Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Facebook dances to the Right’s tune

leave a comment »

Working the refs has long been a GOP standby—and Republicans seem to love misinformation. Craig Timberg reports in the Washington Post:

Facebook created “Project P” — for propaganda — in the hectic weeks after the 2016 presidential election and quickly found dozens of pages that had peddled false news reports ahead of Donald Trump’s surprise victory. Nearly all were based overseas, had financial motives and displayed a clear rightward bent.

In a world of perfect neutrality, which Facebook espouses as its goal, the political tilt of the pages shouldn’t have mattered. But in a videoconference between Facebook’s Washington office and its Silicon Valley headquarters in December 2016, the company’s most senior Republican, Joel Kaplan, voiced concerns that would become familiar to those within the company.

“We can’t remove all of it because it will disproportionately affect conservatives,” said Kaplan, a former George W. Bush White House official and now the head of Facebook’s Washington office, according to people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect professional relationships.

When another Facebook staff member pushed for the entire list to be taken down on the grounds that the accounts fueled the “fake news” that had roiled the election, Kaplan warned of the backlash from conservatives.

“They don’t believe it to be fake news,” he said, arguing for time to develop guidelines that could be defended to the company’s critics, including on the right.

The debate over “Project P,” which resulted in a few of the worst pages quickly being removed while most others remained on the platform, exemplified the political dynamics that have reigned within Facebook since Trump emerged as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee to the White House in 2016. A company led mainly by Democrats in the liberal bastion of Northern California repeatedly has tilted rightward to deliver policies, hiring decisions and public gestures sought by Republicans, according to current and former employees and others who have worked closely with the company.

Trump and other party leaders have pressured Facebook by making unproven claims of bias against conservatives amid rising signs of government action on the issue, including investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. Republicans also have leveraged Facebook’s fears of alienating conservative Americans to win concessions from a company whose most widely shared news content typically includes stories from Fox News and other right-leaning sources.

These sensitivities — in conjunction with the company’s long-standing resistance to acting as “an arbiter of truth” — have affected Facebook’s responses to a range of major issues, from how to address fake news and Russian manipulation of American voters on the platform to, more recently, the advertising policies that have set the political ground rules for the 2020 election, say people privy to internal debates.

Such factors have helped shape a platform that gives politicians license to lie and that remains awash in misinformation, vulnerable to a repeat of many of the problems that marred the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook, unlike Google and Twitter, also has refused calls to restrict politicians’ access to powerful ad-targeting tools — which Trump used with particular relish four years ago — that allow messages to be tailored to individual voters, based on characteristics Facebook has gleaned over years of tracking user behavior.

“I think Facebook is looking at their political advertising policies in explicitly partisan terms, and they’re afraid of angering Republicans,” said Alex Stamos, head of the Stanford Internet Observatory, a research group, and a former Facebook chief security officer. “The Republicans in the D.C. office see themselves as a bulwark against the liberals in California.”

The company says its decisions are guided not by political calculations but by global policy goals of expanding connections among users and protecting them from government overreach, in line with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to allowing speech on the social media platform to remain as unrestricted as possible.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

One comment: chief executive Mark Zuckerber’s commitment is not to “allowing speech on the social media platform to remain as unrestricted as possible,” but rather to increase revenue and profits as much as possible. His concern is money and profit, not the welfare of the community and country.

Later in the article:

Trump already has spent more than $32 million on the platform for his reelection effort, while Democratic candidates, collectively, have spent more than $107 million, according to Facebook’s Ad Library, one of its transparency initiatives. Andrew Bosworth, a top corporate executive considered a confidant of Zuckerberg, said in a post in December that Facebook was “responsible for Donald Trump getting elected” in 2016 through his effective advertising campaign — a comment that underscored the stakes of the company’s policy moves.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2020 at 10:44 am

How an AT&T Lawyer Helped Monopolize Cheerleading and Induce Drug Shortages

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller writes in Big:

How an AT&T Lawyer Created a Cheerleading Monopoly

I’ve been doing a lot of research on cheerleading, as readers of this newsletter know, and it’s beginning to hit two different audiences. One group are people involved in cheerleading, gym owners, coaches, Varsity Brand ex-employees, and so forth. The second are antitrust experts and reporters; Emily Stewart at Vox noted the cheer monopoly yesterday in a piece not on cheerleading, but on the relationship of monopolies to the economy.

These two audience are linked, because how the business of cheerleading is structured, like how our pharmaceutical or technology industry is structured, is a function of law. I’m going to try to bring these two groups together by showing how Debbie Feinstein, a powerful lawyer in D.C., helped to concentrate the cheerleading industry as part of her career concentrating a whole series of other industries.

