Tony Dokoupil

Stories by Tony Dokoupil

  • Colorado: New Power Pols

    Secretaries of state have been among the more anonymous local officeholders, managing elections without taking a political side.
  • States Crack Down on Smokeless Tobacco

    About one in five Americans smokes. And that’s not likely to change much, say public-health experts, until cigarette-style taxes, bans, and crossbones are applied to a related scourge: smokeless tobacco. The unlit leaf of many names—chaw, chew, dip, snuff, snus—is a growing problem, especially among male smokers and young people who use it as a cheap and convenient substitute for cigarettes.
  • Did Census Bureau Misstate Migration Patterns?

    In 2006 the Census Bureau reported a sharp drop in interstate moves, and as mobility continued to slide in the recession, the new rootedness got prominent coverage.
  • Hollywood's Bad Script Started in New Mexico

    As dozens of states "right size" their budgets, one line item seems curiously immune from cuts: film subsidies. After New Mexico approved generous tax credits in 2002, more than 40 states followed suit, and today studios are showered with about $1.5 billion in annual benefits. In return, states get their scenery in lights, plus an economic boost that more than pays for the lost tax revenue--or so the thinking goes. In actuality, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, states get little more than tinsel. The study, which the film industry blasted, found that subsidies do lure filmmakers--but most hiring is part time, and spending usually fails to cover the cost of the breaks. With a typical loss of more than 70 cents per dollar of subsidy, says Robert Tannenwald, who authored the report, states would be better off cutting residents a stimulus check or investing in infrastructure and education--pillars of growth, however unsexy.
  • The Capitol’s Charity Case

    Last year was among the worst on record for charitable giving. But even with a rebound forecast for 2010, the world of good works will remain unnaturally depressed, according to a new study, and not because of the economy. The culprit is Uncle Sam.
  • Mass.: How Health-Care Reform Helps Hospital Costs

    Republicans have pledged to roll back health-care reform in the name of fiscal restraint. But the cost of implementing the new law remains unclear, largely because of the human equation. Universal insurance will lower the cost of care for millions of people. That could drive demand to the priciest treatments, regardless of their effectiveness, and set off what researchers call “a medical arms race” in which hospitals woo patients who care less about cost. Because hospitals account for more than a third of total health-care spending, such a spike could drive up costs across the board, including insurance premiums and government subsidies. That, at least, is the worry.
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    How Utah Became an Economic Zion

    It’s said there are no bad jobs during a recession. But there are depressing ones—like trying to recruit new business. That was Jeffrey Edwards’s task as head of Utah’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
  • No New Liquor Licenses in Virginia

    Privatization is a magical idea, a way to shrink government without cutting services or raising taxes. But while there has been support for outsourcing the oversight of parks and tollbooths, one public monopoly hasn’t folded: liquor sales.
  • New Study: School Consolidation Gets Failing Grade

    Promising to “cut the fat” is often better politics than policy, as lawmakers pushing to consolidate school districts may learn. The idea calls for absorbing smaller districts into larger ones to reduce overhead costs and fund better student performance. But consolidation fails on both fronts.
  • Rewriting State Constitutions Lacks Support

    Tea Partiers rail against taxes, deficits, and a government unmoored from its founding principles. But offered a chance to buck the system, would they grab it? Not necessarily. In 14 states, residents periodically have the right to torch their constitutions and rewrite them at conventions that exclude sitting politicians. These ballot initiatives, which stem from the Jeffersonian ideal that “every law naturally expires after 19 years,” are active in a record four states this fall. Curiously, however, they seem destined to fail in all of them.
  • A Push to Bring Bible Studies to All 50 States

    The average American can’t answer basic questions about world religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, which prompted renewed calls for religious study in public schools. In many states, however, that education already exists. The overall numbers are still small, with about 10 percent of schools featuring academic courses in religion, usually focused on the Bible. But the last five years have seen the first major expansion in decades. More than 40 states have districts that teach academic Bible study; five of them have passed laws to encourage it, offering, in some cases, curricula guidelines or public funds.
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    A Foreclosure Hurdle for the Capital

    Most financial reforms have focused on reining in Wall Street. But a new study by the American Sociological Review highlights what could be a more important regulatory target: civil rights. Like previous research, the report found that blacks were more likely than whites to have subprime mortgages or homes in foreclosure, even among borrowers with similar incomes. But it goes further, noting that while poor whites are spread around, decades of racism in the real-estate market has clustered poor blacks. That has allowed predatory lenders to reach more people and “multiplied the effects of the crisis.”
  • Education Reform and Accountability in Florida

    It’s the watchword of the Obama administration’s multibillion-dollar push for education reform. But “accountability,” the practice of tracking school performance, isn’t always a force for good. It has been linked to a host of unsavory behaviors, including cheating on official exams and suspending poor students on test day. Now, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, there’s an additional concern: teachers quitting.
  • Study: Mom-and-Pops a Drain on the Economy

