Why Johnny can’t write …

April 18, 2019

Faculty colleagues and I often bemoaned that there seems to be a consensus that writing skills among MBA students have been declining.

I’m not talking about flowery prose and precise grammar.

I’m talking about logical argumentation … being able to explain why something is happening and what to do about it.

My hypothesis was that colleges aren’t requiring students to take courses (or demonstrate proficiency) in, say, critical thinking or logic … and that college students today aren’t required to write many papers that hone their thinking and writing skills.

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Testing my hypothesis on a middle school math teacher-friend, I got a rude awakening …

Read the rest of this entry »

More Disney: How does Mickey fingerprint me?

April 17, 2019

The tech behind biometric fingerprints

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In prior posts, I gushed over the technology applications at Disney World … and recounted the plausible explanations for why Mickey digitally records guests’ fingerprints when then enter the park.

Ostensibly, the purpose is fraud protection – keeping folks from passing along their partially used tickets for reuse.

Of course, there are other sorts of uses for digital fingerprints (e.g. catching bad guys) … and ways that the information can be misused.

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With my curiosity aroused, I did some digging re: digital fingerprints.

Read the rest of this entry »

More Disney: Why is Mickey fingerprinting me?

April 16, 2019

A plausible “why” and a very interesting “how”.
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In a prior post Seriously, why not outsource TSA ops to Disney? , I gushed over the technology applications at Disney World … the Magic Bands than let me into my hotel room & the park, Fast-Passed me to the front of lines, and “personalized” my family’s experience with real-time greetings and photos.

I noted that I was digitally fingerprinted when I entered the park and asked if anybody could tell me why.

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A couple of loyal readers clued me and provoked some digging.

Here’s what I learned …

Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously, why not outsource TSA ops to Disney?

April 15, 2019

Disney’s technology applications are impressive (and effective)
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Last week, I took a  fact-finding trip (aka. family vacation) to Disney World.

Once again, I was blown away by the park’s technology and security operations ….

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No surprise, there was a huge rush of “guests” entering the Magic Kingdom when the gates opened at 8 a.m.

The crowd measured into the thousands … all needing to be security-screened.

All bags and strollers had to be hand-checked … all kids – big & little – had to be ushered through metal detectors.

Nightmare, right?

Maybe at the airport, but not at Disney.

Our wait & processing time: less than 10 minutes.

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Then came the good part…

Read the rest of this entry »

Do students really learn what’s taught?

April 11, 2019

Though I’ve retired from the practice, I’m still very engaged on education issues … especially whether our students (at all levels) are being adequately schooled to compete in the real world.

So, one of my summer reads is “What Schools Could Be” by Ted Dinterersmith – a well credentialed, experience-deep educator.

In a nutshell, author Ted Dintersmith spent a year visiting schools across the nation to identify outstanding teachers and catalog their secret sauces.

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One of the anecdotes that he recounts in the book hit one of my longstanding questions: Do students really learn what they’re being taught?

Read the rest of this entry »

How much “learning” is lost during summer vacation?

April 10, 2019

In his book Outliers, one of the topics that Malcolm Gladwell explored was the academic achievement gap between kids from low income families and kids from higher incomes families … even for kids attending the same schools.

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Malcolm uncovered  a learning dynamic that he coined the “summer slide”.

Read the rest of this entry »

The degree-earning gender gap…

April 9, 2019

An interesting analysis done by economist Mark Perry concludes:

Since 1982, women have earned 13 million more college degrees than men.

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Let’s drill down on those numbers…

Read the rest of this entry »

What do colleges have in common with Kohl’s?

April 8, 2019

I oft say that anybody who pays sticker price at Kohl’s should look over their shoulder to make sure that Darwin isn’t chasing them.

Maybe the same should be said of parents who pay list price tuition to fund their kiddies through college.

Lots of talk re: how college costs are soaring.

According to the WSJ

Published tuition rates have soared in the last decade, but only a small percentage of families actually pays full freight.

Between grants to needy students and merit scholarships to entice other desirable candidates, schools these days are giving back nearly 50% of gross tuition revenue in the form of aid and awards.

In other words, list prices are going up, but more stuff is being sold at sale prices.

