Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day
Tom Smith

May 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Time for King Canute Obama to step up to the plate
Tom Smith

Or maybe that's the beach.  The ever challenging Frank Rich:

 The only good news from the oil spill is that when catastrophe strikes, even some hard-line conservatives, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, start begging for the federal government to act, and act big. It’s the crunch moment for government to make its case — as Obama belatedly started to do on Thursday. But words are no match for results. As long as the stain washes up on shore, the hole in BP’s pipe will serve the right as a gaping hole in the president’s argument for expanded government supervision of, for starters, Big Oil and big banks. It’s not just the gulf that could suffer for decades to come.

I think there is some truth in what Rich says, though it takes some doing to figure it out.  Here's a giant industrial accident the causes of which, I'm willing to bet, are complex.  Nobody seems to know how to fix it.  It's even possible, I suppose, that it can't be fixed (maybe a big nuclear bomb would help?  Just asking.)  Now Rich says, if nobody, and in particular, the Government, can figure out a way to fix it, and soon, that will undercut the President's argument for more supervision by the government of the banks, Big Oil, and that's just the start of things that Rich says Obama wants the government to start supervising.  My guess is it's a long list.  But reflect on Rich's point for a moment.  He says, the government had better stop seeming so incompetent or people might reach the conclusion that they are incompetent.  Actually, his argument is even more striking than that.  It approaches, the government had better hurry up and do the impossible, or else people are going to jump to the conclusion that the government can't do the impossible.  You can see why it's hard to disagree with Rich about this.  He is a man of unusual mental qualities, without a doubt.

May 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Student loan nightmares
Tom Smith

Here.  I suspect a lot of students take on more debt than is economically justified in order to pay for school expenses. Suppose for example a student could go to Harvard for 50K a year or UCLA for 25K a year.  (This is a hypothetical -- I don't think any of my kids is going to apply to Harvard.)  Would the advantages of Harvard be worth the extra 100K in terms of lifetime earnings?  I don't know but I suspect not.

May 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

The All Souls examination
Tom Smith

Here the NY Times speaks of the famous All Souls exam, which was and probably still is the object of much awe amongst Oxford undergraduates and probably others too on that fair isle.  All Souls is a uniquely Oxonian institution, which consists of a spectacularly beautiful medieval (or thereabouts) college, no students, and fellows who are entirely at leisure to sit about being brilliant and one (or somebody, anyway) hopes produce worthy books.  I think I thought about sitting for the All Souls exam back in the day and I believe I would have done well at it, as one thing I know I was very good at was writing the sort of essay that seems to be prized highly at that ancient university.  Unfortunately, the written exam was only part of the process and much interviewing is also required, during which one had to demonstrate that one had the sort of personality that elderly and not so elderly dons would want to be around for years to come.  Not to mention the wherewithal to manipulate obscure eating utensils upon nearly impossible to consume objects produced by the college's famous kitchen.  I thought then, and I was surely correct, that there was little chance the entities of All Souls would find me sufficiently personally appealing that they would want to bless me with the prestige but not the riches of a fellowship.  The one professor at All Souls I had met had taken an instant dislike for me for suggesting that a background in the history of politics and the philosophy of politics might be an adequate background to begin studying politics as such.  A former fellow of All Souls at Cornell had described the place as an excruciating hell where one might be cornered and lectured for hours on such topics as Shakespeare's use of pronouns.  He left his fellowship early and went on to a career of poetry and even better received debauchery, the former often evidently inspired by the latter.  Let's just say that were I a young fellow there, I should not have been terribly surprized to see floating outside the leaded glass window of my rooms of a midnight with no material means of support, a smiling and elderly scholar of Pindar, tapping gently to be let in. Alas, my fascination with other and superior cultures only goes so far. In my year, they ended up giving the fellowship to the first or one of the first women ever to get the honor, a philosopher of rare talent and even rarer beauty, who went on to have a brilliant career in philosophy.  It had also not escaped my notice that the men selected tended to rather Adonis like themselves, which, call me a crass American, really gave me pause.  And so I went to law school, where I found the professors disappointing in a much more straightforward and American way.

