Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Health Insurance Costs and the Campaign

From a New York Times editorial today:

With health insurers jacking up their premiums by double-digit amounts for people who buy their own policies, Republicans have been predictably eager to blame health care reform. Consumers, and voters, beware. . . .

For-Profit Schools Donate to Lawmakers Opposing New Financial Aid Rules -- from ProPublica

For-Profit Schools Donate to Lawmakers Opposing New Financial Aid Rules

by Sharona Coutts ProPublica, Sep. 17, 10:20 a.m.

Between 2005 and the beginning of this year, Rep. Donald M. Payne, D-N.J., received $6,000 in campaign contributions from sources related to for-profit colleges. This year, he received more than $20,000 from the schools and their lobby groups, according to campaign finance records. What changed?

For one, the colleges have upped their lobbying efforts considerably in the face of proposed regulations that the industry says could shutter many of its schools.

For another, Payne co-signed three letters to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in which as many as 18 members of Congress pleaded with the secretary to put the brakes on that proposed regulation.

Collectively, members who signed the letters received nearly $94,000 from the for-profit college sector between the beginning of 2010 and late July, according to the most recent available campaign finance data reviewed by ProPublica. Most of the donations flowed after March 22 -- the date the first letter was written to Duncan.

(Take a look at the campaign contributions here.)

Other co-signers who received campaign cash from the industry include Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.; and Jason Altmire, D-Pa. Payne and Altmire sit on the House committee that oversees education, as do several other members who signed the letters and received donations.

Payne did not reply to our requests for comment, but longtime campaign finance watchdog Fred Wertheimer, president of the group Democracy 21, which seeks to "eliminate the undue influence of big money in American politics," said the money given to Payne created a troubling impression.

"Whenever a member of Congress gets a large amount of contributions relatively close to the period where they take a specific action for an interest group, it raises appearance problems that undermine public confidence in the action that was taken, and also undermines the argument for the position on the merits," Wertheimer said.

A spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, who signed two of the letters and received nearly $7,400 from the for-profit industry this year, said the congresswoman signed the letters because the proposed Department of Education regulations are "overly broad and were written without Congressional hearings."

None of the other congressional offices we contacted responded to calls or e-mails.

The stakes are high for the for-profit schools because the proposed regulation tightens the conditions under which educational programs can participate in federal student aid programs. Many proprietary schools draw the majority of their revenue -- billions of dollars each year -- from those taxpayer-backed sources.

Called the "gainful employment" rule (PDF), the regulation would create a two-part test that Duncan has said is intended to stop some career schools from "saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use."

The first part would measure how many former students are paying down the principal of their loans, while the second establishes ratios between the debt students take on to finance their education and their earnings after leaving the school, according to the Department of Education.

The test applies to individual programs of study rather than an entire school. Each program must satisfy at least one part of the test for its students to remain eligible for financial aid.

For example, if a school's nursing program failed to meet the lowest thresholds for principal repayment and debt ratios, future students could not pay for that program using federal financial aid. But if the same school's computer sciences program was in compliance, students in that field of study could continue accessing federal aid.

Schools could be required to warn students about high debt loads if a particular program falls into a danger zone, the Education Department says.

The regulation would apply to all schools -- including for-profit, public and private, nonprofit institutions. Based on current numbers, the department estimates that "5 percent of all programs would no longer be eligible to offer their students federal student aid and 55 percent of all programs would be required to warn their students about high debt-to-earnings ratios."

Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert who publishes and, predicted the rule will have a greater impact on for-profit schools than other institutions. "The difference is that every type of program at for-profits is impacted, whereas at traditional colleges, it's just the vocational programs," he said.

The department's move comes after government investigations found fraud (PDF) in the recruiting practices of several major for-profit colleges, and amid worsening data on loan default rates, especially for students at for-profit schools.

Harris Miller, president of the Career College Association, which represents for-profit colleges and trade schools, said the gainful employment rule poses a "fundamental threat to a lot of very high-quality programs that could be forced to close."

The industry's effort to build congressional pressure against the new rules has been carefully planned. ProPublica obtained a "whip list" that appears to divvy up responsibilities to lobby individual Democratic members among various schools and industry groups.

