Sunday, December 26, 2010

Education as the boogeyman

Last week Jack Kelly claimed everyone hates "Obamacare" (well a majority of right thinking people hate it) and that it costs too much and takes away our freedom. This week Kelly is going after education; it costs too much and yields to little reward for people who study humanities or social sciences. This is an issue that strikes close to home, as my Dad is a retired math professor and I work at a local University. Now, I will say that in some respects I agree with him, but mostly Mr Kelly is full of ... well, you know.

There are funny meta-aspects to Kelly's argument, which I will get to after saying far too much. He says that since 1981 the cost of colleges/Universities has increased "sixfold", while the Consumer Price Index has only increased 2 and a half fold. What's interesting to me about that is that since 1981 a Republican has been in the White House for twenty of the last twenty nine years. Now Jack Kelly writes an essentially political column, so one would assume Kelly thinks this is a political problem, with political solutions. So why have the Republicans been so mean to college students (or allowed colleges to be so greedy)? Of course, indeed if the government stopped providing (or insuring or whatever) college grants and loans and tax credits, undoubtedly only the rich would go to college. And many colleges would cut back and many would close up shop all together. This apparently would suit Kelly just fine.

Now, for myself, the job I do could absolutely be done by someone who does not have a college degree. But they hired someone with a degree over all other applicants (me), which is the trend these days in a number of jobs. I suspect (although I do not know) that many of my work colleagues who have been on the job for twenty years or more do not have degrees, but all the more recent hires do seem to have them.

Part of my job involves verifying receipts and insuring that purchases are legitimate ones, following accounting rules. I am only part of that mechanism, and if I wanted to cheat the University (and the taxpayers and students and donors), I would have to enlist the help of several people, some who I know only barely. I would like to think that my college degree also makes me a more conscientious employee, one who is better able to see the big pictures as I perform smaller tasks. But I am probably not working all the way up to my potential, so I might be the poster child for Kelly's argument.

Except that I am working at a University, where we are supposed to be fleecing the public. Well, I have good hours, good benefits, a comfortable office, a gym I can workout at, good (but not great) vacation benefits. If I take classes, the tuition is free, but at the graduate level the taxes on that tuition are literally supposed to be crushing. And to be clear, my pay does not reflect the fleecing part. My dad, the math professor, received what one might call comfortable wages. I suspect he made as much as a plumber or an electrician, maybe a tad more, maybe a tad less.

It is true that the costs of Colleges, Universities and technical schools such as the Art Institute, Kaplan/ITT something or other and Rosedale Tech have all increased. There are two aspects to the increase, in my opinion. One is the commitment the government and sometimes the nation made to helping level the playing field for minorities, and the other is Bill Clinton.

During the seventies I think that there was an increase in both minority scholarships and assistance for low income people in general, which might well
disproportionately benefit minorities (who have higher rates of poverty). And Bill Clinton greatly subsidized higher education through new tax credits for attending school. And since the seventies, I think the government system of guaranteeing student loans has also increased the number of people attending higher ed of one form or another.

This is all related to what Kelly was getting at, that everyone has to admit higher ed costs have gone up. I will say he is wrong that educators and administrators are making out like bandits. But schools have gone on a property buying spree (probably more expensive during the bubble), and tried to sock money into endowments (consisting of investments ... uh oh).

But here's the thing. I think Kelly's argument that people with non science degrees are not getting the benefit of their degree by taking lower skilled jobs overlooks the fact that many companies are choosing to hire college in preference to high school grads, even if the job doesn't require the degree. And the college grads can advance, where the high school grad might not be able to (unless they use Clinton type tax credits to get the degree @ night). So although it is not an ideal situation, the reality on the ground is that if a person takes Kelly's apparent advice, saves money and does not have a degree, (s)he may lose in the competition even for the jobs that ostensibly don't require a degree.

But there are two further issues. As I have mentioned before, the unemployment rate for people without a high school degree is 15%, for those who have only a high school degree the rate is 10%, while for those with a college degree the rate is 4.5% (I am not sure for those with an associates or "some college/university"). Having a degree means that it should be easier to get at least some job, if you try, while not having a degree makes that much more problematic.

