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Archive for August, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

[ 22 ] August 31, 2012 |

A little inspiration for everyone on the road this Labor Day weekend:

Eh, Oh, Way To Go, Ohio

[ 80 ] August 31, 2012 |

Federal courts rule the latest vote suppression scheme of Ohio Republicans unconstitutional.

“You Sir Have the Boorish Manners of a Yalie”

[ 146 ] August 31, 2012 |

These days I usually leave the indignant to Loomis, but seriously?

Harvard University will consider instituting an honor code as it investigates whether at least 125 undergraduates cheated by working together on a take-home exam in the spring. Officials said they intend to start broad conversations about academic honesty, including why it is vital to intellectual inquiry, in the wake of what is believed to be the largest such episode in recent school history.

“We really think we need to work harder,” said Jay M. Harris, dean of undergraduate education. “We do think it’s an opportunity to really put out before the community how much we value integrity.”

School officials said Thursday they discovered roughly half of the students in a class of at least 250 people may have shared answers or plagiarized on a final. They declined to release the name of the class or the students’ names.

125 students from the most privileged backgrounds in America couldn’t be bothered to do the work in (what I understand to have been) an introductory government course. It’s not as if Harvard undergrads need to cheat their way to a 4.0 in order to have any job prospects; simply by graduating they have much better prospects than the unwashed masses of undergraduates laboring in public schools around the country, not to mention those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to attend college.

And it’s not precisely that I’m surprised at this garbage, either; the elite crust that has produced the undergraduate cohort that currently attends Ivy League institutions obviously hasn’t made overmuch effort to establish or reinforce standards of honor, integrity, and fair play. Nevertheless, I can’t help but to be extraordinarily irritated by this particular instance of academic dishonesty, and to hope that Harvard takes harsh disciplinary measures. Gotta nip this kinda thing in the bud; don’t want these kids to grow up to be Doris Kearns Goodwin or Fareed Zakaria, after all.

Not So Important That She Would Be Qualified To Run For Office Or Anything, Of Course

[ 18 ] August 31, 2012 |

Yes, the fact that the 2012 Republican nominee for president doesn’t seem to understand that many mothers actually have jobs other than the real job of motherhood demands more attention.

Priorities

[ 119 ] August 31, 2012 |

Kevin Drum’s piece about the Paul Ryan budget was illustrative not only of how horrible that granny starver is and how much of a professional con artist he is, but also of how the current generation of young(ish) Democrats see priorities. Here is an excerpt:

But it gets worse: He wants to cut all other spending—aside from Social Security and Medicare—by 70 percent. And even that understates things. He’s made it plain that he doesn’t want to see substantial cuts in the defense budget, which means that the domestic budget would probably have to go down to something like 1.5 percent of GDP. That’s a cut of 80 percent or so and it affects everything. It affects prisons, food assistance, education, the FBI, assistance to the needy, courts, child nutrition, drug abuse counseling, FEMA, rape prevention, autism programs, housing, border control, student loans, roads and bridges, Head Start, college scholarships, unemployment insurance, and job training. Everything. Most of these programs would simply disappear, and the ones that remained would be shriveled and nearly useless.

You all can talk about the horrible reality of Ryan’s budget in comments, but I found that list super interesting for what it did and did not include. It’s a pretty good run-down of what people value these days. Some traditional subjects–education, unemployment, etc. Some topics that have only recently galvanized our national interest–autism, FEMA. And then nothing on the environment. That’s what struck me. This list in 1970 or 1980 or 1990 would have likely had 3 or 4 environmental programs listed. EPA. Superfund. Clean Air and Water Act enforcement. Etc. Today, nothing. And that’s pretty indicative of how far the environmental agenda has fallen off the map for a lot of young progressives. Today, you have young people with environmental concerns even running away from the term. That’s both shocking and sad for the planet.

Note that I’m not trying to be unfair to Drum. Such a list could have been drawn up by any number of people and it wouldn’t have included environmental programs.

But He Tells HARD TRUTHS!

