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Deadbeat elementary school kids launch first phase of Kristallnacht 2.0 by trying to steal lunch from hedge fund managers

[ 220 ] January 30, 2014 |


The corndog is the gefilte fish of liberal fascism:

Up to 40 kids at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City picked up their lunches Tuesday, then watched as the meals were taken and thrown away because of outstanding balances on their accounts — a move that shocked and angered parents.

“It was pretty traumatic and humiliating,” said Erica Lukes, whose 11-year-old daughter had her cafeteria lunch taken from her as she stood in line Tuesday at Uintah Elementary School, 1571 E. 1300 South . . .

Jason Olsen, a Salt Lake City District spokesman, said the district’s child-nutrition department became aware that Uintah had a large number of students who owed money for lunches.

As a result, the child-nutrition manager visited the school and decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue, he said.

But cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches, Olsen explained.

The workers then took those lunches from the students and threw them away, he said, because once food is served to one student it can’t be served to another.

Children whose lunches were taken were given milk and fruit instead.

Olsen said school officials told the district that their staffers typically tell students about any balances as they go through the lunch line and send home notifications to parents each week.

The district attempted to contact parents with balances via phone Monday and Tuesday, Olsen said, but weren’t able to reach them all before the child-nutrition manager decided to take away the students’ lunches.

RIP Pete Seeger

[ 187 ] January 28, 2014 |

Pete Seeger has died. He was 94.

I have only a very fragmentary sense of how the revival of American folk music in the 1950s and 1960s played a role in the politics of the time, but apparently it did (Has there ever been a good right-wing protest song?). I do remember singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Turn Turn Turn” as a little kid in music class in the Ann Arbor public schools in the late 1960s, which I suppose proves just how invidious these forms of propaganda can be.

Also, this is a pretty good story, and none the worse for being confabulated:

Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with a loud electric blues band. Reports emerged that Mr. Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax, but witnesses including the producer George Wein and the festival’s production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.)

Across 110th Street

[ 249 ] January 27, 2014 |

Today’s edition of First World Problems:

Anyone who wonders why law school applications are plunging and there’s widespread malaise in many big law firms might consider the case of Gregory M. Owens.

The silver-haired, distinguished-looking Mr. Owens would seem the embodiment of a successful Wall Street lawyer. A graduate of Denison University and Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Owens moved to New York City and was named a partner at the then old-line law firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood, and after a merger, at Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Today, Mr. Owens, 55, is a partner at an even more eminent global law firm, White & Case. A partnership there or any of the major firms collectively known as “Big Law” was long regarded as the brass ring of the profession, a virtual guarantee of lifelong prosperity and job security.

But on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Owens filed for personal bankruptcy.

According to his petition, he had $400 in his checking account and $400 in savings. He lives in a rental apartment at 151st Street and Broadway. He owns clothing he estimated was worth $900 and his only jewelry is a Concord watch, which he described as “broken.” . . .

Mr. Owens has been well paid by most standards, but not compared with top partners at major firms, who make in the millions. . . When Mr. Owens first became a partner at Dewey, Ballantine, he made about $250,000, in line with other new partners. At Dewey & LeBoeuf, his income peaked at over $500,000 during the flush years before the financial crisis. In 2012, he made $351,000, and last year, while at White & Case, he made $356,500. He listed his current monthly income as $31,500, or $375,000 a year. And he has just over $1 million in retirement accounts that are protected from creditors in bankruptcy.

How far does $375,000 a year go in New York City? Strip out estimated income taxes ($7,500 a month), domestic support ($10,517), insurance ($2,311), a mandatory contribution to his retirement plan ($5,900), and routine expenses for rent ($2,460 a month) transportation ($550) and food ($650) and Mr. Owens estimated that he was running a small monthly deficit of $52, according to his bankruptcy petition. He has gone back to court to get some relief from his divorce settlement, so far without any success.

As the story explains, Owens isn’t really a partner at all any more, but rather a “service partner,” which in the Orwellian argot of big law firms means he’s been “de-equitized,” i.e., he’s salaried employee of the firm, just like the associates and paralegals and secretaries and the guy selling coke in the mail room.

Now if I had a dollar for every story I’ve read in recent years about how mid-six figures doesn’t go very far in Manhattan (or, apparently, Harlem) any more, I wouldn’t have to be making the big bucks by blogging for LGM. Still, this tale of woe is nice example of how economic distress, above the level of brute starvation, is always positional: Owens’ annual salary, stupendous as it might seem in the eyes of the madding crowd, is just two weeks worth of pay for Morton Pierce, his protector at both Dewey and White & Case, and the man who at present is probably standing between Owens and flat-out unemployment. (“White shoe” — meaning old-money WASP — firms like White & Case do not like to see themselves featured in this sort of reportage).

A few other points:

*Citing this kind of thing for why law school applications are down is equivalent of dissuading dreams of athletic greatness by citing the case of a marginal NBA player who got cut and is now having to get by on a $300,000 salary playing for Bologna in the Italian league. Despite his recent status degradation, Owens is still very near the top of the law graduate pyramid.

*This story also reflects the extent to which private legal practice is, even at the most stratospheric levels, now more than ever a glorified sales job. Pierce makes rain, so he and a tiny handful of peers gets paid millions. The most skilled technician, by contrast, is exponentially less valuable to a firm, especially since the value a technically skilled lawyer adds can disappear overnight in the wake of a change in the economic or regulatory environment.

*Owens’ current salary is higher than that of 99.8% of non-instutitionalized adult Americans (or 99.65% of such people who are working or currently seeking work).

Update: Anyone interested in the gritty financial details can read Owens’ petition here.

Papering the house

[ 55 ] January 23, 2014 |


In the music and theater business, “papering the house” means giving away a bunch of free tickets in order to make demand for a show look much higher than it actually is.

Villanova’s law school seems to be adopting a similar strategy, as it announced this week that it will be awarding 50 three-year full tuition scholarships to matriculants in this fall’s entering class. That figure is equal to 31% of the size of last fall’s class, which included 162 students.

The most startling aspect of the school’s announcement is that, to be eligible for a three-year full ride, (a $120,180 value — operators are standing by), an applicant must merely present credentials essentially equivalent to the median matriculant last year, who had a 157 LSAT and a 3.56 UGPA (the eligibility requirements for the scholarship are a 157 LSAT and a 3.60 UGPA). And these numbers are much lower than those of the median student at the school three years ago. In those antediluvian times, the median student had a 162 LSAT, and less than a quarter of the class had LSAT scores below 157. The school’s average class size three to five years ago was 250, of which only a handful were receiving full tuition scholarships, so in effect Villanova seems to be moving from a budgetary model in which around 650 law students are paying tuition, to one in which barely 300 are paying anything at all. (Unlike many law school “scholarships,” these come with no stipulations other than not flunking out).

What’s going on here?

First, the timing of the announcement — at pretty much the exact midpoint of the application cycle — indicates that applications to Villanova are down sharply from even the drastic decline the school has already endured (applications fell from 3,739 in 2010 to 1,468 last year. The latest LSAC figures indicate that nationally applications this year will be down to 52,000, from 87,900 four years ago, and 100,600 a decade ago).

Second, it’s possible the school is hoping that lots of applicants with credentials that wouldn’t have even gotten them in three years ago will now apply in hope of securing three-yearn full rides, thus pumping up applicant totals and allowing the school to try to lure some of these people to accept offers of acceptance for much smaller discounts, or even for MSRP.

Third, even if the latter strategy doesn’t work, it’s better from an optical perspective to have a class of 160 people in which nearly a third are paying no tuition, than to let enrollment totals collapse to the point where the evidence of their senses causes people to start wondering about the existential status of the operation. After all, the marginal cost to the school of admitting students who pay no tuition is minimal (the cost to their classmates, who must compete for jobs in a hyper-saturated market, is considerable).

Fourth, as the old saying has it, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the other guy. Villanova is one of way too many schools trying to place their grads in the relatively small Philadelphia legal market: Besides Penn — a national school that nevertheless sends a large proportion of its grads to Philly firms — you’ve got Villanova and Temple and Rutgers-Camden, and Penn State and Widener and now Drexel too. Without massive government subsidies in the form of no-doc educational loans, half of those schools would go out of business overnight. Villanova is striving mightily to stay a couple of steps ahead of the bear, as is PSU, which just cut tuition in half for state residents. If they have to be living on nuts and berries for a couple of years, that’s still better than ending up the star of a Werner Herzog documentary.

True Detective

[ 55 ] January 22, 2014 |

True Detective is an eight-episode series on HBO, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The first two episodes have featured a compelling performance from McConaughey, as a disturbed former undercover narcotics man trying to get himself together under less than ideal circumstances. Harrelson seems to be largely reprising his character as the charming hit man from No Country For Old Men, this time as a Louisiana homicide detective, who admires McConaughey’s work ethic while questioning his metaphysical commitments. This is the kind of thing HBO does really well, and you may want to check it out.

States with the highest percentage of people who don’t pay any taxes

[ 64 ] January 21, 2014 |

I am of course using the phrase “people who don’t pay any taxes” in the sense given to it by the contemporary Republican party, i.e., “people who have zero or less than zero net federal income tax liability after credits and deductions.”


The average man

[ 52 ] January 20, 2014 |

He looked as though he were nine years old but was really eight and given out for seven. It was hard to tell whether to believe this or not. Probably everybody knew better and still believed it, as happens about so many things. The average man thinks that a little falseness goes with beauty. Where should we get any excitement out of our daily life if we were not willing to pretend a bit? And the average man is quite right, in his average brains!

Thomas Mann, “The Infant Prodigy”

Scott has posted a couple of times recently regarding David Brooks’ interesting theory that the explosion of wealth in America over the past few decades is a product of the moral uprightness of the American people. But is the average American really getting richer? (All figures are in 2012 dollars)

10th percentile of household income

1972: $11,206

2012: $11,490

30th percentile of household income

1972: $28,944

2012: $29,696

50th percentile of household income

1972: $47,237

2012: $51,179

Real GDP per capita (in 2009 dollars)

1972: $24,432

2012: $49,226

So average Americans are slightly more than twice as rich as they were 40 years ago, yet on average their household income remains almost exactly the same. It is a mathematical and economic puzzle, that probably has something to do with disorganized postmodernism.

Fully funded

[ 66 ] January 16, 2014 |

In re Rob’s recent post regarding the academic precariat, Rebecca Schuman writes in Slate about people running up huge debt loads while pursuing graduate degrees.

Kelsky, proprietor of the consulting service The Professor Is In, knows every intricacy of the academic hiring process—and for a price, she will navigate you through it. She has an open, ruthless skepticism of the “ivory tower” that can only come from being locked inside it. But for those who have the dough, she’ll get you in there, too.

Unsurprisingly, Kelsky—who tells me her website got 1.3 million views in the past four months—is a polarizing figure in the vaunted “profession.” In a recent blog post, she responded to a conference panel at which a tenured professor insisted that reducing the number of graduate students admitted each year would be “professional suicide.” Kelsky quipped: “Professional suicide is what graduate students are already committing on a daily basis as they confront the reality of Ph.D.s that cannot be turned into meaningful work, and the looming default on what are often hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans.” This did not go over well.

“Commenters immediately expressed skepticism that any humanities Ph.D. would have that amount of debt,” she tells me. This is a refrain repeated throughout academia: If you must get a PhD, which you shouldn’t, make sure it’s fully funded. But, Kelsky says, even students with “full” funding packages still end up with “significant five- or six-figure debt by the end of a Ph.D. program.” She knows this, she says, “because so many of my clients have this level of debt.”

Anecdotes are not data (until they are), but this makes for some pretty interesting reading.

With the average time spent acquiring a PhD in English now apparently falling just short of a decade, it’s easy enough to see how taking out just a few thousand dollars per year in supplemental loans (at 6.8% interest, which starts accruing when the loan is disbursed) could lead to six figures of educational debt.

A series of unrelated events

[ 63 ] January 10, 2014 |

June 1, 2012

Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin said Wednesday that he makes hiring decisions based on what the wives look like.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife,” Franklin said on 104.5 The Zone in in Nashville. “If she looks the part, and she’s a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal.

“There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.”

September 18, 2013

Vanderbilt University on Tuesday dismissed wide receiver Chris Boyd from the football team and athletic program four days after he pleaded guilty to helping cover up an alleged on-campus gang rape.

The star athlete accepted a yearlong probation sentence and agreed to testify against four men accused directly in the crime.

Vanderbilt’s athletic administration conducted a review of the case, including information disclosed at Friday’s hearing.

“The review concluded that Mr. Boyd’s admitted actions are clearly inconsistent with the high standards of behavior expected of our student-athletes,” a vice chancellor said in a statement.

After prosecutors laid out the case against him, Boyd pleaded guilty to one count of being an accessory after the fact. As part of his plea deal, Boyd said he will willingly pay court costs, face 11 months and 29 days of unsupervised probation and “testify truthfully” against the men he helped in June.

Friday’s court hearing revealed information about the prosecutors’ case against the four former Commodores players charged with rape.

Davidson County Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman alleged in court that early on June 23, Brandon Vandenburg took an unconscious Vanderbilt student into a building on campus. Thurman said he was joined in his dorm room by three others also charged with rape — Cory Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie.

“Different individuals” then sexually assaulted the young woman, the prosecutor said, as captured by CNN affiliate WSMV. Vandenburg texted the 21-year-old Boyd a picture of her, which Boyd promptly erased so his girlfriend wouldn’t see it, Thurman said.

Soon after that text, Vandenburg called Boyd, “saying the victim had been messed with in the hall and sexually assaulted in the room, and he needed Mr. Boyd to come over,” Thurman said.

Boyd went over and, with two other people, moved the woman — who was lying in the hall unconscious, partially clothed — to a room, put her on a bed and then left, Thurman said.

Subsequently, Boyd exchanged texts with Vandenburg and Batey, Thurman said. In one, Boyd said, “Tell the boys to delete that sh**. I’m looking out for your a**.” Boyd also texted his girlfiend that he “got everything cleared up” and “deleted everything,” Thurman said.

More texts followed the next day, including one in which Boyd detailed how he had helped move the young woman and said “she doesn’t know anything that happened.” Boyd also talked about it with Vandenburg, Batey, Banks and McKenzie at a Popeyes restaurant, Thurman said.

October 28, 2013

Penn State announced Monday it will pay $59.7 million to settle claims by 26 young men who said they were sexually abused by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, capping a year of negotiations.

News of some of the settlements has been trickling out in recent months. The university said six claims are still outstanding. It has rejected some of them and is in talks to settle the others.

“We hope this is another step forward in the healing process for those hurt by Mr. Sandusky, and another step forward for Penn State,” University President Rodney Erickson said in a statement.

“We cannot undo what has been done, but we can and must do everything possible to learn from this and ensure it never happens again at Penn State.”

Sandusky, 69, is serving 30 to 60 years in prison after being convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last year.

November 13, 2013

Court filing in Vandy rape case seeks text messages from coaches

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A new court filing in the case against four former Vanderbilt University football players charged with rape seeks evidence of text messages sent by “coaches” that lawyers for one of the ex-players think could shed light on what happened.

The filing by attorneys for one of the players offers the first suggestion in court proceedings that members of the Vanderbilt football staff might have had some level of involvement in the incident that would be relevant to the criminal investigation.

California-based defense attorneys for former player Brandon Vandenburg said in their motion that a “large amount” of evidence has not been provided to them by Davidson County authorities as it should have been under the rules of discovery in criminal cases.

January 9, 2014

Reporter: USC Passed On James Franklin Due To Vanderbilt Players’ Ongoing Rape Case

Unlike many other reporters, Wolken took a look at some of the downsides to hiring Franklin, including the pending rape case against several of his players at Vanderbilt . . .

“I know for a fact that that is the reason that he was not in the mix at Southern Cal. They took a look at that situation, they knew about that situation, and he was not in the mix at all for that job primarily because of that.”

January 10, 2014

Penn State offered Vanderbilt’s James Franklin its head-coaching position on Wednesday after a long meeting with the search committee in Florida, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Franklin, 41, is expected to decide Thursday, according to the report.

There have been many conflicting reports regarding the Nittany Lions’ coaching position. The Penn State beat writer for the Centre Daily Times tweeted after the Times-Tribune story that a high-ranking PSU official said nobody had been offered the job.

Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, has become one of the hottest coaching names with his success with the Commodores, winning 24 games over the past three seasons.

Baseball Writers’ Association of America takes away Dan LeBatard’s vote because he made a mockery of the process

[ 75 ] January 9, 2014 |

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves:

Dan Le Batard won’t be voting in future elections for baseball’s Hall of Fame — either on his own, or as proxy for Deadspin readers.

Le Batard was stripped for life of his Hall of Fame voting privileges Thursday, one day after it was revealed he filled out his ballot based on the results of a poll of Deadspin readers on who they felt belonged in Cooperstown.

In addition to banning Le Batard from future voting, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, whose most tenured members vote on the Hall of Fame, also suspended him from the organization for one year.

“The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable,” the organization said in a statement.

The opinionated South Florida sports journalist received his membership through the Miami Herald but now works for ESPN. Only members of the BBWAA who have been with the organization for at least 10 years are allowed to vote.

“I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it,” Le Batard wrote on Deadspin in explaining his reasoning.

Le Batard said he is bothered by “all the moralizing we do in sports in general,” especially as it pertains to the snubbing of baseball greats who were linked to steroids, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Le Batard’s ballot did not make or break any Hall candidate’s election bid.

Not voting for somebody who used steroids, or might have used steroids, or played a time when some players used steroids — that’s fine. Also, not voting for overwhelmingly qualified candidates because your favorite marginal candidate hasn’t been chosen yet, or sending in a blank ballot every year for the sole purpose of annoying “sabermetic geeks,” (h/t Brien Jackson) is perfectly acceptable. But allowing ordinary baseball fans the tiniest voice in the process — that makes a mockery of the Hall of Fame vote.

What you need you have to borrow

[ 315 ] January 7, 2014 |

The DOE’s proposed budget for FY2014 extends the benefits of the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan to everyone’s eligible Income-Based Repayment (IBR) loans. As of now only people who hadn’t taken out any federal educational loans prior to October 2007 are eligible for PAYE.

These plans work like this: if the federal government (or, prior to 2010, private lenders participating in the FFEL program, but not other private loans) lends you money to go to school, and you suffer a “partial financial hardship,” you can pay a reduced amount on your loans as long as the hardship exists. The definition of a partial financial hardship is that the portion of someone’s adjusted gross income that doesn’t exceed 150% of the federal poverty line isn’t subject to debt repayment as long as the hardship exists. So if you don’t make more than 150% of the federal poverty line you don’t have to make any payments on your eligible educational loans. As for AGI 150% above the poverty line, you have to pay 15% of that under IBR, and 10% under PAYE, toward your loans as long as you’re eligible (eligibility gradually decreases and can eventually disappear to the extent that someone’s AGI increases faster than inflation).

Here’s a concrete example, using the more generous PAYE provisions, rather than the original IBR system. Suppose Bill takes out $100,000 in federal educational loans while going to undergrad and law school, and graduates with $100,000 in principal debt (Bill’s total debt will be higher, since interest will have already accrued on all of the loans that are unsubsidized, which at the post-graduate level is now all of them, but let’s stipulate that Bill paid the interest on the loans while in school to keep this simple). Bill gets a job that gives him an AGI of $40,000 (this is probably about the median for current law school graduates), and he gets raises that outstrip inflation by 25% each year for 20 years. At the end of that period, Bill will have made $74,000 in payments — an amount which will have covered just slightly over half of the interest that accumulated on the loans over this time (interest on federal government loans in income contingent repayment plans does not capitalize, but it does accrue).

Bill will at this point still owe $100,000 in principal and $73,000 in unpaid interest. This combined amount is then forgiven, and the sum of $173,000 is imputed to Bill as income.

Now one one level this is a “good” deal for Bill, who has not been tossed in debtor’s prison, or had his wages garnished (technically speaking anyway), or had liens placed on his property should he have acquired some, etc. In addition, using a standard discount rate Bill has made $44,000 in payments, reduced to net present value, so in terms of NPV he only paid back 44% of a $100K interest-free loan, which is certainly a better deal than he would have gotten from Tony Soprano or Chase. (Depending on his current economic circumstances he may have a big tax bill though. The good news is that if he and his loved ones are still broke he won’t).

On the other hand, what this “deal” adds up to is, under current tax law, a 23% annual hike in what would otherwise be Bill’s effective tax rate, for each year over the next two decades.

IBR and PAYE, in other words, constitute a gigantic functional backdoor tax hike on (primarily) the middle class and striving working class and poor youth of America, by a political establishment that would rather allow higher education to feed unmolested at the trough of government loans, while passing the costs of doing so onto college attenders and taxpayers via the kind of massively regressive and grotesquely generationally-skewed tax hike that could lead to actual social unrest in even this sleepy republic, if it were not so cleverly disguised.

Is it better than nothing? Absolutely. Is it in anyway an acceptable alternative to returning to a system of higher education that allows those who had the poor judgment not to be born to the Quality to pursue that education at a price that won’t require them to indenture themselves to the government? Absolutely not.

Ten years gone

[ 134 ] January 6, 2014 |

Apparently Iraq is once again on the verge of full-blown civil war:

On Thursday, The New York Times startled many—and should have outraged and depressed many more—when it reported that Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda were starting a serious uprising in Anbar province in Iraq and threatening to take over Ramadi and Falluja.

You remember those cities—scenes of so much bloodshed in the years after our trumped-up 2003 invasion. In fact, one of three American lives lost in the ten-year war expired in “pacifying” Anbar. Then there are the tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost in that province, and the utter devastation of Falluja (and lingering health defects). What a tragedy, what a waste, even as war criminal Bush draws praise for his paintings of dogs and Cheney earns applause on Leno. The Times reported:

The violence in Ramadi and Falluja had implications beyond Anbar’s borders, as the Sunni militants fought beneath the same banner as the most hard-line jihadists they have inspired in Syria—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That fighting, and a deadly bombing in Beirut on Thursday, provided the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was helping breed bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region, further destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq while fueling a resurgence of radical Islamist fighters.

Then yesterday came word that Falluja has fallen to the Al Qaeda rebels and also the key town of Karma (yes, that’s the very apt name). One senior police official in Anbar said Saturday that “Falluja is completely under the control of Al Qaeda.” Helluva job, Bushie.

Then, this morning, Richard Engel of NBC tweeted: “Both US and iran offering to help baghdad fight off al-qaeda in western Iraq. If attack on area comes, could be start of s/t big.”

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