Politics Open Thread, January 13-19

Let’s discuss politics.

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93 thoughts on “Politics Open Thread, January 13-19

  1. So – the NYTimes article on counterintelligence investigation into Trump and Washington Post article on his (perceived) effort to keep any info on his private conversation with Putin from getting out seem to have a struck a nerve, given his Saturday tweet frenzy. Is this more liberal wishful thinking and reading too much into sparse facts, or does this point to a more serious concern around exactly why he seems so obsequious to Putin?

  2. This is believable.

    “One side saw a witch hunt where the other saw a mole hunt.”

  3. Meh. One of the comments says,

    “There are now two possibilities. The first of those is that Trump really was some “manchurian candidate” placed in the Oval Office by Russia and controlled from afar by Vladimir.”

    Why do we put up with such journalistic juvenilism? How does the Times article reduce things to Turley’s two options?

    It seems like a pretty false dichotomy to me.

  4. I am actually far more interested in the debate going on among conservative pundits since Tucker Carlson declared that free markets don’t work. Seriously. It is a soul searching that should have happened years ago in the Republican party (and probably needs to happen among the Democrats too, although I think their fault lines are different). I have been reading the National Review every day just to get more of the back and forth. The discussion now has moved to Vox, and today Ross Douthat weighed in. But he has been talking about this stuff for years, back when other Republicans were toeing the Paul Ryan line.
    Republicans seriously questioning the free markets as a system. Who’d have thunk it?

    From Carlson’s monologue
    “But first, Republican leaders will have to acknowledge that market capitalism is not a religion. Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.
    Internalizing all this will not be easy for Republican leaders. They’ll have to unlearn decades of bumper sticker-talking points and corporate propaganda. They’ll likely lose donors in the process. They’ll be criticized. Libertarians are sure to call any deviation from market fundamentalism a form of socialism.”

    and JD Vance, after listing a bunch of Bad Things that companies are doing
    “All of these entities are doing what the market demands, and in some ways, it’s hard to blame them. But shouldn’t our laws and policy make life harder for them? Or should conservatives cry “small government” every time someone suggests an intervention and stick our collective head in the sand, pretending there’s no relationship between market actors and the civil society we say we believe in?”
    https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/tucker-carlson-health-of-nations-markets/

  5. Ross Douthat thinks that Republicans should actually consider using government policy to address social problems, which has since Reagan been a no-no among Republicans

    “A key issue in the Carlson contretemps is distilled in this line from David French of National Review, one of the monologue’s critics: “There are wounds that public policy can’t heal.”
    This is a crucial conservative insight, a caution for policymakers everywhere — but it can also become a trap, a cul-de-sac, an excuse for doing nothing. And that has happened too often for conservatives in recent decades: They’ve leaped to despair without even trying policy.”

  6. I this week’s Vox podcast, the infamous monologue and its fault lines was also tackled. One of the points that Ezra Klein made is that as long as poor communities were mainly inner city black communities, the standard Republican line was to blame black “pathologies”. But now that the same problems are entrenched in white communities, conservatives can’t say that rural white culture is to blame, so they are now being forced to soul search.

  7. I wouldn’t want to live in Ross Douthat’s ideal world. He believes in a structured hierarchical somewhat closed community/society in which people surrender some of their freedom of individual action, accept their station in life, in exchange for mutual responsibility to family and to others in the community and mutual respect for the contributions to the entire society. Basically a traditional English social model held together by good manners and fear of social ostracism, reinforced if need be by government action for the greater good.

  8. Meme, I agree. And some of these other people, like JD Vance, don;t even seem to be clear what it is that they do want. But I still think that the conversation is interesting. For so long, Republicans only had one ideology – free markets are good, government is bad. Now they are thinking about the ramifications.

  9. “A key issue in the Carlson contretemps is distilled in this line from David French of National Review, one of the monologue’s critics: “There are wounds that public policy can’t heal.”

