Archive for May 2012
Draft legislation circulating among state lawmakers, lobbyists and advocacy groups would prohibit state and local government agencies from using projections of accelerated sea rise – due mainly to global warming and the melting of polar ice caps – when forming coasting development policies and regulations.
If enacted as written, the measure would require rates of sea-level rise to be determined using historical data “limited to the time period following the year 1900,” but not “scenarios of accelerated rates of sea level rise.”
Holy King Canute! Commanding the tides not to rise? That’s an awkward way to cope with change.
In a wholly admirable screed over in Scientific American, Scott Huler says:
Which, yes, is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.
Of course, it would cost more to build if you assume a faster rise in sea level, and some areas might, you know, be under water. Or very dangerous in a hurricane. Members of the Chamber of Commerce might lose money. We can’t have that.
So instead of coping with the reality of a rising Atlantic Ocean, the North Carolina legislature is choosing to live on that big river in Africa. You know. Denial. Dee Nile. Sheesh.
It should be clear to any reasonable person now that the Neocons, Teabaggers and Libertarians huddled under the Republican party banner have no solution to the country’s economic woes. WC will briefly examine the economic solutions of three Republican thinkers – for a given definition of “think” – to illustrate his point.
Paul Ryan is the Chair of the U.S. House Budget Committee. His solution is to further lower taxes on the rich, thereby decreasing federal revenue. That, Ryan claims, in defiance of economics, simple arithmetic and what his mother told him, will solve everything. Set aside the existing problems with income disparity, the utter failure of this strategy to work under President GW Bush and principles of fairness. To borrow the Neocons’ metaphor, can you solve your household budget shortfall by taking a pay cut? WC gives Paul Ryan a D- in Econ 101.
Chris Christie is the Republican governor of New Jersey. Just looking at him, you know he hasn’t missed many meals. He was so sure that New Jersey has recovered from the Great Recession that he decided to lower taxes on the rich. Then David Rosen, the state’s independent, nonpartisan budget analyst, told Jersey legislators that the state is staring at a $1.3 billion shortfall. Governor Christie’s response was to indulge in ad hominem fallacy and call Mr. Rosen “the Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers.” At last report, Gov. Christie has retired to his office to jiggle the numbers, but to leave his demand for a tax cut for the rich in place. WC gives Gov. Christie a D- in Econ 101, and a warning to watch his language.
And then there is former Governor and Presidential Wannabe The Mitt. He claims that he will balance the budget but his only specific proposals consist of huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy plus a promise not to cut defense spending. It’s that old Paul Ryan Voodoo again. Black magic economics. Watching The Mitt wiggle and dodge in Mark Halperin’s interview reminded WC of the Artful Dodger’s antics. WC gives The Mitt an I for Incomplete in Econ 101. He has two weeks to come up with something concrete, or get an F.
You can draw a couple of inferences from this trios’s artful dodging:
1. It’s not about reducing the deficits. It’s about reducing taxes, and specifically taxes on those kindly rich folks who are bankrolling the trio’s political campaigns. Ordinary citizens are invited to form an orderly queue and wait patiently for any crumbs that may be left without any promise, of course, that there will actually be crumbs.
2. They hold the voters in contempt. The election will decide whether the voters deserve that contempt.
Steve told me when he called me to his home about becoming CEO, he said “I witnessed what happened at Disney when Walt passed away.” He said people would go to meetings and say “What would Walt have done? What decision would he have made?”
He looked at me with those intense eyes that only he had, and told me to never ask what he would do. Just do what’s right.
There are worse guiding principles.
In the fall of 1968, Bill Wedenoja, one of WC’s dorm mates at the University of Oregon talked WC into attending a concert at The Fish Bowl by The Dillards, who were touring in support of a new album, Wheatstraw Suite. It was an eye-opener.
That night the Dillards performed electrified bluegrass music, with strong rock influences, in a themed concert, based largely on the new album but also exploring the history of American music. Songs like “Some Glad Morning,” performed a cappella by Doug Dillard, Rodney Dillard and Herb Pederson. Silly stuff like “The Biggest Whatever.” Extraordinary solo banjo work by Doug Dillard, unmatched until WC heard Bella Fleck. Electric guitar by Herb Pederson, in a bluegrass band. Drums, in a bluegrass band. A truly remarkable concert.
In its own way what The Dillards did on Wheatstraw Suite was as remarkable and controversial in bluegrass as Bob Dylan’s appearance with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The Dillards changed the rules.
