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Tortured logic

[ 103 ] March 16, 2016 |


I bet you’ve been wondering, “What does John Yoo think about the Garland nomination?” Well you don’t have to wonder no more:

Senate Republicans should keep Justice Scalia’s seat open at least until the November elections. The Senate has rarely confirmed Supreme Court nominees during a presidential election year, especially when opposite parties have controlled the Senate and the White House. The Constitution does not require the Senate to confirm anyone; it only requires the Senate’s advice and consent before the president can appoint a justice to office. The Republicans can await the outcome of the elections. If a Republican wins the presidency, then the people will have spoken in favor of replacing Justice Scalia with another conservative. If a Democrat wins, the Senate could confirm Garland or await a pick from Clinton or Sanders. But in either case, the American people will have had a say in filling a seat on a Court that has seized more and more issues from the political process. It is the least that democracy requires.


(1) Prof. “I think it’s OK to crush a baby’s testicles if it gets good results” Yoo could have also mentioned that the Senate has rarely confirmed Supreme Court nominees during years when the Broncos win the Super Bowl, or Leonardo DiCaprio wins an Oscar, since those facts would be equally relevant to his argument.

(2) The “principle” adduced by the Torture Prof has no inherent or natural limitation. Is December prior to an election year included? The summer before an election year? The second half of a president’s term?

(3) Also, too, what about the American people who voted for the person who is the president right now? Why doesn’t democracy require giving voice to their choice in regard to who picks the next SCOTUS nominee?

(4) Why do I keep reading The Corner? I always hate myself in the morning, but I have an addiction, and since I’m not working class it’s not actually my fault your honor.


Obama nominates aggressively centrist, openly white male for SCOTUS

[ 245 ] March 16, 2016 |

His Machiavellian perfidy knows no bounds.

Inside the Jonah

[ 114 ] March 16, 2016 |


Jonah Goldberg, on why Obama is a lot like Trump when it comes to degrading the political system, via the exploitation of populist barbarities:

When leaders claim the system is irredeemably corrupt and the rules rigged against them, politics becomes a kind of barbarism. What is good for my team is right, and whatever is good for your team is wrong.

Trump is merely the latest actor to deliver such assurances to his coddled constituencies. Barack Obama — who recently absolved himself of all blame for the state of politics in the nation he’s led for seven years — has played this game with more finesse than most. But that’s the thing about the great ones: They make it look so easy. Obviously, he hasn’t encouraged violence — that is Trump’s special contribution to the degradation of our politics. But from his contemptuous rhetoric for his political opponents to his unilateral disregard for constitutional restraints, Obama has helped fuel distrust and discord in ways his fans can’t or won’t see.

Can those more fluent in wingnut translate the bolded? I see this claim tossed around a lot at NR and the Weekly Standard, but I never see it attached to any bill of particulars. How exactly has Obama been trashing the Constitution, according to these people? (I understand that Obama plans to violate the 37th amendment later this morning by nominating someone to the SCOTUS in an election year, but besides that).

Multi-level marketing as an affinity scam

[ 46 ] March 15, 2016 |


If you can’t trust Drew Brees, who can you trust?

Every MLM fosters its own culture. Some promote glitz and glamour; others, like AdvoCare, push a more wholesome image. “Drew is the kind of person, really on the field as well as off, that embodies who AdvoCare is and what our brand is all about,” Levy says. That brand aligns perfectly with the quarterback’s reputation: Family man. Philanthropist. Devout Christian.

While AdvoCare doesn’t broadcast its religious side to the public — Levy says it is a secular company — former distributors say Christianity permeates the culture. The company’s sacred text, Ragus’ “Guiding Principles,” opens with the admonition: “Honor God through our faith, family and friends.” Several distributors say AdvoCare thrives inside churches, where pre-existing networks make it easier for distributors to preach the good news of multilevel marketing. “There are some congregations here in Dallas where, if you participate in some of the groups, you will participate in AdvoCare,” one former member says.

The intermingling of business and faith has caused turmoil inside the business. Lance Wimmer, a consultant who was hired to help turn around the company in 2005, says the top distributors were divided by religion; the devout churchgoers held more power and wielded it over others. At one meeting in Dallas, he says, some influential salespeople confronted him about his own faith (a former distributor corroborated this account). “They started asking me a lot of questions like, ‘Are you a religious guy? What religion are you? Do you believe in this?'” Wimmer left the company after a few months.

