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Mixed up sex talk, Clinton edition

[ 275 ] January 8, 2016 |


Karen Tumulty and Frances Sellers in the Washington Post:

Last month, a woman in the audience at a Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire asked her: “You say that all rape victims should be believed. But would you say that about Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and/or Paula Jones?”

Clinton responded: “Well, I would say that everyone should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”

It was not a spontaneous question. The woman read from a card and mispronounced the first two names she mentioned.

But to anyone who followed the sagas of the Clinton presidency, they were familiar ones:

●Broaddrick had accused Bill Clinton of raping her in 1978, when she was working on his Arkansas gubernatorial campaign.

●Willey, a former White House volunteer, said he had attempted to kiss and grope her in a private hallway leading to the Oval Office.

●Jones, a onetime Arkansas state employee, sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment, saying he had three years earlier exposed his erect penis to her and asked her to kiss it.

And, of course, the biggest of all was the scandal over Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, who was a White House intern at the time. [Emphasis added]

Tumulty and Sellers are “just reporting,” but it would be nice if while doing so they might give some indication somewhere in their story that one of these things is not like the others (they don’t).

In regard to Juanita Broaddrick, Michelle Goldberg and Dylan Matthews both have good rundowns on why her allegations are a potential problem for HRC, given that in November Clinton tweeted that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.”

In 1999, Broaddrick publicly claimed that Bill Clinton had raped her in a hotel room 21 years earlier. She reportedly told a few people about the alleged assault at the time, and right-wing operatives shopped the story during Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Broaddrick refused to talk, however, and she later denied the rape in an affidavit in the Paula Jones case. It was only when she was interviewed by the FBI in the course of Kenneth Starr’s investigation that she changed her story and said the rape had in fact happened. (In the New York Times, she explained the about-face by saying she hadn’t wanted to go public but felt she couldn’t lie to federal investigators.) Shortly afterward, frustrated with rumors that had begun to circulate about her, she gave several high-profile interviews.

We will probably never know the truth of what happened between Broaddrick and Clinton. But today, few feminists would find her shifting story disqualifying. Consider, also, another piece of evidence that was marshaled against Broaddrick in the 1990s: Three weeks after the alleged assault, she attended a fundraiser for Clinton. Speaking to Klein, she says she was traumatized and blamed herself for what happened. “I felt responsible. I don’t know if you know the mentality of women and men at that time. But me letting him come to my room? I accepted full blame.” In any other context, most feminists today would find this credible. After all, many were outraged when rape skeptics tried to discredit Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz because she’d sent friendly Facebook messages to her alleged rapist after the alleged rape.

Of course the proposition that every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be believed is, when taken literally, a tautology. But statement’s like Clinton’s are often not taken literally: instead they are understood to mean that people who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve to be believed. This, as Jeannie Suk points out, is a problem:

What could possibly be the logic on which criticism of “The Hunting Ground” could be said to contribute to a hostile environment, or to cause a student to feel unsafe? The film features the first-person narratives of individuals who describe their sexual assaults and then go on to describe the insensitivity of campus officials or police who did not vindicate their claims. At the Sundance festival première, which I attended, when an audience member asked what people could do to join the fight against campus sexual assault, one of the survivors featured in the film responded, simply, “Believe us.” It is a near-religious teaching among many people today that if you are against sexual assault, then you must always believe individuals who say they have been assaulted. Questioning in a particular instance whether a sexual assault occurred violates that principle. Examining evidence and concluding that a particular accuser is not indeed a survivor, or a particular accused is not an assailant, is a sin that reveals that one is a rape denier, or biased in favor of perpetrators.

