Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Be careful driving across any bridge in this country.  Chances are that it’s unsafe.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, the nation’s oldest national engineering group, has awarded America’s roadways a grade of D-, rated one in four bridges as “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete” and warned that thousands of American dams are on the verge of failure. It warned that unless tax dollars are redirected, the whole thing could crumble.

Altogether, Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic because of poorly maintained roads at a cost of $78.2 billion annually in squandered time and fuel.

The average age of America’s 600,000-plus bridges has reached 43 years old, and Congress needs $17 billion a year to make them safe for use.

The nation has 6,000 deficient dams, with 1,800 of them rating a high “hazard potential,” which means that structural failure could kill people.

The society’s complete report card can be found here.

I live next to two drawbridges over the canal with the levees that flooded and killed so many in the lower ninth ward.  The two of those things predate WW 1 and are out of commission a lot.  They even look rickety any more.  I just shudder to think what will happen one day.

Sit down.  I just about fell off my chair when the ACLU tweeted this one last night.

Some school officials in West Virginia think boys and girls are so “hard-wired” to learn differently that they have implemented some major changes in their middle school: boys and girls are separated into different classrooms for all their academic classes and  taught using radically different methods.

At Van Devender Middle School (or Vandy), a public school in Wood County WV, the boys’ classroom is brightly lit and cool, and the students are allowed to run around to blow off steam. They can sit in beanbag chairs if they wish and their desks are moveable and do not face each other. The girls’ classrooms are warm and dimly lit, and students are expected to remain in their seats and face each other while they work, even if they find that distracting.
 Girls are supposed to discuss their feelings about novels while boys are supposed to discuss the action in the books.

Adding insult to injury, this is their neighborhood middle school, to which they were assigned by the Board of Education.

The explanation for implementing this radical version of single-sex education there?  On some state-standardized measures, Vandy students were performing less well than the rest of the county.  Somehow, separating the students by sex for all of their academic core curriculum classes and teaching them differently was supposed to fix this problem.  Even though all the other middle schools – the ones supposedly outperforming Vandy – were coed.

This separation was based on the work of Leonard Sax and the organization he founded and runs, the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education (NASSPE), which holds conferences and teacher trainings to promote the theory that boys’ and girls’ brains are so different that they should be placed in separate classrooms and taught using different methods. These theories have traction because they are simple to implement.

You may want to stay seated for this one too.  GOP freshmen Congressmen go wild in Israel. Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder puts the junk in junket.

The FBI probed a late-night swim in the Sea of Galilee that involved drinking, numerous GOP freshmen lawmakers, top leadership staff – and one nude member of Congress, according to more than a dozen sources, including eyewitnesses.

During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel, the sources told POLITICO. Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in the late-night dip in the sea, according to sources who were participants in the trip.

Since we’re on stupid Republican Congress critterz, did you know Paul Ryan’s new found fame has led to increased sales of Rand’s books?  How depressing is that?

While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t get an appreciable bounce after naming Paul Ryan as his running mate, the late Ayn Rand sure did.

The philosopher who favored individualism over collectivism has won renewed attention with the choice of Ryan, who in 2005 credited Rand as being “the reason I got involved in public service.”

Ryan has since scaled back that praise, citing  Rand’s atheism. Rand died in 1982.

The Rand box set of two of her works – “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” – cracked the Top 100 “Movers & Shakers” list on Amazon.com earlier this week. The online retailer’s gauge measures the biggest increases in sales ranking compared with the previous 24 hours. Rand’s books jumped 20 percent in the rankings yesterday.

Romney didn’t enjoy quite as big an uptick in support, according to the Gallup tracking poll released on Aug. 15, which showed support for the Republican increased 1 percentage point to 47 percent of registered voters in the three days following the Ryan announcement.

Hypocrisy seems to be Ryan’s strong point. He supported Economic Stimulus under Dubya.

As it turns out, Ryan’s stimulus hypocrisy extends back at least an entire decade. In 2002, Republican President George W. Bush proposed a similar — if less ambitious — stimulus plan to the one President Obama signed in 2009. Like Obama, Bush sought to goose the economy through an influx of public sector cash. His stimulus plan included an extension of unemployment benefits and a plan to mail checks directly to millions of Americans. Ryan took to the House floor to defend this plan, accurately noting that additional government spending would help move the economy out of a recession:

We have a lot of laid off workers, and more layoffs are occurring. And we know, as a historical fact, that even if our economy begins to slowly recover, unemployment is going to linger on and on well after that recovery takes place. What we have been trying to do starting in October and into December and now is to try and get people back to work. The things we’re trying to pass in this bill are the time-tested, proven, bipartisan solutions to get businesses to stop laying off people, to hire people back, and to help those people who have lost their jobs. . . .

We’ve got to get the engine of economic growth growing again because we now know, because of recession, we don’t have the revenues that we wanted to, we don’t have the revenues we need, to fix Medicare, to fix Social Security, to fix these issues. We’ve got to get Americans back to work. Then the surpluses come back, then the jobs come back. That is the constructive answer we’re trying to accomplish here on, yes, a bipartisan basis.

A Newsweek/Daily Beast op ed By Niall Ferguson has economists and journalists alike fact checking his wrong economics. We call Shenanigans!  Krugman calls it unethical.

There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking — but this is the one that jumped out at me. Ferguson says:

The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.

Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.

Now, people on the right like to argue that the CBO was wrong. But that’s not the argument Ferguson is making — he is deliberately misleading readers, conveying the impression that the CBO had actually rejected Obama’s claim that health reform is deficit-neutral, when in fact the opposite is true.

More than that: by its very nature, health reform that expands coverage requires that lower-income families receive subsidies to make coverage affordable. So of course reform comes with a positive number for subsidies — finding that this number is indeed positive says nothing at all about the impact on the deficit unless you ask whether and how the subsidies are paid for. Ferguson has to know this (unless he’s completely ignorant about the whole subject, which I guess has to be considered as a possibility). But he goes for the cheap shot anyway.

We’re not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here — just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers. The Times would require an abject correction if something like that slipped through. Will Newsweek?

Joe Wiesanthal at BI shows how Ferguson gets wrong a lot.  There’s a list of things he’s been wrong on that’s quite lengthy as well as putting the blame on Obama for China’s huge GDP which is on target to surpass ours some time in 2017.  That’s the comment below that mentions that some tings are inevitable.

Niall Ferguson has a huge piece in The Daily Beast saying Obama needs to get fired titled: “Hit The Road, Barack.”

It’s basically an ell-encompassing takedown of Obama’s record on the economy (it still sucks), the deficit (it’s getting bigger) and America’s standing in the world (The Mideast has not gotten safer).

It even hits Obama for stuff like this, which seems totally inevitable at some point, regardless of who is President.

Anyway, as you read Niall Ferguson, it’s worth noting that he has been wrong on economics ever since Obama took office.

I’m getting really tired of putting up a huge list of Republicans who seem to have caught the pathological lying disease.  What’s happened to the GOP?  It seems like ever since they got religion, they also got a bad case of Pants-on-Fire.  It gives all of us a case of Hair-on-Fire.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?