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Steve Diamond, academic fraud (an apparently infinite series)

[ 41 ] June 24, 2016 |

santa clara

I don’t want to fill up the cyberpages of LGM with sordid academic squabbles, but I also don’t want to let Steve Diamond quote me in a fraudulent way without making a record of it. Posted as a comment on Taxprof:

Stephen Diamond is a very dishonest man. Diamond does not link to my LGM post he quotes. This is not merely a matter of netiquette, because he quotes me in a way that intentionally hides the fact that my major criticism of him has nothing to do with his quibble regarding the minor point I made in the part of the post he does quote. He is intentionally misquoting me, and in such an egregious way that his behavior is a form of academic fraud. (ETA: Warren Terra in comments suggests that the phrase “academic fraud” shouldn’t apply to this context — a blog post — even if Diamond is behaving in a way that would be academic fraud in a more formal context. I’m of two minds about this).

Here’s what I wrote:

***
Let’s go to the numbers. Diamond cites Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment stats for his claim that incomes for lawyers “have increased steadily for at least two decades.” That’s a very misleading statement, for two reasons, one relatively minor, and the other not minor at all. The relatively minor reason is that, adjusted for inflation, median salaries (a crucial term, as we’ll see shortly) for lawyers have been essentially flat since the mid-1990s, which is as far back as the BLS stats go: adjusted for inflation, the median salary for lawyers has increased by less than 5%, from $110,000 to $115,00. That’s approximately half the wage growth experienced by the average American worker over the past two decades — which, needless to say, have hardly compromised a banner era for American workers in general.
***

Note that Diamond removes the bolded portion of the paragraph, for reasons that will soon be painfully evident.

Diamond’s complaint is that I compared growth in median lawyer salaries with growth in mean worker salaries. That is a fair point as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far: median salaries of all workers still increased more in percentage terms than median salaries of lawyers, and in any case this is all a distraction from my main initial point, which is that the earnings of salaried lawyers have been, as I said, essentially flat. (Diamond claims that a five percent cumulative growth rate in salaries over 17 years means salaried lawyers are staying “comfortably ahead” of inflation. Over this same time frame, Diamond’s employer increased sticker tuition for Diamond’s students by 60% in constant dollars. I wonder if Diamond’s students think that raising tuition 12 times faster than the growth rate in lawyer salaries constitutes a “comfortable” rate of growth for the cost of a Santa Clara law degree?).

But as I said in the original post, my initial point was a minor one, because Diamond’s claims about lawyer earnings are actually far more misleading. My main point, which Diamond hides from any readers he might have by distorting my text via elision, was this:

***
But, misleading as that part of Diamond’s statement is in context, that’s a minor point in comparison to another one, which is that the BLS wage statistics Diamond cites don’t include self-employed workers. How important is this omission when calculating the actual compensation of lawyers? (Let alone law school graduates, which is a very different category).

Consider that 75% of American lawyers are in private practice, and the large majority of those people are self-employed, either as individuals or in partnerships, meaning that they’re not salaried or hourly workers, and thus not included in the BLS wage stats. Diamond is aware of this, and thinks it means lawyers are making even more money than the BLS stats suggest:

Now, these numbers are “employed” lawyers so they do not include solo practitioners or partners who qualify as employers. But the first number is relatively small, approximately 4% on average of all practicing lawyers over that time period. And the second number is likely to skew income higher not lower, so excluding that number does not help the critics case that much. Arguably solos do less well financially (though we don’t know for sure based on the BLS data) so perhaps they cancel each other out.

Factor in higher paid partners and [it’s] likely they [lawyers] have stayed comfortably ahead of inflation.

Steve Diamond, a man who pontificates regularly on the economic status of lawyers, thinks that 4% of practicing lawyers are in solo practice. He produces this estimate by citing NALP data on the employment status of law graduates nine months after graduation. But many lawyers — perhaps most — graduated from law school more than nine months ago. How many of them are in solo practice? According to the ABA, the answer is roughly two out of every five, i.e., approximately ten times as many as the learned professor estimated. And what’s happened to their wages?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess: the mean earnings (the median is certainly much lower) of solo practitioners have declined by 30% in real terms over the past 25 years, from $71,000 to $49,000 per year, inflation-adjusted.

