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Archive for September, 2015

The Great Circle Jerk of Life

[ 72 ] September 30, 2015 |


A long-standing sycophant of Niall Ferguson and Henry Kissinger was commissioned by the NYT Book Review to review Niall Ferguson’s hagiography of Henry Kissinger. (By the way, is there anything more pathetic than being a sycophant of Niall Ferguson?) The results may not surprise you:

This Sunday, the New York Times Book Review will publish a review of the first volume of Niall Ferguson’s authorized biography of Henry Kissinger, Kissinger: The Idealist. The reviewer is Andrew Roberts.

Roberts brings an unusual level of familiarity to the subject: It was Roberts whom Kissinger first asked, before turning to Ferguson, to write his authorized biography. In other words, the New York Times is having Kissinger’s preferred authorized biographer review Kissinger’s authorized biography.


So how is the review itself? Contrary to the bet that an opinionated yet informed expert might turn in an exciting piece, Roberts’s essay is ponderous, and, if possible, even more hagiographic than the authorized biography itself.

“Kissinger’s official biographer,” writes the man Kissinger first asked to be his official biographer, “certainly gives the reader enough evidence to conclude that Henry Kissinger is one of the greatest Americans in the history of the republic, someone who has been repulsively traduced over several decades and who deserved to have a defense of this comprehensiveness published years ago.”

Henry Kissinger: greatest American of the last century, or greatest American ever? I’m sure Yahya Khan would agree it’s the latter.


Lynd on Alinsky

[ 60 ] September 30, 2015 |
Saul Alinsky in 1965. (Tribune Archive photo) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT..

Saul Alinsky in 1965. (Tribune Archive photo) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT..

I have no idea why the right has so demonized Saul Alinsky as the greatest evil of all time, although that was really more a 2008-12 demon than today. But in any case, his organizing strategies were certainly influential. But there’s a strong critique to made against them from the left and the radical historian and colleague of Alinksy, Staughton Lynd, makes it. It’s not an easy thing to excerpt, so I would recommend just reading it for Lynd’s stories of trying to work in an Alinsky organization after 1968 and had quickly it all fell apart.

In so many cases, the building of the organization was actually the point of Alinsky’s style of organizing, which could be disastrous in the case of the United Farm Workers, when Cesar Chavez actively opposed empowering workers who could threaten the organization and frankly preferred working with white volunteers who would simply do whatever he told them. Chavez would purge members who disagreed with him, take resources away from the lettuce workers who actually wanted to organize to focus on the grapes where Chavez decided the fight should exist, etc. Focusing on building around preexisting issues and fostering natural leaders are certainly good strategies, but it’s long been clear to me that Alinksy-style organizing had very real limitations, including lacking a broader agenda or long-term goal, centralizing authority in a few people’s hands, and could deemphasize or even demonize the political agenda of members. Coming out of the New Left falling apart, some of that makes sense in some circumstances–organizing is hard and complicated and there’s no clear way to do it–but Alinsky and his followers went way too far. Alinsky-style organizing may provide useful strategies for current organizers but it’s hardly a model to follow to the letter.

Which brings us back to the bizarre question of why Alinsky is so scary for conservatives, but then I don’t really have a good answer for that except to say that he was key in the founding of the community organizing model, Barack Obama was a community organizer for 5 minutes, and therefore Kenyan Muslims come to power illegally or something.

Your Argument is Fat

[ 133 ] September 30, 2015 |

One of the funniest folks in my twitter feed, the fabulous Lindy West.

I follow Lindy West a little because her writing has a feminist bent, but mostly I follow her because I find her extraordinarily funny. And she handles trolls expertly, with astonishing patience and wit. But watching her defend herself against accusations that she is fat gets exhausting after awhile. As if Lindy West doesn’t know she’s fat. As if we don’t all know she’s fat. As if her being fat renders her arguments invalid. The rule at play here is pretty clear: if you’re a feminist and you’re not thin, at any time some anonymous troll can just come back with “you’re fat.” It’s a cruel and obnoxious derailing technique and it makes me livid.