For some members, the pressure to conform — in dress, speech and, above all, godliness — could be agonizing. “Religion was brought up at every event or meeting I attended,” says Shereef Kamel, a former high-ranking distributor. “They’d always say: ‘This is your calling. You’re serving others. It’s the Christian thing to do.'”

Oh ye of little faith:

When Crossan and her husband did their taxes after leaving AdvoCare in 2011, they realized they had spent more than $6,000 on products, most of which had expired before they decided to return them. (AdvoCare gives salespeople 30 days to return products or up to a year if they forfeit their distributorship.) Unlike people who had started a business, they had built no equity — it was just money down the drain. “I was like, ‘Holy crap — we went through our savings,'” she says. “‘What on earth did we do?'”

AdvoCare tells distributors to give prospects an official income disclosure statement, which shows how many salespeople reach each level of the company. The numbers are stark: According to the latest statement, the company had 517,666 distributors in 2014, and just 1,209 of them — 0.2 percent — earned more than $25,000 that year; 95 percent earned $1,000 or less. Those figures don’t include profits from members’ product sales, but they also don’t include expenses, which several distributors say outweigh retail profits.

The whole story is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re not already familiar with MLM schemes, but it’s pretty depressing too. Shame on the high-level athletes like Brees who lend their names to scams that prey on the desperate.

How much land does a man need Drew?

If you see her say hello

[ 296 ] March 15, 2016 |


She might be in Tangiers.

Clinton’s surreal historical revisionism – which she walked back after a firestorm of criticism – is typical of the eagerness with which she embraces even the most dubious figures, as long as they are members of what my colleague Scott Lemieux calls America’s “overcompensated and underperforming elites.”

For example, Clinton continues to cozy up to Henry Kissinger, and to the same bankers who came close to wrecking the world economy just a few years ago, shortly before they started paying her millions of dollars to give speeches to them.

A few weeks ago she repeated the racist myth that “radical” Northerners imposed corrupt governments on the defeated South after the Civil War, and thus paved the way for Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. This week she engaged in some good old-fashioned red-baiting, criticizing Sanders for opposing America’s sordid history of dirty wars in Latin America, which she mischaracterized as his support for Communist dictatorships.

All of this is both wrong as a matter of principle, and stupid politics to boot. How many votes does she think she’s going to get from (increasingly imaginary) “moderate Republicans” as a consequence of this 1990s-style triangulation? Not nearly as many as she’ll lose among disgusted liberals, who remember that the Contras were terrorists, that Kissinger is a war criminal of the first order, that Reconstruction didn’t cause the virulent racism that undermined it, and that the Reagans’ silence regarding AIDS contributed to countless unnecessary deaths.

I will, of course, vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee – she is after all vastly preferable to either Trump or Cruz – but by now this is starting to feel like pointing out that a sprained ankle is preferable to a heart attack.

Since 2012 Harvard Law School has raised tuition 502% faster than the inflation rate

[ 83 ] March 15, 2016 |


In its own small way, that sentence summarizes many of the pathologies of the new gilded age.

As of 2012 HLS was charging $50,880 per year in tuition and fees. This fall that figure will be $60,638: a 19.2% increase in nominal dollars. But what about inflation? Since 2012 cumulative (not annual) inflation per the Consumer Price Index has been 3.19%. So HLS has raised tuition almost exactly six times faster than inflation.

As in so many ways, Harvard is a leader in this regard: on average, elite law schools — the proverbial Top 14 — raised tuition by 10.6% between 2012 and 2015, a relatively modest 231% faster than the inflation rate. (Only Harvard and Yale among those 14 schools have announced 2016 tuition rates. An apples to apples comparison shows Harvard raising tuition 355% faster than the inflation rate between 2012 and 2015).

Here are the data, based on 509 disclosure form figures:

2012 tuition Percentage of students paying full tuition 2015 tuition Percentage increase

UC-B: $52,019 42.3% $52,576 1.1%
Stanford: $50,802 46.4% $56,274 10.8%
Yale: $53,600 42.4% $58,050 8.3%
GULC: $48,835 62.4% $55,255 13.1%
Northwestern: $53,468 60.3% $58,398 9.2%
Chicago: $50,727 35.7% $58,065 14.5%
Harvard: $50,880 52.5% $58,242 14.5%
Michigan: $51,250 28.1% $56,112 9.5%
Columbia: $55,488 54.1% $62,700 13%
NYU: $51,150 44.8% $59,330 16%
Duke: $51,662 10.9% $57,717 11.7%
Penn: $53,138 51.4% $58,918 10.9%
Cornell: $55,301 52.3% $59,981 8.5%
UVA: $52,999 52.5% $57,000 7.5%