In other words, if we combine the BLS data on median lawyer salaries with tax data on the earnings of self-employed lawyers, we find that the median real compensation for lawyers – again, not law school graduates, but actual employed lawyers — is surely a good deal lower than it was a generation ago.
***

As is evident if one actually reads it, the main point of my post, as I emphasized at the time, was that, contrary to the assertions of Diamond and Michael Simkovic, the median earnings of lawyers (not just salaried lawyers) have decreased over the period covered by BLS data, because almost half of all lawyers in private practice are solos, and their income has decreased markedly over this period.

Looking at the actual post would also reveal to readers that Diamond’s analysis of lawyer income was so radically off the mark because, absurdly, he used the employment status of new law graduates to estimate how many lawyers are solos: a figure which he then proceeded to underestimate by 825%, when the real figure is 825% higher.

Imagine if Donald Trump claimed that affirmative action was destroying the career prospects of white men in America, and cited the “fact” that in America today only 4% of 25 to 29 year old white men have college degrees. If it were then pointed out to him that the real figure is 37%, would you expect him to give up on his pretensions of being an expert on the subject, and slink away quietly?

Of course not: what you would expect would be for Trump to then misquote his critics, while throwing rhetorical dust in the air and brazenly ignoring the fact that he had been exposed as someone who has no idea what he is talking about. But at least Santa Clara law students aren’t paying $75,000 per year for the privilege of having that particular lying blowhard spout ignorant nonsense at them.

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Opinion mongering: a brief typology

[ 66 ] June 23, 2016 |

the mac

The concept of intellectual prostitution is based on the idea that a person’s purportedly honest opinions shouldn’t be for sale. Here’s a classic statement from John Swinton, a leading journalist of the original Gilded Age, made when someone proposed a toast to the glories of America’s “independent press:” Read more…

Is there any defense for continuing to federally fund bad law schools?

[ 97 ] June 22, 2016 |

millennial

Whenever it’s pointed out that there are dozens of ABA law schools that cost $200,000 or more to attend and have horrible employment outcomes for their graduates, the same by-now very tired defense is trotted out, to wit that a “peer-reviewed study” has “proven” that law school graduates have historically had higher career earnings than people with no more than a BA.

One big problem with this defense is that it assumes the career earnings of the average law school graduate in 1970 or 1980 or 1990 are going to end up predicting the career earnings of a bad law school graduate in 2015. This begs the question as to whether it’s getting tougher over time to make a living as a lawyer (spoiler: it is).

Another big problem is that it mushes up law school graduates into one big generic statistical smoothie, when it’s obvious that the career outcomes for, respectively, graduates of elite law schools, sub-elite law schools, middling but I’ve always kept myself respectable law schools, bad law schools, and it’s a scam on its face law schools are not in any sense comparable.

This second problem crops up all the time in defenses of the status quo in American higher ed in general, which similarly rely on statistics showing that college graduates on average earn a whole lot more than people with no more than a high school degree. The response to that defense ought to be:

(1) Well of course they do. These aren’t in any sense similar groups — and it’s not as if the difference in their terminal educational credentials is the most significant difference between them. In other words, treating the correlation between educational credentials and career earnings as purely causal is obviously a gross oversimplification of the social and economic factors at play.

(2) College graduates aren’t making any more than they were 35 years ago in real dollars, so the subsequent increase in the so-called college premium is purely a product of the collapse in compensation for people without college degrees. Meanwhile college has become three to four times more expensive.

(3) Again, as with law schools, treating “college graduates” as a generic group implies that an analysis that treats Princeton grads and University of Phoenix grads as part of the same cohort makes sense intellectually, and in turn justifies the federal government lending out billions per year for people to go to for-profit diploma factories with terrible completion rates and employment outcomes.

Which brings us back to very expensive law schools with terrible employment stats. Realistically, perhaps 20% to 30% of the people schools like Valparaiso are currently admitting will end up having any kind of legal career at all, even if we set the bar extremely low when defining that outcome — say, someone who makes a living wage for at least five years while practicing law. And a small minority of that minority will end up making enough money to actually pay off the loans that its members incurred in order to acquire their degrees.

Given that, is there any possible defense for a system in which people can borrow $200,000 and more to attend Valparaiso and the many schools like it?

