Tag Archives: Heather Horn

Look, Children, It’s A Thing Spoke Of As Myth (An Actual Filibuster, Or Not)

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Jordan Fabian at The Hill:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is railing against President Obama’s tax-cut package in a lengthy floor speech.

Sanders, one of the Senate’s leading liberals, is protesting Obama’s deal with Republicans, which would extend tax cuts on all income that were initially signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003.

Sanders began his speech on Friday at 10:24 a.m. and was still speaking at 5:31 p.m. Friday afternoon. He has threatened to filibuster the Obama-GOP deal when it is brought to the Senate floor next week.

“You can call what i am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech … ,” read a message posted on Sanders’s Twitter account after he’d taken to the rostrum.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Update: Sanders is into hour 8.

Update 2: They’re in hour 6

Update: It’s in its 5th hour, and Senator Sanders is talking again, after having handed the baton to Mary Landrieu.

Original post: The Bernie Sanders filibuster against the tax deal is now in its 4th hour, and currently Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has joined in. They’re railing against the deal, and in general inequality in America >

Just one thought: This is a disaster for Obama.

It’s the first time we can recall that something happening on the liberal side is getting people excited — #filibernie is a hot topic on Twitter right now — and Obama isn’t part of it. In fact, he’s against it.

Allah Pundit:

You’ll be pleased to know that, in his frantic search for subject matter to keep him going, he’s already somehow detoured into chatting about Arianna Huffington. If that’s where he’s at in hour six, lord only knows where he’ll be in hour twelve. Reading aloud from “Jersey Shore” transcripts, probably.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Regardless of the merits of Mr. Sanders’ position on the bill, this is my favored brand of filibuster-reform: make Senators actually do it. You’d retain the Senate’s best counter-majoritarian feature but see it reserved only for the most important measures.

Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:

It’s a filibuster as filibusters were originally intended — and, as such, makes a mockery of what the filibuster’s become: a gimmick that allows a minority of senators to quietly impose supermajority requirements on any piece of legislation.

Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America. “How can I get by on one house?” Sanders railed, sarcastically. “I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the power.”

As a result of his efforts, he’s shot up to near the top Twitter trending topic chart. Filibusters like these were much more common decades ago, before the rules changed and Senators could really run out the clock by holding the floor and talking and talking without pause. Things are different today — and, whatever Sanders does, the Senate isn’t scheduled to hold any votes until Monday, so its practical effects may not amount to much.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

It’s not a filibuster. Not unless he holds the floor until at least Monday and beyond.

There’s a set vote on the tax cut bill on Monday. Nothing else has been scheduled to move today. Bernie is not really blocking anything. This puts Sanders’ speech into the Congressional record; I’m not sure there’s an additional purpose.

But that’s not to say it isn’t important. Sanders is calling attention to the massive inequality in America, which will only be stratified further by a tax cut bill that raises taxes from current law for 25 million low-income workers and gives millionaires a tax cut of about $139,000 a person. He’s explaining America’s insane trade policies, which have cut out the American manufacturing base and hollowed out the middle class. He’s taking on corporate CEO pay, and the two-income trap, and basically making the progressive critique of an economy bought and paid for by the very rich.

What’s more, he’s picked up support, not only from usual suspects by Sherrod Brown but from conservative Democrat Mary Landrieu, who acknowledged she doesn’t always agree with her colleague but said that he has “done his homework” about the tax cut deal. After slamming the deal as unfair to the poor and to minorities and giving a very cogent argument about inequality, Landrieu hilariously concluded by saying she might vote for the bill, but she’d be “loud” about it. Nevertheless, you’re seeing issues discussed on the Senate floor that almost never come up in any other context. Political theater is sadly one of the few ways to cut through the clutter in America, and that’s what Sanders is up to, I suspect.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

His epic rant — perhaps one of the most extraordinary critiques of how the American economy has been managed over the last several decades delivered in living memory — is an endless sequence of connecting the dots from one outrage to another. Even as I wrote this paragraph, he segued effortlessly from trade policy to Wall Street.

“But it is not just a disastrous trade policy that has brought us where we are today. The immediate cause of this crisis, and it gets me just sick talking about it … is what the crooks on Wall Street have done to the American people.”

Sanders then delivers a capsule history of deregulation, blasts Alan Greenspan, notes that in the late ’90s he had predicted everything that ultimately happened, but failed to rally legislative support to stop the runaway train — “and the rest is, unfortunately, history.”

From there, a class warfare sideswipe: “Understand, that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street — you can do pretty much anything you want and get away it.”

“And what they did to the American people is so horrible.”

On to the bailout! His scorn is so caustic it could disintegrate an aircraft carrier: “We bailed these guys out because they were too big to fail, and now three of the four largest banks  are now even larger. ”

As Sanders’ great oration enters its seventh hour, it is, by its very nature, impossible to summarize. It is a ramble, a rant, a critique, a cry of rage, a wail of despair, and a call to action. And it is amazing. I’ve heard stories of filibusters in which senators read phone books. And I’ve watched with disgust as for years Republicans have merely threatened to filibuster, without ever actually being forced to exercise their vocal cords. But here is Bernie Sanders, seven hours in, calling for the biggest banks to be broken up, voice still hale and hearty, and looking like he could easily go another seven hours.

Give credit to the citizens of Vermont, who know how to elect someone not afraid of speaking truth to power.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Bernie Sanders all-day speech on the Senate floor has ended after about 8 1/2 hours.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, Political Figures

Teachers Grade The Students And The Paper Grades The Teachers

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

Los Angeles Times:

Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.

In coming months, The Times will publish a series of articles and a database analyzing individual teachers’ effectiveness in the nation’s second-largest school district — the first time, experts say, such information has been made public anywhere in the country.

This article examines the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available.

Huffington Post:

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was quick to blast the Times for their report, according to SCPR:

Unfair, said a statement released by the United Teachers of Los Angeles today. “It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teachers effectiveness,” it said.”The database will cause chaos at school sites, as parents scramble to get their children into classes taught by teachers labeled as `effective’ by a newspaper — not by education professionals,” UTLA said, emphasizing the word “newspaper” in italics. The union said the result is a public, incomplete and
inaccurate picture of a teacher’s effectiveness.

Chad Aldeman at The Quick and The Ed:

Have pity on the individual teachers for this public outing, but, at the same time, don’t blame the Times for what they’re doing. The teachers union has pressured the district against using value-added measures in teacher performance evaluations, and only now are they moving forward together. The district has been complicit for years, and then took the easy way out and gave the data to a newspaper. And, in an ironic twist of fate, the newspaper could publish the value-added results precisely because they were not part of teacher personnel files. Those are private and cannot be released publicly.

