Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

A Potpourri To Begin Your Week

Monday, September 12th, 2022

Ukraine changing history on the move.

It is 15 December 1937. Today’s international news section of the New York Times is dripping with stories that, nineteen years after World War I, are lighting the way to the next global conflagration. In two years it will begin and happen all over again. On this day we see reports of marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, and arson. Political warfare. An overture to the real war coming.

In Spain, political warfare has flared into civil war, and, the Times reported, the Army of the Republic has attacked General Franco’s fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. In three months, Franco will counterattack, rout the Republican forces and capture most of Catalonia and the Levante. He will succeed with troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy.

Turn the page and find Hitler’s Nazi Germany issuing new  restrictions on the Jews, slowly squeezing the life out of them. On the facing page, a photograph of Benito Mussolini in his personal railcar giving  the stiff-armed fascist salute. Beneath, a photo of Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.

Is there anything that could be done, could have been done, to avert the coming catastrophe? Of course there was, but nobody did it. Mussolini? The Italians loved him; he resurrected the former glory of Rome, and Franco showed Spaniards what nationalistic power looked like. Hitler’s hate fueled the country’s hate. The Jews? Germany, with Hitler’s face, wanted them gone—forever. And Stalin, the man who killed millions of Ukrainians by intentionally starving them with a smile on his face? The Russians never blinked. Neither did the Americans. The Times’s Walter Durante defended him and won a Pulitzer for his efforts.

And so it went. The world stumbled into six years of hell, with millions dead.

Today, in 2022, although it has taken much time, we have made progress. Inhumanity, still glowing bright in many places, is, nonetheless, dimmer than 80 years ago. Today, the Ukraine that Stalin starved is squeezing the Stalin wannabe Vladimir Putin into a box of his own making. The Ukrainian Army is moving ahead and, with tremendous help from a unified NATO, is forcing the Russian Army to retreat, although the Russians call it “regrouping.”

No one knows where this ends, or how, but it seems to me that at some point the people of Russian are going to wake up and see all the body bags coming home. What then?

The race to curb racism in the American Century: The mission of W. E. B. Du Bois.

This month’s edition of the journal Foreign Affairs contains a fascinating and illuminating essay on the charismatic and complicated life of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Written by Zachariah Mampilly, the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, this long-form piece details Du Bois’s lifelong, uncompromising mission to eradicate racism.

A sociologist by training, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. During the Jim Crow era, he became known for an uncompromising stance, demanding equal rights for Black Americans through his journalism and advocacy work while also making seminal contributions to various academic debates.

Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, about 20 miles from where I sit, and his lifespan overlaps almost exactly with the Jim Crow era, a period of persecution during which Black Americans faced severe restrictions on their ability to participate in political, economic, and social life.

Between the two World Wars, he focused more and more on international affairs, arguing that the colonial projects  European countries were pursuing in Asia and Africa had galvanized an envious United States to carve out its own colonies. In 1898, a year before Du Bois published his first major sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro, the United States’ imperial ambitions produced the annexation of Hawaii and the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as spoils of the Spanish-American War. Du Bois thought America’s imperialistic ambitions and actions fed into and enhanced the country’s racism at home. Consequently, his writings and lectures veered increasingly to the left.

In observing anticolonial struggles in India and elsewhere, Du Bois saw clearly how occupation of foreign lands would breed resistance in the colonized people. From this he concluded that colonial domination abroad often required the sacrifice of democracy at home. In his eyes, Zampilly writes:

Imperialism inevitably led to increased racial and economic inequality at home: military adventures and opportunities for extracting natural resources empowered the capitalist class (and its favored segments of the underclass) and stoked racial prejudice that justified further interventions in foreign lands.

Thus, Du Bois saw domestic racism as the tail of the internationally racist dog.

It was natural that as time went on Du Bois’s views evolved. He became more radical in his writings. He saw international capitalism as the cause of black exploitation. In his middle years he went from believing in “democratic socialism” to embracing communism.  As a result, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI began investigating him in 1942 and, despite concluding  there was “no evidence of subversive activity,” continued to investigate him for the rest of his life. In 1952, the State Department revoked his passport. The next year, the Supreme Court declared the policy of denying passports to suspected communists unconstitutional.

His wholehearted support of Joseph Stalin, while inconsistent with his lifelong support for democracy, demonstrated his belief that democracy and Western liberalism were incompatible with racial and economic equality.

Zampilly concludes his essay about Du Bois with this insightful observation:

His work upends the liberal fantasy of the United States’ inevitable progress toward a “more perfect union” that would inspire a just global order and gives the lie to the realist fantasy that how the country behaves internationally can be separated from domestic politics.

My own conclusion is this: During his life, Du Bois made seminal contributions to academia, which, over time, cost him dearly. He was arguably black America’s leading intellectual of the 20th century. If that is at least close to being true, then here is a question for today: Why are so many people, for example governors of red states, fearful of allowing his story and teachings, as well as those of other Black intellectuals, to be taught in America’s classrooms?

The US Open Tennis Championship: In a word, Glorious.

Speaking of Race, I cannot end this Letter without a shout out to this year’s championship.

The three-week US Open is played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. The main events happen at the Arthur Ashe Center Court Stadium. Ashe, an inspirational Black American, and King, an inspirational Lesbian American, embody inclusive diversity and are the best kind of examples we have for sincere and devoted yearnings for equality. It is more than fitting that Friday night Frances Tiafoe, a young 24 year old Black American, played 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling five-set, five-hour semi-final match on the Arthur Ashe Center Court. Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and spent much of his childhood at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., where his father worked as a custodian. Sometimes he spent the night there, because his mother worked nights in a hospital. The stadium was full and loud, and, although he lost, Tiafoe had the crowd, had all of us, in the palm of his hand. He’ll be back.

Yes, we have a long way to go. But the US Open shows us how far we’ve come. Tennis now looks like America looks.

