Video of the day

Been a while since I posted a cool time-lapse video.  This one of “Elemental Iceland” is pretty damn cool (as always with Vimeo, I’ve embeded here, but you should click over and watch it large and in HD).

“Some Republicans”

There’s the Republican Party as it actually is and the Republican Party as many journalists would actually like it to be.   Here’s the NYT’s Andrew Rosenthal:

But some Republicans are actually getting weary of their party’s approach to the Affordable Care Act.

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, continued his pre-Presidential campaign campaign by arguing that the G.O.P. made a huge mistake when it shut down the government in an attempt to dismantle the health law.

If they had shown some “self-restraint,” he said in an interview with ABC that was broadcast on Sunday, the government shutdown would not have eclipsed media coverage of problems with the site.

He also said that Republicans should try coming up with a reform plan of their own instead of just complaining about Mr. Obama’s ideas…

Senator Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican, offered a similar analysis. “The fight on Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, took us off message,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“Some Republicans” want to present actual alternatives.  I believe the headline should have been “Jeb Bush.”  How sad that Rosenthal had to take Coburn’s commonly uttered Republican critique that this took them off message– even though Coburn made no mention of genuine alternatives– to pretend as if there’s some Republican groundswell out there for getting serious about health care policy.  Hey, it would be nice if there was.  But endlessly repeating mantras about insurance across state lines does not actually solve American’s health care problems.

Are private schools actually better?

Can’t say that I’ve been all that familiar with this line of research, but I have to admit I’m not exactly shocked! shocked! to learn that the supposed higher performance of private schools is all about the socio-economic status of their students. From Julia Ryan in the Atlantic:

Summarize what you discovered in your research.

CAL: We already know that scores for students in private schools tend to be higher. The question is, is that because they’re from more affluent families…or is that because the schools are doing better? If you go back for a generation the research suggests that there is a private school effect, that even when you control for background factors, private schools seem to be more effective, particularly for certain populations, at boosting their achievement.

So what we did, controlling for these background factors, we actually found that the opposite appears to be true and that there is actually a public school effect. Which was a surprise… We were not expecting that at all, but then digging deeper into the data, using multiple data sets, that actually held up. And since that time, other researchers—people at the Educational Testing Service, Notre Dame, and Stanford—have looked at these data sets and come to similar conclusions.

Do you agree that public schools are failing? Or is it that private schools are just failing more?

I find this last question especially interesting:

Religion aside, why are parents spending so much money to send their kids to private schools?

CAL: That’s a great question, and some economists that have looked at these types of conclusions are really confused by that. Why would somebody pay money for a service that is apparently inferior to one they could get for free? It flies in the face of economic logic. But there are other reasons for choosing schools, and we know this from other research about how parents make those decisions. And it’s things like reputations, convenience, safety, the value systems that are represented by schools. Those are all legitimate reasons, but also parents are making choices based on the peer group they are selecting for their students, which does have an impact on a  student’s performance. If you send a child to a school with more affluent peers, they are going to do better regardless of whether or not it is private or public…

This is also happening in a context where there is this constant chorus of public schools are failing. Parents are told this by the media and by a lot of reform organizations and so I think that message gets internalized. People just assume that private is better. It appears that might not be true, but nonetheless that’s the assumption that people advance with.  [emphasis mine]

Short version: people are clueless but don’t realize it.  Oh, and they feel like they are such good parents by sending their kids to private school.  Now, of course, this is not always the case, but clearly much of the time it is.  If I lived somewhere without decent public schools, I’d send my own kids to a private school.  Of course, I’d do my damndest not to live in such a place.  And I also suspect my idea of “decent” is probably a lot lower than that for the typical upper-middle class PhD.  Anyway, other short version: yeah, public schools!

Photo of the day

Another great animal photos of the week gallery from the Telegraph.  Really worth checking out all of them.  My favorite:

A flock of seagulls fight over food at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear as the sun goes down

A flock of seagulls fight over food at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear as the sun goes downPicture: Owen Humphreys/PA

The Texas-ification of the Republican Party

Let’s stick with the theme of the extremity of today’s Republican Party and go with this excellent post from Jonathan Bernstein about what it means to be a “true conservative” and how this is playing out in Texas (it’s not pretty).  Bernstein:

How bad is it these days in the GOP?

Step away from Washington for a minute, and take a look at what’s going on right now in the Republican primary for Texas lieutenant governor, where the candidates are debating … hmmm … all those uninsured Texans? The massive drought? Jobs?