WC spent some his hard-earned money on a copy of Wheatstraw Suite, which oddly enough doesn’t feature Doug Dillard. WC wore the vinyl out replaying it, and WC famously doesn’t like bluegrass.
Purist bluegrass fans were appalled by The Dillards’ electrification, but the group had immense influence, far beyond their limited popular success. They were a major influence on the California country-rock and folk-rock movement, and their sound was used by groups like The Eagles and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Doug Dillard gradually left the band that bore his name. He later teamed up with Gene Clark from the Byrds as Dillard & Clark. After a couple of influential but commercially unsuccessful albums, that group broke up and Doug Dillard moved through a series of bands before settling in as a studio musician in Nashville.
Doug Dillard died in Nashville May 16. His influence extended far beyond his fame. R.I.P., Doug.
There are many people who don’t know what real pressure is. Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.
- Barry Switzer, Retired Football Coach, 1986
Switzer’s famous quote (often attributed to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower’s fiery speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention) aptly summarizes one of WC’s major problems with The Mitt. The son of a multi-millionare, he has no idea, not a clue, how the silver-spoonless live or the problems they face every day. It’s a major source of his incredible blunders, too.
Not the only source, by any means. His inability to admit error, his willingness to abandon any principle or prior position to posture for a new constituency, his repeated outright, clumsy and stupid lies; those all arise from other, very troubling causes. He’s not merely clueless. He’s unscrupulous. And a man who cannot tell a joke, or utter a sincere-sounding laugh has personality problems.
WC is not looking forward to another five months of campaigning. Or the real risk that this spoiled rich kid will become president. We’ve recently had a spoiled rich kid as president. It didn’t work out so good.
WC will return to The Mitt, his stupid arrogance and his lack of scruples. Based upon the Joe Miller experience, it won’t do a lot of good. But Windmills Are a Specialty at Wickersham’s Conscience.
The U.S. mortgage industry imploded five years ago, but the financial consequences are still cascading through our economy. Here’s one to consider: what do these businesses all have in common?
DOA Holding Properties, LLC
DOA Properties IX (Lots-Other), LLC
EPRE LLC Equity Investment I, LLC
ETS of Virginia, Inc.
ETS of Washington, Inc.
Executive Trustee Services LLC
GMAC – RFC Holding Company, LLC
GMAC Model Home Finance I, LLC
GMAC Mortgage USA Corporation
GMAC Mortgage, LLC
GMAC Residential Holding Company, LLC
GMAC RH Settlement Service, LLC
GMACM Borrower LLC
GMACM REO LLC
GMACR Mortgage Products, LLC
HFN REO SUB II, LLC
Home Connects Lending Services, LLC
Homecomings Financial Real Estate Holdings, LLC
Homecomings Financial, LLC
Ladue Associates, Inc.
Passive Asset Transactions, LLC
PATI A, LLC PATI B, LLC
PATI Real Estate Holdings, LLC
|RAHI A, LLC
RAHI B, LLC
RAHI Real Estate Holdings, LLC
RCSFJV2004, LLCResidential Accredit Loans, Inc.
Residential Asset Mortgage Products, Inc.
Residential Asset Securities Corporation
Residential Capital, LLC
Residential Consumer Services of Alabama, LLC
Residential Consumer Services of Ohio, LLC
Residential Consumer Services of Texas, LLC
Residential Consumer Services, LLC
Residential Funding Company, LLC
Residential Funding Mortgage Exchange, LLC
Residential Funding Mortgage Securities I, Inc.
Residential Funding Mortgage Securities II, Inc.
Residential Funding Real Estate Holdings, LLC
Residential Mortgage Real Estate Holdings, LLC
RFC – GSAP Servicer Advance, LLC
RFC Asset Holdings II, LLC
RFC Asset Management, LLC RFC
RFC Construction Funding, LLC
RFC REO LLC
RFC SFJV-2002, LLC
The answer: they are all subsidiaries of GMAC. What used to be General Motors’ financial arm got spun off some years ago, heavily invested in mortgage loan financial instruments and took a real thrashing. Since the crash in 2008, GMAC has become Ally Bank, shifted all of its bad divisions into a new subsidiary called RESCAP, and last week put RESCAP into Chapter 11 to reorganize its debts.