    I tend to agree with this reaction. And with the related observation that poorly-designed (even if well-intentioned) public policy tends to cause far more damage than the good that well-designed public policy can do.

  10. “as long as poor communities were mainly inner city black communities, the standard Republican line was to blame black “pathologies”. But now that the same problems are entrenched in white communities, conservatives can’t say that rural white culture is to blame, so they are now being forced to soul search.”

    THIS. I read an interview with Tucker last week (can’t remember where) in which he acknowledged exactly this point. He basically said that, when poverty and family dysfunction were concentrated in insular minority communities, conservatives pinned the blame on the culture of those communities, arguing that the problems didn’t exist in (white) society at large. Now that their white rural base is exhibiting the same dysfunction, they can no longer blame the victims. Now they have to take a serious look at what is causing those problems. It really is a fascinating shift. Very similar to the different approaches taken to the crack epidemic (lock them up!) and current opioid crisis, which has devastated white communities in conservative America.

  11. And with the related observation that poorly-designed (even if well-intentioned) public policy tends to cause far more damage than the good that well-designed public policy can do.

    But you mostly believe that because the great society corresponded with the devastation brought by leaded gasoline. Right?

  12. LA has class sizes in the 30’s and 600 students/counselor. It sounds different from the East Coast schools discussed here. My kids have been in classes over 30 but most have been under 30.

  13. LA schools sound like a dreadful mess, but I tend to believe the district administration when they say that meeting the union’s demands would bankrupt the system. The student demographics pose a particularly expensive challenge, and I don’t have faith that the changes they propose would make much difference in academic achievement levels. But at least the working conditions would be better, and some students would benefit. I feel sorry for the families that have no choice but public schools there.

  14. California started decimating its public schools when they passed the property tax caps. This has gone on for decades. I can remember back in the 90’s, reading about school districts forced into double sessions because of severe overcrowding, lack of access to school libraries and counselors, and just generally terrible conditions. It isn’t just Los Angeles, although since they are a huge city, they tend to see the worst of things.

    https://ed100.org/lessons/californiaskimps

    Pensions are definitely a problem in California, but the problem is the same problem you see in state after state – governments and local school districts underfunded the pensions. Companies are not allowed to do that, and I cannot understand why politicians are not held to the same standard. If the state and the districts were required to fullly fund pensions, they would be more careful about the promises they make.

  15. Scarlett,

    The Great Society programs occurred at around the same time the level of crime and distinction in society increased. Some people thought there was a connection. As it turns out it was most likely due to neurological damage caused by lead in gasoline.

    It’s a classic case of correlation not being causation.

  16. The Great Society also coincided with a huge increase in the number of teen and early 20’s men, the demographic most likely to commit crimes. Again, correlation…

  17. Jane Margolis, a computer scientist at one of the UCs, wrote a book that I found to be a very powerful. She looked at three high schools in Los Angeles to see how students were given opportunities to study computer science, upper level math, and other STEM subjects. One of the high schools was poor with heavy minority enrollment, one was a math and science magnet that also enrolled mainly minority students, and one was a high school in an affluent area that had mainly white enrollment. There were so many things described in this book that were shocking to me – not just the lack of advanced math and computing at the poor high school, but also the fact that advanced math and computing was not offered at the supposed math and science magnet!!!!

    And there were so many other things that were not directly related to computer science but still seemed deeply unfair to me – the lack of access to counselors, and in the poor high school, students were just randomly assigned to classes without taking into account what they wanted to take or if they were aspiring to college, or much of anything. There was one part where they described a girl who was strong in math, who wanted to take the computer class (which wasn;t even a programming class, just an applications class) but was assigned to floristry. The girl says she didn’t want to take floristry, that she hated flowers, but everyone had to have a tech arts class, and that was the class she was given. They just randomly assigned the kids. This particular school had 545 students for every counselor. The high school itself had 5000 students.

