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In Which a Student Single-Handedly Destroys the Entire Project of Higher Education

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

The Course: SSCI 102: Reading and Writing in the Social Sciences.
The Content: Survey of contemporary, peer-reviewed social science articles and monographs; discussion of basic research methods and analytical skills useful to the various social sciences.
The Assignment: Produce a 750-1000 word review of a scholarly book from any of the social science disciplines.
The Submission: A review of Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom.

I suppose it’s to this student’s credit that he chose not to review Big Russ and Me.

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McCain Care

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

You may have heard somewhere that John McCain’s health care proposal is crap. Andrew S., one of two new additions to Alterdestiny, has more.

The numbers tell the real truth—the amount of the tax credit/rebate is $2,500 per individual and up to $5,000 for families. I received some quotes from various on-line health insurance providers, and the results are telling. I only selected plans that had deductibles less than $2,500, copays less than $50, and coinsurance (the percentage of total medical costs the policy holder is responsible for after the deductible is paid) of less than 15%. This nominal coverage costs around $434 per month ($5,208 per year). The tax credit covers the premium only; remember that every office visit will cost you $35-$45, the insurer won’t cover a dime until you spend the deductible amount, and you will be paying 10 – 15% of total expenses after you shell out $2,500 for the deductible.

But this isn’t even the worst part, really. In order to get the tax rebate, you have to purchase a plan—for low and middle income people, just having that extra $434 per month is insurmountable. Take a family of four making $30,000; after state and federal income tax withholding, the net pay per month is $2,062. The $434 per month to even buy into the tax credit system is 21% of monthly take home pay. How many low and middle income people can afford to spend the 21% to buy in to the system?

But after a decade in Iraq, I’m pretty sure the occupation will wind up paying for itself — which will free up a lot of money for health care. And if that doesn’t work out, the Maverick in Chief will bail us all out with a few more gas tax holidays.

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Conflict in Abkhazia About to Get Unfrozen?

[ 0 ] May 1, 2008 |

This backs up something I heard at the recent International Studies Association meeting:

A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said that “a bridgehead is being prepared for the start of military operations against Abkhazia”.

Russia accuses Georgia of amassing 1,500 soldiers and police near the rebel areas of the upper Kodori Gorge.

Russia is hardly a trustworthy source on questions of Abkhazia (a part of Georgia that has sought independence since the 1990s), but the speaker at ISA suggested that Georgia has gone beyond talk and is beginning active preparations for an assault on Abkhazia. According to the presenter, the Georgians expect the Russian troops currently in Abkhazia to stand down when the invasion begins. This report comes on the heels of the shoot down of a Georgian UAV by what appears to have been a Russian MiG operating out of Abkhazia, a incident which Russia has implausibly denied.

In any case, it’s incidents and accusations like this that make me extremely leery of allowing Georgia into NATO anytime soon. Long story short, the Western Alliance really doesn’t need to get mixed up in an obscure border dispute between Russia and Georgia; there’s much to be lost and little to be gained.

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Can Someone Please Tell Me

Why Wright gets all the airtime, and no one is making a bigger deal of this? It boggles the mind. And also makes clear just how much the media is shaping this election. Anyone else for a network tv blackout?

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But There Is A Strong Link Between Cranks And the Bush Administration

[ 5 ] May 1, 2008 |

I’d have to agree that when it comes to wingnut conspiracy theorists I prefer the undiluted brew. What’s scary about Laurie “Saddam Poisoned My Hamster” Mylroie is this:

I’m happy to sit back and watch this unfold, but two points first. First, Hayes writes:

“Although her emails may have occasionally made their way to Bush administration officials, no one I know took her arguments very seriously.”

Except for that time that Paul Wolfowitz told Richard Clarke that Clarke needed to stop worrying so much about Usama bin Laden and focus on Mylorie’s argument that groups like al-Qaeda were just beards for Saddam Hussein. Or that time Wolfowitz sent Jim Woolsey abroad to check out Mylroie’s claims. But whatever!

The end of this year really can’t come soon enough. Also remember that Mylorie collaborated on a book with the Liberal Media’s very own Judy Miller!

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Pompous Hack of the Day

[ 12 ] May 1, 2008 |

Buzz Bissinger, handpuppet to Tony LaRussa, Super Genius (TM). See also.

…and also.

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In a Word

[ 5 ] April 30, 2008 |


(And also – light posting from me for the next week or so as I try to get my exams and papers done so I can graduate from law school.)

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He’ll kick you apart — oooh!

[ 12 ] April 30, 2008 |

Shorter Karl Rove:

I heard the motherfucker had, like, thirty goddamn dicks.

We also learn from Rove that McCain is also, apparently, the inspiration for MacGyver:

Risking severe punishment, Messrs. McCain and Day collected pieces of bamboo in the prison courtyard to use as a splint. Mr. McCain put Mr. Day on the floor of their cell and, using his foot, jerked the broken bone into place. Then, using strips from the bandage on his own wounded leg and the bamboo, he put Mr. Day’s splint in place.

All of which means we know for whom these lovely ladies will be casting their votes:

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Powering Down

[ 19 ] April 30, 2008 |

It’s rare that anything happening in Juneau carries national significance, but the avalanche that took out our hydroelectric power two weeks ago has forced the entire community to reduce its electricity consumption by significant degrees.

Stores, though open, went partially dark. Neon signs were switched off and vending machines unplugged. At home, residents of this former Gold Rush town began living a little bit like pioneers, dusting the snow off the grill, stringing clotheslines in the backyard and flicking off their TV sets. Within a week, electrical usage across town was down as much as 30 percent.