 

A Remembrance

Sunday, September 11th, 2022

We should never forget.

Today is the 21st anniversary of the attack on our country known as 9/11. To mark the occasion I offer the tribute song I wrote shortly after the monstrous event to help raise funds for New York’s firefighters. I recorded the song at Worcester’s famed Mechanics Hall with Peter Clemente on guitar.

I hope it brings you comfort.

The Grinding Wheels Of Justice

Friday, August 12th, 2022

 

To paraphrase 2nd century philosopher Sextus Empiricus, the wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind fine.

This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post all reported gaining access to the search warrant the FBI executed on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday. Shortly afterwards, the Trump team agreed to the release of the search warrant. Following that, the warrant was officially unsealed.  According to the Times:

A list of documents removed from former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, includes materials marked as top secret and meant to be viewed only in secure government facilities, according to a copy of the warrant reviewed by The New York Times.

Federal agents who executed the warrant did so to investigate potential crimes associated with violations of the Espionage Act, which outlaws the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary; a federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or conceal a document to obstruct a government investigation; and another statute associated with unlawful removal of government materials.

What can we now expect from Donald Trump, Republican leaders, rank and file legislators and the rest of the MAGA universe? For one thing, we can hope Republican influencers will do their best to tamp down the heat, because up till now language has been pizza oven hot and dangerous.

Extremism researcher Caroline Orr Bueno, PhD, has compiled a collage of vituperation, tweets from MAGA extremists calling for violence following the FBI search.  Trump’s supporters (a kind word) call it a “raid,” with its implied breaking-down-the-door routine, sort of like what happened to Breonna Taylor.

Yesterday, the irresponsible and incendiary reactions of the Trump cultists claimed a life. Forty-two-year-old Ricky Walter Shiffer, who is reported to have been at the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, shot into the FBI field office in Cincinnati with a nail gun yesterday morning while brandishing an AR-15-style weapon and wearing body armor. After the attack, he fled, chased by law enforcement, and lost his life in a shootout in an Ohio cornfield. Don’t spend a lot of time waiting for those who egged him on with their rants about the end of life as we know it to apologize, or even utter a word of remorse.

We have come to the point where anyone who criticizes Donald Trump, or anything MAGA, can expect a tsunami of threats to life and limb. As Paul Miller reported in The Dispatch:

Death threats have surged across the country. As terrorists realize death threats work, they are using them more often—including against Republicans who voted for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. Death threats to congressmen doubled by May of last year, compared to the year before. “These are not one-off incidents,” according to Vox, “Surveys have found that 17 percent of America’s local election officials and nearly 12 percent of its public health workforce have been threatened due to their jobs during the 2020 election cycle and Covid-19 pandemic.” Reuters tracked more than 850 individual threats against local election workers by Trump supporters last year, up from essentially zero in previous elections.

The Mar-a-Lago search put an arc light on violent and dehumanizing political speech, but, as Miller notes, it has been lurking in the background all along. Examples in the past year include Jarome Bell, a Republican running for Congress in Virginia, who tweeted a call to put to death anyone convicted of voter fraud: “Arrest all involved. Try all involved. Convict all involved. Execute all involved.” Wendy Rogers, a far-right state senator in Arizona, told a white nationalist convention in Florida that “we need to build more gallows” to handle “traitors.” Ms. Rogers, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, was still at it last night, sending emails around America calling for the defunding of the FBI, the IRS and the DOJ. And she ended by asking people to send more money vitally necessary for her to carry on the fight.

Now, with the release of the search warrant, perhaps the adults in the room, presuming there are any, will exercise the control needed to cool the ridiculous rhetoric, if that is even possible. It is apparent Attorney General Garland and the Department he leads will continue to follow the evidence in the matter of Donald Trump like a red rope in the snow, wherever it leads.

There can be no doubt any longer that, regardless of what Trump’s cult-like followers say, do, scream, or suggest, the wheels of justice are grinding fine, as the US Constitution means them to.

My only questions today are: When will we we see the rats deserting the ship, and what kind of life preservers will they be wearing?

On Health, History And The Fine Art Of Fudging Data

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

The cost of insulin, or, half a loaf is better than none

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed this past Sunday in the Senate and now sitting for certain passage in the House this week, will cap the cost of an insulin vial at $35 for Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes. However, for those not on Medicare, insulin costs will remain unchanged.

Of the 30 million Americans who have diabetes, more than 7 million of them require daily insulin. A Kaiser Family Foundation study released in July, 2022, found 3.3 million of the 7 million are Medicare beneficiaries  and documented the rise in insulin’s cost since 2007.

Aggregate out-of-pocket spending by people with Medicare Part D for insulin products quadrupled between 2007 to 2020, increasing from $236 million to $1.03 billion. The number of Medicare Part D enrollees using insulin doubled over these years, from 1.6 million to 3.3 million beneficiaries, which indicates that the increase in aggregate out-of-pocket spending was not solely a function of more Medicare beneficiaries using insulin.

The IRA is great news for the Medicare beneficiaries who make up nearly half of the population needing daily injections of insulin to live, but a provision in the original bill that would have capped the cost at $35 for all diabetics, not just those on Medicare, never made it to the final bill. Left out in the cold are the 3.7 million diabetics requiring insulin to keep living who are privately insured or not insured at all. That was an expense bridge too far for Republicans.

Will you permit a bit of cynicism here? Needing 60 votes to pass, 57 senators voted in favor of capping insulin at $35 per vial for all diabetics, 50 Democrats, seven Republicans.  Americans overwhelmingly support this as is shown in this Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken recently:

Eighty-nine percent consider this a priority, 53% a top priority. I suggest Republican leadership, never intending to allow this to pass, permitted those seven, standing for reelection this fall, to vote for the bill to give them cover in the upcoming election. Is that too cynical?

