Some longer reads for your perusal this weekend.
Obesity on the Rise
Nearly 2.5 million more US residents were obese in 2009 than in 2007, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (pdf) In total, 72.5 million Americans are obese, or 26.7 percent of the population.
Obesity rates exceeded the 30 percent mark in nine states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia — compared to only three states in 2007. In 2000 no state had a rate of 30 percent or more. In 1991, no state exceeded 20 percent. Mississippi remains the state with the highest level of obesity, 34 percent. It's a dubious honor the Magnolia state has held since 2004. The correlation of obesity with the poorest states is striking, the poorest five all have high rates of obesity: Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama.
Obesity rates varied according to several factors, including age and ethnicity. People who were 50 years old or older had higher obesity rates than those under 30. The highest rate was found in “non-Hispanic black women” (41.9 percent). Overall, “non-Hispanic blacks” had a rate of 36.8 percent, and Hispanics had a rate of 30.7 percent. Rates also fluctuated across education levels. People with college educations were the least likely to be obese — the rate among men in this category was 22.9 percent, and for women it was 19.8 percent. Colorado and surprisingly the District of Columbia were the least obese, each had rates of under 20 percent.
The CDC cautions that the obesity problem is likely even larger than these numbers suggest because the report is based on self-reported data from a 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey (BRFSS) of 400,000 people conducted by phone.
“Obesity continues to be a major public health problem,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in the press release. “We need intensive, comprehensive and ongoing efforts to address obesity. If we don’t more people will get sick and die from obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of death.”
And obesity is a costly proposition. The CDC estimates that the cost of being fat tops $150 billion a year from obesity-related illnesses. On average, obese people have $1,500 more in annual medical expenses.
Tariq Aziz Interview in The Guardian
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Tariq Aziz, the long time aide to Saddam Hussein who served in various capacities now serving a 15 year prison sentence, implores the Obama Administration not to leave "Iraq to the wolves." Aziz, an Iraqi Christian, talks of the deal he struck with the invading American force in 2003 in which he traded his freedom for his family's safety. While he does not complain about his confinement, he uses the interview to plead for the US to remain involved in Iraq.
Americans, by and large, confined Iraq to the rear view mirror long ago. To a degree, however, Colin Powell's Pottery Barn dictum still applies: we broke it, we own it. The bitter reality is that the country remains a mess with a fractious political climate. As Aziz notes, "when you make a mistake you need to correct a mistake, not leave Iraq to its death." It's sad for Iraq is not just an expensive military failure but a moral failure.
Iraq is only seen as stable and tranquil when compared to the situation pre-the-2007 surge but that's hardly the appropriate standard for comparison. While security and services such as water, electricity, health care and education have improved, longer-term prospects remain uncertain and Iraq remains a shadow of its former self. In the end, Iraq is likely to either go one of three paths:
- A complete partition into a Kurdish north, a Shiite south and a rump Sunni state around Baghdad either as a loose confederation or as independent states.
- A strongman emerges to bend the country to his will. Perhaps the Dawa-led State of Law coalition of Nouri al Malaki will manage to consolidate its power bringing order through the establishment of hard-line Dawaist state that effectively replaces the former Sunni/Christian Arab nationalist Baathist state for a Shiite state aligned with Iran. Then again the possibility of a return by the Baathists cannot be discounted.
- The current political impasse continues. Despite the country's Election Commission confirming that Iyad Allawi, a Shiite former premier, was the March 7 election's narrow victor, Iraq's political parties are still arguing over which of them has the right to try to form a government. At the heart of this potentially damaging impasse is the rivalry between Allawi and incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki. Allawi's Iraqiya coalition narrowly beat the Shiite bloc formed from a merger between al Maliki's Shiite-led State of Law party and the Iran-friendly Iraqi National Alliance into second place in the election, but the prime minister is continuing to fight for a second term in charge.
Iraq remains as George Washington University Professor Mark Lynch describes it: "Iraq is a political house of cards. There are so many unresolved issues and the risk of this house of cards collapsing is really quite high."
Though we are again declaring Iraq to be a "mission accomplished," we will continue to have 50,000 troops there indefinitely amidst a situation that can be best described as controlled chaos. The likelihood that Iraq could again descend into an outright sectarian civil war cannot be discounted though in the near-term Iraq will probably limp from crisis to crisis.
Beyond the 50,000 troops ostensibly there to advise and assist their Iraqi counterparts, the US plans to maintain 5,000 diplomats and civilian advisers working with the Iraqi government and nonprofit groups. To protect our vice regal cadre of bureaucrats, the State Department plans on hiring as many 7,000 contract security personnel to provide protection as the U.S. military departs.
Nor is the money hole that is Iraq plugged. The State Department has put in a request for more than $800 million to start a police mentoring and training program with 350 advisers.
For those interested in reading more on the current political situation in Iraq, Joost Hitlermann's piece Iraq: The Impasse in the New York Review of Books is strongly recommended.
The Job Gap
The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution has a monthly series looking at the developing "job gap." This month, Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney have a post titled The Long Road Back to Full Employment: How the Great Recession Compares to Previous U.S. Recessions. After analyzing yesterday's tepid employment numbers, they find that the job gap stands at 11.6 million jobs—an increase of 300,000 from last month’s 11.3 million job gap.
The U.S. economy will need more robust growth to close this gap. If future job creation reaches about 208,000 jobs per month, the average monthly job creation for the best year for job creation in the 2000s, it will take almost 140 months (about 11.5 years) to reach pre-recession employment levels. In a more optimistic scenario with 321,000 jobs created per month, the average monthly job creation for the best year in the 1990s, it will take 59 months (almost 5 years).