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In Esquire:

While we’re watching the signal, if not single, liberal achievement — the BFD, if you will — of the Most Disappointing President Ever™ writhe before conservative jurists like a tasty Christian before so many lions deciding whether merely to rip out the mandate or devour it whole (the Scalia lion is, of course, played by Jeremy Irons and drawling, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”), let’s pause to remember how the Real Democratic Party™ acted when the High Court tossed out a law that was important to their constituents and agenda: They simply passed it again, with a different rationale.

You can read the whole thing if you like. There’s also this oldie, which at a glance I still stand by.

It troubled me when President Obama scoldingly said, “We’re putting colleges on notice: you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year”. The UC has raised tuition, but it hasn’t been on its own initiative; it’s been because the state has cut funding to higher education.

Now Robert Frank riffs on Obama’s comment, attributing rising tuition to rising faculty salaries.

To recruit professors, universities must pay salaries roughly in line with those made possible by productivity growth in other sectors. So while rising salaries needn’t lead to higher prices in many industries, they do in academia and many other service industries.

As they say about the International Jewish-Zionist Monetary Conspiracy, if there is one I want my share.1 I don’t think rising faculty salaries are the primary cause of increasing tuition costs.

Frank’s colleague Ronald Ehrenberg has been more eclectic – and I think more persuasive – in attributing the rise of tuition costs.

These include the aspirations of academic institutions; our “winner-take-all” society; the shared system of governance that exists in academic institutions; recent federal government policies; the role of external actors such as alumni, local government, the environmental movement, and historic preservationists; periodicals that rank academic institutions; and how universities are organized for budgetary purposes and how they select and reward their deans.

Or consider this report:

  • The main reason tuition has been rising faster than college costs is that colleges had to make up for reductions in the per-student subsidy state taxpayers sent colleges. In 2006, the last year for which Wellman had data, state taxpayers sent $7,078 per student to the big public research universities. That’s $1,270 less (after accounting for inflation) than they sent in 2002.
  • Public universities have been reining in overall spending per student in recent years. Flagship public universities’ spending per student has risen from about $12,400 in 1995 to $13,800 in 2006 after accounting for inflation. But since 2002, spending at public colleges has generally not exceeded inflation.
  • Increases in spending were driven mostly by higher administration, maintenance, and student services costs. Public universities spent almost $4,000 per student per year on administration, support, and maintenance in 2006, up more than 13 percent, in real terms over 1995. And they spent another $1,200 a year on services such as counseling, which was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, they spent about $8,700 a year on classroom instruction for each student, up about 9 percent.
  • Big private universities, powered by tuition and endowment increases, have increased spending dramatically while public schools have languished. Total educational spending per student at private research universities has jumped by almost 10 percent since 2002 to more than $33,000. During that same period, public university total spending was comparatively flat and totaled less than $14,000 a year.

I wonder what Mark Thoma himself thinks.


1Or half-share, if you insist.

Shorter Obama administration: yes, we will preserve acknowledged social ills against which we’ve inveighed when prevailed upon by massive expenditures of money and influence. No, I guess this is not so much reason for hope or evidence of change.

Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.

But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.

The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.

No reason for disappointment here.

So after today’s Plan B announcement, do I get extra credit for saying yesterday that “The president went to Kansas to do his version of the ‘New Nationalism.’ But his New Nationalism is the old Obamaism — elevating bipartisanship above all else”?

Dear White House: if you want to be compared to TR, you should know your TR. And for starters, TR didn’t like being called “Teddy.”


Live from Osawatomie High School in Osawatomie, Kansas President Obama gives remarks on the Economy in the same town President Teddy Roosevelt visited just over one hundred years ago.

This link might work better.

Congressman Brent Spence of Kentucky on how to negotiate when approached with amendments to the Bretton Woods bill in 1945.

