Thursday, January 31, 2013

The only reasonable way to respond to Jonathan Krause's idiotic "Why can't I make fun of minorities?" screed is thusly:

Personally, I would looooooooove to hear Krause's wacky and humorous take on "the negro problem" in America and encourage him to grace us all with his thoughts on the matter forthwith.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Tony Blando was a Terrible Choice to be Senator Ron Johnson's New Chief of Staff

In case you didn't notice, Sen. Ron Johnson had his worst week since moving to Washington last week. His antics during the Foreign Relations committee Benghazi hearings transformed him from being a back-bencher no one had heard of into the subject of snickering and ridicule around the Beltway.

In the past we've pointed to Johnson's inability to surround himself with a knowledgeable staff for a lot of the problems that have befallen his tenure in the Senate and this post will be no exception. We're admittedly little late to this story, but it's still worth commenting on. Apparently, sometime in early December, Johnson made his then-state director Tony Blando his new Chief of Staff, replacing then-acting Chief of Staff Ken McKay who had filled the gap since Johnson's first Chief of Staff, Don Kent, departed in early October. (Got all that?)

This is an incredibly bad decision.

Being a Senate Chief of Staff requires a fairly extensive skill set that can only be acquired on Capitol Hill. It's a gig that demands strong connections to other Senate offices, solid relationships with leaders in the House, vast reservoirs of goodwill among the press corps, reliable ties to important parts of the federal bureaucracy and a finger on the pulse of K Street. The only way to earn these kinds of credentials is by being in Washington. That's why when one examines the resumes of most Senate Chiefs of Staff one often find decades of Capitol Hill experience.

Blando has zero Washington experience. None. In fact, he's only had a little over 2 years of total political experience, most of which has been spent as Johnson's state director. That's not an unimportant job, but it will do him little good in Washington where no one knows him. The only qualification Blando really has to be in charge of a Senate office is the trust of the Senator. This is usually a good thing, but in Senator Johnson's case it's actually counterproductive. Here's why.

As the Benghazi hearings demonstrated, Ron Johnson's political instincts suck. Right now, the most important function any of his staff members can offer their employer is to say "no" -- and no person is in a better position to offer this kind of harsh counsel that a chief of staff. Blando is probably not going to be that guy for several reasons. The first is his overall political inexperience. The second is that he and Johnson are on the same page ideologically and are likely to of the same mind as to which fights Johnson should enter (and Johnson clearly hasn't learned which fights to pick yet). Lastly, but certainly not least importantly, most Senate Chiefs of Staffs are able to operate with a certain degree of swagger, confident that should they ever run foul with their current employer, they will be able to quickly find a job in another office or at a lobbying firm. Blando doesn't have that kind of job insurance.

This last point is extremely important. Senators have raging egos that are feed by Washington's legions of sycophants. The unique kind of "job security" that Chiefs of Staff enjoy allow them to tell their bosses "no" without the threat of derailing their careers. Blando won't enjoy that kind protection. In fact, Blando's power in the Senate is almost entirely dependent on keeping one person, Ron Johnson, happy. That power dynamic is a recipe for creating a Yes Man, which is not the kind of staffer the GOP leadership likely wants aiding a Senator whose political instincts suck.

Further complicating Blando's promotion is the fact that, by all accounts, he has a friendly personal relationship with Johnson, one that developed prior to both men's entrance into the political arena. That will make Blando difficult to fire if or when such an action becomes warranted or necessary. Both men will be returning to Oshkosh when their Excellent Washington Adventure concludes and if folks in DC thought it was awkward running into unemployed old co-workers at the Safeway in Georgetown, just try doing the same at the Pick'n'Save on Murdock Avenue in Oshkosh.

The bottom line is that Blando will likely be Johnson's Chief of Staff for the remainder of the Senator's term in office. His promotion concludes a transition period in Johnson's office that has lasted about a year and one that marks the conclusion of Johnson's slow descent into a full-blown bunker mentality. Johnson simply does not trust anyone in Washington and this is making it almost impossible for him to have any hope of doing his job. The people he does trust, who all seem to have come along for the ride from Oshkosh, have not proven to be up to the task. Worst of all, Johnson doesn't seem to have made this connection yet.

That means more episodes like the Benghazi hearings are just over the horizon.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ron Johnson's Delusional Account of his Benghazi Conversation with Hillary Clinton

This afternoon we took a look at the optics of Senator Ron Johnson's exchange with Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearing, but after Johnson published his little piece recapping the discussion tonight, we just couldn't help examining the substance of the dialog.