In contrast, Tennessee has been using a value-added model since the late 1980’s, and every year since the mid-1990’s every single eligible teacher has received a report on their results. When these results were first introduced, teachers were explicitly told their results would never be published in newspapers and that the data may be used in evaluations. In reality, they had never really been used in evaluations until the state passed a law last January requiring the data to make up 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. This bill, and 100% teacher support for the state’s Race to the Top application that included it, was a key reason the state won a $500 million grant in the first round.

Tennessee is a good comparison, because here is a place with longstanding, low-stakes use of the data. The data will now have much higher stakes attached to it, but there wasn’t nearly the acrimony that’s happening now in LA. That’s because, to a large extent, LAUSD has sat on this information for so long without doing anything with it. Kudos to the intrepid reporter for digging it out and making a story of it, but the fact that it’s been buried for so long and is only seeing the light of day in this manner has made it that much more controversial. LAUSD could’ve avoided all the headache by doing something with the data themselves years ago. That should’ve started with letting the teachers see their own data, because they are interested in it. The teachers quoted in the Times articles and the 2,000+ teacher requests the newspaper has received since the story’s release suggest that teachers do want to know how they perform on these measures.

Instead of a methodical process where teachers slowly become used to seeing their data and therefore comfortable with its use, LA now has a situation where many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the data at the same time there’s suddenly pent-up demand from teachers, parents, and the public to see it.

Sherman Dorn:

When researchers show distributions of scores, they often show error bands to indicate “the inherent imprecision,” as Felch, Strong, and Smith wrote. For example, see the following figure from a 2000 paper by Kenneth Rowe on value-added measures: Graph of schools with value-added point estimates and 95% confidence intervals, showing significant overlapThe point here is that showing imprecision is easy to do in a way that is professionally competent.  Is that what the L.A. Times shows in its database? Here’s the chart for one teacher:

Sample chart from L.A. TimesThere are two graphing sins here: dequantification and an implication that the estimate for the teacher is infinitely accurate (or at least as accurate as the center of the diamond images). I don’t know what the Times editors and reporters thought they were doing by eliminating a scale, but this doesn’t remove the central problem of visually implying that the estimate of effectiveness is precise. Instead, it commits the sin of dequantification. To borrow from Edward Tufte, is the L.A. Times’ publication of these figures an act of reporting or finger-painting?

It also raises significant questions about the response to Jay Matthews. Was the Times deliberately trying to fudge what they were intending to do with the graphs, or are they really so incompetent an organization that they don’t have people who know how to design statistical figures and also didn’t check such a high-stakes display with people who do this professionally?

Sara Mead at Education Week:

The reality is that, even as value-added student test score data has emerged as the center of current debates over teacher evaluation, it’s only available and relevant for a fraction of the teachers in our public schools today. There is currently no value-added data for kindergarten and early elementary teachers, teachers in non-core subjects, or high school teachers in most places. My brother-in-law, who teaches middle school band and drama, and sister, who teaches high school composition and literature, do not have value-added data.

Some critics see this as an argument against new teacher evaluation systems that incorporate data on student performance. I see it the opposite way: The way we currently evaluate teachers is deeply flawed, not helpful to them or students, and there are lots of things we could do to move towards a more effective system of evaluating and developing teachers. Where we have value-added data as a source of information to inform teacher evaluations, we should use it. But since it’s only available for a subset of teachers, and therefore only a small piece of any meaningful solution to teach evaluation, we shouldn’t let debate over value-added or the various methodologies derail the broader effort to create better ways of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness and using that data to inform professional development and staffing decisions. We also shouldn’t pretend–as I sometimes fear my reform colleagues do–that value-added data is some kind of magic panacea that provides perfect information about teacher effectiveness. And we should put a lot more effort into developing and using validated and reliable observational tools, such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), that look at teacher classroom behaviors and measure the extent to which teachers are implementing behaviors linked to improved student outcomes. (I’m even more concerned that the observational rubrics many districts and states will put into place under their proposed evaluation systems have not yet been validated than I am with any of the issues related to use of value-added data.)

Jack Shafer at Slate:

These conclusions are so sensible, so obvious, so intuitive that only a union official or education bureaucrat could possibly dispute them. Oh, the Economic Policy Institute took its shot, calling teacher assessment based on standardized-test results just “one piece of information” used in a “comprehensive evaluation.”

By doing something LAUSD should have done in the first place, the Times had shamed the cowardly school district into performing its own “value-added analysis” of the data. So far, so good. But what does the school district intend to do with these scores? Release them to the public? No. It’s going to dispense them confidentially to teachers in the fall. For all the good that will do parents and teachers, why doesn’t the school district play ostrich and dig a big hole in Playa del Rey and bury the scores?

Let’s hope the Times stays on this story—and that it or some other publication uses the California Public Records Act to publish these new, LAUSD-generated scores. If you can’t grade the graders, whom can you grade?

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Filed under Education, Mainstream

Staring At Shoes In Regards To The Wall Street Journal Article

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Robert Barro at The Wall Street Journal:

The unemployment-insurance program involves a balance between compassion—providing for persons temporarily without work—and efficiency. The loss in efficiency results partly because the program subsidizes unemployment, causing insufficient job-search, job-acceptance and levels of employment. A further inefficiency concerns the distortions from the increases in taxes required to pay for the program.

In a recession, it is more likely that individual unemployment reflects weak economic conditions, rather than individual decisions to choose leisure over work. Therefore, it is reasonable during a recession to adopt a more generous unemployment-insurance program. In the past, this change entailed extensions to perhaps 39 weeks of eligibility from 26 weeks, though sometimes a bit more and typically conditioned on the employment situation in a person’s state of residence. However, we have never experienced anything close to the blanket extension of eligibility to nearly two years. We have shifted toward a welfare program that resembles those in many Western European countries.

The administration has argued that the more generous unemployment-insurance program could not have had much impact on the unemployment rate because the recession is so severe that jobs are unavailable for many people. This perspective is odd on its face because, even at the worst of the downturn, the U.S. labor market featured a tremendous amount of turnover in the form of large numbers of persons hired and separated every month.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, near the worst of the recession in March 2009, 3.9 million people were hired and 4.7 million were separated from jobs. This net loss of 800,000 jobs in one month indicates a very weak economy—but nevertheless one in which 3.9 million people were hired. A program that reduced incentives for people to search for and accept jobs could surely matter a lot here.

