment rates in the advanced world are in places with the highest taxes and most generous welfare systems, namely Scandinavian countries. The United States and many other nations with relatively low taxes and a smaller social safety net actually have substantially lower rates of employment.”

“In short, more people may work when countries offer public services that directly make working easier, such as subsidized care for children and the old; generous sick leave policies; and cheap and accessible transportation. If the goal is to get more people working, what’s important about a social welfare plan may be more about what the money is spent on than how much is spent.”

Transgender Workers Get Civil Rights Protections

“Employment discrimination based on gender identity is forbidden under the Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday, announcing a change in the way it will litigate claims,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“The department will no longer take the position that the “prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination),” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said this week in a memo to U.S. attorneys.”

“It’s a reversal of a position the department took as recently as 2006, the memo says.”

Number of Uninsured Americans Near Historic Low

“New federal government data shows the percentage of Americans without health insurance was at or near historic lows this year following the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, and appears certain to fall to record levels next year,” Time reports.

“The data released Thursday from the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health Interview Survey found that 11.3 percent of Americans were without coverage in the second quarter of 2014, down from 13.1 percent in the first quarter and 14.4 percent throughout 2014. An analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers finds the drop in the uninsured to be the largest in nearly five decades, amounting to roughly 9.7 million Americans getting insurance, consistent with other Affordable Care Act estimates.”

“The new data does not include the nearly 2.5 million who have already selected coverage in the latest round of open enrollment which began last month, or the 400,000 who’ve gained coverage in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program from September to October, according to new data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as more states expand access to the program with federal money under the law.”

Could Major League Baseball Have a Team in Cuba?

At a dinner in one of Fidel Castro’s palaces in 1999, the Cuban leader told Major League Baseball executives about the great possibilities for the game of baseball if the United States and Cuba normalized diplomatic and economic ties, the New York Times reports.

“Fifteen years after that dinner, the vision of an active relationship between Cuba and Major League Baseball became a little more real Wednesday after President Obama’s announcement that he planned to restore full diplomatic relations with the island nation.”

“When Castro took power in 1959, Cuba’s pool of talented baseball players — one of the largest outside the United States — became off limits to major league teams, except for the stream of players who escaped the island and defected. The 19 Cuban-born players who were major leaguers in all or part of the 2014 season — like Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig — made up the highest number since 1967, when there were 30. But scouts and general managers have said it would be far higher if teams could send representatives to Cuba and sign players, and then develop them.”

“Significant foreign policy announcements from Washington do not usually prompt the baseball commissioner’s office or the players union to respond. But in the hours after Obama addressed the nation Wednesday, both released terse statements saying that they were monitoring the situation.”

Health Care Gap Between Whites and Minorities Narrows

A new New England Journal of Medicine study uncovers evidence that hospitals are reducing racial disparities in care.

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“Reviewing more than 12 million hospitalizations between 2005 and 2010, researchers set out to find whether hospital quality was improving — and whether minority groups were still being left behind. By 2010, angioplasty rates for all heart attack victims rose dramatically as the disparity gap also narrowed, according to the study. That year, 91.7 percent of white patients received the procedure within 90 minutes, compared to 86.3 percent of blacks and 89.7 of Hispanic patients — so the treatment gap between whites and blacks was cut by more than half in those five years.”

“The researchers found more progress than that, though. Looking across 17 quality “measures for heart attacks, heart failures and pneumonia, researchers found that racial disparities were reduced in every category between 2005 and 2010. Importantly, they found hospitals were providing care more equally within hospitals, as well as between hospitals — meaning hospitals that serve higher rates of minority patients also saw improvements, the study authors wrote.”