Monday, June 27, 2011

Grading the Contendahs: 2012 GOP Pres Candidates (Part 3)

So these grading the contendahs posts are relatively easy, I'm going to keep doing them all throughout the GOP primaries and beyond.  Remember kids, I'm a LIBERAL and a Democrat, so take my views with a big grain of salt.  That said, I subscribe to the realist/Machiavellian school of political strategy* and know full well that no blow is too low.  So, I think I have a decent grasp on the politics.

The Also Rans: Look, Gingrich, Santorum, Buddy Roemer, and Ron Paul aren't going to do anything this election (or ever).  Also, Trump and Huckabee are out, for different reasons.  I think Huckabee knows he's basically topped out in support, and its not enough for the nomination (and running for President sucks), so he's out.  Trump can't stand the heat either.  Both are done.

Interesting Players:  This is the group that'll go nowhere, but will maintain a pretty decent sized interest until the voting starts (and then they'll be toast).

Herman Cain: Too crazy to win anything, but he's an African American conservative similar to Alan Keyes.  By that I mean, Cain isn't going to try to pretend he's not African American, and has no problem talking about racism (although he's terribly anti-Muslim).

Sarah Palin: A lot of people call Sarah Palin a rockstar because she attracts so much attention.  And Sarah Palin is the polar opposite of most politicians - she loves running for office, but she hates actual governing.  In light of that, Palin is not so much a rockstar but a popstar (who has other people write her songs, is all fluff).  Her negatives are also horrific.

Could-Be's: These are the guys who could be in contention if someone (*cough*Romney*cough) stumbles badly.

John Huntsman: I'm not sure if he's the rich man's Romney, or the poor man's Romney, but he's a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican who is Mormon and occasionally willing to cross party lines.  Basically, he's exactly like Romney, only with less flip-flopping and weird sense of humor.  Of course, he's now running against his boss. . .

Tim Pawlenty: Another Romney-type, but was a less than successful governor (unlike Romney and Huntsman), boring, not good on television, and not interesting.

"Front" Runners

The one thing that's certain is that Republican primary voters aren't exactly thrilled with their choices.  So, anything can change at any time.  With that caveat in mind, here are the candidates who I think have a shot for the nomination:

Mitt Romney:

Pros: He's smart, rich, capable on television, has a radio announcer voice, was a successful Republican governor of a blue state, handsome, and somewhat moderate.  Oh, and he's been building a warchest and an election team since 2008.

Cons: He flip-flops a lot, his health care program in Massachusetts formed the basis on which the Affordable Health Care Act was based (except his program DOES cover abortion), has a weird sense of humor, is Mormon, and may want it too badly (and it shows).

Michele Bachmann

Pros: Smart, a Palin-esque rockstar image but actually likes to hold elective office, very conservative, little if any record on flip-flops, will work hard for the shot (unlike Palin), has a solid group of support behind her (the Tea Partiers), telegenic.
Cons: She's crazy.  And by crazy, I mean Ron Artest (circa 2004) crazy.  Her approach to governance is dogmatic, and she has crazy eyes.  At any point in time, she's liable to do just about anything.  A complete wildcard.

Bold Prediction:
As I said before, this thing could go any which way.  But I think that Romney v. Bachmann matchup will provide the GOP voters with a stark choice - true conservativism (Bachmann), or moderation (Romney).  If Romney grabs the nomination, then dollars to doughnuts Bachmann is his VP.  If Bachmann is the nominee, she'll pick a wildcard like her.  Only way to go.  Either way, Michele Bachmann will end up on the ticket.

*Every time I say the word "strategy" in my mind, it always comes out "strategery" - Damn you, Will Ferrel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tuition Inflation

As you all know by now, I am an attorney, and like most* attorneys, I went to law school.  Specifically, I went to the University of San Diego School of Law, a fine institution of higher learning if there ever was one.  And, not to date myself too much, but I graduated eight years ago.

I mention this because in the intervening years, tuition at USD has almost doubled.  When I went to USD, I started out paying $22,000 per year, and ended by paying $25,000 per year.  Now, according to the USD website, tuition is $42,500 per year.  That means that a law student going to law school the way I did, strictly on loans, work study, etc., will end up with a minimum of $127,500 in debt.  Based on this student loan calculator, each law student will pay $1600 per month in debt payments.  Now, if they consolidate, and go with the same 25 year plan that I have, they'll probably halve that amount, and end up paying $800 a month. . .maybe.

Now realistically, in the San Diego legal market, an attorney will start out at between $40,000 and $50,000 per year.  Some, the best and the brightest, might get the big firm job, which pays in excess of $100,000, but they're few and far between.  But this post isn't really about law student income, its about this:

With median incomes staying flat, what's driving this absolutely outrageous increase in tuition? From what I have heard from my grad school friends, becoming a professor is getting harder and harder because of intense competition.  So labor costs should not have increased at all. And since students pay for their own books, their own information technology, and pay for their own room and boarding (its a cost separate and apart from tuition), most other aspects of university costs remain the same.