    This book is older – I think it was written about 15 years ago – but I suspect the problems still exist.

  18. Sorry, I forgot to include the name of the book. It is Stuck in the Shallow End. I think it is still worth reading even though it is a little older, because I think the same problems still exist.

  19. Editorial in the NYTimes today details the history of the mess in California. I know that the article is behind a paywall. Here are some relevant quotes

    Even affluents schools are in bad shape, and parents have to contribute money for sports and art.
    “For 20 years, Katie Safford has taught at Ivanhoe Elementary, a school so atypical and so desirable that it drives up real estate prices in the upscale Silver Lake neighborhood. Ivanhoe parents raise almost a half million a year so that their children can have sports, arts, music and supplies. But parents cannot buy smaller classes or a school nurse. Mrs. Safford’s second-grade classroom is a rickety bungalow slated for demolition. When the floor rotted, the district put carpet over the holes. When leaks caused mold on the walls, Mrs. Safford hung student art to cover stains. The clock always reads 4:20.”

    Per pupil expenditures are low even though California is a high cost state
    “California still ranks low in average per-pupil spending, roughly half the amount spent in New York.”

    And the history
    “Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue. School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.”

    For those of you with NY Times access

  20. The Denver teacher are very likely going to strike next week, unless something drastic happens in the next few days. As much as I don’t like the disruption, I’m with them. DPS has a low pay scale and bloated administration. What makes the situation really interesting is they just hired a new superintendent last month. DD’s English teacher is one of the heads of the union and involved in the negotiations, so she’s always talking about it. She said the teachers didn’t like the new head before she was hired. The superintendent says schools will remain open if there is a strike. I’m sure they will, and they’ll just have the kids sitting around doing nothing.

  21. DD, sorry to hear that. I hope the strike if it happens is resolved quickly.

    California suffers from the familiar problem of wanting things without paying for them. Their poverty levels are high, highest in the nation even including government benefits. Where do they get more money? Their income taxes are already high, but can they raise them even more?

  22. One of the problems with raising income taxes in California is that it makes the state revenues extremely volatile, so state services get cut during recessions. Oregon has the same problem. Because I think “closing the gap” in schools with funding is a lost cause, I don’t support the most extreme funding proposals but I do think teachers have to be paid adequately and my generation should pay historically high taxes. My generation will continue to be hurt our whole lives by the combination of unfunded pensions for the previous generation and global competition because global birth rates were high in the 1970’s.

    Demographics should start getting better for people born in the ’80’s, when birth rates started declining.

  23. California also has a lot of wealthy and upper middle class people. And their economy depends to a large degree on an educated population. They are spending half per pupil of what we spend in NY, despite similar costs. It is ridiculous.
    EducationWeek does a yearly ranking of state education systems, using a bunch of metrics. California consistenly ranks towards the bottom
    https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/california/california-ranked-42nd-nationally-in-education/387174912

  24. And yet, California has lots of money to spend on things like regulating whether restaurants offer straws to patrons.

  25. it’s also important to remember that the NY Times piece is both a) an opinion piece and b) written about the west by the NY Times.

  26. Cassandra, I agree – I think California at times has some misplaced priorities. Schools are the foundation. My guess, though, is that straw enforcement doesnt; cost that much compared to what the schools need.

  27. Mooshi, the straw enforcement is just one of the many ridiculous laws that waste taxpayer money. There is no reason to give more money to the state unless they can show they can use at least some of it sensibly. The bullet train to nowhere is another egregious example.

  28. “WalletHub also ranks state school systems, and California does badly on their list too”

    TMK, only one state has a state school system, which makes me wonder about this ranking.

  29. Finn, that was my poor wording. There are a lot of rankings of schools by state out there.

  30. Mooshi, I beg to differ WRT “my poor wording.”

    From the referenced article:

    ” As kids beg for new backpacks and parents mentally prepare for another schedule shift, personal finance website WalletHub is taking a look at the country’s statewide school systems.”

