Video of the day

This was making the rounds on FB last week.  Pretty damn good.  More details here.

Re-open palooza

Lots of interesting thoughts, etc., out there.  Let’s start simply with Seth Masket’s FB comment:

This was not just an unforced error on the GOP’s part, it was an easily foreseeable and widely foreseen one. The last shutdown played out almost identically, and it’s not like it was that long ago. If Speaker Gingrich had impregnated his mistress during the last shutdown, that baby would still not be old enough to vote.

And Molly Ball:

So what did Republicans get for shutting down the government for 17 days? Their poll numberstanked. Their gubernatorial candidate in Virginia appears headed for defeat in next month’s election. The business community is rethinking its support.Veterans and the elderly are ticked off. And any leverage they ever had to push their goals of reducing the size of government and chipping away at health-care reform is gone. All in all, it’s been a worthwhile exercise for the GOP.  [yes, I put the whole quote in bold because it’s awesome]

Some of John Cassidy’s ten takeaways:

1. President Obama won. For once, he held firm, and it worked.

2. The G.O.P. lost, and so did the Tea Party. Both saw their approval ratings fall to record lows…

4. The United States was also a loser. Its reputation in the eyes of the world was further damaged. U.S. “soft power” took another blow.

5. Republicans need remedial lessons in game theory. If you aren’t willing to go over the cliff, and your opponent knows that, there’s no point in engaging in brinkmanship.

6. Ted Cruz is a charlatan. He pushed for a government shutdown and then joined a protest by veterans and Tea Party members against the closure of national monuments.


Part of what undergirded Democratic unity went beyond a (correct) calculation that it would be dangerous to pay any ransom at all. Democrats seemed to share a genuine moral revulsion at the tactics and audacity of a party that had lost a presidential election by 5 million votes, lost another chance to win a favorable Senate map, and lost the national House vote demanding the winning party give them its way without compromise.

Probably the single biggest Republican mistake was in failing to understand the way its behavior would create unity in the opposing party. Not until the very end, when the crisis was well under way, did any conservatives even acknowledge the Democratic view that the GOP had threatened basic governing norms. Ted Cruz and his minions may have undertaken a hopeless crusade, but they dragged along the Paul Ryan Republicans who all along seemed to think their extortion scheme was a simple business deal. Its collapse is one of the brightest days Washington has seen in a grim era.

So, isn’t this all going to just happen again in a few months?  Bernstein says probably not (and I think he’s right):

What the shutdown that appears to be ending today and the 1995-1996 episodes had in common was important: in both cases, one side really wanted the shutdown. In 1995, Newt Gingrich and many Republicans sincerely believed that Bill Clinton was personally weak and would fold if pressed hard enough. That turned out to be wrong; whether it was a foolish idea to test it in the way Gingrich did remains, I suppose, an open question.

This time around, the logic of the showdown gang was clearly foolish; no objective observers believed their stated plan would work; it would have required a massive surge of anger at the Democrats for allowing the government to be shut down over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but most Democrats like the ACA, and polling indicated that practically no one outside of tea party circles favored a shutdown over it…

What causes an extended shutdown, then, isn’t missing a deadline. In fact, deadlines are probably needed to get deals done. As long as neither side actively seeks a shutdown, one of three things will happen: they’ll make a deal by the deadline; they’ll miss the deadline but going over the deadline will be enough to get it done; or, they’ll agree to move the deadline…

The question is whether a significant faction of the Republican Party wants to do this again, and, if so, whether the rest of the party will accommodate them again.

My guess, as of now, is that this one was devastating enough that we won’t see a repeat. That doesn’t mean that Republicans will back off their demands; it just means that they won’t see any additional utility in fighting through a shutdown.

Chait comes to a similar conclusion based on a very different analysis:

That is to say, debt-ceiling extortion was not the tool of Republican ultras, unwilling to acknowledge political limits. It was the tool of the calculating party leaders. They viewed the debt ceiling as a smart leverage play to fulfill their goal of winning concessions without giving any in return.