If that’s not bad enough, a study by Yale University researchers, published in Health Affairs, also in July, concluded that “Among Americans who use insulin, 14.1 percent reached catastrophic spending over the course of one year, representing almost 1.2 million people.” The researchers defined “catastrophic spending” as spending more than 40 percent of postsubsistence family income on insulin alone. Postsubsistence income is what’s left over after the cost of housing and food.

Nearly two-thirds of patients who experience catastrophic spending on insulin, about 792 thousand people, are Medicare beneficiaries. The IRA will help these people immensely. However, as it stands now it will do nothing to assist the non-Medicare diabetics who annually face catastrophic spending due to the cost of insulin. This group numbers about 408 thousand who need insulin just to go on living, and, yes, these are poor people with few resources.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we should not forget that insulin isn’t the only medical resource diabetics use and need. There are also the syringes used to inject the stuff, not to mention the testing strips and glucose monitors that analyze the levels of blood glucose, which diabetics have to track religiously. Diabetes is an expensive disease, and insulin is only one part of the expense.

Every time I and others write about the cost and quality of health care in the US, it almost seems as if we’re all standing on the shore throwing strawberries at a battleship expecting some sort of damage. The Inflation Reduction Act contains the first significant health care move forward since the Affordable Care Act of 12 years ago. It’s progress at last, but so much more is needed.

A great historian and better American is now history himself

David McCullough has died. We have lost a giant.

McCullough had that special gift of telling stories of our past in ways that made us think we were there when they happened. He put us solidly in the shoes of the people he was writing about. For him, history is not about a was; it is about the is of the time. Like us, his subjects lived in a present, not a past. He never judged the choices made in the past; he just told the truth through stories meticulously researched and empathically written. That’s how he could win two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I first met McCullough in the 1980s through his first book, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968. I could not put it down. Read it through in one sitting. It was the start of his brilliant career, and its success gave him  hope he could actually devote himself to history and do well at it. But he never wrote for the money. What drove him was his love for and curiosity about understanding from whence we came.

In a 2018 interview for Boston Magazine with Thomas Stackpole, he was discussing his latest, and last, historical work, The Pioneers, about a group of New Englanders in the 19th century who picked themselves up, headed west,  settled Ohio, and courageously kept it an anti-slavery state. During the interview, he said:

There are an infinite number of benefits to history. It isn’t just that we learn about what happened and it isn’t just about politics and war. History is human. It’s about people. They have their problems and the shadow sides of their lives, just as we do, and they made mistakes, as we do. But they also have a different outlook that we need to understand. One of the most important qualities that history generates is empathy—to have the capacity to put yourself in the other person’s place, to put yourself, for example, in the place of these people who accomplished what they did despite sudden setbacks, deaths, blizzards, floods, earthquakes, epidemic disease. The second important thing is gratitude. Every day, we’re all enjoying freedoms and aspects of life that we never would have had if it weren’t for those who figure importantly in history.

Today’s Americans seem to think history begins about ten years ago. It is a modern day tragedy, and we own it.  Consequently, humanity keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, never learning from those who showed us where the land mines were lying, hidden underfoot. McCullough did that for 50 years. He leaves a large hole in our American universe.

Fudging data with style

Heading back to diabetes for a moment. You may recall the old adage, “Figures lie, and liars figure.” Well, this is not about that. The fudging I’m going to show has not a lie in it. What it does have is deception on a grand scale, and it comes from our CDC, which, usually, I greatly admire. But not this time.

As we’ve all learned throughout the COVID pandemic, the CDC tracks and reports data — a lot of it.

One of the things the CDC  reports about is Diabetes Mortality By State. It’s been doing it since 2005, and it’s in the last six years that we see, if we look, deception.

Here is how the CDC reported this data in 2015:

The redder things are, the worse they are, so this looks bad, and it is.  The scale above shows the distribution of the colors for the states, starting at 13.4 in Colorado and Nevada and ending at 32.4 in West Virginia. Those are deaths per 100,000 people.

Now, here is how the CDC reported diabetic mortality six years later in 2020:

In 2015 there were three dark red states, eight almost dark red states, and 20 almost almost dark red. But now we have only two dark red, three almost dark red, and those 20 semi dark states have turned to light tan. Wow! What an improvement.

One could be forgiven for going away happy….if one did not look at the actual numbers.

In 2015, Mississippi and West Virginia were the highest mortality states, 32.4 and 31.7 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. Their numbers in 2020 soared about 30% to 41.0 and 43.1. The states with the lowest mortality in 2015, Nevada and Colorado (13.4 and 15.9), in 2020 are 18.0 and 24.2 deaths per 100,000. Wyoming now comes in with the second lowest mortality at 20.7.

But things look so much better. The distribution scale is different, but who looks at that?

The CDC has done something shameful; it has moved the goalposts and didn’t tell anyone. In reality, diabetic mortality has gotten much worse over the last six years, but unless you dug deep, not only would you not know that, you’d think there was an actual big improvement.

This is another reason why the insulin provision in the Inflation Reduction Act is a big deal.

 

 

Two Months Worth Of News In Ten Days

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022

I’ve been away from the magic keyboard for the last ten days. Why?

Well, I don’t know whether you’ve ever had the urge to take a bouncy tumble down a flight of stairs in the middle of the night, but for those of you who might be considering such an appealing leap of faith, my counsel is to abandon that notion. Rock climbing will provide the same degree of terror and has the potential to be a lot more fun.

What could have been really bad was only mildly bad. A bit of blood, some bruised ribs and a torn medial collateral ligament that will heal without surgery in about four weeks. My tennis buddies can expect me back on the court in early September a little worse for wear, but just as energetic.

A couple of months of news has happened in the last ten days, some stories entirely predictable, some infuriating, and a couple quite sad, yet uplifting.