And of course we know that the unemployment rates for young African-Americans are often much higher, although I suspect having the degree makes an even bigger difference there. I wonder if that is something Kelly has taken into consideration when seeming to recommend young people not get degrees. His suggestion could set one or even two generations back, considering how little progress has really been made in achieving equal rights for the vast majority of African Americans.

Now, anyone who reads this blog knows I have linked Kelly to the Tea Party movement. Unfortunately, the semi-racist narrative I described above fits with the views of at least some Tea Partiers. But there is an additional ominous element here. The Tea Party "declaration of independence", which presumably some number, possibly a majority or even all Tea Partiers agree with, includes a line complaining that the government is trying to bankrupt the country using socialist schemes so that the peasants will have to beg for sustenance from self styled "educated classes" and so-called "experts". There is also an line about the Tea Party rejecting "transformational change" performed on the nation by (as they put it) smug elites who call them "educated classes".

I believe the Tea Party has made it's position clear on intellectualism and education. So why should I not believe Kelly is subtly advancing the Tea Party position even while claiming to look out for the interests of young people. And as side consequence, out and out torpedoing the chances for employment of young African Americans and other disadvantaged minorities. Which is the final meta-aspect to Kelly's column for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Want to die?

Jack Kelly would like you to risk death so that he can keep some tiny measure of freedom that he doesn't need anyway. Today in his column, Kelly tells us a federal judge in Virginia struck a blow for freedom; also the often partisan Rasmussen polling organization found that when they ask the questions, Americans don't like "Obamacare".

The thing is (and I can't believe I have to say this again), health care reform is good for everyone in almost every way you look at it. When the uninsured poor go to the emergency room (as George Bush obliviously suggested they do), they literally face bankruptcy, and since hospitals don't have to admit people without insurance, they simply have to stabilize them, going to the emergency room does not necessarily solve health problems. But of course past that, there is that bankruptcy (whatever loans and credit card debt being swept into the un-payable healthcare debt), the higher costs hospitals charge to address unpaid bills, the absenteeism, the loss of potential productive labor to untreated illness and possible death. By the way, as a PG employee, I suspect Kelly has perfectly good health care benefits, which I am strongly suspect he would be unwilling to give up as a matter of principle (Go ahead, Mr Kelly, prove me wrong).

Now I will grant you that the wealthy enjoy a great health care system, possibly the best in the world. If adding health-care insurance for those without it and adding new regulations about whose coverage can be canceled and also limiting lifetime maximums mean that the health care of the wealthy would suffer, I can understand why they (and thus the Republicans) would object. But as far as I can see, the only way the wealthy suffer is if the small (or large) business they own has to buy health insurance for their (low level) employees (which they could make those employees pay a huge portion of). I assume these are low paid employees like cleaning or clerical staff in law firms or medical practices, employees who see how much the professionals are making in profits. If it is suffering to provide employees with a benefit that you yourself enjoy, and would help keep them at work and not bankrupt, then I think a little suffering is in order.

So (noted constitutional scholar) Kelly spends time giving us his (actually the Tea Party's) view of the commerce clause of the constitution. Of course, the Supreme's have shown the ability to accommodate the modern world in their rulings (Scalia: handguns are constitutional because you can hold a handgun in your other hand); so I think the idea of balancing economic needs with the constitution is not beyond them (unless they start getting death threats from Tea Party members).

Kelly also whines about costs (ignoring the cost of no health care reform to the country in terms of both dollars and lives), and Kelly emphasizes that 222 waivers from health care provisions have been granted to various entities including "many to labor unions that fought for passage of the bill". Kelly states that more than a million workers have been exempted, says this a lot, but tellingly he doesn't say what the waivers are for. Are they for minor provisions? Is Kelly saying that the only good laws are ones with no flexibility (the kind of laws republicans like are the ones they can force down everyone's throats)?