    “As for the state with the best school system, that honor goes to Massachusetts” (Note the singular “system,” suggesting that either the entire state has a single school system, or the article is referring to one school system in MA, out of multiple school systems there.)

    I still question the entire basis of the article.

  31. Oh, I forgot to explicitly make my point, that the poor wording was not Mooshi’s, it was the article’s.

  32. “As it turns out it was most likely due to neurological damage caused by lead in gasoline.

    It’s a classic case of correlation not being causation.”

    So the drop in crime rate was not due to Roe v. Wade?

  33. “Pensions are definitely a problem in California, but the problem is the same problem you see in state after state – governments and local school districts underfunded the pensions.”

    This is just another way to finance spending with debt, but unlike the Federal government, the bill comes due at some point.

  34. So Finn, do you not think it is valid to comparee school outcomes on a state by state basis? Most states do have a “system” which usually consists of state educational standards, regulations, and financing systems. Those state “systems” have an impact on local school outcomes.

  35. OK, not suprised, but still bad. The UK is actually even more dysfunctional right now than the US

  36. I would say it might be statistically valid to compare outcomes on a state by state basis, but that such a comparison mostly goes to show that family background, not funding, primarily determines outcomes. Per student funding is a tertiary, not primary, variable. I think higher per student funding helps ESL kids the most. Texas and California, states with relatively low per student funding,, have a lot of ESL kids. If we ever seek to equalize funding nationally, rather than just within states, I expect ESL kids in those states to benefit most.

    School funding has increased much faster than inflation, on average. over the past 40 years without a commensurate increase in academic performance. It’s possible that schools are performing better while families are performing worse, leaving performance stagnant, but that’s hard to prove in a study.

  37. I don’t know that it’s not valid to compare results between states, but I wonder about the utility of such comparisons.

    E.g., look at a state like CA, which has so many school districts, funded largely by property taxes, and with large variations in property values. How useful is it to look at overall performance of all schools in that state?

  38. I don’t think banning straws is a waste of money. I think we should, as a society, try to eliminate needless plastic waste, and straws are an ideal target. Unlike plastic bags, straws are basically pointless, and almost no one will miss them (except for milkshake and bubble-tea drinkers). I never understood why they are automatically dispensed with certain beverages but not others (e.g. soda, but not beer). Completely arbitrary.

  39. From the “California Skimps” link Mooshi posted:

    “Florida and Hawaii, famous as retirement destinations”

    I hadn’t heard of Hawai’i being famous as a retirement destination, nor have I met many people who moved here in retirement. Perhaps that’s reflective of my bubble, but I know, and know of, many people who’ve moved away from here in retirement.

    My guess is one reason for the low number of students per capita here is the large number of kids who go to private schools.

  40. “It’s possible that schools are performing better while families are performing worse, leaving performance stagnant, but that’s hard to prove in a study.”

    I’m a bit embarrassed to say this made me chuckle, but it’s a very good point.

    Here’s another perspective that points out the growing benefits problem mentioned above. This is certainly a problem in NY.

    LAUSD is an extreme example, but this situation is playing out across the country. More and more of our nation’s education spending is going toward benefit costs, due to significant increases in pension and healthcare costs.

  41. “Unlike plastic bags, straws are basically pointless, and almost no one will miss them (except for milkshake and bubble-tea drinkers)”

    Or people with teeth sensitive to cold things.

    But for single uses, I think paper-based straws work well enough. I’m old enough to remember when most straws were paper-based.

    “e.g. soda, but not beer”

    LOL. While drinking beer through straws conjures a humorous image, I’m glad that’s not the norm.

    I think part of the reason is soda is often served over ice. Straws are not automatically dispensed with soda served in bottles or cans.

  42. Locally, it’s been a truism for as long as I can remember that state employees, including teachers, are trading off low salaries for generous retirement benefits.