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Increasingly, colleges are using pricing methods previously the domain of airlines and discount retailers …

Read the rest of this entry »

So, what explains student loan defaults?

April 5, 2019

Prompted by ideas being floated  to make colleges underwrite their their students’ loans, I’ve been doing some digging.

The most headlined explanations of student loan defaults report that over half of for-profit college students and over half of black students default on their loans.

The numbers may be true, but they’re more emotionally-charged than they are instructive.

So,  the left-leaning Brookings Institution drilled deeper on the headlined conclusions to understand what accounts for gaps in student loan defaults.

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Here are some of the more interesting conclusions from the “Evidence Speaks Report”…

Read the rest of this entry »

Should colleges be forced to underwrite student loans?

April 4, 2019

Sounds like a logical, easy fix, right?
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Yesterday, we posted about the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loan debt held by about 45 million former students.

We argued that that’s a problem because (1) The student loans fuel tuition increases by enabling colleges to fund inefficiencies (2) Servicing the debt load constrains borrowers lifestyle choices (e.g. marriage, home buying) by crowding out other debt capacity, and (3) When interest rates rise (and, they eventually will) repayment will pose an increasingly difficult challenge for many (most?) borrowers.

Following on that last point,  the default rate on student loans is about already 20% on average … with big differences by the type of school the borrower attended.

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What explains the differences?

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Student debt continues to skyrocket …

April 3, 2019

One of the byproducts of the recent college admissions scandal has been an elevated look at college attainment (i.e. what are students really learning) … and ballooning student debt.

Last week we looked at what students are really learning.

Now lets shift the spotlight to student debt.

First, some sobering statistics

Student debt has more than tripled since 2004, and is now over $1.5 trillion — second only to mortgage debt — and higher than both credit cards and auto loans.

That’s a problem because (1) The student loans fuel tuition increases by enabling colleges to fund inefficiencies (2) Servicing the debt load constrains borrowers lifestyle choices (e.g. marriage, home buying) by crowding out other debt capacity, and (3) When interest rates rise (and, they eventually will) repayment will pose an increasingly difficult challenge for many (most?) borrowers.

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Let’s drill down on that $1.5 trillion…

Read the rest of this entry »

Teachers with conservative views don’t make the cut.

April 2, 2019

Last week, we looked at the ACTA college ratings. They evaluate a school based on whether (or not) they require that students take courses (or demonstrate proficiency) in core subject areas such as math, science, and critical thinking.  And, ACTA reports scores on how well schools deliver on freedom of speech and diversity of thought. 

See Have colleges watered down their curriculums? and If your kids are college bound…

Bottom line: few schools receive stellar grades.

Wonder why?

Here’s one plausible explanation….

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GREAT article in the WSJ from MSB’s own John Hasnas – MSB Professor of Policy & Ethics: The One Kind of Diversity Colleges Avoid

His central point: When recruiting faculty, universities seek diversity by gender, race and nationality … but, not ideology.

In many instances, conservatives and libertarians need not apply.

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That conclusion probably doesn’t surprise many of you who already see the elephant in the middle of the room.

But, Prof. Hasnas provides some texture and “inside scoop”

Here are a couple of highlight snippets from the article … Read the rest of this entry »

In praise of math, logic, and Latin … say, what?

April 1, 2019

Classical educators argued that these disciplines are the building blocks of reasoning, problem-solving and critical thinking.

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The courses that I taught contained a heavy dose of problem-solving skills.

Early on, I’d assert my belief that that problem-solving skills can be taught – and, more importantly, learned – and set about to prove the point.

 

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I’ve been doing some summer reading on the topic of reasoning & problem-solving and learned:

“For twenty-six hundred years many philosophers and educators have been confident that reasoning could be taught.”

Read the rest of this entry »

If your kids are college bound…

March 29, 2019

Here’s a site that you must check out.
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In a prior post, we questioned: “Are colleges watering down their curriculums?” … and reported on  a survey conducted by American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

The ACTA criteria and methodology  specifically  assesses whether students are learning the “essential skills and knowledge” for work and for life.

The results: Only 2% of the surveyed schools earned an A grade from ACTA.

For details, see “Have colleges watered down their curriculums?”

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The overall statistics are interesting (and disappointing), but what’s more meaningful is how specific schools are doing.

