Kevin Drum

College Costs

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 2:15 PM EST

COLLEGE COSTS....The New York Times, quoting a new report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, says:

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation.

Bob Somerby is astounded, as well he should be. The report is here, and the chart on page 8 is clearly labeled "Growth Rate in Current Dollar Price." In other words, not adjusted for inflation. In real dollars, tuition costs since 1982 have gone up about 150%. That's a lot, but not quite the quintupling the Times suggests.

For what it's worth, my guess is that this number is strongly affected by big tuition hikes at state universities. Adjusted for inflation, for example, tuition at Harvard has gone from $15,000 in 1982 to $31,000 last year — a mere doubling. Conversely, the state university I attended charged virtually nothing when I was there in 1981 but today charges in-state students nearly $4,000 per year. The eye popping tuition figures at elite universities get the headlines, but it's the budget strapped state schools — and the middle class students they serve — who have seen the eye popping increases.

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16 Hours

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 1:20 PM EST

16 HOURS....A new report has — once again — stated the obvious: it's insane to require doctors to work long shifts without sleep. And — once again — not everyone agrees:

The report, produced by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies, recommended that medical residents ideally should work no longer than 16 consecutive hours, considerably less than the 30-hour shifts now allowed.

....Dr. Mark I. Langdorf, medical director of the emergency department at UC Irvine Medical Center and associate director of the residency program, called the recommendations "nuts."

"The problem here is balancing the need for patient safety, which I acknowledge, with the need to have the training in medicine be an apprenticeship," he said. "It sells the educational process short to make training so intermittent that you don't really get continuity."

"Continuity of care" has been the excuse for 30-hour shifts forever, but I've never seen a single person actually make a coherent case for objecting to a five-hour nap in the middle of a shift. They just chant continuity like a mantra and expect the rest of us to believe that 30 hours is some kind of talismanic number even though it really doesn't make any sense. Hell, I don't think I could even blog intelligibly after 30 hours, let alone make subtle and potentially life-saving diagnostic decisions. This may be an ancient practice, but so was bleeding patients until we figured out better. It's time to stop being idiots about this.

Mumbai

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 12:34 PM EST

MUMBAI....Christopher Hitchens is feeling peevish:

When Salman Rushdie wrote, in The Moor's Last Sigh in 1995, that "those who hated India, those who sought to ruin it, would need to ruin Bombay," he was alluding to the Hindu chauvinists who had tried to exert their own monopoly in the city and who had forcibly renamed it — after a Hindu goddess — Mumbai. We all now collude with this, in the same way that most newspapers and TV stations do the Burmese junta's work for it by using the fake name Myanmar.

Andrew Sullivan approves: "I wasn't aware of this but now that I am, the Dish will refer to Mumbai by its previous name."

Hold on a second. The Burma/Myanmar issue hinges on whether you think its ruling military junta is legitimate. No such ambiguity attaches to Mumbai. The Shiv Sena party may indeed be Hindu chauvinists, but Mumbai's name change was eventually approved by the democratically elected municipal corporation of the city, the state of Maharashtra, and the federal government of India, and they've stuck to it for over a decade now. Like it or not, there's no question that this was a legitimate change. Comparing it to the renaming of Burma is absurd.

Holbrooke to Pakistan?

| Wed Dec. 3, 2008 12:32 AM EST

HOLBROOKE TO PAKISTAN?....The Washington Post reports:

President-elect Barack Obama is seriously considering giving former ambassador Richard Holbrooke a key role in handling diplomacy in south Asia, a move that would put one of America's most prominent international troubleshooters in the middle of trying to resolve the thorny and interrelated problems surrounding India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to several sources familiar with the transition.

Obviously I think this is a good idea. I hope it turns out to be true.

Chambliss Wins

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 10:09 PM EST

CHAMBLISS WINS....CNN says Saxby Chambliss has won the Senate race in Georgia. No surprise, but still kind of a bummer.

Miscellaneous Felix Salmon Review

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 8:18 PM EST

MISCELLANEOUS FELIX SALMON REVIEW....Felix Salmon:

I've now reached the point at which I simply don't believe people when they say that lower pay for bankers will result in worse performance — especially since it looks very much as though it was higher pay for bankers which was at least partly responsible for much of the present crisis. Let's bring down pay, a lot, and see whether performance really falls.

The financial system went for decades, quite happily, without monster paydays: why can't we go back to those days? No one thinks we need to pay the Treasury secretary lots of money to make sure he's "working hard"; why are bank CEOs any different? And insofar as lower bank salaries would drive America's best and brightest into other sectors of the economy, that would surely be a good thing.

Hear hear — and not just for banks. Our economy worked just great back when CEOs were paid 50x the median salary, and I don't see why it can't do so again. The most efficient way to make that happen, of course, is not to directly cut CEO pay but to pay line workers more. Not only would they spend that extra money on actual stuff (as opposed to idiotic investment scams), thus helping drive the economy upward, but it would automatically reduce the pot of money available for all the suits. It's a twofer.

In other Felix Salmon news, he says I got a couple of things wrong in my super-senior tranche post yesterday. First, he says that the synthetic CDO market is smaller than the cash CDO market, not bigger, and also that banks mostly didn't keep synthetic CDOs on their books at all. Rather, they kept the real CDOs and sold off the synthetics. Noted.