The basic story of the cheerleading monopoly is as follows. Decades ago, a corporation called Varsity Brands began buying up its competitors in cheer competitions and apparel. It used its control over competitions to give itself an advantage in selling cheerleading apparel. In addition, Varsity also financed governing bodies for cheerleading, and gained control over distribution with exclusive deals to gym owners for its products.

The key moment for Varsity was in 2015, when it bought its last and largest competitor, Jam Brands. Jam Brands had its own competitions, and it served as a place where competitors to Varsity, like Rebel Athletics, could market clothing. Once Jam Brands came under Varsity’s control, it ended the marketing arrangement with Rebel. After this merger, Varsity essentially had total power over the sport, including setting terms and conditions over pricing for competitions and compensation for judges.

A Merge to Monopoly

Varsity should not exist in its current form; many of its mergers, and certainly that of Jam Brands, were likely illegal. We have a law designed to stop anti-competitive mergers. It’s called the Clayton Act, and it is enforced by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division and/or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Such investigations usually involve soliciting feedback from industry and asking questions of the merging parties. Most mergers are cleared, while a few, particularly in concentrated industries, are challenged.

In the case of the Varsity-Jam Brand merger, the transaction reduced the number of players in a market from two to one, a ‘merge to monopoly,’ so it should have received real attention. And there were at least rudimentary investigations. I got ahold of a complaint from 2015 by a former gym owner and Varsity ex-employee explaining, in detail, to the DOJ and FTC, what Varsity was doing. The complainant predicted *exactly* what would happen, and noted that Varsity had bought dozens of event producing and uniform production companies as part of its plan to monopolize the industry. (You can read the complaint here).

The key for today’s merger analysis is consumer price, so the crux of the complaint were these sentences: “Cheerleading uniform prices have gone through the roof due to Varsity forcing their company on to unsuspecting gym owners…. Competition costs are so high that many athletes have to quit the sport due to the cost. (Competitions and Uniforms are the largest fees any athlete pays in respect to being on a team.)” Enforcers should have recognized that higher consumer prices was a signal of market power, and so this merger was worth blocking. But they did not. Why? Who received the complaint, and who was in charge of the bureau of enforcement when Varsity formed its monopoly?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a lawyer named Debbie Feinstein, who DOJ Antitrust was telling complainants to contact about the case. At the time of the merger, Feinstein was the head of enforcement for the FTC, and she has exactly the personality of the kind of person you want as an enforcer. She’s a very hands-on manager, with a forceful personality, deep knowledge of the law, and an aggressive advocate for her clients. She is a respected in the community; trade publication Global Competition Review called her “lawyer of the year,” and Obama DOJ Antitrust chief Bill Bauer said she is “one of the leading antitrust lawyers in the country.”

And yet, despite her eminent qualifications and personal grit, Feinstein comes from a world where enforcing the antitrust laws doesn’t mean protecting competition in markets. For her, it means protecting a specific pro-monopoly vision of the law.

Before she was at the Obama FTC, Feinstein was the head of antitrust at a firm called Arnold and Porter, where she represented clients in the “retail, food, consumer products, healthcare, medical devices, chemicals, industrial equipment and services, and automotive parts” industries, like GE, NBC, Unilever, and Pepsi. Arnold and Porter is, like several of the big law firms in New York and D.C., part of the world of biglaw, the repository of legal and governing expertise upon which both parties draw. It’s a shadow government, with people out of power working in biglaw, and then returning to public service to punch their ticket.

The philosophy of much of the biglaw antitrust world is that technocrats should be in charge of our industries, and antitrust law should be narrowly constrained. When in doubt, defer to merging parties, because in their view it is inappropriate for government to interfere with the liberty to monopolize. Biglaw types work for monopolies, structure monopolies, and tend to believe that monopolists deliver better prices and quality for consumers. Feinstein is part of this world, she largely agrees with the philosophical underpinnings of it, and when she was in public service, she believes in concentration as a social virtue. While at the FTC, for instance, Feinstein oversaw one of the key mergers allowing CVS to become even more dominant in health care.

At roughly the same Feinstein helped allow Varsity’s merge to monopoly, reporter Dave Dayen wrote a profile on her, noting that “during Feinstein’s tenure, the FTC has largely abandoned its attempts to block mergers.” Dayen didn’t mention Varsity-Jam Brands, instead focusing on drug prices and mergers. Here’s the story:

Earlier this month, the FTC let Dyax’s $6 billion acquisition by Shire Pharmaceuticals go through, choosing to take no action before the antitrust waiting period lapsed. Even Wall Street expected a challenge; when it didn’t transpire, Dyax’s stock jumped 13 percent.