Here’s how to find out…

Read the rest of this entry »

More: Have colleges watered down their curriculums?

March 28, 2019

A survey of 700 schools answers the question.
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In a prior post, we outlined the criteria and method that the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) used to assess whether students are learning the “essential skills and knowledge” for work and for life.

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In a nutshell, ACTA researchers culled through over 700 schools’ course catalogs and web sites to determine what courses were being offered and, more important, which courses were required of all students.

Specifically, they investigated whether undergraduates are gaining a reasonable college-level introduction in seven core subject areas:

  1. Composition & argumentation
  2. Literature and critical thinking
  3. Foreign language & culture
  4. U.S. government & history
  5. Economics: Macro, micro, behavioral
  6. Mathematics, logic & computer science
  7. Science & scientific experimentation.

Here’s what they found …

Read the rest of this entry »

Have colleges watered down their curriculums?

March 27, 2019

A survey seeks to  answer that question.
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In a prior  post, we reported that employers think that most college graduates are poorly prepared for the work force in such areas as critical thinking, communication and problem solving.

See A bigger college scandal than the recent admissions bruhaha…

Let’s dig a little deeper on that sentiment.

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The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) conducted a survey of “Core Requirements at our Nation’s Colleges and Universities” to determine what students are really learning in college.

Specifically, the ACTA survey focused on the courses that a student is required to take outside the major.

These courses — commonly called general education classes or the school’s core curriculum — are, according to the ACTA, “ the foundation of a school’s academic program”.

They are the courses “generally  designed to equip students with essential skills and knowledge” for work and for life.

Here is specifically what ACTA was looking for…

Read the rest of this entry »

A bigger college scandal than the recent admissions bruhaha…

March 26, 2019

Employers say that 9 of 10 college grads are poorly prepared.
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According to the WSJ

9 out of 10 business owners surveyed by the American Association Colleges and Universities said that recent college graduates as poorly prepared for the work force in such areas as critical thinking, communication and problem solving.

“Employers are say that they don’t care about all the knowledge you learned because it’s going to be out of date two minutes after you graduate … they care about whether you can continue to learn over time and solve complex problems.”

 

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Are employers being too critical?

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College admissions scandal: Much ado about nothing?

March 25, 2019

Maybe so, but it shines a spotlight on other college problems.
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It was easy to get caught up in the recent college admissions fiasco.

It had all the ingredients of popular scandal: rich celebrity stars and industry titans, elite colleges, outrageous (and illegal) adult behavior, sports abuses, social injustice.  All constantly re-fueled by continuous cable news looping.

Today, let’s step back and put the bruhaha into perspective.

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Nicholas Lemann – of Columbia’s School of Journalism – cut to the chase in the New Yorker:

Busting the admissions cheaters is the right thing to do, in addition to being emotionally satisfying.

But it won’t change America’s colleges much for the better.

Let’s drill down on that…

Read the rest of this entry »

NYT: “A vindication of the rule of law.”

March 23, 2019

“It may be that Mr. Trump has kept repeating his mantra of ‘no collusion’ because it’s true.”
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That’s a conclusion the the NYT editorial staff reached.

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But that conclusion was apparently tough for the Times to swallow, so the editors pulled a Comey in their editorial.

Remember when Comey said: “Here’s a list of all the laws and policies that Secretary Clinton violated, but no reasonable prosecutor would indict her”?

Well, the Times – apparently still grateful for the memo that Comey leaked to them to get the special counsel rolling – styled their editorial after his Clinton ruling.

After the obligatory reaffirmation of Robert Mueller as “a man whose name is synonymous with integrity and fairness”, the Times reheated all of allegations about collusion and obstruction that Mueller decided didn’t merit indictment.

The Times conceded (I think) that the investigation was ‘by the book’ and fair.

But, unlike the Clinton-Comey affair,  when the glee-dancing Times said that was time to turn the page, this time – since Trump is center stage – they declare:

William Barr, the attorney general, needs to release as much of Mr. Mueller’s work as he possibly can, and soon.

All Americans deserve the chance to review those findings and reach their own conclusions.

Whatever happened to “turn the page”?

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Are SAT scores income-biased?