May 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Report from the frontiers of social science
Tom Smith

Obama the Randian villain
Tom Smith

The oil spill is really Ayn Rand's fault.  If she hadn't written that darn book, then the President wouldn't be acting it out.

May 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 28, 2010

It Pays to Be a Progressive
Gail Heriot

I received the following Request for Proposals a few days ago.  I don’t find it particularly troubling that there are academics like Dreier and Lichtenstein, backed by an organization out there somewhere, who want to pay $1000 per essay to progressive academics willing to fight “the battle with conservative ideas.”  If that's what they want to do, fine.  Go at it. And may the best ideas win.  What I found unusual is the lack of embarrassment about the request.  I’ve never seen a Request for Proposals from a conservative organization (much less from actual conservative academics) offering money for a particular viewpoint. Conservative organizations tend to assume (perhaps wrongly) that academics have more integrity that. If there is anything analogous among conservative academics I don't think it would use in-your-face rhetoric about "the battle with conservative ideas" or the need to "undermine the credibility" of conservatives.  That would be considered ... well ... gauche.

The authors of this letter urged recipients to forward this to others.  I suppose that says something about their view of the likelihood that their message would fall into unsympathetic hands.   I thought I would post it for those of you who might not realize that this is where progressive policy briefs come from .... Some of them anyway.

"Cry Wolf Request for Proposals - Please Forward.


         We are looking for faculty and graduate students (in history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy) interested in writing short (2000 word) policy briefs for which we can pay $1,000.  For specifics, read on...

       We are writing to ask for your help in an important project in the battle with conservative ideas. Today, as in the past, the fight to transform American politics and policy takes place on a battlefield in which ideas, narratives, and the construction of a politically driven conventional wisdom constitutes a set of highly potent weapons. Too often conservatives in the Congress and the media have captured the rhetorical high ground by asserting that virtually any substantial, progressive change in public policy, especially that involving taxes on the wealthy or regulation of business, will kill jobs, generate a stifling government bureaucracy, or curtail economic growth.

            But history shows that in almost every instance the opponents of needed social and economic change are “crying wolf.”  We therefore need to construct a counter narrative that demonstrates the falsity or exaggeration of such claims so that the first reaction of millions of people, as well as opinion leaders, will be “There they go again!” Such a refrain will undermine the credibility and arguments of the organizations and individuals who use such dire social and economic prognostications to thwart progressive reform.

            To give substance and scholarly integrity to this “crying wolf” argument, we are calling upon historians and social scientists, in training or well established, to use their research skills to identify instances, in recent years as well as in the more distant pass, in which the “crying wolf” scare was put forward by industry executives, conservative politicians, and right-wing pundits before the passage of legislation or the promulgation of regulations that have become hallmarks of popular and progressive statecraft. On each issue we seek to document three things: First, historical examples and quotes drawn from speeches, legislative testimony, newspaper and other media opinion pieces, think-tank reports, or political platforms which claim that a proposed policy or regulation would generate a set of negative consequences; second, a discussion of how these crying-wolf claims impacted the new laws or regulations as they were passed into law; and third, a well-documented analysis of the extent to which conservative and special interest fears were or were not realized during the years and decades after the new laws or regulations went into effect.

            This work is sponsored by the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives and funded by a grant from the Public Welfare Foundation.  Donald Cohen of CPI, Peter Dreier of Occidental College, and Nelson Lichtenstein of UC Santa Barbara constitute the ad hoc committee now administrating this initiative.

            Based on some of the policy areas listed below, we solicit one page proposals for the kind of short studies outlined above. If we think the proposal promising, we will then ask the applicant to develop a larger policy brief, perhaps 2,000 words in length. It should be well documented and scrupulously accurate. We will pay $1,000 for each brief that meets these standards. We hope that many of these become the basis for opinion pieces designed to run in the mainstream media, on line, on the air, or in the press.