The entirely predictable

Entirely predictable was Mr. Sophistication, the loathsome Florida Representative Matt Gaetz once again going out of his way to insult women of all stripes. Currently under investigation for allegedly paying women for sex and, separately, sleeping with a minor and transporting her across state lines, Gaetz, whose standard of ethics would take about as much strain as a newly formed cobweb, distinguished himself in May by tweeting: “How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?”

However, that was not good enough for this cretin who somehow is permitted to cast a vote during lawmaking. Speaking before a group of students at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, the Trump wannabe told them people who are upset about the devastation of abortion rights across the country needn’t worry about a lack of access to medical care because no one in his cohort would want to get them pregnant anyway.

Gaetz, who’s been elected three times now in what must be an “interesting” congressional district, asked the young conservatives, “Have you ever watched these pro-abortion, pro-murder people? The people are just disgusting. But why is it is that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb. These people are odious on the inside and out. They’re like 5’2”, 350 pounds…”

Have I mentioned that Mr. Gaetz, whose morality seems as hard to find as a condom in the Vatican, is currently under investigation for allegedly paying women for sex and, separately, sleeping with a minor and transporting her across state lines? I did? Sorry.

But the Congressman, whose mind is about as deep as a pool table’s side pocket, may not only have met his match this time, but been seriously outgunned by one of the “odious” and “disgusting” women he viciously insulted.

Nineteen-year-old college student Olivia Julianna, who goes by her first and middle name due to safety concerns, took to Twitter to respond to the conservative Republican, calling him “alleged pedophile.”

“It (has) come to my attention that Matt Gaetz — alleged pedophile — has said that it’s always the “odious, 5’2, 350 pound” women that “nobody wants to impregnate” who rally for abortion,” the Houston resident said. “I’m actually 5’11, 6’4 in heels. I wear them so the small men like you are reminded of your place.” Gaetz, although he tries to appear taller for the camera, is actually 5’7.

Over five days, Olivia started a fundraiser for the Gen Z For Choice Abortion Fund, and raised more than $1.3 million, in the process gaining more than 250,000 new followers on social media platforms.

Gaetz, who is 20 years older (chronologically) than Olivia, still appears to have no idea his clock has just been thoroughly cleaned.

The infuriating

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, 2 August, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has just announced he is scheduling a vote tonight on the PACT Act, a bill enhancing health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. This bill was personal for President Biden, because his late son, Beau, was one of those exposed.

By now, everyone knows Republicans overwhelmingly supported this bill when it was first before the Senate in June. Everyone also knows that because of an administrative error the bill was corrected in the House and sent back to the Senate for a final vote, where it was defeated when Republicans no longer supported it, after which they fist-bumped and high-fived each other for their courageous stand.

This entire shoot-yourself-in-the-head idiocy came about because of the Constitution’s Originations Clause, which says all revenue raising must originate in the House. The PACT Act, as originally voted in the Senate flipped that on its head. Consequently, the one sentence in the Bill that violated the Originations Clause was taken out in the House and the bill returned to the Senate for what everyone thought would be a simple approval vote. Ah, but such was not to be. Complaining about what Senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz called a “budgetary gimmick,” Republicans threw down their gantlet, which veterans groups, President Biden, and, most tellingly, John Stewart, picked up and beat them senseless with.

Tonight, the PACT Act will overwhelmingly pass, as it did in June, and Senate Republicans will take credit for making it better.

The sad, but uplifting

In the last few days, we’ve lost two giants, Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols, who are being celebrated as Black America’s Greatest Generation.I cannot disagree with this more strongly. Yes, Nichols and Russell were Black, and yes, they were Great. And, yes, they were monumental leaders in the civil rights movement. But, more than all of that, they were Great Americans. Both of them would have preferred to be remembered for that, rather than being pigeonholed into a racial silo.

Neither Russell nor Nichols let profound racism dissuade them from their quest to be the best at what they did. They both broke solid, well-manned barriers, vanquishing those ignorant bigots who had nothing better to do than to persecute them.

Today, the New York Times reprinted a 1987 essay written by Bill Russell’s daughter Karen, who had just graduated from Harvard Law School. Ms. Russell described in searing detail the racism her family faced in Massachusetts, even though her father was the toast of the town in Boston every time he stepped on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. But off the court? Life wasn’t such a bowl of cherries back in their home in Reading, Massachusetts. You should read Karen’s essay for one reason above all others—when you reach the end you will know she could have written it yesterday. So much still resonates.

Rest in peace, Nichelle and Bill. You’ve earned it.

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Econofact.org: A Resource-Rich Site For People Serious About Understanding The Problems We Face

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

In 2017, Michael Klein had an idea. Klein is the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He has an impressive Resumé. In the Treasury Department during the Obama years, he was the Chief Economist in the Office of International Affairs. He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and has been a Visiting Scholar at the IMF, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Boston, Dallas, and San Francisco.

He’s also a tennis buddy of mine.

Michael’s big idea was to build a network of economists and public policy specialists from all over the country to contribute to a new non-partisan publication designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies. He convinced Tufts University to sponsor his idea and now the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at The Fletcher School publishes the enterprise, which is free to anyone. Thus was born Econofact.org.

I have no connection with Econofact.org, financial or otherwise, but I am a subscriber, and have found it more than helpful as I research issues I hope readers will find interesting. I strongly urge you to consider subscribing. In addition to the concise, never too dense articles (thank you very much), Econofact.org offers frequent podcasts, Econofact Chats, during which Michael interviews leading economists and public policy experts.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I asked Michael if I could occasionally republish articles I thought readers would find interesting and helpful in their own work. He very graciously granted permission for which I am grateful.

The following seemed a logical beginning. My last column addressed the insanity of our gun violence epidemic and concluded, “It’s the guns, stupid.” This Econofact.org column from February, 2021, digs into what happens afterwards to children attending a school where a shooting occurred or living near it. The unfortunate bottom line: It is not good.