It was the latest in a rush of mergers and acquisitions in the industry. There were $221 billion in pharma mergers in just the first half of 2015, even more than the $162 billion for the entire previous year.

And consider what these giant companies do: Valeant Pharmaceuticals has acquired, licensed, or agreed to co-promote over 140 drugs since 2008, and as part of its strategy it buys the rights to rival drugs and increases the prices overnight by as much as 525 percent.

Horizon, another drugmaker, sells a medication called Duexis, which costs $1,500 a month, even though its component drugs cost no more than $40 a month. In 2013, Horizon acquired Deuxis’ main competitor, called Vimovo, and raised the price 600 percent.

Questcor performed the same trick by buying the main rival to its immune-deficiency drug. The FTC never challenged any of these purchase agreements.

People complain a lot about high drug prices, and rightfully so. But there are now even more serious issues. I wrote about supply chains and China last week, in particular medical shortages. This problem has been with us for over twenty years, despite Congressional action. Why? “Drug shortages exploded in 2001” because of mergers, according to pharmacist Erin Fox. Consolidation in this space has led to less production, and to the elimination of niche production and/or the offshoring of production to China. To the elite antitrust bar, being concerned that concentration might reduce resiliency of a supply chain sounds like the irrelevant whining of a non-expert, much like the arguments from a cheer industry participant observing problems with a merge to monopoly.

Today, Feinstein is once a partner at the biglaw firm Arnold and Porter, and the marketing materials on the site show that she’s been key in host of mergers. She was an architect in helping AT&T buy Time Warner, as well as in the rolling up of the dialysis industry in the sale of NxStage Medical to Fresenius Medical Care Holdings. She’s been part of a host of other mergers, but the gist is that Feinstein basically encourages consolidation whether she is in or out of government.

The biglaw world of antitrust lawyers try . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2020 at 6:44 pm

Double Loop Learning in Organizations

leave a comment »

Harvard Business Review published an excellent article by Chris Argyris in 1977. It is even more relevant today (cf. the Trump administration). It begins:

Several years ago the top management of a multi-billion dollar corporation decided that Product X was a failure and should be dropped. The losses involved exceeded $100 million. At least five people knew that Product X was in serious trouble six years before the company decided to stop producing it. Three were plant managers who lived daily with the production problems. The two others were marketing officials, who perceived that the manufacturing problems could not be solved without expenditures that would raise the price of the product to the point where it would no longer be competitive in the market.

There are several reasons why this information did not get to the top sooner. At first, those lower down believed that with exceptionally hard work they might turn the errors into success. But the more they struggled the more they realized the massiveness of the original mistake. The next task was to communicate the bad news so that it would be heard above. They knew that, in their company, bad news would not be well received at the upper levels if it was not accompanied by suggestions for positive action. They also knew that top management was enthusiastically describing Product X as a new leader in its field. Therefore, they spent much time in composing memos that communicated the realities yet would not be too shocking to top managers.

Middle managers read the memos and found them too open and forthright. Because they had done the production and marketing studies that resulted in the decision to produce Product X, the memos from lower level management had the effect of questioning the validity of their analysis. They wanted time to “really check” these gloomy predictions and, if they were true, to design alternative, corrective strategies. If the pessimistic information was to be sent upward, they wanted it accompanied by optimistic action alternatives. Hence further delay.

Once the middle managers were convinced that the predictions were valid, they began to release some of the bad news, but they did so in measured doses. They managed the releases carefully to make certain they were “covered” if management became upset. The tactic they used was to cut the memos drastically and summarize the findings. They argued that the cuts were necessary because top management was always complaining about receiving long memos. The result was that the top received fragmented information underplaying the severity of the problem (not the problem itself) and overplaying the degree to which line middle management and the technical people were in control of the problem.

Top management, therefore, continued to speak glowingly about the product, partially to ensure that it would get the financial backing it needed from within the company. Lower level managers became confused and eventually depressed because they could not understand the continued top management support nor the reason for the studies that were ordered to evaluate the production and marketing difficulties they had already identified.

Their reaction was to reduce the frequency of their memos and the intensity of the alarm they expressed while simultaneously turning the responsibility for dealing with the problem over to middle management people. When local plant managers, in turn, were asked by their foremen and employees what was happening, the only response they gave was that the company was studying the situation and continuing its support. This bewildered the foremen, but led them to reduce their concern.