This is the set of axioms on which one might build a suggestion that challenging the accuracy of “The Hunting Ground” contributes to a hostile environment on campus. If I am a student at a school where professors seem to disbelieve one accuser’s account, then it is possible that they could disbelieve me if I am assaulted. That possibility makes me feel both that I am unsafe and that my school is a sexually hostile environment. Under this logic, individuals would not feel safe on campus unless they could know that professors are closed off to the possibility that a particular person accused of sexual misconduct may be innocent or wrongly accused. But, then, what would be the purpose of a process in which evidence on multiple sides is evaluated? Fair process for investigating sexual-misconduct cases, for which I, along with many of my colleagues, have fought, in effect violates the tenet that you must always believe the accuser. Fair process must be open to the possibility that either side might turn out to be correct. If the process is not at least open to both possibilities, we might as well put sexual-misconduct cases through no process at all.

The ironclad principle that you must always believe the accuser comes as a corrective to hundreds of years in which rape victims were systematically disbelieved and painted as liars, sluts, or crazies. This history, along with the facts that sexual assault is notoriously underreported and that the crime suffers no more false reports than other crimes—and the related idea that only those actually assaulted would take on the burden of coming forward—leads many advocates today to the “always believe” orthodoxy. We have seen recent high-profile instances in which that article of faith has led to damaging errors, as in Rolling Stone’s reporting of a rape at the University of Virginia, or the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse case. The extent of the damage comes out of the fact that “always believe” unwittingly renders the stakes of each individual case impossibly high, by linking the veracity of any one claim to the veracity of all claims. When the core belief is that accusers never lie, if any one accuser has lied, it brings into question the stability of the entire thought system, rendering uncertain all allegations of sexual assault. But this is neither sensible nor necessary: that a few claims turn out to be false does not mean that all, most, or even many claims are wrongful. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims.

(Emily Yoffe describes the disturbing story behind The Hunting Ground here).

Goldberg notes that “the people who hope to use Broaddrick against Hillary [don’t] care about victim blaming. And it would be a profound sexist irony if these accusations, having failed to derail Bill Clinton’s political career, came back to haunt his wife.” (Over at The Corner, David French inadvertently provides a fine specimen of the paranoid style in action, when he admits that he came to Vox’s story “expecting a whitewash.” Because if there’s one principle that the “liberal media” has stuck to over the years is that it will cover up accusations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton).

But, as she also notes, “particularly when it comes to Broaddrick, it’s not easy to square the arguments against believing her with the dominant progressive consensus on trusting victims. This is a tension that people on the right are eager to exploit.” And exploit it they will.


2016 HOF voting

[ 73 ] January 6, 2016 |

w and l

Updated with actual results

Since I don’t see why Farley should be the only front pager who gets to make wildly inaccurate predictions, here’s my guess as to what percentage of HOF voters will put various players on their ballot:

Griffey: 96%

Actual: 99.3%

Sets new record for highest percentage vote total ever, with just three of 440 voters leaving him off their ballots.

Piazza: 75.5%

Actual: 83.0% Scores standing up this year. About time: clearly the greatest offensive player ever at the position.

Raines: 71%

Actual: 69.8%

Will probably get it next year, but come on this is ridiculous.

Bagwell: 58%

Actual: 71.6%

Huge jump; seems a lock for next year’s vote now.

Bonds: 39%

Actual: 44.3%

Good to see some momentum building

Schilling: 37%

Actual: 52.3%

Now seems like a safe bet to be voted in by the BBWA eventually

Clemens: 36%

Actual: 45.2%

See Bonds, Barry. Looks like this should take about five more years.

Hoffman: 32%

Actual: 67.3%

Wow, I missed this one completely. Shockingly close to a first ballot election. Almost a lock for next year obviously.

Mussina: 31%

Actual: 43%. Another guy whose numbers will win out eventually, especially as advanced stats replace traditional ones in player evaluation.

Trammell: 30%

Actual: 40.9%. Hadn’t realized this was his last year of eligibility, and he no doubt got a bump from that. Probably a better player than the median HOF shortstop.

E. Martinez: 29%

Actual: 43.2%

Now appears to actually have a chance. His numbers will get him in eventually, even if not via the BBWA.

L. Smith: 27%

Actual: 34.1%

Will have to wait for the veterans committee.