Lasting Effects of Exposure to School Shootings

By  and ·February 10, 2021
Wellesley College

The Issue:

Over the past two decades, 143 American public schools have experienced shootings during school hours that resulted in at least one fatality. More than 300 people have died in these incidents. This loss of life is a national tragedy. And there is growing evidence that the impact of these incidents reaches far beyond the direct victims and their immediate families. Over 180,000 students attended schools where these shootings occurred. Each of these students suffered trauma that could generate life-long consequences.

Students exposed to a school shooting suffer trauma that could generate life-long consequences, including negative educational and health impacts.

The Facts:

  • While media attention tends to focus on high-victimization, indiscriminate school shootings – such as those that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – many other school shootings have also taken place over the past 20 years under a variety of different circumstances. Between 1995 and 2019, 302 people have died in 176 shooting incidents that occurred in public schools during school hours and caused at least one death (see chart). Suicides are the most common type of school shooting, which means that more students are exposed to them. Indiscriminate shootings lead to the most fatalities, but they are less common. Other types of school shootings include personally targeted attacks, where the shooting is directed at a particular individual, and shootings that are related to criminal activity, such as robberies or drug sales.
  • Schools that experience shootings have similar characteristics, on average, to a typical public school, but different types of shootings tend to affect different types of schools. Urban schools are more likely to experience personal attacks and crime-related shootings, while rural schools are more likely to experience suicides and indiscriminate shootings. Suicides and indiscriminate shootings tend to occur in regions with higher gun sales rates and less restrictive gun laws, while crime-related shootings tend to occur in locations with more restrictive gun laws (see here).
  • Students exposed to a school shooting suffer adverse educational outcomes. These impacts are especially salient in school districts that have experienced indiscriminate shootings with more than one fatality. In our recent analysis, we find that test scores in both math and English fell substantially, both at Sandy Hook and at the other schools in Sandy Hook’s district in the years following the 2012 attack. Math scores, in particular, fell by roughly 30 percentile points. But, the finding of measurable negative impacts on educational performance from school shootings is not limited to mass-fatality events. Recent research, conducted by Marika Cabral, Bokyung Kim, Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell and Hannes Schwandt, shows that lower fatality school shootings also have a substantive negative impact on educational attainment. Their analysis of shootings in Texas public schools between 1995 and 2016 (none of which resulted in more than one fatality) shows that exposure to a school shooting increased grade repetition and reduced graduation rates.
  • School shootings also cause increased school absenteeism. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, we find that chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10 percent of school days) rose by 3 percentage points at Sandy Hook Elementary School and by 1 percentage point at other elementary schools in the district. Cabral and co-authors also find increases in overall absence rates as well as in chronic absenteeism after the lower-victimization school shooting incidents that they study in Texas.
  • Evidence suggests there are negative health consequences associated with all types of school shootings. According to research by Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell, Hannes Schwandt, Sam Trejo and Lindsey Uniat, anti-depressant prescriptions for young adults in the vicinity of school shootings tend to rise after they occur. It may take many years to definitively determine the long-term health impacts of these events. However, we find evidence of a long-term increase in mortality rates, particularly suicides and accidental deaths (including accidental poisonings, like overdoses) among boys, for students who were exposed to the Columbine High School shooting.
  • School shootings generate substantial financial costs for the school districts where they occur. Following a shooting, schools often increase their investment in support services for students and overall school security. Across all districts that were affected by school shootings, our analysis finds a 3.5 percent increase in spending on support services, a category of spending that includes a wide range of non-instructional services such as school nurses, psychologists, and school security. For schools that were affected by a high-victimization, indiscriminate shooting, overall per-student expenditures increased by 10 percent on average, with instructional spending increasing by 3 percent and support services spending increasing by 33 percent. Yet, even this substantive increase in spending and services is not sufficient to preclude the adverse educational and health consequences of these events.

What this Means:

School shootings carry vast social costs, beginning with the injuries and loss of life that accompany them and extending far beyond. These costs include reduced educational performance and adverse health outcomes for students from the affected and surrounding schools, as well as higher financial costs for districts in which these events occur. Following such an event, even greater spending would be warranted to help alleviate the harmful after-effects on exposed students. A better solution would be to undertake policies that reduce the incidence of such horrific events in the first place. This is a topic that deserves more attention.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, May 9th, 2022

VI

We end this opinion where we began. Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives. ‘The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Thus ends the 1st Draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion for the court majority overturning Roe and Casey, the two Supreme Court rulings that made abortion legal in America.

Alito’s ruling lays bare what happens when courts are forced to decide on the constitutionality of laws that intersect with morality, societal culture, religion, historical and legal precedent, privacy, and control—specifically, a woman’s right of control over her own body.

Regardless of what you feel about abortion, you will not find even a hint of what Alito feels about it in his 67-page ruling, followed by Appendices in which he lists, in chronological order, the laws that every state passed prohibiting abortion, going back to Missouri’s in 1827, and ending with Mississippi’s in 1952. What you will find is the utter destruction of the arguments behind the Roe and Casey rulings. I think Justice Alito resents what he believes to be the inadequacies, the just plain wrong thinking he finds in Roe and Casey. One could be forgiven for believing he thinks those decisions were less like Supreme Court deliberations and more like a couple of the weekly meetings of the Mickey Mouse Club. Frankly, I cannot wait to read the dissents I know are coming.

The coming fight

The official ruling won’t appear for a month or two, and it may differ from Alito’s draft in minor or major ways, but we are already seeing the beginnings of the warfare to come, the torching of an anti-abortion organization’s office and the picketing and protests outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices, for example. This is a galvanizing issue that only exacerbates the political divide in our country. There will be protests and marches and the probability of violence is not remote. Anger sits in the air. Moreover, there are deep psychological wounds. The women I have talked with who support abortion’s legality are emotionally crushed. Their sense of devastation and betrayal is palpable and profound.