First, to the video. Here's the whole uncut conversation. Note the obvious hostility on Johnson's part from the very beginning. He can't even get through the obligatory pleasantries without sounding, at best, perfunctory.

In our minds their is little question that Johnson comes off looking much, much worse in the extended C-SPAN director's cut then he does in the cable TV edit. A lot of this probably has to do with the camera angles -- high on Clinton and lowish on Johnson -- but even more of it involves the steady way the tension between the two builds and builds before finally coming to a boil in the last minute.

Then we read Johnson brief op-ed published in USA Today late Wednesday night. The article is full of factual errors about the event that seriously make us wonder if Johnson was paying any attention at all to Clinton's answers. His recall of events that not only happened just 12 hours earlier, but are easily available in video form online, is almost delusional. We'll show you what we mean, line by line.

During her Senate testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that approximately 25 Americans who were on the ground or who witnessed the terrorist attack in Benghazi were immediately evacuated. 
That's not what she said at all. Clinton said that between 25 and 30 people were evacuated from the Benghazi compound. Johnson asks the question at 1:46 and Clinton answers "The numbers are a little hard to pin down because of our other friends ... Approximately 25 to 30." Despite the fact that Clinton specifically included "our other friends," presumably local militia or other people employed at the consulate, among the evacuees, Johnson erroneously claims they are Americans.

Had Johnson read the ARB report, even the declassified version (see page 19), he would have known there were 7 Americans in the consulate when the assault began. We're only through the first sentence and already Johnson is playing fast and loose with the facts.
Secretary Clinton also revealed that neither she, nor her senior people, debriefed or spoke with those people immediately after the attack, or for months afterward, to understand what happened. She stated that she didn't want to be later accused of playing politics.
The word "debrief" was never used by either Johnson or Clinton during the hearing, though Clinton did imply a debriefing occurred when she mentions the FBI interviewing evacuees. (This detail is a bit tricky, however, as we'll see below.)
When I questioned her about the misinformation disseminated for days by the administration, most notably by Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on Sunday news programs five days after the attack, she asked, "What difference does it make?"
That's not quite how it happened:

Johnson accuses Amb. Rice of "purposefully misleading" the public at 2:40. Clinton talks about tending to the injured evacuees until 3:40 -- remember this: it's an important detail worth Clinton discussing at length -- when she says that the American public was being provided with information that had been vetted by the intelligence community.

The Secretary talks about the fluidity of the situation until 4:10 when she's interrupted by Johnson, who asks his phone call question ... even though Clinton has basically spent the last 90 seconds explaining to the Senator that she did not make such a call to prevent politicizing the debriefing.

Hillary, clearly growing tired of the exchange by now, gamely continues to answer, but is again interrupted at 4:34 when Johnson dismisses her answer as an excuse. There's a few seconds of cross talk before Clinton refers Johnson to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) reports at 4:44.

She begins to differentiate between what is currently known and not known about the incident -- as in today, January 23rd, four months after the event -- when Johnson again interrupts her at 4:57 to reiterate his belief -- sans any evidence -- that the public was intentional misled about protests being the genesis of the consulate siege, saying that the American people could have known that "within days" of the attack, etc.

Finally, at 5:15; 2 minutes, 35 seconds and several interrupted attempts to answer the question later; Hillary has enough.

So it's a long way from Johnson's question to Clinton's answer.
If you don't expeditiously debrief the people who witnessed the attack, how can you understand who initiated it, what weapons they used and who may have been involved? How do you initiate a proper response if you don't know what transpired? How do you move properly to protect other American assets and people in the region? How do you know what failures occurred, so that you can immediately correct them, if you have not debriefed the very victims of those failures? And lastly, how do you tell the truth to the American people if you don't know the facts?
Except Clinton specifically says that the FBI "immediately" went to interview the evacuees at 3:15, rendering this entire graph pointless.

What Johnson's "phone call" meant at the morning hearing evolved several times over the course of the day. At the hearing it seemed like little more than public relation fact-checking exercise. Latter that morning it became a kind of mark of good character. In the early afternoon, it seemed to have something to do with Osama bin Laden. During happy hour is was about everything! But by dinner time Johnson settled on it being a bona fide professional intelligence-gathering technique when he referred to it as a "debriefing."