I think there actually is such a defense, but it’s too brutal for law school apologists to put it into words of few syllables. It goes like this:

A lot of the people now being admitted into low-ranked law schools are people who have, by professional class standards, poor career prospects. These schools have gone to quasi-open enrollment systems that now admit pretty much anybody with a college degree — any degree with any GPA — and an LSAT score — it no longer matters what the score is.

These are people who aren’t going to go to medical or dental school, or any decent graduate program or business school. From a career perspective, their college degrees are of minimal value — they may (or may not) allow them to get into various low-level semi-white collar occupations, where they might make mid-five figure salaries, that might (or might not) include actual benefit packages.

On the other hand, there’s a good chance these people will end up with the kind of retail, clerical, and other service jobs traditionally staffed by people with no college background at all.

In other words, matriculants at low-ranked law schools today are drawn from that part of the pool of college graduates who are, in a changing economy, seeing little or none of the increasingly tenuous “college premium.” This cohort is chronically under-employed anyway, so why not take a spin on the low-ranked law school roulette wheel at government expense? After all, under current law they’ll never have to pay back more than a small portion of their loans unless they make a lot of money, and they won’t even be hit with a big tax bill when their loans are forgiven 20 years from now, because they probably won’t have any significant net worth.

And of course there’s always the chance you’ll end up being that personal injury guy who can afford to advertise on the radio and on highway billboards, or the head of the Fort Wayne DA office, or in any case something else that’s a lot better than working the floor at Meijers. You belong to a generation that’s been economically shafted, and while a low-ranked law school is a leaky life raft at best, it’s better than nothing.

That’s the real current argument for continuing to allow people to borrow taxpayer money to go to places like Valpo’s law school, and dozens more like it. It’s not a very pretty argument, but then again it’s not a very pretty picture out there for a large percentage of Generation Y or the Millennials or whatever they’re being called now.

How much more pomo can the Trump campaign get?

[ 208 ] June 21, 2016 |

jb

It’s looking like the answer might be “none.”

A lot of Trump’s “campaign” has consisted of the by now playbook version of the outsider GOP run that’s just a semi-opaque fig leaf for a straight-up old fashioned grifting operation, see, e.g., id. op. cit. Herman Cain, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin et. al. Hence:

What’s more, certain aspects of Trump’s financials are garnering special attention. For instance, about 20 percent of the $6.7 million he spent in May — or about $1.1 million — went to companies he owns or to travel reimbursements for his children, WSJ reports.

His most expensive expenditure for the month was $423,317 to book his own resort — Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach. He paid one of his own golf courses $35,845, another $29,715, and his son Eric’s wine company more than $4,000. About $350,000 of the money the Trump campaign spent on private jets went to TAG Air — an airline Trump owns.

But Trump’s grifting is, not surprisingly, bigger, bolder, classier, and above all, far more suitable for providing the material for both a terrific HBO documentary and several dozen presentations at the MLA on the breakdown between “reality” and “fiction:”

The Trump campaign also paid $35,000 for advertising to a mystery firm called “Draper Sterling,” which might ring a bell for Mad Men fans and which may or may not actually exist.

I’m going with “not.”

Draper Sterling is the name of the ad agency in AMC’s Mad Men. But Legum is right; Trump’s financial filings show that he made several payments to Draper Sterling in April of this year for web advertising.

The address listed for “Draper Sterling” is nothing more than a house in the middle of suburban New Hampshire.

So what going on? Well there are two circumstantial clues. The first is that “Draper Sterling” is located a fifteen-minute drive and a town over from the hometown of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The second…

Want some Trump news? The campaign is doing a forensic audit on all of Corey Lewandowski’s spending.

— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 21, 2016

When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths of origin and signs of reality; of second-hand truth, objectivity and authenticity. There is an escalation of the true, of the lived experience; a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. And there is a panic-stricken production of the real and the referential, above and parallel to the panic of material production. This is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us: a strategy of the real, neo-real and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.

— Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

What’s the point of skimming if we’re being skimmed? Defeats the whole purpose of what we’re doin’ out there.

Casino

Is “Steve Diamond” a mole for the law school reform movement?

[ 29 ] June 19, 2016 |

diamonds

This hypothesis would explain why he keeps putting forth defenses of the legal academic status quo that are so laughably wrongheaded that they can only serve to nudge fence-sitters toward the shining path.

The alternative explanation is that he’s both delusional and none too bright.

