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Democracy in action

[ 470 ] December 23, 2016 |

A Trump voter from a rural Kentucky county in which Trump won 82% of the vote:

The insurance we had before, we ended up paying about $1,200 a month for a family of five. It just kept going up each year.

So we ended up dropping it.

We didn’t have health insurance. And we went for maybe two years with no insurance until this came out. We really didn’t go to the doctor because it cost too much.

So for the past two years, we had the It’s made it affordable.

My husband ended up getting sick this year. He has non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

He’s lost all this weight and all this muscle tone. Some people don’t recognize him that he’s known for years until he speaks and they recognize his voice.

But it’s been great to have health insurance, because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to not have it with all the treatments and things that he’s had to have done.

When we didn’t have health insurance, we didn’t go and get blood work and all that stuff done to be checked to see, you know, how his liver was doing.

He was taking medicines that could damage the liver for the cholesterol and all that stuff. But because it costs so much to get blood work done … [the doctor] wanted it done every three months, and he would do it maybe once a year. . . .

I’m not really a fan of [Obama’s] policies, but I like the fact that he gave me health insurance. And I have been worried about the fact that, you know, is it going to go away because, like I said, we’re in a situation now where I can’t afford to pay $1,200 a month. And I can’t go without insurance because he has to have it in order, you know … a transplant could be a million dollars. . . .

I don’t know. I guess I thought that, you know, [Trump] would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it’s affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?

You know, what are we to do?

So I don’t know. Maybe he’s thinking about, you know, the little people that are not making the big money, like what they make in New York and Washington and all the places that, you know, this is not, you know, something — this is people’s lives that’s being affected.


On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood made recordings of the 90-minute focus groups—held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Phoenix; Las Vegas; and Milwaukee—available to a group of journalists.

For opponents of Trump, the recordings make for excruciating viewing. They show how myths about Hillary Clinton’s corruption proved more influential than facts about Trump’s. “I really didn’t trust Hillary at all, and that’s why I went with Trump,” said a new mother in Harrisburg who’d been undecided until the last moment. “He’s more honest than her.” Some of the conversations make clear the role sexism played in the election. “I didn’t know if I was ready for the first woman president,” said a pretty, pregnant blonde 27-year-old woman in Phoenix. “I know how emotional I am, so … “ But if they’re maddening, the focus groups are also revelatory. They suggest that the Clinton campaign made a fatal mistake in depicting Trump as outside the bounds of normal conservatism. Clinton’s camp had hoped that doing so would lead Republicans to defect. Instead, it helped some people who distrust conservatism to reconcile themselves to Trump. . .

n Phoenix, two middle-aged women in the Trump-only focus group said they wouldn’t support him for re-election if he signed away funding for Planned Parenthood. “It’s a deal-breaker,” said an earthy 58-year-old in a plaid work shirt. “It will rob women of basic fundamental rights. I’m talking about female health care, which includes abortion. Which includes birth control. I think birth control is the greatest gift that they gave for womankind.” Added a 44-year-old, if Trump attacked Planned Parenthood, “I’d be pissed off as hell.”

This leads to an obvious question: If these women think defunding Planned Parenthood is a deal-breaker, why did they vote for a candidate who promised to do exactly that? After all, in a September letter addressed to “Pro-Life Leaders,” Trump pledged to strip Planned Parenthood’s federal funding unless it stops performing abortions. But many of the people in the focus groups didn’t know he’d made this assurance, and those who did didn’t take it seriously. It seemed as if Trump’s lasciviousness, which Clinton hoped would disqualify Trump with women, actually worked in his favor. The focus group participants couldn’t imagine that Trump would enact a religious right agenda. “He’s probably paid for a few abortions himself,” said the 58-year-old in Phoenix, eliciting a roomful of laughs.

This is why we can’t have nice things.


Who can solve the mystery of why California bar exam pass rates are falling?

[ 170 ] December 21, 2016 |

The deans of California’s several hundred ABA-approved law schools (actually 21, but there are dozens of California-accredited and unaccredited ones as well, including my personal favorite, Taft law school, a strictly online operation named after America’s healthiest president, and the alma mater of Orly Taitz, the Atticus Finch of the Birther movement) are up in arms about how many of their graduates failed the state’s bar exam this past July.  The first-time pass rate for ABA graduates was 62%.  Until they started slipping three years ago, the typical first-time pass rate for ABA law school grads was generally in the mid-70s, so the latest numbers represent a substantial decline.