A few notes:

(1) Why do people accept this so passively? Over the past decade starting salaries for both associates at big law firms, and for law graduates who obtain full-time employment, have declined by 15% in real dollars. Yet at the vast majority of law schools tuition keeps going up much faster than the rate of inflation every single year (Between 2003-2013, which is the most current decade-long stretch for which I have data, tuition at private law schools rose 30% in constant dollars.) Why is it OK to be constantly paying more and more for something whose value seems to be declining?

(2) Harvard’s law school — the law school mind you, not the university — is reputed to have an endowment of around two billion dollars currently. That means it throws off about $90 million per year in expendable income. $90 million is more than the entire operating budget of almost every other law school in the country. Why does this institution, which obviously plays a key symbolic role in determining what an elite education ought to cost, think it’s OK to keep gouging its students? (Yes, HLS gives “need-based” scholarships. For the poorest students — people from families with no or negligible assets — those scholarships still leave those students with a three-year cost of attendance of $150,000, compared to the $270,000 undiscounted COA, which more than half of all HLS students pay, including many students who come from far from wealthy backgrounds. And 98.5% of law schools offer NO need-based aid to speak of at all).

(3) And it’s not just Harvard — it’s pretty much everybody. Everybody among the elites (other than Berkeley) keeps raising tuition every year far faster than inflation. Obviously this has nothing to do with every university administrator’s favorite excuse for the price gouging Generation Y (and X, and the Boomers, who contrary to popular legend paid vastly more for higher ed than their parents did), i.e., declining public subsidies. [ETA: Some commenters are incredulous regarding the statement that baby boomers paid far more for higher ed than their parents. A couple of examples: Somebody born in 1930 who went straight through Michigan undergrad and law school and paid resident tuition would have paid $12,080 total tuition in 2014 dollars. Somebody born in 1950 — early boomer — would have paid $29,300 in 2014 dollars. Harvard’s law school tuition was nearly three times higher in constant dollars in the mid-1970s than it had been in the mid-1950s. And there were many student protests in the 1960s and 1970s against rising tuition. I don’t have comparative numbers but it seems there were many more then than today]. Leaving aside the inconvenient truth that subsidies to public higher ed aren’t actually declining at all on average –there are of course certain notable exceptions — these are almost all private institutions.

When are American students and their families going to rebel against this nonsense?

The game is the game

[ 165 ] March 14, 2016 |

avon and marlo

Life as a senior corporate-side associate at a top New York law firm: Read more…

Hillary Clinton is Peyton Manning

[ 52 ] March 12, 2016 |


Or rather “Peyton Manning.”

Peyton Manning was a very bad quarterback last season. Not “not great,” not “mediocre,” but very bad. He was the worst starting QB in the league. The Broncos ended up winning the Super Bowl anyway, because they had an awesome defense, great special teams, Brock Osweiler, and a huge amount of luck in close games.

For most of the season, a lot of Denver fans were in various levels of denial about how a quarterback named Peyton Manning could be this bad, especially since the team was winning. If his name hadn’t been Manning, it would have been a lot more obvious that he was in fact terrible.

Hillary Clinton had better hope the metaphorical equivalent of Von Miller is on her side, because she’s not very good at this.

. . . and of course she does have the equivalent of the Denver defense on her side, in the form of both the significant structural advantage Democrats currently have in presidential elections, and in the fact that the GOP seems destined to run the equivalent of the Matt Millen-era Detroit Lions against her.

Which is all great, because she’s pretty bad at electoral politics.

And the band played on

[ 301 ] March 11, 2016 |

“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation. When before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it, and that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective, low key advocacy but it penetrated the public conscious and people began to say, ‘Hey, we have to do something about this too.'”