    From what I’ve read, including those in the Lauren/Mooshi/July area, it sounds like that’s happened elsewhere as well.

    It’s a pyramid scheme that’s not sustainable.

  43. “It’s a pyramid scheme that’s not sustainable.”

    Why wouldn’t it be sustainable if the pension formulas were calculated realistically? I’ve mentioned before that my DH pays 11% of every dollar he earns into the MA Teachers pension program. It seems to me that those of you who live in states where the contributions are lower (and in some cases way lower) need better actuaries and/or better politicians. Don’t blame the teachers for the mess — they’re just living in the system that other people created for them.

  44. “Why wouldn’t it be sustainable if the pension formulas were calculated realistically?”

    I’m not saying that’s not true. The problem is that the pension formulae weren’t calculated realistically; that would’ve required higher salaries to compensate.

    My guess is your DH’s pension formula was calculated realistically, or at least more realistically. It’s been a while, at least here, since the new teaching hires were moved onto less generous pension formalae.

    “Don’t blame the teachers for the mess — they’re just living in the system that other people created for them.”

    I’m not. I’m blaming the politicians responsible for the pyramid schemes. I’m curious as to what sort of actuarial analyses, if any, were done when those schemes were first considered.

  45. It’s not clear that the Massachusetts teacher pension system is sustainable either.

    “In fact, a large group of Massachusetts teachers will receive pension benefits worth less than even their own contributions. How long that is the case depends on their age when they entered the profession. As shown in the graph below*, a 25-year-old entrant won’t qualify for benefits worth more than her own contributions unless she stays more than 30 years (the black line in the graph). Older entrants (purple line) become pension winners much more quickly and are more likely to receive retirement subsidies from younger and newer teachers.” https://www.teacherpensions.org/blog/new-study-three-fourths-massachusetts%E2%80%99-educators-are-pension-%E2%80%9Closers%E2%80%9D

  46. “Unlike plastic bags, straws are basically pointless, and almost no one will miss them (except for milkshake and bubble-tea drinkers)”

    Unless they are sensitive to cold, are disabled and can’t put a glass to their lips, don’t want to smear makeup or just like to drink out of straws.

  47. I don’t understand the opposition to charter schools. If the charter school doesn’t provide a better educational experience (which can include skill level grouping, increased safety, conscious teachers, or other amenity) parents won’t choose the charter school. If they provide the same educational outcome at a lower prices, that is also a win.

    The main argument against charter schools is that parents will remove their kids and their ADA from public schools. If the public school is a better option, the parents won’t move their kids. If the charter school is a better option, why shouldn’t kids have the chance for a better education?

    And 500 kids per counselor sounds about normal. My kid’s school has one counselor, and she is basically a negative influence, telling kids grades don’t matter for getting into college.

    Also, NOTHING prevents a school district from having a bond election to raise taxes to fund school construction, which makes me less likely to believe the story about the Ivanhoe school. It’s really not that hard to float a bond initiative.

  48. “It’s a pyramid scheme that’s not sustainable.”
    If politicians were required to fully fund their portion of the pension contributions, it would be sustainable. Companies are required to fully fund their part of employee pensions – why not state governments? If the governments knew they had to fully fund their share, they might drive a different bargain with the employees.

  49. “Companies are required to fully fund their part of employee pensions – why not state governments? ”

    Because the state governments write the rules. Lots of rules and regulations that companies have to follow are required for state, local or federal governments.

  50. “I don’t understand the opposition to charter schools. If the charter school doesn’t provide a better educational experience (which can include skill level grouping, increased safety, conscious teachers, or other amenity) parents won’t choose the charter school. If they provide the same educational outcome at a lower prices, that is also a win.”

    No, my objection is that of oversight. Many states have very little oversight of charter schools. Parents are not necessarilly able to tell that the charter they have selected for their kid is not that good, and by the time they realize it, the damage has been done. Most charters perform at pretty much the same level as the “failing” schools they replace, and so to my mind, they are a feel-ggod distraction, nothing more.