Erwin Chemerinsky wonders whether the California bar is secretly making the test harder, in a covert campaign to raise barriers to entry:

The State Bar needs to be much more transparent and explain this statistical drop. Is it a result of a conscious desire to limit the number of attorneys in California, a goal which should be widely condemned? I have heard many speculate that this is what is going and the State Bar would be well served to address this concern directly.

I’m going to try really hard not to be rude here.  Chemerinsky has been dean of a California law school for nine years.  His job is to get the students the school charges $45,000 to $51,000 per year in tuition to pass the California bar.  That’s literally his main job.  Not in the sportscaster sense of literally, but literally literally.  And he apparently doesn’t know anything about the California bar exam, unless he’s feigning ignorance for political purposes, which I’m pretty sure would be unconstitutional.

The California bar exam grading process is already transparent.  Anybody who is interested can look up the technical reports on how it’s done.  The exam has two main parts: the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE), and the California portion of the exam.  The MBE is a scaled and equated test, which means that the scores of each administration are adjusted to reflect the relative difficulty of the exam.  And the grading of the California portion of the test is always curved to the MBE.  In other words, to the extent possible in this wondrous age in which we live, the variation in pass scores on the exam is a product of the ability of the people who take it to pass it, not by any variation in the exam itself.

Again, we’re not talking about knowing Allen Iverson’s lifetime free throw shooting percentage here.  We’re talking about understanding the grading of the test your students have to pass to qualify to engage in legal practice, which, I repeat, is pretty much a law school dean’s main job.

OK, deep breath.  Serenity now . . . But Erwin the Unready isn’t done yet:

But I think that the more important question is whether the bar exam is measuring the skills that show a person is likely to be a competent attorney. Having taught students preparing for the bar for over 30 years, I am very skeptical and would like to see much more careful consideration of how to devise a bar exam that measures what it is purporting to assess: basic competence to be a lawyer.

That’s a really great point.  We wouldn’t want to have too many wildly expensive and unnecessary barriers to entry now would we?

Except . . . guess what’s by far the best predictor of whether somebody is going to pass the bar?  No you don’t have to guess because I’m going to tell you: law school grades.  These are uncannily good predictors of likely bar success or failure.  At my own school, we recently did a study of every graduate over a five year period and found that law school class rank, when considered by decile, was a perfect predictor of the future risk of bar failure.

So if the bar exam isn’t measuring skills that show a person is likely to be a competent attorney, what exactly is law school — which takes three years not three days to complete, and costs hundreds of times more to attend than the bar exam itself — measuring?  Besides the ability to pass the bar exam of course.  Ironic, isn’t it? (Not sportscaster irony, irony irony).

So why are bar exam pass rates falling? David Faigman, the new dean at UC-Hastings, is particularly interested in this question, given the remarkable drop in the pass rates of the school’s graduates.

Pass rates of Hastings graduate first-time takers of the California bar exam:

2010:  80.3%

2011: 78.6%

2012: 76.4%

2013: 74.2%

2014: 68.4%

2015: 67.5%

2016: 51%

Faigman, to his credit, didn’t sugarcoat this disaster in an email to students and faculty, calling the 2016 numbers “horrific.”  The 2014 and 2015 numbers had been unacceptable, he wrote, but this latest performance “takes unacceptability beyond the pale.”  Nevertheless he lambasted the state bar examiners:

As an aside, let me express my utter incredulity with the conduct of the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California.  The pass-rate for first-time takers of ABA accredited California law schools was 62%.  In comparison, New York’s bar-pass rate was 83%.  The California Bar is effectively saying that 38% of graduates from ABA accredited law schools are not qualified to practice law.  This is outrageous and constitutes unconscionable conduct on the part of a trade association that masquerades as a state agency.

Well . . . maybe.  There’s certainly an argument to be made that the California bar is too hard, although as far as I know Hastings wasn’t making it when 80% of their grads were passing it on the first try not long ago.  But this is a side issue.  Faigman’s primary concern, of course, is with the question of why the school’s bar passage rate has collapsed.

This is one of those questions that’s actually very easy to answer, but since the answer is economically unacceptable, more esoteric explanations must be jury-rigged one way or another:

[Faigman] wants Hastings professors to adjust their testing techniques so students can have more practice with the bar exam’s timed, closed-book format, and he suggested that additional midterm exams could provide students with valuable feedback.

“I think our basic obligation as a professional school is to ensure that our students and graduates are prepared to practice law, and that means training them to be great lawyers, which Hastings has been very good at historically, but also ensuring that they get through the entrance exam to be a lawyer,” Faigman said Tuesday. “As I’ve been very honest about and very clear about over the last few years, we as a faculty have not done as much in that regard.”