The 17th Amendment.

Yeah, that’s the one that provided for direct election of senators. If you’re a political junkie you probably are vaguely aware that it’s a tea party fetish, but it’s apparently more than just something that one of the goofier speakers dressed in costume and a funny hat might mention; it’s actually smack dab in the middle of an important election (for those not up on their Texas basics, the lieutenant governor is a big deal in the Alamo State). Nor is it just a fringe position; incumbent David Dewhurst joins one of his three challengers in supporting repeal, while one of the tea party challengers dissents because without it, Ted Cruz might not have been elected the Senate…

So what’s happening here? Pretty basic: the key thing within the GOP isn’t “establishment” vs. “tea party,” but a general, party-wide obsession with being a True Conservative in a party where pretty much every party actor agrees on matters of ideology and on specific issues of public policy, at least to the extent they pay any attention to those things. The result? A constant search among radicals for ideas that can separate them from everyone else (and thus prove the radicals to be the True Conservatives), along with rapid adoption of those idea by everyone else.  [emphasis mine]

The fact that repealing the 17th Amendment is an unpopular crackpot idea is, then, a feature, not a bug — because the more nutty the idea, the harder it is for regular conservatives to adopt it…

Now, apply that story and its logic to the crackpot idea of shutting down the government until the Democrats surrender the Affordable Care Act, and I think you can see what’s going on.

You know, I don’t hate the Republican Party.  This country needs the Republican Party.  We’re better off if one of the two parties places more emphasis on individualism, economic liberty, the unintended consequences of too much government action, etc.  A properly functioning democracy needs that kind of balance.  But we need the Republican party to be sane!  And, now, sadly, it is far from it.  

How deep is the GOP schism? (not very)

Great post from the New Yorker’s Jeff Shesol with a much-needed reminder that as intense as the current schism within the Republican party seems, there’s really not a lot there.  Ultimately, it seems to be almost all about tactics.  When it comes to political ideology, the so-called “mainstream” Republicans are pretty much indistinguishable from Tea party Republicans.  I.e., they both have very problematic views on policy with only tangential relation to reality.  The big difference is that the mainstream Republicans don’t necessary want to destroy our system of government to get their way.  Shesol:

As Jonathan Chait and others have argued, there are real, honest-to-goodness distinctions to be drawn between Tea Party Republicans and the G.O.P. establishment, but they boil down, almost entirely, to tone and tactics. On the big questions, the G.O.P. remains a very small tent. Consider this tale of the tape by, breaking down the issues said to be dividing the party. On the debt, “Tea Partiers want to balance the budget [and] end runaway government spending.” Don’t mainstream Republicans want that, too? “Republicans aren’t opposed to those demands,” Fox concedes, but wonders whether they really mean it. On the size of the federal government, the Tea Party would prefer theirs smaller, please. Mainstream Republicans? Yes, them, too. On tax cuts, “Tea Partiers and mainstream Republicans agree.” On Obamacare, “Tea Partiers want to defund, repeal and replace the law,” while mainstream Republicans, Fox reports, “have echoed similar sentiments.” At this point, the G.O.P. civil war is sounding less substantive, and certainly less dangerous, than the East Coast–West Coast hip-hop feud of the nineteen-nineties.

Back when the Tea party phenomenon first began, I remember often referring to the Tea party as bascially “the Republican Party on steroids.”  You take a look at what constitutes Republicans, and the Tea Party is just that, only more so– more white, more old, more male, and more Conservative.   Thus, I think Shesol’s conclusion gets exactly to why there’s no easy solution for our dilemma of the havoc the Tea Party is wreaking on American governance:

The extremism of our own age—Tea Party extremism—“contaminates the whole Republican brand,” as David Frum has written. And he’s right. But Tea Party extremism is not, as this implies, a betrayal of the party’s belief system. It is, instead, a crystallization, a highly potent concentrate, of the party’s belief system. The free-market dogmatism, the tax-cut catechism, the abhorrence of nuance and science and government and fact—these did not bubble up during town-hall meetings in 2010 but flow from the same deep well from which establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell (Goldwaterites, all) have long been drinking. [emphasis mine] Frum and other sensible conservatives yearn for a Tea Party exit—maybe even an expulsion—from the G.O.P. But it cannot be expelled, because in this case the parasite is a creation—in some ways a perfection—of the host organism itself.


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