Now, it’s possible they’ll decide the plot could have worked if they hadn’t been forced into a government shutdown that weakened their standing at the same time. In that case, it might take one or two more unsuccessful debt-ceiling-extortion crises to dissuade them. But I do believe they will be dissuaded at some point, if they haven’t been already. Threatening the debt ceiling and getting nothing is not cost-free. You make your business supporters nervous. You anger your followers when you back down. Earlier this year, lots of conservatives were able to convince each other or themselves that they had won a glorious victory by “forcing” Senate Democrats to pass a formal budget. Nobody on the right is treating this episode as anything but a humiliating defeat.

Political leaders don’t like humiliating defeats.

He also mentions that the compromise seems to have a feature to turn the debt ceiling back into the (essentially harmless) political posturing it should be.

And finally, Ezra on how Ted Cruz might as well be a Democratic sleeper agent:

It is tough to appreciate just how much good Ted Cruz has done the Democrats over these last few weeks.

– He convinced Republicans to shut down the government rather than wait and fight over the debt ceiling, where they would have had more — and more dangerous — leverage.

– He splintered the Republican Party such that, from day one, it was clear that the GOP leadership opposed the strategy they were executing, and GOP senators were publicly blasting House Republicans. That also cut the GOP’s leverage.

– He made this a fight over defunding Obamacare, which polls showed was a wildly unpopular reason to shut down the government, and which united Democrats against him.

– He shut the government down on Oct. 1, the same day Obamacare began, thus distracting the American people from the law’s catastrophic rollout.

– He drove the Republican Party to itslowest levels of popularity ever recorded in polls.

– He actually managed to make Obamacare more popular at a time when, by all rights, the law’s extremely troubled launch should’ve been eroding its standing in the polls.

Quite a litany.

Phew.  Here’s hoping we sure don’t repeat this in a few months.

What’s really important, keeping things in proper perspective tonight:


Photo of the day

European Space Agency photos of the earth via a Telegraph gallery:

The Namib desert
The Namib desertPicture: KARI / ESA / CATERS NEWS

Why I still write recommendation letters for TFA

So, one of my favorite former students who now works for Teach for America (and for whom I wrote a recommendation) has become a regular reader of my blog, so I could not resist commenting on this Slate piece titled, “Why I stopped writing recommendation letters for Teach for America.”  There’s certainly some interesting arguments here:

Every year, TFA installs thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds, the majority of whom are from economically and culturally privileged backgrounds, into disadvantaged public schools. They are given a class of their own after only five to six weeks of training and a scant number of hours co-teaching summer school (in a different city, frequently in a different subject, and with students in a different age group than the one they end up teaching in the fall). College and university faculty allow these well-meaning young people to become pawns in a massive game to deprofessionalize teaching. TFA may look good on their resumés and allow them to attain social capital for their bright futures in consulting firms, law schools, and graduate schools. But in exchange for this social capital, our students have to take part in essentially privatizing public schools.

The simple fact is that students who apply to TFA are not trained to be teachers. So by refusing to write TFA letters of recommendation, we’re merely telling our students that we can’t recommend them for a job they’re not qualified for. An increasing amount of research shows that TFA recruits perform at best no better, and often worse, than their trained and certified counterparts. What’s more, they tend to leave after just a few years in the classroom. Would a biology professor write a recommendation to medical school for an English major who’s never taken any core science courses? That would be strange. It would be even stranger if the professor knew the English major was just going into medicine for a few years, as a way to boost his resume, before ultimately going on to a career in public relations.

I’m not exactly an expert on poverty-stricken schools, but I get the sense that it’s a real benefit to have young, dedicated teachers come and help, even if it is for just a couple of years.   Especially given their limited training, the evidence actually suggests that TFA teachers actually perform really, really well.  Now, I’m no fan of deprofessionalizing the teaching profession, but I’m not convinced that recruiting the very best and brightest our colleges have to offer (unlike your typical teacher– nothing against them, but they are not generally among the most outstanding graduates) is a bad thing for the teaching profession.   I have little doubt that AC’s students benefited from her time teaching them and that her school benefited and that she benefited on a personal level.  I’m sure there’s some real downsides, but this seems like mostly a win-win-win to me.