What is all the more galling for these and other women is discovering that the fight they thought they had won 49 years ago, is now lost. Women who were in their 20s in January, 1973, breathed then a collective sigh of relief. Now, those women and their daughters feel gut-punched.

And that ain’t all.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23 states already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion. That includes the 13 states with Trigger Laws that will drop like the Hammer of Thor when the official ruling arrives.

There are no two ways about it: we are in for a bumpy ride. This will likely be a major issue in the upcoming midterm elections, and if Republicans win and take control of both houses of Congress, it is probable they will move to pass  legislation outlawing abortion nation-wide (and some say contraception and gay marriage, too—Alito’s ruling leaves the door open for those, even though he says the Supremes are only ruling on abortion. Still…). President Biden will veto that, and there will not be enough votes to override his veto. But if all this happens followed by a Republican victory in 2024’s presidential election, the Biden guardrail will be removed. Emigration to Canada will soar.

Going back to the future of the pre-1973s will bring some dire consequences.

Current research demonstrates:

  • By the second year after a nation-wide ban on abortions, pregnancy-related deaths, known as maternal mortality, would increase by 21% overall:
  • Among non-Hispanic Black woman, this percentage would increase by 33%;
  • In a 1976 article, researchers from the Center for Disease Control examined national abortion data from the three years surrounding the Roe ruling and estimated that the number of illegal procedures in the country plummeted from around 130,000 to 17,000 between 1972 and 1974. That will change;
  • On the other hand, a 2020 study published in The Lancet found that in countries where abortion was restricted, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion had increased, and the unintended pregnancy rates were higher than in countries where abortion was broadly legal.

I have total certainty the abortion debate, peaceful or otherwise, will not end anytime soon. Feelings about abortion are deeply held beliefs for most people, and, as has been demonstrated since humanity first stood upright, deeply held beliefs seldom, if ever, change.

An admittedly naive suggestion

First, let me state the obvious. Abortion happens when an unintended pregnancy occurs. Unintended pregnancies occur when education is lacking, wrong, or just plain non-existent, and when contraceptives are not used by either the man or the woman. Both of these—education and contraceptive use, which are two sides of the same coin—are hit-or-miss issues throughout American culture.

But they don’t have to be.

It is unfortunate, indeed, that, in many areas well-intentioned, but misguided, parents, officials, and legislators seek to eliminate, or at least dumb-down, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in our public and private school systems. A 2018 UNESCO study “identified 22 relevant systematic reviews, more than 70 potentially relevant randomized controlled trials and a significant amount of non-trial information from 65 publications and online resources,” and found that “sexuality education —in or out of schools —does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour or STI/HIV infection rates.” And it “reduces unintended pregnancy.”

Education works, and it can significantly reduce the need for abortions if coupled with a systemic nation-wide program that provides easy—even free—access to contraceptives. To succeed, this must not be a one-off, public affairs program. It’s too important for that. The states, as well as the federal government, would need to advocate, and do so forcefully, to change current behavior. Yes, there would still be unintended pregnancies, but shouldn’t everyone’s goal be to reduce those to a minimum? This would result in fewer illegal abortions and less maternal mortality.

For example, today, only 65% of women and a third of men regularly employ contraception. The vast majority of women prefer the pill, with LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives) following behind. The point is, there is a 35% opportunity among women, the people who become pregnant and sometimes must resort to abortions.

If, as now seems nearly certain, Roe is overruled, what are our options? We can do nothing, and revisit back alleys and coat-hangers, or we can do everything in our power to reverse that course through Comprehensive Sex Education and universal contraception.

The bleak future is not reality, not yet, anyway. Given our society, there may be little chance of changing the future that now seems ordained, but there are things we can do to mitigate the potentially terrible results of the Alito ruling if we have the strength to fully embrace them.

Women, and women alone, should have the right to decide when, and if, they have children.

 

Important Items You Might Have Missed This Week

Friday, April 8th, 2022

Let’s ban some books!

During the summer of my 15th year, my father walked into our very Roman Catholic home to find me reading a paperback book on the couch in our living room. “What are you reading, Tommy?” he said. So, I showed him the book I was well into. It was Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. Whereupon, Dad became somewhat apoplectic, and rushed into the kitchen where my mother was starting to cook supper. “Mary, do you know what your son is reading?” he said. “Of course,” my mother replied. “I gave it to him.”

Tropic of Cancer is an autobiographical novel by Henry Miller, published in France in 1934 and, because of censorship, not published in the United States until 1961. And it is racy, indeed. It is also superbly well-written and compelling as it takes the reader on a tour of Miller’s mind as he lived a hedonistic life in the Paris of his youth.

My mother knew a book would never hurt me. People could and would, but not books. And I’m happy to say she eventually convinced my father of the value of that proposition.

I bring this up, because yesterday Pen America released a deeply researched report, Banned in the USA, addressing what it calls the “Index”* of books banned in the U.S. from 1 July 2021 through 31 March 2022. That’s just nine months.

It may flabbergast you to learn that during those nine months the Index lists 1,586 book bans that have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states. These districts represent 2,899 schools with a combined enrollment of over 2 million students.

Mom would have disapproved.

I was somewhat disappointed I could not write about the banning of Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. The irony of writing about banning a book about a society that bans and burns books would have appealed to me. However, that book is not on Pen America’s Index (perhaps the book banners aren’t very well read). The irony will have to wait. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer didn’t make the Index, either. I guess hedonism from 88 years ago is fine now, or maybe the book is just too old to worry about anymore. But four of Margaret Atwood’s books are on the list, including The Handmaid’s Tale.  That’s a pity.

Some highlights from the Pen America report:

  • These bans have targeted 1,145 unique book titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators, and 9 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,081 people altogether.
  • Texas led the country with the most bans at 713; followed by Pennsylvania (456); Florida (204); Oklahoma (43); Kansas (30); and Tennessee (16).
  • Processes aimed to uphold the First Amendment in the context of school book challenges are not being followed. Of bans in the Index, 98% involve departures from best practice guidelines for how school authorities may remove books; most bans and restrictions have occurred without proper written forms, review committees, or transparency. While school boards and administrators do have some discretion over library and instructional materials, there are safeguards and best practices meant to protect students’ First Amendment rights that are being widely abrogated.