Via Dan Savage

Clinton has apologized for her remarkable amnesia on this topic:

Camille Paglia is Trump-curious

[ 111 ] March 10, 2016 |

sinatra gardener

This is pretty shocking stuff (by which I mean the most predictable thing ever):

Trump’s fearless candor and brash energy feel like a great gust of fresh air, sweeping the tedious clichés and constant guilt-tripping of political correctness out to sea. Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose every word and policy statement on the campaign trail are spoon-fed to her by a giant paid staff and army of shadowy advisors, Trump is his own man, with a steely “damn the torpedoes” attitude. He has a swaggering retro machismo that will give hives to the Steinem cabal. He lives large, with the urban flash and bling of a Frank Sinatra. But Trump is a workaholic who doesn’t drink and who has an interesting penchant for sophisticated, strong-willed European women. As for a debasement of the presidency by Trump’s slanging matches about penis size, that sorry process was initiated by a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who chatted about his underwear on TV, let Hollywood pals jump up and down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom, and played lewd cigar games with an intern in the White House offices.

Primary voters nationwide are clearly responding to Trump’s brand of classic can-do American moxie. There has been a sense of weary paralysis in our increasingly Byzantine and monstrously wasteful government bureaucracies. Putting a bottom-line businessman with executive experience into the White House has probably been long overdue. If Mitt Romney had boldly talked business more (and chosen a woman VP), he would have won the last election. Although the rampant Hitler and Mussolini analogies to Trump are wildly exaggerated–he has no organized fascist brigades at his beck and call—there is reason for worry about his impatient authoritarian tendencies. We have had more than enough of Obama’s constitutionally questionable executive orders. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s mastery of a hyper-personalized art of the deal will work in the sluggish, murky, incestuously intertwined power realms of Washington.

These two were made for each other. (While Paglia merely trolls the internet, Trump manfully trolls an entire nation.) Perhaps he will name her Minister of Kulturkampf.

*There are also some very fresh mangoes toward the bottom of the piece involving Paglia’s assessment of the relative erotic charms of Lena Dunham and Suzanne Pleshette, although I do not, needless to say, actually recommend getting out of the boat.

John Gutfreund

[ 16 ] March 9, 2016 |

liar's poker


You can’t really tell someone that you asked him to lunch to let him know that you don’t think of him as evil. Nor can you tell him that you asked him to lunch because you thought that you could trace the biggest financial crisis in the history of the world back to a decision he had made. John Gutfreund did violence to the Wall Street social order—and got himself dubbed the King of Wall Street—when he turned Salomon Brothers from a private partnership into Wall Street’s first public corporation. He ignored the outrage of Salomon’s retired partners. (“I was disgusted by his materialism,” William Salomon, the son of the firm’s founder, who had made Gutfreund C.E.O. only after he’d promised never to sell the firm, had told me.) He lifted a giant middle finger at the moral disapproval of his fellow Wall Street C.E.O.’s. And he seized the day. He and the other partners not only made a quick killing; they transferred the ultimate financial risk from themselves to their shareholders. It didn’t, in the end, make a great deal of sense for the shareholders. (A share of Salomon Brothers purchased when I arrived on the trading floor, in 1986, at a then market price of $42, would be worth 2.26 shares of Citigroup today—market value: $27.) But it made fantastic sense for the investment bankers.

From that moment, though, the Wall Street firm became a black box. The shareholders who financed the risks had no real understanding of what the risk takers were doing, and as the risk-taking grew ever more complex, their understanding diminished. The moment Salomon Brothers demonstrated the potential gains to be had by the investment bank as public corporation, the psychological foundations of Wall Street shifted from trust to blind faith.

No investment bank owned by its employees would have levered itself 35 to 1 or bought and held $50 billion in mezzanine C.D.O.’s. I doubt any partnership would have sought to game the rating agencies or leap into bed with loan sharks or even allow mezzanine C.D.O.’s to be sold to its customers. The hoped-for short-term gain would not have justified the long-term hit.

No partnership, for that matter, would have hired me or anyone remotely like me. Was there ever any correlation between the ability to get in and out of Princeton and a talent for taking financial risk?

Now I asked Gutfreund about his biggest decision. “Yes,” he said. “They—the heads of the other Wall Street firms—all said what an awful thing it was to go public and how could you do such a thing. But when the temptation arose, they all gave in to it.” He agreed that the main effect of turning a partnership into a corporation was to transfer the financial risk to the shareholders. “When things go wrong, it’s their problem,” he said—and obviously not theirs alone. When a Wall Street investment bank screwed up badly enough, its risks became the problem of the U.S. government. “It’s laissez-faire until you get in deep shit,” he said, with a half chuckle. He was out of the game.

It was now all someone else’s fault.

He watched me curiously as I scribbled down his words. “What’s this for?” he asked.