Again, this ignores the awkward fact that most law school exams are apparently similar enough to the bar exam to function as excellent proxies for it in regard to the risk of failure.  It also puts forth, or at least implies, the implausible theory that widespread and radical pedagogic changes at Hastings between 2007 and 2013 played a major role in the collapse of the bar passage rate of its grads between 2010 and 2016.

In fact the real explanation for that collapse is as plain as day: Hastings slashed its entrance requirements in the face of cratering application totals.  Here’s the median and 25th percentile LSAT score for the school’s entering classes (keep in mind that almost everyone takes the bar for the first time three years after they matriculate), along with the size of the 1L class in each year:

2007:  163/160   (401)

2008: 163/61     (426)

2009: 164/161   (469)

2010: 164/160   (383)

2011: 162/157    (414)

2012: 162/157   (317)

2013: 159/155   (333)

There’s a moderately strong correlation between LSAT scores and law school grades, and an extremely strong correlation between law school grades and bar passage rates, so . . .

BTW Hastings’ last three entering classes have pretty much the same credentials as the entering class of 2013 so I doubt that trying to get professors to change their teaching methods will lead to any changes in bar passage rates, but it will provide many opportunities for selective bureaucratic harassment, which is what could be called a silver lining from an administrative point of view.

Anyway, as bad has Hastings’ bar results were they were still better than those of seven other ABA California schools:

Western State: 42%

Southwestern: 38%

San Francisco: 36%

Golden Gate: 31%

Laverne:  31%

Thomas Jefferson: 31%

Whittier:  22%

Again these are all first-time taker rates.  (Second-time etc. takers have much lower rates naturally).

If the ABA actually adopts its proposed new standard requiring 75% of a school’s graduates who take the bar to pass it within two years of graduation (final approval could take place in February), the carnage is going to be something to behold.








James Comey stole the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump, full stop

[ 155 ] December 20, 2016 |

Josh Marshall received the following from a former federal prosecutor with deep experience in public corruption investigations and prosecutions:

I’ve reviewed the redacted search warrant that the Court unsealed today.

It confirms what we assumed all along: (1) prior to seeking the warrant and to Comey issuing his letter, the FBI had no idea whether these were new emails, or duplicates of emails they previously reviewed–all they could see was non-content header information (to and from); (2) the FBI had no information to suggest that the emails were improperly withheld from them previously; and (3) the FBI had no facts to justify the urgency in seeking a review of the emails prior to the election. This latter point is key. Generally, DOJ policy commands that prosecutors and agents refrain from taking investigative steps (even non-public steps like seeking search warrants) within 60 days of an election in a politically sensitive matter.Bottom line: nothing new, no urgency, no obstruction, no reason to defy longstanding DOJ policy and risk affecting the election. And there was simply no basis for Comey’s decision to make matters worse by issuing a public letter to Congress.

If the prospect of a Trump-appointed FBI chief weren’t so scary, there is no question that Comey should be unemployed right now.

The last sentence is probably correct as a pragmatic matter, but Comey should be in prison, not merely unemployed (given that the GOP does not bother itself with such trivial details as to whether its targets have actually broken any laws, there will be no reason not to return the favor going forward).

Republicans have flat-out stolen two of the last five presidential elections. This is not a metaphor. This is a literal statement of fact. In both cases extremely powerful institutions within the federal government egregiously violated their own rules to hand an election to a candidate who, in the first case, had actually lost it already, and in the second, was about to lose it if not for the illegitimate intervention.

So the way I see it, Democrats have got a couple of presidential elections to steal back before we call this even.

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king

DOE decides enough is enough for Infilaw scamsters

[ 40 ] December 19, 2016 |

A couple of years ago I wrote a long investigative piece for the Atlantic on how Infilaw, a subsidiary of the Chicago-based private equity outfit Sterling Partners, was exploiting the GRADPLUS federal student loan program via three wildly expensive for-profit law schools: Arizona Summit, Charlotte, and Florida Coastal.

Among other things, the article outlined how Infilaw had, in the face of a steep decline in law school applicants, thrown the schools’ already-low admission standards out the window, and predicted that as a consequence bar passage rates for graduates would collapse, and the already grim job prospects for those graduates would get even more dire.

All this has since come to pass.  Despite employing desperate measures such as paying graduates not to take the bar exam, bar passage rates at all three schools are in free fall.

Now the Department of Education has decided to cut off the spigot:

The Department of Education says it will end federal assistance to the Charlotte student body as of Dec. 31. Much of the money would have come as tuition loans – a devastating loss to a school that has branded itself as a gateway to the legal profession for nontraditional law students.

