Interesting Reads Feb 1-15, 2019

I am going to get back to some categories for these articles in a bit, but I want to start with two articles that I think, rhetorically, capture some essential elements of recent debates in our nation that are worth having.

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Davis, CA February 15, 2019

I like them because they are well-written, thought provoking, and because they drive to the heart of some important issues.


1. The New Green Deal

I know, I know… you have already made up your mind about this one.  It is either a bold move towards the future or Stalinism cloaked in New Deal (or Marshal Plan) language.  Whatever the case, this article lays out some simple points about our built environment and what it would take to create something that is not fossil fuel dependent.  Here is the key point (please read the whole thing):

Our carbon emissions are not mainly about the price of gasoline or electricity. They’re about infrastructure. For every human being, there are over 1,000 tons of built environment: roads, office buildings, power plants, cars and trains and long-haul trucks. It is a technological exoskeleton for the species. Everything most of us do, we do through it: calling our parents, getting to work, moving for a job, taking the family on vacation, finding food for the evening or staying warm in a polar vortex. Just being human in this artificial world implies a definite carbon footprint — and for that matter, a trail of footprints in water use, soil compaction, habitat degradation and pesticide use. You cannot change the climate impact of Americans without changing the built American landscape.

Okay, if you are denying that human-induced climate change is a thing then this article is not for you.  But if you even suspect that our lifestyles have something to do with the “weirding” of our climate then you have got to grapple with this argument.

It is odd to me that the idea of mobilizing the nation for war (see WWII) is not at all controversial (nor, apparently, is the idea that we need to feed the war machine to the tune of trillions every couple of years despite the fact that we are NOT at war), but that public expenditure on our built infrastructure to lower our collective carbon footprint is somehow anathema, sophomoric, and beyond the pale… Color me red (or green) I guess.

2. The “Emergency” Declaration

This whole article by Jeff Greenfield receives a YES, YES, YES from me.  Why?  Because I am a hopeless liberal?

No, because I grew up in a conservative family and this is what I learned:

  1. Leaders must be morally upright.  Kennedy and King were shams, I was taught, because they had sexual relations outside marriage.
  2. Big government is bad because it robs us of essential freedoms.  Only war itself should lead to the central state acting to take control.  Everything else is tyranny.
  3. “We balance our budget and so should the government.”  Deficits are the result of moral failure and no right-minded politician will support deficit spending–only the “Cadillac Liberals” act that way (and they spend to keep power).
  4. We saved Europe and we need NATO as a bulwark against all that is wrong in the world (Soviet Union, then later Islamic fundamentalism).

And that conservatism had the Grand Old Party as a sacred vessel to hold these essential truths.  Now we have this:

If you think the Republicans in Congress are going to stand up to Trump’s fake national emergency in order to defend the party’s long-held principles, or to assert the constitutional authority of the legislative branch, you haven’t been paying attention for the past three years. Trump said he would win so much that you’d get tired of winning—the lone arena in which this is objectively true is how he has imposed his will on his fellow Republicans, who have surrendered abjectly to him…

At times, it’s possible to imagine the president almost willfully testing his party, musing about whether there is any part of its belief system that he cannot compel Republicans to abandon. Is character key to a good leader? White evangelicals, who once overwhelmingly supported that proposition, now reject it by landslide margins. Are deficits a mortal danger to the national economic health? Are international alliances crucial to national security?

Yes, all the way around.  The Republican Party is not conservative. Not in any way.  Glad I can finally put that to rest.

Now, on to the rest…


My dear friend Lisa Schirch has been boots (okay, shoes) on the ground in Afghanistan for a good long while.  A person committed to the way of non-violence, she has bravely entered the halls of military academies to try to help the makers of war wrestle with what “nation building” really requires.  I admire her commitment to peace–it is practical, open-eyed, and grounded in an understanding of our shared humanity with folks like the Taliban.

This article gets at the heart of what peacemaking in a decades-long conflict must include.  And Lisa is right:

Successful peace agreements emerge from comprehensive peace processes such as those that took place in South Africa, Tajikistan, Colombia, Guatemala, Liberia and the Philippines.

Comprehensive means that they are broadly inclusive of community (human) needs and focus on building broad consensus.

Closer to home we have (finally?) an awakening of our need for peacemaking in our communities.  This article is encouraging in this regard, but as my friend Bill (husband of Lisa) remarked to me “(I)t irks me that the article reads as if they just discovered structural injustice and the country was peachy keen until Trump became president.”

Indeed… these divisions, the need for local peacemaking, restorative justice, and conflict resolution are NOT new… Maybe we are just waking up to them.  Thanks Bill (the article IS helpful however).

All About Health

I am pretty sure you won’t agree with the basic argument of this article on suicide in the military.  It certainly made me squirm.  Here is the gist:

Military service members, while perhaps not fully understanding their own evolutionary idealism, enlist to escape a society where it’s every man for himself. Human beings instinctively need to be part of a tribe. There is something mysteriously satisfying about offering yourself for the greater good of others. An experience in the military followed by a life deficient in community, solidarity, and shared suffering is, well, depressing.

Frankly, I am open to any argument to understand this epidemic (like so much about the military, hidden from view).  I will say that what it suggests is that our de-facto mercenary military is not made up of a healthy group of people.

Ezra Klein writes excellent longish articles on key policy and economics themes and this one on the idea of “Medicare for All” is no exception.  Klein is unsparing in his criticism of the various Democratic “plans” (including Bernie Sanders’) and breaks down both what is meant by “Medicare” and what is meant by “All.”  A sample:

Medicare works, and Americans know it. That’s a political boon for Democrats. But it carries an implicit threat: If whatever ends up being Democrats’ Medicare-for-all bill feels risky to people, the same forces buoying the idea’s poll numbers now will sink the policy later.

As a companion to the Klein piece, I recommend this one, which talks about the role of private insurance in Europe and Canada: that is the role of private insurance in the context of strong and successful state-run schemes.  Lots of interesting models and approaches.

If you don’t read publications from the American Public Health Association, I strongly recommend you start.  They are accessible, include key links and provide key evidence of the arguments they are making.

This one on the fall of life expectancy in the US (for the third year running) blames suicide and opioids.  The article refers to these as “conditions of despair”:

Suicide and opioid addiction are not the same, with different causes and solutions. But as conditions of despair, both opioid addiction and suicidality are rooted in social and socio-economic adversities, many of which are widespread in the U.S.

