GOP against Higher Education

I’ve read a lot of good commentary on Scott Walker and other Republicans’ attacks on higher education.  This in Pacific Standard is definitely my favorite.  I like that he also hits NC’s own Pat McCrory:

Wisconsin is, of course, not the only state where executives are deriding bachelor’s degrees and the liberal arts. Shortly after taking office in 2013, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory leveled harsh words at the “educational elite,” mocking women’s and gender studies (“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it”) and, what is more curious, the teaching of Swahili: “What are we teaching these courses for if they are not going to help get a job?”

One must suppose McCrory has little interest in the techno-minerals that the West excavates with such glee from Swahili-speaking countries. The governor’s cell phone or laptop probably contains coltan from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The job-creators at the multinationals that mine those minerals probably employed someone who spoke the local dialect. Is it elitist to mention all of this? I think not.

If McCrory and Walker wish to eliminate any college course that does not lead directly to employment, that’s one thing; but perhaps they should consider who they’re serving by cutting funding to—and openly scoffing at—the study of language, international relations, and identity questions that, like it or not, will become the purview of the next president—even a President Walker.

There is democracy, and there is democratic fantasy. The seemingly populist notion that a governor with little geopolitical education is somehow morequalified to direct America on the world stage is little more than inverse snobbery and a mess of false equivalencies…

That cognitive reversal is part of the larger bait-and-switch in conservative critiques of higher education. The script: College is overrated; let us therefore cut funds; colleges thereby become worse, proving that they were terrible to begin with. The slash-and-burn won’t mean the death of the American university so much as its reversion to a domain for the rich.


Quick hits (part II)

Hmmm, this version is not so mega.  I apologize for the lack of numerical balance in this weekend’s quick hits.

1) There’s a new strongest material in the world (besting spider silk)– the microscopic teeth of bottom-dwelling sea snails.  Cool!

2) Oklahoma legislators– we don’t need no stinkin’ AP History!  And Steve Benen places it into a broader context of GOP assaults on public education.

3) Yes, unions go too far at times, but their decline has surely been a big part of our growth in inequality.  Nice column from Kristof.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.

Many Americans think unions drag down the economy over all, but scholars disagree. American auto unions are often mentioned, but Germany’s car workers have a strong union, and so do Toyota’s in Japan and Kia’s in South Korea.

4) Government by consent of the governed?  Maybe not so much in Greensboro, NC.

5) A really interesting take on how decriminalization of drugs can be a bad thing.  Really eye-opening.  Of course, if we could end this totally evil modern debtor’s prison thing we’ve got going, decriminalization wouldn’t’ be a bad thing.

6) Ideology and the closing of centers in the UNC system.  Yes, of course it’s political no matter how much the Board of Governors protests otherwise.  A response from Gene Nichol, one of the key figures in all this.

7) Love this collection of humorous flyers.

8) Given that Marilyn Vos Savant supposedly has the world’s highest IQ, it’s really kind of sad that she’s best known for solving logic problems in the Sunday Parade supplement (I know her as the person who married my dad’s first cousin’s ex-husband).  That said, the sexist vitriol she received on the Monty Hall problem is really kind of amazing.  Oh, and no matter what, I just cannot entirely wrap my head around this problem.

9) I remember reading something about this wrongful police shooting in Fairfax, VA (where I was born and raised) a while back, but the lack of news coverage is really pretty amazing.  On the bright side, it’s not just non-white guys who are victims of overzealous police who are then not held accountable.

10) Love Adam Gopnik on Republican candidate evasions on whether they believe in evolution.  It’s pretty short, you should read it all.  But since you won’t:

What the question means, and why it matters, is plain: Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn’t be trusted with power. This catechism’s purpose—perhaps unfair in its form, but essential in its signal—is to ask, Do you stand with reason and evidence sufficiently to anger people among your allies who don’t?

