Thursday, September 30, 2010

What's wrong with Emily Bazelon

Has Emily Bazelon gone completely off the deep end?

She has engaged in a crusade on behalf of the tormenters of Phoebe Prince (the student in Massachusetts who hung herself after being cyber-bullied). Bazelon took this to the point of arguing that Prince herself was a bully.

She is now arguing that judgement must be withheld in the case of Tyler Clementi, the freshman from Rutgers who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after being video-taped and you-tubed in a same-sex encounter by his despicable roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another dormmate, Molly Wei.

Bazelon muses
But can we stop for a moment before we blame Dharun and Molly Wei, the other student who allegedly participated in the taping, for Tyler's suicide?
Right, video-taping and you-tubing a sexual encounter could not have possibly contributed to Clementi's suicide.

Why blame the tormenters when it's easier to blame the parents as Bazelon did in this earlier post on the suicide of a Wesleyan freshman? Bazelon finds it hard to even name tormenters.

To be clear, I get Bazelon's argument, which is that suicide is complex. However, that does not lead to Bazelon's conclusion that we should
hesitate to think we have any but the shallowest understanding of what happened here.
Dharun and Wei committed a heinous act. It's impossible to imagine how this couldn't have contributed to Clementi's suicide.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Payment follies at the NC Employment Security Commission

The North Carolina Employment Security Commission (ESC) has made payment mistakes to unemployment insurance (UI) claimants totalling some $28 million and is now compounding its errors with confusing letters to those claimants.

The News & Observer reports
Thousands of long-term unemployed North Carolinians could soon owe the state money because the Employment Security Commission improperly made about $28 million in payments over the last two years.

Last week, the ESC began sending out letters to about 38,000 people who it has determined were either overpaid or underpaid through no fault of their own.

Recipients, all of whom received unemployment benefits for a year or longer, are getting anywhere from one to six letters depending on the number of times their benefits have been extended.

The final letter has the correct amount due, but the letters often aren't arriving in the right order. The letters also tell people they can apply for a waiver to have the overpayment forgiven. But the ESC can provide no details on how each wavier will be evaluated.

Despite sending out the letters, the ESC was unable on Monday to provide an estimate of how many people will owe the state money.

"We are hoping a majority of these [final letters] will say zero," said Larry Parker, an ESC spokesman.
The most basic function of the ESC is to administer the UI program, which means collecting the correct UI taxes and paying the correct benefits. The ESC has fallen down in this essential function.

Worse, instead coming up with a correction, the agency appears to have issued conflicting instructions to claimants. The ESC should have figured out a way to correct the problem before sending the first letter.

Instructions at the ESC web-site are far from helpful. Buried in small type on the agency's home page is a note
Some claimants may have received multiple monetary and adjustment letters in the mail. If you are one of these individuals and want to know more about what you have received click here.
Clicking leads to a message in pure bureaucratese
The primary goal of the Unemployment Insurance program is to pay benefits as timely and as accurately as possible. We have paid a record amount of claims over the past year and have discovered the possibility of some improperly paid claims. As a result, we have made corrections to our records. You may have received several monetary determinations and one or more letters relative to your payment history.

Some individuals received improper regular UI payments. Improper payments are being corrected with little impact on individuals in most cases. If you received improper regular UI payments, we have replaced those improper payments with proper EUC payments and with EB payments.

The letters contain instructions for you to follow. If you want to have further discussions about any letter that you have recently received, contact us by email at
What could be clearer or more helpful? And you can bet that the e-mail responses from the ESC will be every bit as clear and helpful as the posted message and the original letters.

The state's unemployed have other things to worry about than wading through confusing and contradictory "monetary determinations" or pondering the propriety of regular UI, EUC, and EB payments.

To borrow from Jimmy Breslin, NC is fast becoming the state that couldn't shoot straight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

18 = most economists? authoritatively reports this morning on the results from a survey it conducted
With income tax rates set to go up on Dec. 31, Congress is hotly debating what to do next. But most economists agree: Keep them where they are.
No ambiguity whatsoever--most economists agree!

With such an authoritative conclusion, this must be some survey. Surely, started with a wide roster of economists, perhaps the 17,000 or so members of the American Economic Association? Hmm, not exactly.

Okay, then they must have surveyed a large number of economists so that they can precisely infer the policy views of the profession. Only if you think that 31 economists constitutes a large sample.

Okay, the sample is small, but it's representative with overwhelming percentages favoring the tax cuts. Hardly. About two-thirds of the surveyed economists work for large banks, brokerages, or business associations. And of those surveyed, only 18 of 31 supported the tax cuts (and several of those did so with qualified support). later explains that its survey is limited to "leading" economists, though its list of economists includes no Nobel laureates or John Bates Clark medal winners. There are at least a few of those who oppose the tax cuts. The story describes the views of another well-known (but not-leading-enough-to-be-included-in-the-survey) economist, Alan Greenspan, who opposes the tax cuts.

At the end of the story, we really don't know what most economists think about the tax cuts. A comfortable prediction, however, is that most would agree that has conducted a crap survey.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cashing in on 9/11

Where most people see the anniversary of a tragedy, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin see a fanatastic money-making opportunity.

The Anchorage Daily News reports
Crowd magnets Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are teaming up again, this time on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

"We can count on Glenn to make the night interesting and inspiring, and I can think of no better way to commemorate 9/11 than to gather with patriots who will 'never forget,' " Palin wrote of the conservative commentator on her Facebook page. "Hope to see you there!"

But unlike their free August rally at the National Mall, Saturday's event in Anchorage will come with a hefty price.

Tickets range from $73.75 to a high of $225. The priciest tickets cover seats up front and a "meet and greet" at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center, where the event is being held.
Yep, separating "patriots who will 'never forget'" from their hard-earned $73.75 to $225, that's the way Beck and Palin plan to "restore honor" to the country.