This should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the recent kerfuffle over Clemson University's admission that it spun its numbers to improve its U.S. News & World Report's ranking: On USNWR's peer assessment survey, which accounts for a quarter of a school's overall ranking, college administrators gave their own schools rave reviews while playing down competitor institutions.

Inside Higher Ed obtained copies of peer assessment surveys from 18 colleges and universities. "Haphazard responses" from "apathetic respondents" abounded. 

Some telling findings:

  • The presidents and/or provosts of 15 of the 18 universities rated their institutions “distinguished,” from Berkeley (no. 21 on last year’s list) to the University of Missouri at Columbia (No. 96).
  • At Berkeley in 2008, the chancellor rated other “top” publics -- including the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – “strong.” However, he rated all of the University of California campuses “distinguished,” with the exceptions of Santa Cruz and Riverside, which were also “strong.” (Merced was not on the list.)
  • In a 2009 survey, an official at the University of California at San Diego (No. 35) rated that campus “distinguished,” above the University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, Dartmouth College, Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University (all “strong”).
  • The president of the University of Florida (No. 49) rated his campus “distinguished” in this year’s survey -- along with Harvard, Stanford and MIT -- and no other institution in Florida above “good,” as reported by the Gainesville Sun.

Inside Higher Ed points out that this isn't really outright gaming—the peer assessment survey simply asks for opinions. What kind of administrator wouldn't play up his or her own institution? And according to University of Vermont president Daniel M. Fogel, even if you wanted to play fair, you'd likely end up working overtime: Fogel estimated that if one were to research each school on the survey before passing judgement, filling out the form would take ten hours.

USNWR releases its 2010 college rankings tomorrow.

Update: USNWR 2010 rankings are out, and so is the MoJo Mini College Guide.

Healthcare conspiracy theories continue to bubble up from right-wing chain email hell.  Ezra has the latest here.

Brad Plumer today:

A recurring source of anxiety among op-ed writers lately is the fear that China is winning some sort of clean-energy race. Earlier this month, venture capitalist John Doerr and GE head Jeffrey Immelt took to The Washington Post to fret that Chinese cars were 33 percent more efficient than U.S. cars, that China was investing ten times the fraction of its GDP on clean energy that the United States was, and that China was on track to generate five times as much wind power by 2020. "We are clearly not in the lead today," they concluded. "That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future."

Those pleas for stronger U.S. action have some merit....But framing these efforts as some sort of zero-sum competition, in which only the winners benefit, isn't quite right. The entire planet will benefit from cheaper, better sources of clean energy, and it's not as if we'll somehow "lose" if China makes a massive push to mop up its emissions.

Sometimes there can be such a thing as too much intellectual honesty.  This is one of those times.

Look: on the global warming front, "Bangladesh will drown and California will have more wildfires in 2080" doesn't seem to be doing the job.  So if the only way to convince Americans to get serious about this stuff is to have 4-star generals issue grim warnings about climate change being a national security threat, followed by corporate honchos ginning up some kind of "green race" with the scary Chinese, then so be it.  If this kind of thing got us to the moon, maybe it can save the planet as well.  I say we go along.

Besides, having the Pentagon worry about climate-induced global instability is a good thing.  And competing with China to produce wind turbines is way more productive than endless scaremongering about whether they're going to build an aircraft carrier or two by 2020.  So let's get in the spirit of things.  We must never allow the quasi-socialist Chinese hordes to overtake us in producing green technology!  Green tech is the future of our country!  Buy (green) American (stuff)!  USA!  USA!

POSTSCRIPT: Brad actually does have some serious points to make about cooperating with the Chinese on green tech.  But that's hard to turn into a jingoistic crowd pleaser, I'm afraid.

Clean Coal Coloring Book

Grist has found a priceless artifact of the coal industry's massive PR effort: Eyes for Frosty, a coal coloring book produced by the lobby group Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy. The basic plotline: Two kids are looking for eyes for their snowman when they are visited by Power Rock and Spurt, two charismatic anthropomorphized lumps of coal who teach them how abundant and useful coal is.