If you follow me on social media, you know I recently posted a full-length picture of myself posing in a really silly pose. My son requested I pose “like a rocker.” So I did. I posted the picture because I turned 43 yesterday, because the picture was funny, and because I’ve lost a decent amount of weight in the past few months and I’m happy about that (for various reasons I prefer to keep private). But if I’m honest with myself, one of the reasons I posted the picture is because I wanted to take the the “you’re fat” card away from any potential trolls. And that makes me really sad. I shouldn’t have to worry about that. And, ideally, I’d be so strong I wouldn’t worry about that card. But frankly I’m not as strong, kind, and patient as Lindy West. (Certainly not as quick-witted, though goddess knows I’m working on it.) Even as a low-profile Internet Feminist, I find the prospect of being at the receiving end of this kind of thing exhausting and terrifying.

Internet Feminist: I think this thing because x x and x.

Troll: That may be so, but…you’re fat.

Internet Feminist: Sure, but the fact still remains that x–

Troll: Faaaaaaaat.

Internet Feminist: Ok, but can we actually deal with the fa–

Troll: Fatty fat fat fat fat…*spittle flecks*

The bottom line is that no matter where you are the political spectrum, it’s the weight of your argument that should matter, not your actual weight. But for too many women, that’s simply not the case.




[ 65 ] September 30, 2015 |


A couple of years ago, the NFL changed its kickoff rules to minimize this dangerous play. Moving the kick up has allowed for more touchbacks, which means less returns, and less damage to players’ bodies. I suppose it might have taken a little excitement out of the game and it’s certainly created a lot of bad decisions by players taking out from 6 yards deep and returning it to the 11. College football did something of the same thing by creating a stronger incentive not to return kicks by making a touchback bring the ball out to the 25.

It’s certainly time to do the same with punting, probably banning the practice entirely. It’s the most dangerous play in football.

One week earlier, a sixteen-year-old freshman football player in Winnsboro, Louisiana, was fatally injured during a punt return in the fourth quarter of a Friday-night high-school game. His neck was reportedly broken when an opposing player hit him. “He loved his family, his team, and the game of football. He will be missed,” his school’s Facebook page read. It was Tyrell Cameron’s first and last high-school football game. His coffin was decorated with the colors of his Franklin Parish Patriots.

“Sure, it’s one of the more dangerous positions,” the Atlanta Falcons return specialist and receiver Devin Hester, who holds the N.F.L. record for punt-return touchdowns and total return touchdowns, told me recently. Football is thrilling and dangerous at every level, as fans of the game are increasingly aware. A 2013 study by the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found that a dozen high-school and college football players die each year during practices and games. There hasn’t been a death during an N.F.L. game since 1971, but the league itself expects a third of all its retired players to develop some form of long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, as a consequence of head injuries endured on the gridiron. And a new independent report conducted by researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy—or C.T.E., a disease caused by repeated head trauma, which can result in depression and dementia—affected ninety-six percent of N.F.L. players and seventy-nine percent of all football players whom researchers examined. (The researchers have examined the brain tissue of one hundred and sixty-five former players.)

Obviously, the CTE problem is much larger than punting but subjecting players to getting their bodies smashed, usually for not much as the average punt return is around 8-9 yards, means that a real step forward in safety would be a “punt” that just gave possession of the ball to other team 40 yards down the field, or perhaps halfway to the goal for punts inside the opponents’ 50. Something like this anyway. That’s the kind of adjustment that can actually make the game somewhat safer.

Sophisticated behavioral economics experiment reveals elites prefer policies that benefit elites

[ 83 ] September 30, 2015 |

rubin greenspan

Internet-required snark aside, this is actually a very clever study. Two of the authors describe the results in Slate:

Elite Americans are not just middle-class people with more money. They display distinctive attitudes on basic moral and political questions concerning economic justice. Simply put, the rich place a much lower value on equality than the rest. What’s more, this lack of concern about inequality among the elite is not a partisan matter. Even when they self-identify as progressive Democrats, elite Americans value equality less highly than their middle-class compatriots.