Now I am not particularly satisfied with the catch-all of “social and socio-economic adversities.”  Those terms seem to hide more than they reveal.  However, how is it that in the wealthiest nation, perhaps in all of history, we have a declining life expectancy because of despair?

I think we need to have a look in the mirror here.

I lump poverty in with health because… well… just like poor people scrimp on food, they also scrimp on health care to get by.  A few weeks ago I linked to an article criticizing the way some development economists (and Bill Gates) describe improvements to poverty rates (that is, that they are falling globally).  That article questioned the poverty threshold Gates referred to and the dubious quality of data from the 1800s on poverty.

Turns out that the whole Gates thing has led to a pretty healthy debate about the whole issue of global poverty.  I strongly recommend this article because it is a true primer to the discussion of poverty and what it means on a global scale.


I know I am way over the top in my adoration of this guy… but he gets it.  In case you have missed all his incisive writing over the past several years (including his warning about the “imperial presidency”), this review of his collected works should be a link to encourage you to buy the book. 

He is that good…


I will close today from an extended quote from the Heritage Foundation’s website.  This bookends one of my opening articles and situates us pretty much where we are. The Ten Conservative Principles are by Russell Kirk, a respected figure in American conservative circles.  I point to Principle Number 8 in light of our national “emergency”:

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, (just) as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger.

Emphasis added…

Interesting Reads: January 2019

No time for weekly updates this month but here are some of the interesting reads for January.

Public Health

This article provides a useful visual on the distribution and concentration of gun violence in the US. In addition to helping to visualize a “rate” it demonstrates the limitations of rates and allows a finer-grained analysis of clusters of gun violence. Excellent resource.

Once again The Economist does a good job teasing out the absurdity of the seeming hell-bent elimination of any and all air and water quality standards by the current administration. This one, on mercury, shows how unnecessary and even unwanted such eliminations are.

Coastal Hills Looking West towards San Francisco

Read this one to get a sense of how complex (beyond imagination) our health care system is. So complex that experts are not even sure how to explain it so people can demand changes.

I file this one under public health even though it is really about public infrastructure, the way we build our living spaces, and how transportation fits into that. If you haven’t paid attention to how your own living space either promotes or impedes a healthy lifestyle, check out this article. It really helps clarify things.


If you have read much Dean Baker, you know his main points: his objection to patents, his critique of maintaining high interest rates to “tame” inflation; his plea to always put large numbers ($500 million dollars!!!!) in perspective…

They are all here in his wish for clearer and more honest debate over economic policy. An excellent primer.

Coming to a city near you: attempts to lower tax bills by chain stores claiming their land should be valued at the sale price of their stores in other cities. The article also points out the problems of construction of purpose built stores that no one else wants. As a former local policy maker, I can tell you that moves like this are disastrous for small communities that rely heavily on sales tax for “big boxes” and the property tax that goes with them.

Robert Bork’s surprising role in rolling back anti-trust laws is the subject of this insightful piece. I have lived my entire adult life in the face of all out efforts by the Republican to remove “barriers” to businesses. They generally get a pass from business people of companies of all sizes. The general feeling is “there is too much regulation and the Republicans do something about it.” But in examples like this, and the air quality one above, we can see that these are not conservative values on display but revolutionary and disruptive ones. They will destroy small businesses, the environment, and competition—ironically in the name of “free competition.” There is here a denial of the failure of markets due to monopolistic (an monopsonistic) practices and inattention to externalities. Glad to see a conservative newspaper calling them out.

Is government debt always bad? I am keeping my eyes out for other articles on this theme because more and more are popping up fundamentally questioning how we think about funding government programs and the issue of national debt.

And now everyone is joining their voices in agreement about the dehumanizing effects of free-market capitalism. If the foregoing articles don’t fit your politics, how about this guy’s take. I can’t agree with everything Carlson says but that he said stuff like this seems to capture the essence of something important for all of us:

The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.

This articles summarizes some conservative responses to what Carlson said. Read both.

More Baker, this time on the tax cut. The basic story: all the promises about revenue growth (not spikes), reduced tax avoidance, and increased corporate investment, are not coming true. Is anyone shocked?

In case you weren’t reading Baker on patent monopolies, or anything I have referred to about deregulation (or government capture by large companies), read this one to better understand our opioid crisis. Guess who gets to clean up this mess? Yup, local governments everywhere.


Policing in America

The “thin blue line” was much on display in my hometown recently when a young officer was shot and killed while responding to a traffic violations. This article and video from the New York Times talks about another town’s encounter with this symbol, why it is necessary for some and opposed by others. Like any symbol, it can be used and abused for objectionable ends. Talking about its meaning, for all members of the community, seems to be a good example of how to effectively deal with symbols that have come to mean very different things to different members of a community. Symbols are rarely neutral.



Bacevich at his best (he always is) with the one phrase that sums up this short piece on Brexit and democracy in the US—“curated” democracy.

It is no doubt true that the United Kingdom and the United States are democracies, with the people allowed some say. But to be more precise, they are curated democracies, with members of an unelected elite policing the boundaries of acceptable opinion and excluding heretics. Members of this elite are, by their own estimation, guardians of truth and good sense. They know what is best.



I am not sure there is any good farm bill but this critique from a Jesuit magazine lays out the issues. Here is one key quote during which the author declares we are not facing a food crisis:

(T)his is not a crisis. It is true that farmers are working more and more hours for ever-diminishing returns, rural communities are hollowing out, and young people are staying away or are being boxed out from agriculture. It is also the case that farmers—exhausted, cash-strapped and with communal supports knocked out from under them—are experiencing a remarkable rise in instances of mental illness and suicide. In a great number of places, the rivers continue to grow more polluted, the soil is being depleted, and biological diversity is disappearing. Nonetheless, it is not a crisis, because food shows up with a wonderful regularity on our store shelves and on our plates, and most of us are well and happily fed. It is a fine thing to be so secure in our food. But if our patterns of production and consumption mean that we are squeezing every last drop out of the farm families and farmland only to discard them, then our priorities have become seriously, dangerously out of order.

And while we are on food, do we ever think about how the concentration occurring within the food crop seed industry (see monopoly article above), might affect farmers, farm families, and food production—not just in the US but around the world. Some of these firms have research facilities in my home town and they are great people. But where does this all end? In particular, what does it do to the need to innovate?