[ 57 ] August 31, 2012 |

Paul Ryan’s speech was so remarkably, staggeringly dishonest that you’d think it would have to change the narrative. And, yet, it probably won’t. The idea that Paul Ryan is a Truth-Telling Teller of Wonky Hard Truths is a very well-entrenched narrative, although he was no more of a transparent fraud on Wednesday than he’s always been. The many dishonest parts of the speech were mostly worded in a weaselly enough way to permit the “I’m not lying, I’m dissembling!” routine that was recently perfected by Niall Ferguson. The contrast with Gore — whose unearned reputation as a big liar, it needs to be repeated again, was not driven primarily by the conservative press but by the New York Times and the Washington Post, including by some writers who remain inexplicably well-regarded by many liberals today — couldn’t be more depressing. I’d like to think that Ryan’s big speech will change the narrative, but I doubt it.

While we’re on the subject of Ryan, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, this is also a crucial point:

The political logic embedded in Ryan’s formulation was even more telling. He dismissed the goal of providing health insurance to those who can’t afford it as something “we didn’t even ask for.” Who is “we”? We is the majority of Americans who do have health insurance. We outnumber the 50 million who don’t. They can go screw themselves. Ryan actually called Obama’s decision to cut what he deemed wasteful spending in Medicare to cover the uninsured his “coldest power play.” It is a cold power play to give medical care to people who can’t get it, and an act of compassion to take it away from them.

Relatedly, the very biggest untruth in the whole speech was when he pretended to believe that “[t]he truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” But even if your policy agenda boils down shredding Medicare, Medicaid, and all other aid to the poor to pay for upper-class tax cuts and defense spending, if you’re a Republican asserting it is enough.

UPDATE: As Howard notes in comments, Ed Kilgore was right — that line is a forced pregnancy dog whistle.  Shorter Paul Ryan: “Lie, lie, lie, lie, nonsense, non-sequitur, lie, life begins at conception and ends at birth. God Bless America, try the veal, don’t bother tipping your waitress because she’s probably a parasite.”

Labor Notes

[ 46 ] August 31, 2012 |

1. Old-school manipulation of workers by Murray Energy. Mitt Romney gave a speech at their mine in Beallsville, Ohio earlier this month. Murray closed the mine for the day, docked the workers the day’s pay, and then forced them to attend the rally. Asked about this, Murray’s COO Robert Moore went full Orwell: “Attendance was mandatory but no one was forced to attend the event.”

Ah.

Murray is the same company that owned a mine in Utah that collapsed in 2007, killing 6 miners and the company has a notoriously bad safety record.

The workers are angry about all of this but fearful of losing their jobs.

I guess the coal industry’s ability to rule Appalachia like a medieval fiefdom hasn’t declined since the 1920s by as much as I thought.

2. As one might expect, the Republican platform declares total war on unions, ranging from a nationwide right to work a person to death law to barring public unions from political participation (no doubt only to apply to Democratic participation of course–exception for the cops to be expected!) to ending paycheck deduction for public sector unions. I fully expect Republicans to embrace to make labor unions illegal within a decade.

3. Looks like Boeing is going to try and bust the union of its engineers and technical workers, having rejects the union’s offer to simply extend the current contract. Who can blame them, it’s not like Boeing receives billions of dollars in government contracts or anything.

4. The sooner the rare corrupt union official is sent to prison, the better. Let’s hope these UFCW workers get real leadership now.

5. A glimpse into the future–where we are all temporary and contingent labor living in poverty. Just like the Gilded Age!

6. I’m the last person to say that political conventions really matter, but the fact that there is no Labor Caucus at this year’s DNC is telling. Labor’s only missions within the Democratic Party are to serve as a GOTV mechanism and to give money to candidates.

Making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy

[ 88 ] August 31, 2012 |

Student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy except under extraordinary circumstances. This unjust, inefficient, and socially destructive exception to the bankruptcy laws was extracted from Congress by shills for the financial industry, who in the 1970s began mounted an effective propaganda campaign based on classic Nixonland tropes about dirty hippies flipping off the man and then making millions off the system anyway etc. etc.

Getting rid of this exception is going to be a long hard political battle. A good place to start is with professional degrees in general, and law degrees in particular. The law school scam is in some ways an ideal launching pad for a campaign to make student loans dischargeable.

(1) More than any other supposedly respectable institutions of higher education, law schools have taken full advantage of the combination of federal loan financing and non-dischargeability to price-gouge naive students, through highly deceptive marketing practices, that would never be tolerated if engaged in by ordinary businesses.