This finding has profound implications for public policy. Contemporary American politics presents an enduring mystery. Why does the public policy response to nearly five decades of rising economic inequality remain so tepid, even as large majorities of Americans consider inequality excessive, and even under a two-term Democratic president? Our study, published Thursday in the journal Science, co-authored with colleagues Pamela Jakiela and Shachar Kariv, proposes an answer: Regardless of party, the elite donors whose money dominates politics, and the elite officeholders whose decisions set policy, don’t value economic equality. When the American government abjures egalitarian policies, it is implementing the bipartisan preferences of the American elite.

The study used a variation of the dictator game, which measured both the basic selfishness and the efficiency maximizing preferences of a hyper-elite (Yale law students), and an intermediate elite (Berkeley undergraduates), against a baseline of the American population as a whole.

The experimental behaviors of these three subject classes—once again, making real allocations with real money—revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice among ordinary Americans and among the elite. To begin with, the Berkeley and Yale subjects were twice as likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. In this respect, intermediate and extreme elites stand together with each other, and stand apart from the rest of the country.

What’s more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans. And this time, the bias toward efficiency increases with each increment of eliteness. The ALP subjects split roughly evenly between focusing on efficiency and focusing on equality; the Berkeley students favored efficiency over equality by a factor of roughly 3-to-2; and the Yale Law students favored efficiency by a factor of 4-to-1.

Yale Law students’ overwhelming, indeed almost eccentric, commitment to efficiency over equality is all the more astonishing given that the students self-identified as Democrats rather than Republicans—and thus sided with the party that claims to represent economic equality in partisan politics—by a factor of more than 10-to-1. An elite constituted by highly partisan Democrats thus showed an immensely greater commitment to efficiency over equality than the bipartisan population at large.

The authors suggest these findings help explain why drastic increases in wealth inequality in America over the course of the last generation have generated such a tepid political response. Elite preferences have a vastly disproportional effect on political action than the preferences of the population as a whole, and what elites prefer is to grab ever-larger slices of the economic pie. That a lot of these people believe themselves to be deeply committed to egalitarian social policies would not, I suspect, surprise either Karl or Groucho Marx.

On a more parochial but all the more amusing note, Jeff Harrison suggests these findings help explain why so many law professors are such awful people (law professors being essentially Yale law students on steroids, or less metaphorically, Adderall):

Look at the law schools most law professors attended and you know the reason law schools are bastions of greed, self-promotion, self-interest, bogus conferences that are vacations, misleading resumes, demands to teach vanity courses, demands for special treatment including two day teaching schedules, truncated semesters, and extra pay for just doing the job.

It was never a mystery to anyone who thought about it but law school hiring committees fish only in the ponds of the greedy and hypocritical.

Pharmaceutical Price Gouging

[ 103 ] September 30, 2015 |


Last week, we all got a refresher on the problems with capitalist markets in pharmaceuticals. Martin Skhreli raised the cost of an HIV drug by 5000 percent, causing an outrage that forced him to backtrack (although as soon as he said that, all the media attention went away and so he’s probably still going to raise the price by a lot, just not as much as he originally said). There’s no good reason for companies not to do this, not when the American government lets them. Drug companies are doing the same thing with cancer drugs:

And now, research reveals the yawning gap between the price of widely used cancer drugs and their actual cost.

The true cost — what drug makers have to spend to get those pills to your local pharmacy — is made up of the active ingredient and other chemicals, their formulation into a pill, packaging, shipping and a profit margin.

British researchers, in a report to be delivered this weekend at a European cancer conference, say the price of five common cancer drugs is more than 600 times higher than they cost to make.

For instance, the analysis figures the true cost of a year’s supply of Gleevec (generic name imatinib), used to treat certain kinds of leukemia, at $159.

But the yearly price tag for Gleevec is $106,322 in the U.S. and $31,867 in the U.K. A generic version costs about $8,000 in Brazil.

“We were quite surprised just how cheap a lot of these cancer drugs really are,” pharmacologist Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool said in an interview. “There’s a lot of scope for prices to come down.”

And the implications stretch way beyond these specific cancer drugs. Overall prices for cancer medications have been going up at a fast clip. Dr. Peter B. Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has documented a nearly 100-fold increase in cancer drug prices since 1965 after adjusting for inflation.