Though I have to admit, that the Humanities professor writing the article really lost toward the beginning with this:

It is these children who are harmed by the never-ending cycle of under-trained, uncertified, first- and second-year teachers that now populates disadvantaged schools, and by the data-obsessed approach to education that is enabled by these inexperienced teachers.

Not “testing obsessed” mind you, but “data obsessed.”  TFA tracks all sorts of data that they use to try and improve teaching quality.  I refuse to accept that using data– as opposed to anecdote and folk wisdom– is a bad think for education.  Back in 2010, Amanda Ripley wrote in the Atlantic about TFA’s approach to data, and yes, much of it is based on testing, but what’s clear is that they are taking a very systematic and thoughtful approach to what works and what doesn’t in the classroom.  Hard to see how that’s a bad thing.

So, I haven’t actually had a TFA student since AC, but I hope I will in the future and I’ll happily write a recommendation letter.

How the shutdown is like Vietnam and Iraq

Great post by Wonkblog’s Neil Irwin yesterday about how the Republicans in the House are completely following for the sunk cost trap (one of those concepts I learned about in college that was hugely eye-opening).  Irwin:

A sunk cost is something you’re not going to get back. If you watch five episodes of a television show you decide you don’t like very much, you’re never getting that time back. If you date somebody for six months before figuring out you’re incompatible with them, same deal.

We should only make decisions based on the future costs and benefits of those decisions. The past cannot be undone. The sunk cost fallacy is the mistake people make when they allow sunk costs to shape their future actions: continuing to watch that TV show, or date that person. In extremes, the sunk cost fallacy can be disastrous. World War I and the Vietnam War were examples of nations falling for the error, with combatants doubling down on failed strategies, in part because they had already invested so much, making decisions based on what had happened in the past rather than solely on the costs and benefits for the future.

In their resistance to making a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, House Republicans risk making the same mistake (one that would be a great deal less costly than World War I, but quite a bit more costly than watching all of a lousy TV series).

House Republicans pushed a hard line in the runup to the government shutdown, demanding a repeal of Obamacare in exchange for agreeing to fund the government. There was never any way that the White House or Senate Democrats would go along with that, but that was their strategy, and it led to the shutdown of the government.

Two weeks later, Republicans have started to accept that they will not get a full repeal of the health reform legislation, and are trying to work on more attainable goals. But there is a strong current within their caucus that sees the fact that they have shut down the government and attendant decline in popularity  as a reason that they must continue to fight.

That’s the real message of a much-cited quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.): “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Put another way, as Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) told National Review, “They may try to throw the kitchen sink at the debt limit, but I don’t think our conference will be amenable for settling for a collection of things after we’ve fought so hard.”

There’s a reason this is called the sunk cost “trap” “bias” or “fallacy.”  It’s because relying on sunk cost thinking leads to bad decision making.  (Then again, is there any other kind when it comes to the Tea party-influenced Republican Party?).  As Irwin says:

The more the caucus is making decisions based on what happened in the past, the less likely they are to make strategy decisions that are best for both the country’s and their own future prospects.

Alas, they might as be a general doubling-down on a losing strategy and sending in more troops.  I’ll also take the opportunity to plug some research by my friends and colleagues who looked at sunk cost reasoning in response to the Iraq War.  Here’s what they found:

The researchers found that the investment frame [i.e., sunk costs] only produced a positive response among those study participants who supported the initial decision to go to war in Iraq. These participants’ tolerance for additional casualties and war spending was significantly higher than the casualty and war spending tolerance of participants in a control group that were not exposed to the frame.

However, there was a backlash among people who did not support the initial decision to go to war. They were significantly less tolerant of further casualties and spending after receiving the investment frame when compared to the control group. “This shows that the investment frame is effective when preaching to the converted,” Boettcher says. “The downside is that, if other groups hear you preaching to the converted, it drives them away – making it a dubious tool for broadening public support.”

Alas, these results suggest that those already predisposed to supporting this fool’s errand will largely continue to do so.  But make no mistake… justifying future actions by past (failed) investment is simply illogical thinking.  Of course, counting on the Tea Party types to rely on logical thinking is not a lot of cause for optimism.

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