March 22, 2019

The simple answer is ‘yes’, but it’s more complicated than that.
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I stumbled upon an interesting analysis…

According to Daniel Friedman  posting on Quillette.com:

There is a statistically significant relationship between family income and SAT scores.

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Let’s drill down on the numbers…

Read the rest of this entry »

Some “interesting” SAT results …

March 21, 2019

Since SAT scores  are in the news, here’s some perspective.
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The College Board publishes a “Total Group Profile Report” for  college-bound seniors.

Browsing it, a couple of sets of numbers caught my eye ….

Let’s start with math scores.

Two big takeaways:

(1) The gap between boys and girls narrowed from the 40 point difference in the 1970s to about 25 points … but has remained fairly constant at that level for about the past 20 years

(2) Scores for both boys and girls have been falling for the past dozen years or so.

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OK, boys outscore girls in math, but girls do better on the verbal part of the SATs, right?

Read the rest of this entry »

How to get your kids into good colleges … without cheating or bribing.

March 20, 2019

There’s a sure-fire method, but it isn’t easy.  It’s called parenting.

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Last week – in the wake of the college admissions scandal –  we posted about how Asian-American students are being admitted to highly selective (aka. ” elite”) high schools at increasingly high rates.

Why?

Because they are academic achievers.

Why?

In part because Asian-American parents place a high priority on education, drive their children to excel (especially in STEM academics) and provide their kids with extensive  extracurricular learning experiences (well beyond SAT prep classes).

And, oh yeah, they’ve probably gone to college … providing good role modeling and ready tutoring capabilities.

To that point …

The College Board published a  “Total Group Profile Report” for recent college-bound seniors …

One set of numbers caught my eye:

SAT scores by the student’s parents level of educational attainment.

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Note that about 2/3’s of the college-bound seniors taking the SAT came from homes with a degreed parent – either associate, bachelor or graduate.

Only about 1/3 came from homes with parents having only a high school education or less.

And, the performance differentials are substantial between the groups …

Read the rest of this entry »

Are “the meritorious” a protected class?

March 19, 2019

In a prior post, I opined  that an applicant to an elite college is “qualified” to attend that college if they have sufficient smarts and dedication to learning that it is reasonable to expect that they can successfully complete the coursework that’s required to earn a degree.

See Just how dumb are Lori Loughlin’s daughters?

If you buy that definition, then many (maybe most) of rejected applicants are qualified … but get rejected because there aren’t enough slots to accommodate all of them.

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Which raises another question: is there certainty that the most qualified students get offered admission?

Read the rest of this entry »

Just how dumb are Lori Loughlin’s daughters?

March 18, 2019

Or, the more pertinent question: Are Lori’s daughters “qualified” to attend USC?
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I hate to pick on Lori Loughlin’s daughters (<=not really) but, in the recent college admissions scandal, they’re the only  kids who have been outted (in detail) by the media … and, let’s be honest, they are easy targets.

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Evidence re: smart or dumb is scant – i.e. IQ or legit SAT scores haven’t been reported – but there are a couple of data points:

  1. The video loops on cable news are less than flattering (e.g. “I’m looking forward to the football games and parties” — not “the high level of intellectual challenge”);
  2. Lori’s stating that “I didn’t push my daughters to get A’s in high school” — suggests that they met their mom’s low bar and didn’t get many A’s;
  3. it took a whopping $500,000 to open USC’s “side door” for the girls — that suggests that the girls had a lot ground to make up.
  4. Lori shelled out the $500,000 (and allegedly committed a couple of felonies in the process) …that’s pretty dumb … and, at least some of everybody’s “smarts” comes via their parents DNA.

So, it seems reasonable to conclude that the girls aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Does that mean that they aren’t “qualified” to attend USC?  

That’s a trickier question…

Read the rest of this entry »

Why are Asian-American students dominating “elite” schools?

March 15, 2019

No, they don’t buy-off sports coaches and abuse standardized testing procedures. 
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Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (“TJ” for short), is a selective DC-area magnet school designed to provide an elite, high-tech education for the most academically gifted students in Northern Virginia.

The school offers rigorous study in advanced college-level offerings like electrodynamics, neurobiology, and artificial intelligence.

High octane academics, for sure … offered to the best and brightest.

What’s the rub?

Demographic mix.