“The rate of rise exceeds the rise in benefits from these drugs,” Bach says. “This is a ginned-up pricing structure that isn’t a product of careful analysis. It’s not a bunch of guys in green eye-shades but a bit of dart-throwing and chutzpah. And if there’s a critical Op Ed piece or a Twitter avalanche [in response to a high price] they’ll lower it.”

Bach speaks from experience. Three years ago, he and two other colleagues announced in a New York Times Op Ed piece that Memorial Sloan Kettering would not be prescribing a new colon cancer drug because it didn’t improve outcomes despite its high price tag. The manufacturer responded by halving the price.

I grant that in some of this pricing comes from the cost of research. However, a lot of this price gouging is from capitalists like Skhreli who buy up drugs and never put a dime of research into them. Also, a lot of drug research is federally-funded. So what we are really seeing here is an American medical system that rewards killing people who can’t afford these drugs because just enough can to keep these companies making money. Even with the advances of the ACA, the American medical system is still a hot mess and greed is at the core of the problem. Really, only the government can solve this problem and politicians need to turn away the Big Pharma money and look toward acquiring affordable drugs for Americans that has some connection to the cost of production plus a reasonable profit for the companies, with “reasonable” not defined by venture capitalists or shareholder wishes.

Sometimes, It’s Good to Know Who to Blame

[ 325 ] September 30, 2015 |


Scott is not incorrect that a major problem with bagels is the ridiculous amount of cream cheese. I am fairly agnostic on the point as I like cream cheese, but the point is fair. But a far greater problem is the terrible quality of the 99% of the bagels in the United States. It drives me absolutely crazy that 80 miles outside of New York City, no one bothers to prepare bagels properly and everyone, including the ex-New Yorkers, seem perfectly happy to accept Dunkin’ Donuts bagels, or even more atrocious, bagged and frozen bagels, products not deserving of the name. We are in a major food renaissance in this country, with middle and upper-class white people appropriating food cultures from around the world for their own tastes, focusing on fusion, new experiences, regional foods of Mexico and Thailand instead of what has become broadly known as Mexican and Thai food in the U.S., local ingredients, organic, whatever. And yet, for all the hipsters who have come in and out of Brooklyn in the last 10 years, it seems that no one has decided that a great idea would be to combine the food artisanship of the time with learning how to make good bagels and then moving to Portland/Austin/other hipster site of the moment and opening a first-class (or even second-class) bagel shop. Instead, we are in a world of poor bagels except for the rare times most of us get to New York (or Montreal–I don’t want to offend those who believe in that tradition, which I have never had since I’ve never been there).

So who is responsible for the terrible bagels of America? There are probably many perpetrators, including Murray Lender, a man Yglesias lauds precisely for his mediocre product, because of course. but one is a man named Daniel Thompson, who just died. His “contribution?”

Daniel Thompson, who five decades ago automated the arcane art of bagel making, a development — seen variously as saving grace and sacrilege — that has sent billions of mass-produced bagels raining down on the American heartland, died on Sept. 3 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 94.

His family announced the death last week.

A California math teacher turned inventor, Mr. Thompson was a shaper of postwar suburban culture in more than one respect: He also created the first wheeled, folding Ping-Pong table, a fixture of American basements from the mid-20th century onward.

But it was for the bagel machine that Mr. Thompson remained best known. The invention changed the American diet, ushering in the welter of packaged bagels — notably Lender’s — now found in supermarkets nationwide, and making the bagel a staple of fast-food outlets.

“There was a kind of schism in bagel-making history: pre-Daniel Thompson and post-Daniel Thompson,” Matthew Goodman, the author of “Jewish Food: The World at Table,” said in an interview on Monday. “What happened with the advent of the automated bagel-making machine was that bagel makers were capable of producing far more bagels than had ever been imagined.”