            We will be focusing on the following policy areas.
1.       Taxes and public budgets
2.       Labor market standards
3.       Food, tobacco and drug health and safety
4.       Environmental protection: air, water, toxics, etc
5.       Workplace safety
6.       Financial regulation
7.       Consumer product safety
8.       Local issues (i.e. inclusionary housing, building code standards, etc.)

We will be looking for the following things in each case study/policy brief:
1.      Specific Laws or Regulations within the policy area
2.      Why the law or regulation was needed: citations of studies, articles that demonstrated need, etc.
3.      Principle opponent interest groups
4.      The quotes and claims: Reports, correspondence and/or public testimony of interest groups that lobbied against passage and implementation of laws and regulations. [While some quotes will certainly be included in the policy brief, we would like all quotes that are found to be included in appendices]
5.      Principle proponent groups (for research and help)
6.      Any existing retrospective qualitative and quantitative costs and benefits of laws
7.      Major books, articles, sources on the history and impact of legislation/regulation.

Proposals should be sent to Donald Cohen<>.

Please feel free to forward this RFP and/or to send ideas, references and proposals.


Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, Occidental College.

Donald Cohen, Executive Director, Center on Policy Initiatives

Nelson Lichtenstein,Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara and Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy

Cry Wolf Project Coordinators

Project Advisory Board
Robert Kuttner, Co-founder & Co-editor, American Prospect
Gerald Markowitz, PhD, John Jay College, CUNY
David Rosner, PhD; Co-Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health
Alice O’Connor, PhD, UC Santa Barbara
Janice Fine, PhD, Rutgers University
Andrea M. Hricko, MPH; Southern CA Environmental Health Sciences Center
Jennifer Klein PhD, Yale University
Meg Jacobs PhD, MIT
William Forbath JD, PhD, University of Texas Law School
Tom Sugrue PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Lizabeth Cohen PhD, Harvard University"

May 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Reestablishment of America
Tom Smith

Hebert Myer's take at American Thinker.  I don't know if I quite believe it though.  Might be the RW equivalent of all the world historical transformation talk after the Onaugruation.

May 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Fama being Fama
Tom Smith

Unlike other scientific theories, I have proven the efficiency of capital markets to my own satisfaction.  Or at least the market should have been satisfied. It smoked a cigarette afterwards.

Via instapundit.

May 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Noonan on BP oil disaster and Obama
Tom Smith

Noonan is saying here that the O will not survive the Big Blowout politically.  I don't know.  It's hard to predict how all these atmospherics will play out.  It was always hard to predict how something that is composed of vaporous perceptions anyway will shapeshift one way or another.  It doesn't seem to have a lot to do with facts.  There was never any reason, never, to suspect that a not even one term junior Senator from Illinois with no executive experience would turn out to be a really good leader and executive.  Why should he be?  Most people aren't.  It was like somebody dressing up like a doctor and talking like a doctor walking into an OR and our expecting him to do a good job patching up a heart.  It never made any sense.  It's unfair that he should be blamed for the oil disaster or even for the unimpressive follow up of the federal government.  Keeping the feds largely out of the way and letting BP try to fix matters was probably the wisest course.  Whatever oil well blowout repairmen there are in the world, you can be sure they don't work for the federal government.  It only works that way in the movies, usually bad ones.  But then, given that Obama never deserved getting credit for being able to make good things happen, I don't cry very much for his getting blamed for a bad thing that's not his fault.  He who lives by the illusion, dies by the illusion, perhaps.  But what are we?  The American people seem like a bunch of primitives, ready to influenced the flight of birds or the rumble of thunder, only in our case it's a sound byte or vivid image.  Noonan seems impressed by the parallel between a well gushing oil and a government gushing debt, as if that simile is a kind of fact.  This reminds me of Yeat's line "we had fed the heart on fantasy/ The heart's grown brutal from the fare."

This is good. 

May 28, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)