11) This Jamelle Bouie piece about the Republican attempts to appeal Obamacare and what it means has sat in my queue for its own post for too long. So here’s my favorite part:

The consequences of the proposal are straightforward: By ending Obamacare in its entirety and placing limits on Medicaid, it would eliminate insurance for millions of Americans and make it harder for middle- and working-class people to purchase coverage. And while it’s described as a plan to save money, the truth is that it accomplishes this by reducing care for the poor and raising costs on everyone else.

In other words, this isn’t a plan to achieve universal coverage. That’s simply not a Republican goal, and it’s part of the reason it has proven politically difficult to craft an alternative. We don’t think everyone should have health insurance just isn’t an appealing message.

Want to ruin innocent lives with impunity?

How many jobs in the world are there where you have life and death power over innocent people and you can act with virtual impunity?  Well, there’s totalitarian dictator.  And, prosecutor in the US criminal justice system.  Okay, not quite complete impunity.  In very rare cases, prosecutors actually get punished for willfully and recklessly ruining the lives of innocent people.  But far more often than not, prosecutors are left with little more than a slightly sore wrist.

I’ve been grading papers from my Criminal Justice Policy class this weekend and their assignment was to write about any “miscarriage of justice” and suggest a policy proposal as a remedy.  My favorite so far was the over-reliance on unreliable drug-sniffing dogs, but most students have been writing about persons wrongfully convicted and then exonerated.  In a whole host of horrible cases, innocent men spent decades in jail, and very often based on proprietorial misconduct.  In one particularly egregious case, a prosecutor actually got serious jail time, but for the most part, there’s no real consequences for the prosecutor.  Is it any wonder then, that misconduct is rampant.

Very nice NYT editorial on the matter today and how the Supreme Court (and you know which justices in particular) have made it particularly difficult to actually hold wrong-doing prosecutors responsible:

When prosecutors cheat and lie repeatedly to win convictions, should their office be held accountable?

When a man spends years, or decades, in prison as a result of such prosecutorial misconduct, should he be compensated?

These are not trick questions.

And yet in a bizarre 2011 ruling, five justices of the Supreme Court managed to answer no to both, essentially closing off one of the only ways to hold prosecutors and their offices liable for wrongdoing…

Under a landmark Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors must disclose any material evidence that could exonerate a defendant. But because individual prosecutors are immune from being sued, the only way to hold the government accountable is if a court finds a systemic failure to train prosecutors properly on the Brady rule.

This would seem to be an easy bar to clear in New Orleans, where, as Mr. Truvia and Mr. Bright argue, Mr. Connick effectively had a policy of not turning over exculpatory evidence. He consistently neglected to provide any such training to his staff, even though the office’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence led to the exoneration of at least 12 people since 1990. A former assistant prosecutor, they say, described the office’s unwritten policy as “when in doubt, don’t give it up.”

Yet, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out the lawsuit, saying the men had not proved that Mr. Connick’s office had any policy to withhold evidence or that he had failed to train his prosecutors. Nor, it said, had they proved there were any Brady violations before their convictions…

While New Orleans is among the worst, it’s not alone in violating defendants’ right to exculpatory evidence. Federal and state prosecutors nationwide often fail to honor the Brady rule and are virtually never punished for it. Because Brady violations are by their nature often hidden, one partial fix would be to require prosecutors to turn over their criminal case files to the defense. Ohio and North Carolina have adopted versions of this approach.

Well, hooray for North Carolina.  But even that’s only a partial fix.  Somehow, we seem to have a criminal justice system where no one is above the law.  Except prosecutors.  And that simply needs to change.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Are liberals just as anti-science as conservatives, just on different issues?  Thanks to motivated reasoning, anybody will be anti-anything they are not disposed to agree with, regardless of what science says.  So, yes.  But degree matters:

However, the negative reaction of conservatives when they read about climate change and evolution was four times greater than that of liberals who read about nuclear power and fracking. Both liberals and conservatives showed evidence of motivated resistance against the facts related to the science topics that challenged their political beliefs.

