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Objections to Pay It Forward

[ 60 ] July 9, 2013 |

The Oregon legislature has passed its Pay It Forward bill, which creates an alternative model for funding higher education by students agreeing to pay a percentage of their post-graduation income back to the state. When I first heard about, I said I didn’t know what to think. It’s creative but also seems too easy. Matt Reed provides some objections to the plan that I think are worth noting:

- Obviously, in the interim between now and payback time, the state would have to pony up far more money than it currently does. Unless I misread the politics of it, that isn’t likely.

- The political impulse, over time, would be to phase out the state subsidy altogether, and to shift the entire cost burden to students. (Admittedly, this objection is vulnerable to “as opposed to…?”)

- Higher education would be subjected even more strongly than it already is to the vagaries of economic cycles. Since recessions hit the young hardest, and this tax would mostly hit people from their early twenties to their early forties, the hit to college budgets in recessions would be magnified.

- Students are stubbornly heterogeneous. (The positive term for that is “diverse.”) How would this work for part-time students? What about students who go back to college at age thirty? What about students who go on to graduate school and don’t make meaningful money for eight or ten years out? Transfer students? Students who repeat courses?

- Scholarships could become irrelevant. Why a state would want to replace privately donated money with its own is beyond me, but there it is.

- If you think financial aid is administratively complex now, just imagine verifying the income of graduates ten years out who have every incentive to lie. In the absence of some sort of unit record system, good luck with that.

- High-earning students would resent what they perceived as overpayment. (I’m told that this was the experience in Australia, which actually tried something like this.) Since high earning tends to correspond to high influence, I’d expect to see disgruntled high earners use their clout to minimize their obligations. To the extent that they succeed, they hollow out the cross-subsidy that would have paid for all those grad students and stay-at-home parents.

There are additional good points as well. Other points I’m less worried about. I am skeptical that most students who want to end up in wealthy fields will think ahead far enough to go out of state to avoid this plan–if they are planning that far ahead, they probably won’t go to the University of Oregon anyway. But I think this plan passed so easily in Oregon precisely because it was so vaguely sketched out. In the end, like everything, it’s going to take real choices by politicians who don’t like to make choices.

Edmund Morgan, RIP

[ 27 ] July 9, 2013 |

Edmund Morgan, the seminal historian of colonial America, has died at the age of 97. One of the five most important historians of the period in American history, Morgan’s books helped shape the field in the second half of the twentieth century. Among his most important books are American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (which I used as the basis for my This Day in Labor History post on Bacon’s Rebellion), Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea, and Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America. His last book was probably his most popular, an excellent biography of Benjamin Franklin.

….Although I don’t have a link, I understand from colonial historian friends commenting on Morgan’s death that his father was a radical lawyer who was on Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense team.

……Claire Potter has a really good piece on Morgan and the writing of history.

Michelle Rhee’s Organization: “They’ve Become Like the Gun Lobby in Tennessee”

[ 14 ] July 8, 2013 |

Jeff Guo has a good piece at The New Republic on how Michelle Rhee’s StudentsLast First organization has centered on Tennessee to push its anti-teacher union agenda. Yet despite the massive amount of money it and its corporate supporters have poured into Tennessee politics, they have received almost nothing to show for it. Tennessee Governor Jim Haslam hired Rhee’s ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, to run the state Department of Education. Rhee considers it her personal mission to crush Tennessee teacher unions and promote her own brand of corporatized education. But it turns out that the people of Tennessee resented huge amounts of money poured into local school board elections and began voting for opponents of the recipients of that largesse precisely because of it.

This hardly means Tennessee is going to become a pro-teacher union state. Probably some of Rhee’s insidious agenda will end up passing next year. What it does suggest is that Rhee has a very poor understanding of how politics actually work outside of Beltway board rooms and corporate fundraisers. In the end, money doesn’t always actually buy votes. Especially when it looks like your children are being used for an experiment.

Backlash to Debit Card “Paychecks”

[ 9 ] July 8, 2013 |

In the aftermath of all the attention paid to corporations like McDonald’s trying to recreate the Gilded Age through debit card “paychecks” that force workers to pay to get their own money, companies have begun backing off. At least some McDonald’s are now offering their workers a choice in how they receive their paychecks, while New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation of their use in his state, with the hopes for a bill outlawing them to pass the state legislature.