Among titles in the index:

  • 467 titles (41%) included protagonists or prominent secondary characters who were people of color;
  • 247 titles (22%) directly address issues of race and racism
  • 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+
  • 184 titles (16%) are history books or biographies. 107 have explicit or prominent themes related to rights and activism (9%).
  • 42 children’s books were censored, including biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Duke Ellington, Katherine Johnson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai.
  • The majority of the books targeted have been works of fiction, however 28% are non-fiction and include history books, analytical and/or personal essays, and children’s reference and informational works.

*The “Index” of Prohibited Books, Index Librorum Prohibitorum, established in 1557 by Pope Paul IV, was a list of books Roman Catholics were prohibited from reading on pain of excommunication. The books were prohibited because they contained material considered dangerous or contrary to faith, morals, or the teaching of the Church. I’m not sure if Pen America intended this relationship, but I’ll assume the authors did.

What actions are companies doing business in Russia taking in response to Putin’s invasion?

Yesterday, in an important New York Time op-ed, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management, who has studied corporate social responsibility for 45 years, and Steven Tian, research director at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, pointed out that in the late 1980s roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. These actions helped topple the racist regime.

With that in mind Sonnenfeld, Tian and their Yale team have made a deep dive into how companies doing business in and with Russia are responding to the inhumane invasion of Ukraine. After completing their analysis they have placed businesses in one of five categories based on their response to the war. They say, “Consumers should know whether the companies that make their food, clothes and goods are fully committed to ending Mr. Putin’s atrocities.”

Many of the companies they examine are household names. The 162 companies that have chosen to stay have offered a number of excuses, which I find lack any compelling rationale. Sonnenfeld and Tian urge consumers to pressure by boycott. Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next computer.

Brief comment

Yesterday’s confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court was everything I predicted it would be in yesterday’s Letter From The Berkshires, but a putting-a-period-on-it is in order.

Republicans, continuing to display an abysmal lack of grace and dignity, abruptly walked out of the senate chamber immediately following the Vice President’s announcing the vote. The video of them all rushing for the door as Mitt Romney stood in their midst applauding and looking slightly bewildered as they almost ran him down was disgraceful. The spectacle made a mockery of a place where great Americans, many of them Republicans, once stood.

 

Last Week Today: Mr. & Mrs. Thomas, Cory Booker’s Sermon, And The Loss Of A Titan

Saturday, March 26th, 2022

Last week was a crazy week in America. Trying to sum it up requires leaving out much. This column is a bit long, but its tragedy is there was not enough space to wax eloquent about the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Go Peacocks!

At home with the Thomases

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni have made more news in the last week than either of them has in the last ten years.

First, the Justice was admitted to hospital a week ago for an infection with flu-like symptoms (which were not Covid-19). In and of itself this was big news, especially with the backdrop of this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Stephen Breyer. Thomas was released on Friday, and is apparently healthy again, which makes many people happy and many others not so much.

Next, the Supreme Court released an 8 to1 decision on Thursday in which Justice Thomas spent 23 pages of a 60 page ruling in a dissent involving a condemned man in Texas who filed a motion to have his pastor present, “laying on hands” as he prayed over him in the death chamber. Twenty-three pages of “No.”

Finally, on Thursday night there was the bombshell story broken by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of Ginni Thomas’s involvement in the attempts to overthrow the results of the presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had turned over a trove of emails and texts to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection (Meadows has since stopped cooperating with the Committee). Among the texts were 29 back and forths between him  and Ginni Thomas — 21 sent by her, eight by him. Typical of the lot was this one from Thomas:

“Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

In her texts, Mrs. Thomas was disparaging of Vice President Mike Pence (“We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the VP…”) and complimentary of Sidney Powell, the attorney who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, and who led the “stop the steal” legal team, along with with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and John Eastman, the lawyer who wrote the eight-point plan by which he asserted Republicans could keep Trump in power. Of Powell, Mrs. Thomas wrote she should be “the lead and the face” of the battle. Thomas wrote, “Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down.”

This story will develop further in the coming days; there is no way it couldn’t. It cannot prove anything but awkward for Justice Thomas, especially when one considers that the Supreme Court will, as it already has, inevitably hear cases stemming from the insurrection. Thus far, Thomas has refused to recuse himself from these cases. Continuing that refusal would be saying to the American public, as well as to his Supreme Court fellow Justices, that, while he may have had knowledge of his wife’s intimate involvement with the attempt to overturn the election and keep Trump in power, they did not discuss it in any husband and wife interplay and her profoundly strong views about the election never influenced his thoroughly impartial decisions.

Perhaps. Mrs. Thomas recently told the Free Beacon,“But we have our own separate careers, and our own ideas and opinions too. Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.”

Right. Perhaps.

Cory Booker’s paean

As any rational person knew it would, this week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court had some predictable moments. We knew that certain Republican senators on the committee would take the national TV spotlight as an opportunity to demonstrate the fine art of political grandstanding. We were not disappointed. In fact, Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, Graham and Cotton exceeded our wildest expectations. The disrespect, utter poor taste, condescension, outright misogyny, and, let’s face it, naked racism on display by these five, while probably greeted with applause in their MAGA base, showed them for the woeful human beings they really are. That Judge Jackson took it all with grace and dignity, while responding cogently to their dog-whistle “questions” and sanctimonious, self-righteous speeches with exponentially more intelligence than they exhibited, was a credit to her beyond anything her cynical detractors could imagine.