Parents, if your kid just can't get enough of staying within the lines of dirty energy propaganda, never fear! Chesapeake energy has a natural gas coloring book, too.

 

In this issue's expose of Fiji Water, Spin the Bottle, we write about the company's image as the water of choice for celebrities. Now, with New York Fashion Week approaching, it's another opportunity for the water to brand itself as an upscale product. The company is sponsoring a contest for one water fan to win backstage tickets to one designer show at New York Fashion Week.

There are two issues I have with this. Firstly, why only one show? There are dozens of shows at the New York fashion week, it would be better if they could at least let their winner go to more than one. Secondly, the blinged-out logo here is kind of ugly, and I don't get the connection between diamonds and fashion. Maybe because both couture and diamonds cost money? Like ...Fiji Water? As we pointed out in the article, Fiji does often cost up to three times as much as competitors, so yeah, maybe the diamonds do make sense after all.

Now that the public option in health care reform seems to be nearing its demise, non-profit co-ops are all the rage, with every damn media outlet in the Union scrambling to pick apart the latest player in the health-care debate. Just as the public option's merits have been debated and fought over ad nauseum, so, too, will this latest twist in the health care battle, an idea largely connected to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the (unfortunately) influential Gang of Six.

But this entire debate, lest we forget, has centered on mainly one aspect of overhauling health care to make it more affordable and expand access to the uninsured. Granted, you wouldn't know that by how much the admittedly sexier insurance side of the discussion—how we get care—dominates the news cycle; but arguably an even more important part of health care reform has been grossly underreported so far—what kind of care we receive. By that I mean the doctors we see (primary care or sub-specialists), the quality and types of care provided (proactive or reactive care; preventing versus doing), the health care systems that administer our care. And if you don't yet believe this subject needs far more attention than it's getting, read what Dr. Eric Larson, MD, MPH, and the executive director of Group Health, one of the leading co-ops in the nation, recently wrote to me. [after the jump.]

The Real Barack Obama

Our story so far: Democrats offer up a bipartisan proposal to fund advance care counseling and Republicans turn it into a plan to create death panels.  Democrats agree to fund home nurse care and Republicans tar it as a secular brainwashing program.  Democrats take Republican concerns about cost containment seriously by setting up the Independent Medicare Advisory Council and Republicans start screaming about "rationing."  Democrats give in on a public option and accept a co-op program in its place and Republicans dig in and finally announce that they're just going to oppose everything no matter what Democrats do.

The White House has taken notice:

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

....Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

OK then.  Obviously Emanuel said this with presidential approval, so the question is: did Obama ever expect anything different?  Was his calm, deliberative, bipartisan sales pitch genuine, or did he know it would fail all along?

We've been asking this question ever since the primaries — does he really believe he can sweet talk Republicans into cooperating with him? — and we still don't know the answer.  Obama is a guy who plays his cards very close to his chest.  But the next couple of months should give us a clue.  If he really believed it, then he probably doesn't have much of a Plan B and the next stop for this train is Chaosville.  But if it was mostly an act, then his next step is obvious: he'll make a barnstorming public case that he made a good faith effort to work with Republicans but they were just completely intransigent.  He'll attack them mercilessly and do everything he can to whip public opinion into a lather against the obstinate, obstructionist, reactionary GOP.

If that was his plan all along, it wouldn't be a bad one.  He correctly divined a long time ago that the American public was weary of endless partisan fighting and wanted a break, and he rode that insight to victory.  Regardless of his own beliefs, then, it meant he had to start his presidency by demonstrating a genuine effort to work across the aisle, and he had to keep it up long enough to show he was serious.  Only if it plainly failed would he be able to turn the screws and start fighting on pure partisan lines.

Will it work?  Stay tuned.

At the time, Robert Novak couldn't have know that, despite a half century of covering Washington, one little line would ignite the scandal that would come to dominate his legacy: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." Following the conservative columnist's death yesterday at the age of 78, mentions of his role in outing the CIA operative were ubiquitous in the numerous obits commemorating his life.