Time to Start Unwrapping

[ 121 ] July 8, 2013 |

Not even SEK can claim something like this, what with incredibly lame wingnut attempts at parody now including me as a central figure in their posts:

We’re having a giant girlfriend unwrapping party at the Asexual Alliance this week, y’all ought to think about coming out.

….In the last 24 hours, I’ve attended a Mexican League game and been parodied on a right-wing site. I really don’t see what goals there are for me to accomplish before I die.

When Leon Trotsky Agreed to Testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee

[ 29 ] July 8, 2013 |

In 1939, the reprehensible Martin Dies, chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, invited one Leon Trotsky to testify before his committee on the evils of Joseph Stalin (PDF in link). Trotsky was happy to do so, although many communists and socialists were outraged and it forced Trotsky to defend his decision.

Unfortunately for the comedy/tragedy of history, Dies rescinded his invitation after it became clear that Trotsky was going to use the platform to call for an international workers movement against World War II. And soon after, Trotsky was no longer able to testify for much of anything.

The Final Five

[ 42 ] July 7, 2013 |

I’ve always dreamed of starting a grassroots campaign for Toronto Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar for one reason or another. And now I have my chance. Of course, fans get to choose the final all-star. For some reason, all the attention this year is whether Yasiel Puig will be the choice in the NL. Not much about the AL. Maybe that’s because fans have the joy of deciding between 5 right-handed middle relievers for that spot, a situation I am sure really excites Bud Selig and the marketing team of MLB. The candidates are actually quite good–Delabar, Joaquin Benoit, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers, and Koji Uehara. Who would I vote for? Who cares. Certainly not Tanner Scheppers because of his terrible first name, not that it is his fault. I mean really, shouldn’t there be national counseling to expectant parents on the names they give their children.* Maybe Koji Uehara as a reminder to all Rangers fans what a great trade their team made in giving up a washed-up first baseman named Chris Davis for him a couple of years ago. Wonder what happened to that guy?

In other baseball news, I will be attending a Mexican League game tonight. I look forward to extreme awesomeness. I understand there are cheerleaders.

* This reminds me of a Rangers game I was at a few years ago. These racists behind me were making fun of the names black and Latino people give their children. It was very eye-rolling, very Texas. I remember especially them really laughing at the name of offensive linemen D’Brickashaw Ferguson. In these situations, I tend to hold my tongue and just keep listening for future story fodder, but my brother was getting really agitated. Then these racists called out to their daughter who was running around. Her name? Shiloh. I about doubled over laughing. You named your girl after a Civil War battle and you are making fun of black people? Then I remembered that they were racists and I was in Dallas. Good times. Good times.


[ 12 ] July 5, 2013 |

Doing a bit of travel writing on my month in Mexico for RI Future. Put up my first entry today on the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968 and the perils of the 1-party state, both in Mexico and Rhode Island.

Improving the Human Condition

[ 26 ] July 5, 2013 |

In comments to the Pinochet post, somethingblue points us to the University of Denver honoring George W. Bush for “improving the human condition.” Not surprisingly, some people at the university have just a slight disagreement with this choice. Not former Bush hack Christopher Hill of course, who set the whole thing up. Hill is a dean at the university. We probably don’t really need a recap of why saying Bush improved the human condition is laughable, but the protest at the university provides a good one anyway:

“We do not believe that George W. Bush reflects the values, character, and leadership of an appropriate ‘improving the human condition’ awardee,” the petition states. “As President, George W. Bush’s choices resulted in greater instability and economic hardship worldwide, while even his laudable achievements, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were sullied by the promotion of an agenda that hampered prevention and treatment efforts. This is evidenced in the recent Supreme Court decision that ruled certain requirements of the PEPFAR program unconstitutional. Former President George W. Bush left behind a legacy of human rights abuses, including the torture of detainees in extra-territorial jails, preemptive war, domestic surveillance programs, and other egregious actions that deleteriously impact the human condition.”

Now the university has taken the wording away and is going to honor him for unknown reasons. General awesomeness I guess.

Faces of the Revolution

[ 0 ] July 5, 2013 |

An amazing set of daguerreotypes and other early photographic images of the last American Revolution veterans.