I have seen the good and the bad of elites trying to bring about social change. When they work with already existing entities with deep understanding of the problems, it can be positive. If they are willing to look at structural injustice and attack it, all good. If not… Well here is the critique:

(E)lites start initiatives of their own, taking on social change as though it were just another stock in their portfolio or corporation to restructure. Because they are in charge of these attempts at social change, the attempts naturally reflect their biases.

For the most part, these initiatives are not democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favour the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo – and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them win – are the secret to redressing the injustices…

By refusing to risk its way of life, by rejecting the idea that the powerful might have to sacrifice for the common good, it clings to a set of social arrangements that allow it to monopolise progress and then give symbolic scraps to the forsaken – many of whom wouldn’t need the scraps if society were working right.

This one caught me a bit by surprise but is an important read about how we think about poverty and what it means to live on “a dollar a day.” Has poverty declined in our world? If so, by how much? And what does that mean?

One lesson: if you take out China, the rest of the economically poor places around the world are not doing that well…


Immigration Arcania

If you don’t work with immigration issues every day (like I do), the sheer complexity of the whole system is largely hidden. If you are an American returning from abroad your trip through customs and border protection is usually fast and painless (unless you forgot and brought fresh produce in your luggage—NEVER do that).

If you are anyone else entering our nation and seeking the legal benefits of your “status” then things are not so easy—not so easy when you come, not so easy to stay, not so easy to make sure you follow all the rules. And your waits for benefits you have applied for (usually work-related) are getting longer.


Science Fiction (or not)

This does remind me of some science fiction I have read or watched. How the poor sell themselves and how their governments help, just so they can survive.

I had never heard of “ethics dumping” but it is a thing and if we allow it the path to using the poor as “petri dishes” for our organs and cures does not see too far away…


And a quote from Sarah Smarsh writing Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.  Speaking of the body, and labor, and how it is valued…

The person who drives a garbage truck may himself be viewed as trash.  The worse danger is not the job itself but the devaluing of those who do it.  A society that considers your body dispensable will inflict violence upon you.  Working in a field is one thing; being misled by a corporation about the safety of a carcinogenic pesticide is another.  Hammering on a roof is one thing; not being able to afford a doctor when you fall is another.  Waiting tables is one thing; working for an employer whose sexual harassment you can’t afford to fight and risk a night’s worth of tips is another.

The Way of Remembrance

As I sat through the funeral of Officer Corona, slain on the streets of my hometown just a week before, I thought about the act of remembering.  Everyone who spoke that morning implored us to remember this young woman.  And in their words was more than a hint of what that might mean. img_0105

Her young life, by any reckoning, was extraordinary in how she touched people, how she lived, and how she led.  We do not want to forget her.  But after all the services are over, after the makeshift memorial on 5th street is removed, and after all the blue ribbons come down–by hand or by wind and weather–how can we remember this unique life?

The hint I heard on Friday morning is that we can remember Ms. Corona by living out, together, in our community, the best of who she was.  This is how we remember.

To remember is to act on memories.  It is a liturgy to those who are gone.

In this sense, a remembrance, a true one, must move beyond fading recollections to daily acts that form us to be certain kinds of people, and keep the person who is no longer with us, “with” us–before us, present in the day to day.

It is only thus that we immortalize that which is mortal.

And, from what I heard, Natalie Corona is someone we should desire to immortalize.

There is a local columnist who, from time to time, prods our small city to come up with a motto.  He often jests but there is a point.  A motto, according to the dictionary is “a short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family, or institution.”  I could propose that we take what we have learned of Officer Corona and use it to create our City’s motto.  Unfortunately, what we learned is far too much to contain in a sentence or phrase.

So, I would propose, instead of a motto, an aspirational statement our City can adopt to lay out what we desire to be.  In this way we keep Natalie in our hearts, in our lives, and in our actions.

The following is based on what I heard on Friday morning, cast as a statement of who we want to be:

The City of Davis is

  • a city that serves
  • a city that always smiles
  • a city that is the first to arrive in a time of need, and the last to leave
  • a city of youthful energy
  • a city that works tirelessly to create a welcome place and safety for everyone.

Stay with us Natalie, in the words we speak and in the acts we undertake.


Denying the Desperation

At present, there is no single, coherent theory of international migration, only a fragmented set of theories that have developed largely in isolation from one another, sometimes but not always segmented by disciplinary boundaries. Current patterns and trends in immigration, however, suggest that a full understanding of contemporary migratory processes will not be achieved by relying on the tools of one discipline alone, or by focusing on a single level of analysis.
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Rather, their complex, multifaceted nature requires a sophisticated theory that incorporates a variety of perspectives, levels, and assumption… Given the fact that theories conceptualize causal processes at such different levels of analysis-the individual, the household, the national, and the international-they cannot be assumed, a priori, to be inherently incompatible. It is quite possible, for example, that individuals act to maximize income while families minimize risk, and that the context within which both decisions are made is shaped by structural forces operating at the national and international levels. (Massey et al (1993) “Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal” in Population and Development Review

Potential gains in absolute income through migration are likely to play an important role in households’ migration decisions, but international migration by household members who hold promise for success as labor migrants can also be an effective strategy to improve a household’s income position relative to others in the household’s reference group. (Oded Stark and J Edward Taylor (1989) “Relative Deprivation and International Migration” in Demography)

The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed… (Stephen King, The Gunslinger—Darktower I)

And when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstlings of your cattle that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall say to him, “By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” (Exodus 13)

When humans first ventured out of Africa some 60,000 years ago, they left genetic footprints still visible today. By mapping the appearance and frequency of genetic markers in modern peoples, we create a picture of when and where ancient humans moved around the world. These great migrations eventually led the descendants of a small group of Africans to occupy even the farthest reaches of the Earth. (

Suddenly the storm caught them away and swept them over the water weeping, away from their own country… She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches, and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country. (Odyssey Book 10)

We sat around the circle and they explained “levleika” to us. That time of year in the Northern Sahel when people just cannot make ends meet.  They described the strategies for the worst of times and it basically came down to a great scattering.  The scattering of people near and far to find work, and food, and life.

Even today farther south in the Sahel they refer to the exodus. And sometimes people, especially the men, never return.

We are a migratory species, leaving home in search of lives that home sometimes cannot provide.  I started studying migration seriously in the early 1990s and was astounded at the number of theories that had been set forth, over many years, to explain it.  I always preferred Stark’s concept of relative deprivation–the idea that people seem to inherently compare themselves to their neighbors and, feeling relatively, if not merely absolutely poor, decide to leave to find a better life.  (Much later I discovered that Stark was basically describing Girard’s mimetic desire, though I doubt he knew that).

And while people do leave, it has always been my experience that they harbor hopes, often deep hopes, of returning home.  Migration is a temporary state that will make survival at home possible.  Only much later do they learn that it is too late, or that home is too far, or that home has transformed into the “here.”

Standing in a cornfield in Guerrero, Mexico or sitting around a fire talking to Mauritanians, Burkinabe, or Malians, I learned of the forces that drove people to move.  I learned from a father that his sons really did not want to leave to find work in the US, but that they had had no choice.  Dropping corn and pepper prices meant they could never provide education for their children, homes for their families, or care for the father himself in his old age.  They dreaded leaving.  He feared they would never return.

I formally researched migration for my dissertation, and what I concluded in “Risk Management Strategies in a Changing Social and Economic Environment: The Case of the Assaba Region of Mauritania” was that families not only relied on migrants to provide cash or in-kind goods, but they also used them to “purchase” insurance in places where the market provided none.

I think we should consider that finding a bit: in places in which people cannot purchase life, or homeowners’ or crop, or cattle, or health insurance, migrants enable their families to “create obligations” towards themselves that function as insurance in times of need.  For many poor people around the world migration of family members is a risk management strategy.  Perhaps one of a handful of ways to hedge against catastrophic loss.

But, I have also talked to the migrants who fled things that are far worse than poverty or the need for insurance.  Those cowering in Bassiknou having fled across the Mali/Mauritania border in times of war and pillage, migrated to save themselves.

And I can assure you… to wander the desert, cross a sea in an unseaworthy boat, or cross great distances on foot without certainty at what is at the other end, is the result of deep desperation.  No one can pay you to do that.  No one can organize a “caravan.”  Desperate people do that when there is no other choice and leaving is the only real option among a set of very bad ones.  Sometimes it seems that only God can compel them to go–and then their “captors” (drug lords and gangs and pharaonic types), try to make them stay.  But sometimes they escape.

It has always struck me as grotesque that we will accept the logic that globe straddling companies will migrate around the world in search of the cheapest labor, the highest profits, the most beneficial tax deals, but we will not apply the same logic to human beings who migrate to seek life.

In the first instance we seem to throw up our hands and say “the market.”  We don’t have to like it but, hey, what can we do?  Invisible hand being what it is…

But when people move (especially across foreign boundaries) to seek a benefit we demonize them as criminals, terrorists, disease carriers, “economic migrants” (as in “They are only moving because their economy is in shambles and they want to benefit from ours…”  Really???).

Parenthetically, I have read The Economist newspaper for years.  It is a religiously free market news source extolling the virtues of unfettered trade and the free movement of goods, services, information… but not people.  They, like the current crop of nativists in DC, seem to view people and their cultures as so vulnerable, so fragile, that any incursion of new ideas, practices, dress or… color is seen as a threat.

And so here we hear claims that nearly 4000 terrorists have attempted to gain access across the southern border (not true, but about that number of people on a watchlist tried to enter the US last year), that 6,000 gang members were picked up at the southern border (not true, about that number were arrested or deported from all over the US last year), that 17,000 people clustered at the southern border are criminals (not true, they may have plead a misdemeanor or merely attempted to cross over without authorization, but criminal?–I don’t think that means what you think it means).

And the facts about “evil” migrants everywhere gets conflated with suffering masses on the southern border to create a crisis.

And so our goal must be, as is Italy’s, which has outsourced the rounding up of migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean to the Libyan Navy, to send a clear message that you should not even try.

This is why people who have left their homes in true fear of survival or simply because there is no real tomorrow there, are stranded at our frontier waiting the purposefully glacial-speed processing of asylum requests (hear all about in “Let Me Count the Ways”).

This is why we separate families.

This is why we lie about “facts:” to demonize the innocent.  To deny the desperation. To minimize the misery.

But, we are a migratory species…

One final word.  Let us declare our outrage at how migrants take our jobs, make us lose our culture, overload our school systems, and the myriad other blames we lay at their feet.  And then let us sit in our homes (most likely built by migrant labor), eat our food (most likely picked and processed by migrant labor), and enjoy our vacations (rooms cleaned by migrants, food served by migrants).

We are a migratory species and we all enjoy the fruits of migration. And it is not going to stop.  Not ever.

Interesting Reads Week of December 23, 2018


I have been quite taken aback by the pushback that President Trump has received on his proposal to remove US troops from Syria.  I get that his motivation for doing so does not match mine but… what is the goal here?  Why is the US there?  What is the end-game?  What does “success” look like? What are the metrics?

Winter moon, Davis, CA 2018

It bothers me more than a little that in all the years I worked in public health around the world, the US government DEMANDED an evidence-based approach, careful monitoring, and regular reporting on our efforts if we were to obtain funding.  I never see those demands placed on military intervention.  An Atlantic article force us to confront the reality of our endless wars and what they bring. Conor Fredersdorf notes and asks:

Still, many now say that the United States would be betraying our allies if we leave. It’s reasonable to ask, given the positions of Congress, the president, and the public: Who took on that ostensible obligation on the nation’s behalf? What gave them the right to do so?

Andrew Bacevich writing in the American Conservative comes at this whole thing in a different way asking why the Neo-Cons are wringing their hands over inattention to “alliances” when they were so willing to trash such alliances when they were not getting their way.

To drive the point home, Sanger recruits Robert Kagan, who obligingly chides President Donald Trump for treating allies as “freeloaders who can go to hell if they don’t get on board.” 

Treating allies with disrespect is no doubt a terrible thing. Yet not so very long ago it was Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives who were telling allies unwilling to get onboard to go to hell. The moment was the run up to the Iraq war.

To that I would add: What are the true ends the US is trying to achieve there… or in other wars in which people continue to die for reasons that are entirely unclear.  To the question of “ends” Matt Gallagher adds this:

But when questions like “How long?” and “How many?” and “What’s the objective?” get swallowed up by a defense industry that essentially answers with, “We’ll handle it,” it’s no wonder that the American citizenry doesn’t engage with its military much beyond surprise homecomings at football games.

And the lack of clarity about ends must, inevitably lead us right back to… Iraq.  But not the Iraq of the Trump visit.  Another Iraq.

Remember that one?  Ben Taub hasn’t forgotten, and his article on the cycles of revenge that the US military unleashed in that land is almost too hard to read.  Read it anyway.


Just one here but the title alone–No, Donald Trump Is Not Leaving Us Poorly Prepared for the Next Recession–should entice a read (coming as it does from Dean Baker).  But lest you think Baker has gone too far, check out this pretty classic summary of his views (emphasis added):

The point is that if we want to do a full accounting of the government’s debt then we better add in the increased cost for a wide range of goods and services due to the monopolies the government has granted. My crude calculations put these in the neighborhood of $1 trillion a year, or roughly one quarter of the federal government’s current tax revenue.

Of course our deficit hawks never do this. This can be explained by the fact that they either don’t understand economics, which is a good reason not to listen to them, or they are simple not honest, which is also a good reason not to listen to them.

To be clear, large tax cuts to corporations, so that they could give more money back to wealthy shareholders in the form of buybacks and dividends (yep, giving money to shareholders through dividends is no better than buybacks) is not a good use of resources. It means the rich get to spend more money at a time when we should be focusing resources on green infrastructure and energy conservation.

In this sense, the Trump tax cuts leave us less well-prepared to face the future. But as far as being prepared for the next recession, sorry folks, you don’t have an economics case.

The politics are another matter. We know that the tax cut loving Republicans will all become huge deficit hawks the next time Democrats are in power. We should not be in the business of assisting their efforts to undermine the economy.


Okay, this is not a typical topical area for these brief posts but perhaps it should be.  In my view (and I speak as someone who, as an elected official, had a front row seat on local civics), we are a graceless society.  So… grace deserves some attention and Peter Wehner provides it:

When I recently asked Jonathan how, as a nonbeliever, he understood grace and why it inspires us when we see it in others, he told me that grace is “some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned.” We see it demonstrated in heroic ways and in small, everyday contexts, he said. “But I guess, regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.”

Please read this to start your 2019.


And I leave you with a quote from Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon Wolin (a post-Iraq-invasion reflection):

Two crucial consequences of the Cold War upon domestic politics contributed major elements to the power imaginary evolving from the conflict.  One was the shrinking place occupied by politics and the enlargement of state power.  The growing dominance of foreign policy and military strategy altered the scope and status of public participation. Public officials, experts, and pundits were quick to declare these to be privileged subjects where partisan politics should defer to national unity and experts should be decide among themselves. The second development was intimately connected with the priority of foreign policy and military preparedness: the emergence and legitimation of elitism, of a political class, “the best and brightest.” (p 39)

Food Security and Poverty: Definitions, Measures, and Data for Davis and Yolo County


Michael Bisch, Executive Director of the Yolo Food Bank has provided valuable information on the state of food insecurity among Davis and Yolo County residents herehere, and here.  Still, very few people know exactly what food insecurity means, how it is measured, and what it correlates with.  Is food insecurity the same as “hunger”?  What, if any, is the relationship between food insecurity and poverty?  How do we understand the meaning of statements like “twenty-five percent of children in Davis schools qualify for free or reduced lunches”? And what does having a large university in our City mean about estimating levels of food insecurity and poverty?

The following is an attempt to lay out the definitions of these terms, the sources of the data and the overall implication for understanding food insecurity in our city and county. We will look specifically at the National School Lunch program eligibility criteria and rates for Davis; the Yolo County and City poverty levels derived from the American Community Survey (Census Bureau); and estimates of food insecurity provided by the organization Feeding America, the University of California and UC Davis (the latter two for students only).



In the US, the Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. The thresholds are based on a method developed in the early 1960’s by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration.

The thresholds she defined were based on what families needed at the time to purchase an “economy food plan” from Department of Agriculture studies and used before tax income since that was the data that was available. No other adjustments to income were made such as taxes paid or the value of government transfer or income support programs.

She assumed that families spent about one third of their income on food but did not derive calculations for expenditures on non-food items. She simply multiplied the cost of the economy food plan by three and then adjusted it for different household sizes (and a few other factors).  She expressed the opinion that the resulting thresholds would yield a conservative underestimate of poverty. (see Fisher (1992)  for a brief summary of her method.)

Despite modest changes over the years, the Orshansky method still underlies the calculations of the official poverty threshold.

Given the limitations of the official poverty measure, the Census Bureau has developed an alternative “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) that includes additional information on both taxes and government transfers.  The Orshansky’s method is 100% food-purchase based and does not vary across the US: the same thresholds are used everywhere. The SPM, on the other hand has different thresholds by state and accounts for non-food purchases—including housing—to estimate poverty. This Infographic provides a useful snapshot of the differences between the official poverty measure and the SPM.  Note these two maps from the Infographic:

SPM Joined

Using the Orshansky model 13.4% of Californians are in poverty. Using the SPM about 19% are in poverty. Housing costs are thought to be a main explanation for the difference.

The Census Bureau uses the annual American Community Survey (ACS), a large sample of US households, to collect information on and estimate the population parameter of percent living in poverty at county and city levels. The SPM data produces only state level parameter estimates. We will examine data from each below.

Free and Reduced-Price Meals

When you see or hear about data on “free and reduced prices meals” the data refers to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  The NLSP is a federally assisted meal program that has been in operation since the immediate post World War II period.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the Program at the Federal level. In California, the NSLP is administered by the state Department of Education.

The goal of the program is to provide free and reduced-price lunches that are nutritionally balanced—with the nutritional composition determined by the FNS/USDA.

Qualification for the NLSP is based on the official poverty measure and the USDA annually produces income threshold tables for different household sizes to determine which students are eligible. Reduced price lunches are eligible to those at 185% of the federal poverty threshold and free meals for those at 130% of the federal poverty threshold.  Reduced prices lunches cannot cost more than 40 cents per meal. Children in households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—known as CalFresh in California, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) benefits, or children who are recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—known as CalWORKs in California are automatically eligible for free meal benefits. (Different threshold tables are produced for Hawaii and Alaska). (See the NLSP fact sheet for a summary).

Food Security

Unlike the Census’ official poverty measure, the SPM, or the NLSP qualification criteria, the definition and measurement of food security are not standardized.  A very good source of information on the concept of food security is the comprehensive literature review by Jones et. al. (2013). The review states that

(t)he most commonly used definition of food security is based on the definition from the 1996 World Food Summit: Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

The authors helpfully distinguish often-interchanged concepts such as undernutrition, hunger, and nutrition insecurity, defining each in its turn. The following diagram is adapted from their article and from prior work by Benson (2004)—with my own additions—and helps distinguish these terms.

Overlapping Concepts Nutrition Food Security

Most helpfully, for our purposes, they discuss in some detail the three key elements of food security—availability, access, and utilization, with a fourth, the idea of temporal changes in any of the three, to provide a richer understanding of what food security is.

The diagram below, drawn from the paper illustrates the important role of access—both physical and economic—to assuring food security. Drawing on the foundational work of Amartya Sen (1981) the authors conclude that, contrary to conventional wisdom, food availability (physical presence of food in a nation or region) is rarely the deciding factor in food security. Rather, people’s ability to obtain or access the food that is available is the key.  Further, intrahousehold dynamics, and access to other health promoting behaviors and services are important factors in how accessed food is actually utilized by individuals.

Food Security Pathway

The authors concur that examining food security at the household level makes most sense, even if it hides certain intrahousehold factors that may change an individual household member’s ability to utilize the food in the household.

After laying out the key definitions the authors review a variety of ways that food security is measured or assessed around the world.  Some of these are based on national level food balance sheets or more complex ways of assessing macro-level “security” and I will not discuss them further.

The tools that have gained the most attention locally—via the UC Davis food security analysis, that I will discuss in more detail below—are largely derived from the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) that was developed based on research initiated by Present Reagan’s Task Force on Food Assistance in the mid-1980s.

The HFSSM, and a variety of tools that have come from it, uses an 18-question survey module that asks respondents their experience in four domains:

1) anxiety about household food supplies;

2) perceptions that the quality or quantity of accessible food is not adequate;

3) reduced adult food intake; and

4) reduced food intake by children

Based on responses, households are classified as either food security, having low food security, or very low food security (see the publication Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 for details on how these classifications are made). More streamlined questionnaires with fewer questions have been developed (and validated) to more rapidly assess food security.

The table below provides the current questionnaire used in the Current Population Survey (CPS)1.  Note the additional questions used in the case of households in which children are or are not present.  The bolded questions are used in a short-form of this survey, which has been validated (see Blumberg et al (1999)) as a reasonable means to more rapidly assess food security.  Questions 1-4 and 6 and 7 were used in recent University of California and UC Davis assessments of food security among students discussed below.


Food Security Questions

The publication Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 referenced above provides extensive information on food security in the United States and discusses, among other things, its chronicity versus its transitory nature in subgroups.  Space does not permit a full analysis of the results and caveats here but the paper is highly recommended.

As we will see below, these scales have been shown to operate as relatively reasonable proxies for poverty in a variety of studies around the world.  Conversely, poverty measures are often used to derive local-level estimates of food (in)security.

Data for Davis and Yolo County

With these definitions in mind, we can now turn to examine data for Davis and Yolo County


Data on Davis and Yolo County is accessed at

Note that data presented in what follows are from the American Community Survey using “5- year estimates”—The 5-year estimates from the ACS are “period” estimates that represent data collected over a period of time. The primary advantage of using multiyear estimates is the increased statistical reliability of the data for less populated areas and small population subgroups. The ACS also has extensive information on the precision of estimates (margins of error) that I will not get into here.  Suffice to say that data for subgroups available for the City or County are less precise because of sample sizes.

Official Poverty

As a reminder, the official poverty rate for California as a state is 13.4% but the SPM estimate puts the rate at 19.0%.  There is general agreement that the official poverty rate underestimates poverty in California for reasons discussed previously.

In the next section, we will examine limitations of these official estimates as they concern university students and suggest some possible adjustments.

Free and Reduced-Price Meals

Data on the proportion of students in Davis and Yolo County who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals is accessed at

This data comes from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, which is longitudinal data system used to maintain individual-level data including student demographics, course data, discipline, assessments, staff assignments, and other data for state and federal reporting.

The following presents the data in tabular and graphical form—the latter by Yolo County School District.  Note that the lowest eligibility percentage is from Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Davis Joint Unified School District.  The highest eligibility percentage for schools with over 40 enrolled is from the Westfield Village Elementary School in the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento.

FRPM Table


FRPM Graph

Food Insecurity

As noted, measuring food security is more challenging and local-level estimates are not directly available from the data collected.  The USDA’s Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 estimates that 11.2% of Californians are food insecure with 4.1% experiencing very low food security.  The margins of error lead to the conclusion that food insecurity in California, as a state, is lower than the national estimate (significant at 90% confidence level).

The non-profit Feeding America (see publishes online maps with estimates of food insecurity for each county in the US.  Their publication: Map the Meal Gap 2018: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016, lays out the full methodology they use model county estimates from national data on food security and, as we discuss briefly below, it uses income, employment and other demographic factors to estimate food insecurity for each county.

According to Feeding America, approximately 14% of Yolo County residents are food insecure with 79% of those falling below 200% of the official poverty threshold.  This means that over 29,000 Yolo County residents are food insecure according to their model.  See for these estimates.

(Note that they use a higher population figure than the ACS and thus percentages yield different estimates of numbers.  Keep in mind that the ACS numbers we used were 5-year estimates, not accounting for population growth as the Feeding America data does.)

In addition to these estimates, the University of California, Davis produced its own report of food insecurity among students based on the work of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Student Food Security. As part of the Task Force work, which looked not just at food insecurity but also University programs addressing it and recommendations for other programs that might help, a survey went out to over 7,000 randomly selected students with 376 responses.

The survey used a reduced form of the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) discussed above and found that 44.1% of students experience low or very low food security and that 22.3% experience very low food security.  Assuming responses were random, the 90% confidence level for these estimates is about +/- 4%.

The UC Davis survey has similar findings as a broader University of California-wide survey using the same method from 2015.  That survey, cited in the Task Force report, found that 42% of students, university-wide have low or very low food security.

Poverty Measures—The Effect of Large University-Student Populations on Estimates

The official definition of poverty in the ACS does not easily tease out the fact that college students may be classified as “poor” because they are not working and have no visible “income.”  As a result, the Census Bureau has proposed a simple method to completely remove them from local poverty calculations.  Students living in dorms are currently not countered in the official poverty count but those living in the community are captured in the ACS.

As demographers at the University of Virginia’s Demographic’s Research Group note in a recent Census Brief (2016):

Most college students report very low incomes, putting them below their respective poverty thresholds and—especially in cases of large off-campus student populations—raising the rate of poverty in the towns where they live. Yet, intuitively, we recognize that college or graduate student “poverty” means something different than poverty among the unemployed, families with children, or the persistently needy.

In most cases, the removal of students does not change the estimates of the proportion of the population living in poverty, but as the authors argue, in University towns such as Davis, with a large student population living within the city, the presence of students who may be only transitorily poor can lead to confusion about the true level of persistent poverty and cloud decision making about the best ways to deal with it.  Please note that students living in dorms are NOT counted in the ACS methodology so the data covers students living in the community.