Our DC bureau chief, David Corn, played a unique role in the Plamegate saga, too. Then working for the Nation, he was the first to raise the possibility that Bush administration officials, bent on smearing diplomat Joseph Wilson, had broken the law by leaking the identity of Wilson's wife. Let's just say that David's role in breaking this news did not endear to him Novak, with whom he'd enjoyed a friendly enough relationship over the years. Over at Politics Daily, David recalls his interactions with Novak pre- and-post Plamegate:

I learned of the death of Bob Novak from an e-mail sent to me by an NPR reporter looking for a comment. And I felt awkward, for my last public exchange with the conservative columnist and TV pundit who relished his "Prince of Darkness" nickname had been an ugly one. There is, of course, the don't-speak-ill-of-the-dead rule. But what could I say about a fellow who had blasted me on national television as an ideological hack?

There wasn't always bad blood between us. Years earlier, as a substitute host on CNN's "Crossfire," I had come to enjoy wrestling with Novak. When I began that gig, though, he barely paid any attention to me before or after tapings, adopting an attitude that seemed to say, "Show me your stuff, kid." He acted as if I were an irritant, not a sparring partner who deserved to be in the ring with him. But I didn't expect much from Novak. For years, I had thought he used his column and cable appearances to do favors for conservative allies and to sully (sometimes unfairly) liberals. Eventually, he warmed up -- well, as much as he could -- and started pumping me for information on what Democrats and liberals in Washington were thinking. I hardly held any top-secret information in that regard, but we did what most political reporters in D.C. do when forced to spend time together: trade tidbits, gossip and half-stories. And in his 2000 book, "Completing the Revolution" (as in: the "conservative revolution"), he described me as a "bright, young, left-wing journalist." (Given his age, I suppose someone in his early 40s was "young.")

Here's a clip from the Barney Frank Show, soon to be a reality series on MSNBC.  Sean Hannity and Michele Bachman were all over this last night, full of faux dismay and tut tutting about how Frank treated his constituents, but oddly enough, they didn't play this particular clip featuring the woman proudly waving the Obama = Hitler sign.  Strange, isn't it?

Anyway, it's here mainly for entertainment value.  Not everyone can afford to do this, and not everyone has Barney's, um, way with words either.  Still, it shows a refreshing willingness to call a loon a loon instead of just fretting defensively about decorum and manners, and it's also fun to watch.  Fun is good!  And while some people will be offended by it, I'll bet the majority reaction outside the right wing would eventually become supportive if more Dems did this.  People would start laughing at the loons instead of pretending their black helicopter nonsense represents some kind of genuine upwelling of "heartland" grievance.  Give 'em hell, Barney.

Filibuster Wanking

This is, I admit, just total blue sky wanking, but the whole healthcare reconciliation debate raises another question: what if Democrats got rid of the filibuster?

Basically, this is easy to do.  Without going into all the gory details, it depends on having a friendly Senate chair declare the filibuster unconstitutional and then having it sustained by a majority of the Senate.  So all you need is Joe Biden (the chair) and 51 Democrats to support him and the filibuster is history.

This would, obviously, be the end of Barack Obama's post-partisan unity act, and the next step would be for the opposition party to go ballistic and shut down the Senate.  That's what Dems would have done if Republicans had tried this, and it's what Republicans would do if Democrats try it.  At that point, either the Senate chair rams through rule changes that eliminate the various ways individual senators can halt business, or else it becomes a pure public relations battle.  So who would win?

Beats me.  But I don't think it would depend very much on the nature of the bill that touched things off.  It would depend on how the public felt when they learned — really learned — just how the Senate works and how wildly undemocratic it is.  I suspect most people don't really have a clue about this and would basically support a move to make it into a majoritarian institution.

On the other hand, the public is also generally repelled by exercises in pure power mongering, and there's no question that's what this would be.  So it's a tossup.  I wouldn't mind finding out, though.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know this isn't in the cards or anything.  But it's August.  Aside from death panels, things are slow.  Give me a break.