    New businesses are often tiny, of course, at least at first. But the distinction between them and small, mature firms is hardly semantic, says economist John Haltiwanger, who coauthored the study. His research suggests that the policy focus should skew young, nurturing the next big firms—which actually employ the most people—rather than tending an old crop of small ones.
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    Crowd Sourcing Loses Steam

    There’s no shortage of theories on why Wikipedia has stalled. One holds that the site is virtually complete. Another suggests that aggressive editors and a tangle of anti-vandalism rules have scared off casual users. But such explanations overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature.
  • Feds Losing Fight Against Artifact Theft

    Artifact theft is usually associated with developing or war-torn countries (think Iraq after the U.S. invasion). But in recent years America’s own ancient sites have become a target, with looters pilfering Native American bones, jewelry, and even pictographs hacked out of cave walls, and selling them in thriving online markets.
  • What, You Worry?

    It's conventional wisdom that anti-Washington sentiment threatens to scramble the midterm elections. But which incumbents should be most worried? And what, if any, hope is there for Democrats anyhow?
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    New Rules for Campaigns' Use of Social Media

    Ahead of the midterms, four local election commissions are considering crackdowns—the first of their kind—on how candidates and their campaigns handle online advertising and social-media sites.
  • School 'Zero-Tolerance' Policies Don't Work

    In New York, many nonviolent incidents have landed kids in court. Last year, the state sent over 1,400 to correctional facilities, which recent reports suggest don't help.
  • 'English-Only' Measures More and More Popular

    Immigration reform has receded—at least temporarily—in Washington. But a historically fraught question is primed to return when legislators again pick up the matter: should English be America’s official language? About 30 states already have English-only laws requiring them to conduct official business in the mother tongue, with some exceptions. Most of these laws passed during prior bouts of border anxiety: in the mid-’80s (when 3 million illegal immigrants got amnesty) and the mid-’90s (when the GOP gained control of the House).
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    The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro

    To tell the story of how America’s game gained Dominican flavor, Mark Kurlansky focuses on a single town: San Pedro de Macorís—the birthplace of All-Stars like Robinson Cano, Sammy Sosa, and Alfonso Soriano, and the home of more major leaguers per capita than anywhere in the world. More than one in four major leaguers are Latin-born (up from zero a half century ago), and no country has contributed a greater share of the talent than the Dominican Republic.
  • New York: When Nurses Strike, People Die

    The nation's nursing shortage is sure to be exacerbated soon by an uptick in stitches and surgeries that, prior to health-care reform, many Americans likely would have gone without. In years past, hospital administrators have tried to close the labor gap by demanding double shifts and tacking on extra responsibilities. Concerned about being too taxed to do their jobs well, nurses have walked out at least 750 times in recent decades, making the profession among the most strike-prone in the country.But the consequences of these stoppages have never been fully clear until now. A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that during 50 strikes at New York state hospitals between 1984 and 2004, patients were almost 20 percent more likely to die—a bump in mortality that translates to about 140 deaths. The study "surprises me," says Becky Patton, president of the American Nurses Association. But, Patton says, she still supports hardball tactics if management...
  • The World’s Best Eye on the Cosmos Goes Dark in Maryland

    Next week President Obama is slated to deliver his first speech on the administration's NASA policy, which calls for transferring routine space travel to private companies. The proposal has sparked fears of government layoffs and questions about the wisdom of ceding cosmic flight to Russia, China, and corporate America. But another likely consequence has been overlooked: the irrevocable end of the Hubble Space Telescope, hailed as the greatest eye on the cosmos since Galileo.None of Hubble's work—including the first images of planets orbiting another sun—would have been possible without the shuttle, which launched the device in 1990 and ferried astronauts up on five different occasions for crucial repairs. Last year's maintenance trip left the orbiting camera more powerful than ever. But no more U.S. spacecraft, at least for the foreseeable future, means no more service trips—and a permanent sleep for the iconic machine the next time it breaks down, or when its batteries die around...
  • Claims of Resegregation in North Carolina

    As education secretary Arne Duncan begins his review of equality in the nation's schools—he recently called it the "civil-rights issue of our generation"—he may want to take a close look at North Carolina. Previously a model of desegregation, the state's classrooms have begun to divide again along racial lines. In Charlotte, federally mandated busing ensured balance until 1999, when a court ruled that integration had been accomplished. Since then the number of 90 percent–minority schools has jumped almost fivefold. In Wayne County, one high school is now 99 percent African-American, which prompted the NAACP to file a federal complaint alleging "apartheid education." And last month in Wake County, a newly elected school board voted to end an income-based diversity program that has been copied across the country. "I think it's intentional race discrimination," says Mark Dorosin, a senior attorney at the University of North Carolina's Center for Civil Rights. (A spokesperson for Gov....
  • Why Immigration Helps Wages in California