So that long list of businesses is owned by RESCAP. And RESCAP is owned by by Ally Bank, nee GMAC, nee General Motors Acceptance Corporation. And who owns Ally Bank? You do, you the American taxpayer. To the extent of 73.8% of issued and outstanding shares. The next biggest shareholder is Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. You know, like The Mitt’s Bain Capital.
Oddly enough, Ally Bank as a whole was profitable, earning more than $1 billion in 2010. But its RESCAP subsidiary, where all of those carrion collateralized debt obligations had been dumped, was a serious drag. In fact, RESCAP contributed to Ally Bank’s failure to pass the Federal Reserve Bank’s “stress test” in March 2012. Hence, Chapter 11.
With 73.8% of the shares, the United States controls the board of directors of Ally Bank. So we have the picture of the United States voting to put part of a company it had rescued from financial ruin into bankruptcy. Which will doubtless injure the many creditors of RESCAP. None of whom are likely to be rescued from financial ruin by the U.S.
And a further consequence will be that all of the mortgages held by all of those various investors, Dietech through RFC, and likely others besides, will be frozen, with the homeowners unlikely to be able to work anything out, until the Chapter 11 is resolved. Those injured by RESCAP’s many subsidiaries won’t be able to pursue their claims. GMAC/Ally/RESCAP is headquartered in Michigan, and a high percentage of its loans are there. The Chapter 11 will add to that state’s misery. The federal government’s policy of helping homeowners saddled with bad loans will be deeply frustrated by . . . the federal government.
Even when every step along the way is logical and sensible, the outcomes can be contradictory, self-defeating and circular. GMAC Bank was too big to fail. The rest is just consequences.
The other night WC was at Creamer’s Refuge, photographing birds, and encountered Sandhill Crane behavior he hadn’t seen before.
There are still 100-125 Sandhill Cranes on the refuge. A few stay to breed, and some individuals will remain all summer and not bother to breed; they might be subadults. Most will leave, but just haven’t left yet.
There’s also a Red Fox on the refuge this spring, and it has been hunting smaller birds. This Red Fox got what appears to be a Pacific Golden Plover or a Black-bellied Plover. It’s hard to tell. But the Cranes were extremely unhappy about it. They were honking, hopping and flapping their wings and then, in a group of 25-30, rushed the Red Fox. They weren’t entirely happy about approaching a predator, but in this photo you can see some fly-hopping, some running and some hesitating. But collectively, they were attacking or bluffing an attack on the fox. And you can see the fox is not happy about it either. His posture is submissive, and his ears are down.
(Note: it was pretty late, the light was pretty bad and these photos aren’t great. And they are pretty steeply cropped. This was all happening a couple of hundred meters away.)
The fox eventually decided to make a break for it, and sprinted directly towards WC. The Cranes followed, driving the fox away, but not attempting to get ahead of it.
Unfortunately, about half a second after this photo, the fox saw WC and his camera, as did the cranes, and whole pattern of behavior changed. The big guy with the camera might have been seen as more dangerous than the fox, WC supposes, because the chase broke off, the fox dodged into the woods and the cranes returned to feeding.
It’s interesting that the cranes responded cooperatively to the threat of the predator, driving it off. If any naturalists have wandered over to this blog, WXC invites their observations.
One of the cool things about spring migration in Interior Alaska is the arrival of the sea ducks, waterfowl that spend most of their lives on the ocean, but migrate far inland to breed and raise their young. Here’s a sampling.
Easily the most spectacular of the Interior ducks, the Harlequin Duck deserves its name.
This extravagant species breeds on white-water streams in the mountains. It’s common the Alaska Range, and occasionally seen on the upper Chena River. A birding day with a Harlie in it is always a treat. This photo is from Rock Creek, along the Denali Highway.
Another pretty amazing species that travels to interior lakes to breed is the Surf Scoter, one of the three North American scoter species:
The spectacular schnozz on this guy makes it one of the easiest field identifications in Alaska. Surf Scoters aren’t present in big numbers, so it’s always a treat to find one. This guy was at 48 Mile Pond on Chena Hot Springs Road, snacking on fingerlings.
Less spectacular but still very handsome is the Long-tailed Duck:
Until pretty recently, this species was called Oldsquaw. In large flocks on the ocean, the calls are very much like muttering old women. Political correctness, and probably the right thing to do, but still. This species breeds in alpine lakes; this photo was taken along the Denali Highway.