I wouldn’t agree to anything…. You see, if we accept something now it puts us just in the same position as if we hadn’t accepted it…. Every amendment we accept kind of weakens us. [W]e might say, ‘Well, we’ll accept them if that’s all the amendments.’ But if we are going to have to fight it out, we just as well fight it out on all of them.

Could someone explain this to the people in the White House, please?

(Emphasis added.)

The President is right now at a $5,000+ per plate dinner in San Francisco, telling Americans we have lost our ambition and imagination. The police across the bay in Oakland are right now tear-gassing protesters. One feels an irony here, or a gap perhaps.

Correlation is not causation, you know. Still:

All US troops will be pulled out of Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama has announced.

He ordered a complete withdrawal from the country, nearly nine years after the invasion under President George W Bush.

About 39,000 US troops remain in Iraq, down from a peak of 165,000 in 2008.

The US and Iraq were in “full agreement” on how to move forward, Mr Obama said, adding: “The US leaves Iraq with our heads held high.”

“That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”

Before the speech the White House said: “This will allow us to say definitively that the Iraq war is over,” and said the US and Iraq would work as two sovereign nations.

Maybe if we’d kept up blogging right the way along the administration could have been less aggressively disappointing.

Anyway, we still want it.

A friend*, who happens to be among the most astute observers of the political scene I know, has this to say in the wake of last night’s Republican debate:

I think he’s [Romney] going to be an unbelievably good candidate in the general. He’s Obama — a tall, handsome technocrat who instituted universal coverage — with a different coalition behind him. I now have this dystopian fantasy about how the campaign will play out:

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m not black.
Obama: I’m Barack Obama, and I’m not Mormon.
R: I’m not secretly a Muslim.
O: My religion doesn’t treat “Space Invaders” as a sacred text.
R: I don’t want to rape your daughters.
O: I won’t force them to become my sixth and seventh wives when they turn 13.

Good times. Oh, by the way, with the economy in tatters, Steve Jobs in the grave, and the nation mired in countless foreign wars, we’re considering coming back.

Time will tell.

* The Edge of the American West: new and improved and now with blind sourcing. Superpro!

So tonight President Obama appeared on Mythbusters, asking Adam and Jamie to revist the Archimedes death ray, which they had tested and busted twice before.

Which is to say, Barack Obama got some of the country’s coolest and most creative people to implement a policy that had already, for known and well established reasons, failed. Twice.

I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a metaphor.

I don’t think the monocle smile is going to make up for “banning abortion coverage in a new insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions.”

Kevin Drum gets it exactly right.

Here’s the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here’s the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

It’s long since become conventional wisdom that it took the Democratic Clinton administration to bring elements of the Reagan revolution to fruition, just as it would take the New Labour Blair government to bring elements of the Thatcher revolution to fruition. Will we someday be saying that it took the Democratic Obama administration to bring elements of the G. W. Bush revolution to fruition?

Read the rest of this entry »

There oughta be an axiom of regulation, that if you’re changing the rules in such a way that will make you sound grossly culpable when something goes wrong, you shouldn’t do it.
Read the rest of this entry »

In response to the Mississippi River flood of 1927, the administration of Calvin Coolidge dispatched Herbert Hoover to serve as what we would nowadays call the “czar” of the flood relief effort. Among other tasks, Hoover set about raising money for a cleanup and reconstruction fund. From John M. Barry, Rising Tide:

On May 24, he [Hoover] called a meeting of thirty Memphis bankers and businessmen at the Peabody and told them their quota was $200,000…. Those assembled shifted uncomfortably. One man protested. Suddenly, Hoover began to curse, his words as rough as those he had used decades before to miners a thousand miles from civilization. Then he made a simple promise. About 25,000 black refugees were in camps in Memphis. It was 2 P.M. He gave them to 5 P.M. that day to deliver pledges for the money. “If not,” he warned, “I’ll start sending your niggers north, starting tonight.”… By five o’clock he had his $200,000. (367-368)

Now, that’s a real shakedown (unlike those described here): Hoover threatened to accelerate the great migration of African Americans out of the South, depriving local business of needed labor, if he didn’t get subscriptions to his relief funds. And he got those subscriptions from Memphis businessmen who bore no direct responsibility for the catastrophe.