The one exception to this is construction of non-housing university facilities, and the IT that universities use.  Now, I can see that in some instances, this cost would be high enough to necessitate higher tuition costs.  But I've been to USD, and while there are some IT improvements, such as flat screen televisions, there isn't enough of these improvements to necessitate the doubling of tuition.  I just don't see it.

No, tuition increases are not driven by the supply side; they are driven by the demand side.  In essence, colleges and universities are charging outrageous tuitions not because they have to, but because they know students will pay for it no matter what.  After all, a college and/or university degree is one of the key pathways to the middle class in this country.  Indeed, with the exception of kids in trade schools, the only way for a kid who is traditionally educated in this country to succeed is to go to college.  Otherwise, the kid will be sentenced to a lifetime of menial service jobs.  Education is a necessity.

Now, normally, competition is enough to keep prices down.  Food, for instance, is a necessity of life, but is relatively cheap.  If one place is too expensive, you and I can go to the next place down the street.  And there will always be a place down the street that provides food inexpensively.  But here's the thing - a college education isn't just about the degree, its about the brand, the traditions,  the whole shebang.  Our kids don't want to just go to college, they want to go to the right college.  And that's not a huge surprise, because their future employers will select candidates based on where they went to school.  A lawyer with a degree from Harvard will always be more attractive to an employer than someone who went to USD.  Colleges know that, and compete with one another for prestige.

Therein lies the rub - because colleges and universities compete for prestige, they drive their costs higher and higher.  More than that, they charge more so that they won't be known as the "cheap" college.  Even public universities, facing declining investment by the state governments, are falling into this trap.  Thus, into the fray, come the for-profit universities and colleges, providing education at an affordable price.  The only thing that concerns me is that too many of these schools strike me as absolute scams.

So, what can we possibly do about higher education?  Right now, the market is unbalanced, puts each class of students deeper and deeper into debt.  Now, as a society, we need skilled people - doctors, lawyers, engineers, and the like - to continue to function, so we need these kids to be educated.  To be honest with you, I don't know the whole answer.  I think we certainly should reinvest in higher education, and the state that provides the best education at the lowest tuition will have a tremendous advantage going forward.  But how else can we correct the market?  Increased regulation of the for-profits so that they're not scams?  Possibly.

The one thing that does make sense, market wise, is to lower the demand for higher education by putting more kids into trade schools.  These kids will be able to circumvent the whole college process completely, make good money, and possibly boost the industrial sector of the economy (by eliminating the need for employers to train labor, lowering their employment costs).  Indeed, tuition costs in higher education have grown at increasing rates ever since the industrial sector has declined.

Either way, higher education needs substantial reform, as the status quo is not sustainable.  While there is no good solution, doing nothing is the worst solution of all.

*I just found this out - in California, attorneys do not need to go to law school if they apprentice with a lawyer or a judge for four years.  All that's actually required is two years of college.  Now, they have to take the "Baby Bar," and the Bar Exam, but no law school is actually required. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Downside of Limitless Potential

For a good portion of youth, I was a basketball fan.  More specifically, I was a diehard Lakers fan.  I would watch any Laker game, reveling in blowouts (the better to check out the bench players), and screaming at the television while Chick Hearn, in his rapid-fire style, berated the Lakers players for doing something stupid.  I was a member of Lakers' nation.

That changed in a short time span when the team traded Shaq, Kobe had nonconsentual sex with, as it turns out, the sister of some friends of my brothers, and Phil Jackson left.  Ever since, I have been an ex-Lakers fan.  I still watch NBA games, even Lakers' games,  on occasion, but the passion is gone.

With that said, I still follow the NBA, and Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sports writers.  Actually, he is my favorite.  And Bill Simmons is a NBA fan.  He's such a big NBA fan that he wrote a 1200 page book on the NBA, and I read ever word of it.  With his help, I feel like I'm slowly being pulled back into the fold as a basketball fan. 

So, contrary to the past few years, I've been following the NBA finals much more than ever.  It certainly helps to have a team like the Dallas Mavericks pull off one impressive run after another.  But more than that, the play of Lebron James has been fascinating to watch.

Lebron James, if you have never seen him, is the single most impressive athlete ever to grace the NBA.  He is 6'8" - classic small forward size - 260(ish) lbs, and probably 2% body fat.  He is, by most accounts, the fastest player in the NBA, is blessed with lightning quickness, and because of his size, weight and speed, can play any position on the court.  Not only is he blessed with tremendous athletic ability, but he has incredible "court vision" - he's able to see, and comprehend where everyone on the basketball court is, and where they will be.  As a result, he can pass the ball with amazing skill.  He is, as advertised, a basketball player who can score like Jordan, and pass like Magic Johnson.  Oh, and he can defend every position on the floor - from a 6'0" point guard to a 7'0" center, and does so with striking aplomb. 

No other player in the NBA finals can come close to James' ability.  Dwyane Wade, James' teammate, and a great player in his own right, for instance, is a 6'4" guard who plays with absolute abandon and will do whatever it takes to win.  But he cannot guard a much taller player, nor can he post up a larger player inside.  Dirk Nowitiski, the great Mavericks player, is a freakish 7'0" forward who can shoot with absolutely deadly accuracy doesn't have the quickness to guard players outside.  Similarly, all the other players on the court have deficiencies in one area or another.  None have the ability of Lebron James.