The whip list is in an Excel spreadsheet (.xls) written by Chris Collins, according to the document's "properties" data. The Career College Association lists a Chris Collins as its "Grass Roots Coordinator," but Miller said he would not comment on "specific internal documents."

The for-profit industry has not been shy about using its financial weight to lobby for what it wants. The founder of one for-profit chain, Arthur Keiser, has become a major national donor, according to campaign finance records. Keiser is also the current chairman of the Career College Association.

Campaign finance records show that Keiser, his wife, Belinda, and mother, Evelyn, contributed a collective $31,600 to members of Congress who signed the letters since the beginning of this year, when the fight over the regulations had begun to heat up.

Key figures in the industry have also paid numerous personal visits to the Education Department, according to public documents. They include visits by John McKernan, chairman of Education Management Corp., a company that owns several major for-profit schools. McKernan is the former governor of Maine and the husband of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Records also show visits to the department by officials from DeVry Inc. and Kaplan Inc., two of the biggest players in the industry, and their lobbyists.

Schools have also elicited tens of thousands of comments about the proposed regulation from their students, resulting in what the Department of Education said is by far the largest ever response to a public comment period.

In one instance, the president of the University of Phoenix, William Pepicello, sent out what appeared to be a blast e-mail to students that the Department of Education called misleading.

The e-mail claimed the gainful employment regulation would "block hundreds of thousands of Americans from getting the college education they need and deserve to get ahead in their jobs or find even better jobs."

An Education Department official told ProPublica that the e-mail inaccurately implied that the rule would prevent students from getting loans, when in fact it would affect only particular degree programs at specific schools.

"Students do not lose loan eligibility," said James Kvaal, deputy undersecretary of education. "They can and many will choose from the tens of thousands of programs that remain eligible," he said.

The University of Phoenix would not say to whom the e-mail was sent. The school's most recent financial filings say it has 476,500 students.

Education Department officials would not comment on the industry's lobbying campaign. The agency expects the rule to be finalized by November, and schools that fail the gainful employment test could be cut from the federal aid programs beginning in 2012.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Koching up a Tea Party

When public opinion is for sale:

"The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies. . . .”"

Read more

Jane Meyer, "Covert Operations: The Billionaire Koch Brothers Who are Waging a War against Obama," The New Yorker, 30 August 2010.

Elections for Sale

"Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies would certainly seem to the casual observer to be a political organization: Karl Rove, a political adviser to President George W. Bush, helped raise money for it; the group is run by a cadre of experienced political hands; it has spent millions of dollars on television commercials attacking Democrats in key Senate races across the country. . . ."

Michael Luo and Stephanie Strom, "Donors Names Kept Secret As They Influence Midterms," New York Times, 21 September 2010.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Public Address Conference 2010

this note from Gordon Mitchell about the Public Address Conference later this month was published on h-rhetor today:

From: "Mitchell, Gordon Roger">
Date: Mon, 20 Sep 2010 11:29:23 -0400

Want to attend the 12th Biennial Public Address Conference upcoming September 30 - October 2, 2010, but can't make it to Pittsburgh? Let us bring some of the featured content to you live!

You are just a few clicks away from setting up your virtual ticket to what promises to be stellar criticism and commentary on the conference theme of "Human Rights Rhetoric: Controversies, Conundrums and Community Actions."

We have arranged for high-quality audio and video recordings of the following panels to be streamed live via the University of Pittsburgh's MediaSite platform, which also enables remote viewers to contribute written questions that we will be compiling and considering for inclusion during the audience Q&A session for each panel:

Friday, October 1, 2010, 12:40 - 1:45 p.m. EDT
Public debate on the motion: "This House Believes Amnesty is a Necessary Tool to Address Gross Human Rights Violations in Deeply Divided Societies."
Marie-Odile Hobeika, University of Pittsburgh and Amber Kelsie, University of Pittsburgh; vs. touring British national debate champions Mary Nugent, University of Cambridge, and Lewis Iwu, BPP School of Law, London.