But here’s the other thing: the funds were designated for lending based on standard criteria for lending, i.e., available collateral. “[H]is massive financing effort accomplished next to nothing,” Barry writes (377), because little—maybe 5%—of the money ever got disbursed.

So there’s getting the money and there’s getting it out to where it can do some good. Hoover was aggressive about the former and lackluster at the latter. Let’s see what happens with the current efforts.

Rand Paul keeps on giving.

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'” Paul said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business.”

This is yet another thrilling episode pitting the modern Republican Party against the scientific community.

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope.

We can also file this under “I Miss Republicans,” and the enduring mystery of why academics don’t vote Republican more than they do.

Public reports are starting to say what a bunch of fairly knowledgeable people have been quietly saying: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a Very Bad Thing because nobody knows how bad it is: nobody knows how much oil is down there or how fast it’s flowing, and therefore nobody knows how long this will go on. What we do seem to know is we don’t know how to stop it:

“We don’t have any idea how to stop this,” Simmons said of the Gulf leak. Some of the proposed strategies—such as temporarily plugging the leaking pipe with a jet of golf balls and other material—are a “joke,” he added.

“We really are in unprecedented waters.”…

If the oil can’t be stopped, the underground reservoir may continue bleeding until it’s dry, Simmons suggested.

The most recent estimates are that the leaking wellhead has been spewing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons, or 795,000 liters) of oil a day.

And the oil is still flowing robustly, which suggests that the reserve “would take years to deplete,” said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“You’re talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it.”

Wait, did they say 5,000 barrels? Maybe more:

Ian MacDonald, the FSU oceanographer whose own calculations, based on aerial imagery of the spill, show a spill more like 25,000 barrels of oil a day rather than 5,000 barrels that the Coast Guard came up with, told me, “That looks like a pretty substantial flow rate. I don’t know how they get only 5,000 barrels a day out of that. That’s really quite a gusher.”… I talked to two more experts, Greg McCormack of U-Texas and Bruce Bullock of SMU, and both said there’s no earthly way to estimate the flow based on these videos.

“Anybody who can tell you how much oil is coming out of that thing is likely lying to you,” Bullock told me.

And the administration appears unfortunately to be doing very little and saying less. As our colleague Kathy would point out, this is the kind of thing that ensures someone someday will be saying, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” After all the president has an unfortunate and, well, disappointing record on this subject:

The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

UPDATED to add, which is to say, It would be better if the administration were quicker to say what it knows about how badly things are going, rather than leaving it up to BP.

It’s no wonder that this is happening on Barack Hussein Obama’s watch. I mean, am I right or what? And by this, I mean the fact that if Elana Kagan, the chalk pick* as President Obama’s choice to replace John Paul Stevens, is nominated and confirmed, there will be no white Anglo-Saxon Protestants left on the Supreme Court. Not one! Think about it: there will be six Catholics** and three Jews**** charged with interpreting the United States Constitution, the most sacred document in the history of ever. Somebody fetch me some tea; I’m ready to party.

* What does this expression mean? No, I’m not going to look it up. That’s cheating.

** Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and Thomas.***

*** “Thomas is Catholic?” you’re saying to yourself. “Yes”, I’m saying back at you. Because it’s true: the man is Catholic.

**** Breyer, Ginsburg, and, in this nightmarish parallel universe that used to be known as the United States of America, Kagan.

From Nate Silver, a social scientific lapse.

A study purporting to find a connection between stimulus spending and the partisanship of a district suffers from an obvious flaw. But in so doing, it provides an example of why it’s important to retain some common sense — and some sense of context — when conducting a statistical analysis.