During the hearing Johnson says the following at 2:17: "The point I'm making is that a very simple phone call to these individuals could have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this. I mean this attack started at 9:40 PM Benghazi time ... but then I'm going back to, again, Ambassador Rice, five days later going on the Sunday shows and, what I would say, purposefully misleading the American public."

Here's the thing: it's more than likely that such a phone call wasn't possible; that no one would have been on the other end to answer. Here's what ARB report says (page 27+):

At approximately 0630 local, all U.S. government personnel evacuated [the consulate] with support from a quasi-governmental Libyan militia. They arrived at the [Benghazi] airport without incident.  
Evacuees, including all wounded personnel, departed Benghazi on the chartered jet at approximately 0730 local. Embassy Tripoli staff, including the Embassy nurse, met the first evacuation flight at Tripoli International Airport. Wounded personnel were transferred to a local hospital, in exemplary coordination that helped save the lives of two severely injured Americans
At 1130 local, September 12, 2012, the Libyan government-provided C-130 evacuation flight landed in Tripoli with the last U.S. government personnel from Benghazi...
In coordination with the State Department and Embassy Tripoli, the Department of Defense sent two U.S. Air Force planes (a C-17 and a C-130) from Germany to Tripoli to provide medical evacuation support for the wounded. At 1915 local on September 12, Embassy Tripoli evacuees, Benghazi personnel, and those wounded in the attacks departed Tripoli on the C-17 aircraft, with military doctors and nurses aboard providing en route medical care to the injured. The aircraft arrived at Ramstein Air Force Base at approximately 2230 (Tripoli time) on September 12, just over 24 hours after the attacks in Benghazi had commenced.

Unfortunately, this next step requires some gruesome arithmetic. The ARB report says that there were seven Americans at the compound when the attack started. Four were killed during the attack. Two were "severely injured," one of who so badly that he is still apparently at Walter Reed Hospital. If the other person was anywhere nearly as "severely injured" as his colleague, it stands to reason that neither were in any physical condition to be debriefed until days, if not weeks, after the incident. That leaves only one American who was at the Consulate when the attack began remaining left to be debriefed, and the report is (intentionally) vague about his or her well-being upon evacuation.

We're suggesting that the declassified version of the ARB report insinuates that of the Americans who were at the Consulate when the attack began, the three survivors were so wounded that they were in no position to be debriefed until much later -- days, if not weeks.

So why didn't Hillary bring this up? Well, she did. It's how she began answering Johnson's question about "misleading the American public." Johnson didn't seem to care for that explanation, so he tries to cut in at 3:14, but Clinton keeping moving on and even goes on to address the allegation that Clinton, Rice or anyone else in the administration "purposely misled" anyone. That's sort of the prelude to all hell breaking loose.

The conclusion of Johnson's piece is, as usual, a mess:
Our diplomatic forces in Benghazi were denied the security they repeatedly requested for many months before Sept. 11, 2012. Secretary Clinton stated that she was not told of those desperate requests in the most dangerous region in the world. As a result, our people in Benghazi were ill-prepared to repel or avoid that attack, and four Americans were murdered. For many days after the event, the American people were also misinformed as to the nature and perpetrators of that attack.
That Johnson should equate the deaths of four American foreign service officers in the line of duty with Johnson's imagined conspiracy is as insulting to their memory as it is craven and demeaning to just about any discussion.

In truth, Benghazi is a failure of leadership — before, during and after the terrorist attack.  
To answer Secretary Clinton, it does make a difference. It matters enormously for the American public to know whether or not their president and members of his administration are on top of a crisis and telling them the truth.
All of this is just lip service. Johnson has no interest in finding 'the truth" about what happened in Benghazi. Most of the answers he purports to seek are actually in the ARB report. Johnson sole interest in Benghazi is for use as a political cudgel. Nothing will convince him that there wasn't a "talking points cover-up" designed to willfully mislead the American public, because, to be perfectly honest, Johnson's epistemology isn't all that different from 9/11 Truthers or other conspiracy theorists in so far as they each share an almost pathological inability to critically examine a brief that comfortably fits into their worldviews. Johnson loathes the Obama Administration, therefore all that they do isn't merely wrong, but criminally so.

Unfortunately, today was the best press day of Johnson's career in politics. Johnson's been trying desperately to earn media exposure like this since being elected to the Senate, but failing miserably, to get attention. Today has likely been the first day of his Washington career that his press secretary had to juggle multiple interview requests, and the lesson he's likely going to walk away from this experience is that people will pay attention to me when he's acting like an asshole.