  51. ” My kid’s school has one counselor, and she is basically a negative influence, telling kids grades don’t matter for getting into college.”

    That is just sad. I am presuming you are in the state under discussion. Everything you have ever said about your school just feeds into my perception of a severely underfunded, overcrowded system.
    Geez, even in my impoverished, sad, KY high school, we had more guidance counselors than that.

  52. “No, my objection is that of oversight. Many states have very little oversight of charter schools. Parents are not necessarilly able to tell that the charter they have selected for their kid is not that good, and by the time they realize it, the damage has been done. Most charters perform at pretty much the same level as the “failing” schools they replace, and so to my mind, they are a feel-ggod distraction, nothing more.”

    The same could be said about public schools. Until 5-7 years ago, school districts could prevent kids from going to another public school. If charters perform at the same level as the “failing” schools, they are not a worse option, so no harm to the kids who find a better fit.

  53. “Because the state governments write the rules.”
    And the voters can vote out the people in government – but they don’t, so they are complicit in the whole mess too.

  54. “Everything you have ever said about your school just feeds into my perception of a severely underfunded, overcrowded system.”

    I really think the problem is that there are few options. With more options, the schools have to get better or go under. With few options, there is no need to improve.

    And the schools actually have tons of money. The state constitution requires that 40% of the state budget be spent on k-12 education. More money is actually spent

  55. “The same could be said about public schools.”
    No. In the American system, public schools have local funding and local oversight. That means that the crotchety old lady down the street gets some say in how our school is run, because she is PAYING for them. We are willing to do this because education is a public good, but in return we should have oversight. In the charter school world, especially in states like Michigan, taxpayers are expected to fund schools but have no say in them.

    And again, to my mind, the real issue is that they are a distraction. They make people feel good without actually doing anything to improve education.

  56. “And again, to my mind, the real issue is that they are a distraction. They make people feel good without actually doing anything to improve education.”

    Maybe, but kids don’t really have time to wait for schools to improve. If a charter school can provide a better education for a kid, then that is good thing. And lots of charters provides different types of education that can be better for for different kids. People who can afford private school should not be able to relegate poor/middle class kids to schools run by the unions.

  57. And if the charter school provides a worse education, then it needs to be shut down fast. But that doesn’t happen – it takes years to close down the failures, and even when they do close, it creates a lot of trauma for the kids.
    I am all for a choice system that is within the context of taxpayer oversight. I really like the magnet school that cousin-in-law teaches at. That school does a good job working with a difficult population. This is in a largish city in the Northeast that decided to use magnet schools for desegregation. NYC has a school choice system, but it is unfortunately overcomplex.

  58. But I would really rather spend the money creating a situation in which all schools can work, rather than relying on the snake oil promises of Joe Blow’s Academy for the Aspirational charter school

  59. Much of the reason charter schools work is families that seek better options. All schools will never work as long as so many students come from challenging family situations. In my area, students with behavioral disabilities are common. I and most other middle class parents don’t want our children in classrooms where throwing chairs is a common response to frustration, but the law requires that chair throwing students be mainstreamed.

  60. John Oliver did a segment on charter schools a couple of years ago. Here’s an article about it with a transcript: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/08/22/john-oliver-hysterically-savages-charter-schools-and-charter-supporters-arent-happy/?utm_term=.e58cd52ced04

    And here’s a link to the video of it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l_htSPGAY7I

    Our kids went to a charter school and we were very happy with it until the last year or two when a new principal drove away all the good middle school teachers.

  61. We have school choice in Colorado – kids can go to any school as long as there is room and you provide transportation. The transportation issue skews it heavily in favor of higher income families. When you don’t have the ability to get your kids to other schools, there isn’t a choice. They have to go to the school they can walk to or that has a bus to pick them up.

  62. Do we have moms in this group with kids in honors programs at GW or DSST: Stapleton?
    Our first choice is East – figuring out a backup is causing anxiety.