It’s not clear how many of the for-profit school’s 700 or so students (down from a high of about 1,400) depend on federal aid to meet tuition and expenses estimated at about $60,000 a year. Last year, Charlotte School of Law enrolled about 950 students who received about $48.5 million in federal aid, most of it in student loans. [“Most” means essentially all.  There is currently no limit on how much graduate and professional students can borrow from the feds via GRADPLUS.)

In making the announcement, federal officials accused Charlotte School of Law of being “dishonest” and “misleading” in describing the education it offered and the likelihood of its students becoming lawyers. The American Bar Association, the accrediting agency for law schools, put the school on two year’s probation in October for similar reasons.

“The ABA repeatedly found that Charlotte School of Law does not prepare students for participation in the legal profession. Yet CSL continuously misrepresented itself to current and prospective students as hitting the mark,” said Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “CSL’s actions were misleading and dishonest. We can no longer allow them continued access to federal student aid.”

Early reaction from the community followed a similar bent.

“The misrepresentations made by the Charlotte School of Law and … Infilaw are astounding,” said Jonathan Sink, legislative liaison for Mecklenburg County. Sink said the government’s decision to cut off aid to the school was not surprising but remained “a devastating blow to hardworking students and alumni.”

It was not immediately clear just how damaging the loss of money will be. Jay Conison, dean of the school, did not respond to a series of Observer questions Monday afternoon. A school spokeswoman promised a statement later in the day.

As to how damaging this will be, nearly 100% of Charlotte’s income, like that of the other Infilaw schools, comes from tuition dollars, and the overwhelming majority of those dollars are funneled into the school’s coffers in the form of federal student loans. So unless this decision gets reversed (Charlotte has a couple of weeks to file an appeal.  ETA: Of course as a couple of commenters immediately noted, it’s far from clear the Trump administration’s DOE will look on the Infilaw scam with anything but pure admiration) Charlotte will be going out of business almost immediately, which is actually great news for its current victims students, since that means their student loans will be forgiven.
Merry Christmas!

And say that in Aleppo once

[ 120 ] December 19, 2016 |

Odds that Donald Trump could find Turkey on an unlabeled map? How about Russia?

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an Ankara art exhibit on Monday evening by a lone Turkish gunman shouting “God is great!” and “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” in what Russia called a terrorist attack.

The gunman, described by Ankara’s mayor as a policeman, also wounded at least three others in the assault on the envoy, Andrey G. Karlov, which was captured on Turkish video. Turkish officials said the assailant was killed by other officers in a shootout.

The assassination, an embarrassing security failure in the Turkish capital, instantly vaulted relations between Turkey and Russia to a new level of crisis over the Syrian conflict on Turkey’s southern doorstep, now in its sixth year.

His name is Legion

[ 88 ] December 18, 2016 |

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeated this particularly brazen lie over and over again:

Oct. 28, 2016: “You won’t hear this from the media: We have the highest murder rate in this country in 45 years. You don’t hear that from these people. They don’t want to talk about it. The highest murder rate in the United States in 45 years.”

Oct. 29, 2016: “The murder rate in the United States, it’s the worst, the highest it’s been in 45 years. Nobody talks about that — nobody talks about that.”

Oct. 30, 2016: “Murder is – in 45 years, right now, the rates are the highest they’ve been … and they don’t want to talk about it.”

He’s still at it.

Trump’s claim about the supposedly massive spike in the murder rate is 99.98% false, but it is derived, in classic Goebbels-style, from a tiny grain of truth: the murder rate in the US did go up by 10% in 2015.  Nevertheless it was still lower than in any year between 1964 and 2010, and half as high as it was 25 years ago.

As some of the replies in the Sopan Deb Twitter feed illustrate, the fact that the national murder rate went up last year, as well as the fact that it has risen sharply in Chicago and a few other cities, makes Trump’s egregiously false statement “true” for the purposes of X% of Trump’s supporters, with X no doubt being some horrifyingly large number.

Why is Trump continuing to tell fantastic, completely transparent lies about easily verifiable facts, and how does he get away with it? Imagine if Hillary Clinton had made comparable statements at some point during the campaign.  This is difficult to imagine because Clinton is a normal politician, and normal politicians assume that constantly repeating egregious, easily verifiable falsehoods would create a non-stop storm of media opprobrium, which in turn would make them unacceptable to large numbers of voters.

For example, to behave in a manner at all analogous to Trump, Clinton would have to do something along the lines of repeating over and over again the the total national debt was at its lowest point in 45 years — that is, she would have to continually assert something that was both grotesquely and non-controversially false in regard to an important public policy issue.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if Clinton had claimed something like that, and then continued to do it after it was pointed out that her statement was completely false, the mainstream media would have declared her to be literally insane, and would have insisted that she be removed from the Democratic ticket.

