Economics
August 5, 2014

Evidence shows that the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), more widely known as the Obama stimulus, worked. An analysis from the White House's Council of Economic Advisers found that the stimulus saved or created about 1.6 million jobs a year for four years, through the end of 2012. The ARRA also raised the level of real economic activity by between 2 and 3 percent from late 2009 through mid-2011. And the extra government debt added by the stimulus may have been entirely offset by new economic activity.

But not every aspect of the broader stimulus program worked. The so-called "cash for clunkers" program — designed to get old, polluting cars off the road, and boost economic activity — didn't help the economy at all, a new analysis finds. The paper "Cash for Corollas: When Stimulus Reduces Spending" by Mark Hoekstra, Steven L. Puller, and Jeremy West finds that "the increase in [auto] sales during the two month program was completely offset during the following seven to nine months" and that "the program's fuel efficiency restrictions induced households to purchase more fuel efficient but less expensive vehicles, thereby reducing industry revenues by three billion dollars over the entire nine to 11 month period."

Whoops. John Aziz

The future is here
1:17 p.m. ET

Google has released its first-ever trend report, offering its insight into which fashion trends are on the way out and which are here to stay.

The report looks at how often certain clothing styles are Googled to predict how popular they'll be that season. For example, from January 2014 to January 2015, searches for tulle skirts increased by 34 percent, so Google believes you'll see more of them this season. (However, Google notes in the report that one of tulle's "top associations," according to search, is "Carrie Bradshaw," so an increase in popularity doesn't necessarily indicate an up-and-coming trend.)

The trend report notes that there's a difference between "sustained growth" trends, the category in which Google places tulle skirts, and "rising stars" with "fleeting" trend popularity, a category that includes emoji-printed shirts and kale sweatshirts.

Google hopes the trend report will do more than influence fashion bloggers, too: The New York Times reports that Google executives can share trend information with fast-fashion retailers to help them determine what products customers want.

Even if you're not into fashion, the Google report has one tidbit everyone can take joy in: "Normcore" and "'90s jeans" are on the decline. Meghan DeMaria

This doesn't look good
12:32 p.m. ET
iStock

If there's a sudden increase in the cost of your prescription medication, behind-the-scenes deals could be the culprit.

A new investigation from The Wall Street Journal found that when drug companies see prescription drugs as "undervalued," they buy them out, only to drastically increase the prices. The investigation found increased costs whether or not the products were improved after the buyouts.

The Journal cites Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.'s recent purchase of two heart medications as an example. The same day Valeant bought the drugs, their list prices increased by 525 percent and 212 percent, though nothing about the prescriptions had been changed.

It's easy to see why companies rack up the prices — they can increase their bottom line without spending money on research into new medicines. According to the Journal, name-brand drug prices have increased by 127 percent since 2008. Company spokespeople told the Journal that higher drug prices create funding for medical research, though doctors expressed frustration at the trend. Read the full report over at The Wall Street Journal. Meghan DeMaria

Let's not drink to that
12:14 p.m. ET
Global Health Data Exchange

The folks at the Global Health Data Exchange have all kinds of interesting maps. Here's one on general alcohol consumption of any kind. Red = relatively more drinkers, blue = relatively fewer:

Most people know Mormons are supposed to be teetotalers, so the fact that Utah doesn't drink much isn't surprising. But check out that blue zone in and around West Virginia! And while this is just measuring any sort of drinking, West Virginia also has a relatively low prevalence of binge drinking.

So contrary to the backwoods moonshine stereotype, it turns out that Appalachia tends to avoid drinking almost as much as Zion. Make sure to check out the interactive map here. Ryan Cooper

strong words
11:50 a.m. ET
Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

The debate over Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was attacked by terrorists in January, re-entered the spotlight today, after six prominent authors announced that they would not attend the Pen American Center's annual gala in May because the magazine would be awarded the foundation's Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The authors — who include Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, and Rachel Kushner — are reportedly uncomfortable with celebrating a magazine that is best known for its attacks on Islam.

The controversy has spread beyond the rarefied air of the literary award circuit to reignite debates about freedom of expression and religious tolerance. A polite example of this back-and-forth can be found at The Intercept, which has published a letter to PEN by the writer Deborah Eisenberg questioning the award, and a response by PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel defending it.

But others have been less civil, most prominently Salman Rushdie, who was famously the subject of an Iranian fatwa calling for his death. He asserted on Twitter that the objecting writers are "six pussies."

He later told The New York Times, "If PEN as a free speech organization can't defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter [Carey] and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them." Ryu Spaeth

This just in
11:35 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Attorney General Loretta Lynch was sworn into office Monday, making her the first African-American woman ever to hold the Justice Department's top job.

"I am honored beyond words to step into this larger role today," Lynch said.

President Obama nominated Lynch in November to succeed Eric Holder, who announced last year he would step down after a six-year tenure. A longtime federal prosecutor, Lynch then had to wait months for a confirmation vote as the Senate stalled over an unrelated human trafficking bill. Last week, the Senate finally voted 56-43 to confirm Lynch. Jon Terbush

Awkward
11:24 a.m. ET

This week's award for really poor marketing decisions goes to the police association of Kenosha, Wisconsin, whose latest billboard features a local officer, Pablo Torres, who is currently on leave for shooting two people in March. Torres also has a record of nine citizen complaints for inappropriate use of force.

A local paper, the Kenosha News, argued that the billboard should come down while Torres is under investigation, noting that he regularly appears at police events with his police dog, which likewise may unfairly bias public opinion in his favor.

A representative of the family of Aaron Siler, the second shooting victim, also questioned what the billboard was intended to communicate during the ongoing shooting investigation: "What are they trying to say? Are they trying to say he's not guilty and they know that for a fact? Why are they thanking him?" Bonnie Kristian

hypocrisy
11:01 a.m. ET

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been subjected to heavy criticism following a New York Times story which explained how, as secretary of state, Clinton approved the sale of uranium to Russia around the same time the Clinton Foundation received big-money donations from interested parties. Compounding this scandal is hypocrisy, as it seems Clinton criticized then-Senator Barack Obama for backroom political deals while on the campaign trail in 2008:

"Senator Obama has some questions to answer about his dealings with one of his largest contributors, Exelon, a big nuclear power company," Clinton said. "Apparently he cut some deals behind closed doors to protect them from full disclosure in the nuclear industry."

Clinton was ultimately right about Exelon's close ties to the Obama camp; after Obama took office, the power company secured frequent meetings in the White House and was able to manipulate regulations to its own advantage. Bonnie Kristian

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