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The school’s newly accepted Class of 2022 is 65 percent Asian, 23 percent white, five percent Hispanic, and two percent black.

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20 years ago, the concern was that Black and Hispanic representation at TJ was less than half their demographic mix in Fairfax County – the “feeder” county.

Several initiatives were launched to increase Black and Hispanic representation, including early identification and proactive outreach to high potential minority children; supplementary in-school and extracurricular programs to teach and mentor them; and more ready access to prep and gateway courses such as Algebra.

While undertaking those initiatives, something unexpected happened.

The numbers of Black and Hispanic students applying and enrolled at TJ remained stalled at the pre-initiative levels. So, that’s still a concern.

But, during the same time period (and unrelated to the minority initiatives), the number of white students declined sharply … and the number of Asian-American students has soared.

Why is that?

Read the rest of this entry »

Before climate change, there was the “Population Bomb”.

March 14, 2019

And, there are remarkable similarities.
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Recently, in one of her articulated streams of consciousness, AOC warned that we all would be toast in 12 years if global warming wasn’t arrested.

Time to metal-cube our SUVs and mass-slaughter the bovine-methane creatures, right?

Well, not so fast.

While AOC’s warning may come to fruition, I’m betting the over on the 12 years … in part, because it fits a pattern of hysterical unrealized doomsday predictions.

For example, circa. 1970, Prof. Paul Ehrlich  (Stanford University) wrote Malthusian-inspired book: The Population Bomb. The book became a runaway “scientific” best-seller.

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Smithonian.com

Ehrlich warned that because of unchecked population growth:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over.

Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.

All of us will face mass starvation on a dying planet.

While their were some deniers, demographers agreed almost unanimously with Ehrlich’s doomsday prediction ….

Read the rest of this entry »

#3 – Why I’m lukewarm to climate change…

March 13, 2019

Reason #3: The “97% of scientists” baloney

For the record: I’m neither a denier nor a zealot …  so, according to British writer (& phrase-coiner) Matt Ridley, I’m a “lukewarmer”.

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Since AOC rolled out her Green New Deal, I’ve heard many left-leaning pundits spouting the oft-repeated but unsupported claim that 97% of scientists agree that climate change (nee, ‘global warming’) is real, man-caused and catastrophic.

Reason enough to flashback to our long ago post debunking the 97% malarkey.

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In a prior posts, I covered:

Reason #1Unsettling Science … I’ve gotten  cognitive whiplash from “Ice Age” u-turning to  “Global Warming”  …  which was slowed by an “18-year Pause” … and then wrapped in a catch-all “Climate Change”.

Reason #2Al Gore and his doomsday prediction …  in 2016 we passed his point of no return towards a true planetary emergency  … without the planet melting or exploding … and with Manhattan still above water (I think).

Let’s move on…

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My 3rd reason: The “97% of scientists” baloney.

This claim really gained traction when former President Obama tweeted:

“97% percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.”

Case closed, settled science, right?

Not so fast …

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Let’s start with a simple smell test:

Can you think of any issue that garners 97% agreement?

My bet is that 97%% of “scientists” don’t even agree that smoking causes cancer.

Pick your issue … 97% … really?

Doesn’t smell right to me, but maybe climate change the exception to the rule.

So, let’s deep dive the claim…

Read the rest of this entry »

The politics of the Supreme Court…

March 12, 2019

Conservatives are fretting (rightfully) that Roberts is trending liberal. 
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Let’s put SCOTUS political leanings in context….

Political scientists Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn developed  a measure to calibrate how liberal or conservative SCOTUS justices are … based on their rulings.

As near as I can tell, the measure is uncontested by either ideology.

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First, let’s pull some takeaways from the chart…

Read the rest of this entry »

OMG: One of Dem’s loose cannons unloads on Obama…

March 11, 2019

Congresswoman Omar: “Hope and change was just a mirage”
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Frosh Congresswoman ilhan Omer set off an anti-Israel, anti-Semite bruhaha last week.

That was broadly covered by the MSM.

But, the MSM has largely ignored the Congresswoman’s interview with left-leaning Politico.

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In the lPolitico: interview Omar is quoted as saying:

We can’t be only upset with Trump.

His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies.

They just were more polished than he is.

Who was she talking about?