But of course it’s impossible to imagine Hillary Clinton doing anything like that, because, again, Clinton is a normal politician.

Trump gets away with behavior that would (supposedly — we’ll see going forward) destroy any normal politician for at least a couple of different reasons:

(1) His supporters are either completely indifferent to his norm-destruction, or they don’t like it but they tolerate it because they’re Republicans and they voted for the Republican candidate because he wasn’t the Democrat and/or not Hillary Clinton specifically, or they’re actively enthusiastic about it, because it enrages people they hate.

All these reactions are enabled by the ignorance, stupidity, and cynicism of the public (“you can say anything with statistics, the government just makes stuff up, all politicians lie,” etc.).

(2)  The establishment media in this country operate within a frame that enables Trump’s norm-violations.  Since it is an article of faith for these people that their coverage must be “non-partisan.” that means that all coverage must ultimately fit in a roughly tit-for-tat structure.  So while Trump told (and continues to tell) fantastic and egregious lies about all sorts of well-established facts, Hillary Clinton shaded the truth about certain aspects of her private e-mail server. Repeat as needed, i.e.. endlessly.

An interesting question is whether Trump’s example will inspire heretofore normal politicians to behave in a similar manner going forward. Since he paid no apparent price for lying constantly and egregiously about everything, why not do the same?  In particular, why shouldn’t the Democratic nominee simply tell fantastic crowd-pleasing lies till the cows come home, given the ubiquity of false equivalence, both sides do it ism, and so forth? Hillary Clinton got more negative media coverage over the course of the entire campaign than Donald Trump! And while Trump’s media coverage was somewhat more negative during the general election than Clinton’s was, it wasn’t more negative to anything like the extent that his incredible behavior warranted.

I’m serious about this: what actual cost would there be to the Democratic candidate in 2020 claiming over and over again that he or she was going to eliminate the deficit and expand the military, while guaranteeing every American free medical care and expanded social security and medicare benefits?   No doubt this would increase the amount of tongue-clucking on the Sunday morning chat shows, but that’s a price we should probably be willing to pay to avoid the re-election of a dime-store fascist with an IQ of 97 and the emotional control of an overly tired three-year-old.

Speaking of which, what motivates Trump to lie in the way he does? Some speculation:

(1) It obviously works, and the only thing he cares about is “winning.”  Telling Trump that an efficacious statement is a lie is not giving him any information that seems meaningful to him.  It’s like telling him his statement has three adjectives and two adverbs.  It’s not relevant information. (As commenters are noting, this particular lie is politically powerful because it’s an implicit claim about a supposed explosion of out of control “super criminals” in “urban” areas nudge nudge wink wink).

(2) Trump is an almost Platonic bullshitter in the Frankfurtian sense.  He’s beyond lying, as it were, because he has no interest whatever in whether his statements are true or not (Frankfurt’s point is that you can’t try to lie without at least caring about the truth enough to try to avoid it. Trump doesn’t care, at all, which in an important sense makes him more indifferent to the truth, and more destructive of it, than a self-conscious liar).

(3) Trump is a basically ignorant and profoundly anti-intellectual person, which are qualities that really help a man believe his own bullshit.  For all his money and fame and associated social status, he’s at bottom just another know-nothing yahoo.  Government statistics are infinitely manipulable or  made up altogether, everybody knows crime is skyrocketing because 42 people were shot in Chicago over the weekend, I read somewhere (on Infowars) that millions of people voted illegally etc etc etc.

I suspect this last explanation is a key factor in maintaining is popularity, such as it is.  Trump’s overall mental attitude and public behavior resonate with tens of millions of Americans, because in one sense he’s a very ordinary guy, which is to say he’s an incurious and bigoted idiot. And his name is Legion, for they are many.

Update: Jeremy W in comments quotes this interesting take from Jacob Levy:

Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism. Arendt analyzed the huge lies and blatant reversals of language associated with the Holocaust. Havel documented the pervasive little lies, lies that everyone knew to be lies, of late Communism. And Orwell gave us the vivid “2+2=5.”

Being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless; it also makes you complicit. You’re morally compromised. Your ability to stand on your own moral two feet and resist or denounce is lost. Part of this is a general tool for making people part of immoral groups. One child makes a second abuse a third. The second then can’t think he’s any better than the first, the bully, and can’t inform. In a gang or the Mafia, your first kill makes you trustworthy, because you’re now dependent on the group to keep your secrets, and can’t credibly claim to be superior to them.