But again, conservatives reacted more strongly than liberals, probably because the issues were hot buttons for conservatives.

Explain it away all you want (as the article) does, but this difference matters.

2) Great satire of anti-vaxxers– I’m an anti-braker.

3) It really bothers me that in a very wealthy county, many think it is the job of parents, not the state/county, to pay for full-day Kindergarten.

4) Very thoughtful piece from Amanda Hess on the incredibly blurry line of where drunk sex becomes sexual assault.

5)  Fred Hiatt on the anti-science beliefs of believing that GM foods are bad for you.

6) Seth Masket on the long-term strategic (and successful!) campaign of the Federalist Society to turn the federal judiciary substantially more conservative.

7) Regardless of how wrong Brian Williams may have been (and I’m pretty forgiving given what we know of how human memory works), I think Jon Stewart nails it on the media obsession.

8) Cannot say I’m surprised to learn that Wall Street firms secretly pay their employees to work in government.

9) How Louisiana’s refusal to expand Medicaid is leading to very real harm in the form of closed ER’s.

10) North Carolina’s Innocence Commission is awesome.  I really wish more states would do something similar (and I’m grateful that the current powers in Raleigh have not tried to eliminate it).

11) Pretty amazing how bad the vaccination rates are for the kids of America’s most famous Silicon Valley tech companies.

12) Obviously, I’m no expert on foreign affairs, but I found both these pieces really compelling.  They both argue that the solution is not military, but doing what we can to help improve Ukrainian society and government.

What Putin fears most in this whole confrontation isn’t the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets; it’s a thriving, prosperous Ukraine—it’s an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics (and to the people of eastern Ukraine, and for that matter Russia) that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin’s dream of a resuscitated USSR…

Ukraine needs a massive infusion of aid and, even more, investment, along with expansive political ties with the West.

13) Is Scott Walker too far right to win the Republican nomination?  I don’t think so, because I think he’s really good at coming across as far less extreme than he actually is.

14) Love this Aaron Carroll piece on the best way to prioritize young lives (more focus on suicide reduction, for example, would be great).  It’s a great argument that we ignore the opportunity costs when we focus on some approaches (for very rare, but scary, causes of death) and ignore other, far more common, causes.

15) Jon Chait on how Democrats have become the child care party.

16) I found this totally fascinating (and I think my wife will too if she makes it this far into quick hits) on how brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are all actually the same plant.  Really!  (Thanks, Vox!)

17) It really is crazy how communities are expected to massively subsidize the sports stadiums that enrich millionaires and billionaires.

Vernon Robinson is back

Vernon Robinson probably doesn’t mean much to most but NC political junkies, but oh my is he entertaining.  He ran a campaign for the US House (NC 13) in 2006 that was almost like an Onion parody of a far-right conservative.  It was awesome in it’s extremity.  Here’s one of his TV ads:

And these radio ads are even better– especially this one.

Now he’s back in the news– at least a little bit– in leading the Draft Ben Carson for president campaign (and, boy, if that ain’t a couple of nutjobs in a pod).  Anyway, I was excited to make the Mother Jones article on the matter.  Vernon Robinson is just one of those people that make it fun to be a political scientist:

In 2006, the one time he advanced to a general election in his three bids for Congress, Robinson faced incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Miller, and mounted a memorably vitriolic, homophobic, and ad hominem campaign.

