Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Cost of a Gud Edukashun

The Ragin' Man just watched the latest episode of the McGlaughlin Group. At the top of the program they discussed something that he rages about often, the price of higher education. The Ragin' Man went to a private institution in Illinois before graduating from a public institution in Missouri with a BA in History. The Ragin' Man understands the value of a good education because he got one.

Now, out of the third person, something that has concerned me greatly is the growing cost of a good education. The McGlaughlin Group talked about President Obama's latest plan to reduce the cost of higher education. A statistic the McGlaughlin Group used was a 72% increase in the cost of a 4 year degree over the last ten years. Why the increase, and how does this plan help?

I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but the Republican on the panel, Rich Lowry, first blamed professors' salaries and how they were calculated. Lowry later went on to list a few professors who manage to rake in exorbitant salaries, but in the same episode they cited a statistic that said the average professor salary had only gone up 14% in the same time the cost of an education had gone up 72%. Figuring that there are far more students at an institution than there are faculty this 72% increase cannot be blamed anywhere near entirely on teacher compensation. The average professor makes about $30,000-$40,000 less than a 4 year education costs. Certainly increases in pay will lead to increases in cost, but costs have skyrocketed at 5.6% a year while professor salaries have been largely stagnant.

Many have made a big deal of supply and demand on the system, and I am sure that is a major issue. This is particularly true as the demand for low skill workers dries up. No longer is there any other option for a high school graduate seeking a good job than to go to college. Employment is simply not there.

Of slightly greater impact to the cost of an education than the 14% increase in professor salary is the 20% decrease in state support over that same time. At the same time more strain is put on the system due to more demand to educate students there is a drop in spending by governments that has an increased effect on pricing because, while the number of professors to students should increase relative to each other, the number of state governments remain constant.

Another issue only mentioned briefly by the McGlaughlin Group was the investments in sports programs and alumni outreach. I haven't seen this written, but as a graduate of a brick and mortar school with no major sports program I find that I have to identify I went to a "real" university and not an Ashford or University of Phoenix for profit. I've heard it said that students will fill institutions regardless as long as the doors stay open and pay whatever is charged, so Presidents worry about alumni relations (to get donations) as state spending has decreased. Essentially the student is no longer the consumer, the fan of the football program and the alumni become the sought after buyer. This is one of those cases where causation would be next to impossible to prove, but my personal experience leads me to believe there is a significant truth to this.

Now, what does the President's plan do to stop all of this? In truth, next to nothing. President Obama supports an opening of "Race For The Top" to higher institutions. This accounts for $1 billion of the program, but there is a $7 billion increase in the Perkins Loan Program. I don't see how a 7 fold increase in a program to allow more money for students to become indebted with provides much in the way of relief. The $55 million grants to institutions who keep costs low is a start, but clearly the largest amount in funding is borne by the student.

I guess I don't understand why Republicans don't support this plan. All but 13% of the spending increases are going to be paid for over time. Maybe the actual bill that is introduced will contain something more, but as it stands the plan does little to defray the costs of a good education.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Syria Unlike Libya

I've been reading a lot of stories about Syria like this one. A lot of people are questioning why we are not intervening in Syria like we did in Libya. Probably the best explanation was given by Peter Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia.

On "Real Time with Bill Maher" Ambassador Galbraith said the two major differences are that Syria is mostly land locked, making smuggling in weapons difficult, and the opposition has not seized any territory, making it nearly impossible to determine who to give smuggled weapons to. In Libya the opposition almost immediately seized Benghazi, a port city, before help was offered.

It should be noted that we still trade freely with China and Russia after the two blocked an attempt at sanctions for the horrific shelling of their own citizens in the city of Homs.

I only wrote this because I've seen a few stories about Syria, and I've heard many ask why we aren't helping, but I don't hear this explanation given. I think the key to doing something in Syria without committing troops is going to involve all of America suffering economically to bring Russia and China on board. I'm not sure we're all really willing to do that much to help Syria though.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Republic, Really Lost

I just got done reading "Republic, Lost" by Lawrence Lessig. It is a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the corrupting influence of money or anyone who simply wants to understand why most people believe it is corrupting.