Kent: 16%

Actual: 16.6%

McGriff: 15%

Actual: 20.9%

The crime dog is getting killed by the fact that the offensive explosion hit in the middle of his career rather than toward the beginning.

L. Walker: 14%

Actual: 15.5%

Is getting killed by people over-correcting for Coors Field.

McGwire: 11%

Actual: 12.3%

A marginal candidate but damn.

Sheffield: 9%

Actual: 11.6%

Surprisingly little support for a guy who was a legitimately great hitter for a long time.

Edmonds: 8%

Actual: 2.5%

Sosa and Garciaparra fall off the ballot with less than 5%, along with all the other first-timers besides Griffey, Edmonds, and Hoffman.

Actual: Sosa just barely stayed on, at 7%. Billy Wagner also stayed on, at 10%.

Galileo’s Middle Finger and the politics of science

[ 262 ] January 6, 2016 |


Jesse Singal has an interesting essay on Alice Dreger’s recent book Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activsts, and the Search for Justice in Science. Singal argues that a conservative = anti-science/liberal=science frame is simplistic, given several incidents from the academic world that Dreger’s book catalogs. I haven’t read the book yet, but Singal describes a couple of what sound like very disturbing cases. Here’s his description of one of them:

At its core, Galileo’s Middle Finger is about what happens when science and dogma collide — specifically, what happens when science makes a claim that doesn’t fit into an activist community’s accepted worldview. And many of Dreger’s most interesting, explosive examples of this phenomenon involve liberals, not conservatives, fighting tooth and nail against open scientific inquiry. . .

The first involves Napoleon Chagnon, an extremely influential anthropologist who dedicated years of his life to understanding and living among the Yanomamö, an indigenous tribe situated in the Amazon rain forest on the Brazil-Venezuela border — there are a million copies of his 1968 book Yanomamö: The Fierce People in print, and it’s viewed by many as an ethnographic classic. Chagnon made ideological enemies along the way; for one thing, he has long believed that human behavior and culture can be partially explained by evolution, which in some circles has been a frowned-upon idea. Perhaps more important, he has never sentimentalized his subjects, and his portrayal of the Yanomamö included, as Dreger writes, “males fighting violently over fertile females, domestic brutality, ritualized drug use, and ecological indifference.” Dreger suggests that Chagnon’s reputation as a careful, dedicated scholar didn’t matter to his critics — what mattered was that his version of the Yanomamö was “Not your standard liberal image of the unjustly oppressed, naturally peaceful, environmentally gentle rain-forest Indian family.”

In 2000, Chagnon’s critics seized upon a once-in-a-career opportunity to go after him. That was the year a journalist named Patrick Tierney published Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon. The book — and a related New Yorker article by Tierney — leveled a series of spectacular allegations against Chagnon and James V. Neel Sr., a geneticist and physician with whom Chagnon had collaborated during his work with the Yanomamö (Neel died of cancer shortly before the book’s publication). Among other things, Tierney charged that Chagnon and Neel had intentionally used a faulty vaccine to infect the Yanomamö with measles so as to test Nazi-esque eugenics theories, and that one or both men had manipulated data, started wars on purpose, paid tribespeople to kill one another, and “purposefully with[held] medical care while experimental subjects died from the allegedly vaccine-induced measles,” as Dreger writes.

These charges stuck in part because Terence Turner and Leslie Sponsel, two anthropologists who disliked Chagnon and his work, sent the American Anthropological Association an alarming letter about Tierney’s allegations prior to the publication of Darkness in El Dorado. Rather than wait to see if the spectacular claims in the book passed the smell test, the AAA responded by quickly launching a full investigation in the form of the so-called El Dorado Task Force — a move that led to a number of its members resigning in protest. A media firestorm engulfed Chagnon — “Scientist ‘killed Amazon indians to test race theory’,” read a Guardian headline — and he was forced to defend himself against accusations that he had brutalized members of a tribe he had devoted his career to living with and studying and, naturally, had developed a strong sense of affection for in the process. A number of fellow anthropologists and professional organizations came to the defense of Chagnon and Neel, pointing out obvious problems with Tierney’s claims and timeline, but these voices were drowned out by the hysteria over the evil, murderous anthropologist and his doctor-accomplice. Dreger writes that Chagnon’s “career had essentially been halted by the whole mess.” (Chagnon’s memoirs, published in 2013, are entitled Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists.)