Read the rest of this entry »

Bridge champ busted for doping … say, what?

March 8, 2019

More evidence that the world is continuing to get wackier and wackier…

Flashback: Last year, during the the 2018 Olympics, a  husband & wife mixed doubles curling team from  Russia was stripped of their bronze medals when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

You read that right: In the brute of all brute sports … CURLING!

For details. see our prior post Russia’s very bad week continues …

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The draconian action by the Olympic Committee struck me as a bit puritanical overkill.

But, it may have been outdone by the the World Bridge Federation…

Read the rest of this entry »

Border Chief: “System is at breaking point.”

March 7, 2019

Dems say that illegal crossings have declined in the past couple of years, evidence that that there is no crisis … and certainly no national emergency.

That narrative seems to have hit a bump in the road.

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Let’s drill down on the numbers…

Read the rest of this entry »

The (personal) economics of Medicare premiums

March 6, 2019

After paying Medicare taxes for years, weren’t the benefits supposed to be free?
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Yesterday, we argued that Medicare’s payroll taxes can thought of as prepaid premiums … that amortize to the equivalent of $10,000 per year over a retiree’s post-65 life span.

See Ouch: The (personal) economics of Medicare payroll taxes

And, we pointed out that the prepaid premiums are just the tip of the iceberg.

Once retired, the Feds collects additional annual Medicare premiums.

This may surprise pre-retirement folks who think that they pay in during their working years, but then get “free” healthcare insurance when they retire.

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Today, let’s take a look at Medicare premiums…

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Ouch: The (personal) economics of Medicare.

March 5, 2019

Over the years, I’ve anteed about $250,000 into the Medicare tax kitty.

And, you may have  thrown in more than you think!
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Motivated by Medicare for All hype coming from far-left-leaning Dems presidential candidates, I finally took a serious look at the buckos that I’ve thrown into the Medicare kitty over the years.

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I’d like to say that I was surprised, but I really wasn’t.

Here are the details…

Read the rest of this entry »

Trump may be wrong about the U.S. going socialist…

March 4, 2019

… AOC may be holding the matches, but the GOP tax reform provided the kindling. 

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Last week, I whined that – though I’m getting a tax refund this year – my income taxes went up in 2018.

I’m ok with that since I conclude that the corporate cuts turbo-charged the economy and the stock market … and my IRA account gains are much larger than my additional taxes.

But, I do have a mega-concern that I started touting way back in 2017 when the GOP tax reform was being crafted, debated and passed.

My mega-concern is the long-run tilt in voting dynamics, in the new age of the Green Dream, Medicare for All and Guaranteed Minimum Income (for those who are unable or unwilling to work).

Let’s start with a flashback…

Remember Mitt Romneys ill-timed observation about “47% of Americans”.

No, they weren’t Hillary’s “deplorables”, they were simply the folks who pay no Federal income taxes.

Well if the GOP tax plan got enacted … the 47% is still alive .. and now on steroids..

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Let’s drill down on the data…

Read the rest of this entry »

“Half of all U.S. colleges to close or go bankrupt in the next decade”

March 1, 2019

That’s the gloomy prediction of disruption guru Clayton Christensen
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And, it’s not just the tidal wave of online programs or ballooning college tuitions.

Moreso, Christensen’s prediction is on track, according to a WSJ recap of economist Nathan Grawe’s “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.”

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Grawe’s central thesis: Birthrates have plunged 13% since the Great Recession … and that “birth dearth” will cost America 450,000 fewer college applicants in the 2020s.

Here are some of the specifics….

Read the rest of this entry »

America’s “Exhausted Majority”…

February 28, 2019

Can they muscle up to pull us together?
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A lot of punditry these days about American Tribalism … categorizing people by common interests …  usually with a demographic slant (i.e. race. gender, and location – urban, rural; coastal or Heartland).

Those “tribes” are usually characterized as warring factions with little in common.

The result: sharp differences and apparently intractable political polarization.

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An organization called More in Common did some research that takes a different cut at the situation.