I like defeating my brother at ping pong, so I give the man some credit. But his bagel machine was clearly a mixed blessing, if one can call it that. I guess that maybe–maybe–one can argue that without mass popularized bagels, it would have fallen by the wayside like a number of other Jewish foods and instead there is the potential for a demand for a better product. This is basically what Yglesias argued about Lender in the link above. On the other hand, given that New Yorkers, or a lot of them anyway, still demand a quality product produced properly, I doubt it. But if we assume this argument might have some legs, I guess we could look at the rise of Taco Bell moving into more sophisticated Mexican food as maybe a path to bagels, although again, here the increasingly popularity of a better class of Mexican food is really related to larger immigration patterns and the exposure of whites to that food through randomly stopping in an Oaxacan restaurant (although the reality is that Oaxacan-owned restaurants in the U.S. only serve a small fraction of what Oaxacans actually eat, including few of the best dishes for reasons that I think are about modernity and work practices but that’s for another post).

Anyway, most of the bagels we eat are pointless lumps of carbs with little value. Daniel Thompson is partially to blame. Demand better bagels!

It’s also worth noting how the bagel machine was used to bust the bagel makers’ union.

Bagel-making was still a skilled trade then, restricted to members of the International Beigel Bakers Union, as the name was Romanized after the organization was founded in New York in 1907. (Until well into the 1950s, the minutes of the union’s board meetings were taken down in Yiddish.)

The bagel-maker’s craft was passed down from father to son, fiercely guarded from outsiders’ prying eyes. In a contingency that seemed straight out of Damon Runyon, or perhaps “The Untouchables,” nonunion bakers trying to make and sell bagels risked paying for it with their kneecaps.

“Every bagel that was made in New York City up until the 1960s was a union bagel — every one,” Mr. Goodman said. “The reason why this union was strong was that they were the only ones who knew how to make a proper bagel. And that was the keys to the kingdom.”

The union — New York’s Local 338, with some 300 members — could hold the entire metropolitan area gastronomic hostage and, in disputes with bakery owners over working conditions, often did.

“Bagel Famine Threatens in City,” an alarmed headline in The Times read in 1951, as a strike loomed. (It was followed the next day by the immensely reassuring “Lox Strike Expert Acts to End the Bagel Famine.”)

Then, in the early 1960s, Mr. Thompson’s machine changed the bagel forever.

That’s really written in an anti-union fashion, given the use of the term “gastronomic hostage” to describe what seem to be bad working conditions. You know what would be great? Quality food made by unionized workers who are well-paid in safe conditions. Instead we have low quality food made by non-union workers who are paid peanuts. Welcome to America.

Fake But Inaccurate

[ 123 ] September 30, 2015 |


Ross Douthat asserts that Carly Fiorina was confused rather than dishonest:

Now it’s very clear what scene she’s referencing: It’s a section of this Center for Medical Progress film, the relevant portion of which you can find right here (warning: tough-to-watch content), that weaves together interviews, graphic footage, and excerpts from the CMP’s sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials to tell an anti-PP story. The specific clip in question features a former technician for Stem Express, Planned Parenthood’s (erstwhile) partner in fetal-tissue procurement, describing her work at a Planned Parenthood clinic; this interview is intercut with video footage of a fetus twitching while it expires in a metal bowl, which is not from the abortion/procurement being described, but taken from a different undercover video at an unidentified clinic.

This is…problematic:

So far, the video Fiorina described has not been made public. This latest video most definitely is not it.

The video, titled “Carly Fiorina was right” (warning: extremely graphic), was provided by the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. They are the group that provided an image of a fetus, moving slightly, that is used by the Center for Medical Progress in one of their videos. This new video shows the context: The fetus is pulled from a woman and placed in a bowl. At no point does anyone say, “We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” There is no sound. There is no indication that we are inside a Planned Parenthood–affiliated clinic.

The only new information this video adds is the revelation that the fetus came out of a woman’s body. If that surprises you, then you have no right to weigh in on debates over women’s health care.

Jen Gunter:

It is easy to see how someone who has no obstetrical training might think this could be something other than a previable premature delivery. Cunningham’s statements clearly show he is no medical expert and isn’t in the position to explain it. However, I am.