I told him I thought it might be worth revisiting the world I’d described in Liar’s Poker, now that it was finally dying. Maybe bring out a 20th-anniversary edition.

“That’s nauseating,” he said.

Hard as it was for him to enjoy my company, it was harder for me not to enjoy his. He was still tough, as straight and blunt as a butcher. He’d helped create a monster, but he still had in him a lot of the old Wall Street, where people said things like “A man’s word is his bond.” On that Wall Street, people didn’t walk out of their firms and cause trouble for their former bosses by writing books about them. “No,” he said, “I think we can agree about this: Your fucking book destroyed my career, and it made yours.” With that, the former king of a former Wall Street lifted the plate that held his appetizer and asked sweetly, “Would you like a deviled egg?”

Until that moment, I hadn’t paid much attention to what he’d been eating. Now I saw he’d ordered the best thing in the house, this gorgeous frothy confection of an earlier age. Who ever dreamed up the deviled egg? Who knew that a simple egg could be made so complicated and yet so appealing? I reached over and took one. Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.

How do you fact-check whether you fabricated parts of your own book?

[ 21 ] March 9, 2016 |


Updated below

That’s the question Jesse Singal inadvertently poses to Matthew Desmond, while interviewing Desmond about his new book Evicted (which looks very interesting).

Singal’s question arises in the context of his strange ongoing defense of Alice Goffman’s On the Run:

Singal: Your book is going to draw comparisons to Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, since both books involve a white ethnographer “embedding” with poor black people, though in your book about half of your subjects were white. I’m curious if, when you saw that book’s reception and some of the controversies that popped up around it, that had any effect on you and your work on Evicted.

Desmond: I think one of the things we’ve learned from the reception of that book is how deeply people care about our methods, you know, and our claims, and how we know what we know. The truth is absolutely paramount, it’s so paramount, and we have to be dogged about it and transparent and accountable to those claims. And I think that’s something that’s come out from the conversation around that book.

I was doing fieldwork long before that book was published, so it didn’t affect the work in and of itself. I think that one thing is that I had always thought about hiring a fact-checker for this book, and I did in the end. I think I probably would have done that regardless, but I think that the reception of that book influenced that decision, too.

Singal: You and Goffman have pretty different views of the fact-checking process. I interviewed her, and she said that if one of her subjects said, “I went to court facing this charge,” that would go in the book, and she thought her subjects’ understanding of their situation mattered a great deal, regardless — to a certain extent, at least — of whether it matched up with the legal reality. So some of the differences between how your book and hers approached fact-checking are a bit philosophical. But it is a resource thing, too, right? It took you a lot of money, and money in the form of time, to fact-check everything in Evicted.

Desmond: It takes a lot of time. It takes an enormous amount of time.

Singal: So it’s not crazy to say that, materially, fact-checking was quote-unquote “easier” for you, as someone further along in his career and who had access to more resources, right?

Desmond: I think there are ways that graduate students can fact-check their work. I think there are ways that we can do this that don’t require massive amounts of resources. So let’s say you and I were in grad school together and I was doing an ethnography — I could give you my fieldnotes and you could do the same for me, and we could fact-check [each other’s] claims, and we could write that in our publication so that we hold each other accountable for that. That could be rather costless. It does take time — it does take time. But again, like, I think we have to be obsessive about the truth and go to whatever lengths we can to get it.

Singal here is giving a fundamentally misleading account of the criticisms I and Steve Lubet have made of On the Run.

Those criticisms have nothing whatsoever to do with matters of fact-checking, any more than criticisms of Michael LaCour were based on claims of inadequate fact-checking.

How was Goffman supposed to “fact-check” whether she fabricated several incidents in On the Run — incidents regarding which she provides compelling first-person accounts? I believe it’s now clear beyond a reasonable doubt that she did exactly that. Singal’s attempt to re-frame the controversy as some sort of methodological squabble over how a researcher is supposed to go about confirming and/or presenting things she has been told by her informants seems flatly dishonest incomplete to the point of disingenuousness (ETA: On reflection, “flatly dishonest” is too harsh. I agree with a commenter that he should have mentioned that many of the criticisms of Goffman have nothing to do with fact-checking, but rather with fraud).

. . . On the other hand, another commenter points out that Singal led off his take on Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s NYT puff piece with the question, “What is the right way to respond to a witch hunt?” In that regard, “flatly dishonest” is right on the money.

Update:Steve Lubet’s comments.

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