In the book Lessig points to ways to devalue big donor money and instead make the money a candidate gets tied more to the number of voters who support that candidate.

I came away from the book thinking that there were some good ideas in the book, but I don't know that campaigns are the big problem anymore. Check out this report from the CBS Evening News:

I think that even if we get candidates completely publicly funded contested races will then use Super PACs to push money into races. I'm not sure how to solve the problem, but it's just something to think about as you see more and more reporting on Super PACs.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Republican Race As It Stands

Not many people know that the Ragin' Man grew up in a very Republican household listening to Rush Limbaugh and sucking at the tit of the of the Republican party. I have since become staunchly independent, mostly because I feel that there is no "catch all" answer to our problems. If the economy turns south the answer is not always tax cuts for the rich, just as it is not always government spending increases. Each has its own place.

As a result of my childhood I am extremely interested in Republican politics. The "catch all" answer is actually couched in what I call "the narrative." The narrative explains how the world works in a very flowing story that involves Jesus and trickle down economics. I have identified a couple parts, but needless to say Republicans believe the narrative even if most deny it exists.

The Republican primary battle has yielded three winners in three different states largely because of the narrative. Each state had parts of the narrative that appealed to their Republicans the most. Iowa cared about Jesus, so they voted for Santorum. New Hampshire likes the capitalism that Jesus stands for, so they voted for Romney. South Carolina hates the news media more than they hate open marriages, so they voted for Gingrich.

A poll that put Gingrich at just 30% in South Carolina was conducted on Monday, but he ended up winning the race with 40% of the vote. Looking at Newt you can tell he didn't go door to door to 10% of South Carolinians who were not going to vote for him. It's reasonable to conclude that Rick Perry's 4% followed his endorsement and voted for Newt, but the key moments in the interim were the debates. Newt took on the media for daring to report on his marital infidelities and giving his ex-wife a forum to discuss their relationship's ending using language that appeals to the "liberal media" that is bent on the destruction of Republicans. This not only made Republicans like him for repeating what they believe, but it gave the appearance that the shadowy liberals who run the media want to destroy poor Newt. He even pointed out this was part of the media "protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans." Even the Blaze, Glenn Beck's website, referred to his outrage as "pious baloney" echoing an attack Gingrich had made on Romney.

Bravo Newt. Great politics, but I'm not sure it truly makes you electable to the Americans who don't have an "R" beside their name.

I'm going to watch Florida to see what the key narrative issue for those Republicans is.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Show Thoughts 21 August 2011

A couple talking points I heard this week. I have to say that the majority of those interviewed that I have heard were on the right:

1. John McCain gave a really good analysis of the Libyan war, but then said that "it's been proven" that spending does not work to fix the economy. When Norah
O'Donnell pointed out that economists have agreed the stimulus saved jobs he responded that "Saying it could have been worse is not much comfort to my constituents." I'm not sure I buy this argument. I've been in catastrophic accidents and been happy when someone told me although I broke my hip I will walk again, and when they outlined how much worse it could have been I was very thankful. Also, telling someone they have cancer and you're recommending chemotherapy is also not very comforting, but it's the truth, and if it's the best treatment that's probably what should be said.

2. Senator McCain went on to outline a plan that is now being touted by the Republicans to bring, by his estimate, $1 trillion from offshore accounts through a tax holiday and a lowering of rates. This problem has two issues with reality.
A) This same tactic was tried in 2004 without the desired results in job creation.
B) There is already $1.08 trillion stockpiled by the top 50 companies in the United States not being invested. Will getting another trillion somehow be the magical investment tipping point?

3. Ed Gillespie, former Chair of the Republican National Committee, made a point I heard Karl Rove and a few others repeat: Barack Obama supported Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. What is most interesting to me is that Mr. Gillespie said that George W. Bush had 52 months of uninterrupted growth in the market, then pointed out that the growth was largely driven by the housing bubble that he blamed on Senator Barack Obama who took office 4 years into George W. Bush's 8 years. I do like that somehow George W. Bush gets credit for the good part of the bubble though. I personally think the bubble bursting should have been a wake up call to America that we need to take the money out of our politics and not be afraid of reasonable regulation on businesses, but I still have yet to hear anyone advocate that.