The last species isn’t a duck; it’s a grebe, Alaska’s largest grebe. And political correctness hasn’t struck here yet. This is a Red-necked Grebe:
This species also likes lowland lakes. But unlike the ducks, Red-necks won’t tolerate other species on the lake or pond and drive them off, including their smaller, handsome cousins, Horned Grebes. This photo was taken at Wander Lake, on Wedgewood’s nature preserve.
They aren’t here long, any of them. But they are an excellent part of spring and summer.
On May 24, 2012, the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice released a heavily redacted Report on the prosecutor misconduct in the criminal case against the late Ted Stevens. It’s 672 pages long, with many redactions, with the redactions mostly focused on a couple of FBI Special Agents.
In WC’s view, there is no credible basis for redacting any part of the Report. See, e.g., pages 607-655, essentially all of which are completely redacted. And it’s more than a little ironic that a report focused on the government’s wrongful conduct in withholding information goes ahead and withholds substantial amounts of information.
Readers will recall that the special investigator appointed by Judge Sullivan, the trial judge in the case, found no basis for criminal charges against the prosecutors involved. The Office of Professional Responsibility report determines whether there were ethical violations warranting discipline by USDOJ.
From the unredacted portions of the Report that were released, and the sanctions imposed by the Office of Professional Responsibility, WC has the following comments:
- The imposition of sanctions on only the lower-level members of the prosecution team and the exoneration of the managers sends exactly the wrong signal to the USDOJ attorneys. Management should be held accountable for the misconduct of those they supervise. The Code of Professional Responsibility governs lawyers. In Alaska, Rule 5.1 requires a supervising lawyer to keep informed, and to make efforts to mitigate misconduct when it is discovered. By that standard, USDOJ lawyers Welch, Morris and Sullivan should not have been exonerated. It’s the wrong signal because it tells senior attorneys and supervisors to keep their eyes closed.
- In one sense, the sanctions imposed are trivial. One prosecutor is suspended without pay for 40 days; another for 15 days. It hardly qualifies as more than a light slap on the wrist.
- In another sense, the careers of those two prosecutors at USDOJ are probably over. If you are closely associated with an utter debacle, you get tarnished. It doesn’t even matter if you did nothing wrong. Hey, ask Ted Stevens if you think it isn’t true.
WC expects both prosecutors who were sanctioned will appeal.
There should be one more kind of scrutiny of the prosecutors’ conduct. The bar associations involved should have proceedings under way to determine if the Code of Professional Responsiblity (or whatever the ethical rules may be called in others states) were violated. Those proceedings are usually confidential until a decision is made. So who knows if and when anything will ever come out about them. Mr. Bottini is subject to Alaska rules. Stay tuned.
Perhaps someone will bring a FOIA request to obtain an unredacted copy of the Report. If a reader hears anything about such an effort, pass the word to WC.
One of the Neocon lies that seriously annoys WC is the claim that federal taxes “take money out of the economy.”
Government doesn’t take tax money out of the economy; it redistributes money taken in taxes back into the economy. In fact, since America borrows $0.40 of every $1.00 of government spending, the government is putting way more money into the economy than it is taking out in taxes.
Now, you can be against redistribution of wealth, you can call it socialism, and you can demand an end to it. But that’s not the same as assuming that money taken in taxes just disappears into some vast black hole of the Treasury Department. The Interstate Highway System was paid for by taxes, largely by a tax on gasoline. Did that money “disappear”? Social Security taxes go to folks who spend it on groceries, rent, health care and energy. Are the Neocons claiming that money “disappears,” too?
If you really want to take money out of circulation, if you really want to remove it from the American economy, you place it overseas. Like The Mitt. In his multi-million dollar Cayman Islands accounts. Or let your wealth sit in bank accounts at multi-national banks that refuse to lend it out.
Or put it places like JP Morgan Chase; now there’s a way to make money disappear.
WC has mentioned The Heartland Institute before. It’s the Neocon think tank that tries to dress as a sheep and talk about climate change: Bah, bah, bah.
The sheep disguise slipped off recently, when the Institute bought Cook County billboard space for this gem:
That’s objective analysis of global warming, isn’t it? That’s a reasoned response in a discussion about science.
There was a surprising amount of criticism to the billboard, and the billboard came down in 24 hours. Afterwards, not before, the Institute announced it had been an experiment. If the Institute thought that was a science experiment, that goes a long ways to explaining its confusion about the science of climate change.