So the next time Johnson brings up Benghazi -- and it will happen, folks -- let the reporter or the token Democrat on FOX or even Hillary Clinton  herself demand Johnson provide evidence to support his theory of a massive Benghazi "talking points cover-up." Anything: an affidavit from a witness, an internal State Department memo, video footage from the consulate. Anything. We already knows no such evidence exists -- we're just really interested in Johnston's explanation as to why that is.

Lastly, we want to point out the massive gulf between the events of the hearing as they are recorded on video for posterity versus Johnson's recollection of those only a dozen hours later. Johnson's own article demonstrates a person who is already confusing important details and forgetting critical facts. Some of his article is downright delusional. If Johnson's memory so poorly serves him over only the course of a work day, then imagine how hard it would be for the survivors of the Benghazi attacks to try and piece together what they witnessed after a full night of ducking enemy fire, the trauma of severe wounds, seeing several of their colleagues killed, and hour after hour of fearing for their lives?

Johnson's preposterous claim that a simple phone call would have straightened any confusion surrounding the Benghazi fiasco is, at best, a profoundly crass attempt to score some political points. At worse, it's an insult to the survivor's resilience. Either way, it doesn't belong in the United States Senate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ron Johnson's Telling Conversation with Hillary Clinton

Before we get in the weeds of this post, let's first recall a helpful PR tip: Men in power can never appear to lose their temper or become frustrated with women in power. They just can't. They will never fail to walk away from the exchange appearing condescending and arrogant. It may not be fair, but "them's the breaks." This is why Joe Biden was all sweetness and light during his Vice Presidential debate with Sarah Palin in 2008; but glib, dismissive and downright surly during his debate with Paul Ryan last fall. If a man in power raises his voice or loses his cool during a conversation with a woman in power he will come off looking like a bully. Maybe worse.

Someone forgot to remind Ron Johnson of this principle before he met Hillary Clinton this morning. I don't necessarily think that Johnson crossed a line here during his line of questioning, but he certainly did take enough steps toward that line; enough to trigger the alarms of not just Clinton, but more than a few viewers too. The optics were not great for Johnson. To be sure, the garbled initial part of Clinton's answer wasn't very impressive either, but I would guess that more people will connect with her display of emotion than will try and parse her words anyway.

Which brings us back to the substance of Johnson's interrogation. Since almost the end of last September, Johnson's been pounding the Benghazi beat pretty hard, just about as hard as any other issue he's bothered touching during his short time in office. That's fine: there are some big issues to discuss over the incident, like the whether US involvement in Libya is appropriate in the first place? Is the security of our diplomatic missions being adequately addressed? Was the CIA's role in Benghazi compromised and were they the target of the terrorists? What, if any, was Al-Qaeda's involvement in the incident? Is there any connection between Benghazi to the recent events in Mali or the hostage crisis in Algeria; and, if so, does this make North Africa the new hotbed for Islamist extremism? Even a simple walk-through the tick-tock of events on the ground in Benghazi on September 11th would have been helpful. Instead, Johnson decided to focus on the process by which "taking points" were made and disseminated in Washington. This has been Johnson's singular focus from the very beginning, and it hasn't changed regardless of how often his questions have been answered.

(To be perfectly honest, the basic gist of Johnson's questions was so predictable that I'm a little disappointed Clinton didn't have a prepared response. The folks at State should have seen this coming. But that's another issue.)

So let's answer Johnson's question: Why didn't Clinton call up the rescued State Department employees as they were being evacuated from the consulate? Because victims of terrorist attacks need to be debriefed by people who are trained to do that sort of thing, hopefully while the event is still fresh in their memories, precisely so that the intelligence community can reconstruct the incident and determine what the hell actually happened. The end.

But Johnson already knows this ... or at least he should. There are a number of reasons while the official Benghazi story was slow to evolve and they start with CIA's involvement in the consulate and the attack. The White House -- and not just the Obama Administration, but any White House -- should be understandably reticent to reveal aspects of intelligence operations and procedures.

But Johnson already knows this, too (or at least he should); and that's what makes whacking the Benghazi pinata so appealing to him: the White House likely can't provide an adequate public explanation of events without revealing a national security secret or two. Johnson's opponents may not think he's too bright, but it does not take much to realize when you've backed someone into a lose-lose situation. No wonder Johnson's been trying to squeeze blood from the Benghazi stone, even if it means essentially accusing the administration of a cover-up ... something that's already been thoroughly debunked.