    Followed by a long discussion with the other moms about which schools have honors programs, which have IB, how hard or easy it is to get into the honors or IB programs at different schools, whether Northfield can be characterized as a “traditional” high school, etc.

  63. “We have school choice in Colorado – kids can go to any school as long as there is room and you provide transportation.”

    In Colorado, how does it work with your property taxes? In the northeast, and I think some other areas of the country, the bulk of our property taxes go to the local school district, and the amount we pay is determined by the school budget, which is voted on each year by the town residents. As a result, property taxes, and per-pupil spending, vary wildly from district to district. Are charter schools required to take the per-pupil amount that follows the student, even if the student is from a district that spends very little? Or is the amount that follows the student standardized in some way? IN that case, does the state kick in extra money for students from districts that don’t spend much?

  64. MM, the bulk of our school funding is from the state, so the state per-pupil money follows the student. The local money doesn’t follow the students if they go to another district.

    RMS, ah, she’s a totebagger and way over-thinking it. :) I know East is very hard to get into if it’s not your local school, so she definitely needs a backup.

    And the alternative to the “torture” would be having a choice between their designated school and private schools. It’s only torture if you make it difficult.

  65. DD – interesting. So if most of the school funding comes from the state, does that mean that the per-pupil spending per district is about the same across the state? Also, if a kid goes out of district or to a charter, does the district get to keep the portion that would have come from the local taxes?

  66. Unless they are sensitive to cold, are disabled and can’t put a glass to their lips, don’t want to smear makeup or just like to drink out of straws.

    But there is no straw ban, as you know. The ban is on offering them without being asked. All establishments are free to offer straws to anyone who requests one.

  67. All schools will never work as long as so many students come from challenging family situations.

    But that isn’t the issue. Adoption studies clearly show that even moving kids from challenging families to totebag families (even at birth) hardly moves the needle. Changing the families changes nothing.

  68. Straws won’t be completely vanishing, though: In addition to customers at full-service restaurants being able to get one on request, the law does not apply to fast-food restaurants (arguably the biggest user of plastic straws), coffee shops, delis, or restaurants serving takeout, as Eater SF reports.

  69. Rhett, I think the adoption studies you refer to look at IQ, not conscientiousness. I think families move the needle a lot on conscientiousness. I know several families that adopted kids from foster care where the biological parents suffered from addiction and/or were in prison and I can’t think of a child who isn’t doing much better than his non-adopted biological siblings, if any, in the adoptive family.

    I’ll grant that my Dad’s friend with ~10+ adopted/foster kids and 4 biological kids has all four biological kids with graduate degrees in technical fields and no adopted/foster kids who are similarly accomplished, but the adopted/foster kids are all job-holding, upstanding citizens.

  70. Children who are eligible for adoption are also not randomly selected from among the “challenging family situation” pool. Most domestic adoptions result when biological parents lose their parental rights, which generally requires pretty bad behavior.

  71. Most domestic adoptions result when biological parents lose their parental rights, which generally requires pretty bad behavior.

    Studies have accounted for that by comparing adoption at birth to later adoption. To a very large degree people have the cause and effect confused. For example, Tammy leads a chaotic life because she grew up in chaos. The reality is that to a very significant degree Tammy leads a chaotic life because she inherited he parents’ manic depression, personality disorder, low IQ, low level of conscientiousness, short time horizon, impulsiveness, etc.

  72. Rhett, I think the adoption studies you refer to look at IQ, not conscientiousness

    No.