There was, it turns out, nothing to these claims. Over the course of a year of research and interviews with 40 people involved in the controversy in one way or another, Dreger discovered the disturbing, outrageous degree to which the charges against Chagnon and Neel were fabricated — to the point where some of the numerous footnotes in Tierney’s book plainly didn’t support his own claims. All the explosive accusations about Nazi-like activities and exploitation, and the intentional fomenting of violence, were simply made up or willfully misinterpreted. Worse, some of them could have been easily debunked with just a tiny bit of research — in one case, it took Dreger all of an hour in an archive of Neel’s papers to find strong evidence refuting the claim that he helped intentionally infect the Yanomamö with measles (a claim that was independently debunked by others, anyway).

In the end, Dreger published the results of her investigation in the journal Human Nature, recounting the full details of Chagnon’s ordeal at the hands of Tierney, and the many ways Tierney fabricated and misrepresented data to attack the anthropologist and Neel. Darkness Is El Dorado is still available on Amazon, its original, glowing reviews and mention of its National Book Award nomination intact; and Tierney’s New Yorker article is still online, with no editor’s note explaining the factual inaccuracies contained therein.

I haven’t read Dreger’s book and know nothing about the Chagnon affair, but obviously Singal’s description of the events is very disturbing, as is his recounting of Dreger’s analysis of the J. Michael Bailey controversy at Northwestern.

Singal argues that in the new social media environment created by the internet age, ideologically-motivated witch hunts are easy to start and very difficult to combat, in part because very few people, either in the academic or journalistic worlds, have the time and the resources to get anywhere close to the bottom of complicated stories.

I would add that in many cases they may lack the inclination to do so as well. For example, last summer Singal did some cursory investigations into the Alice Goffman affair, and failed to confirm the veracity of any of the incidents in the book that critics had brought into question, but oddly enough absolved Goffman of any serious misconduct, declaring the book to be “at the very least, mostly true.”

In my view the Goffman affair represents the obverse of what, on Singal’s account, Dreger is cataloging, in that it reflects how fraudulent academic work can short-circuit academic and journalistic gate-keeping mechanisms, if it supports a narrative the gate keepers find congenial.

Leaving that irony aside, Singal’s essay is well worth reading in full, and it sounds as if the same is true of Galileo’s Middle Finger.

Three ABA law schools now being subjected to “heightened cash monitoring” by Education Department

[ 15 ] January 5, 2016 |


From the government’s federal student aid webpage:

The U.S. Department of Education may place institutions on a Heightened Cash Monitoring (HCM) payment method to provide additional oversight of cash management. . .

Schools may be placed on HCM1 or HCM2 as a result of compliance issues including but not limited to accreditation issues, late or missing annual financial statements and/or audits, outstanding liabilities, denial of re-certifications, concern around the school’s administrative capabilities, concern around a schools’ financial responsibility, and possibly severe findings uncovered during a program review.

Many of the institutions on the current list are beauty schools, culinary academies, and the like.

The three law schools that have been placed on the equivalent of financial probation in regard to their access to federal educational loan funds — any prolonged interruption of such access would certainly shut down these and many other law schools — are Charleston, a for-profit operation whose owners pocketed $25 million in profits (most of which were supplied by federal loans of course) and then refused to part with less than .1% of that total to pay for a reception for graduates, long-time LGM favorite the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, and Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, the brain child of Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who moved the school there from Ann Arbor in 2009, apparently because the 10 ABA law schools already in Florida weren’t pumping out enough lawyers to serve the needs of the Sunshine State.

(Ave Maria’s Ann Arbor building was taken over by Thomas Cooley, which a couple of years later provided a 12th Florida law school, by opening a Tampa campus. Cooley closed its Ann Arbor campus last year.)