(2) As a result, law school graduates carry truly extraordinary levels of student debt. A recent estimate puts the percentage of student loan debtors who carry balances of $100,000 or more in student loans as around three percent. Yet the average (mean) educational debt of people currently enrolled in law school is going to be about $150,000 at graduation.

(3) A professional degree that is a prerequisite for obtaining a license to practice that profession is a perfect candidate for discharge through bankruptcy. This is because essentially all of whatever net positive economic value that degree has is captured by whatever value it adds by enabling those who have it to obtain that professional license. This creates an opportunity for a simple, eminently fair trade: A graduate can give up his or her license to practice the profession in exchange for making the graduate’s student loans dischargeable.

Creating this opportunity would create real-world consequences for offering degrees that end up having negative net present value. (Omniscience isn’t a prerequisite for determining the net present value of an asset. A degree has negative net present value if the holder of it is at present willing to in effect give it back in return for consideration less than that which the holder paid for it. Obviously the right to discharge student loans in bankruptcy is much less valuable than actually getting your direct costs and opportunity costs incurred while attending law school refunded). In addition, allowing people to discharge student loans in exchange for renouncing their law licenses would begin to reduce the massive oversupply of lawyers in the American economy at present.

A law degree has economic value to the extent that the right to practice law has economic value. (It’s to say the least extremely unclear if a law degree is on net a positive on the typical law school graduate’s resume if that person isn’t practicing law). If holders of law degrees are willing to go to the extreme of renouncing the latter right, then what argument could there be for not allowing them to in effect treat the degree as a toxic asset, whose toxic effects should be able to be — very partially — ameliorated through bankruptcy?

Climate Change Is Funny As Shit! Especially on the Gulf Coast!

[ 131 ] August 30, 2012 |

Still their hero!

The Republican Party of 2012, defined:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.  [Pause.  Laughter.]  MY promise…is to help you and your family.

The smarmy-even-for-Romney delivery and the audience reaction made it even worse than it looked on paper. In fairness, shelter is hardly the help that families need. What else can you say? Well, that hiring Jonah Goldberg as a script doctor was a terrible idea.

For those who missed it, the video from Clint Eastwood’s speech is below.

Thursday Afternoon Poll Blogging

[ 35 ] August 30, 2012 |

As Erik points out, Silver has positive news for Obama in Ohio.  Much of this optimism hangs on the house effect of the recent Gravis Marketing poll; measuring and adjusting for house effects can be a bit of an art.  House effects can also vary from election to election, which to my mind makes reliable inferences drawn from them somewhat risky.  House effects perhaps aren’t as unreliable as BABIP or Catcher ERA, but it isn’t impossible that, in this electoral context, Gravis Marketing has a more valid combination of a likely voter model, demographic weighting of the sample, method of measuring leaners, etc., than do the other houses.  Unlikely, I’ll allow, but not beyond possible.

Incidentally, two days ago UK Polling Report put up a thorough post on house effects.  Granted it’s from the British context, but the basic principles involved are context-independent.

One good illustration of how variance in house effects matters is on August 25, Silver has a discussion of a recent CNN poll and the difference between it’s registered voter estimate (Obama +9%) and the estimate after their likely voter filter is applied (Obama +2%).  Another, perhaps more optimistic (from a Democratic POV) illustration is an article by Jonathan Chait discussed over at The Democratic Strategist.  Briefly, most houses are apparently assuming an electorate that is whiter than reality.  The example cited is ABC, which assumes a 78% white electorate.  This would be going against a trend consistent since 1992 when the white share of the electorate fell from 87% (1992) to 74% in 2008.  It was 77% in 2004.  Even if the enthusiasm gap favors Republicans in 2012, reversing this trend ten years seems highly unlikely.

TDS nails it in the end, of course:

None of which changes the priority challenge facing Democrats — to launch the most extensive and intensive GOTV mobilization of the base constituencies in the history of the party.

Unrelated to polling (and I trust that Lemieux might have something to say about this) a district court panel unanimously ruled the Texas voter suppression law unconstitutional, and the three judge panel included a Bush II appointee (along with Clinton and Obama appointees).  Before we get too excited, the chance of me having those drinks in New Orleans as scheduled for right about now is marginally better than Texas flipping blue any time soon, and it has to meet a more stringent test for changes in electoral law as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act applies to the entire state, burdens that Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Wisconsin can ignore.

Of course, Texas is also challenging the constitutionality of Section 5, a challenge the same panel allowed to proceed (and good luck with that).