Slate smears John Nash to make a cheap political point

[ 100 ] December 17, 2016 |

In the course of a diatribe regarding Eric Garland’s much-lauded Twitter storm, Sam Kriss (I haven’t read Garland’s thing and have no opinion regarding Kriss’s critique) writes:

Garland starts his magnum opus with a promise: He’s going to combat the idea that Obama and Clinton are “doing nothing, just gave up” in the face of Trump’s victory. “Guys,” he writes. “It’s time for some game theory.” Game theory, for the uninitiated, is a branch of mathematics that uses computational models to predict the behavior of human beings in potentially conflictual situations. It’s complex, involves a lot of formal logic and algebra, and is mostly useless. Game theory models human actions on the presumption that everyone is constantly trying to maximize their potential gain against everyone around them; this is why its most famous example concerns prisoners—isolated people, cut off from all the noncompetitive ties that constitute society. One of its most important theoreticians, John Nash, was also a paranoid schizophrenic, who believed himself to be the target of a vast Russian conspiracy.

Emphasis added.

Nash did his work on non-cooperative games in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  He became ill in the winter of 1959, and, as many people know, spent decades struggling, ultimately successfully, to overcome his illness.

Shame on Slate’s editors, assuming they have any.

If you were writing a political satire this would be way over the top, Part Infinity

[ 96 ] December 16, 2016 |

His bankruptcy lawyer, get it???

Also, what kind of moral imbecile thinks that concentration/death camp kapos were anything other than unspeakably tragic figures?


Donald Trump has named as his ambassador to Israel a pro-settler lawyer who has described some US Jews as worse than concentration camp prisoner-guards.

David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who represented the president-elect over his failing hotels in Atlantic City, served Trump’s advisory team on the Middle East. He has set out a number of hardline positions on Israeli-Palestinian relations, including fervent opposition to the two-state solution and strong support for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

He has called President Barack Obama an antisemite and suggested that US Jews who oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank are worse than kapos, Nazi-era prisoners who served as concentration camp guards.

Josh Marshall.

A false dichotomy

[ 178 ] December 15, 2016 |

Currently there’s a fierce debate in the Democratic party and among what passes for the left in this country about the extent to which resistance to white nationalist authoritarianism, i.e., the contemporary Republican party, ought to focus on economic/class issues, or, supposedly in the alternative, what is called “identity politics.”

As many people are pointing out this is a false dichotomy.  This post is about some new data that highlight in the starkest terms two inexorably interrelated facts:

(1) Since the 1970s, the poor, the working class, and most of the middle class have seen (or rather failed to see, cf. the election of Donald Trump) essentially ALL the trillions of dollars of economic growth America has experienced over this time go, in ascending order of intensity, to the upper middle class, the middle upper class, the rich, the very rich, the obscenely rich, and the we don’t really have a word for that yet rich.

(2) Since the 1970s, what was at that time a shamefully vast gap between the economic status of white and black Americans has remained totally untouched by efforts to ameliorate it. (It would be more accurate to say that efforts to ameliorate it have been completely cancelled out by efforts to quash the former initiatives).


A fascinating and sobering new paper by Thomas Piketty, Emanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman lays out in great detail how in recent decades the benefits of economic growth have gone almost exclusively to those at or near the top of the SES pyramid.  The paper attempts to capture the changing distribution of 100% of national income, including earnings from labor, capital, fringe benefits, and government redistribution.  The authors divide the seven postwar decades into two equal periods.  Here is some of what they conclude:

From 1946-1980, pretax national income grew by 95%.  From 1980-2014 it grew by 61%.  So income growth slowed by about a third over the past 35 years compared to the immediate postwar period.  But the real story is the extraordinary shift in the distribution of income growth.

For the bottom 50% of the population as measured by income distribution, pretax income grew by 102% from 1946-1980.  From 1980-2014 it grew by 1%.  (That’s ONE PERCENT in case you think this is a typo).

For the middle 40% pretax income grew by 105% from 1946-1980 and 42% from 1980-2014.

For the top 10% pretax income grew by 79% 1946-1980 and 121% from 1980-2014.

For the top 1% the comparable figures are 47% and 205%.

For the top .1% the figures are 54% and 321%.

For the top .01% the figures are 75% and 454%.

For the top .001% pretax income grew by 57% between 1946 and 1980, and by 636% between 1980 and 2014.  In 2014 this cohort featured 2,344 individuals, and the average income enjoyed by each of them that year was $122,000,000.

Now let’s look at post-tax effects.