Here are all the issues with the video from start to finish:

  1. It is illegally and clandestinely shot. I feel very badly for the poor woman in question and wonder why Fiorina and our elected officials are not as outraged as I am about her violation and exploitation. I had second thoughts about watching it myself given the lack of consent from the woman, however, I felt if I could end the conversation about it faster by weighing in. Time magazine or Slate have links.
  2. The prep of the patient. The physician (I’m assuming) pours surgical prep/cleaner on the woman’s perineum. We don’t do that anymore for spontaneous deliveries or for abortions that involve induction of labor. This tells me this video is at least 15 years old or from another country.
  3. The delivery. It is a spontaneous delivery as the operator waits for the fetus to be expelled. This is what we do with a previable premature delivery. If this were shot mid way through a 2nd trimester abortion (meaning the Laminaria in the cervix, which are osmotic sticks that help the cervix dilate, had just been removed) it is highly unlikely the operator would have waited for a spontaneous expulsion.
  4. The cord is clamped on the fetal side. If this were an abortion it would just be cut. Really. No one ever does this with an abortion as it serves no purpose.
  5. Waiting for the placenta. The clamp is left on the placental end and at the end of the video the placenta still hasn’t delivered. If this were an abortion the placenta would be removed with suction immediately, no one would wait 11 minutes. Ever. Every abortion clinic has a suction machine.
  6. There is no proof this video is in a Planned Parenthood clinic never mind in the United States. This could easily be an operating room.

So, in summary, Fiorina’s description of video evidence of Planned Parenthood is fundamentally unexceptionable even though the footage 1)didn’t come from the videos Fiorina was discussing, 2)there’s no evidence that the footage comes from a Planned Parenthood, and 3)there’s very good evidence that it doesn’t involve abortion at all. Well, I’m convinced!

If you loved The Wire

[ 7 ] September 30, 2015 |

…and I know you did, you’d probably enjoy D. Watkins’ The Beast Side, a first-hand account of living and dying in Baltimore which I’ve helpfully reviewed for you here. Sample:

Each of the short vignettes that occupy the first half of “The Beast Side” attempt to dispel white stereotypes of inner city America via a give-and-take with bigotry, as in “Lessons of a Former Dope Dealer,” which openly acknowledges that while many black youths turn to the drug trade, they apply an “inner city work ethic” that, “had they been exposed to a different way of life [would have had them] running a Fortune 500 company today.” It’s not the mythical inherent laziness of the so-called “welfare queen” that keeps these communities of “grinding grandma[s]” from elevating themselves out of poverty — it’s simply a lack of opportunity. Theirs is no culture of dependence, as conservatives like to argue, and the drug trade is evidence of this. As Watkins notes, the “hardworking people like us…are forced to create our own industries as a direct result of being isolated by society,” which means the real question is why “employment inequality for African-Americans [is] always identified as laziness.”

Oregon and Climate Change

[ 10 ] September 30, 2015 |


One of the many awesome features of Oregon is that you can ski in the summer on Mt. Hood. Not that I am a skier personally, but for those who are, this is an unusual feature of the state. But this summer has seen the combination of a severe drought (which is rare but historically possible) with skyrocketing temperatures now going back for years (which is about long-term climate change). This has had a major effect on that summer ski season, which, because of its public nature, can serve as a warning signal for the region.

Oregon has more mountain ice than most (it’s second only to Alaska), but experts say the region’s disappearing summer skiing and shrinking snowpack are leading indicators that major climate shifts are happening. “It’s not just about skiing, but it is this canary in the coal mine — it’s really, really visible,” Anne Nolin, professor of geography and head of the mountain hydro- climatology research group at Oregon State University, says. “When things go from bright white, glittering snowpack to brown dirt and flaming forests, everyone sees it.”

With the smaller snowpack, Nolin and a team of OSU researchers took streamflow measurements this summer that were the lowest they’ve ever seen. That has a ripple effect beyond the ski area. When less meltwater flows into the streams, economies that depend on summer recreation suffer, too. This season, rafting companies experienced some of the fewest viable days for kayaking and rafting on the nearby Deschutes River. “Our society tends to ignore the fact that rural communities depend on what others might consider an elitist sport,” Nolin says. “I’m concerned about the loss of income to rural communities that depend on summer and winter recreation — everyone hurt financially this year.”