How Organizations Learn

I should like to use this case to explain a view of organizational learning. First, however, a few definitions and concepts are in order. Organizational learning is a process of detecting and correcting error. Error is for our purposes any feature of knowledge or knowing that inhibits learning. When the process enables the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its objectives, the process may be called single loop learning. Single loop learning can be compared with a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and then turns the heat on or off. The thermostat is able to perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and therefore take corrective action.

If the thermostat could question itself about whether it should be set at 68 degrees, it would be capable not only of detecting error but of questioning the underlying policies and goals as well as its own program. That is a second and more comprehensive inquiry; hence it might be called double loop learning. When the plant managers and marketing people were detecting and attempting to correct error in order to manufacture Product X, that was single loop learning. When they began to confront the question whether Product X should be manufactured, that was double loop learning, because they were now questioning underlying organization policies and objectives.

In this organization, as in many others, norms had developed that admonished people: “Do not confront company policies and objectives, especially those top management is excited about.” Thus to communicate the truth upward about the serious problems of Product X would, in addition to confronting a company policy, violate an organizational norm. But in order for this norm to be followed it must have been protected by another norm that states, “You cannot openly confront norms that tell you not to confront policies and objectives.” In other words, in order to maintain the first norm a lot of information about error hiding would have to be camouflaged. So we have norms embedded within norms that inhibit double loop learning.

The double bind

To complicate matters, when employees adhere to a norm that says “hide errors,” they know they are violating another norm that says “reveal errors.” Whichever norm they choose, they risk getting into trouble. If they hide the error, they can be punished by the top if the error is discovered. If they reveal the error, they run the risk of exposing a whole network of camouflage and deception. The employees are thus in a double bind, because whatever they do is necessary yet counterproductive to the organization, and their actions may even be personally abhorrent.

One common way to reduce the tension that results from conflicting aims is to begin to conceive of the error hiding, deception, and games as part of normal and organizational life. The moment individuals reach this state, they may also lose their ability to see the errors. This is one reason some employees are genuinely surprised and hurt when they are accused of behaving disloyally and immorally by those (usually outsiders) who discover the longstanding practices of error hiding.

Note what has happened. The camouflaging of technical errors is done by individuals using acceptable human games and organizational norms. The hiding of every important instrumental error, therefore, implies the existence of human games, and these in turn imply the existence of games to hide the games.

It is rare, therefore, that an organization is able to use double loop learning for its instrumental and policy issues if it cannot do so for the games and norms. The reason is that the games and norms act to prevent people from saying what they know about the technical or policy issues. The subordinates who knew about the problems of Product X did not say so directly because it would have violated organizational norms and games that everyone respected and played in order to survive.

Long-term problems

Under these conditions, if double loop learning occurs, it would be because of: (1) a crisis precipitated by some event in the environment (for example, a recession or a competitor producing a better product); (2) a revolution from within (a new management) or from without (political interference or takeover); or (3) a crisis created by existing management in order to shake up the organization.

These choices entail several long-range problems. First, the change usually comes long after its necessity has been realized by alert individuals or groups within the organization. The delay teaches these persons that their alertness and loyalty are not valued. Second, those who are not alert or not as involved are reinforced in their behavior. They learn that if they wait long enough and keep their reputations clean, someone else will someday take action. Third, change under crisis and revolution is exhausting to the organization. Fourth, such changes usually reinforce the factors that inhibit double loop learning in the first place. Hence, from the standpoint of organizational learning processes, there would be no change.

How Organizations Survive

What keeps organizations effective if all this is true? First, organizations are quite good at single loop learning. Second, since most private and public organizations are unable to learn by the double loop method, the costs can be built into the price or tax structures. But there may be a limit to price and tax increases, and this way out may be the road toward economic and political instability. Third, many people are struggling to counteract these processes of organizational rigidity and deterioration, especially at upper levels. The result is that in our society executives work overtime and employees work the regular hours. Fourth, the processes I am concerned about have only recently become so potent in advanced industrial societies that they cannot be ignored.

Thus an ongoing national survey of peoples’ belief in the ability of organizations to get things done shows that public confidence reached a peak in the late 1960s, and since then it has been deteriorating. At the same time, information science technology and managerial know-how have continued to increase in sophistication.

Why is it that organizations appear to be less effective as the technology to manage them becomes more sophisticated? The answer is, I believe, that the management theory underlying the new sophisticated technology is the same as the one that created the problem in the first place. Take New York City as an illustration. All types of new managerial committees and new leaders have been introduced to deal with the troubled fiscal situation. They are correcting many single loop errors, but, if we can judge from the newspaper accounts, they are having much more difficulty in confronting the double loop question. The newspapers have, for example, cited several instances where cuts in municipal service budgets had not been made nearly a year after they were promised. Or, if unions are now willing to forgo raises for their members in order to prevent layoffs, have they been helped to examine the errors in their thinking that led to the problems in the first place?