Moreover, although the peak unemployment rate (thus far) of 10.1% in October 2009 is very disturbing, the rate was even higher in the 1982 recession (10.8% in November-December 1982). Thus, there is no reason to think that the United States is in a new world in which incentives provided by more generous unemployment-insurance programs do not matter much for unemployment.

Another reason to be skeptical about the administration’s stance is that generous unemployment-insurance programs have been found to raise unemployment in many Western European countries in which unemployment rates have been far higher than the current U.S. rate. In Europe, the influence has worked particularly through increases in long-term unemployment. So the key question is what happened to long-term unemployment in the United States during the current recession?

To begin with a historical perspective, in the 1982 recession the peak unemployment rate of 10.8% in November-December 1982 corresponded to a mean duration of unemployment of 17.6 weeks and a share of long-term unemployment (those unemployed more than 26 weeks) of 20.4%. Long-term unemployment peaked later, in July 1983, when the unemployment rate had fallen to 9.4%. At that point, the mean duration of unemployment reached 21.2 weeks and the share of long-term unemployment was 24.5%. These numbers are the highest observed in the post-World War II period until recently. Thus, we can think of previous recessions (including those in 2001, 1990-91 and before 1982) as featuring a mean duration of unemployment of less than 21 weeks and a share of long-term unemployment of less than 25%.

These numbers provide a stark contrast with joblessness today. The peak unemployment rate of 10.1% in October 2009 corresponded to a mean duration of unemployment of 27.2 weeks and a share of long-term unemployment of 36%. The duration of unemployment peaked (thus far) at 35.2 weeks in June 2010, when the share of long-term unemployment in the total reached a remarkable 46.2%. These numbers are way above the ceilings of 21 weeks and 25% share applicable to previous post-World War II recessions. The dramatic expansion of unemployment-insurance eligibility to 99 weeks is almost surely the culprit.

To get a rough quantitative estimate of the implications for the unemployment rate, suppose that the expansion of unemployment-insurance coverage to 99 weeks had not occurred and—I assume—the share of long-term unemployment had equaled the peak value of 24.5% observed in July 1983. Then, if the number of unemployed 26 weeks or less in June 2010 had still equaled the observed value of 7.9 million, the total number of unemployed would have been 10.4 million rather than 14.6 million. If the labor force still equaled the observed value (153.7 million), the unemployment rate would have been 6.8% rather than 9.5%.

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior:

Based on Cable News and a notable NYT column one might think that economists are perpetually at one another’s throats. This is far from the truth. The hierarchical nature of the economics profession lends an ecclesiastical air to many of our interactions. Brilliant figures are treated with enormous reverence.

To wit, when an eminent figure like Robert Barro says something that strikes most of as inane the most common reaction is shoe staring

[…]

For better or worse the blogosphere has changed that. Economists of all stripes will descend upon Barro over the next 36 hours. If he replies, which I suspect he will not, this will be an interesting moment.

Scott Grannis at Seeking Alpha:

Robert Barro has a good article in yesterday’s WSJ, titled “The Folly of Subsidizing Unemployment.” In it, he argues reasonably that “the expansion of unemployment-insurance eligibility to as much as 99 weeks from the standard 26 weeks” has made the economy less efficient “because the program subsidizes unemployment, causing insufficient job-search, job-acceptance and levels of employment.” My chart above helps illustrate the numbers he uses in his article, making it clear that we have never before seen such a large number of people receiving unemployment compensation. The 1981-82 recession saw a higher unemployment rate than we have seen in the recent recession, but one-third fewer people were subsidized for not working. This undoubtedly helps explain why this recovery has proceeded at a very disappointing pace.

Robert Reich:

I have the questionable distinction of appearing on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC program several times a week, arguing with people whose positions under normal circumstances would get no serious attention, and defending policies I would have thought so clearly and obviously defensible they should need no justification. But we are living through strange times. The economy is so bad that the social fabric is coming undone, and what used to be merely weird economic theories have become debatable public policies.

Tonight it was Harvard Professor Robert Barro, who opined in today’s Wall Street Journal that America’s high rate of long-term unemployment is the consequence rather than the cause of today’s extended unemployment insurance benefits.

In theory, Barro is correct. If people who lose their jobs receive generous unemployment benefits they might stay unemployed longer than if they got nothing. But that’s hardly a reason to jettison unemployment benefits or turn our backs on millions of Americans who through no fault of their own remain jobless in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Yet moral hazard lurks in every conservative brain. It’s also true that if we got rid of lifeguards and let more swimmers drown, fewer people would venture into the water. And if we got rid of fire departments and more houses burnt to the ground, fewer people would use stoves. A civil society is not based on the principle of tough love.

In point of fact, most states provide unemployment benefits that are only a fraction of the wages and benefits people lost when their jobs disappeared. Indeed, fewer than 40 percent of the unemployed in most states are even eligible for benefits, because states require applicants have been in full-time jobs for at least three to five years. This often rules out a majority of those who are jobless – because they’ve moved from job to job, or have held a number of part-time jobs.

So it’s hard to make the case that many of the unemployed have chosen to remain jobless and collect unemployment benefits rather than work.

Anyone who bothered to step into the real world would see the absurdity of Barro’s position. Right now, there are roughly five applicants for every job opening in America. If the job requires relatively few skills, hundreds of applicants line up for it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 15 percent of people without college degrees are jobless today; that’s not counting large numbers too discouraged even to look for work.

Barro argues the rate of unemployment in this Great Jobs Recession is comparable to what it was in the 1981-82 recession, but the rate of long-term unemployed then was nowhere as high as it is now. He concludes this is because unemployment benefits didn’t last nearly as long in 1981 and 82 as it they do now.

He fails to see – or disclose – that the 81-82 recession was far more benign than this one, and over far sooner. It was caused by Paul Volcker and the Fed yanking up interest rates to break the back of inflation – and overshooting. When they pulled interest rates down again, the economy shot back to life.

Alex Tabarrok:

It’s not clear to me why we should assume that the share of long-term unemployment in this recession should equal that in 1983.

Barro also argues:

We have shifted toward a welfare program that resembles those in many Western European countries.

In contrast Josh Barro, son of Robert, in How much do UI Extensions Matter for Unemployment, concluded that 0.4% was probably on the high side:

Two Fed studies suggest that [extensions of UI] may have contributed 0.4 to 1.7 percentage points to current unemployment. But a closer look at this research makes me skeptical that the effects have been so large.