In a blog post ranting about the public’s and donors’ reactions to the billboard, in sequential paragraphs, mainstream climate scientists and critics of the Institute’s efforts are first called Hitler-deniers and then Holocaust deniers. A failure of reflection, to say the least. Finally, the Institute takes refuge in that playground favorite, “he-called-me-names-first.” So a failure of maturity, as well.
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent for the British paper The Guardian, has identified the likely reason for the Institute’s schoolyard responses: the sponsors for their dubious climate conference are deserting in droves, and taking their checkbooks with them. Some staff have quit in protest.
Board directors quit, conference speakers cancelled at short-notice, and associates of long standing demanded Heartland remove their names from its website. The list of conference sponsors shrank by nearly half from 2010, and many of those listed sponsors are just websites operating on the rightwing fringe.
But the conference has been saved. Both the Illinois Coal Association and Heritage Foundation stepped in to fund this week’s conference, after other corporate donors began backing out in protest at the offensive Kaczynski ad. Of course, any remaining shreds of the institute’s credibility and claims to objectivity vanished with the Institute’s acceptance of money from the coal lobby.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with crackpot fringe groups is just to keep giving them rope.
WC has attempted earlier to explain how The Mitt’s private equity company, Bain Capital, worked. And how The Mitt got filthy rich.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has a different take, with illustrations:
[A tip of the hat to MoveOn.org, who sponsored this video.]
Note: Don’t try this at home, boys and girls.
Apparent Republican presidential nominee The Mitt is demonstrating a gift for getting it wrong. So, today only, we offer a two-for-one post.
1. Claims of Government Growth
Here’s a chart from Michael Linden guaranteed to make a neocon’s throat clog with bile:
Federal spending, federal revenue (taxes) and the annual budget deficit are all lower as a percentage of the gross domestic product since President Obama took office. That’s especially remarkable given the decline in the Gross domestic product as we have slowly struggled out of the Bush Recession.
It will annoy neocons, suck some of the wind out of The Mitt’s claims and require inventive distortions and lies for the Neocons and Christianists to fib their way out of these facts.
It’s also a sad commentary on the inability of President Obama to force through adequate recovery measures. If WC were in charge, there would have been increased deficit spending to create the jobs to get folks back to work.
President Obama inherited a catastrophe of a federal budget. Eleven years prior, when President Bush took the oath of office, there was a $281 billion surplus. By the time Obama was sworn in, there was a $1.2 trillion deficit. Inconvenient though it may be for neocons and other conservatives (especially wannabe conservaties who are running for president), the fact is is that spending, taxes and the deficit are all lower today than when President Obama took office. And with the conclusion of the war in Iraq and the gradual winding down of the war in Afghanistan, federal spending is poised to decline still more.
When The Mitt bemoans runaway federal spending, keep this chart in mind.
2. “Dark Day for Freedom”
Dateline May 3, 2012, New York City: Mitt Romney responded on Thursday to the conflict over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, saying if reports that the U.S. government pressured the man to leave an American embassy are true, “this is a dark day for freedom, and a day of shame for this administration.”
Dateline May 19, 2012, New York City: Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen arrives in New York City, with his family, in a triumph of American diplomacy, with relations with Republic of China preserved.
Not only did The Mitt violate the informal rule against presidential candidates commenting on ongoing foreign discussions. He put his foot in it. WC offers an signed copy of the bird photo of your choice to anyone who correctly predicts a retraction and apology from the Mitt.
While WC is a fan of science fiction, John Scalzi is not one of WC’s favorite writers. But he does run an entertaining blog, and his recent post, Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is has to be one of the best metaphors for the American condition WC has read in a while. You need to be familiar with role-playing games to really get it, but if you have even a passing acquaintance, WC thinks you’ll enjoy the post.
If you have the time, read some of the 800(!) comments to his post. Scalzi has WC’s respect for moderating each and every one of them.
[A hat tip to SKZB for the lead to this blog post.]
Texas has the highest rate of government-approved murders in the nation, now approaching four times higher than the next state. And Governor Rick Perry doesn’t even pretend that he cares. He doesn’t even bother to look.
But a new study by Columbia University’s law school, a book length article in its Human Rights Law Review, conclusively proves that Texas executed the wrong man in 1989. Columbia Law School worked nine years, not just to vindicate the wrongfully executed man, Carlos DeLuna, but to finger the guy who did it, Carlos Hernandez, who died of cirrhosis of the liver in May 1999 while he was in prison for narcotics charges. The cops stayed away from Hernandez in the DeLuna investigation, apparently, because he was working for the cops at the time.
