The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Archive for January, 2010

New Student Loan Cap

Posted by brightcoast on January 27, 2010

Some info here. It would basically lower the amount of your discretionary income allocable to student loan payments, as a percentage of the poverty level, and would forgive governmental loans after 20 years, rather than 25. What is not clear is whether this only applies to a particular sort of job, e.g. governmental or nonprofit–in which case it doesn’t really change too much for those who are unable to secure those jobs in the first place, e.g. those of us who have applied to certain non-profit agencies and received no response, or have been told that certain non-profit agencies are only hiring “volunteer” (i.e. unpaid) attorneys at this time. If it does, however, apply to anyone with student loans in any sort of job, then this is potentially major news…

By the way, still have not received my Bar Study Loan, way to go Sallie Mae. I called them today to no avail. It must really be hard working there, such a challenging task. I look forward to talking to you again ten more times.

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So, It’s Raining

Posted by brightcoast on January 21, 2010

Here’s an article detailing the future disaster of people who are refusing to evacuate–eventhough they are being warned that future rescue may not be possible. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

By the way, many California Homeowner’s Insurance policies specifically exclude damage caused by earth movement–i.e. earthquakes and mudslides, so now would be a good time to purchase this essential supplement.

I think John Brown has the right idea…

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More on Massachusetts

Posted by demkid on January 21, 2010

First, what went wrong?  Nate Silver uses some hypothetical numbers to explain how President Obama’s 26-point November 2008 MA victory moved to a 5-point Martha Coakley loss yesterday:

If you follow through on the math, this would suggest that Coakley would have won by about 8 points, rather than losing by 5, had the national environment not deteriorated so significantly for Democrats. It suggests that the Democrats would have won by 9 points, rather than losing by 5, had the candidate been someone other than Coakley. And it suggests that the race would have been a 1-point loss (that is, basically too close to call), rather than a 5-point loss, even if Coakley had run such a bad campaign and even if the national environment had deteriorated as much as it has, but had there not been the unusual circumstances associated with this particular election.

Second, what does this all mean going forward in this election year?  Well, if you like punditry, like I do, there’s enough to read coming out of yesterday’s senate election to keep a political junkie occupied for a long while.  Some of my favorites:

Obama has one big job ahead: He has to let people know not only that he won’t fold his tents but also that he understands the anger, confusion, impatience, irritation, and skepticism that are abroad in the land.

Obama’s attempts to find compromise solutions did not stop Republicans from labelling him as a radical – or their nutty tea-party allies from calling him a “socialist” and worse. And, in retrospect, that was going to happen no matter what he did. His real problem has been that, to his supporters, he looked as though he’d been sucked into the very system he was elected to reform.

The White House and the Democratic Party still have time to change course. Surely Obama knows his strategy of reaching out to Republicans was an utter failure. It’s time to try something new – not necessarily a lurch to the left, but a move toward passion and populism and idealism of the sort that impressed so many millions of Americans during Obama’s historic presidential campaign, and that we’ve seen so little of since then.

But if the lessons gleaned from Massachusetts stop with healthcare, something far more profound and potentially disruptive will have been missed. There is a deep and increasingly restive anger stirring in the country. Its focal points at the moment may seem to be healthcare and “big government,” but if there were a Republican in the White House, they might just as well be tax cuts and “limited government.” The fact is that the president and both parties’ congressional delegations have approval ratings under 50%.

For the moment, Mr. Obama enjoys no such reputation. His own starry-eyed supporters, who believed his rhetoric of change, are disillusioned to discover that he is a politician, not a messiah. His opponents, who once pretended to share his bipartisan instincts, are delighted to obstruct his agenda, even though they have no solutions of their own. He seems to be locked in partisan stasis despite the great mandate he won in November 2008 and the overwhelming Democratic majority. The result is that too many Americans today believe that he has accomplished little and forfeited their trust. They happen to be wrong—just as they were wrong when they dismissed the Clinton presidency less than halfway into his first term.

Democratic candidates in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts tried the same old approach to wooing these independents. Yet, in this environment, traditional attacks aren’t the silver bullet. Voters want to end “politics as usual” — grainy attack ads with forbidding disembodied voices sure doesn’t sound or look like change. This isn’t to suggest that Democrats simply drop negative advertising and go for a purely positive approach in the 2010 midterms. That won’t work. But they do need to do as much work in defining themselves as they do their opponents. This means finding a way to meet independent voters where they are now — angry and frustrated and fed up with Washington. Joining with them in this frustration while upholding the importance of a Democratic majority and a Democratic president is a tough balancing act. Good thing they have nine more months to figure out how to do it.