…The incentive effects of UI extension must also be weighed against the stimulative effects of paying UI benefits. For some reason it’s become almost taboo to note this on the Right, but UI recipients tend to be highly inclined to spend funds they receive immediately, meaning that more UI payments are likely to increase aggregate demand. UI extension also helps to avoid events like foreclosure, eviction and bankruptcy, which in addition to being personal disasters are also destructive of economic value.

As a result, I am inclined to favor further extension of UI benefits while the job market remains so weak. I am not concerned that this leads us down a slippery slope to permanent, indefinite unemployment benefits (which historically have been one of the drivers of high structural employment in continental Europe) as the United States has gone through many cycles of extending unemployment benefits in recession and then paring them back when the economy improves, under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

I call this one on both counts for Josh.

Arnold Kling:

He claims that the unemployment rate would be much lower now if Congress had not passed any extensions of unemployment benefits. I have not gone through his analysis, but I suspect that I, like Alex Tabarrok, would not find it persuasive. Nonetheless, I think there is a case to be made for allowing people to continue to collect unemployment benefits after they find a new job, until their benefits are scheduled to expire. We can argue about how generous the unemployment benefits should be overall, but for any level of benefits it is possible to reduce the disincentive to find work.

Mark Thoma:

Calling Barro’s claim questionable, as in the title, was probably too generous.

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Filed under Economics, The Crisis

Fabio Is Not On The Cover Of This Blog Post

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up. Horn:

The New York Times is really taken with Jonathan Franzen’s “galvanic new novel, ‘Freedom.'” Michiko Kakutani wrote a glowing review last week. Two bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, are mad. They think The New York Times has a soft spot for white males. As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Picoult and Weiner have had a field day on Twitter, Weiner tweeting that the “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs.”

But is The New York Times (among other publications) really playing favorites? And if so, how so? Do influential outlets disdain female authors, or disdain popular fiction of any variety? Here are a variety of perspectives on the growing debate.

Alison Flood at The Guardian:

Picoult, whose popular novels of everyday people facing awful dilemmas have sold more than 12m copies worldwide but are largely overlooked by the literary establishment, was quick to respond. “NYT raved about Franzen’s new book. Is anyone shocked?” she wrote on Twitter. “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” For every review of authors such as Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat or the Dominican-American Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, “there are 10 Lethems and Franzens,” she added later.

Picoult also criticised Kakutani’s use of the word “lapidary”. “Did you know what [it] meant when you read it in Kakutani’s review? I think reviewers just like to look smart,” she tweeted.

As well as Kakutani’s Franzen piece, the most recent fiction reviews in the New York Times range from a piece on Gorky Park author Martin Cruz Smith’s latest novel Three Stations to critiques of Norwegian novelist Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time and Suzanne Rivecca’s debut story collection Death Is Not an Option, along with shorter pieces on Ann Weisgarber’s Orange-longlisted The Personal History of Rachel DuPree and Helen Grant’s debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Chick lit fails to make an appearance.

Contacted by blog the NYT Picker, Picoult reaffirmed her view that “the Times favours white male authors. That isn’t to say someone else might get a good review – only that if you are white and male and living in Brooklyn you have better odds, or so it seems”.

“The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction – and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author,” said the author. “I’m not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction). How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors are ROUTINELY assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves) while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?”

But she rejected the blog’s claim that her disgruntlement stemmed from poor reviews of her own work in the paper: in 2008 a reviewer said she had written her novel Change of Heart “on authorial autopilot”. Posting her email response to the blog online “in the effort of truth in journalism”, Picoult insisted that “nowhere in here do I criticise Ms Kakutani, rant, or suggest that my comment (which really was just that – a COMMENT) was precipitated by the fact that I don’t get rave reviews from the NYT. Just stating an opinion, as I see it, about those to whom the NYT chooses to devote inches of print”.

Her feelings were backed up by bestselling chick-lit writer Jennifer Weiner, author of In Her Shoes. “Carl Hiaasen doesn’t have to chose between getting a Times review and being a bestseller. Why should I? Oh, right. #girlparts,” she wrote on Twitter. “Books read by men – mysteries, thrillers, horror – at least maybe they’ll be noticed, whether author male or female. Books read by women – romance, chick lit, commercial fic, whatever – rarely get noticed. When they do, reviews often ignorant.”

Later, she added: “NYT loves its literary darlings, who tend to be dudes w/MFAs … In summation: NYT sexist, unfair, loves Gary Shteyngart, hates chick lit, ignores romance. And now, to go weep into my royalty statement.”

Jason Pinter at The Huffington Post:

Why do you feel that commercial fiction, or more specifically popular fiction written by women, tends to be critically overlooked?

Jennifer Weiner: I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book – in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.

Jodi Picoult: I think you only have to really look at the facts. I don’t think it’s overlooked in all venues. I think the New York Times reviews overall tend to overlook popular fiction, whether you’re a man, woman, white, black, purple or pink. I think there are a lot of readers who would like to see reviews that belong in the range of commercial fiction rather than making the blanket assumption that all commercial fiction is unworthy. But it’s not universal. The Washington Post for example, back when they had their book review section, used to do the widest reviews, because there were so many kinds of fiction reviewed, not just literary fiction. That’s where my gripe comes from. When in today’s market you only have a limited review space for books, I wonder what the rationale is for the New York Times to review the same book twice, sometimes in the same week. I want to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against Jonathan Franzen. I hope I read (“Freedom”) and love it. None of this was motivated as a critique against him or his work, just that he is someone the Times has chosen to review twice in seven days.

Have you had experiences where you’ve felt, due to either the content of your books or your gender, your books have been misrepresented or dismissed?

Weiner: The only mention my books have ever gotten from the Times have been the occasional single sentence and, if I’m lucky, a dependent clause in a Janet Maslin flyover piece: “Look! Here’s a bunch of books that have nothing in common but spring release dates and lady authors!” I don’t write literary fiction – I write books that are entertaining, but are also, I hope, well-constructed and thoughtful and funny and have things to say about men and women and families and children and life in America today. Do I think I should be getting all of the attention that Jonathan “Genius” Franzen gets? Nope. Would I like to be taken at least as seriously as a Jonathan Tropper or a Nick Hornby? Absolutely.

Picoult: Oh yeah, sure. But you know what? That’s your trade off. I think Jen Weiner was the one who tweeted the very comment that, “I’m going to weep into my royalty check”. She’s funny and honest and that’s what makes her great. There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commericals writers get all the success. I don’t begrudge the label of ‘commercial writer’, because I wanted to reach as many readers as I could. I read a lot of commercial fiction and a lot of the same themes and wisdoms I find in commercial fiction are the same themes and wisdoms as what i see lauded in literary fiction.

