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Archive for July, 2012

Penny Pritzker, Hyatt, and Busting Teacher Unions

[ 32 ] July 26, 2012 |

In discussing Hyatt Hotels heir Penny Pritzker’s support of Obama while UNITE-HERE has called for a boycott because of the terrible way the chain treats its housekeepers, it’s worth pointing out Pritzker’s other recent activities–attacking teacher unions.

Pritzker has been right there with Rahm Emanuel in his fight against Chicago teachers.

Penny Pritzker’s role as one of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education has been prominent since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her in May 2011. As one of her first acts on the school board, she spoke in favor of the controversial (and since proved mendacious) decision by the Board of Education to vote that it was facing a “fiscal crisis” and therefore did not have to honor the fifth year of the labor contract with the school system’s unions. That vote rescinded the four percent raise that the unions had negotiated four years earlier with the previous school board. Two months after that vote, Pritzker voted quietly to transfer an additional $70 million to the City of Chicago for police services in the schools, a scandal that has lately been exposed by researchers (including this reporter) at the Chicago Teachers Union. The school system had a valid contract with the city requiring it to pay $8 million per year for police services, but after breaking the unions’ contracts, the members of the Board voted to transfer the additional money to Rahm Emanuel’s city budget. As with most decisions of the Board since Pritzker became a member, the action was taken in August 2011 without discussion or debate.

The most prominent public activities of Penny Prtizker during the past year have not been the occasional soiree with rich people (and Rahm Emanuel) at her Ochard Street mansion on Chicago’s north side, but her monthly attendance at the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, where she has spoken openly in favor of the union busting privatization policies of Rahm Emanuel’s appointed Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Of course, it’s not like busting teacher unions is something Obama has much concern with, given his close ties the a whole cadre of Chicago “reformers,” including Emanuel, Pritzker and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Can’t wait until Democrats take power in order to create sensible education policies that support teachers….

But I’m sure labor will have a far greater say in the 2nd Obama term than Penny Pritzker!

Diane Ravitch with more.


What’s the Deal With the Aqueducts?

[ 28 ] July 26, 2012 |

Ancient graffiti more or less proves that humor hasn’t changed much in thousands of years.

Now we just have to discover the Roman Jerry Seinfeld.

Our Public Opinion Problem

[ 62 ] July 26, 2012 |

One issue for liberals going forward is that progressive positions on civil liberties and civil rights generally lack a popular constituency.   (The exception — despite the fact that centrist pundits are particularly obsessed with selling out on it — is reproductive freedom, where the liberal position is relatively popular.)

The lies of Rayman Solomon

[ 13 ] July 26, 2012 |

More than a week ago I pointed out that the reported debt numbers for Rutgers-Camden law graduates didn’t appear to make any sense. Within a few hours, with the help of internet crowd-sourcing, it became clear what had happened: Rutgers-Camden was reporting only the law school debt incurred by its graduating class in the class’s third year, rather than, as it was required to by the ABA, over the course of attending the school. (It also became evident that Georgia State and Barry — at least — were making the same “mistake.” The numbers for Southern and Texas Southern are probably wrong in the same way).

On Monday, Rutgers’ Dean Rayman Solomon sent an email to the school’s students, purporting to explain what had happened. Here is the relevant portion: Read more…

Foreign Entanglements: Olympic Politics

[ 6 ] July 26, 2012 |

Nick Sarantakes of the Naval War College and I talked Olympic politics on the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements.  Here we talk about the difference that a Cold War makes:

What Was Rick Wakefield’s Role?

[ 28 ] July 26, 2012 |

Evidently, the recently deceased Sherman Hemsley cut an album with Jon Anderson of Yes.

Although this makes little sense on multiple levels, there are many accounts that state it to be correct.

….Wakeman, Wakefield, whatever. Everyone’s just lucky I didn’t ask about Irving Howe’s role in the band.

Hyatt and Obama

[ 74 ] July 25, 2012 |

Given the nature of American politics in the post-Citizens United era, it’s hard to blame Obama for going all out for fundraising, especially since Romney is toasting him in the money department.

On the other hand, it hardly inspires my confidence in a Democratic president when he buddies up with Penny Pritzker, whose family empire is Hyatt Hotels, against whom the biggest current labor action in the country is taking place. Pritzker was actually Obama’s original choice for Secretary of Commerce before her involvement in subprime mortgages took her out of the running.

Penny Pritzker is worth approximately $1.7 billion. Who do you think has more influence with a Democratic president, Pritzker or UNITE-HERE?

Filibuster Politics

[ 64 ] July 25, 2012 |

Bernstein on filibuster gamesmanship:

A broader point: if Democrats believe that Republicans will inevitably turn the Senate into a majority party rules institution as soon as they get the majority, then there’s a strong incentive for Democrats to make that reform now whether or not they actually support it.

The tricky thing is if Senators and other insiders believe that Republicans will be very hesitant to move on reform, but if liberal activists and other outsiders are absolutely convinced that Republicans will do so — which may be exactly what Reid is faced with. In that situation, activists will find the inaction of Democratic Senators totally inexplicable, but Democratic Senators may believe that the outsiders are just wrong.