For those who think the dream is over, the proper response is: politics is not a dream to begin with. It’s hard work. And it rarely goes the way one expects it to go. Tuesday was proof enough of that.

Posted in Election 2010, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Should the MA Outcome Worry CA Dems?

Posted by demkid on January 19, 2010

In short, yes.  If a moderate Republican can beat a business-as-usual Democrat in what could be considered the bluest of blue states, someone like Barbara Boxer could be in for a serious fight in November.  Granted, Massachusetts has a high percentage of so-called “independents,” and Martha Coakley (or should I say Choakley?) couldn’t have run a more pathetic campaign, but California Democrats shouldn’t just assume that anyone with a “D” at the end of their name will automatically win in the Golden State.  While registered Democrats in California outnumber Republicans by about 15 points, on the whole, this state is still fairly moderate.  On the other hand, an engaged conservative movement could actually help a liberal senator like Boxer in the end.  She’ll have her best chance if Republicans put through a conservative candidate like Chuck Devore, but it should be noted that in recent polls, she still doesn’t poll over 50% against even him!  It will definitely be an interesting election season, and the Democratic Party better get going, or else a year from now we’ll have Governor Whitman and Senator Fiorina.

“We better get our act together – and quickly,” Newsom said. Voters “are so angry. They don’t feel that we’re paying attention to their needs, in terms of their jobs, and what’s going on at the grassroots, in their neighborhoods.”

For Boxer, a favorite Republican target, a GOP win in Massachusetts would be a particularly dark sign representing “not just the canary in the coal mine,” said Wade Randlett, a leading Silicon Valley fundraiser for Obama. “It’s the flock of dead ravens landing on the lawn.”

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Underpants Bomber Incident: Overblown?

Posted by demkid on January 11, 2010

Nice little article in next week’s Time about al-Qaeda’s decreased effectiveness in carrying out large-scale terrorist attacks.  The author cites increased pressure from both the West and fellow Muslims as the main reason why attacks have become less frequent and less potent.  He concludes:

[E]ven in places like Pakistan and Yemen where al-Qaeda or its affiliates retain some organizational presence, it is much harder to train lots of would-be terrorists for complex, mass-casualty attacks. In response, al-Qaeda seems to be relying more on solo operators, people like Abdulmutallab, Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan and Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan American arrested last year for allegedly plotting to blow up buildings in New York. These lone wolves are harder to catch, but they’re also less likely to do massive damage. Al-Qaeda’s new motto, according to New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly, seems to be “If you can’t do the big attacks, do the small attacks.” Not exactly cause for celebration, but certainly not cause for the hysteria that has gripped Washington since Christmas Day.

I don’t think this article would have worked too well had the terrorist succeeded and a plane full of people was blown all over the Detroit metro area, but I think the main point is a valid one.  We’re in a much better position security-wise than we were in 10 years ago, and it definitely tells you something when you consider that the best al-Qaeda can do is to get one guy on a plane with hard-to-ignite explosives in his pants.  Will we ever be 100% safe?  Probably not, but I trust that our security will effectively stay well ahead of a disorganized group of extremists.

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What’s Wrong With TV Dinners and Binge Drinking?

Posted by demkid on January 9, 2010

Well, if you’re the people who make the Quality of Life Index, quite a lot.  Apparently, those two things aren’t among the finer things in life, and it’s part of the reason why the Brits fell to 25th in the annual survey, now in its 30th year.  Ever so often, I see stories on Drudge about how the Brits are going out of control with their drinking, and the stories are often accompanied by pictures of people in compromising positions.  For a good example, we only have to look to this past New Years.  So, Lithuania is now a “better place to live” than the UK.  Pretty sad!  Topping the Quality of Life list for the fifth year in a row are the French (but why would anyone want to live around a bunch of French people??), and the United States fell to 7th “because of the economic crisis.”  More on France:

Working hours are far shorter than those of their stressed British neighbours, who have less holiday entitlement too. The French take most of August off, view Sunday leisure as sacrosanct, and have more public holidays, as well as a lower crime rate.

‘In France, life is savoured,’ said Jackie Flynn, publisher of International Living. ‘I don’t think anyone will argue that France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The French love tidy gardens, pretty sidewalk cafes, and clean streets. Cities are well tended and with little crime.’

Variety is also seen as a major factor in France’s appeal, with the survey noting: ‘Romantic Paris offers the best of everything, but services don’t fall away in Alsace’s wine villages, in wild and lovely Corsica, in lavender-scented Provence. Or in the Languedoc of the troubadors, bathed in Mediterranean sunlight.’

I guess I’m just old fashioned, but I’ll take laying face down in your own vomit with your pants around your ankles over sipping a glass of wine on the Champs-Elysees anyday!  Or, maybe I’ll just compromise and move to Australia.  Or Germany. 