Friday, October 1, 2010, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. EDT
Mari Boor Tonn, University of Richmond, "'From the Eye to the Soul': Industrial Labor's Mary Harris 'Mother' Jones and the Rhetorics of Display."
Respondents will include Lawrence Prelli, University of New Hampshire and Cara Finnegan, University of Southern Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Saturday, October 2, 2010, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. EDT
Stephen John Hartnett, University of Colorado at Denver, ³Speaking with the Damned: or, Prison Education, Social Justice, and Communication as a Human Right." Respondents will include Gerard Hauser, University of Colorado at Boulder and Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh

Finally, Kirt Wilson, Pennsylvania State University, will deliver a keynote address during the conference's opening session: "More than Civil Rights: The Fight for Black Freedom as a Human Rights Struggle." Respondents will include Robert Terrill, Indiana University and Raymie McKerrow, Ohio University. We wish we could bring this panel to you live, but university firewall restrictions require us to tape the event and make it available for web streaming late on September 30 or early the next day on October 1:

Want more conference information? Visit our conference website at:

Technical questions? Contact the conference AV coordinator Gordon Mitchell
at gordonm at pitt dot edu.

* * *

Gordon R. Mitchell
Associate Professor of Communication
Director of Graduate Studies
Director, William Pitt Debating Union
University of Pittsburgh
CL 1117, 4200 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: (412) 624-8531
Fax: (412) 624-1878

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shepherd with His Horse and Dog

Russell Lee, "Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range, Madison County, Montana," August 1942." LC-USW36-847 B - Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection -- Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Monday, September 13, 2010

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers

Eric Burns, Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010).

from the press:

When the first television was demonstrated in 1927, a headline in The New York Times read, "Like a Photo Come to Life." It was a momentous occasion. But the power of television wasn't fully harnessed until the 1950s, when the medium was, as Eric Burns writes, "At its most preoccupying, its most life-altering."

In Invasion of the Mind Snatchers, Emmy-award winning broadcaster Eric Burns chronicles the influence of television on the baby boomer generation. Spellbound by Howdy Doody and The Ed Sullivan Show, those children often acted out their favorite programs, purchased the merchandise promoted by performers, and were fascinated by the personalities they saw on screen, often emulating their behavior. It was the first generation raised by TV, and Burns looks at both the promise of broadcasting as espoused by the inventors and how that promise was both redefined and lost by the corporations who helped spread this revolutionary technology.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hendrik Hertzberg on "The Mosque"

Hendrik Hertzberg, "Move the Mosque," The New Yorker online, 11 September 2010.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, back from his State Department-sponsored trip overseas in time for the 9/11 anniversary, said his piece this week on the Op-Ed page of the Times. If you haven’t yet read his Op-Ed, please hasten to do so. What he writes is so generous, so unself-pitying, so utterly reasonable, and, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “so transparently constructive, so evidently in the interests not only of domestic peace but of strategic victory against Jihadist terror” that one is “at a loss to understand why so many have reacted so ferociously to this project.” (I’m pleased to note that the imam is again calling the project Cordoba House—a much better name than Park51, which sounds like a Korean teenager’s internet handle). . . .

Hendrik Hertzberg recommends moving the mosque -- to Ground Zero, where it would be a beacon of freedom and reconciliation. Hertzberg points out that there has been a mosque at the Pentagon, since October 2002.

Dog Bites Back

Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, calls (as so many have since January 2009) for President Obama to fight back, harder and in public rhetoric, against the conservative opposition and big business. This longing for presidential rhetoric seems to be a recurrent feature of our national life.

Rich even recommends FDR's 1936 Madison Square Garden speech excoriating his opposition -- a speech that my students always find a shocker. Here is a key passage from Franklin Roosevelt's speech, near the end of his first term:

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

Frank Rich, "Time for This Big Dog to Bite Back," New York Times, 12 September 2010.

Does big business try to run (or to stop) the government? Where to start? Have a look at Eric Lipton, "A G.O.P. Leader Tightly Bound to Lobbyists," New York Times, 11 September 2010. "As Democrats try to cast John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader, as the face of the Republican Party, his ties to lobbyists are under attack. . . ."

Friday, September 10, 2010

How Not to Give a Six-Minute Speech

Dairy Cat, 1939

Arthur Rothstein, "Milker gives pet cat some milk direct from cow, Brandtjen Dairy Farm, Dakota County, Minnesota." Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress. September 1939.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Academic Tenure for Whom?