Elsewhere, Felix points to a post by Sam Jones that explains super-senior tranches in yet another way, and it's worth reading on the off chance that you have an obsessive interest in this stuff. If you don't, though, here's the conclusion:

The risk is with the noteholders of the synthetic CDOs. And just as with [asset-backed] CDOs, those noteholders are likely to see some very severe losses. Synthetic CDOs are only now about to experience the same kind of dramatic collapse that plagued ABS CDOs way back in late 2007 and early 2008.

The trigger will be the growing number of corporate defaults, which just like assumptions on subprime mortgage defaults, was, in many synthetic structures, underestimated. Barclays analysts see a "rising tide" of synthetic CDO downgrades on the horizon. Downgrades which could well have huge regulatory capital requirements on the super-senior positions banks have on their books.

Oh goody. And for what it's worth, this is why I'm interested in all the gory details of this stuff. Ezra is right that the housing bubble underlies everything (though it might not next time....), but the financial rocket science really did kick everything into another gear. Understanding it is not only interesting for its own sake, but also provides some insight into how everything unfolded and what's going to happen next. Though, at this point, I admit that I'm not even sure I want to know.

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Remembrance of Houses Future

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 4:34 PM EST

REMEMBRANCE OF HOUSES FUTURE....If, like me, you adored the House of the Future at Disneyland when you were seven years old, you might enjoy P.J. O'Rourke's account of his visit to the HP/Microsoft revival version this summer. Unsurprisingly, considering the designers, it was closed down at the time due to "technical difficulties," but he was at least able to view it from above:

According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for "classic future" touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns. HoF II was designed by the Taylor Morrison company, a home builder specializing in anodyne subdevelopmental housing in the Southwest.

....Any random dull normal person (we have one in our family) could come up with snappier ideas for the future than HoF II seems to contain. How about self-washing windows? Automobiles have had them since the 1930s. And have you watched the clever manner in which convertible car tops operate? What keeps that technology from being applied to self-making beds?....I didn't even see one of those robot vacuum cleaners that trundles around hoovering on its own agenda, never mind, say, a helium balloon with a propeller and a mop of feathers that flies about dusting things (it might not do a very good job dusting, but at our house neither do we).

More here on the original HoF if you want a trip down memory lane. More here on the new one.

The Shootout in Mumbai

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 3:56 PM EST

THE SHOOTOUT IN MUMBAI....After a photographer at the Mumbai Mirror expressed his dismay that police on the scene didn't immediately open a gun battle against the terrorists behind last week's attacks, it became a trope in the right blogosphere that many lives could have been saved if only the Mumbai police had been more ballsy. "This whole unwillingness to shoot business is becoming a problem," sighed Instapundit.

Today, however, Israeli defense officials had a different take in the Jerusalem Post:

"In hostage situations, the first thing the forces are supposed to do is assemble at the scene and begin collecting intelligence," said a former official in the Shin Bet's security unit. "In this case, it appears that the forces showed up at the scene and immediately began exchanging fire with the terrorists instead of first taking control of the area."

I report, you decide. But if it were me, I'd probably listen to the Shin Bet folks. Via Robert Farley.

Fairness Doctrine Update

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 3:17 PM EST

FAIRNESS DOCTRINE UPDATE....The conservative Media Research Center, not content with the current state of the art in wacko conspiracy theorizing about the imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, has decided to create a whole movement to oppose it. The newly created Free Speech Alliance is, they say, "a gathering of a multitude of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens" designed to prevent the revival of something that no one is working to revive. Alex Knapp explains what's up:

Given the current political climate, conservative wins in the next two years are going to be few and far between. So conservative lobbying organizations are going to need a lot of funds to get anything accomplished. But it's hard to raise money when it looks like you're losing all the time. The solution? Raise money by fighting a policy that nobody supports! The continued lack of a Fairness Doctrine is the MRC's ticket to "proving" that their being effective with their donations. All they have to do is harp in their fundraising letters that they're being "successful" in fighting the Fairness Doctrine, and voila! Instant comparative advantage!

That's pretty much the NRA strategy these days too, and it seems to work pretty well. Maybe it'll work out for the MRC too.

Democrats at the Pentagon

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 1:53 PM EST

DEMOCRATS AT THE PENTAGON....With Republican Bob Gates staying on as Secretary of Defense, does that mean that all his Republican deputies will be staying on too? Matt Yglesias says no:

To provide some background and context, you need to understand that a lot of these guys were never Gates' people anyway. Gates and Donald Rumsfeld had some pretty different ideas about a lot of stuff, but when Gates joined the Bush administration he wasn't given the opportunity to clean house, fire everyone, and bring his own people on board. Since he's been in office for a couple of years there's been some turnover since that time, but still a guy like [Eric] Edelman has always been a Cheney/Rumsfeld guy who happens to be serving as one of Gates' top deputies, not a Gates guy who Gates is desperate to hang on to. In fact, I think we can be fairly certain that Gates' views are closer to those of a moderate Democrat like [Michèle] Flournoy than to Edelman. So whether or not to get rid of people probably wasn't a bone of contention between Gates and the transition. What needs to be negotiated isn't whether or not some of these folks need to go, it's who to replace them with.

I doubt that Obama has asked for a complete purge of the upper ranks of the Pentagon, but at the same time it's almost inconceivable that his conversations with Gates didn't make clear that a whole bunch of Democrats ought to move into senior positions pretty quickly. Gates, not being an idiot, surely understands this as the way the world works, and is OK with it.