Chait on SuperCommittee

Nice Jon Chait piece on why the Super Committee was really a huge success:

If you want to understand why the supercommittee succeeded, you need to go back and recall why we have it in the first place. When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives this year, right-wing activists began to fixate on the debt ceiling. Conservatives began to insist that the debt ceiling must not be lifted at all, or that the House should agree to lift it only in return for massive concessions.

But what concessions? The trouble for House Speaker John Boehner was that distrustful conservatives were likely to paint almost any agreement he made with President Obama as a sellout. Indeed, the logic was perfectly circular: Anything that a socialist like Obama would agree to would have to be a sellout, wouldn’t it? So Boehner had to establish, in advance, a bright line that would delineate success. The arbitrary but finite line he drew was that he would agree only to raise the debt ceiling by an amount equal to the amount of budget cuts he could obtain. At the same time, Boehner could not agree to any tax increases.

This locked him into an impossible position. Either Obama had to agree to massive budget cuts with zero increase in tax revenue – something Obama couldn’t agree to without destroying his standing with the Democratic base and likely inviting a primary challenge – or else Boehner could drop his demand and probably lose his speakership to an angry conservative revolt. Or else Boehner would possibly crash the world economy.

The supercommittee was the way out. It forced Congress to agree to $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, or else automatic budget cuts would go into effect. But the key detail was that the budget cuts would not happen until 2013. Meanwhile, the debt ceiling would be lifted through the 2012 election. Between now and then, the two parties can fight over what to do about the automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect. That’s not really the important thing. The important thing is that the debt ceiling is no longer on the table.

The whole plan was to start talking about something other than the debt ceiling, in hopes that the tea party would find some different shiny object to pick up and try to smash with a rock. And it worked!

Sounds about right to me.  I sometimes think Chait missed his calling as a Political Science game theorist.

Studying Gap

So, I came across this story last week about the number of hours spent studying by major.  I was depressed by the findings:

NSSE’s results as reported in its 2011 survey were slightly more encouraging — students on average said they studied 15 hours per week. But it varied by major, with engineering students studying the most (19 hours) and their peers in social sciences and business studying the least (14 hours).

Yikes– social science right down in the cellar with business.   Alas, the article only had the data in a table, so I made a handy chart of the two variables on which there was actually decent variation for time spent (commuting, etc., varied little):

At least those business majors are making up for the lack of studying by earning some bucks.  I’d love to see a “time sleeping” on the chart– I strongly suspect engineers are at a real disadvantage there.  So, after I made this chart, I came across an Yglesias post with much the same information, though when summarized this way, at least social science narrowly beats business:

Of course, if our majors aren’t studying much, but still coming to class prepared that just may say something about our expectations.

Photo of the day

Post ran a really cool slideshow of designs for national memorials, etc., that were never to be.  You’ll be amazed at some of the totally crazy designs.  My favorite was this monstrous proposal for a combined National Gallery of Art and History.

The caption reads:

Design for National Galleries of History and Art by Franklin Webster Smith, 1900. The project would have stretched from 17th Street, near the White House, to the Potomac River.

Definitely worth checking them all out.

How the NBA equals life

I hardly follow the NBA at all.  Basically, just like to see how former Duke players are doing and that’s it.  I find the product completely boring and passionless.  I always felt like the fact that they play music during the actual game to try and get the fans involved pretty well sums up what’s wrong with the sport.  That aside, really nice column by Stephen Pearlstein arguing that the NBA’s current labor problems are a great analog for what’s going on with the larger economy.  To wit:

Like the NBA, the economy got too big and too rich. A flood of cheap credit drove revenues, prices, wages and asset values to unsustainable levels, creating an economic bubble that made everyone feel richer, and act like they were richer, than they really were. Now that bubble has burst, and we are all in the midst of a long and painful set of negotiations over how to distribute the losses and apportion the pain of adjusting to new economic realities.

In the case of the NBA, that means owners paid too much for their franchises, players were overpaid, tickets were overpriced, there got to be too many teams playing too many games to satisfy networks that paid too much for broadcast rights. All of these prices reflect an unsustainable demand for the NBA product and an unrealistic expectation that robust growth rates would extend into the future.

The excess should have been obvious to anyone who attended a Wizards game in recent years, where it cost at least $150 a person for a decent seat to watch a game that was as likely as not to be an uninteresting blowout, with play interrupted every five minutes for some nonsensical stunts designed to distract you while the broadcasters were running commercials that made it possible for some superstar to sit on the bench with a knee injury and still earn $150,000 for the game.

In order to maintain the fantasy of never-ending revenue growth, the NBA had to keep adding teams to the league and games to the schedule, diluting the talent on the court and the fan intensity in the stands. It also had the effect of widening the income gaps between the superstars and the journeymen and between teams in big markets and small.

Good stuff.  Read the whole thing for more.

Police Brutality at UC Davis

First, if you haven’t watched this video, do so:

I don’t know what kind of person can watch a police officer walk by and calmly spray pepper spray right into the faces of completely peaceful protesters and not be disturbed (oh, wait, I do, a “law and order” conservative who thinks these are all just a bunch of “whiny hippies”).   Needless to say, I found this pretty awful.  Of all the commentary I’ve seen, I liked James Fallows’ take the best, and I love the way he frames the issue:

I can’t see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute and think how we’d react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. [emphasis mine].  The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We’d think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That’s what I think here.

From another perspective, a nice piece in Washington Monthly by a former police officer on how modern police training leads to this– and shouldn’t:

In the police academy, I was taught to pepper-spray people for non-compliance. Ie: “Put your hands behind your back or I’ll… mace you.” It’s crazy. Of course we didn’t do it this way, the way we were taught. Baltimore police officers are too smart to start urban race riots based on some dumb-ass training. So what did we do to gain compliance? We grabbed people. Hands on. Like real police. And we were good at it.

Some people, perhaps those who design training programs, think policing should be a hands-off job. It can’t be and shouldn’t be. And trying to make policing too hands-off means people get Tased and maced for non-compliance. It’s not right. But this is the way many police are trained. That’s a shame. (Mind you, I have no problem using such less-lethal weapons on actual physical threats, but peaceful non-compliance is different.)

When police need to remove protesters—whether that’s even the case here I don’t know—it needs to be crystal clear who gives the order, be it the president of the university or the ranking officer on scene. Officers on the scene shouldn’t be thrown under the bus because their superiors gave stupid (albeit lawful) orders. Accountability matters.

And if police need to remove these students, then the police can go in four officers to one protester and remove them. Lift them up and take them away. Maybe you need one or two more officers with a threatening baton to keep others from getting involved. It really can be that simple.

People don’t hate the police for fighting off aggressors or arresting law breakers. They do hate police for causing pain—be it by dog, fire house, Taser, or mace—to those who passively resist. And that’s what happened yesterday at U.C. Davis.

Lastly, I really enjoyed another Atlantic piece about the evolution of how police deal with peaceful protesters.

I’m going to be really curious to see how much “lamestream” media coverage this gets.  As of last check, the Post had a story on the homepage, due to the “viral video.”  To which I say, “hooray for social media.”  This story would be completely ignored if not for the modern age of the internet.  Alas, nothing on, NY Times, or Google News.  Hopefully, that will change.  Seems to me we really need to re-think how police are dealing with peaceful protesters.   (I have no trouble with police getting quite serious with potentially violent protesters, but a bunch of students just sitting on a sidewalk?!)

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