The DOE’s stated reason for subjecting all three law schools to heightened cash monitoring is because of concerns over “financial responsibility.”

Section 498(c) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, requires for-profit and non-profit institutions to annually submit audited financial statements to the Department to demonstrate they are maintaining the standards of financial responsibility necessary to participate in the Title IV programs. One of many standards, which the Department utilizes to gauge the financial responsibility of an institution, is a composite of three ratios derived from an institution’s audited financial statements. The three ratios are a primary reserve ratio, an equity ratio, and a net income ratio. These ratios gauge the fundamental elements of the financial health of an institution, not the educational quality of an institution.

Is any UC-Irvine administrator going to suffer any consequences for this?

[ 18 ] January 1, 2016 |


“This” being saddling Orange County’s UC-system campus with a serious long term financial disaster, in the form of an extraordinarily expensive and radically underfunded law school.

UCI’s law school is now in its seventh year. This past fall it pretty clearly threw in the towel in regard to Erwin Chemerinsky’s idiotic goal of creating a “top 20” law school ex nihilo, as it admitted a class with a median LSAT a full four points below the entering classes at UCLA and USC. UCI is now the sixth-most selective law school in California, and the notion that any prospective student would consider going there at any point in the foreseeable future rather than to UCLA or USC (let alone Stanford or Berkeley) at anything like a comparable cost is as dead as Jacob or Bob Marley.

UCI has found itself in a situation where it has to offer big discounts off its preposterous sticker tuition (nearly $45K for CA residents and $51K for non-residents) to more than 90% of its matrics, even as it continues to cut enrollment standards. Its latest 509 disclosure reveals that the school will be pulling in around $9.5 million in net tuition this year, which, given Chemerinksy’s willingness to continue to expand UCI’s stupendously well-compensated faculty (most particularly including himself and his wife) means that the school’s tuition revenue might just barely cover the costs of faculty compensation this year, although it probably won’t. Note that’s just faculty (not including staff) compensation, which at the typical law school accounts for somewhere around 40% of operating costs.

Since the seven year old law school doesn’t have an endowment or an alumni base, tuition money is pretty much the sole source of income, which means this absurd enterprise is bleeding off somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 to $15 million per year from the campus budget, and will continue to do so, even if central administrators finally come to terms with the grim facts and put the kibosh on any further empire-building by the last king of Irvine.

Adventures in plutocracy

[ 23 ] December 31, 2015 |


The Times had a piece on Tuesday describing the sharply declining effective federal tax rate of the nation’s 400 richest households over the past 20 years. Back in the days of the cultural revolution Clinton administration, the 400 (blessed be their names) were seeing almost 27% of their income expropriated by our insatiable federal government. Thanks to the No Billionaire Left Behind Act and other assorted legislative reforms passed under the wise reign of Bush the Younger, by 2012 this figure had fallen to 16.7%.

Less than 48 hours later the Times was running another piece, pointing out that the effective tax rate on 2013’s 400 highest “earning” households had shot up to 22.9%, thanks to changes in the tax structure enacted under Obama. The second piece was based on data released by the IRS yesterday. (Inquiring minds might want to know if that release was connected in some way to the previous day’s article).

I’m no tax expert, but I suspect the actual change in the very top end of the US tax structure is not as pronounced as this one-year rise in effective federal income tax rates suggests. This is because the effective rates themselves surely reflect the strategic behavior of the 400 households: that is, in 2012 these people subjected more of their wealth to taxes, precisely because they knew that tax rates on multi-billionaires were going to go up the following year, so they liquidated assets they otherwise would have held, etc. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the average adjusted gross income of the 400 highest-earning households fell between 2012 and 2013 from $336,000,000 to $265,000,000, even though, for example, stock prices rose much more in the latter year than the former.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, something that helps support what ought to be mind-boggling disparities in wealth is that the human mind isn’t very good at grasping vast mathematical discrepancies in a ready manner. So let’s do some simple calculations.