Energy conservation is a hard sell in much of the U.S., but Juneau has proved that people will change their ways if the financial incentives are big enough.

“Turn off, turn down, unplug,” said Sarah Lewis, chairwoman of the Juneau Commission on Sustainability. “That’s what everyone is doing and being vigilant about and commenting when others are not.”

The chief incentive for all this, of course, is financial; with the Snettisham facility off-line, our power is being supplied by diesel generators, which will drive up electricity costs by 400-500 percent in the coming months. For low-income residents — many of whom live in homes and apartments heated with electric baseboards — this is of course going to be catastrophic, and it appears unlikely that the state will be supplying disaster relief to any significant degree (the best anyone can hope for will be small business loans and lines of credit). The legislature changed the rules a few years back to disqualify “economic disasters” from consideration. Based on the cost of diesel, which powers much of rural Alaska already, a good case could be made that most of the state would qualify as an economic disaster.

No one is quite sure when the transmission lines will be repaired, but for now it’s been interesting to watch the changes in everyone’s daily routine. The AP article overstates the transition by invoking images of the “pioneer way of life,” but it’s certainly the case that everyone is suddenly thinking about energy consumption in terms of scarcity. AEL&P’s diesel generators are capable of handling Juneau’s usual levels of consumption, but it goes without saying that our incomes are not. What’s more remarkable, though, is what little effort it’s taken to knock back the community’s electricity consumption by nearly a third. Yes, businesses and workplaces and homes have gotten significantly darker, and folks are paying attention to energy consumption in all sorts of minor ways — I’ve suddenly become more conscientious, for example, about preserving the battery power on my laptop — but so far there have been no significant howls of despair over our reduced levels of consumption.

I’m not enough of an energy policy wonk to make any grand suggestions about the implications of all this, but what’s happening right now in Juneau really ought to be getting more national attention.

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Democracy-Enhancing Judicial Review

[ 0 ] April 30, 2008 |

Jack Balkin makes an excellent point here. Defenses of the Supreme Court upholding the Indiana voter ID law claim that the requirement will somehow be part of a political bargain to improve access to voting, which run into the obvious problem that there’s no evidence whatsoever of such a bargain in Indiana, or that erroneous voter perception of voter fraud stands in the way of increasing voter access if the legislature wants to do it. (Indiana made no effort to respond to actual abuses of absentee balloting, because that increased access benefits Republicans.)

Crawford is a case where modest judicial review would actually facilitate democracy: broadening access of powerless groups to the political process is where judicial review is at its most defensible. Souter and Breyer’s dissents — properly — did not rule out Voter ID laws regardless of the context. If the restrictions were actually tied to efforts to increase voter access, or there were actual evidence that in-person vote fraud was a problem, this would be a different case. But absent such balancing state interests, permitting Indiana to burden the ability of the most powerless people in the state to vote for reasons of political self-dealing rather than to address serious state interests is bad for democracy.

The other thing to add is that the fact that claiming that only a relatively small, particular (and especially politically powerless) class of people lacks access to photo IDs justifies facially upholding the law is rather strange. As I’ve said with respect to similar arguments made to justify arbitrary limitations on a woman’s right to choose, this logic makes “inequitable effects an argument in favor of the constitutionality of such regulations.” This argument seems to stand Carolone Products on its head: burdens on fundamental rights are more acceptable as long as only discrete and insular minorities are affected. This is, to put it mildly, an unattractive conception of the role of judicial review.

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Hackitude on the Gas Tax

[ 0 ] April 30, 2008 |

It was bad when Clinton came out and defended John McCain’s gas tax holiday proposal. It was worse when she started attacking Obama for calling the proposal nonsense. What I hadn’t expected, though, was that Jerome Armstrong would actually defend her position on the merits. Here’s the problem, Jerome; the proposal has no merits. And you’re doing no one any favors by pretending that it does. Christ, not even TalkLeft is defending Clinton on this one. Let’s review: Just because you support a candidate DOES NOT mean that you have to defend that candidate’s most boneheaded and nonsensical proposals.


First, by making the claim that this only saves individuals $20 bucks a month, Obama doesn’t realize how out-of-touch and elitist that sounds to the average low-wage earner who would view it as their ‘best day in weeks’ to find a Jackson laying on the sidewalk.

“out-of-touch and elitist”; I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean, Jerome. And that’s setting aside the assumption that Democratic primary voters are too stupid to see a pander for what it is. At my lowest wage point I would have been delighted to find a $20, but simply because people earn low wages doesn’t mean that they’re morons.

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Tilly Moves On

[ 21 ] April 30, 2008 |

Charles Tilly has passed away. Kieran and Dan have posts on his work as writer and teacher; from Dan’s new book:

What can I possibly say about Chuck Tilly that an endless number of his students and peers have not already written in their prefaces? I hope the others I thank will take no offense if I describe him as the most powerful intellect I have ever encountered in the social sciences. I expect that people will still be reading and debating his enormous and varied corpus of work for decades to come. Yet Chuck treats all of his students as members of an intellectual community of equals. He seeks out their opinions; he discusses his own views with humility and an open mind.

I never met Tilly, but I still remember reading his War Making and State Making as Organized Crime as an undergraduate. I found it enormously threatening; it challenged my conception of how and why states exist, and consequently of my own position as citizen of a state. Four years later I’d be assigning his work in my own courses.

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