The study, by Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University and the National Review, claims that congressional districts which elected a Democrat to the Congress received a larger amount of stimulus finds by a margin which is statistically significant even after controlling for certain other effects like the unemployment rate. However, the study does not control for at least one other variable that is overwhelmingly important in determining the dispensation of stimulus funds.

The variable in question is in fact pretty obvious if you simply look at the districts that have received the largest amount of stimulus money, according to de Rugy’s dataset.

The district that received the largest amount of stimulus funding in the 4th Quarter of 2009, according to de Rugy’s tally, is California’s 5th Congressional District. Is there anything notable about the 5th Congressional? Well, it is home to the state capital, Sacramento. Let’s keep that in mind.

Next on the list is New York’s 21st Congressional District. The largest city in the 21st is the state capital of New York, Albany.

Third is the 21st Congressional District of Texas. It contains parts of Texas’ state capital, the wonderful city of Austin. (Another district that contains parts of Austin — the 25th — ranks 14th on de Rugy’s list.)

At this point, it ought to be pretty obvious what is going on. The three districts receiving the largest amount of stimulus funds are home to the capitals of the three largest states — New York, California, and Texas. Let’s pause for a moment and make a bold prediction. I’ll bet you that the district that ranks 4th on the list will contain the capital of the 4th largest state, Florida.

Bingo. Up 4th on the list is Florida’s 2nd Congressional, home to Tallahassee.

Fifth is Pennsylvania’s 17th, which hosts the state capital, Harrisburg.

The sixth through tenth districts contain the capital cities of other large states: Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. They are followed by districts that include the state capitals of Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia — then another part of Austin, Texas — then Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Finally, in 19th place is South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which does not host a state capital. (Ironically, it has elected a Republican — J. Gresham Barrett — to the Congress).

This, of course, makes perfect sense. A lot of stimulus funds are distributed to state agencies, which are then responsible for allocating and administering the funds to the presumed benefit of citizens throughout the state. These state agencies, of course, are usually located in or near the state capital.

Something similar occurs with scholars who get hot under the collar over the distribution of New Deal construction funds to the West and South. It’s politics! Because the western states were swing states, and the southern states were loyal Democratic states! Or perhaps it was because the West and the South were the parts of the country that most needed infrastructure spending and that would benefit most from it, and it was much cheaper to build in western states where the federal government already owned the land anyway.

Obama_NapoleonRegalRegalia500.jpgHealth care reform wasn’t President Obama’s Waterloo, it was his Borodino! William Kristol explains:

Barack Obama was able to muscle his health care plan through, and therefore avoided a legislative defeat that Sen. Jim DeMint had said would be his Waterloo. But Waterloo was always an imperfect analogy. Leaving aside the injustice to Napoleon of comparing Obama to him, the better analogy is Borodino.

“But,” you say, “Borodino? Um, huh? What’s that?”

Kristol elucidates:

Napoleon invaded Russia in June of 1812. On September 7 of that year, the Grande Armée under Napoleon’s command attacked the Russian army near the village of Borodino. Napoleon won the battle, the greatest of the Russian campaign, but at a terrible cost–about a third of his soldiers were killed or wounded. The Russian army was not destroyed, and while Napoleon occupied an abandoned Moscow a week later, the French army was never the same. It soon had to begin its disastrous winter retreat from Russia, and Napoleon finally did meet his Waterloo almost three years later.

Credit to the man to reaching back past the political standard issue historical analogies–Pearl Harbor, Munich, Hanoi Jane–but it’s probably a good rule of thumb that if your comparison requires substantial explanation, briefing, and (possibly) footnotes, then it’s not a solid one. Having said that, the Obama-as-Napoleon meme is quite widespread on the right, and is taking shape as the same sort of secret code that the Dred Scott case was for President Bush. The comparison is, at least explicitly, non-racial, and makes Obama aloof, imperial, and above all, French. We should probably not mention that Napoleon, despite his eventual exile, did succeed in remaking French society in numerous way, an influence that has lasted to this day.

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