During the Lindsay administration, I talked with several of the top city financial people. Although finance is not my field, it was not difficult to see the games being played with budgets and to identify some of the possible dangers. When I raised some questions, they responded that I did not understand big city administration and politics. They insisted that no one would let a big city go bankrupt. Double loop learning will occur only when these officials examine and alter their willingness to play financial games, which they know are counterproductive, as well as their assumptions that they will remain in control.

Actually, this type of thinking is going on in all parts of our society. Doctors and lawyers know that medical and legal services are inadequate (especially for the poor), and that pressure is building to remedy the situation; yet they have resisted setting up machinery to evaluate how their own actions affect the distribution of their services.

Someday even our newspapers may suffer a reduction in their autonomy. I predict this because of what I found in the study of a leading newspaper. The top executives felt helpless in creating within their own organization the conditions they insisted should exist in the White House and in state and city governments.1 And just as the existing climates in those governmental bodies might lead to corruption and distortion, I found the same to be true in the newspapers. Why should our nation protect the managers of a newspaper when they are unable to create the milieu they themselves argue is necessary if truth is to be served?

The final result ironically will also be counterproductive. Society will create agencies to monitor the organizations and the professions. But it is difficult if not impossible for outside agencies to monitor the quality of the learning processes without becoming enmeshed in the organization. If people from within an organization can hide these processes from their own superiors, how will an outside agency discover them? Why is double loop learning so rare? Asking this question is like asking why illness is so prevalent. A thorough answer would generate a network of interconnected factors so complex that it would seem unmanageable. I do not think, however, we have reached the point where the problem is no longer solvable.

Inhibiting Factors

Donald Schon and I have been conducting research that we believe has identified a few of the more critical factors that inhibit double loop learning in organizations.2 In order to explain these findings, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth pondering.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2020 at 5:04 pm

How best to schedule presidential primaries

leave a comment »

Mayank Gupta has an excellent idea: The state that has the highest percentage of eligible voters (not just registered voters) vote in a presidential election holds the first presidential primary in the next election cycle. And I would suggest that the states follow in order of the percentage of eligible voters voting: the second primary would be in the state with the second highest percentage of eligible voters voting, the third primary to the third highest.

Then there could be a Super Tuesday of simultaneous primaries in states with the 4th through 8th highest, followed two weeks later by simultaneous primaries in the 9th through 20th — and so on.

The idea is to have states compete in improving voter registration and turnout, thus strengthening our elections and increasing citizen participation. The states that have the highest percentage of eligible voters voting will see a huge boost in candidate visits. States that work to keep people from registering and from voting — states that actively suppress voter participation (like George, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, and others) would play a smaller role.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2020 at 4:24 pm

How to Make Your Marriage Gayer

leave a comment »

I recall many predictions that making same-sex marriage legal would totally destroy traditional marriage, predictions that struck me as false. (In states most strongly resistant to same-sex marriage, traditional marriage wasn’t doing all that well — those states had high divorce rats — so perhaps it’s understandable that those states were quite worried about the fragility of traditional marraige, fearing that any social change would make things even worse.)

However, same-sex marriage has been legal for several years now, and it seems that those predictions of the breakdown of traditional marriage have proven as false as they seemed at the time. (One indication that they were false is that those making the predictions could never explain how allowing same-sex marriage would undermine traditional marriage.)

And it turns out that, on the whole, same-sex marriages are happier than traditional marriages. Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, writes in the NY Times:

It’s been legal across the country for nearly five years now, and same-sex marriage hasn’t yet killed heterosexual marriage. In fact, it appears that many different-sex couples would have happier and more satisfying marriages if they took a few lessons from their same-sex counterparts.

Researchers recently asked three sets of legally married couples — heterosexual, gay and lesbian — to keep daily diaries recording their experiences of marital strain and distress. Women in different-sex marriages reported the highest levels of psychological distress. Men in same-sex marriages reported the lowest. Men married to women and women married to women were in the middle, recording similar levels of distress.

What’s striking, says the lead author of the study, Michael Garcia, is that earlier research had concluded that women in general were likely to report the most relationship distress. But it turns out that’s only women married to men.

There are powerful historical reasons heterosexual marriages are subject to more tension, miscommunication and resentment than same-sex relationships. What distinguished heterosexual marriage through the ages was not how many people were in it but the sharp distinctions it mandated regarding the duties and authority of its members.