Eastwood As Director

[ 110 ] August 30, 2012 |

Given the discussion Erik’s post below is likely to stimulate, I thought I’d go back to our archives for an 2004 post about Eastwood as a director, lost in our archive shift but now made available to you, our faithful readers, in a special limited edition lovongly curated by Ridely Scott during a brief hiatus between his 21st and 22nd versions of Blade Runner:

***
I wrote recently that Sideways was the best reviewed film of the year. I’m not sure if this is true any longer; the reviews from top critics of Million Dollar Baby have been remarkably good. (Sideways still has a slightly higher Metacritic score, but eyeballing the reviews and year-end lists of major critics, Eastwood’s movie seems to have been reviewed even more enthusiastically.) Both A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, for example, rank it the year’s best film. (In an oddity, Stephen Holden–normally a perfect negative litmus test for my own tastes–has a top ten list I’m in much greater agreement with.)

Now, Million Dollar Baby, which I haven’t yet seen, certainly might be an outstanding film; Eastwood did, after all, direct his best film just last year. Still, I suspect I might fall in with the few dissenters. And the reason for my skepticism is simple: is there a director who gets a freer ride from most good critics than Clint Eastwood? There’s something about his status as a film icon, slow pace, formal immersion in genre conventions, and noir lighting that makes many American critics swoon on contact. (This style is often called “modest,” although it draws attention to itself every bit as much as the more innovative theatricality of a Welles or Scorsese.) Even if you consider Mystic River and Unforgiven the masterpieces they’re often called as opposed to the very good movies I consider them, the idea that he’s anything close to the best American director currently working is laughable nonsense. Consider the record. The two movies I’ve named are my exhaustive list of good Clint Eastwood pictures, with the new one pending. Admittedly, I’ve never seen his highly regarded version of The Horseshit of Robert James Waller, so let’s say that’s three. There are a couple of passable-plus westerns, and a couple of honorable failures (Bird and White Hunter); the kind of mediocre patch almost all directors have. But beyond this, what’s amazing is how many absolutely, irredeemably terrible movies Eastwood has directed. Robert Altman may be the most uneven of America’s living first-rate filmmakers, but I would watch Pret A Porter 100 times before watching Absolute Power–a howlingly awful “thriller” that is among the worst movies I’ve seen in a theatre in the last 15 years–again once. Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil is only marginally better, and it compensates by being even more soporific. During my second most recent awful stomach flu, I watched some of Blood Work on TBS and thought I was watching a fifth-rate CSI knockoff until a cadaverous looking Eastwood ambled into the picture. Then you’ve got the atrocious Dirty Harry sequel, the atrocious Dirty Harry clone, awful sci-fi, awful Kevin Costner vehicle. I’m sorry, but if that’s the best American director I’m Robert Bresson.

So, while Million Dollar Baby may be great, I’m approaching it strictly on a wait-and-see basis.

***

I pretty much stand by my earlier analysis. Million Dollar Baby was OK but massively overrated.   I haven’t seen the WWII movies, which have a decent rep, so perhaps that merits an upgrade.   The Changeling and Invictus belong squarely in the “honorable failure” category.   Gran Torino was uneven but much better than it should have been, one of his best.   Hereafter was substantially worse than it sounds, which is really saying something — I think I’d rather screen Absolute Power again.   J. Edgar was a failure I’m not sure I would call honorable; a badly squandered opportunity.   So…I’d continue to say that he’s an interesting director who mixes the occasional real good one along with rather more vaguely watchable but dull prestige pictures and the occasional egregious crime against cinema.

To be fair and balanced, in a rare post where he is largely wrong about something Glenn Kenny explains why he gives Eastwood a pass.

Eastwood

[ 125 ] August 30, 2012 |

I always thought Clint Eastwood was the genial, George H.W. Bush type of Republican voter. Didn’t care much about the social issue stuff, didn’t much care to pay taxes, bought into his own character, whatever.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s actually the type of Republican who buys into the first half of Gran Torino.

Yet another good reason not to watch a single second of either convention.

And just to be snarky, it’s as good as time as any to note that Eastwood is vastly overrated as a director.

As for Romney, he probably wishes he was an Eastwood character, but he’s really just Mr. Morton, the old railroad tycoon from Once Upon a Time in the West.

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