Though the Times has devoted tremendous space to covering writers such as Jonathan Franzen and Gary Shteyngart, it has also done numerous positive pieces on thriller writer Lee Child and raved about Laura Lippman’s work. Do you feel that the reviewing plane is evening out, or do you see these as anomalies?

Weiner: The examples you cite reinforce my argument that women are still getting the short end of the stick. If you write thrillers or mysteries or horror fiction or quote-unquote speculative fiction, men might read you, and the Times might notice you. If you write chick lit, and if you’re a New Yorker, and if your book becomes the topic of pop-culture fascination, the paper might make dismissive and ignorant mention of your book. If you write romance, forget about it. You’ll be lucky if they spell your name right on the bestseller list. I think I remember seeing one review of Nora Roberts once, whereas Lee Child can count on all of his books getting reviewed. This strikes me as fundamentally unfair.

Picoult: In my personal opinion I think those are anomalies more than the norm. But again it is one person’s opinion.

Michelle Dean at The Awl:

Both Picoult and Weiner are the kind of writers who, to use Saul Bellow’s phrase, are free to stuff their ears with money if they don’t like what they’re hearing about their own books. And while I hadn’t time to look up every interview they’ve ever given, I have a hard time believing that in their heart of hearts, they envision themselves as even writing literary fiction, or at least that they aim their work at the same critical audience Franzen does. (Would Franzen’s website have as a title “Novels About Family, Relationships, and Love”?) So I think it’s overbroad to claim that they are themselves being treated differently solely as women, in this instance.

And yet, they do have a point. And it’s a point that brings us right up to the edge of the precipice of having to re-evaluate what it is we think is worthwhile about literature, and why it might not be what current standards say it is.

There are a number of levels on which one can analyze this problem of literary merit. Only the first and most superficial is markets. From that perspective, this entire discussion is little more than wankery. First of all, not a day goes by where we’re not being reminded by publishers that the collapse in transaction costs related to publishing writing (thanks in no small part to websites like this here fine publication) is absolutely destroying traditional publishing. Whatever the former gatekeepers to literary fame think, in short, is becoming more irrelevant by the day, because if they don’t like what you’re writing, you’re perfectly welcome to self-publish (or to work with a progressive change publisher) and potentially earn a higher income, proportionate to sales anyway, than you would have if you’d signed with a major publishing house, by cutting out the middleman.

Linda Holmes at NPR:

Weiner, who wrote the terrific and unexpected novel Good In Bed (which dares to suggest, among other things, that not all of a contemporary woman’s personal problems can be solved with a makeover and a diet, try to contain your shock) all the way back in 2001 and has been writing fiction about women ever since, is blown off as a “chick-lit author” here and here, and in The Atlantic, while her books aren’t exactly called “chick lit,” it has to be pointed out that they (and Picoult’s books) are “often referred to as ‘chick lit.'” (We’re not saying it’s chick lit or anything … we’re just saying SOME HAVE SAID it is chick lit, y’know.)

It’s a category we just don’t even need anymore.

I’ve written before about how much I dislike it when people don’t distinguish between popular women’s fiction and the much narrower category of shoe fiction (by which I mean fiction disproportionately focused on the acquisition of designer shoes and bags and other yabba-dabba-doo that is inevitably described in nearly pornographic detail). But at this point, I think the only solution is to stay away from the term “chick lit” as much as humanly possible, because it’s become a term that means “by and about women, and not something you need to take seriously, although we’re not necessarily saying those things are connected, so it might be a giant coincidence.”

Jennifer Weiner writes primarily about relationships between and among women. She writes about families, she writes about loss, she writes about loneliness, and she writes about a wide variety of other human emotions. The fact that she wrote a book called In Her Shoes doesn’t mean she writes primarily about shoes. (Seriously, is that where this started?) That book is about family — just like, for instance, Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You (a great book, by the way), which may or may not be a book written with greater skill, but which does not find itself assigned to a special genre as a result of being about a man, written by a man, and concerned with a man’s thoughts and feelings and complicated family and romantic relationships.

Once we’re calling Jennifer Weiner “chick lit,” I don’t know what “chick lit” is, and I don’t think I’d like the answer if I did. Most of the definitions I’ve ever known are apparently too narrow. If “chick lit” means it’s about young, independent single women looking for love (which was what I understood to be the earliest definition, when I first heard it back in the Bridget Jones era), Jennifer Weiner doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about finding a guy in general, she doesn’t qualify. If it means the book isn’t serious, she doesn’t qualify. If it means it’s about the centrality of men to the lives of women, she doesn’t qualify, since most of the most important relationships she’s written about in her career are relationships between women (sisters, friends, mothers and daughters).

The term “chick lit,” as I mentioned today on Twitter as I was composing this entry, increasingly makes me feel like I’m being compared to a marshmallow peep just for reading books by and about women. I know what romance novels are — I read some of them, I dislike many of them. I know what shoe fiction is, in my own experience — it’s fine, but it’s not very nourishing. There are subgenres within commercial women’s fiction that are real and identifiable.

But I don’t know what “chick lit” is anymore, except books that are understood to be aimed at women, written by women, and not important. And I can’t get behind that.

Tina Jordan at Entertainment Weekly

Chris Jackson at Ta-Nehisi’s place:

Various people have chimed in agreeing with Piccoult or arguing that the Times coverage is more balanced than she claims.  Ironically, Kakutani has previously been accused of  taking special relish in pillorying white male authors. (Norman Mailer called her, in his typically subdued, politically correct style, a “one-woman kamikazee.  She disdains white male authors…she’s a token.  And deep down, she probably knows it.”  I feel dirty retyping that.)  And she recently sliced up the prototypical white male literary darling from Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem.
But this whole controversy, such as it is, reminded me of a recent lunch I had with a fellow editor.  I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman?  And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes.  It was a pretty shameful moment, in part, because I started wondering about early onset memory loss (I eventually remembered that I’d recently read the luminous and terribly titled Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peele), but also because I’ve spent a lot of time advocating the reading of books outside of the reader’s direct experience as a way of understanding the world (through the Ringshout organization, for instance) and apparently I’ve been ignoring the literary output of half the human population.  I can’t speak to the specifics of the Piccoult/Times dispute but I can say that the frustration Piccoult expressed is shared by a lot of women (and men) who write or work in the literary world.  In my experience with by son’s namesake bookstore, it’s clear that women are willing to buy books by male writers, but men seem much more reluctant to buy books by women.  And while I’ve never seen it quantified in any way, there’s definitely a feeling out there that men–even when writing about frivolous subjects–are taken more seriously as literary writers and are more likely to be presented to serious readers by the various literary gatekeepers.
So I’ve been trying to balance my own reading–consciously trying to read at least one piece of fiction by a woman for every one I read by a man.  This sounds stupid, I know.  But what are the results of this small and recent experiment?
It’s been sort of fascinating.  After reading the well-reviewed-but-somewhat-disappointing (but still worth reading) Next by James Hynes, I read The Keep by Jennifer Egan, which was, like the Hynes, formally inventive, but also creepy and funny and knee-wobblingly suspenseful. After reading Gary Shteyngart, I just turned to a book that’s been on my queue for a while:  Chimamanda Adichie’s achingly beautiful The Thing Around Your Neck, both books about immigrants and police states and love affairs, but from two vastly different, whiplash-inducing, perspectives (BTW, check out Adichie’s fascinating TED talk, “The Danger of the Single Story” if you’re interested in the art of storytelling). Between chapters of The Book in the Renaissance, I’ve been dipping in and out of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is an incredible evocation of a young woman’s unruly interior, even if she was once picked up by Allen Ginsburg because he thought she was a boy.
Anyway, there are ways that our reading is shaped and limited by the biases of the dominant literary gatekeepers–maybe without realizing it, we’ve only read books by people of a certain race, or who write in a certain language, or who follow the conventions of a certain genre (including the unnamed genre of Anglo-American Serious Fiction).  To some people this is the great opportunity in the coming bookquake, the chance to disintermediate some of those gatekeepers and their peculiar, ossified biases. But the real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities.  How exciting is it to consider that there are worlds of literature out there that you may not have tapped into, undiscovered countries of books to explore that might yet tell you something new in a new way?
UPDATE: Double X at Slate

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Over-Easy, Scrambled, Hard Boiled, Full Of Salmonella…

Marion Nestle at The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, the FDA announced yet another voluntary recall of eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The first announcement on August 13 covered 228 million eggs. This one adds 152 million for a grand total of 380 million—so far.

In that first announcement, the Wright company said: “Our farm strives to provide our customers with safe, high-quality eggs—that is our responsibility and our commitment.”

That, however, is not how the New York Times sees it. According to a recent account, Wright has a long history of “run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, the harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.”

Okay, so where are we on safety regulation? The FDA, after many, many years of trying, finally introduced safety regulations for shell eggs. These supposedly went into effect on July 9.

I recount the history of FDA’s persistence in the chapter entitled “Eggs and the Salmonella problem” in What to Eat. Check out the table listing the key events in this history from 1980 to 2005. It’s not pretty.

Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.

Problems with Wright County Eggs started in May before the FDA’s mandatory rules went into effect, meaning that the procedures were still voluntary. The recalls this month are after the fact. Chances are that most of the recalled eggs have already been eaten.

Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir:

More egg brands were recalled Friday, bringing the total number recalled due to salmonella concerns to more than half a billion eggs.

Hillandale Farms of Iowa is the latest producer to recall its eggs — more than 170 million that were distributed to 14  states, according to a press release from the company. The were sold under the names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms and Sunny Meadow and were distributed in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Only those with plant number P1860 and date codes ranging from 099 to 230, or plant number P1663 and date codes ranging from 137 to 230 are affected.

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

The eggs were sold under the following litany of brand names:  Lucerne, Mountain Dairy, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Albertson, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps,  and Pacific Coast.  Some eggs recalled were shipped as recently as two days ago, in the early stages of the outbreak.  According to the CDC, you can tell the safety of your eggs by looking at the plant code and date stamped on the label or carton.  The dates range from 136-229, and the plant numbers are 1026, 1413, 1942, and 1946.  At least, those are the current ones.

Remember the old days, when eggs were only bad for your long-term health and not instantly dangerous?  And when giant eggs were cool oddities, not death-spheres full of double-yolked poison?

Curtis Silver at Wired:

What is the danger if I eat contaminated eggs?

This question will come from the daring and the stubborn ones. The ones who challenge the facts and want to know – what’s so bad about eating the eggs? Just throw this word at them – salmonella. I’m pretty sure they’ve heard it before, when handling raw chicken or raw eggs. It’s always a possibility, and is the most common bacterial form of food poisoning. In fact, it leads to about 30 deaths in the annual average 142,000 cases a year. Clearly that’s not a high number compared to the population, but it’s a number nonetheless. Salmonella (Kingdom, Bacteria; Class, Gamma Proteobacteria; Order, Enterobacteriales; Family, Enterobacteriaceae; Genus, Salmonella) will make you sick, and many more people get sick each year than get reported. That number goes up considerably when there is a contaminated product like this batch of eggs.

If you want to show your kids one of the worst slide shows ever to illustrate a sickness, check out this one over at CBS.com. It deftly illustrates that salmonella will cause stomach cramps, nausea, unfortunate bowel movements and so on. Basically, your abdomen wants to expel the germs as much as possible so it makes your abdomen contract over and over, which causes the cramps and stomach sickness. Basically, there is no way for your child to fake salmonella poisoning to get out of going back to school. If your child is sick, you’ll know it and so will they. If they aren’t old enough to be forced to drink, the emergency room is in your immediate future as you don’t want dehydration to set in.

Here’s the rub though, and the smart ones might figure this out: If you cook infected eggs you will kill the bacteria. Cooking eggs to the temperature of 72°Celsius/160°Fahrenheit is all you need to kill the bacteria. Of course, you still run a risk if you under cook the eggs. So really, if you have a two dollar carton of eggs in the fridge you have two choices, cook them anyway and save yourself two bucks, or throw them out. Well, three choices, you can draw targets on the fence and you and the kids can have target practice. Just sayin’.

So what came first? The Chicken or the egg?

The egg. Because dinosaurs laid eggs. And dinosaurs came before chickens. So there.

How do I know if my eggs are bad?

That’s the easy part: Check out this handy list to see if your carton number is on there. Have the kids do a little number comparison and see if they can find a pattern. Of course, the article gives away the range, but perhaps there is something deeper in the numbers. If you can figure it out, leave it in the comments. Of course, I might just be making it up – but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. You awesome geeks always do.

Alan Ng at Products Review:

As reported from CBSNews and according to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine types of Salmonella symptoms. We have the full list to give you now, which will help to determine if you have contracted the disease or not.