For each group, the first figure is the post-tax income growth from 1946-1980, and the second is the post-tax income growth from 1980-2014: (Recall again that average income growth for the entire population over these two periods was 95% and 61% respectively).

Bottom 50%:  130%/21%

Middle 40%: 98%/49%

Top 10%: 69%/113%

Top 1%: 58%/194%

Top .1%: 104%/299%

Top .01%: 201%/424%

Top .001%: 163%/617%

How’s that for a glimpse into the sources of economic anxiety?

Speaking of which, I’ve looked at census data on changes in household income to get an idea of the extent to which various social policies have managed to ameliorate the massive economic disparities between white and black Americans.  While it’s true that household income data do not provide as comprehensive a measure of income distribution as the data set put together by Piketty et. al., they still give us a clear enough view of the general picture.

It’s a commonplace of a lot of political argument in this country right now to claim that white working class resentment is based in the supposed economic decline of white America relative to the improving economic fortunes of black America. This relative decline is imaginary.

The census has recorded white non-Hispanic household income data (WNH) since 1972, so I’m using that time frame.  Note that in 1972 the Civil Rights Act was only eight years old, and affirmative action programs in education and employment had barely begun, so we would expect to find little or no evidence of decline in race-based economic disparities, even if such programs were going to be effective in lessening such disparities in the longer run.

In 1972 Black median household income was 41.3% lower than WNH median household income.

Well what about that longer run, now that it’s been nearly 50 years since, according to the Republican party, every working class white man in America started getting robbed of his birthright?

In 2015 Black median household income was 40.4% lower than WNH median household income.

I guess affirmative action must only working for upper class minorities.

In 1972 Black 95th percentile household income was 31.6% lower than WNH 95th percentile household income.

In 2015 Black 95th percentile household income was 33.1% lower than WNH 95th percentile household income.

And what about the working class? Let’s look at the 20th percentile of household income.

1n 1972 Black 20th percentile household income was 45.3% lower than WNH 20th percentile household income.

In 2015 Black 20th percentile household income was 47.2% lower than WNH 20th percentile household income.

In case you’re wondering, in 2015 the 20th percentile of household income for white non-Hispanics was $25,894, which certainly explains why a lot of white working class voters are of the view that the economy isn’t working very well for them. On the other hand, the comparable figure for African-American households was $13,670, which ought to be a simply shocking figure, assuming anybody is capable of being shocked by anything any more in this country.

Fighting for economic justice in this country is fighting for racial justice, and vice versa.




Tiger Beat on the Potomac fires Julia Ioffe for insufficient post-partisanship

[ 228 ] December 14, 2016 |

Statement here.

Ioffe’s lese majeste (soon there will be laws) is here.

Seems like she was asking a perfectly fair question, though perhaps she should have phrased it more delicately, so as to not offend the delicate sensibilities of our new God-King and his easily triggered supporters.


Some election notes

[ 73 ] December 14, 2016 |

*34 US presidential elections have featured a recorded popular vote.  In 24 of those elections the two leading candidates received a combined total of at least 90% of the vote.  In those 24 elections, the winning candidate who received the smallest percentage of the popular vote was Donald Trump.  Put differently, Trump received the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate in US presidential election history, excluding elections which featured a significant third-party vote.

*John McCain’s performance in the 2008 presidential general election is usually looked back on as something of a disaster.  McCain’s share of the popular vote was actually quite similar to Trump’s eight years later (45.65% to 45.99%).  Mitt Romney received 47.10% of the vote in 2012.

*There are some interesting parallels between the 2004 and 2016 presidential elections.  GW Bush’s margin in the popular vote was almost the same as Hillary Clinton’s (3.01 million and 2.86 million votes respectively, although Clinton’s margin is not quite final yet).  Bush avoided Clinton’s fate by barely winning a critical swing rust belt state, taking Ohio by 118,000 votes out of nearly 5.7 million cast there. If a few tens of thousands of marginal Bush voters had gone to Kerry instead, the 2004 election would have featured a losing candidate with a three-million vote win in the popular vote.  Of course if an even smaller total number of rust belt voters in MI, PA, and WI had voted for Clinton instead of Trump, the 2016 election would look practically identical to 2004.

*Following up on my little thought experiment in re Jill Stein:  I think it’s an open and basically unanswerable question whether Stein abandoning her campaign and endorsing Clinton would have actually produced enough votes for her to swing the election. I’m intrigued by Jameson Quinn’s data on this question, but it seems to me those data can ultimately not say very much about the extent to which Stein’s campaign dampened turnout at the margin for Clinton in the three states where the election was decided.

I also agree with various commenters that this hypothetical becomes more plausible the earlier that Stein pulls out of the race and endorses Clinton.