Their study – America’s Hidden Tribes – identified seven distinct groups of Americans. These are our Hidden Tribes of America: distinguished not by who they are or what they look like, but what they believe. (Below – at end of this post – are descriptions of the groups)

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The study reached three fundamental conclusions…

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s official: my tax refund is bigger this year…

February 27, 2019

But, to my dismay, my taxes increased
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These days, all the publicity is about people who are getting smaller tax refunds this year … clear evidence, they say, that Trump lied about cutting middle class taxes.

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Not really.

People seem to easily confuse “refunds” with “taxes paid”.

Of course, the relevant measure is “taxes paid” … and, most middle-classers are paying less in taxes.

But, behavioral economics and psychology kick in … and, people wrongly focus on their refunds.

If I did that, I’d be feeling great today

Last year, I had to write a check to the government.  Ouch.  This year, I’m getting a statistically insignificant refund.

Good news, right?

Nope … because my taxes went up.

My income stayed about the same … so the increase was due to the tax law changes.

When I drilled down on the causes & effects, I got a few surprises….

Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Senate won’t rescind Trump’s emergency declaration….

February 26, 2019

Yesterday, we argued the case for Trump prevailing legally.

Again today, let’s set aside aside the question of “should he do it?” … and focus on “can he do it?”.

Specifically, will Trump survive a Congressional move to Undeclare his national emergency?

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OK, Pelosi is going to push through a resolution to “undeclare: Trump’s national emergency.

Dems will vote in lockstep, and the bill will will be passed over to the Senate.

Dems are ecstatic that a handful of GOP Senators are hinting may jump party lines and that enough my vote aye on the undeclaration.

Not so fast, grasshoppers.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t expect the Senate to pass the Undeclaration Resolution…

Read the rest of this entry »

Will Trump’s national emergency gambit survive legal challenges?

February 25, 2019

Loosely written laws and established precedents are on his side.
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For a moment, let’s set aside aside the question of “should he do it?” … and focus on “can he do it?”.

There’s a great legal analysis in the right-leaning Federalist that concludes

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You can (and should) read the whole  article. It weaves legal specifics with tight logic.

Here are my key takeaways…

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12 Rules for Life

February 22, 2019

Today, let’s take an inspiration break from the  socio-political messes in DC, Virginia and Chicago…

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg columnist who usually writes on the intersection of economics and politics.

On her 45th b-day, she penned her retrospective ‘12 Rules for Life’

A couple of her rules really resonated with me, starting with:

1. Be kind. Mean is easy; kind is hard. Making yourself feel bigger by making someone else feel small takes so little skill that 12-year-olds can do it.

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Here are the rest of my favorites, a link to the complete list, and a reason for the picture (#11) …

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Maybe there is a political middle…

February 21, 2019

In the old days it was called the “silent majority”
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yesterday, we reprised a post: America’s political polarization in 3 charts …

That analysis ended in 2014 … showing a double-humped distribution that had been separating over the past decade or so.

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New data is now available, so let’s advance the picture to 2017

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Source: WaPo analysis of Pew data

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The humps have spread further apart … indicating sharper polarization.

The peaks are higher … especially the one on the left,

Also, note the vanishing middle (the dark blue on the graphic).

Now, let’s drill down another level…

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America’s political polarization in 3 charts …

February 20, 2019

The hardening political divide in Washington remindsme of an interesting analysis that NBC’s Chuck Todd did a couple of years ago.

So, let’s flashback:

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It’s no secret that American politics has become increasingly – and maybe, irreversibly – polarized.

Of course, Obama lays blame on Trump and his band of ignorant deplorables.

Let’s look at some inconvenient facts from Todd’s analysis…

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As Meet the Press host Chuck Todd puts it:

Polarization is no longer just polluting the system — it’s paralyzing it.

The deepening divide between the right and the left has largely hollowed out the center of American politics.

Gone are the politicians who once occupied the large “middle” and the voters who once gravitated to them.

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The Pew Research Center has tracked party identity and ideology for decades.

One way they do it is by scoring the Republicans and Democrats on a 10-item scale of political values.

Based on the latest Pew data (from 2014), here’s where we stand:

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What the chart means …

Democrats cluster to the left, Republicans cluster to the right.

There is less than 10% in each party leaning ideologically to the left (or right) of the other party’s median.

That’s where we are.

How did we get here?

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “I have grit!”