The first symptom is Nausea, as vomiting is one key factor associated with salmonella poisoning. Another factor may be diarrhoea. If you find yourself going to the toilet a lot lately, you may have caught salmonella without knowing it. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and fever.

You can check out the full list of salmonella symptoms here.

Julian Pecquet at The Hill:

The recall of 380 million eggs — almost 32 million dozen — due to a possible salmonella contamination is sparking calls for the quick passage of food-safety legislation after the August recess.

The recent outbreak has sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

The Senate health panel unveiled a manager’s package last week that grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded powers to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers’ records. Similar legislation cleared the House in July 2009.

“This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. “And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized.”

Harkin went on to detail how the egg contamination may have played out differently had the bill’s provisions been in effect.

UPDATE: Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

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And The Silver Medal Goes To China… Or Does It?

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Ryan Avent at DiA at The Economist:

CHINA has, at long last, surpassed Japan in terms of nominal GDP, making the Chinese economy the world’s second largest. Second quarter output in China came in at $1.337 trillion, to Japan’s $1.288 trillion (Japan’s output was larger in the first quarter; for comparison, America’s second quarter nominal output was $3.522 trillion). The shift is sure to be widely discussed and widely misinterpreted. There are a few key things to mention.

First, while Chinese growth has been truly impressive in recent decades, the rapid overtaking of the Japanese economy also reflects years of disappointing growth there. This story is as much about Japan’s travails (and the risk to other rich economies facing a descent into Japanese-style stagnation) as it is China’s boom.

Second, China remains a very poor country in per capita terms. It uses over four times as many citizens as America to produce less than half America’s output. That’s a bit misleading—urban productivity in China doesn’t lag America by quite as much but is offset by the limited growth contribution of China’s hundreds of millions of rural poor. Still, the total output figures encourage observers to vastly overstate the developmental level of the Chinese economy.

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

The world economy reached a major milestone Monday when China officially became the world’s second-largest economy, displacing Japan, which has held the title for more than four decades. The recognition of China’s new status came after the Japanese government reported that, after a quarter of slow economic growth, the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated to be around $1.28 trillion, slightly below China’s $1.33 trillion. Do all countries use the same method for estimating GDP?

They’re supposed to. The System of National Accounts (SNA), a set of guidelines developed jointly by the United Nations, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank, specifies the methods by which countries measure the size of their economies.

There are two main methods for estimating GDP. One involves looking at production. This includes the value of the goods produced by all the firms in the country, the added value of government work projects, and — particularly in developing countries — the value of goods produced for personal consumption, like the crops grown by subsistence farmers. Not all wealth counts toward GDP. For instance, if you build a new house, that’s considered value added to the economy.  If a pre-existing house increases in value, the owner may be better off, but the country’s GDP is unaffected. Of course, companies often have a vested interest in exaggerating their profits, so reliable figures can sometimes be tough to calculate.

The other method of calculating GDP involves measuring total consumption of products by a country’s population. Since it relies mostly on household surveys, this method also has flaws. People tend to underreport the amount they spend on alcohol and cigarettes, for instance. But hopefully, the two measures should come up with close to the same number and when the results from the two approaches are compiled, they should give you a pretty good idea of the size of a country’s economy.

[…]

But for most countries, there’s no international legal authority to ensure that statistical offices are following the SNA guidelines, and international economists largely have to rely on self-reported numbers. While no one’s disputing China’s new status, the country has often been suspected of cooking its books. Although China is not a member of the OECD, it does cooperate with the organization in producing statistics according to the SNA guidelines.

Those guidelines are updated every few years. The most recent edition, which was made in 2008 and has so far only been implemented by Australia, was revised so that a firm’s investments in research and development are considered added value. This means that as the new standard is implemented worldwide over the next four years or so, many countries will see their GDP numbers increase by as much as 1 percent. That’s one way to stimulate growth.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:

Let’s just put some of today’s headlines about Japan’s GDP being surpassed by Chinese GDP in perspective.

In the quarter, Japan had economic output of $1.28 trillion, or $10,085 per capital, based on a population of 127 million.

China?

It had economic output of $1.337 trillion for the quarter, but a population of about $1.3 billion, so per-capita output of… $1000, about a 1/10th as big.

Let us know when China passes Albania.

Derek Scissors at Heritage:

It’s true that simple GDP does matter. The increasing size of China’s economy means the entire world is now affected by its voracious demand for oil, iron ore, and other commodities, as well as its low-cost supply of consumer electronics, clothing, and other goods.

But for successful economic development, what matters far more is the wealth of individuals and families. Japanese economic weakness is not shown in its still impressive 3rd place in world GDP but in its roughly 40th place on measures of personal income. From an economy once thought better managed and better performing than the U.S., the average citizen of Japan is now poorer than the average citizen of Mississippi. American citizens are noticeably richer than citizens of most other developed countries, such as in the EU. But Japan, in particular, is moving backward.

In contrast to Japan’s 20 years of weakness, there has been stunning growth in Chinese GDP per capita for 30 years. Yet China is still a developing economy. Chinese GDP per capita, even adjusted for purchasing power, is about 15 percent the level of the U.S. Further, GDP per capita actually exaggerates China’s performance.

The PRC’s incomplete data revisions undermine comparisons but, from the middle of 2000 to the middle of 2010, GDP per capita increased by more than 9500 yuan or, at present exchange rates, another $2800 in annual income. However, urban disposable income increased less than 6800 yuan, or about $2000 in annual income. And rural income increased less than 2000 yuan, or $600 in annual income.

Razib Khan at Discover

Robert Reich at Wall Street Pit:

Think of China as a giant production machine that’s growing 10 percent a year (this year, somewhat less). The machine sucks in more and more raw materials and components from rest of world – it’s now the world’s #1 buyer of iron ore and copper, and close to the #1 importer of crude oil – and spews out a growing mountain of stuff, along with huge environmental problems.

But because the Chinese consume a smaller and smaller proportion of this stuff, it has to be exported to consumers elsewhere (Europe, North America, Japan) to keep the Chinese working. Much of the money China earns by selling it around the world is reinvested in factories, roads, trains, and power plants that enlarge China’s capacity to produce far more. Another big portion is lent to or invested in the rest of the world (helping to finance America’s budget deficit at very low cost).

But this can’t go on. China’s workers won’t allow it. Workers in other nations who are losing their jobs won’t allow it, either.