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, ) as his character Admiral General Aladeen, flogging his new movie, The Dictator, said, ”What people call genocide in my country is just the judicial system in Texas.”
Of course, Sacha is just being outrageous. Right?
There’s a word for killing the wrong guy: homicide. Shouldn’t it be a crime when Texas does it?
The only elective office The Mitt has ever held was a single term as governor of Massachusetts. A purported flier from that campaign is making the Twitter and Facebook rounds:
The Mitt Himself has disclaimed the flier. The Mitt’s campaign director for the 2002 gubernatorial campaign claims not to have seen it. But a campaign volunteer says it is legit, and describes being sent to hand out the fliers after a 2002 gay pride parade in Boston. Occam’s Razor says it is legit.
Of course, this isn’t the only time The Mitt has been … confused … on this issue. In the January 8, 2012 Republican presidential wannabe debates, The Mitt said:
As you know, I don’t discriminate. And in the appointments that I made — when I was governor of Massachusetts, a member of my cabinet was gay. I appointed people to the bench, regardless of their sexual orientation. Made it very clear that, in my view, we should not discriminate in hiring policies, in legal policies.
Then he took a breath and said:
At the same time, from the very beginning, in 1994, I said to the gay community, ‘I do not favor same-sex marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage. And that has been my, my view. But, but if, if people are looking for someone who — who will discriminate against gays or will in any way — try and suggest that people, that, that have different sexual orientation don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me.
So he doesn’t discriminate against gays, but he does discriminate against gays. What part of “full rights” excludes marriage? WC supposes next The Mitt will say he doesn’t oppose equal rights for Blacks, provided they live on the south side of the railroad tracks. And that women are citizens, but shouldn’t be trusted with the right to vote. “Full rights” means “full rights,” not all rights except that ones his right wing constituency opposes.
WC doesn’t expect much of politicians in America any more. But he does expect better than this.
USA Today has a remarkable on-line database of the amounts Division I colleges are earning and spending on athletics. WC offers a couple cautions before you visit the site. First, only 227 schools are reported. Private universities (University of Southern California, Notre Dame and Stanford, to name three) don’t make the data for their schools available to the public. So it’s a sample, with many of the most interesting schools omitted. Second, you can waste a whole lot of time poking around in the database.
When you talk about money and Division I sports, you are talking almost exclusively about college football. Basketball is a distant second. The other sports don’t even make the financial footnotes. So the first question to ask as you see that the University of Texas spends $133,686,815 a year on sports is whether you are crippling enough young men. We know pretty well now that concussions suffered in high school and college football do permanent, devastating damage to a young brain.
But, you say, for almost all programs, they break even; revenue is equal to expenses. Some even “make” money. Sure, but that’s because in many cases they are subsidized by student fees, or direct appropriations, or payments by the state. Or in the case of WC’s alum, the University of Oregon, by sales of Nike sportswear mega-donor, Phil Knight. Virginia subsidizes its athletics to the extent of more than $12 million. Can we ask if that money could be better spent? How about tuition subsidies? Scholarships? Maybe for students whose GPA is higher than their time in the 40 yard dash?
There are a lot of myths about college football programs, and most of them are just that: myths. WC was resident advisor to a jock dorm at Oregon for a year. There’s not much you can tell WC about a “student athlete” that would be a surprise. More than once, WC signed a receipt to the Eugene Police Department for a drunken Duck football player hours after curfew. It’s unlikely to have changed. Oregon’s recently successful football program certainly hasn’t inspired WC to increase donations to his alma mater.
But ultimately it all comes down to our national values. The minimum starting salary in the NFL in 2011 was $325,000. The average starting salary for an elementary school teacher in Fairbanks is $37,000.
Is WC the only person who finds those numbers absurd?
Most readers are aware that WC is a lawyer in Real Life, or at least what passes for Real Life. Long-time readers know that WC is sharply critical of law schools and the law school industry.
According to Paul Campos, writing in Salon, the legal industry will generate 21,000 new jobs in 2012. Law schools will graduate 45,000 new lawyers from American Bar Association-accredited law schools. There’s a whole additional horde graduating from non-accredited law schools with degrees that are nearly worthless, even in California.
This blog post can almost stop there. There will be jobs for less than half of the new law school graduates.