At least smart Republicans are talking about alternatives, though not Tea Party types. Again tellingly, Kelly offers not a word about alternatives to Obamacare, he only cackled about what he thinks is momentum against it. Of course, the Republicans/Tea Party have been fairly successful in turning their stories (which sometimes could be characterized as out and out lies) into some people's view of reality (see Two Political Junkies).

Monday, December 13, 2010


I am still turning Wikileaks over in my mind.

I suspect some people will now choose not to defend Wikileaks because Julian Assange is accused of rape. Except that I think what he is really accused of is consential sex gone bad. The two women he had sex with went with him willingly, undressed and started the process (so to speak) willingly. At some point in one case a condom broke and in the other the woman wanted to stop and Assange didn't. So, I don't think you can call Assange some sort of sexual predator, although I would be willing to stipulate Assange is an asshole of a Bill Clinton degree.

The point is, though, whether Assange's character has anything to do with whether the cables in the latest Wikileaks release are true or not. It puts me in mind of the ACLU defending Nazis (or the KKK) having marches. As long as the Nazis don't violate any laws, don't throw rocks or firebomb synagogues, you kind of have to let them march. That's because you want to make sure that the government couldn't use anti-Nazi rally rules to silence anti war or anti racism protesters. Yet that effort by the ACLU was what has really done them in as a national organization.

So too, I gather American politicians (most notably Hilary Clinton) have been screaming that the Wikileaks release will destroy our ability to conduct diplomacy. I say that being able to say one thing publicly and another privately between government employees and politicians is what gets us bad policy and even into wars. There was one politician I had met years ago and had the rare opportunity to ask him first if he knew protectionist steel policy was bad for the economy (he did) and then why he supported it. He basically admitted it was for the votes (a politician being kind to a student intern). My point being that if more politicians (and for that matter economists) told the truth as they understand it, we would be less happy in the short run but maybe much happier in the long run.

This Wikileaks release exposes the fact that our diplomats don't think much of some politicians in some government, that we spy even on allies as a matter of course, and that some of our allies privately want us to do things they won't admit to wanting publicly. And Yeman agreed to claim credit for things we did. Whoopee.

This release has nothing to do with the much more important financial industry situation, where the industry is fighting many reforms, and many, perhaps most politicians are assisting the financial industry. In other words, this Wikileaks has nothing to do with the most important issues facing us, yet some politicians and some of the media act as though it is the Apocalypse (and almost all the rest talk about it with a sneer).

I suppose that's the point. Wikileaks is a wedge into a world outside our view. With that wedge, we can do one of two things. We can put in more wedges at other places in that shadowy world, or we can kick the Wikileaks wedge out, and forget we ever saw anything.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kelly's Hero

So, I guess there is a new thing in the world: the Jack Kelly Presidential fantasy scenario. Kelly is trying to be a calm, rational prognosticator, to help us by noticing things we may have missed, and guiding us to their true meanings. He identifies Michael Bloomberg as a possible candidate for President. He notes Bloomberg's contempt for Republican voters and the current Democratic President. And Kelly notes that if Bloomberg ran, he would hurt a candidate like Mitt Romney most, perhaps because he and Romney are similar in being wealthy and regarded as intelligent. According to Kelly, Bloomberg would hurt Sarah Palin the least, because Bloomberg is more like Obama than he is like Palin. So ipso facto if the Republicans want to retake the White House and Bloomberg runs, then they should nominate Palin

The helpful Jack Kelly, pretty much proving what I have been saying about how he wants to get involved with and shill for the Tea Party (two words he never says once in today's column; did he think he could fool us). To be sure, Ralph Nader had a majorly bad effect on Al Gore's campaign and probably cost him the election. Still, I would be shocked if Palin made it past the first hurdle, getting nominated as the candidate. It would prove all the negative things that have somewhat jokingly said about the Tea Party and the Republicans were in fact true.

By the way, I skipped last week's column (I guess I just wasn't in the mood). It wasn't as political as usual, more of a defense oriented column. Kelly thinks we should leave South Korea to defend itself. I disagree, I think defending South Korea continues to send a positive message to the rest of the world.