The answer is not simply more labor agitation in China or an upward revaluation of China’s currency relative to the dollar. The problem is bigger. All over the world, we’re witnessing a growing gap between production and consumption, while the environment continues to degrade. The Chinese machine is fast heading for a breakdown only because it’s growing fastest.

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If The Hair Does Oddly Sit, You Must Acquit

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Monica Davey and Susan Saulny at NYT:

Prosecutors here once said that the conduct of Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was so despicable it would make Abraham Lincoln “roll over in his grave,” but 12 jurors in the federal corruption case against him were apparently not all so certain.

After deliberating for 14 days, the jury found Mr. Blagojevich guilty of a single criminal count — making false statements to the F.B.I., which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one of the least severe penalties in the charges against him.

The jurors also said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on 23 of the 24 counts against him, including an accusation that he had tried to sell an appointment to fill the Senate seat once held by President Obama. On that count, one juror said, the group was split 11 to 1 in favor of convicting him.

Prosecutors immediately announced plans for a retrial, but the outcome was seen as something of a victory, at least for now, for Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat and lifelong politician from this city, who had always proclaimed his innocence and did so again as he left court.

Michelle Malkin:

Reminder of the issues in addition to the Senate seat-trading scam that the jury has been charged with tackling:

– a shady, Tony Rezko-connected state pension bond sale;

– attempted extortion of then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, whose brother Blago wanted to host a fund-raiser in exchange for a $2 million football field grant sought by a school in Emanuel’s congressional district;

– attempted extortion and bribery of Children’s Memorial Hospital;

– conspiracy to extort and bribe a race-track owner in exchange for horse-racing industry tax subsidies;

– and attempted bribery and extortion of a road construction executive, whom Blago wanted to hold a fund-raiser in exchange for $6 billion in government tollway projects.

Allah Pundit:

Gabe Malor notes on Twitter that that was one of the counts Martha Stewart was convicted on. Question: What now? Is the U.S. Attorney going to re-try him or do we sentence him to parole on the lying charge so that he can jump into the Kirk/Giannoulias race and fulfill his destiny?

Update: The case is too high-profile for the feds to walk away, so as expected, Patrick Fitzgerald says it’s on to a retrial.

Update: Ace e-mails with a new theory: What if the jury was split 11-1 to convict on the remaining counts? That might explain why they wanted a copy of the oath — to confront the holdout with his duty to render an honest verdict. It also raises the disturbing question of what kind of juror would be so invested in seeing Blagojevich walk that he’d hold out for two weeks against 11 increasingly frustrated colleagues.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

All you Californians ought to be getting awfully nervous about Senate-Select Carly Fiorina about now. Because the lesson I take from the Rod Blagojevich verdict–he was found guilty of just one charge of lying to the FBI, while the jury remained deadlocked on 23 other charges–is that it’s okay to sell a Senate seat, so long as you don’t lie about it.

Doug Mataconis:

Basically, Blagojevich was convicted on the same “lying to an FBI agent” charge that got Martha Stewart and Scooter Libbey in trouble in their cases although, to be honest, the “lie” in Blago’s case could arguably be considered boasting rather than a material misrepresentation.

In any case, while the U.S. Attorney is saying they will re-try on the 23 counts that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on, there’s no denying that Blagojevich won big today. Prosecutors rarely lose in Federal Court and while this isn’t an outright acquittal, it’s close enough considering the high-profile nature of the case and the fact that Blagojevich’s attorneys didn’t even put on a defense case (meaning that the jury wasn’t even able to convict based solely on the prosecutions evidence). They’ll get another bite at the apple, but, for now, one of America’s oddest politicians remains a free man.

Scott Turow at NYT:

IN May 1980, during the height of the movement to add an Equal Rights Amendment for women to the Constitution, an activist named Wanda Brandstetter delivered a note to Nord Swanstrom, an Illinois state representative. “Mr. Swanstrom,” it said, “the offer to help in your election and $1,000 for your campaign for pro-E.R.A. vote.” Things did not go as Ms. Brandstetter hoped. The measure was never ratified by the Legislature, while her offer of $1,000 lead directly to her conviction for bribery in the Illinois courts.

Since Ms. Brandstetter’s case, it has been clear in Illinois (and eventually in the federal courts too) that, notwithstanding the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has applied to political contributions, prosecutions for bribery and extortion may be brought when a donation is tied directly to a specific act by an elected official.

So, people are right to wonder how the jury in the trial of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, could possibly be unable to come up with a verdict on any bribery-related charges, finding Mr. Blagojevich guilty only of lying to federal agents when he characterized himself in 2005 as uninvolved in political fundraising.

After all, government wiretaps revealed Mr. Blagojevich threatening not to sign legislation beneficial to the harness racing industry unless he received a $100,000 campaign donation from one race track executive. He even threatened to hold up an increase in state Medicaid reimbursements for pediatric cases until the chief executive of Illinois’s leading children’s hospital contributed $50,000.

Yet the unwillingness of one or more jurors to convict Mr. Blagojevich of anything but bare-faced lying makes some sense. I suspect the jury’s indecision might have been a reaction at some level to the hypocritical mess our campaign financing system has become, especially in light of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence about political donations.

For example, in June 2009, the court decided a case involving Massey Coal and its chief executive, Joe Blankenship. (Coincidentally, Massey was the operator of a coal mine in West Virginia that exploded in April, killing 29 miners.) In 2004, after Massey had lost a $50-million fraud verdict to a rival coal company, Mr. Blankenship spent $3 million supporting the successful candidacy of Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, where Massey’s challenge of the fraud verdict was going to be heard.

Although Mr. Blankenship’s spending eclipsed the contributions of all of Judge Benjamin’s other donors put together, the judge subsequently refused to remove himself from Massey’s appeal. Unsurprisingly, the court voted to overturn the verdict against Massey, with Judge Benjamin providing the deciding vote.

The case eventually came to the United States Supreme Court, which by a 5-to-4 vote decided Justice Benjamin should have recused himself because of the “disproportionate” influence Mr. Blankenship’s money had in the election. Nonetheless, the court pointedly refused to require the same from other judges who received less grandiose campaign assistance from lawyers and litigants with cases before them.

Moreover, the court appeared persuaded that nothing criminal had occurred, even though its ruling concluded that it was “reasonably foreseeable” at the time that Mr. Benjamin would decide the Massey case and that Mr. Blankenship had a “vested interest” when he spent the money. Given that logic, who can blame Mr. Blagojevich — or Wanda Brandstetter — for asking, “Why me?”

Jim Geraghty at NRO

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