Now let's return to the optics of this morning one more time. We've talked about how Johnson's been going out of his way to alienate women voters before (see section #4, waaaaaay at the bottom), but it doesn't look like the Senator's done much to correct the problem. Whatever one may think about the exchange at the hearing this morning, following it up with an interview with Charlie Sykes during which Johnson basically dismissed Clinton's testimony as premeditated "emotional" evasiveness -- as if women aren't accused of being too emotional enough as it is -- will probably not endear him to ovarian electorate.

Sharper readers will notice that even though we just criticized Johnson for his "emotional" theory we praised Clinton for her use of emotion earlier in this post. Does that mean I'm talking out of both sides our my mouth? Nope, and here's why: most women will interpret Johnson's dismissal of Clinton as evoking female "emotional volatility" in general, but that's very clearly not what Clinton was trying to convey with her answer to Johnson's question. She was angry, angry that two dudes like Johnson and Sen. Rand Paul, a pair of men who cumulatively have as much experience in elected office as Clinton does solely at the State Department, were telling her how to do her job ... and in hindsight, no less. (She wasn't the only one.) No one needed to parse her words for Clinton to get that point across.

Except for Johnson, apparently.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Read the Federalist Papers with The Chief because You have nothing Better to Do

So we're going to try something new here at the Chief. In order to get infuse some regularity into the posts here, we're going to start something of a book club. Every week we'll read a small chunk and write up a post about it in hopes of generating some conversation. Since this blog mostly focuses on politics we decided to kick things off with The Federalist Papers.

If you don't have a copy, don't worry: the book is in the public domain, which means you can find a copy of the full text any number of places online (like here).

Here's the first reading assignment:
The Articles of Confederation and Federalist No. 1 for next Friday.
It's like four pages. Everyone's welcome. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how long we're going to sustain this project, but readers being into it will certainly encourage to us carry on.

MORE: We're adding the good old Articles of Confederation into the mix just provide some context.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rig the Vote!

You may have heard that Kenosha-native, RNC Chair, and newly bespectacled Reince Priebus has come out in support for a plan that would divvy up various (traditional Democratic) states' electoral college votes by congressional district. Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania have already introduced one such measure. There are any number of reasons why this is a dubious proposition (at best), but let's ignore all of them for a brief moment and suppose the opposite: that electoral college vote allocation by congressional district is what the people want.

There's still a fairly massive problem that must needs be addressed: when such a major change in the voting scheme should be implemented.

What I mean is this: typically, changes to laws that effect elected officials don't go live until the next change-over in government. Take the XXVII Amendment to the Constitution, for example, which rather succinctly states "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." This principle tends to guide a lot of in-house rules.

And just like congressional elections, the redistricting thereof is set on a regular schedule: immediately following the census that begins every decade. In other words, if the people of Wisconsin really want to divvy up their electoral college votes, it would appear that they would have to wait after the next redistricting to do so, or 2022 at the earliest. This is what both Maine and Nebraska did when they went to their current split formats: Maine changing from the all-in approach in 1972 and Nebraska doing so in 1992.

This would seem only fair because splitting electoral college votes by congressional district would increase the importance of the redistricting process immensely. Allowing voters the chance to offer input into the new districts would seem reasonable, if not essential, to the legitimacy of any change to the apportionment of EC votes. Changing the rules of the game so soon after the last census and redistricting process would mean two entire presidential elections in Wisconsin would pass under a cloud of illegitimacy.

But this is probably not going to happen in Wisconsin, not because the state GOP isn't looking for for any way to cling to power they can find -- they most certainly are -- but because the Governor's short term ambitions will likely interfere with the GOP long-term designs to "reform" the electoral college.

Scott Walker is running for President in 2016. We're fairly confident of this. Should he manage to become the GOP's nominee -- we're not confident about that at all -- he'll need to win Wisconsin in order to have an hope at winning the White House, especially if the Democrats are able to keep their current coalition of minority voters active (and you can bet a lame duck President Obama with little else left on his plate will be campaigning madly to do just that). Furthermore, he'll need to win all of Wisconsin's 10 electoral college votes -- not 5, not 7, but all of them -- to have any prayer at the White House. Even losing just three EC votes, which he would be sure to do under a plan to divvy up the state's EC votes by congressional district, represents a significant obstacle to winning the presidency for Walker.