In 2012, the 400 highest-earning households pulled in, collectively, 134.28 billion dollars. One way of getting a grasp on how much that is would be to ask, how many households making the median household income in the US in 2012 (about $52,000), that is, the income level at the midway point of all 122,500,000 households would it take to add up to $134.28 billion in collective earnings?

Again, this is the kind of thing that’s hard for most people, including me, to estimate off the cuff. Ten thousand households? Fifty thousand? A hundred thousand? The answer is about 2.6 million.

Here’s another fun calculation. The $134.28 billion earned by the highest-grossing 400 American households in 2012 was the equivalent of the total earnings of the lowest X percentage of American households. What is X? This is trickier to calculate, but in 2012 the 20th percentile of household income was about $20,500 and the 10th percentile was just over $12,000. Scribbling on the back of a metaphorical envelope, this suggests that the average income of the bottom 15% of households (that’s more than 18 million households containing around 40 million people) was around $8,500. That adds up to 153 billion dollars, so we probably have to shave off around another percentile of the population to get down to $134 billion.

In other words, the 400 highest-earning families in 2012 probably made about as much as the lowest-earning 14% of the American population made collectively. 14% happens to be just about the official poverty rate, so the 400 richest households made the same amount of money as they would have if they had simply stolen every cent earned by every single poor person in America in 2012, which when you think about it is sort of what happened anyway.

Paul Ryan’s Muslim beard

[ 226 ] December 30, 2015 |



So this is apparently a real thing:

Outside the Beltway, the right is livid with new Speaker Paul Ryan’s trillion-dollar spending deal with Democrats.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.” . . .

For any GOP establishment leader, outrage from the right is unavoidable, with the deal making that comes with the job often conflicing with the desires of the base.

But that anger has become especially vitriolic and personal recently.

As Ryan and Obama were putting the final touches on the spending deal, the now-bearded Speaker told the president that some on the right have accused him of being a Muslim, Al Hunt recounted in a Bloomberg View column.

“The president, who has long faced the same absurd allegation, chuckled,” Hunt wrote.

In all semi-seriousness, Ryan’s sudden decision to let his hirsute freak flag fly is . . . curious. I’m sure there’s a dissertation or three on the cultural signification of beards that I haven’t read so I’m shooting from the sociological hip, but is it not still the case in these United States that a beard is simply not a respectable fashion choice for a national politician? Doesn’t a beard in that context still generally code as some combination of hippie-vegan-so-called-intellectual-brie-and-cream-cheese-weird-minority-religion, with now a nice dose of specific Islamophobia thrown in for good measure?

Given this, what is Paul Ryan signaling by growing a beard immediately after being named Speaker of the House?

I’m just asking questions here.

Career opportunities

[ 143 ] December 28, 2015 |


Erik writes:

The growth fields all require higher education but the economy leaves absolutely no future for those who simply aren’t suited for higher education. This is something that virtually no one involved in education or employment policy wants to deal with or even admit. Yet anyone with working class relatives knows that some are simply not suited for higher education under any circumstances for a variety of reasons. This has to be taken seriously for social stability.

I would add that significant numbers of middle and upper class people are also not suited for higher education, but because college education in America is a crucial class marker and social sorting device, the higher a family is in the SES hierarchy, the more vigorously this will be denied (at least in regard to its own children), and the more aggressively checkbooks will be deployed to keep that denial intact.

Erik is pointing to a huge social problem, which is made all the more difficult by a consensus, broadly shared across the ideological spectrum, that more education is the solution to an almost unlimited number of economic and social problems. For obvious reasons, those peddling these cures — which as he says is almost everybody in and around the world of education and employment policy — are not eager to consider that a large percentage of the population is not going to be helped by ever-more elaborate treatments along these lines.

Some statistics:

(1) The number of students in American higher education has increased 244% in the last 50 years, which is about four times faster than the growth of the populace as a whole.

(2) Median weekly earnings of full-time workers with a BA or more have barely budged over the last 35 years, rising from $1150 per week in 1979 to about $1225 per week in 2014 (2014$).