Sometimes one husband exercised authority over the work of one wife, sometimes over two or more. Occasionally, as in many of the 80-plus societies known to have practiced polyandryseveral husbands exercised power over one wife. Right up to the 1970s, when an American woman married, her husband took charge of her sexuality and most of her finances, property and behavior.

By that time, though, many Americans were already rejecting traditional marriage. During the 1970s and 1980s, wives won legal equality with husbands and courts redefined the responsibilities of spouses in gender-neutral terms. By 1994 a majority of Americans repudiated the necessity for gender-specialized roles in marriage, saying instead that shared responsibilities should be the ideal.

Indeed, sharing domestic tasks has become an increasingly important component of marital stability, and lack of sharing an increasingly powerful predictor of conflict. In marriages formed before 1992, couples seemed satisfied to have the wife do most of the housework and child care. But that has changed. Studies in 2006 found that the happiest and most sexually satisfied couples are now those who divide housework and child care the most equally. Couples where the wife does the bulk of routine chores, such as dishwashing, report the highest levels of discord.

Still, fewer than a third of the different-sex couples studied in 2006 had achieved approximate equality in sharing housework. For most heterosexuals, marriage continues to increase the gender stereotyping of duties. A 1999 study found that when a never-married man married, he reduced his routine housework, on average, by three and a half hours a week. When a woman married, she increased her routine housework — the numbing work that must be done each day — by almost that much.

Once children come along, old marital traditions reassert themselves even more. A University of Texas researcher, Joanna Pepin, and her colleagues recently found that married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers. As Dr. Pepin told me, “The gender expectations traditionally associated with being a wife seemingly encourage married mothers to do more housework than their unmarried counterparts, and their husbands to accept that as normal.”

Here’s where same-sex couples can offer their different-sex counterparts useful tips. Since same-sex couples can’t use imputed male-female differences to sort out who does what, they rely less on stereotypes. Heterosexual parents tend to see tasks such as child care, laundry and dishes as part of a package that is handed to one partner. Same-sex couples are far more likely to each take on some traditionally “feminine” and some “masculine” chores.

They are also more likely to share the routine tasks. A 2015 survey found that almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples. And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.

Like heterosexual couples with children, same-sex parents often have one partner quit or cut back at work for a while. Gay-male couples have about the same percentage of stay-at-home parents as do heterosexuals. But same-sex couples are less likely than different-sex couples to assign “women’s work” to the partner with fewer work hours. They are also more likely to talk through their individual preferences about who does what at home. This is especially true for gay males and is probably why they express the most satisfaction with the division of labor.

When it comes to parenting, the fact that same-sex parents can’t slide into default gender patterns creates some striking differences. An analysis of American Time Use Surveys from 2003 to 2013 found that men with female partners spent the least amount of total time and the lowest proportion of their nonwork time engaged with their children.

But men with same-sex partners spent as much time with their children as did the average woman partnered with a man. The result? Children living with same-sex parents experienced, on average, three and a half hours of parenting time per day, compared with two and a half for children living with a heterosexual couple. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including more charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2020 at 6:35 am

‘We Knew They Had Cooked the Books’

leave a comment »

Robinson Meyer has in the Atlantic an article worth reading. It was referenced by Jonathan Chait in a post I blogged yesterday, but Meyer’s entire article is worth reading. It begins:

On a drizzly day in January 2018, Jeff Alson, an engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s motor-vehicles office, gathered with his colleagues to make a video call to Washington, D.C.

They had made the same call dozens of times before. For nearly a decade, the EPA team had worked closely with another group of engineers in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, pronounced nits-uh) to write the federal tailpipe-pollution standards, one of the most consequential climate protections in American history. The two teams had done virtually all the technical research—testing engines in a lab, interviewing scientists and automakers, and overseeing complex economic simulations—underpinning the rules, which have applied to every new car and light truck, including SUVs and vans, sold in the United States since 2012.

Their collaboration was historic. Even as SUVs, crossovers, and pickups have gobbled up the new-car market, the rules have pushed the average fuel economy—the distance a vehicle can travel per gallon of gas—to record highs. They have saved Americans $500 billion at the pump, according to the nonpartisan Consumer Federation of America, and kept hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution out of the air. So as the call connected, Alson and the other EPA engineers thought it was time to get back to work. Donald Trump had recently ordered a review of the rules.

Speaking from Washington, James Tamm, the NHTSA fuel-economy chief, greeted the EPA team, then put a spreadsheet on-screen. It showed an analysis of the tailpipe rules’ estimated costs and benefits. Alson had worked on this kind of study so many times that he could recall some of the key numbers “by heart,” he later told me.