4. Ed also phrased the vacation issue in the Republican narrative of constant right wing persecution. He claimed that this would go on a website entitled something like "" because the previous President could never have gone on vacation like this. What I don't understand is that he did get away with this. George W. Bush took 180 days of vacation at this point in his Presidency facing what I believe to be no fewer challenges than the current President, compared to Obama's 61.

5. Only a few people pointed out the European nature of our current economic downturn. Democrats spent most of the time buying time for President Obama to put together some kind of a plan, but I'm not sure that any plan will work because it's going to depend on a bailout of corporate tax haven Ireland and others to shore up the Euro. Not many mentioned this, and I'm not sure how we can affect this without spending more money, which no one wants to do. I guess this is where Democrats are trying to give comfort to their constituents by not saying "Look, the market turn is beyond our control."

6. Rick Santorum of google fame spoke to something I believe in which is the need to get manufacturing going in America again. He cited the corporate tax rate being needed to drop to zero to get companies producing again. I'm not sure I follow his reasoning because it is headquarters that determine where you are taxed, and congress has attempted to shore up the system to ensure corporations kick in their fair share of money for the protections the US affords them worldwide, but they continue to exploit loopholes. The cost of labor is a key driver, and I would argue that a more equitable fair trade system like that of the European Union and less like our agreements with China, CAFTA, and NAFTA would benefit us much more in the manufacturing sector, as well as investments that promote high end manufacturing.

That's it for now. Democrats did horrible as they basically just bided their time and pointed out that Rick Perry is the natural outgrowth of this article about the Tea Party.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

America, I'm Sorry

Recently I commented on a blog and pointed out that the President has said that his vote against raising the debt ceiling when he was a Senator during the Bush Administration was "political." This was after the White House admitted it was "a mistake."

I have to admit that I was fairly impressed with the President being able to admit that he was wrong. I had only seen one other politician do the same thing, and it wasn't even a major one. On Larry King Live November 11, 2009 former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said "Its time to bring back the draft." He went on to explain "I used to be an advocate for a professional military. I'm not anymore because its too easy for these people to take our young men and women and go to war."

I have to admit, I find the candor to be particularly refreshing because the Congressman representing my home of record has been Representative John Shimkus who, along with denying Climate Change because it does not supported by the Bible, voted for the Bush tax cuts, the drug entitlement program, and both the Afghan and Iraqi war authorizations, but has never voted for any offsetting measures to negate their budgetary effects. When pressured about these votes Congressman Shimkus makes no statement of personal responsibility, even though he claims that personal responsibility is the cornerstone of his "social conservative" message. Congressman Shimkus will instead make an innocuous claim of faults on "both sides." This blog is not going to get into his sheer stupidity at not believing something is a problem because it does not appear in the Bible. Hitler, nuclear weapons, Osama Bin Laden, etc. never appear in the Bible, but that does not mean the United States was any less right to take them on through policy and war alike. This blog is about taking personal responsibility.

I think it takes a lot to admit you're wrong. When I'm wrong about something I generally state it and move on. When someone working for me messes up if they just say "Yeah, I tried to do... but I was wrong" I generally just drop the issue of why and move straight on to how we're going to fix it. Being wrong is like being an alcoholic. You can't get fixed if you don't admit you have a problem. I know it takes a lot of courage to say you're wrong, and I'm not sure anyone who isn't strong enough to admit mistake is strong enough to lead.

In the spirit of taking personal responsibility the Ragin' Man is going to apologize to you, my reader, for the worst thing I've ever done. America, I supported George W. Bush in 2000. I know, I know, you're saying "Not you Ragin' Man! There is no way that you voted for that bum!"

Well, I didn't. At the time I was going to school in and was registered to vote in Missouri. I'll be quite honest with you by the time the Clinton Administration had ended, and after a couple years in academia, I was convinced that the political class had realized a few truths. We had all become Keynesians who understood that balanced budgets were key in times of economic expansion, and payouts were necessary in a draw down. We all knew the social safety net should be small but effective, and regulation was a necessary evil. Sure the party base talked a good game, but it was essentially the same team wearing different jerseys to keep people coming to the game. My thoughts on the case can best be summed up by this Rage Against the Machine video:

I will admit that I'm a little less communist because I know that every person alive is secretly a selfish bastard, but you get the idea.