In 2003, in an open letter outlining his platform, Robinson decried “one world globalists” and “militant homosexuals,” he pledged to ban “gay Scoutmasters” and the federal income tax, and he blamed blacks’ problems on welfare and a “lack of morality.” With Miller, a popular, left-of-center lawyer, Robinson found a target for his harshly anti-gay, nativist views. He suggested that Miller was having an affairwith liberal blogger and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, and said that Miller wanted to make America “one big fiesta for homosexuals and illegal immigrants.” …

In the 2006 congressional contest, Robinson spent over $1 million on fundraising, out of $2 million in total campaign expenditures. (Miller spent $1.7 million on his entire campaign.) Some of the biggest recipients of Robinson’s fundraising money were direct mail companies run by the Virginia-based conservative fundraiser Bruce Eberle. His firms—Omega List, ECG Data Center—maintain massive lists of donors and rent them out to candidates. Over the course of Robinson’s congressional campaigns, Eberle has done nearly $400,000 worth of business with him.

The practice of spending money to raise money is nothing new, but Robinson has been so reliant on this tactic that some political observers wonder whether his intention is to do much more than draw in donations. “Obviously, his great skill was in pushing the right buttons to raise money,” says Steven Greene, a state politics expert at North Carolina State University. Greene says Robinson was a “strategic loser”—so extreme in his positions that he’d never have a serious shot at office, but an appealing target for the fundraising dollars of ideologues. Another NCSU professor, Andy Taylor, said in 2006 that contributing to Robinson was like “flushing money down the toilet.”

Anyway, Ben Carson is not exactly going to win the Republican nomination.  But I’ll happily take any opportunity for a memorable stroll down Vernon Robinson lane.





Mega quick hits (part I)

1) Reihan Salam says the upper middle class (hey, that’s me!) is ruining America.

2) Far too many Southerners still think the Civil War was about “States’ Rights.”  Umm, yeah– the right to enslave people.  Anyway, interesting (if overly long, perhaps) history of this mis-history.

3) Garrett Epps explains why finding for the plaintiffs to destroy the ACA in King v. Burwell would simply be a phenomenally wrong-headed decision.  And, uses an awesome Harry Potter analogy to do it.

4) A summary of the various research on the benefits of decriminalizing drugs.

5) I used to really love Billy Joel about 25 years ago.  Here is all of his songs ranked.  Much to my dismay, my favorite– A Matter of Trust-- came in a lowly 86.

6) The R0 or measles is super high– about 15.  Ebola is more like 2– thank God.

7) Been meaning to post this for ever– time to fall into a quick hit.  Really disturbing story about how unscrupulous private companies are profiting of off NC charter schools.

8) Nice summary from Vox on just how horrible the research that “linked” autism to vaccines is.

9) I’ve read on multiple occasions on how phages– virus that attack bacteria– may be a key solution to our antibiotic resistant bacteria.  But for some reason, they only take this seriously in Eastern Europe.

10) A nice research study that shows how early education programs save money long-term by keeping kids out of (very expensive) special education classes later.  Of course, that means we need our politicians to think long term :-(.

11) Virginia is trying to dramatically limit the transparency of it’s executions.  Dahlia Lithwick is on the case.

In her testimony Lain pointed out how absurd it is to hide government actions and accountability precisely when the state must be held to account: “It strikes me as the essence of bad government to enshroud the government in secrecy in its most powerful moment—when it exercises its sovereign right to take the life of one of its citizens.” She added that this bill ensures that “there are no questions asked about where the drugs came from, what the drugs are, what their potency is, whether they have been contaminated, whether they are expired, indeed whether they were obtained legally.”

12) So these two poor brothers were wrongfully imprisoned in NC for 30 years.  Due to the nature of their release (declared innocent by a judge), though, they are not eligible for compensation for the state.  Not surprisingly, they are very much struggling to get by.  To receive compensation, they need an official pardon from the governor.  He’s had the request on his desk since September.  No action; no answers.  Hell of a guy, our governor.

13) Well here’s an intersecting study– parents are more willing to lie in front of their sons than their daughters.

14) Have you heard about the Columbia University student carrying a mattress around to protest the administration letting her alleged rapist stay on campus.  Here’s the story from his side.  I must say, the electronic exchanges between these two after the alleged incident, but before anything was reported, certainly muddy the waters.