A new report from the American Association of University Professors:

The AAUP's latest report discusses a growing consensus: Institutions that employ teaching-intensive faculty should hire them and evaluate their teaching through the rigorous system of peer review known as the tenure system. As E. Gordon Gee, the United States's highest-paid university president puts it, campus employers must preserve "multiple ways to salvation" inside the tenure system—even at research-intensive institutions.

As the report notes, tenure was designed as a “big tent” to unite faculty of diverse interests and workplace priorities. It was not designed as a merit badge for research-intensive faculty or as a fence to exclude those with teaching-intensive commitments. . . .

The complete report, "Tenure and Teaching-Intensive Appointments" is at the AAUP site.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Free Labor Will Win

Labor Day poster. Labor Day poster distributed to war plants and labor organizations. The original is twenty-eight and one-half inches by forty inches and is printed in full color. It was designed by the Office of War Information (OWI) from a photograph especially arranged by Anton Bruehl, well-known photographer. From the FSA-OWI collection at the Library of Congress. (1942)

1938 again?

Paul Krugman, "1938 in 2010," New York Times, 6 September 2010.

Now, we weren’t supposed to find ourselves replaying the late 1930s. President Obama’s economists promised not to repeat the mistakes of 1937, when F.D.R. pulled back fiscal stimulus too soon. But by making his program too small and too short-lived, Mr. Obama did just that: the stimulus raised growth while it lasted, but it made only a small dent in unemployment — and now it’s fading out. . . .

Paul Krugman has been warning about this possibility for two years, and he says it is now showing signs of happening.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Level the Playing Field?

Robert Reich in the New York Times today -- "How to End the Great Recession":

THE Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

Reich argues that we cannot recover from the long structural recession until the middle class is able to buy the goods in produces.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Two-Body Problem

The AAUP has released a new report on recommended practices for academics seeking jobs for themselves and spouses/partners.

Do you have a “two-body” problem? Are you and your partner or spouse searching for academic positions in the same area, or even at the same institution? Or are you an administrator or department chair seeking guidance on sound policies and procedures for appointing an academic couple? Would you like to know what kinds of dual-career accommodation programs might be available to assist you, or what procedures an institution should follow to best accommodate your partner? If so, the AAUP’s newly released “Recommendations on Partner Accommodation and Dual Career Appointments” is a must read.

The new recommendations were formulated by the AAUP’s Committee on Women in the Academic Profession in view of the increasing likelihood that faculty, especially women faculty, will have domestic partners or spouses who are also academics. The recommendations provide critical guidance on developing sound, equitable policies. In addition, they provide a comprehensive review of the types of partner accommodation programs already available to dual-career academic couples at many colleges and universities.

The recommendations recognize the diversity of academic institutions and their needs, rather than endorse a particular partner accommodation program or policy as appropriate for all institutions. Research universities, for example, may have a particular interest in accommodating partners to remedy the consistent underrepresentation of women among their tenure-track and tenured faculty. Smaller institutions or those with collective bargaining agreements, because they may have more difficulty accommodating dual career couples, may be less inclined to do so. Whatever their needs, colleges and universities can benefit from well-developed policies that, according to the recommendations, “meet the strictest tests for transparency and good governance practices.”

Included among the recommendations:

  • Accommodation policies should be developed by appropriate faculty bodies.
  • The policies should take into account local conditions and institutional particularities, departmental hiring priorities, and programmatic and budgetary needs.
  • Any faculty appointments made as a result of their implementation should be driven by considerations of merit, and, whenever possible, appointments should be made to tenure-track positions.
  • Dual career appointments should not be the occasion for increasing the number of contingent faculty members at an institution.

Balancing the needs of departments and institutions with the needs of faculty members is of paramount importance to successful partner accommodation appointments.

We hope these recommendations will prove a useful tool to faculty and administrators seeking to harmonize sensitivity to the needs of academic couples with due attention to good governance and the protections of tenure long recommended by the AAUP.

Ann E. Green, Chair
Committee on Women in the Academic Profession

Ann Higginbotham, Chair