February 19, 2019

What is this “grit” that she’s talking about?
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Announcing her presidential candidacy (in a snow storm), Sen. Amy “Minnesota Nice” Klobuchar declared:

“I don’t have a political machine. I don’t come from money. But what I do have is this: I have grit,” 

I doubt that Klobuchar was intentionally trying to channel Donald Trump, but …

You may remember that In his first SOTU, President Trump gave a shout-out to “American grit.”:

Together, we can reclaim our building heritage.

We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land.

And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.

So, what is this “grit” that they’re talking about?

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Trumps’s approval numbers on an uptick…

February 18, 2019

Last week, we posted Rasmussen poll results indicating that Trump’s approval got a bump after the SOTU.

See Trump approval up since SOTU…

Since Rasmussen leans right and doesn’t use classic interviewing techniques, it’s easy for some folks to dismiss the numbers.

But, Gallup is the gold standard of polling, right?

Well, the Rasmussen conclusion seems to be corroborated by Gallup.

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The most recent Gallup survey indicates that (1) Trump has more than bounced back from the shutdown dip, and (2) His approval – which is at a high water mark – is double that of Congress!

So, what’s going on?

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What you need to know about the border wall bruhaha…

February 15, 2019

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve put up a few posts addressing the border wall legislative mess.

To get you ready for weekend cocktail party debates on “the bill” and National Emergency, I’ve pulled together the posts into a sort of border wall primer.

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For openers, Dems like to say that Trump doesn’t have a plan … or that his defacto plan is “a concrete wall from sea to sea”.

Yes, the “build the wall” campaign rhetoric provides fodder for the sea-to-sea claimers, but Trumps plan (yes, there is one) has evolved to about 225 miles of steel slat barriers, strategically placed to slow the inbound flow across the borders and channel border crossers to bolstered “ports-of-entry.

See Cutting to the chase: What exactly is Trump demanding?

But, walls are ineffective and fundamentally immoral, right?

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Why Trump should feel ok about the border deal…

February 14, 2019

In technical terms. a binary switch got flipped.
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Pro-wall extremists are fretting that Trump got hosed since he only got $1.375 billion towards the border wall/

Not to worry, folks.

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The deal reminded me of an old story that provides some perspective…

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Maybe non-essential government employees should learn to code.

February 13, 2019

According to the WSJ, the partial government shutdown prompted government employees to test the job market

Evidence: job site Indeed.com reports that page views coming from government employees working for unfunded agencies surged during the partial government.

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ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn report similar surges in government employee activity.

But, the WSJ concludes that despite the booming economy “there’s no evidence that the job-searching led to an actual exodus from the federal government’s payrolls.”

Why is that?

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Trump’s next headache: ‘Unrecognized’ tax-cut benefits.

February 12, 2019

We warned about this  a year ago in the post

Will 143 million households notice that their taxes have been cut?

Regrettably, our prediction seems to be coming to fruition.

There have been a flurry articles citing tax preparers who are warning that,  tax refunds will be smaller this year … lower in average, with fewer people getting refunds.

Most recent IRS data support that claim: average refunds are down 8.4% from this time last year.

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That’s a big deal … and, will be a big headache for President Trump.

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Trump approval up since SOTU…

February 11, 2019

May put a new paint job on conference committee negotiations.
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First, a disclaimer of sorts.

Rasmussen skews right and its surveys are scoffed at by most traditional pollsters because they’re conducted without human contact … folks just answer questions via touch tone phone responses.

That said, I’ve found Rasmussen to be a good predictor on sensitive issues when people are reluctant to tell somebody what they think, but are willing to interact with an impersonal computer.

Bottom line:  Rasmussen says “Trump’s approval rating among likely voters has soared since the State of the Union and are at an all time high.”

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More specifically…

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West Virginia: Rebounding … and considering a name change.

February 11, 2019

According to the WSJ:

No state suffered more from the Obama regulatory assault than West Virginia as coal production and business investment plunged.

West Virginia’s revival started in early 2017 as coal and natural-gas production picked up.

Exports and the Trump Administration’s deregulation have lifted the industry.

Employment is up, wages are up … dependence on government programs is (e.g. food stamps, Medicaid) is down substantially,

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Now that West Virginia is back on it’s feet, there’s talk of a grassroots campaign for the state changing it’s name…

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