In his latest missive, Diamond claims that lawyers and law students are doing great, in fact better than ever:

BLS data show that legal employment and incomes have comfortably recovered from the decline that set in after the crisis. In fact, nationally incomes and jobs for lawyers have increased steadily for at least two decades.

[L]aw students today are better off than those of a generation ago.

Let’s go to the numbers. Diamond cites Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment stats for his claim that incomes for lawyers “have increased steadily for at least two decades.” That’s a very misleading statement, for two reasons, one relatively minor, and the other not minor at all. The relatively minor reason is that, adjusted for inflation, median salaries (a crucial term, as we’ll see shortly) for lawyers have been essentially flat since the mid-1990s, which is as far back as the BLS stats go: adjusted for inflation, the median salary for lawyers has increased by less than 5%, from $110,000 to $115,00. That’s approximately half the wage growth experienced by the average American worker over the past two decades — which, needless to say, have hardly compromised a banner era for American workers in general.

But, misleading as that part of Diamond’s statement is in context, that’s a minor point in comparison to another one, which is that the BLS wage statistics Diamond cites don’t include self-employed workers. How important is this omission when calculating the actual compensation of lawyers? (Let alone law school graduates, which is a very different category).

Consider that 75% of American lawyers are in private practice, and the large majority of those people are self-employed, either as individuals or in partnerships, meaning that they’re not salaried or hourly workers, and thus not included in the BLS wage stats. Diamond is aware of this, and thinks it means lawyers are making even more money than the BLS stats suggest:

Now, these numbers are “employed” lawyers so they do not include solo practitioners or partners who qualify as employers. But the first number is relatively small, approximately 4% on average of all practicing lawyers over that time period. And the second number is likely to skew income higher not lower, so excluding that number does not help the critics case that much. Arguably solos do less well financially (though we don’t know for sure based on the BLS data) so perhaps they cancel each other out.

Factor in higher paid partners and [it’s] likely they [lawyers] have stayed comfortably ahead of inflation.

Steve Diamond, a man who pontificates regularly on the economic status of lawyers, thinks that 4% of practicing lawyers are in solo practice. He produces this estimate by citing NALP data on the employment status of law graduates nine months after graduation. But many lawyers — perhaps most — graduated from law school more than nine months ago. How many of them are in solo practice? According to the ABA, the answer is roughly two out of every five, i.e., approximately ten times as many as the learned professor estimated. And what’s happened to their wages?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess: the mean earnings (the median is certainly much lower) of solo practitioners have declined by 30% in real terms over the past 25 years, from $71,000 to $49,000 per year, inflation-adjusted.

In other words, if we combine the BLS data on median lawyer salaries with tax data on the earnings of self-employed lawyers, we find that the median real compensation for lawyers – again, not law school graduates, but actual employed lawyers — is surely a good deal lower than it was a generation ago (Of course a small minority of lawyers — those who are equity partners at large firms — have seen their incomes soar, but this fact has no relevance to the average lawyer). Meanwhile, private law school tuition has nearly tripled in real terms over that time, while resident tuition at public law schools has increased by a factor of five, which makes the claim that law students today are better off than those of a generation ago somewhat problematic.

And again, we’re talking about lawyers here, not law school graduates. The gist of Noam Scheiber’s Times article that set Diamond off was that, at law schools such as Valparaiso, a very large percentage of graduates will never actually be lawyers, if being a lawyer means having some sort of sustained career in the legal profession.

Law School Transparency provides a simple way to compare the employment outcomes for graduates of ABA law schools, by compiling, respectively, employment and underemployment scores for each one. The employment score counts how many graduates have full-time bar passage required jobs, excluding putative solo practitioners. The underemployment score reflects the percentage of grads who don’t have full-time professional employment of any type, not merely those who fail to get jobs as lawyers.

These scores are not perfect metrics, since for example Yale’s and Harvard’s relatively low (84% and 89%) employment scores are a product of the fact that some graduates of hyper-elite law schools get unicorn-type non-law employment outcomes. Still, they are good rough and ready guides, especially at the extremes. Speaking of which:

Valparaiso, Class of 2015 ten months after graduation:

Employment Score: 38.2%

Underemployment Score: 37.4%

More than three out of every five Valpo graduates aren’t managing to get any legal job, even though this category includes such dubious employment as the eat what you kill arrangements described in the Times article (such grads are counted as being “employed” by firms, even though the firms don’t actually pay them anything). Valpo also features a catastrophically high under-employment figure, indicating that nearly 40% of the class is either flat-out unemployed, or working retail, like the unfortunate young woman profiled in the piece.