Those economic impacts are real. Oregon in 2015 is not Oregon in 1985. The timber jobs are gone and for many small communities, tourism is the lifeline. With the huge forest fires affecting the region this year and the never-ending above average temperatures, the future of outdoor recreation, water supplies, and economic sustainability in much of the Northwest is in question. That’s scary.

The Popularity Of Planned Parenthood

[ 90 ] September 29, 2015 |


A very important point:

But here’s another way in which the Republican mission to destroy one of the country’s largest providers of women’s health care is divorced from reality: It appears completely blind to evidence that Americans — the same Americans on whom the Republican party relies as voters — really, really love Planned Parenthood.

Americans love Planned Parenthood so much that in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday, 61 percent of people polled said that they opposed cutting funds to the organization. But more notably, Planned Parenthood again emerged as the entity with the highest favorability ratings in the poll, with 47 percent of respondents saying they feel positively about it, more than felt good about either political party or any of the presidential candidates.

And public officials who support PP are generally more popular than those that don’t, too.

After you’re done with this post, see Ann Friedman on the importance of Planned Parenthood.

School’s bar passage rate collapses after it eliminates admissions standards; Dean blames kids today

[ 67 ] September 29, 2015 |


The debate of the moment in legal academia is regarding why bar passage rates are falling.

While it’s true this question involves various statistical confounders, at bottom it’s not terribly complicated: as the average quality of law students declines, fewer graduates will pass the bar. Indeed, since there’s a three-year lag between declining admissions standards and declining bar passage rates, we are likely to see even sharper declines in the number of law graduates who end up licensed to practice law.

Last year I wrote an article for the Atlantic, explaining in some detail how Infilaw, a for-profit law school consortium owned by Sterling Partners, a private equity firm, was hoovering up ever-larger piles of federal educational loan money, by slashing the already-low admissions standards of the three ABA-approved schools Infilaw owns.

At that time I predicted that the bar passage rates at these schools were destined to collapse, despite the radical steps the schools were taking to keep this from happening. Such steps have included bribing students not to take the exam, and even calling them up the night beforehand to encourage them not to show up.

Infilaw’s administration took great offense at the suggestion that throwing their doors open to anyone with a college degree and an LSAT score (any score) would lead to poor outcomes for their loan conduits graduates on the bar. Since then two more summers’ worth of bar exam results have become available.

Charlotte Law School graduate first time bar passage rate, North Carolina bar exam:

2010: 83.3%

2011: 77.9%

2012: 65.4%

2013: 60.3%

2014: 55.4%

2015: 47%

Note that almost all of the 2015 first-time takers were 2012 matriculants. Charlotte’s 2012 entering class had a median LSAT score in the 30th percentile, while one quarter of the class had an LSAT score in the 19th percentile or lower. These are somewhat lower test scores than the graduates who took the 2014 and 2013 bar exam, and far lower test scores than the Charlotte graduates who took the 2011 and 2010 bar exams.

So who does the law school’s administration blame for generating this striking and eminently predictable correlation? If you guessed “the students they chose to admit even though they had test scores that predicted most of them would fail the bar” you would be correct.

Remarkably enough, the class that took the 2015 exam and recorded an abysmal 47% first-time taker passage rate had far better entrance numbers than the class Charlotte admitted last year, which is scheduled to take the bar in the summer of 2017. That class had a median LSAT score in the 18th percentile, while a quarter of the class had an LSAT score in the 9th percentile or lower. So we’re probably a long way from the bottom yet.

And if you’re wondering whether an ABA law school’s bar passage rate can fall far enough to get it de-accredited, the answer is “technically yes, but in reality probably not.” The reality in this case is that the ABA accreditation standards are absurdly lax. For example, they allow the passing percentage of a school’s own graduates to count toward a calculation of whether a school’s bar passage rate is no more than fifteen (!) points lower than the state bar’s overall pass rate. Thus a school like Charlotte, which has grown at an enormous pace, can pump out so many graduates that the school itself can seriously deflate the entire state’s bar passage rate (and indeed it has), thus making it much more likely that the school will somehow find a way to stay in compliance with the ABA standards.

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