Of course — that leaves out the big question of which side is actually correct. It’s very possible that Republican Senators currently believe that they will not initiate Senate reform should they take the majority, but in fact pressure from Republican activists will push them to do so anyway. In that scenario, using Republican Senators (and their staffs, and other Senate insiders) as a source would be actively misleading.

On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that Republicans (whenever they take control) will live by the same rules that Democrats have live with for the past few years. After all, Republicans did not, in fact, go nuclear when George W. Bush was president. Some fudging of reconciliation rules, a fair amount of bluster, but nothing more. There are in fact strong incentives for individual Senators to retain their rights, and that applies just as much to Republicans as to Democrats. So if Senate Democrats believe that Republicans would respect Senate rules — and the fact that Democrats have moved slowly towards reform indicates they do — then they might be right, after all.

As a general rule I’m on the same page as Scott with regards to filibuster reform; it’s a good idea no matter who’s in power. Nevertheless, this poses an interesting strategic question. My gut screams that the GOP will undertake filibuster reform no matter what the Dems do; it’s a more ideologically coherent party with a robust recent tradition of disciplining wayward members through the medium of primary challenges. Even to the extent that individual Republican Senators have strong institutional incentive to maintain the status quo on the filibuster, the ability of broader GOP socio-intellectual apparatus to bring pressure on recalcitrant Senators will likely prove decisive. But then I don’t know for sure.

The Crisis of the American Law School

[ 20 ] July 25, 2012 |


People interested in the academic paper version of my law school critique can download it from SSRN.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have been engaged for the lead roles in the film version.

I’ve heard of upward failure but this is ridiculous

[ 50 ] July 25, 2012 |


What’s the most important job in America? I don’t know about you, but I’d say Protecting Our Freedoms is right up there. So it’s only natural that when the federal government hires somebody to run any aspect of our national security apparatus, it does the most thorough possible background check on the person. Excellent performance in one’s previous employment is the first thing they check on, right? (Just after they get the drug test back of course).

Ladies and gentleman, I give you your new Coordinator For Improved Cooperation Between National Security Agencies. Because if there’s one thing Graham Spanier knows how to do it’s to make sure that sensitive information doesn’t fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Update: A Nexis search reveals almost no mention of this story in the media. After the Sarah Ganim broke it the Harrisburg paper in April it was mentioned very briefly in the Pittsburgh Tribune and the National Journal. I guess it’s not news when somebody like Spanier lands a federal government job in the wake of what may well have been the most catastrophic presidency in the history of a major American university.

But wait there’s more: It turns out after he was fired Spanier had to get his top secret national security clearance renewed in order to be given whatever make-work sinecure important administrative position some friends in high places decided he should get. This took four months. So he not only got a job — he got the kind of job that required a bunch of important people to sign off on him getting it.

Ah . . . life in the meritocracy.

The Vote Fraud Fraud, Pennsylvania Edition

[ 37 ] July 25, 2012 |

Good posts by Abby Rapoport about the vote suppression in Pennsylvania as well as the gaps in the Voting Rights Act that will prevent the DOJ from stopping vote suppression in many states. The stakes of the Pennsylvania battle are considerable:

But as it turns out, the number of voters in Pennsylvania who might get disenfranchised is huge. The state law requires a government-issued photo id with an expiration date. The law was geared toward voters using an ID issued by the state Department of Transportation. During the debates earlier this year, the governor’s office said that 99 percent of state voters already had such an ID. But when the secretary of the commonwealth did a study in early July, it showed that as many as 758,000 people—or 9 percent of voters—didn’t have an ID from the Department of Transportation. Other studies estimate that there could be a million Pennsylvania voters without ID. That’s more than the margin of victory Barack Obama had in 2008.

And, of course, there’s “basically no evidence of in-person voter fraud,” which isn’t surprising since even in theory it would be impossible to do on a scale that could have any effect on an election. (It’s hard enough to mobilize eligible voters.) Don’t take my word for it — ask the state itself:

Additionally, the agreement states Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”

If voter-ID laws had anything to do with preventing voter fraud, this would be a damning admission.

The Midwife and the Semi-Automatic Rifle

[ 57 ] July 25, 2012 |


Semi-serious question: If you assigned a student the task of writing an 800-word essay on the theme of what relevance America’s experience in Iraq has for United States foreign policy in the context of the current crisis in Syria, and the student produced this, what grade would you give it?

Here’s mine:

Graduate school, upper level undergraduate: F

“Mr. Friedman, this level of work simply isn’t acceptable.”

Freshman comp: D+

“Mr. Friedman, you have an arresting writing style, although we need to discuss the uses and abuses of metaphor. But logic is part of good expository writing as well, and this piece contradicts itself more than once in the space of less than 800 words. Please make an appointment during office hours so that we can discuss how you might improve your work.”

High school: C

“Tommy, in some ways this draft has potential. You’re certainly not afraid of big ideas and memorable phrases. I see real promise here. But arguments have to make sense on their own terms, and colorful writing can get in the way of clear thinking. Let’s talk about how you might re-write this to make it better.”

Maybe I’m an easy grader though.

See also Greenwald and Taibbi.

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