In truth, I voted for Nader to try and show the political class that I was willing to vote for a third party so they should have gotten more choices on my local ballot, but when George W. Bush won I was secretly happy. At one point I argued that George W. Bush losing the popular vote and still winning the election was "the reason the Electoral College was made. Its so a state like California can't throw the whole election."

The truth was that I, like James Baker in the movie "Recount", believed that honor had been restored to the White House. Everything else would remain the same. And for that, I am sorry.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Who Supports The Troops?

Those who know me, which is pretty much everyone that reads this blog, know that I have been a "troop" for the Army. I don't like to get into my own service on a forum like the internet because it would force me to quit saying a lot of what I think, and my service would then become fodder for discussion in a way that I don't think the internet is capable of handling with the proper respect.

I mention the pertinent facts just so I can say that I was reading a blog posting by a friend of mine detailing the myth of educational veteran support in areas that claim to be more patriotic than the rest of America. Specifically those places Sarah Palin referred to as "pro-America areas of this great nation." It was pretty well understood that Mrs. Palin was talking about the areas that are colored blue on election day. When I first joined the Army I remember getting into a political discussion with one of my fellow soldiers and saying "EVERYONE supports the troops." I have to admit, I was wrong, but so was he. My friend's blog pointed out how traditionally liberal areas actually have better benefits for their veterans than do areas thought to be more patriotic. Specifically he is from Alabama, and he found that his educational benefits there are behind states like Massachusetts and New York.

My brother, the head blogger on the Billy Blog, has been annoyed by my hatred of the narrative, but it really does hurt our public discourse. A good example of the narrative is the use of "supporting the troops" as a Republicans/Conservatives benefit only argument. The argument that this debt limit increase would harm deployed troops gained no traction on any network, but during the Bush Administration the President was successfully able to paint the Democrats as anti-troop on the networks, and got Democratic support for his budgets as a result. He even got a retiring Democratic Senator, Zell Miller, to mention the "Democrats' manic obsession with bringing down our Commander-In-Chief" as a key reason to vote Republican. It should be noted that when President Obama took office the same wars were still ongoing, but there was opposition to him by statistically the same group of people who bought into Senator Miller's reasoning.

This has created an environment where people who vote overwhelmingly Republican feel they already support the troops. Rather than pass legislation that would help veterans they think they've already done enough. Never mind that Democrats have had their share of military men and women run on their ticket. Democrats passed pay increases greater than their Republican counterparts wanted, a Democrat proposed the Post 9-11 GI Bill, and, as pointed out by the Cowbell Blogger, more Democratic states have better veterans' benefits. A story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed how benefits the states of Missouri and Illinois extend to veterans made the old GI Bill better for many students than the Post 9-11 GI Bill. States like Alabama and Mississippi did not offer those kinds of real benefits to veterans.

Is this to say that everything Democrats do is great? Not by a long shot. Several Democrats have proposed cuts to defense, but the narrative makes the argument a lot more cut and dry than the facts do.

In closing I'd like to say, much like the Cowbell blogger did, that veterans are not looking for a handout. If you want to do something nice for a vet when you see him or her, that's great. Everything is always appreciated, but don't think that is all veterans need. A free beer and a spare ticket to a game can heal the soul, but I've noticed that most vets only really want a helping hand. Most commercials for joining the military focus on "job training" "money for college" or "leadership skills." I have yet to see one that focuses on "20 years and you get retirement benefits!" If our society truly values those who have sacrificed years of their life to fight in wars on our behalf, perhaps we should make good on the promises used to lure them into service.

As a sendoff, and something I think that is pretty apropos, here is Jon Stewart (liberal pinko) taking up a whole segment on the Daily Show just to say how amazed he was at the people he met on a USO tour. I know, I know, I just made a call for sweeping changes to your state's education system to benefit vets and now I'm highlighting a guy holding up things vets gave him, but this is one of those things that really takes away from his show, but means a hell of a lot to the troops he saw in Afghanistan. Also, it plays against the narrative, and who doesn't love that?

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Jon Visits Afghanistan
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