Take, for example, the follow hypothetical scenario: Imagine that the states of Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin will all allocate their electoral college votes by congressional district in 2016. Since there's probably not going to be much change in the geography of the electorate between last November and 2016, we already know a lot about how a 2016 election would play itself out. Had 2012 been swing state congressional district electoral college vote free-for-all, Mitt Romney would have still lost 271-267, according to my admittedly very quick count. It should be clear just how important those extra three EC votes become under circumstances that can only be considered improbable, but presumably favorable to the GOP, for 2016: they literally mean the difference between a 4-point loss and a 2-point victory. Possible 2016 GOP Presidential nominee Scott Walker would be giving away the White House because he gave away three of his home state's electoral college votes. *

Now, there are undoubtedly a million scenario's wherein Walker's quick sacrifice of a trio of lowly pawns allows him to yell "Mate!" at the end of the game, but each of those hypotheticals ignore ignore a giant looming cloud that would hoover over the chess board ominously, and that's this: retreating to a congressional district EC vote strategy would be another phase in the GOP's march to irrelevance. It would represent a retrenchment to a bunker made up of aging, rural, white male voters at a time when it should be transforming itself for the future to compete with the Democrats multicultural coalition. Catering its messages and policies toward only those areas of the countries where it has a decent chance of winning isn't growing the party, it's shrinking it; and while it may help make Presidential races more competitive in the short term, the long-term consequences can only be considered catastrophic for the GOP.

* To be fair, and even under the very far-fetched fantasy described above, that's assuming the most competitive districts in these six states would have been treated no differently than any other district. In Wisconsin, Romney won the 7th and 8th CDs by a mere 3 and 4 points, respectively; and there were at least 15 other districts that Obama was within 5% of winning: two in Virginia (CD-4, CD-10), at least three in Pennsylvania (CD-3, CD-8, CD-15), at least three in Ohio (CD-10, CD-14, CD-15), three in Michigan (CD-6, CD-7, CD-8), and two in Florida (CD-7 and CD-25). Each of those districts would have been given even more special attention they likely already received during the actual 2012 campaign because they each represent opportunities for any GOP nominee to lose ground to a Democratic rival, but that's a topic for a future post.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Crappy Advice on Student Loans

Here's a pretty reliable rule of thumb: when Jonathan Krause says he has a "simple solution," the problem is almost certainly more complicated than Krause is capable of fathoming and his proposal will have negligible impact. Case in point: his laughable suggestion that cutting down on take-out and, I don't know, choosing to stay home and masturbate instead of going to the movies will solve the expanding student loan problem in this country. 

To begin with he seems to be under the impression that college student are so flush with cash that they have the financial means to buy cars that "will make [one's] co-workers jealous" and spring for lavish long weekends in Vegas, which is patently absurd for the typical college student. It's patently absurd for most recent college grads precisely because they're working off student loan debt.  Usually this gets worse during downturns in the economy when hiring is frozen and underemployment is rampant.

What Krause doesn't understand is that the profligate extracurricular spending of students actually has little to do with the explosion in student loans during the last decade, as the chart below explains:

The problem isn't video games, cheeseburgers and orgies in Vegas, as Krause seems to think. It's the cost of tuition, which has been exploding at a rate that's far outpacing wages:

So why is this happening? First off, more people than ever are going to college these days. That's a good thing, but it does come unintended consequences, and one of those is that there's a lot of demand for "good" schools. That means colleges and universities are free to hike up the cost, which is important because most public schools are not getting the funding they once enjoyed, but which are still under immense pressure to demonstrate value for tax-payers' investment.

Part of demonstrating that value is attracting top-notch students and most college administrators have determined that 18 years kids are fairly susceptible to bells and whistles like flashy new buildings. We've seen that here at UW-O, which seems to have constructed more new buildings in the last ten years than it had in many decades prior. Then there's the phenomenon one author calls the "prestige racket," wherein "good" schools try to enter the ranks of "elite" schools simply by increasing the cost of their education product. Yet another element is the growth of for-profit schools which increasingly gobbling up a good chunk of the total student loan pie:

Unfortunately, these for-profit institutions also incur higher loan default rates:

We could on and on with examples -- the fact of the matter is that the student loan bubble is anything but a problem with a "simple solution." The fact of the matter is that a college education is not what it used to be. The value of a college degree has declined while the cost of a diploma has blown up. This is a systemic problem that calls for solutions far more comprehensive and complex than "find a roommate on Craigslist."