Germany is widely praised for its efficiency and leisure facilities, with the magazine noting that ‘the Harz Mountains now has a specialist hiking trail for nudists. Germany is arguably the world’s most naturist-friendly country’.

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Sallie Mae

Posted by brightcoast on January 8, 2010

Seriously, I am on hold with Sallie Mae for maybe the 6th time since I applied for my Bar Study Loan in AUGUST. Apparently they are incapable of loaning to creditworthy customers who are actually willing to pay back the 10% interest, or whatever ridiculous APR they are charging.

What is the problem? I don’t know, they don’t know either. At first it was we are waiting to hear back from financial aid, then it was oh we need a transcript, eventhough we never mentioned that to you before. Then, it was oh actually you can’t send a transcript because you are still in school. Great, glad I wasted $5 and my time. I was on hold an additional 45 minutes the last time I called them.

You’d think that lenders would actually want to keep customers, apparently not. Let’s just hope they can get it together so that I can actually pay for the Bar Exam this century.

Update: They cancelled my loan because the credit information expired. Pure genius!

Additional update: On the phone for over an hour so far, problem still not fixed. Asked my income: $0; checking?: $0; savings: $0. Re you employed?: (thinking, oh yes and I work for free), No. Great it’ll just be another 2 days before you can get off the phone…

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Pay My Speeding Ticket? No Thanks!

Posted by demkid on January 8, 2010

I found this story amusing, particularly because I had a close call with one of these devices while I was in Phoenix last March for spring training.  I was entering the freeway on an onramp, following another car at a reasonable speed, and all of a sudden I saw a couple flashes from a camera stationed in the median.  I was sure I’d get a hefty ticket in the mail, but fortunately, nothing arrived.  While I was anxiously waiting, I did a bit of research on the Arizona speed cameras, which had been introduced in September 2008.  I learned that out-of-state drivers were fairly safe, because the tickets become invalid if violators who ignore them aren’t personally served within three months.  It didn’t seem like Arizona process servers would have the resources to travel to other states to serve speeding tickets.  I wonder how many other states have similar laws requiring personal service?  In any case, it seems like these speed cameras may become a thing of the past, because the state is having a difficult time collecting money, even from in-state residents! 

Profits are far below expectations, a citizen effort to ban the cameras is gaining steam, the governor has said she does not like the program, and more and more drivers are ignoring the tickets they get in the mail after hearing from fellow speeders that there are often no consequences to doing so.

The cameras led to more than 700,000 tickets to drivers going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit from September 2008 to September 2009, the most recent data available, according to the Department of Public Safety. The mandated fines and surcharges on all those tickets would total more than $127 million, but they had generated just $36.8 million through September, Lieutenant King said.

Some of the people who got those tickets are contesting them in court and could end up having to pay the fine, but many of them have gone unpaid because drivers know they have a good shot at getting away with ignoring them. When people get tickets, they can pay without question, request a court date and fight the ticket, or simply ignore the ticket because law enforcement cannot prove they received it. The ticket becomes invalid if a violator who ignores it is not served in person within three months. It is nearly impossible to say how many people have ignored their tickets because courts do not track the figure.

Whatever the figure, overtaxed process servers cannot get to most of those people, and many of the citations go unpaid. That is part of the reason the speed cameras have not made as much money as expected.

Hmm.  Seems like Arizona should change their law to not require personal service for these types of offenses, but I’m sure this is more difficult to accomplish than it seems.  It’s just nice to know that when I’m back in the state this March, all I’ll have to worry about is the AHP, and not these tacky-looking cameras.

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Right Coasters’ Favorite Pollster Under Fire

Posted by demkid on January 3, 2010

And that pollster is none other than Scott Rasmussen.  A story posted at Politico over the weekend discusses the “hardening conventional wisdom among prominent liberal bloggers and many Democrats that Rasmussen Reports polls are, at best, the result of a flawed polling model and, at worst, designed to undermine Democratic politicians and the party’s national agenda.”  As a moderate and someone who’s been interested in polling for many years, I try and be as fair as possible when the issue of pollster bias arises.  More needs to exist than simply a consistent skewing of poll results from the average for me to believe that the pollster has an ulterior motive or hidden agenda.  Who’s to say that the pollster whose results generally swing to one side or the other isn’t, in fact, the most accurate?  As Nate Silver explains in his post responding to the Politico story:

What Rasmussen has had is a “house effect”. So far in the 2010 cycle, their polling has consistently and predictably shown better results for Republican candidates than other polling firms have. But such house effects can emerge from legitimate differences of opinion about how to model the electorate.