Pinochet Nostalgia

[ 88 ] July 5, 2013 |

The Wall Street Journal, openly pining for Augusto Pinochet:

Mr. Obama also requested a review of U.S. aid to Egypt, but cutting that off now would be a mistake. Unpopular as America is in Egypt, $1.3 billion in annual military aid buys access with the generals. U.S. support for Cairo is written into the Camp David peace accords with Israel. Washington can also do more to help Egypt gain access to markets, international loans and investment capital. The U.S. now has a second chance to use its leverage to shape a better outcome.

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy. If General Sisi merely tries to restore the old Mubarak order, he will eventually suffer Mr. Morsi’s fate.

Let’s let Colin Snider take over here:

Simply put: this is vile, disgusting, repugnant, vulgar, and ignorant. Pinochet’s regime murdered over 3,000 people. Again: the government actively arrested and murdered 3,000 people – men, women, children, parents. What were their crimes? Some had been union leaders. Some had been in the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende. Some had simply expressed themselves in ways the government disagreed with. Some criticized the coup and the dictatorship that resulted. Some were merely suspected of “subversion” without a shred of evidence. And Pinochet oversaw their murders, directly and indirectly. Just as he oversaw the torture of tens of thousands more, in brutal, horrific, illegal ways. And tens of thousands more fled into exile to escape such repression, in the process tearing apart families.

And yet, the Wall Street Journal says Chileans were “lucky.”

Nevermind that Pinochet only reluctantly left the presidency – after losing a plebiscite he was certain he would win in 1988, he insisted on cracking down on the people and annulling the results, and only other generals’ refusal to do so ultimately led to his leaving office. And even after he left the presidency, he remained head of the army and served as a senator for another eight years, enjoying immunity for his crimes until London finally put him under arrest in 1998 in response to a Spanish extradition request.

And yet, Chileans were “lucky.”

Nevermind that, under those alleged economic improvements under Pinochet, the gap between rich and poor grew considerably, as nearly 90% of the country’s wealth went to only 10% of its population, even while Pinochet himself embezzled millions into private bank accounts in other countries.

But Chileans were “lucky.”

In a perfect world, the editorial board would be fired en masse for such horrific statements and perspectives, and then forced to apologize personally to every single family member who lost a loved one during the Pinochet regime, to every single person who was tortured by Pinochet’s security forces. Sadly, the editors will likely keep their jobs, protected by the same elitist insulation that led them in the first place to see only economic outcomes, rather than human rights crises.

So yeah, from the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s perspective, the Egyptian people would be lucky to see this happen.

The MOOC Reality

[ 215 ] July 5, 2013 |

This one goes out to all of you who say that MOOCs are totally the equal of a real lecture class in terms of education quality:

Michigan professor Gautam Kaul is teaching the Introduction to Finance MOOC on Coursera. In a July 2 email to students, Kaul said students wanted to know correct answers to assignments but he would not oblige their requests. This means some Coursera users who get a question wrong could be left in the dark.

He called the students’ request for correct answers “reasonable” but “very difficult to accommodate.”

“If this were a one-time class, we would have considered posting answers,” Kaul wrote in an e-mail that was provided to Inside Higher Ed by a critic of MOOCs. “It will however be very difficult for us to offer this class again if we have to keep preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions to allow you to attempt each one more than once. Handing out answers will force us to do that.”

I guess that’s fitting though. I guess in capitalist education, just like in corporate America, employees and consumers have no actual rights that must be upheld.

Here is the full e-mail from the scab professor:

“First, I know that some of you want answers to the assignments. This is a seemingly reasonable request but very difficult to accommodate. Creating questions for the videos and the assignments has been the most challenging part of this new endeavor. Four people, including me, worked several months to create these. We believe our assignments are well thought out and reflect a good balance of conceptual and applied stuff. Creating the assignments online and then testing each one multiple times takes additional time. Due to copyright issues, we cannot simply give you questions from existing books, and I would not want to do that anyway. If this were a one-time class, we would have considered posting answers. It will however be very difficult for us to offer this class again if we have to keep preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions to allow you to attempt each one more than once. Handing out answers will force us to do that.”