Those are horrendous statistics, but perhaps we shouldn’t expect Professor Diamond, working as he does at a much more exalted institution, to be aware of how badly graduates of schools like Valparaiso are struggling.

Santa Clara, Class of 2015 ten months after graduation:

Employment score: 38.8%

Underemployment score: 39.3%

Three-year loan-financed cost of attendance:

Valparaiso: $194,477

Santa Clara: $269,978

I think we’re done here.

Ask the expert

[ 75 ] June 18, 2016 |

diploma

Michael Simkovic is having a conniption that Noam Scheiber talked to me instead of him about whether it’s a good idea to take on $200,000+ of non-dischargeable debt to go to a law school where 60%+ of graduates don’t get legal jobs, 30% are flat-out unemployed nearly a year after graduation, and approximately 0% get good paying jobs of any kind, legal or otherwise. He claims to believe this is actually a great career choice, probably because he’s being paid to perform unnatural intellectual acts by Access Group.

Simkovic is apparently enraged because according to him he’s an expert on the economics of law school and legal practice, and I’m not. This is a curious line of argument, because it’s an implicit appeal to the authority of credentials that he doesn’t actually have: Simkovic’s CV reveals no formal training in the subject matters on which he’s opining, unless going to Harvard Law School automatically makes you an expert on everything, which I suppose may be true in a certain sense.

As to matters of substance, the inspirational quality of Simkovic’s intrepid defense of the law school status quo is captured well by this argument:

Section 108 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that debt forgiveness is only taxable as income to the extent that the taxpayer has assets greater than his debts at the time of the forgiveness. If a student borrower has unencumbered assets that exceed his debts, he can use those assets to repay his loans. If he doesn’t have unencumbered assets, then he won’t pay any taxes when his student loans are forgiven.

In other words, either he is required to pays [sic] no taxes on debt forgiveness, or he accumulates enough assets that even after paying any taxes on debt forgiveness he will still have savings left over. If it’s the latter, then it means he can afford to pay those taxes and might have been able to afford to repay his student loans in full without any student loan forgiveness.

In other words, if after 20 years of loan repayment the graduate has a net worth of zero or less, he or she won’t owe the IRS any taxes when the remainder of the loan balance is forgiven. That’s Simkovic’s argument for why it’s a fine idea to take on massive debt to attend a law school with horrendous employment outcomes: because if you’re completely broke 20 years later, Uncle Sam won’t actually stick you with an extra tax bill when he finally lets you out of (metaphorical for now) debtor’s prison.*

*Offer subject to revocation at any time by the United States government.

End game

[ 76 ] June 17, 2016 |

valpo

Noam Scheiber has an excellent piece in the Times on the changing economics of legal education at low-ranked law schools, which combine high tuition with poor bar passage rates and dismal job outcomes for large numbers of their graduates.

Scheiber spent several days at Valparaiso’s law school, talking to students and faculty, and he places the school’s struggles within the larger context of the declining demand for lawyers. He reveals that last fall the university was considering closing the law school, but decided to downsize instead:

In February, Valparaiso announced it was offering buyouts to tenured professors. As of May, 14 of 36 full-time faculty members had either accepted the package or retired. The law school plans to reduce its student body by roughly one-third over the next few years, from about 450 today.

Valpo has already shrunk from 566 JD students in 2010 to 433 last fall. By my calculation net tuition revenue for the school fell from about $19.4 million to $13.3 million over that time.

Over the last few years, all but a handful of the most elite law schools have had to engage in some combination of reducing class size, cutting admission standards, and cutting effective tuition (sticker minus discounts). Valpo has done all three. The school cut admissions standards drastically three years ago, with its median LSAT dropping from the school’s historical 150 range to an astonishing 143. The last two entering classes have compiled 50th/25th LSAT percentiles of 145/142 and 145/141.

These scores all but guarantee that the school will be unable to come anywhere close to meeting the new ABA requirement that 75% of a school’s graduates who take the bar pass it within two years of graduation. (Valpo’s bar passage rates have already dipped far below that figure, and that’s before the “beneficiaries” of the school’s new quasi-open enrollment policy have even taken the bar. The entering class of 2013 will begin to do so next month).