Yet as Alson looked closer, he realized that this study was like none he had seen before. For years, both NHTSA and the EPA had found that the tailpipe rules saved lives during car accidents because they reduced the weight—and, with it, the lethality—of the heaviest SUVs. In 2015, an outside panel of experts concurred with them.

But this new study asserted the opposite: The Obama-era rules, it claimed, killed almost 1,000 people a year.

“Oh my God,” Alson said upon seeing the numbers. The other EPA engineers in the room gasped and started to point out other shocking claims on Tamm’s slide. (Their line was muted.) It seemed as if every estimated cost had ballooned, while every estimated benefit had shrunk. Something in the study had gone deeply wrong.

It was the beginning of a fiasco that could soon have global consequences. The Trump administration has since proposed to roll back the tailpipe rules nationwide, a move that, according to one estimate, could add nearly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Officials have justified this sweeping change by claiming that the new rules will save hundreds of lives a year. They are so sure of those benefits that they have decided to call the policy the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule—or SAFE, for short.

SNAFU may be a better moniker. To change a federal rule, the executive branch must do its homework and publish an economic study arguing why the update is necessary. But Trump’s official justification for SAFE is honeycombed with errors. The most dramatic is that NHTSA’s model mixed up supply and demand: The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Once this and other major mistakes are fixed, all of SAFE’s safety benefits vanish, according to a recent peer-reviewed analysis in Science. If SAFE is adopted into law, American traffic deaths could actually increase, carbon pollution would soar, and global warming would speed up.

In other words, SAFE isn’t actually safe—and the Trump administration based its rollback on flawed math.

Extensive interviews with key participants and a review of emails and documents reveal how this happened: The Trump administration kept the government’s top tailpipe-pollution experts from working on the tailpipe-pollution rule. For two years, rival bureaucrats at NHTSA and overworked Trump political appointees stonewalled the EPA team, blocked it from learning of the rollback, and prevented it from seeing analysis of the new rule. When the EPA engineers finally saw the flawed study and identified some of its worst errors, the same Trump officials ignored them.

This may have been a series of legally fatal blunders. The EPA team identified the phantom-vehicles problem early in the process. Within weeks of SAFE’s publication in August 2018, analyses from outside economists and the Honda Motor Company vindicated the EPA team’s assessment. Those groups found that the SAFE study was a turducken of falsehoods: it cited incorrect data and made calculation errors, on top of bungling the basics of supply and demand. Not since 1999—when NASA engineers accidentally confused metric and imperial units when building and navigating the Mars Climate Orbiter, leading to the spacecraft’s eventual destruction—have federal employees messed up a calculation so publicly, and at such expense and scale. And the EPA team saw it coming.

My reporting directly contradicts what EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told members of Congress last year. In a June letter to House Republicans, Wheeler said it was “false” that “EPA professional staff were cut out” of the rollback’s development.

In a statement, an EPA spokesman did not directly deny my reporting. “As we’ve stated multiple times before, career and professional staff within EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation were involved in the development of this proposal and continue to be involved in the final stages as we work with NHTSA to finalize this rule,” said Michael Abboud, the agency spokesman. He added that the old rule was “unworkable” and rushed into law at the end of the Obama administration.

A NHTSA spokesman declined to comment because the proposed regulation is under agency review. He referred me to older statements that said the EPA and NHTSA had reviewed “hundreds of thousands of public comments” and undertaken “extensive scientific and economic analyses” in the course of reworking the SAFE rule. A final version of the rule is expected in the next several weeks. But that new version of the SAFE study recognizes that the benefits of the rollback do not exceed its costs, according to a letter from Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, obtained by The Washington Post.

If Carper’s allegation is true, that could doom the proposal in court. In fact, several legal issues could hinder SAFE. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act “requires” the EPA to regulate carbon pollution “from new motor vehicles.” But my reporting has found that NHTSA employees—and not EPA staff—actually wrote the first version of the rollback, raising questions about whether the rule is legally valid.

Either way, the SAFE rollback has already caused chaos. Major automakers—some of which once begged Trump to weaken the rules—now despise SAFE, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal. When Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda began negotiating a compromise version of the standard with California last year, the Trump administration smacked them with an antitrust investigation. (It dropped the probe last week.) A fifth automaker, Mercedes-Benz, also considered joining the truce with California, The New York Times reported over the summer. (Mercedes did not respond to a request for comment.)

