The Senate Can (but Probably Won’t) Fill the Gaps in the Case for a Ukraine Quid Pro Quo

“While these facts are pretty damning, open-minded senators (assuming any exist) would be interested in further exploring Trump’s motives by examining relevant documents and hearing from officials (such as Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton) who directly interacted with the president before, during, and after the aid freeze. Maybe the inferences that Sondland and other underlings drew about Trump’s reason for blocking the money were mistaken. Maybe Trump’s after-the-fact explanations, however implausible they might seem, are true. But unless several Republican senators side with Democrats in seeking additional evidence, those crucial questions will remain unanswered during Trump’s trial.”

Installing air filters in classrooms has surprisingly large educational benefits

“The impact of the air filters is strikingly large given what a simple change we’re talking about. The school district didn’t reengineer the school buildings or make dramatic education reforms; they just installed $700 commercially available filters that you could plug into any room in the country. But it’s consistent with a growing literature on the cognitive impact of air pollution, which finds that everyone from chess players to baseball umpires to workers in a pear-packing factory suffer deteriorations in performance when the air is more polluted.

If Gilraine’s result holds up to further scrutiny, he will have identified what’s probably the single most cost-effective education policy intervention — one that should have particularly large benefits for low-income children.

And while it’s too hasty to draw sweeping conclusions on the basis of one study, it would be incredibly cheap to have a few cities experiment with installing air filters in some of their schools to get more data and draw clearer conclusions about exactly how much of a difference this makes.”

How Trump got suckered by Iran and North Korea

“Kim Jong Un didn’t give up his nuclear weapons. Negotiations stalled. North Korea resumed testing with 22 missile launches and counting, including a new submarine-launched missile with a range of about 2,500 km. And North Korea, in December, resumed engine testing at a test facility near Tongchang-ri. Kim ended the year with a speech in which he announced that he would no longer abide by the moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, that North Korea would “shift to shocking actual actions to make [the US] fully pay,” and would soon reveal a “new strategic weapon.”

Yet US officials are still arguing that these threats are little more than bluster and that Kim will soon enough yield to pressure. On January 7, a State Department official asserted that there had been a “significant reduction through the year of North Korean activity, missiles, tests, and all the rest of that stuff” and that “will continue … because the US has taken a solid stand and demonstrated strength and insistence that the agreements be adhered to.”

US officials, of course, said the same thing about Iran. When a State Department official was asked if he thought Iran would retaliate after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the official said, “No, I don’t.” When reporters pressed the issue, he said: “I’m just saying that weakness invites more aggression. Timidity will invite more aggression,” and “we’re speaking in a language the regime understands.” That was on January 3. Less than a week later, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US targets in Iraq.

US officials were also skeptical that Iran would respond to Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that Tehran would simply agree to a “tougher” deal. Under the agreement reached by President Obama, the world lifted sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to limits on its civilian nuclear energy program that would help reassure the world that Tehran was not building a nuclear weapon.

When Trump reimposed those sanctions, Iran responded by abandoning those limits one by one. Iran has not completely abandoned the agreement: It is still allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its nuclear programs, remains a non-nuclear member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has offered to return to compliance if the US removes the sanctions again.

But what Iran has not agreed to is the better deal that Trump’s supporters promised was just around the corner.”

“It is remarkable that, across the board, Trump’s strategies of pressure and bullying have resulted in no tangible agreements — no deal with Kim Jong Un, no meeting with Iran’s leaders, and no arms control deals with either the Russians or the Chinese.”

A new study finds increasing the minimum wage reduces suicides

“The newest of the papers, authored by John Kaufman, Leslie Salas-Hernández, Kelli Komro, and Melvin Livingston in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, examined monthly data across the US from 1990 to 2015 and estimated that a $1 increase in the minimum wage led to a 3.4 to 5.9 percent decline in suicides among adults with a high school education or less. The authors also estimated that over the 26-year period, a $1 increase in each state’s minimum wage could have prevented 27,550 suicide deaths, or about 1,059 per year.

The paper has created a bit of a stir. But it’s just one of four studies in the past couple of years to find an association between higher minimum wages and lower death rates (specifically suicides).

If these findings hold up in subsequent research, they provide a new, persuasive rationale for raising the minimum wage.”

Trump says most asylum seekers don’t show up for their court hearings. A new study says 99% do.

“About 99 percent of asylum seekers who were not detained or who were previously released from immigration custody showed up for their hearings over the last year, according to new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, a think tank that tracks data in the immigration courts.

Studies from previous years have also disproven the idea that most migrants will choose to live in the US without authorization rather than see their immigration cases through. But it’s nevertheless a central idea in Trump’s immigration policies, including those that aim to keep migrants in Mexico rather than letting them walk free in the US.”

“Data from the DOJ suggests that the rate at which migrants overall show up for their immigration court proceedings is lower than the rate TRAC cites. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, about 75 percent of migrants showed up for their court hearings in 2018 — similar to rates over the previous five years. The DOJ has also reported that the number of migrants and asylum seekers who fail to show up for their hearings is on the rise.”

“There are comparatively low-cost alternatives to keeping immigrants in detention or sending them abroad, including the now-defunct Obama-era Family Case Management Program. Under that program, which Trump ended in June 2017, families were released and assigned to social workers who aided them in finding attorneys and accommodation and ensured that they showed up for their court hearings.

The program was small in scale, with no more than 1,600 people enrolled at any one time, but appeared to be successful in ensuring that 99 percent of participants showed up for their court appearances and ICE check-ins.”

Study links Medicaid expansion to 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths

“Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which gave millions of low-income adults access to health insurance, was linked to a 6 percent reduction in opioid overdose death rates — potentially preventing thousands of deaths — according to a new study in JAMA Network Open.

The study looked at what happened in counties in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act by 2017, compared to counties in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, accounting for variables like demographic and policy differences. The Medicaid expansion was made optional in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, and only 32 states and Washington, DC, had opted to expand by the study period (with the total rising to 37 in the past few years).

The study helps put to rest claims by some Republican lawmakers, particularly Sen. Ron Johnson (WI), that the Medicaid expansion made the opioid crisis worse by expanding access to painkillers. The new study, echoing others before it, suggests the Medicaid expansion had the opposite effect, and that there wasn’t a link between the expansion and more deaths caused by painkillers, with the possible — and relatively uncommon — exception of methadone used in pain treatment.

The researchers found that Medicaid expansion counties had a 6 percent lower rate in opioid overdose deaths than non-expansion counties. That was mostly due to an 11 percent lower rate of deaths involving heroin and a 10 percent lower rate for deaths linked to synthetic opioids excluding methadone”

Texas just became the first state to shut the door on refugees

“Texas became the first state to refuse to take in refugees..under an executive order from President Donald Trump that allows state and local authorities to block refugees from settling in their areas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a letter to the State Department Friday saying that while Texas has historically welcomed more refugees than any other state, it will not resettle any additional refugees in the 2020 fiscal year. “