    Temperament traits were thought to be biologically based, whereas character traits were thought to be learned either during childhood or throughout life. With the advent of the FFM (Five-Factor Model), behavior geneticists began systematic studies of the full range of personality traits, and it soon became clear that all five factors are substantially heritable. Identical twins showed very similar personality traits even when they had been separated at birth and raised apart, and this was equally true for both character traits and temperament traits. Parents and communities influence the ways in which conscientiousness is expressed, but they apparently do not influence its level.[10]

  73. Rhett,
    My point is that you can’t necessarily use adoption studies — which are based on children who have inherited an unusually challenging hand — to support arguments that involve the far larger population of sub-optimal family circumstances. What you would need is the ability to randomly select some children from that larger pool to be raised by Totebag parents.

  74. Then you disagree that these things are largely heritable and we can only influence them at the margins? I don’t think you do.

  75. Rhett, heritability vs. environment depends on having a “good enough” environment-it’s not a fixed number. Better nutrition in poor African countries has raised IQ by a lot, for example, so the effect of nutrition in those studies is really high. That doesn’t mean that better nutrition in the U.S. will raise IQ’s by a similar amount. Same WCE threshold argument as usual.

    Preschool studies like the Abecedarian one show significant positive outcomes for things like committing a crime as an adult but that’s mostly because the original study population contained a significant proportion of people likely to commit crimes as an adult. Persuading my local working class Mennonite population to send their kids to public preschool would not have a similar effect on crime, even if income levels are similar, because the Mennonite kids are already in good-enough family environments.

  76. I agree that many personal characteristics have a significant genetic component, but that environment is also a factor. In many cases, having an influence only “at the margins” can be enough to nudge someone over that margin into a better life.

    However, adoption studies are not based on a randomly selected sample of the population; therefore, I think their utility for the general population is limited.

    Having said that, I think we may also agree that, for a non-trivial segment of the low-income population, low cognitive ability is at the root of their struggles. And that it is not permissible even to mention such a possibility.

  77. And that it is not permissible even to mention such a possibility.

    Has someone brought it up and gotten pushback? I can’t recall a public figure ever mentioning it. It’s always couched in the euphemism of “uneducated.” Has anyone ever come out and said it?

  78. “And that it is not permissible even to mention such a possibility.”

    This reminds me of the elephant in the room regarding college admissions and the NYC exam schools, among others. Why are there statistical differences in test results among groups differentiated by race/ethnicity?

  79. “This reminds me of the elephant in the room regarding college admissions and the NYC exam schools, among others. Why are there statistical differences in test results among groups differentiated by race/ethnicity?”

    With regard to the NYC exam schools, this question will not be answerable until honors-level classes are offered at every middle school in the city. If a large percentage of middle schools do not offer advanced-level math courses, then the kids who attend those schools (largely poor and non-white) will never score as high on the math portion of the test as kids from other schools who have taken advanced-level math.

    My 6th grader is attending a magnate public middle school that is known as a “feeder” for the exam schools. Every 6th grader in the school takes a preparatory course for the exam. So far, the course has focused primarily on grammar, which is not part of the state-wide English curriculum, but is tested on the exam.

    Obviously, native intelligence is a factor in determining who does well on the test, but the level of exposure to the material being tested is also a factor.

  80. City Mom, when you say honors classes, do you mean honors classes for students who are ready, based on previous knowledge, or do you mean “honors for all”? My math teacher friend was driven to distraction by the algebra-for-all movement because it prevented her from teaching kids who were ready for algebra because she had to spend all her time with kids who weren’t ready.

    Maybe schools need to offer honors classes to all the students who are ready even when only 2 or 3 students are ready.

  81. I mean that students who excel in a given area should have the opportunity to take advanced-level (or honors, or whatever you want to call it) courses in that area, regardless of which school they attend.

    I do not mean that kids who are struggling should be placed in advanced (or honors) classes.

  82. “Has someone brought it up and gotten pushback?”

    Not sure, but Charles Murray, who made several undeniably factual observations in “Real Education” regarding cognitive ability and higher education, got more than pushback. The headline on this NYT review was “Just Leave Them Behind.”

  83. Scarlett,

    The author didn’t really argue against Murray being correct. He just pointed out some of the problem we’d have with his system or meritocracy.

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