    As the white house revives immigration reform—an issue the president is discussing with congressional leaders—it may want to ponder the effects of curbing foreign labor. While immigrants are blamed for dragging down American wages and stealing jobs, University of California, Davis, economist Giovanni Peri comes to a different conclusion. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Peri trowels through nearly five decades of immigration data and finds that foreign workers have boosted the economy, jacking up average income without crowding out American laborers. For each percentage of the workforce that is foreign-born, he found an almost 0.5 percent bump in average wages. In California, where the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has jumped more than 25 points since 1960, that means an almost 13 percent bonus—roughly $8,000. Immigrants, Peri says, push native-born workers into better-paying positions, expanding the size of the job pie so unskilled Americans aren...
  • Tennessee: Retired Nukes Get a New Life

    President Obama has called for a world without nuclear weapons. As he prepares to whittle down America's arsenal, however, a crucial question remains: what to do with the bomb material? Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has decommissioned thousands of warheads—the explosive cores of which are in storage, pending a way to dispose of their plutonium. Leaving it intact is a potential security risk. But most of the alternatives (including launching it into the sun) have their own risks. While non-weapons-grade plutonium is used to fuel nuclear plants in Europe, it has never been processed out of a warhead and into a form for commercial reactors.That could change. The Department of Energy is building a South Carolina–based plant that can convert America's plutonium stockpile into fuel. And late last month, the Tennessee Valley Authority agreed to evaluate it for use in its reactors near Chattanooga and Athens, Ala. If the TVA ultimately accepts the fuel, which energy analysts...
  • Texas: Promise in Paying for Grades

    As President Obama looks to overhaul education policy, he might consider a simple fix: paying students for grades. Backed by private donors, hundreds of schools nationwide have tried a pay-for--performance approach in the last decade. But even as the practice has spread, psychologists have attacked it as shortsighted, saying it doesn't cultivate a lifelong love of learning. Legislators, wary of the optics, have steered clear, citing the need for further research.Now, in the first long-term study of its kind, a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research may provide some answers. According to the report, Texas high-school students who earned cash for passing Advanced Placement exams showed not only better GPAs, but also bumps in college attendance, performance, and the likelihood of earning their degrees. The effects were most pronounced among minorities, with African--American students 10 percent more likely to enter college, and 50 percent more likely to...
  • Did the Housing Crisis Help Prop 8 Pass?

    The great recession may be to blame for stirring up the culture wars: according to a study in the winter issue of the American Sociological Review, resistance to gay marriage deepens significantly during hard times. In conservative parts of the 30 states that have blocked same-sex unions (where ballot measures tend to be won or lost), researchers found that each 10 percent drop in homeownership led to a 5 percent increase in support for a ban. Other signs of a community in trouble—including spikes in the crime rate and the percentage of people moving—also tracked with heightened opposition. When people think their neighborhood is breaking down, says Notre Dame professor Rory McVeigh, a coauthor of the study, "they think gay marriage is only going to make things worse."That's bad news for gay-advocacy groups, as much of the country remains racked by the housing crisis. In California, where foreclosure rates are among the highest in the nation, it could help explain how Proposition 8...
  • Texas Panel Studies Wrongful Convictions

    Since the late 1990s, DNA evidence has cleared hundreds of people mistakenly put behind bars. In doing so, it's tarnished that staple of crime solving: the police lineup. Almost 80 percent of the wrongly accused were first fingered by an alleged eyewitness (who zeroed in on them in a traditional photo, or in-person, "six-pack"). For years the push to improve the system has stalled, with just nine states enforcing tightened procedures. These include requiring police to show pictures or suspects one at a time, and having an officer without knowledge of the case administer the lineup—processes that psychologists say are more reliable. Meanwhile, at least 17 other states and some major cities have resisted these changes, partly because a 2006 Chicago Police Department study found the new system to be worse than the old one, and partly because the Supreme Court has upheld entrenched lineup methodology.But reform could soon come from the unlikeliest of places: Texas. This fall a special...
  • Kentucky: Home to the Next Yucca Mountain?

    President Obama has called for a new generation of nuclear-power plants. But when he abandoned plans to store the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, he effectively forced states eager to break ground on reactors to accept the idea of keeping that waste within their borders—not a popular idea since the Three Mile Island meltdown. But could Kentucky become home to an alternative? Its state Senate recently approved a bill that would OK nuclear-waste storage. And Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, says storing other states' waste "would certainly attract a lot of interest from our administration."For a coal-rich area without an existing plant, Kentucky's openness is a sign, say energy analysts, that anxiety about waste storage is waning. It's "a tipping point," says Vanderbilt professor Charles Powers, an expert on nuclear-waste solutions. Still, don't expect resistance to end overnight: Kentucky's bill could die in the House, as did two previous...