As noted, the methodology is straightforward and involves simply removing all graduate, professional, and undergraduate students from poverty calculations.  The following screenshot from the ACS “FactFinder” data source shows the way data for Davis is presented and what is pulled out in the calculation of non-student poverty rates.


ACF Student Calculation

Applying this methodology to Davis and Yolo County yields the following results.  The Davis non-university-student poverty rate is 9.35%. This implies that about 4000 Davis residents, excluding university students, live in poverty.  For the county (including Davis), the non-university poverty rate is 12.3% or just under 20,000 people in poverty.

The problem with the Census Bureau approach is that is simply removes all students from calculations.  This, despite the fact, that some students ARE poor, notwithstanding family or other support.  As we demonstrate briefly below, food insecurity does stand as a proxy for poverty (and vice versa).

With this general principle in mind, if we add back in the university population and assume in Davis and county-wide that 44% of students are poor as estimated by the food security survey—low and very low food security (rather than the official poverty rate), then the Davis poverty rate is 21.5% or just under 14,000 living in poverty. For the county (including Davis) the adjusted rate is 18% or 35,581 in poverty.

While these adjustments may be considered too liberal, they do provide a means to add in truly poor students who, for whatever reason, are finding it difficult to provide for their basic food needs.  If we assume that only students who have very low food security are truly poor the poverty rates for both the City and the County are about 14%—with nearly 9,000 people in the City and 28,000 people in the County (including Davis) living in poverty.

To summarize:

Adjusted Poverty

Again, this approach does mix two sources and two distinct concepts: poverty and food security.  But as we have seen from the SPM estimates for California—and given Yolo County’s relatively high cost of living, these rates would seem to be realistic.

Food insecurity are inextricably linked.  So, we might derive a more robust estimate of poverty in Davis by integrating estimates of food insecurity into the poverty measurement.

Food Security and Poverty: Connections

It is interesting that in some instances, food insecurity measures are used as a proxy for poverty and in others poverty is used to model food insecurity at the local level.  This has to do, almost entirely, with the ease of measuring income poverty versus measuring food insecurity.

In many economically poorer nations around the world, collecting accurate data on income poverty is difficult because of the high percent of the population that works in the informal sector, outside wage labor, or in situations in which income taxes are collected sporadically or not at all.

In these environments, community-based surveys can rapidly collect data on household food insecurity. Indeed, in environments in which food insecurity is widespread, data collection may focus more specifically on hunger via household hunger scores.

Davis-based Freedom from Hunger (FFH—now Grameen—full disclosure, I worked for Freedom from Hunger 1999-2005 and 2007-2008) has been a pioneer in assessing household food security in resource-poor environments and assessing its relationship to poverty.  Freedom from Hunger has also developed tools to assess actual hunger scores in environments in which many or most households are food insecure.

FFH adopted a very simple food security scale based on four options:


I will read 4 choices for your response. Please tell me, which of the following best describes the food consumed by your household in the last year: 1) Enough and the kinds of food we wanted to eat.

2) Enough but not always the kinds of food we wanted to eat.

3) Sometimes not enough food to eat, was sometimes hungry.

4) Often not enough to eat, was often hungry.


Answer 1 = Food Secure

Answer 2 = Food insecure without hunger

Answer 3 = Food insecure with moderate hunger

Answer 4 = Food insecure with severe hunger

They conclude in an unpublished document

Grameen research has shown that this measure is correlated to dietary diversity, poverty, and women’s autonomy, resilience, among others. This gives Grameen confidence that despite the simplicity of the question, it can be a useful measure for identifying food insecure households due to these correlations with anticipated outcomes.

 The Household Hunger Survey gets more to the point about hunger with questions such as: In the last four weeks, did it happen that there was no food to eat of any kind in your house, because of lack of resources to get food?  This kind of survey is necessary in areas of widespread food insecurity to distinguish cases of extreme food insecurity.

FFH-supported research has demonstrated that a simple household food security survey can stand as a proxy for poverty.  As a paper by Melgar-Quiñonez summarizes:

(H)ousehold food security may serve as a high-quality proxy for expenditure as a predictor of household “income poverty”.

 In the USA, in contrast to FFH’s work, poverty measures become one element in modeling that helps estimate county food security statistics across the US.  In a methodological brief on how they estimate county-level food insecurity based on national-level data, Feeding America notes:

The food-insecurity model demonstrates the relationship between food insecurity and several indicators including unemployment and poverty.

As expected, after controlling for other factors, higher unemployment and poverty rates are associated with higher rates of food insecurity. A one percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 0.5 percentage-point increase in the overall food-insecurity rate, while a one percentage-point increase in poverty leads to a 0.26 percentage-point increase in food insecurity.

And the Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, already referenced, notes the following:

Differences in food security across demographic and geographic groups reflect, in part, differences in income across those groups; though no adjustment is made for income in the statistics presented in this report, food insecurity was strongly associated with income. For example, 36.8 percent of households with annual incomes below the official poverty line (household income-to-poverty ratio under 1.00) were food insecure, compared with 5.8 percent of those with incomes at or above 185 percent of the poverty line (emphasis added).

Food security and poverty mirror each other.  Poor people are food insecure.  Food insecure people are poor.  When decisions about expenditures need to be made under severe constraints, food is the most “fungible” of purchases. Rent is required. Gas for the car to get to work cannot be “scrimped” on.  Not so with food.  When poor people face spending choices, food is foregone for the sake of survival. This seems to be true in Africa and America.

When you read that people are poor, keep in mind that poverty has real effects on their ability to obtain nutritious food in quantities that most of us take for granted. And when you read that people have low or very low food security, remember that it means that they face choices that most of us do not have to make.

Tens of thousands of our neighbors in Yolo County live in poverty—with food insecurity a part of many of their lives.


References and Sources Cited

American Community Survey (Census Bureau) “FactFinder” page for data on the ACS:


Benson, Todd (2004) Africa’s Food and Nutrition Security Situation: Where Are We and How Did We Get Here? International Food Policy Research Institute, 2020 Discussion Paper 37. Accessed at 


Bisch, Micheal (2018):


Blumberg, Stephen J., Karil Bialostosky, William L. Hamilton, and Ronette R. Briefel, DrPH, RD (1999) “The Effectiveness of a Short Form of the Household Food Security Scale” American Journal of Public Health.89:1231-1234.