As for tuition, in constant dollar terms Valpo has maintained sticker tuition at about $40,000 (2016$) for about five years now, while the percentage of the class paying sticker has fallen from a little under three quarters to a little over half.

When we spoke, I emphasized to Scheiber that Valpo’s historical journey from a modest but respectable regional law school that didn’t cost much to attend to an institution with something resembling Harvard Law School’s financial structure (minus HLS’s two billion dollar endowment of course) is a completely standard one in the context of American legal education.

In the fall of 2015, Valpo was charging what Harvard was charging its students in 2007 (if you adjust for inflation, Valpo’s current tuition matches Harvard’s in 2002). No law school charged $40,000 in tuition a decade ago: now the vast majority of private law schools — and quite a few public ones — charge that and far more.

Here’s the average tuition at private ABA law schools over time: (All figures have been adjusted to constant 2016 dollars):

1956: $4,178

1974: $11,232

1985: $16,803

1995: $26,480

2005: $35,550

2015: $45,123

The result of this trajectory is that the average Valpo graduate now graduates with about $150,000 in law school debt alone (this figure doesn’t include other educational debt, consumer debt etc.). Indeed the average Valpo Law School graduate has more law school debt than the average Harvard Law School graduate, because while the average debt incurred by HLS graduates with debt is about 15% higher, only 72% of 2015 HLS grads had any law school debt at all, while the comparable figure for Valpo was 94%. (That 28% of HLS grads have no law school debt is strictly an expression of the fact that a whole lot of rich kids go to HLS, since maximum need-based aid to HLS still requires the student to pay about $45,000 per year in tuition and living expenses).

But while almost any HLS grad who wants a big firm job with a six-figure starting salary can get one, the percentage of Valpo grads who can get such jobs — the only jobs which offer reasonable prospects that $150,000+ in educational debt is actually going to get paid off — is essentially zero. Indeed less than half of Valpo’s 2015 graduating class had any legal job ten months after graduation, and three out of every ten graduates were flat-out unemployed. Scheiber poses the most relevant question all this raises quite directly:

Given the tectonic shifts in the legal landscape, the relevant issue may not be how much law schools like Valparaiso should shrink. Today the more important question is whether they should exist at all.

I’ll address that question, along with the question of how law schools managed to end up increasing their tuition by a factor of ten in real terms, in another post.

Is Donald Trump just Sarah Palin/Ben Carson/That Other Guy on steroids?

[ 98 ] June 16, 2016 |

network

In other words, is the whole “presidential campaign” thing just the grifter’s classic use of misdirection?

It is increasingly clear that Trump’s actions are inconsistent with any rational plan to become president. He is unpopular on a scale that defies historical precedent, utterly loathed by overwhelming majorities. Some people believed Trump was merely playing the part of a right-wing provocateur in order to stand out from the field and win his party’s nomination, and would “pivot” to the center afterward, but these hopes have been dashed. Trump has only become more hated. Nor is he doing basic tasks required of a nominee. When he was asked to call two dozen major Republican donors, Politico reports, Trump called three of them and then packed it in. . .

What it could well be is a plan to launch an independent media organ. Sarah Ellison reports that Trump is exploring the possibility of a television or other media venture that would cater to his loyalists. “According to several people briefed on the discussions, the presumptive Republican nominee is examining the opportunity presented by the ‘audience’ currently supporting him,” she writes. “He has also discussed the possibility of launching a ‘mini-media conglomerate’ outside of his existing TV-production business, Trump Productions LLC.” According to Ellison, Trump chafes at the way media have been able to make money off his antics without him getting a cut — a piece of reporting that happens to comport with Trump’s frequent public boasts about the ratings he commands and the money others are making off him.

And if this is Trump’s plan, it makes sense. Perhaps he grasps a truth the official Republican Party has refused to acknowledge: The conservative base is a subculture. It is a numerically large subculture, but a subculture nonetheless. It rejects the moral values of the larger society and wallows within its own imaginary world, in which Barack Obama is a foreign-born agent of anti-American interests, global warming is a lie concocted by greedy scientists or perhaps the Chinese, and hordes of foreigners are rendering the United States unrecognizable. The greater the gulf between the reality perceived by Trump’s supporters and the reality experienced by the rest of the world, the worse for the Republican Party, but all the more profitable for the media that can cater to their delusions. Figures like Rupert Murdoch, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh have grown rich doing so. Trump may have figured out that there’s no reason he should work for them when he can cut out the middleman.