But toward the end of the inquisition of the fifth female, and the first black female, ever nominated to the nation’s highest court, Senator Cory Booker’s turn came. He was fifth from the end of the ordeal. At that point, questions didn’t matter. Like an old time gospel preacher, he delivered a sermon on racial progress that reduced the hypocritical Torquemadas to burnt ash. Booker told Jackson:

“Your family and you speak to service, service, service. And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.

“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”

I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional. I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian. You’re a mom. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. I see my ancestors and yours. You faced insults here that were shocking to me. Nobody’s taking this away from me.  Republicans are gonna accuse you of this and that. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.

This was an emotional moment that broke through Judge Jackson’s week-long, iron-like wall of rectitude.

With the conservative bent of the current Supreme Court, it is a given that Judge Jackson’s presence won’t change much. But you never know. Over time, things can change.

The loss of Madeleine Albright

Speaking of formidable women, the nation has lost a great one.

As the first female U.S. Secretary of State and one of the few women in leadership on the global stage during the 1990s, Madeleine Albright — who died Wednesday at the age of 84 — stood firm against dictators and tyrants from the Balkans to Haiti to Rwanda.

Throughout her life, she demonstrated a steadfast belief that democracy would triumph over authoritarianism and that the United States had to lead for it to happen.

Born in Czechoslovakia just before World War II, she came to the United States at age 11 as a refugee from the Nazis and communism and graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. After her twins were born prematurely, she learned Russian staying in the hospital with them. She knew Russian would come in handy later in life. She earned a doctorate in government from Columbia University in 1976, and at the age of 39 reentered the workforce, having been shut out for many years prior due to the sin of being a woman. She always advised other working moms that “women have to work twice as hard.”

She joined the Clinton administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, and in 1997 she became the first woman ever to be Secretary of State.

She was an ardent defender of democracy; her time in Czechoslovakia gave her a first hand look at what the other side was like, the other side that is now doing all in its power to eliminate an entire country of 44 million people. Her final Book Fascism: A Warning is exactly that, a warning we had best heed.

Madeleine Albright will be missed — Greatly.

 

Zelenskyy’s Heroism, Women’s Long March To Equality, And Then There’s Ron DeSantis

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Ukraine update

Last night, Ukriane’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted a nine-minute video from the Presidential Office Building on Bankova Street in central Kyiv.

Zelenskyy opened from a window looking out over Kyiv at night (a nice way to show everyone he was really there), and then selfied his way down corridors to his office where he sat at his desk to address the world, as well as the people of Ukraine. His fierce determination not only to defend Ukraine, but, more than that, prevail against a barbaric enemy was on full display. Speaking for all Ukrainians, he said, “I’m here, it’s mine, and I won’t give it away. My city, my community, my Ukraine.”

He closed his address by letting the nation know he had earlier in the day bestowed medals for bravery on 96 “heroes.” He then singled out five and described what they had done to earn the medals. Brilliant stuff.

Zelenskyy continues to unite his country and keep its spine stiff. His leadership, his rhetoric, his example are sharp enough to slice bread. He must be setting Putin’s hair on fire.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, and The Economst has released it’s annual glass-ceiling index, which measures the role and influence of women in the workforce across the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and  Development (OECD).

According to The Economist:

A country’s performance on the index is measured along ten metrics, including the gender pay gap, parental leave, the cost of childcare, educational attainment and representation in senior management and political jobs.

We give more weight to the indicators which affect all women (such as labour-force participation) and less to those which affect only some (such as maternity pay). Paternity pay is also included. Studies show that where fathers take parental leave, mothers tend to return to the labour market (emphasis added), female employment is higher and the earnings gap between men and women is lower.

That “return to the labour market” point is important, given the tremendous difficulty American women are having right now in returning to the labor market due to the ridiculous cost of child care.

It is unfortunate that, in this year’s glass-ceiling index, the United States continues to rank lower in how it treats its women than the OECD average, 20th out of 29 countries.

You may notice the top four countries in the rankings, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Norway, are Nordic countries so often ridiculed by conservatives as prime examples of “totalitarian socialism.” Actually, these countries have combined successful capitalism with, yes, welfare state benefits that allow their citizens to have a high standard of living, universal health care, and life expectancies higher than most other countries, certainly higher than the U.S.

But all is not Panglossian with the Nordic Model. These countries have large challenges, most notably what to do about an aging population and an influx of immigrants. Time will tell whether they’ll be able to marshal the political will to deal successfully with these significant headwinds.

That said, on International Women’s Day it seems fitting to suggest that, due to the collective culture the Nordics have fostered, their women are much better positioned for success than their peers in America. It pains me to write that.

DeSantis continues to be…well, DeSantis

Yesterday, at the conclusion of a 90-minute virtual video forum (make that show) in West Palm Beach, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and his Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced a new state policy that will recommend against giving a coronavirus vaccine to healthy children, regardless of their age.

Sitting in front of what could have been mistaken for an IMAX screen where hundreds of forum participants were pictured, Ladapo enthusiastically proclaimed, “Florida is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the covid-19 vaccination for healthy children.”

Let’s hope it’s the last one, too. National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show more than 40 Florida children, from birth to age 17, have died from COVID-19. Nationally, the number is nearly1,600.

In an interview reported in today’s Washington Post, Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and a leading expert on the virus, said, “To be at such distinct variance from the hundreds of physicians and scientists at the CDC and the FDA is reckless at best and dangerous at worst.”

Look, we get it that Governor DeSantis features himself as the next president of the United States and that he’ll say or do just about anything to get there. This is the man who just last week bullied a group of high school students for wearing masks at an event at the University of South Florida. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. This is ridiculous,” he told the teens just before slamming his folder on a lectern.

These folks are playing with kids’ lives, all for their own opportunistic and hypocritical ends. I can only hope there’s a special place in hell reserved for such people.

I’ll leave you today with this question: How do you think DeSantis would do in Zelenskyy’s chair on Bankova Street? Or, would he have skedaddled to safety before the fun began?

Just a thought.