But it’s worse. Most of those law school graduates will matriculate with student loans. The average student loan balance will be in the range of $150,000. The loan bears interest at the rate of 7.5% per year. That’s $937 in just interest every month. Most grads lucky enough to land jobs will start in the range of $30,000 – $60,000 year. Assuming you are making enough to pay off the loan over a 20 year term, that salary will never let you buy a house, create a retirement account or build a nest egg. And the unrelenting supply of new lawyers will make it tough to argue for raises. Or start your own shop.
You can argue that the interest rate is outrageous. The loans are nondischargeable in bankruptcy; there isn’t any real credit risk. Yet the rates are two or three times mortgage loans. But that’s the rate, and no one thinks they are coming down any time soon. You can argue that tuition of $40,000 – $60,000 per year is outrageous. But law school tuition continues to increase at multiples of the inflation rate. You can argue lawyer salaries are ridiculously low, especially for starting lawyers, but the law of supply and demand is even more unforgiving and inflexible than interest rates and tuition increases.
In fact, its pretty clear that in many cases, even among those young lawyers who can find work, it’s hard to argue that a legal education will ever pay for itself.
Don’t misunderstand, WC likes the practice of law, finds it intellectually rewarding and compared to, say, nature photography, financially rewarding. And stressful. And maddening. And sometimes infuriating.
But for a new young lawyer, who finished in the middle of his or her class? More like lifetime financial handcuffs.
Which is too bad. Alaska and the rest of America need bright, competent, skilled and hardworking young lawyers. Just not quite this many.
In 1967, Walt Disney made The Gnome-Mobile. It was was Ed Wynne’s last movie before he died, with Walter Brennan as both the crotchety old millionaire and the crotchety old king of the gnomes. It’s a pretty good, if largely forgotten, Disney flick.
One of the sets from the movie was a four-times life-size back seat of a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. The gnome actors would appear gnome-sized in the huge set.
You probably never wondered what happened to that set, but if you did, WC can now answer that nagging question. It’s part of an antique auto exhibit in Hickory Corners, Michigan, a part of the Gilmore Museum. And open to the public:
Identification of Mrs. WC in this photo is left as an exercise to the reader.
N.B. This photo was not taken by WC.
The Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, is the largest native North American waterfowl and the heaviest native North American bird at 28 pounds or so. It’s also one of modern conservation’s modest success stories.
In 1935, the feather, quill and skin trade had brought the population in the Lower 48 down to just 69 individuals, although the census likely did not count all of the birds in Canada and Alaska. By any measure, the species was in deep trouble. As recently as 1949, the Director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service still considered Trumpeter Swans “the fourth rarest bird now remaining in America.”
In 2005, the census counted almost 35,000 birds, an increase of 11,000 or so from 2000. Still a tiny fraction of their original population, but a significant recovery. The species remains extirpated across much of its historic range, despite transplanting efforts.
Long-lived, slow-maturing and mating for life, Trumpeters in the wild typically only produce one small brood a year. These factors have made their recovery slow, although some researchers also blame the depleted gene pool for part of the slow recovery.
But the biggest problems facing Trumpeter Swans are all man-made. Habitat loss has been somewhat slowed with the creation of more wildlife refuges, but these are big birds and, particularly in winter, the carrying capacity of the remaining wetlands may further slow population recovery. High densities of birds in those remaining wetlands is also a disease concern.
A bigger problem is lead in the environment. There are three sources: lead shot from duck hunters, lead sinkers from fishermen/women, and plants that concentrate lead emitted by coal-burning power plants. Trumpeter Swans seem to be unusually susceptible to lead poisoning, particularly cygnets. Nor is it just lead. There are documented deaths of Trumpeter Swans from white phosphorous poisoning on the Eagle River Flats, a consequence of military training at Fort Richardson.
The third problem facing swans is that they typically migrate and make foraging flights at low altitudes, making them susceptible to illegal hunting. Presumably, the criminals who shoot Trumpeter Swans are the same idiots who shoot roadside signs. Swan meat, by all accounts, is tough and unpalatable.
A final problem facing Trumpeters is the creation of man-made barriers to migration. Because of their relatively low flight altitudes, power lines, buildings and wind-powered electricity “farms” present real hazards to migrating and foraging birds.
So we can all give ourselves a very light pat on the back for saving Trumpeter Swans as a wild species. They aren’t completely recovered, and still face serious threats, but in Interior Alaska the spring skies are still filled with their honking calls.