15) It’s an interesting question just how much we should be pushing college on young elementary kids who come from backgrounds where college is not typically part of their aspirations.

16) A friend showed me this line of Nerf shooting toys intended specifically for girls.  Wow.

17) Loved Justin Peters‘ account of his life-changing (and not how you expect) time on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”  I was one of the junkies of this show back when it first came out and so wanted to get on it.

18) Maria Konnikova on how emotionally-laden memories are very vivid, but no more accurate than our super-inaccurate ordinary memories.  In fact, the vividness seems to come at the expense of details.

19) Love this Seth Masket post on how “charisma” among presidential candidates is way over-rated.

In 1988, both Michael Dukakis and George Bush struggled to appear charismatic during the campaign. Bush, in particular, fought to overcome “the wimp factor.” Yet today, Bush is widely recalled as winning because Dukakis lacked charisma. This is basically all besides the point: Bush won for the simple reason that the economy was growing strongly in 1987 and ’88 and Republicans got the credit for that. That election likely would have come out almost identically even if Dukakis looked like Tom Selleck and Bush looked like Screech. Yet because Bush got the win, he is remembered more favorably than his opponent.

20) Love how the little guy (and John Oliver!) have seeming made a different on net neutrality.  Nice NYT Editorial on why this is so the right call (and how right-wing talking points are full of it).

21) Jamelle Bouie on how public apathy may be good for much-needed criminal justice reform.

22) Are Costco and Super Wal-Mart making America fat?  Maybe.  Of course individuals make decision on what to eat, but to ignore the many situational/contextual factors in our rapidly rising rates of obesity is willfully idiotic.

The grades are in

North Carolina released it’s school report cards yesterday (based predominantly on standardized test scores), and, surprise surprise, schools with lots of poor kids fared poorly and schools with few poor kids fared well.  Who would’ve thunk it?  Apparently not the Republican legislators who thought this was a useful idea.

A great story on the matter from the N&O, which does not engage in pointless “he said, she said” or ignore the big picture, but cuts right to the chase and does it’s own analysis.  In fact, the headline pretty much says it all: “NC public school letter grades released, reflect student family incomes”

Under the new A-to-F grading system, schools with fewer low-income students were more likely to score As or Bs, while high-poverty schools were more likely to get Ds or Fs, according to a News & Observer analysis of statewide data.

The analysis shows:

• Lower grades for lower wealth schools. About 80 percent of schools where at least 8 of 10 children qualify for a free or reduced lunch received a D or F grade. Only one of those schools received an A.

• Higher grades for higher wealth areas. At more than 90 percent of the schools with less than 1 in 5 students on a free or reduced lunch program, the grade was an A or B. Only one of those schools received an F.

A friend shared this FB image that was kind enough to put the key info into chart form:


Of course, the fact that, of course, some schools are outliers, suggests this is all a useful exercise:

Senate leader Phil Berger, the force behind establishing the school grades, said they are an important tool for parents, administrators, policymakers and taxpayers. Not all high-poverty schools scored poorly, Berger noted, and those schools should be studied and used as an example for others.

“I think it should help dispel the notion that just because a school is high poverty that the kids in those schools are relegated to situations where the schools are not going to do well,” said Berger, a Republican who has led the Senate since 2011.

Actually, there probably (though far from a sure thing given random statistical variation and such) is something to learn from higher-performing high-poverty schools, but I’m not particularly confident much effort will be made to learn and apply whatever those lessons may be.  And it is quite unclear to me just what the “important tool” is in knowing that a high poverty school has low test scores and that rich schools have high test scores.  Maybe the poor schools just need to find a way to emulate the rich schools and have a bunch of highly-educated, high income families move there– that will surely solve things.

There’s so much we can do to improve our schools.  Handing out “report cards” based on our problematic standardized tests probably does not crack the top 500 best ideas.


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