But ultimately this thought experiment had little relation to any real world possibility, because Jill Stein is a narcissistic fool who, I would guess, never even for a moment considered abandoning her idiotic self-indulgent little publicity stunt/grift.  Indeed I would further speculate that if you were to ask her today if, knowing what we know now, she would have done anything differently, she would say “no.”

Oh wait, I just googled it and it turns out there’s no need to speculate:

“It’s very clear from exit polls that there were very few Greens, 61 percent, that would have come out to vote if they didn’t have a Green candidate to vote for,” she said. “Of the remainder of those, over one-third would have voted for Donald Trump. It’s not supported by the numbers that the Greens would have made the margin of difference, not for a single electoral vote.”

Hopefully some new Dante will stick her in the ninth circle, with St. Ralph and an Intercept journalist or three, where Karl Rove can gnaw on their collective left feet for eternity and a day.

But the real point of the hypo is that contemporary presidential elections are now often so remarkably close (three of the last five have been decided by what was essentially an almost random handful of votes) that in retrospect a remarkable number of people could have altered the outcome if they had chosen to behave differently. This is of course most obvious in the case of the candidates themselves, who can be Monday morning quarterbacked from here to eternity, but the point is more salient in regard to various people who could have — again obviously in retrospect, but so what? — quite possibly stopped the candidate who was by their lights the greater of two evils from winning, but who chose not to for whatever reason.

(I’m giving Stein, Nader, et. al., the benefit of the doubt here by assuming that ultimately they really didn’t prefer Bush to Gore and Kerry, or Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton.  I realize this assumption may well be incorrect).

In other words, in excruciatingly close presidential elections a lot of people end up being invested with a lot of power at the margin, and the moral responsibility for the outcome that goes with it.  That would be a nice thing for everyone to remember next time, assuming there is one.



The road not taken

[ 211 ] December 13, 2016 |

When historians look back on the 2016 election, they will no doubt argue at great length about the remarkable number of factors that led to the still almost incredible fact that Donald Trump nearly became the 45th president of the United States.  But there can be little doubt that one simple act, by itself, almost surely saved the republic from that nightmarish outcome.

I’m referring of course to Jill Stein’s remarkable speech at Oberlin College on November 5th, just three days before the election.  After acknowledging the hard work and dedication of her campaign staff, and the many contributions of thousands of volunteers, Stein stunned her audience with the following exhortation:

I’ve emphasized throughout this campaign that America needs an alternative political vision to that offered it by our major parties.  And I still believe that.  But I’ve also come to believe something else: Donald Trump represents, in many ways and on many levels, a unique threat to progressive values.  For all my deep disagreements with Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party, I am now, on the eve of the election, genuinely frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency.

There have been times during this campaign when I have said things that could in all fairness be understood as claims that there was no real difference for America between electing Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump president of the United States.  Now, as we approach the moment of truth, let us speak the truth in the shadow of the unprecedented threat our nation faces: Donald Trump must not become the most powerful man in the world. We must not place a nuclear arsenal and an unparalleled security apparatus at his fingertips.  We must not give a man of his low character, his evident lack of emotional self-control, his bottomless ignorance, or his open bigotry, the keys to the American governmental system.

This is a moment of genuine crisis in America.  I am therefore asking anyone who is planning to vote for me, or who was considering doing so, or who was choosing not to vote as a kind of protest against the failure of the Democratic party to provide a sufficiently progressive alternative, to instead go to the polls on Tuesday and cast your vote for Hillary Clinton.

In retrospect, this remarkable gesture almost surely kept the incomprehensible disaster of a Trump presidency from becoming a reality.  Recall that Clinton won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes, Wisconsin by 22,000, and Pennsylvania by 44,000.  That is a total of 77,000 votes out of the nearly 14,000,000 cast in those states. If one in every 200 voters in those three states had either voted for Stein or — and this is the really key point — chosen not to bother to vote at all rather than vote for Clinton, then the presidency would have been Trump’s.

If she had insisted on continuing her quixotic campaign right through election day, Stein’s ability to both draw voters to herself, and, more crucially still, dampen turnout among progressives who had taken to heart her earlier message that there was little or no difference between a Clinton or a Trump presidency, would have almost surely, given the razor thin margin in the key swing states, handed the election to by far the worst candidate in American presidential history.

That at the last minute she did everything she could not to be responsible for the unspeakable reality of a nation ruled by Donald Trump ensured that this otherwise obscure political figure will have a permanent place in the annals of Americans who saved the nation from its worst impulses, and kept it from traveling down the darkest of historical paths.

And that has made all the difference.

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