To his credit, Rasmussen has had some accurate results in recent,  high-profile contests (2008 general election and NJ governor’s race, for instance).  However, even though Rasmussen Reports has had some good final poll results, evidence seems to continue piling up that more is going on than the utilization of a polling model that normally features a more conservative electorate. 

It’s not just the data that Rasmussen’s critics object to — they also have a problem with the way the firm frames questions in its automated polls, which are the staple of its work.

In August, for example, Rasmussen asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “It’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.”

“I think they write their questions in a way that supports a conservative interpretation of the world,” said [Democratic pollster Mark] Mellman. “In general, they tend to be among the worst polls for Democrats, and they phrase questions in ways that elicit less support for the Democratic point of view.”

Nate Silver expands on why Rasmussen should be questioned:

Likewise, Rasmussen recently produced a poll in which they purported to describe the Democratic health care plan to their respondents. Several other pollsters have found that support for the plan increases when it is actually described to respondents, but Rasmussen showed no such increase. However, the second sentence in their description reads: The plans before Congress would prohibit people from choosing insurance plans with lower premiums and higher deductibles. I don’t particularly know where this comes from; Rasmussen claims that its questions came from a ‘summary of the legislation provided by the New York Times’, but such a depiction of the health care policy appears nowhere in the New York Times article. But there it is in the Rasmussen survey, where it appears to be designed to build a relationship in the respondent’s mind between the Democratic plan and higher premiums.

[W]hen they do use unorthodox question wording, nine times out of ten it favors the conservative argument.

Silver also discusses Rasmussen’s choice of subject matter, and explains that “they have a knack for issuing polls at times which tend to dovetail with conservative media narratives.”  So, there are clear examples of why Scott Rasmussen shouldn’t be considered the most independent pollster out there.  However, I’m sure his polls will become more frequent in 2010, and conservatives (like our Right Coast friends) will continue to cite to these polls disproportionately to argue that President Obama and/or the Democratic Party are in trouble.  I get a kick out of how conservatives over-utilize Rasmussen polls, and many times his is the only poll cited in a particular blog post.  Conservatives particularly like to talk about Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking poll, which always has President Obama’s approval numbers significantly lower than the average of other pollsters.  This poll has always seemed a little weird to me, because Rasmussen also compares people who “strongly approve” of the president’s job performance with those who “strongly disapprove.”  He deems the difference in the numbers the “Presidential Approval Index.”  Sounds fancy, but when you think about it, isn’t there a significantly higher number of rabid right-wingers than their left-wing counterparts?  In this country, self-described conservatives always outnumber self-described liberals.  While a Presidential Approval Index of -18 seems dire for President Obama, should we really be surprised.  In any case, the main approve/disapprove figure can be (and has been) called into question, as well.  Rasmussen likes saying that he always uses “likely voters” in his polling, as opposed to all voters, or registered voters.  This may be the best way to go when polling just before an election, but presidential approval is another matter.  Unless I’m missing something, we don’t vote on whether or not we approve of President Obama’s job performance.  Why should only likely voters be used, then?  The Politico article discusses this:

But critics note that the practice of screening for only those voters regarded as most likely to head to the polls potentially weeds out younger and minority voters — who would be more likely to favor Democrats than Republicans.

 Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, said there was “huge concern right now” that Rasmussen was polling a universe of largely conservative-minded voters.

 “How is Rasmussen selecting likely voters almost a year before the election? And why would you even screen for likely voters in measuring presidential approval?” said Abramowitz. “My guess is that it’s heavily skewed toward older, white, Republican voters.”

There you go.  Sure, Rasmussen may be using this voter model, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so, but people should just be sure and think twice before viewing numbers from Rasmussen Reports as the most accurate around, and conservatives in the blogosphere should think twice before citing to Rasmussen 95-100% of the time.  I expect a decent amount of bias coming from the other side, but utilizing Rasmussen over and over again gets to be a little ridiculous!

Edit: Nate followed up with another post, entitled, Putting the [R] in [R]asmussen?  He starts:

ThinkProgress has discovered, by way of a cool new invention known as The Internet, that Scott Rasmussen has in fact been conducing polling on behalf of partisan clients, in particular the RNC and the Bush re-election campaign, both during 2003-04.

This appears to contradict all but the most absurdly lawyerly readings of a statement on Rasmussen Reports’ website, which reads: “Scott [Rasmussen] maintains his independence and has never been a campaign pollster or consultant for candidates seeking office.” The statement was also repeated word-for-word in a Politico article without any qualification.

OK, so we’ll score this The Internet 1, Politico’s fact-checking department 0, and Rasmussen a negative something for posting a blatantly misleading statement on their website.

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