People who went to college in the 60's, 70's and 80's enjoyed a far less expensive education than college students do today, and by just about every measure. It's not unreasonable for the kids who are picking up the bill today to be a bit resentful of older generations that got inexpensive degrees, but now don't want to pass on the savings to their kids. To condescendingly demand people with outstanding student loans continue a diet of Ramen noodles for sometimes decades after they leave school betrays an utter lack of understanding of the problem altogether.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Ron Johnson Senate Committee Shuffle

The Senator stays on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Budget committees. Neither are especially sexy these days, but nor are they unimportant. (To read about the the massive faux pas Johnson committed whilst on the Homeland Security panel last fall, go here.)

Johnson also moves from the Aging clique to the Small Business huddle. While this seems like a much more logical place for Johnson, the Aging committee does periodicity meddle in Medicare and Social Security affairs -- precisely the kind of entitlement spending Johnson has expressed on numerous occasions he wishes to reform. The Small Business committee -- which, to be perfectly honest, I only found out existed this afternoon -- seems like a kind of Senate Island of Misfits Toys. I gather Mitch McConnell must have been listening all those times Johnson reminded his colleagues that he's really just a small businessman from the Midwest, etc., etc.  and finally did something about it when it came to draw up committee assignments.

Johnson was also given a spot on the Foreign Relations committee ... for some reason. International affairs is something Johnson has avoided like the plague in most cases -- save his conspiracy mongering over Benghazi -- and is an area that is clearly out of his wheelhouse. Then again, the entire GOP side of the committee looks like a knee-jerk anti-Model United Nations team.

Foreign Relations is an odd fit for Johnson, especially since it comes at the expense of his seat on the Appropriations Committee, which is usually considered to be the most powerful committee in the Senate. This is a clear step int he wrong direction given Johnson's skill set. Yes, there is a good deal of prestige being on the FR committee, but simply sitting on the committee does not a Washington Greybeard one make. Usually the prestige comes with making dozens of diplomatic and "fact-finding" trips abroad, meeting with hundreds of foreign leaders and befriending them. Johnson seems to have a hard enough time doing that with members of his own party. A seat on the Appropriations committee guarantees the holder a certain measure of power; one can still be ignored on the FR committee, especially since there really isn't much along the lines of high profile diplomacy on the radar during the next congress.

It's difficult to look at these new committee assignments, at least in aggregate, as anything other than a disappointment. They either mark demotions or deployments to places where Johnson can be supervised by GOP Senators who know what they're doing. Senator is being put in his place and that place is on the back bench.

MORE: Forgot one: Commerce, Science and Transportation ... cue the rocket scientist jokes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What in God's Name was Ron Johnson doing voting for the Fiscal Cliff Deal?

So, Senator Johnson went on CNBC yesterday to sing yet another refrain of his hit single "Washington is broken!" Here's a sample, backed by the world's smallest violin:
“It’s an alternate universe. No, this — this place is a joke. I mean, bottom line, this is an absurd process,” Johnson said on CNBC. “It certainly proves the genius of our founding fathers that government should be limited. I mean, the fact that we have this place having such an enormous effect on our economy, on people’s livelihood, is wrong. It’s simply wrong.”
Unfortunately, Johnson continued to keep talking and eventually said:

The senator also decried the shady negotiations. “We’re here at the end of the year, a couple of elected officials with their unelected staffs, are doing these deals behind closed doors,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happening behind there. Am I all of a sudden going to get a product sometime in the middle of the day and say, ‘you’ve got to vote on it right away’? I mean, that is an absurd process.” 

So Johnson is basically admitting on national TV that he has no input or pull into the "fiscal cliff" negotiations whatsoever.

Much of the trick to using power effectively is creating the perception that one actually has power. For a sitting United States Senator to go on national television and say "I'm utterly irrelevant" is pretty extraordinary. I'd call it a rookie mistake, but Johnson is no longer a rookie and doesn't show any signs of correcting this issue any time soon.

By the way, Johnson ended up voting for the deal, which makes all the whining he did on cable TV earlier in the day look utterly absurd. It's very difficult to understate just how much this vote undermines Johnson's entire self-stated purpose for being in the Senate. It only took Johnson a matter of 12 hours between complaining about a problem to becoming part of it, at least according to his own estimation.