That this is even a plausible hypothesis (and it is) is yet another example of how certain famous cinematic satires can now be enjoyed as prophetic documentaries.

My best guess remains what it was ten months ago:

Trump’s campaign started as a publicity stunt, but has since spun out of control. It’s the plot of The Producers, but, increasingly, the joke’s on the GOP. And, now that Trump’s bottomless narcissism is being fed by the spectacle of his transformation into a “serious” candidate, it’s hard to predict where all this will ultimately end up.

Political violence

[ 108 ] June 16, 2016 |

jo cox

I have a bad feeling that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing in the near future, on both sides of the Atlantic:

LONDON — A member of Parliament was gunned down outside a library in northern England as she was wrapping up a meeting with constituents on Thursday afternoon, a rare act of political violence in a nation that strictly regulates firearms.

The lawmaker, Jo Cox, 41, who was considered a rising star in the opposition Labour Party and was a passionate advocate for victims of the civil war in Syria, was shot in Birstall, a town about six miles southwest of the city of Leeds. A 77-year-old man was slightly injured in the attack.

A 52-year-old man was arrested in Ms. Cox’s killing, and the police said they were not looking for any other suspects. No motive has been established, officials said.

Gun ownership in Britain has been tightly controlled since a 1996 massacre at a school in Scotland, and historians said it was the first time a sitting member of Parliament had been killed since 1990, when the Irish Republican Army assassinated a Conservative lawmaker, Ian Gow.

The killing occurred one week before a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, and both sides immediately halted campaigning out of respect for Ms. Cox.

“The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain wrote on Twitter, describing Ms. Cox as “a committed and caring M.P.” and “a great star.” He said, “It’s right that we’re suspending campaigning activity in this referendum.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, wrote on Twitter: “The whole of the Labour family, and indeed the whole country, is in shock and grief at the horrific murder of Jo Cox.”

Ms. Cox, like most other Labour politicians, supported Britain’s continued membership in the European Union. In her maiden speech in Parliament last year, she spoke of the diversity of her district, which includes Irish Catholics and Indian Muslims. “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” she said.

Alex Massie:

So, no, Nigel Farage isn’t responsible for Jo Cox’s murder. And nor is the Leave campaign. But they are responsible for the manner in which they have pressed their argument. They weren’t to know something like this was going to happen, of course, and they will be just as shocked and horrified by it as anyone else.

But, still. Look. When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. This is worse, much worse, than just sad. This is a day of infamy, a day in which we should all feel angry and ashamed. Because if you don’t feel a little ashamed – if you don’t feel sick, right now, wherever you are reading this – then something’s gone wrong with you somewhere.

Submitted for your consideration

[ 240 ] June 15, 2016 |

slim

OK we live in interesting times and predictions, especially about the future, are even trickier than usual, but I take it that these points are non-controversial:

(1) Trump is a completely undisciplined narcissistic sociopath, who is also none too bright, although he does have a certain animal cunning, along with a version of the perverse charisma that some sociopaths seem to radiate.

(2) He has no campaign organization.

(3) Make America White Again wouldn’t be a good campaign strategy even if (1) and (2) weren’t the case.

Therefore, it seems quite probable that by the time the fall rolls around, it will be obvious that Trump will be heading for a historic beatdown, something in the 61-39/58-42 range, i.e., a margin previously thought impossible in these partisan times when too few people can see the wisdom of a Bloomberg-Friedman ticket, and which would certainly cost the GOP the Senate, while seriously denting even their gerrymandered majority in the House.

Assuming that’s roughly correct, what happens then? Does the GOP establishment jump ship and go into triage mode? Or do they ride this bomb all the way to the ground, Slim Pickens-style?

That joke isn’t funny any more

[ 216 ] June 13, 2016 |

il douche

Today’s experiment in proto-fascism:

Donald Trump said Monday that he is “revoking” the Washington Post’s press access at his campaign events, calling the newspaper “phony and dishonest.”

In a Facebook post, the presumptive GOP nominee attributed the decision to the newspaper’s “incredibly inaccurate coverage” of him.