That chaos might have comforted Alson, who retired in 2018, and the other EPA engineers two years ago, as they sat slack-jawed in their conference room in Ann Arbor. Soon after unveiling the analysis, Tamm asked if anyone had questions. No one spoke. The meeting, originally scheduled to last an hour, adjourned after 30 minutes.

“We couldn’t even bring ourselves to try to engage,” Alson told me. “We knew they had cooked the books so bad that there wasn’t any reason to talk about it.”

Republicans will often claim that one federal rule or another meddles with an essential part of the economy. The tailpipe-pollution rules live up to the hype. They govern the place where the auto industry and the oil industry—two massive, planet-spanning businesses that together make up about 11 percent of American GDP—most often meet: the humble car engine.

There’s no way around this. In recent years, nearly one-fifth of the country’s climate-warming carbon pollution has come from cars and light-duty trucks, according to the EPA. It’s inevitable: If you burn gasoline in an internal-combustion engine, you release carbon dioxide; if you want to release less carbon, you must burn less gasoline. Some car regulations—such as those addressing traffic-safety issues—require only that some new technology, such as an airbag or backup camera, simply be affixed to a car’s frame. But any carbon-pollution rule must go to the heart of a motor vehicle: the engine, power train, and air conditioner.

Yet for decades, NHTSA—the traffic-safety arm of the Department of Transportation—set the nation’s fuel-economy rules. It was given that power for “purely political” reasons, says Lee Vinsel, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies American car regulation. “It had nothing to do with expertise.”

Congress first established the fuel-economy standards during the 1970s oil embargo as a “panic mode” policy that would reduce cars’ use of fuel and, by extension, American dependence on foreign oil, Vinsel told me. But lawmakers split on which agency should set the rules.

The EPA, then a young office, had already started measuring fuel efficiency as part of a broader campaign to defend the new Clean Air Act. Yet neither the EPA nor the other agencies in contention, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, won the support of Representative John Dingell, a powerful New Deal Democrat from Detroit. Although Dingell was an environmental champion who helped write the Endangered Species Act, his Michigan ties meant that he was “rabidly anti-regulation of the automobile,” Vinsel said. If fuel-economy rules had to pass, Dingell wanted to keep an eye on them. And he could do that through the Department of Transportation, whose purse strings he held via his seat on the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (which he later renamed the Energy and Commerce Committee).

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2020 at 12:01 pm

Good news via bad news: Obama Auto Standards May Survive Because Trump Staff Can’t Do Math

leave a comment »

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the Obama administration’s most effective climate initiatives was tightened regulations of auto emissions, which will reduce carbon emissions by billions of tons. Trump, of course, is trying to roll it back. The good news is that he is almost certainly too incompetent to pull it off in his first term.

When regulatory agencies write new rules, they have to follow some fairly complicated legal procedures, which often have to hold up under judicial scrutiny. Historically, agencies win about 80 percent of the time against legal challenges. But Trump’s regulations lose about 90 percent of the time, because his administration is staffed with incompetent hacks.

The courts will soon be fighting over Trump’s plan to weaken auto-emission standards. Trump is highly likely to lose, because, as two new reports show, the incompetence of his regulators reached almost mind-boggling proportions.

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer has a deep dive into how Trump’s political appointees circumvented all the nonpolitical experts and tried to come up with cost-benefit studies justifying their decision. Meyer’s account of the bureaucratic car wreck should be read in whole, but here are a few highlights. They mixed up supply and demand, assuming higher prices would cause more cars to be driven:

The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Their own roster of economists dismissed their numbers:

In December 2018, 11 economists—including some whose research was cited by NHTSA in its flawed study—published a scathing assessment of the NHTSA-led analysis in Science. “The 2018 analysis has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, is misleading, and does not improve estimates of costs and benefits of fuel economy standards,” they wrote.

They even failed arithmetic. (“At one point, the NHTSA team forgot to divide by four.”) Oof.

The New York Times’ Coral Davenport adds even more detail. Any new policy that affects the environment needs an environmental impact study, but “no such document has been completed or sent to the White House,” she reports. The document is “sprinkled with glaring numerical and spelling errors (such as ‘Massachusettes’), with 111 sections marked ‘text forthcoming.’”

The main problem, in a nutshell, is that regulations have to show they pass some rational cost-benefit analysis. Trump’s actual goals — humiliating Obama, increasing short-term employment in the auto sector — can’t actually be included in the analysis. So they’re left trying to fudge the numbers to make it look like Americans win by buying less-efficient cars that spew more pollution into the atmosphere. It’s a hard case to make even if you’re good at spelling words and adding correctly, which Trump’s political staffers clearly are not.

However, if Trump wins a second term,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2020 at 6:31 pm

%d bloggers like this: