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Scenes from the new gilded age, law school edition

[ 28 ] February 21, 2017 |

Five years ago this month I gave a talk to about 100 Stanford Law School students, with a professor or three in the audience as well.  Among other things I talked about how super-elite law schools like Stanford were having an invidious effect on the economics of legal education by continually jacking up their revenues and operating costs at a dizzying rate. In an era of idiotic college ranking systems, the super-elites were playing a key role in driving a destructive fiscal arms race, which was doing great damage to the vast majority of law students, who attend schools where most students don’t get elite legal jobs, or in many cases legal jobs at all.

Why not cut your tuition in half I suggested? (Also, what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding etc?).  The students all thought this was a grand idea, and several talked to me subsequently about how they might organize to petition the administration.

30 years ago I remember reading in Bill James’s annual abstract that there were days in his professional life when he felt like he was making no progress.  That observation was triggered by the selection of Andre Dawson as the National League’s most valuable player in 1987.  (According to today’s analytic methods, Dawson wasn’t even one of the top 20 players in the league that year, but even in those simpler sabermetric times the selection was obviously absurd.  The pick of George Bell over Alan Trammell over in the junior circuit was nearly as bad.)

Anyway back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Stanford Law School Revenues


Stanford’s revenues have gone up 29% in real terms in the last five years alone, at a time when yuuge numbers of law schools are drowning in red ink, after decades of trying to keep up with the Kardashians.  And the thing is, I just know the powers that be in Palo Alto (not only at the law school of course) are positively proud of themselves at how modestly they’ve raised tuition, given how much more they’re spending:

Stanford law school tuition

I may break this stuff down in more detail in a future post, if the world hasn’t blown up by then, and/or I haven’t drunk myself insensible.


Top Five

[ 307 ] February 17, 2017 |

Top five cover versions of original songs:

Rolling Stones, Love in Vain

Duane Allman and Boz Scaggs, Loan Me a Dime 

Shonen Knife, Top of the World

Yayhoos, Dancing Queen

Linda Ronstadt, Hasten Down the Wind






Math problem bleg

[ 35 ] February 17, 2017 |

Can you math wizards answer this one plz?

Year 0   16.83

Year 5    18.57

Year 10  21.38

Year 15  29.36

Year 20 36.05

What does this series extrapolate out to in years 25, 30, and 35?


I think I’m still in denial that this is actually happening

[ 269 ] February 16, 2017 |

Even though I suggested a year and a half ago that it very well could.

Therefore I’ll outsource to the always essential Josh Marshall:


This is that rare time when I think the cliched phrase is appropriate: That press conference speaks for itself. There’s very little I can think to add. It all amounts to a confirmation of what most of us already know. This man is not emotionally or characterologically equipped to serve as President. He lacks the focus, the ability to commit to even a passable amount of work without immediate emotional gratification. Thus his decision to hold a campaign rally in Florida on Friday. (It’s literally a campaign event, put on by his 2020 reelection campaign). Trump lacks the emotional resilience or toughness to deal with what is the inevitable criticism and difficulties of being President, which – lets be clear – are great.

These different deficits all feed upon each other. He lacks the steadiness for the job.

There are credible reports of Richard Nixon being in this sort of state in the final weeks of his presidency. But Nixon, to give him his due, was at the center of the greatest political scandal in American history, bearing down on him for months and pushing him toward the greatest political disgrace and humiliation in his nation’s political history. He was overseeing the Vietnam War, witnessing various domestic civil disturbances, grappling with foreign policy blowups which neared superpower confrontations. There was a lot going on. Trump has been President for less than four weeks. Aside from domestic, media driven and other crises of his own making, virtually nothing has happened.

But the man who just appeared before the press for a free-ranging airing of grievances looked tired, sullen and half broken. His bracing insistence that everything is going perfectly in his White House sounded desperate and bizarre.

He’s coming up on one month down and 47 to go.

If there’s any justice in the world, most of the Trumpkins will be far enough away from the nuclear explosions to die slow deaths from radiation poisoning.

The question of the moment

[ 162 ] February 15, 2017 |

How long can this go on?

After little more than three weeks, Trump’s behavior is no more erratic than it used to be, but in the context of the Presidency it seems so. This year’s “Saturday Night Live” season has been very funny, but the most startling moment was not a sketch but a depiction of something real: Trump’s obsessive tweeting, four years ago, about the end of the relationship between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. It’s been fascinating to watch him change policies in the twinkling of a tweet, as with his briefly confrontational China policy, inaugurated in December with a telephone call to Taiwan’s leader, and then reversed; or to witness his cobra-like lunges at newfound enemies, including the Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who revealed that Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, had told him that he found the President’s attacks on the courts “demoralizing.” Trump just can’t seem to stop himself. Three months after the election, which he won, he’s still talking about those mythical fraudulent voters, and still calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas.” When he again alleged voter fraud recently, in a room filled with senators, it got awkward; one attendee told Politico that “an uncomfortable silence” filled the room.

Those uncomfortable silences accompany chatter about Trump’s state of mind, which is abetted by talk from a leaky White House and even from a Trump doctor, Harold Bornstein, who may have crossed a doctor-patient confidentiality line when he told the Times that Trump has been taking the drug finasteride, to preserve his unique haircut. Writing in the Washington Post, Daniel Marchalik, a urologist at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center, discussed what he called “potentially life-changing and irreversible side effects that may be associated with these medications,” and which may include sexual, physical, and psychological changes, pretty much none of them good. It’s hard to dismiss all of this.

CBS’s Scott Pelley recently began his evening broadcast in a way that no evening news in this nation has ever begun: “It has been a busy day for Presidential statements divorced from reality.” He went on to give several now familiar examples, such as Trump’s insistence, contrary to all available evidence, that the press hasn’t reported on a number of terrorist attacks, or that opinion polls showing high levels of Trumpian disapproval are “fake news.” Perhaps there is some causal link between Trump’s distance from the recognizable world and his bodily distance from what once were the landmarks of his life, apart from brief treks to Mar-a-Lago. With Trump living inside what Harry Truman called “the great white sepulcher of ambitions and reputations” (although Truman, for most of his Presidency, lived in the cozier Blair House), and not inclined to drop by the Situation Room when an anti-terror Navy SEAL mission in Yemen was about to go terribly wrong, it’s hard not to wonder where this Presidency will go next. The mood inside the gates is said to be distressed. “Really hard to overstate level of misery radiating from several members of White House staff over last few days,” the Times’ Maggie Haberman recently tweeted. Outside, those who worry about all this are worrying less about policies—even those that are regarded with revulsion—but, rather, about how much longer someone who controls the power to destroy the world will be able to control himself.

A non-American friend of mine was asking me this morning if there isn’t some sort of mechanism for removing a president other than declaring him to be a criminal or mentally/physically unfit.  She was thinking of something along the lines of a legislative no-confidence vote, requiring the president to either resign or call a new election.

The absence of any such mechanism is a pretty serious flaw in our system, as we’ll probably have occasion to ponder a few thousand times in the next 1400-odd days.

9th circuit rules that Trump’s promise to ban Muslims indicates the possibility that his EO was intended to ban Muslims

[ 155 ] February 9, 2017 |

Ruling here.  (Most relevant bits are at 25-26).

Trump has already responded, in a manner that will be familiar to anyone who has tried to explain to an over-tired toddler why he can’t watch Zootopia eight times a day.

The Gorsuch gambit

[ 84 ] February 9, 2017 |

Senate Democrats need to apply their new-found resolve to oppose the Trump administration at every turn to the Gorsuch nomination.  Gorsuch is a very right-wing judge: this academic analysis concludes that he’s even more “conservative” (for foreign readers who might not be familiar with current American political categories, in contemporary parlance, “conservative” means “right-wing reactionary”) than Scalia and Alito, and is only outflanked by Clarence “Bring back the glory days of the 18th century” Thomas.

All the current babble about how Gorsuch is “brilliant” and “thoughtful” is just this thing of ours code talk by Ivy League types, who are apparently relieved that Trump didn’t nominate Dale Earnhardt Jr. or one of the Duck Dynasty crew.  “Brilliant” lawyers are a dime a dozen, and the fact that Gorsuch is not a rhetorical bomb thrower like Scalia just makes him likely to be more effective in pursuing his goals, and thus more dangerous as a practical matter.

So forget that this seat was stolen fair and square from Obama: Democrats should no more vote for Gorsuch than they should vote to gut Social Security or eliminate the estate tax.   Judicial nominations aren’t like legislation, in which horse trading to make a bad bill less bad sometimes make sense.  Nominations are up or down matters, and the argument that Trump might nominate an even worse nominee is weak, since a dumber and less suave nominee should obviously be preferable, from a progressive point of view, than somebody who makes “liberal” law professors swoon even as he stylishly mounts Randy Barnett’s or Richard Epstein’s favorite jurisprudential hobby horse and rides it straight back to 1880.

Beyond all this, absent some at this point completely unforeseeable development Gorsuch is going to be confirmed even if he doesn’t get a single Democratic vote.  Mitch McConnell has already made it perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to say, that he’s going to ram this thing through even if he gets no bipartisan cooperation.  So the only question is whether the GOP will have to nuke the filibuster to get their way.  As Jon Chait points out, the worst possible outcome is that Gorsuch gets confirmed while the filibuster stays in place, thus leaving it to Democrats to get rid of it in the (hopefully) near future, when the next Democratic president gets to fill a vacancy with a small Democratic majority in the Senate.  (And if you think the Republicans won’t force them to do so under these circumstances, I’ve got a full tuition scholarship to Trump University to sell you).

Where I disagree with Jon is in regard to his conclusion that once the Dems force the GOP to get rid of the filibuster, they should then vote for Gorsuch.  I don’t see any point in doing that, since Gorsuch is not somebody that any Democrat should want to be on the Court, and the argument that he might be replaced by someone “worse” is shaky indeed, given what “worse” ought to mean in this context.

In light of all this, it’s easy to understand why Gorsuch is whispering sweet nothings into Democratic senatorial ears about how very upsetting it is that Der Donald is being so awfully disrespectful toward federal judges.  Trump is being awful, of course, but on the list of awful things Trump did before Neil Gorsuch agreed to accept Trump’s invitation to be nominated to the SCOTUS, Trump’s recent remarks about judges wouldn’t make the top 100 (and even these remarks are if anything less offensive than what Trump had to say about Judge Curiel last summer).

Gorsuch’s game seems pretty transparent: to get himself onto the Court while preserving the filibuster, to be used by the GOP against future Democratic administration nominees.  Nobody who has a vote now should fall for it.

Sessions confirmed by (almost) straight party line vote.

[ 108 ] February 8, 2017 |

Manchin was the only Democrat to break ranks.  Of course Sessions is a disgraceful choice, and will certainly be a disaster, but it’s fairly encouraging that the Democrats did almost everything they could to stop it.  And hopefully McConnell’s little proto-fascist stunt in regard to Elizabeth Warren will be remembered.


[ 202 ] February 8, 2017 |

Suppose someone says something that is obviously and non-controversially false.  This is pointed out to him.  He then keeps repeating it anyway.  There are, it would seem, three possible explanations for this behavior:

The person’s reasoning abilities are so defective that what is obviously false to persons of normal intelligence is not so to him.

The person suffers from a mental and/or emotional illness or syndrome.  He would recognize that the statement is obviously false, if not for the interference with the reasoning process caused by a psychological disturbance of some sort.

The person knows that the statement is false but chooses to lie.  (A variation on this are statements made with  indifference to their truth or falsehood, aka Harry Frankfurt’s well-known distinction between lies and bullshit.)

ETA: As commenters are pointing out, these explanations are not exclusive of each other, and may indeed work synergistically to create a political singularity of stupidcrazyevil.

Consider this case:

President Trump met Tuesday morning with a group of sheriffs from the National Sheriffs Association, a group that consists of more than 3,000 sheriffs from around the country. And to this sworn group of  law enforcement veterans, with reporters taking notes, he again repeated a falsehood about the murder rate in America.

Trump told the sheriffs, “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” He blamed the news media for not publicizing this development, then added, “But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.”

The country’s murder rate is not the highest it’s been in 47 years. It is almost at its lowest point, actually, according to the FBI, which gathers statistics every year from police departments around the country. . .

Here are Trump’s exact words to the sheriffs:

“And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years. I used to use that, I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised. Because the press [gestures to reporters] doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.”

Trump made the same claim several times during the presidential campaign.  Many people have pointed out that this statement is obviously and non-controversially false (Even in the age of alternative facts, there are some statements that retain that status, at least for now).  What explains Trump’s persistence?  Is he stupid? Mentally ill?  Evil?  Displaying some combination of these characteristics?  It would be irresponsible not to speculate:


I think this has some explanatory salience here.  Trump is, it seems, a pretty dumb guy.  He’s also apparently an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, that is, he’s a dumb person who, as a consequence of his lack of reasoning ability, has an unrealistically high assessment of that ability.  In a money and celebrity worshiping culture, there’s a natural tendency to resist the conclusion that rich and famous people are often quite stupid, but in fact it’s not unusual for this to be the case.  You can be, as Jeeves described his employer, mentally negligible, and still be very rich.  (The easiest way to achieve this is to inherit so much money that you would be much richer today if you had simply stuck all that money in market-tracking investments.  This probably describes Trump’s financial situation).  As for fame, the correlation between intelligence and celebrity is weak at best, and quite possibly inverse.

In short, Trump is the kind of person who hears that the murder rate rose between 2014 and 2015, and sees on the teevee (I almost wrote “reads” but let’s not kid ourselves) that murders are spiking in Chicago and Baltimore, and then out of sheer intellectual laziness and stupidity confabulates some nonsense statistic in his head, which he then proceeds to convince himself is true because he genuinely believes he’s a very smart guy, so therefore what he’s concluded must be true.  An idiot in other words.


I understand that it’s dangerous to make medical diagnoses from a distance, and that it’s important not to stigmatize mental illness in general.  Still:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that’s good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call ― except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn’s accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn’t know, that it wasn’t his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

Trump was not thrilled with that response ― but that may have been a function of the time of day. Trump had placed the call at 3 a.m., according to one of Flynn’s retellings ― although neither the White House nor Flynn’s office responded to requests for confirmation about that detail.

For Americans who based their impression of Trump on the competent and decisive tycoon he portrayed on his “Apprentice” TV reality shows, the portrait from these and many other tidbits emerging from his administration may seem a shock: an impulsive, sometimes petty chief executive more concerned with the adulation of the nation than the details of his own policies ― and quick to assign blame when things do not go his way.

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump’s 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president’s conduct.

“I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this,” said Eliot Cohen, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush and a member of his National Security Council. “I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president.” . . .

To Cohen, who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, the problem is not the leakers. It’s the president. Because Trump has shown no true affection or respect for anyone outside his immediate family, Cohen said, he cannot expect that of his staff. “This is what happens when you have a narcissist as president.”

Speaking of Johns Hopkins, there’s this guy:

Gartner, a psychologist in private practice in Baltimore and New York, author of a psychobiography of Bill Clinton, and a former instructor in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, contends that Trump “manifestly” meets the DSM-published criteria for at least three personality disorders: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), antisocial personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder. They are a “toxic brew” that in his view not only make Trump “dangerous” but add up to “malignant narcissism,” not a diagnosis formalized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual but a label coined by the German-born psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm.

Gartner argues that Trump’s symptoms are so extreme that there’s no reason to adhere to the so-called Goldwater rule.


Finally, it’s possible that Trump isn’t really dumb or mentally disturbed at all, and that all the apparent stupidity and narcissism are just part of an elaborate act, put on by an evil mastermind — a veritable Bond villain come to life and elected president of the United States.  But that hypothesis reeks of paranoia, and personally I believe I’m far too smart and mentally well-balanced to fall for it.

Dr. Jill Stein

[ 315 ] February 7, 2017 |

A Stern warning

[ 235 ] February 5, 2017 |

Howard Stern is probably as close to an actual friend as Donald Trump has.  His take on why Trump ran for president and what he’s thinking about the whole thing now is no doubt a bit tongue in cheek, but I would bet there’s a lot of truth to it:

Howard Stern said on his program Wednesday that Trump will hate being president and the role will be detrimental to his mental health

Stern and Trump are long-time friends, with Trump making numerous appearances on Stern’s radio show over the years.

 “I personally wish that he had never run, I told him that, because I actually think this is something that is gonna be detrimental to his mental health too, because, he wants to be liked, he wants to be loved,” Stern said. “He wants people to cheer for him.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be a healthy experience. And by the way, he’s now on this anti-Hollywood kick. He loves Hollywood. First of all, he loves the press. He lives for it. He loves people in Hollywood. He only wants hobnob with them. All of this hatred and stuff directed towards him. It’s not good for him. It’s not good. There’s a reason every president who leaves the office has grey hair.”

. . .

Stern said he considers Trump a friend, but is opposed to his politics.

“I like Donald very much personally. I was shocked when he decided to run for president, and even more shocked that sort of, people took it seriously,” Stern said.

“I remember saying to him when he announced his presidency, I remember being quite amazed, because I remember him being for Hillary Clinton,” Stern added.

“And I remember him being very–I mean he was pro-abortion. So the new Donald Trump kind of surprised me.”

Stern said he doesn’t believe Trump has had a change of heart on issues like abortion, but is instead playing to his base.

The radio host said he also believed Trump ran for president solely to get a larger contract from NBC for “The Apprentice.”

“I think it started out as like a kinda cool, fun thing to do in order to get a couple more bucks out of NBC for The Apprentice, I actually do believe that,” Stern said.

“He just wanted a couple more bucks out of NBC, and that is why Donald is calling for voter fraud investigations. He’s pissed he won. He still wants Hillary Clinton to win. He’s so f—ing pissed, he’s hoping that he can find some voter fraud and hand it over to Hillary.”

Again some of this is probably a bit hyperbolic, but the idea that Trump’s presidential run was a publicity stunt that spun out of control remains plausible.  As is the idea that Trump almost literally can’t stand the criticism that comes with the job, given his extreme narcissism.   (That Trump is lying about issues like abortion is so obvious it doesn’t need to be argued).

On a related note, I think the best play for the anti-Trump movement right now is to hammer home relentlessly the message that Bannon is the real president, and that Trump is a puppet/empty ill-fitting suit.   Getting Bannon fired should be the top short-term priority, and there’s no way Trump can tolerate that message becoming the conventional wisdom.

Federal judge issues issues nationwide restraining order against Trump travel ban

[ 68 ] February 3, 2017 |

A federal judge in Seattle has temporarily blocked Donald Trump’s immigration travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

US district judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order Friday at the request of Washington state and Minnesota that’s effective nationwide.

Lawyers for the US government argued that the states do not have standing to challenge the order and said Congress gave the president authority to make decisions on national security and admitting immigrants.

Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson had sued, saying the order is causing significant harm to residents and effectively mandates discrimination. Minnesota joined the suit this week. Washington and Minnesota want a temporary restraining order while the court considers their lawsuit, which says key sections of the order are unconstitutional.

According to a government lawyer’s assertions in a court appearance today, more than 100,000 visas have been revoked in the week since the ban went into effect.  (The State Department says it’s “less than 60,000.”).

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