The Post’s executive editor Marty Baron responded:

“Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished. The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along — honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it.”

Monday’s announcement was an astonishing move by the Trump campaign, given the Post’s status as one of the most respected newsrooms in the United States.

But it follows a pattern. Trump has repeatedly refused to give press credentials to major news outlets when he disagrees with coverage decisions.

Reporters who do not receive press credentials are sometimes still able to attend Trump events as members of the general public. But sometimes the denial of press credentials restricts access altogether.

BuzzFeed, Politico, The Daily Beast, Univision, and The Huffington Post are among other outlets that have been blocked in recent months. Some journalists have described this as an emerging Trump “blacklist.”

Did Nixon ever try to cut off the Post’s access to the White House?

Is there any amount of money that university administrators can’t spend?

[ 72 ] June 9, 2016 |

rockefeller

The University of Chicago is one of the richest schools in the country, and it’s vastly wealthier than it was even a few years ago. Nevertheless:

Budget cuts are drawing protests at the University of Chicago amid worries academic departments are being asked to pay for a past construction boom — and faculty members fear that their historical influence on major decisions is being diminished.

Faculty members, students and staff have questioned a recent request to draw back academic division budgets by 8 percent as the university seeks an estimated $30 million in savings during its second round of cost cutting in two years. The university’s administration has indicated it needs to contain administrative costs as its overall operating budget has continued to grow.

The dean of the humanities division at the University of Chicago quit with a year left in her term today, underscoring pressures on scholars to cut costs and initiate layoffs at the Hyde Park campus.

Martha Roth, an ancient Near East scholar and dean for nine years, only hinted at the financial challenge in an email disclosing her resignation, effective June 30:

“I feel this is the best time for the division to have new leadership. The new dean will have the responsibility and the authority to make informed decisions about faculty hiring, and tenure and promotion; about graduate student admissions; and about personnel and support structures in order to chart the strongest future for our division.”

A colleague said she cited in a meeting last week an administration mandate to slice spending by 8 percent, on top of previous reductions, in the fiscal year that begins next month. Roth did not return phone calls.

Undergraduate tuition at U of C has doubled in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 25 years, from $26,000 to $51,500 (both figures 2016 dollars).

Meanwhile, the institution’s endowment has grown over that time from $1.074 billion ($1.97 billion in 2016 dollars) to $7.55 billion — a 283% increase in inflation-adjusted terms.

But it’s never, ever enough. The main drivers of out of control spending in Hyde Park seem to be the usual suspects: the edifice complex and administrative bloat:

The university’s debt has grown rapidly in recent years. Notes and bonds payable totaled $4.2 billion in 2015, up from just over $3 billion in 2011 and more than double the 2007 figure of $1.8 billion. The increase has come as assets listed under land, buildings, equipment and books are up sharply, rising to $4.4 billion in 2015 from $3.2 billion in 2011 and $2 billion in 2007. That would appear to hold with trends of the time frame, when many universities built facilities financed by debt in order to take advantage of what were seen as historically low interest rates.

Regardless of how the university arrived at its current financial situation, ratings agencies have taken notice. In February Standard & Poor’s downgraded the University of Chicago’s long-term debt rating, citing recent and expected operating deficits as well as high exposure to the health care industry due to the University of Chicago Medical Center and high maximum annual debt service costs. In its own ratings note, Moody’s Investor Service called the university’s employee benefit liabilities significant and said its exposure to the volatile health care sector could be a challenge.

Meanwhile, top administrators are vowing to bring administrative costs under control by firing a bunch of secretaries and research assistants:

When administrators briefed faculty representatives on the needed cost cutting, faculty members raised concerns about who, exactly, would bear the brunt, said Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions in the University of Chicago Divinity School who is on the Council of the University Senate.

“They spoke of it in terms of administrative costs, but in response to critical questioning it became clear what they had in mind was people with five-figure salaries, not people with six-figure salaries,” he said. “It’s not the vice presidents. It’s not the higher-ups in the administration that they think are bloated — in contrast to the opinion of a lot of faculty. But it’s secretaries and research assistants and lower-order people.”

Sounds like a situation that calls for some high-priced consultants to figure out how to synergize something something globalized disruption something thought leaders. I’m pretty sure these guys are available.

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