California Department of Education, Student Poverty FRPM Data


Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2018. Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, ERR-256, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service


Fact Sheet: Differences Between the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC)


Fact Sheet National School Lunch Program:


Fisher, Gordon M (1992)The Development and History of the Poverty Thresholds” Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 4, Winter pp. 3-14


Grameen Foundation (2018)Measuring Food Insecurity


Jones, Andrew D., Francis M. Ngure, Gretel Pelto and Sera L. Young “What Are We Assessing When We Measure Food Security? A Compendium and Review of Current Metrics” Advances in Nutrition4:5, 1 September 2013, Pages 481–505


Map the Meal Gap 2018: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016 (2018)


Measuring America: How the U.S. Census Bureau Measures Poverty (Infographic accessed December 2018)


Melgar-Quiñonez, Hugo (2004) Testing Food-Security Scales for Low-Cost Poverty Assessment Research Report. Freedom from Hunger


Promoting Food Security for UC Davis StudentsReport and Recommendations of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Student Food Security (2018)


Room, Annie and Luke Juday (2016) Poverty and postsecondary students in college towns. Census Brief, Demographics Research Group, University of VA. also:


Sen, Amartya (1981) Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. New York: Oxford University Press.Accessed at











1. Fact Sheet: Differences Between the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC)

The ACS uses an up-to-date sampling frame (the Census Bureau’s Master Address File updated by using the U.S. Postal Service’s Delivery Sequence File and targeted address canvassing). Prior to 2014, the CPS ASEC used sampling frames derived once a decade from the Decennial Census (updated with new construction). Beginning in 2014, the CPS sample is derived annually from the Master Address File with updates from the United States Postal Service (USPS). Overall coverage for the ACS and the CPS ASEC appear to be comparable.

The ACS data collection methodology is substantially different from the CPS ASEC, as the CPS ASEC is conducted by interviewers via Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) or Computer Assisted Phone Interviewing (CAPI). In contrast, the ACS uses a self-response mail-out/mail-back questionnaire with an internet response option, followed by CATI or CAPI follow-up conducted by interviewers. Additionally, the ACS, like the decennial long form, is mandatory, and therefore response at the unit and item level is higher in the ACS than the CPS ASEC



Interesting Reads Week of December 16, 2018


So the foreign policy cognoscenti are up in arms with the President’s announcement that he is removing troops from Syria and possibly drawing down the deployment in the ever-war of Afghanistan.  Horror! — and likely the only thing I have agreed with this man on since he was elected.

Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC

A torrent of ghastly revelations’: what military service taught me about America is, in the midst of all of this, “must” reading.  The mirror of war is not a place willingly gaze into but Lyle Jeremy Rubin does so, comparing his experience with meth addicts outside the base in the southwest with Afghanis he encountered.  He holds the mirror firmly for all of us when he writes:

At one level, our lack of interest in these people’s plight was to be expected. We didn’t sign up to help the stray or downtrodden. But according to the agitprop or many of our own self-rationalisations, this was precisely what we had volunteered for: we were supposed to be nation builders, culturally sensitive agents of humanitarian intervention, winners of hearts and minds. That we were nothing of the sort, even in relation to our compatriots, did not bode well.

Among conservative publications, only The American Conservative has taken a consistent position on the absurdity of US interventions abroad.  That absurdity is on display in the questions they ask about “defeat” in Afghanistan.  A defeat that they conclude may not be that bad…

Who wants to be the last man to die in Afghanistan amidst the weak rationales for staying? Who wants to see $100,000 missiles destroying $500 pickup trucks? Who wants to see Americans funding a billion dollar “ghost army,” which, though valorous, is being slaughtered to such as extent that the government withholds casualty numbers? Who wants to see American values corrupted and cheapened as we kill innocents in the name of fighting terror? Who wants to see America lose her morality by embracing theocratic despots who happen to buy our weapons, only to intentionally employ them on civilians?


Tis the season, I suppose.  Time to get those last minute tax deductions in place and make the world a better place (smell the cynicism…).  But wait, just think a bit about giving.  Here are some useful ideas if you are going to give (and despite my cynicism I think you should)

But THIS is the kind of giving I want to see.  Just when I had written off the entire “evangelical” wing of Christianity in the face of their en masse conversion to the god of America, I see this, and hope is, if not restored, at least coaxed from its long slumber.  We need more of this.

And this is simply encouraging.  An entrepreneur who has a commitment to ending hunger by bringing food to the deserts that have moved into our cities and rural areas.

Brown’s Super Stores turns the accepted wisdom about American enterprise upside down: its locations are not prime; its customers are not affluent. The company breaks the rules about how a smart business behaves, taking on problems far beyond its core business and outside its comfort zone. That’s when it becomes apparent that Jeffrey Brown isn’t ultimately in the business of selling groceries at all. He is in the business of ending poverty and its side effects. Building a successful grocery empire is simply the way he does that.

But then we also have to live with this and this–requiring people to work for food stamps (SNAP) and removing the ability of states to “bank” benefits against times of dire need (so much for resilience.  Sure, it will “save” us $15 billion.

That sounds like a lot but, if my calculations are correct, and because that $15 billion is spread over a decade this looks like a savings of about four one-hundredths of a percent of the national budget.  Hey, but if it gets those moochers off the couch I guess it will have been worth it.  If Congress wanted the Farm Bill to “save” that much they could have put it into the law.  They did not so why does the Administration get to make this policy change?


As a cyclist, pedestrian, and public transit user, I am happy to see this and have zero sympathy for the furious car owners.  Here’s why:

Yes, car owners are furious. That’s because they have mistaken their century-long domination over pedestrians for a right rather than a privilege. The truth is that cities are not doing nearly enough to restore streets for pedestrian use, and it’s the pedestrians who should be furious.


Catching up on some other writing (to be published here soon), left me less time to read so that’s it for this week.  I leave you with this from Ivan Illich–pointing out something that James K A Smith developed in its entirety in is book Desiring the Kingdom. The thesis is that we are not primarily thinking creatures but desiring creatures–formed to be who we are by what we DO–what we practice, what our “liturgies” are. This from an essay entitled “School” in The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

Read this with a question about the rituals you are part of (I am thinking of our “rituals of the nation: in which we participate)

Rituals, in other words, have an ability to generate in their practitioners a deep adherence to convictions which may be, internally, highly contradictory, so that somehow , the adherence to the belief is stronger than most people’s capacity to question what they believe.