Yet, with all that talent, Lebron James is fading on the world stage.  Last night, he scored 17 points, had 10 assists and 10 rebounds (a triple-double), which was good, but not good enough. In the last quarter, he scored a mere 2 points.  The game before, James scored only 8 points.  And his numbers for the other three games weren't spectacular either.  In the meantime, Nowitiski has been a man possessed, scoring nearly 30 points per game for the series.  While some would attribute James' disappearing act on his heart or his manhood, I wonder if it is something else.

Specifically, what if James' athletic ability is hampering him on the world stage.  For his entire life, James has played basketball better than everyone else, based purely on his ability.  Whatever he wanted to do, he could do, almost as well as anyone else.  Almost.  And that's the problem - James never specialized, never developed a "move" that he could use when all chips were down, because with the exception of the NBA Finals, he doesn't need a move because his talent is limitless.

That's a problem because our limits lead us down the path of our lives.  When I was a child, I wanted to be a physicist like my father, a fighter pilot (I grew up in the shadow of Top Gun - both the movie and the actual place), an astronaut and the President of the United States.  As a I grew up, I discovered I didn't especially like math (sorry Mom), and that knocked out physics.  My eyesight and reflexes aren't good, and that knocked out being a fighter pilot and an astronaut.  So, I followed my talents to where they lead me - into the law. 

In the NBA Finals, when the chips are down, and the team needs to score, specialists are needed.  That's why the great ones all had moves.  Hakeem had his Dream Shake, Jordan started with his drive to the basket, and then moved to the fadeaway, Shaq had his dunk, and Kareem had the absolutely deadly Sky Hook.  Because each practiced his moves over and over and over again, when it was time for a score, the ball went to them, and more often than not, they scored.  These moves, mind you, weren't developed because these players wanted to have a move, they developed out of their own limitations.  Kareem developed the Sky Hook because he was tall and lanky and couldn't score inside.  Jordan couldn't take the beating from driving to the basket anymore, so he developed the fadeaway.  It was their limitations that created their moves.  The fact that James has no limitations, can play any position almost as well as anyone else, means that during crunch time, he can't be counted on.  And that's why we see the fade.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Yantram One is a Big Spammer

There are so many things that I generally want to write about, and I enjoy conversations with people via comments.  Yesterday, however, I discovered a comment to my post on personal responsibility that was an advertisement plain and simple.  So, if you are ever thinking of virtual assistant services, DO NOT use Yantram One, who is nothing but a huge spammer.  I hear Yantram One, as part of casual Fridays, has its employees rape and murder puppies.*

*Not intended to be a factual statement.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The (Kinda) Myth of Personal Responsibility

One of the great dilemnas and myths in current American thought is that of personal responsibility.  People who have underwater mortgages should have known better, the unemployed should have built up the training and expertise to avoid unemployment, and so on.  The latest, and the straw that lead me to write this post was an ESPN story where Maurice Clarett says to blame the players, not Ohio State, for the scandals.

And of course, part of the problem with the personal responsibility argument is that it is somewhat true.  Yes, some homeowners purchased homes they knew they couldn't afford.  Yes, we all knew that communications (or English, or history, or political science, for that matter) degree wasn't going to lead to a job after college.  Dropping out of high school is a bad idea.  Selling sports memorabilia to boosters is not the kind of amateurism allowed by the NCAA.  All of this is true.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that bigger actors can influence our decision-making.  That's because we don't make decisions in a vacuum, but rather, make the best choice possible with the information and wants we have at that very moment.  A lot of homeowners, for instance, knew that home values would not continue to rise, but many felt they had no choice - buy now or never get into the market.  Little did they know that in 2011, home prices would drop to the 2002 levels.  But other people - investment bankers, policy makers, and real estate professionals - knew that this was a possibility, and rather than put the brakes on the real estate market, they made it worse by chopping up the loans, artificially lowering interests rates, and emphasizing home ownership.

The latest with Ohio State and the corruption of the football team, likewise, is utterly predictable.  When the actual value of services performed (playing college football) greatly exceeds the price paid for said services (athletic scholarship), someone is going to look for a better deal.  And since the price is set artificially low, the better deal will happen on the down low.  Yes, the players are responsible, but the conditions set by the NCAA exacerbated the problem.

The other major problem I have with the personal responsibility argument is a total and complete disregard for the repercussions of "bad" behavior.  Here's what happened when one man's estranged wife failed to pay her student loans:

Now this is pure insanity.  First of all, the woman in question does not live on the property.  Second, the failure to pay student loans is a civil issue - the Department of Education (though through a bank) loaned the woman the money, and it can take her to Court to force repayment.  Garnishment of wages and other options are perfectly acceptable. But this is not a criminal matter.  What if the man in this video, in response to armed men barging in his home, grabbed a firearm (as is his right under the 2nd Amendment).  He would have, most likely, been shot, just like happened in Tuscon.

But we ignore all of these things because of the cult of personal responsibility.  Until we start looking at the larger picture, we'll continue to go around in circles.