(3) Over that same time frame, tuition has quadrupled at public four-year institutions and tripled at their private counterparts, in constant dollars.

(4) Higher education in America is more heavily subsidized today than it was 35 years ago, on a per student, constant dollar basis.

(5) The enormous increase in money flowing into higher ed, in the form of radically higher tuition combined with somewhat higher per student subsidization, has taken place at the same time that average faculty compensation has fallen by a lot. (At the top end of the education hierarchy endowments have also exploded, at rates that would have made Andrew Carnegie blush).

(6) Less than one third of American adults 25 years or older have a four-year college degree (or more).

(7) While the wages of the college-educated have on average remained flat over the past generation, those of the large majority of Americans who don’t have a college degree have fallen considerably.

Some observations:

*Even as recently as the 1980s, the vast majority of the cost of going to college, for the vast majority of students who attended public institutions, was opportunity cost. This is increasingly no longer the case. Average public tuition is now nearly what average private tuition was 35 years ago, while private college costs have reached levels that would have been considered completely incredible a generation ago.

*Remarkably, enrollment in private higher ed has grown much faster than public school enrollment. The former has doubled over the past 30 years, which is twice the rate of growth in public higher ed enrollment (much of this growth has been driven by the for-profit sector, which barely existed 30 years ago).

*The growth in the “college premium” (the correlation between more education and higher earnings) has been almost exclusively a product of the decline in earnings for people with less than a four-year degree, rather than in any growth in earnings among the college-educated.

*To the extent that higher earnings for people with more education represents credentialism, which is to say the distribution of positional goods, then addressing economic inequality by sending more people to college is considerably worse than useless, especially given the spiraling costs of acquiring those credentials.

*Anyone who argues that the key to “economic opportunity,” aka a decent job, is to have a college degree is in effect arguing that it’s OK for a large majority of Americans not to have a decent job.

Is the Sanders campaign going truther?

[ 171 ] December 26, 2015 |



The dustup over a data breach that briefly erupted in the Democratic presidential primary last week isn’t over as far as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his team are concerned.

In a conversation with Yahoo News, a top Sanders campaign adviser made a series of explosive allegations about how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and a political technology company that works with the party handled the incident. According to the Sanders adviser, the DNC and NGP VAN, a firm that has a contract with the party organization to operate a voter file, have responded to the data breach by “leaking information” and “stonewalling an investigation” into the matter.

“We have demanded a full investigation from top to bottom,” the Sanders adviser said. . .

“It’s not as if we conjured this guy Josh [Uretsky] from thin air. This is an individual … who was recommended to us by the DNC and NGP VAN,” the adviser said. . .

The Sanders adviser described the fact Uretsky was recommended to the campaign by people with links to the DNC as astonishing in light of what happened. Specifically, the adviser pointed out that the campaign was slammed by Clinton’s team for the breach and punished by the DNC.

“I just think it’s utter hypocrisy on their part,” said the adviser. “I mean here we are being attacked for the behavior of an individual, which we ultimately fired. We agree he acted improperly, but it’s just amazing to me that this … individual that actually caused this trouble in our campaign was recommended by these guys.”

Hey Top Campaign Adviser, what exactly are you trying to imply, nudge nudge wink wink?

The adviser suggested the DNC and NGP VAN are “ignoring their own responsibility,” arguing that Uretsky’s references from people linked to the party and the company show both the DNC and NGP VAN “bear responsibility” for the incident. The world of progressive political consulting is a small one, and, as in other professions, it’s common for people to provide recommendations for those in their network. Still, given what happened with the breach, the adviser suggested Brown’s recommendation of Uretsky could be evidence of a conspiracy.

“I don’t know how you can more centrally connect this thing than those two entities,” the adviser explained. “Here we are being attacked by both of those entities when, in fact, they recommended this guy to the campaign.” [emphasis added]

This story is lightly sourced (maybe H.A. Goodman counts as a “top campaign adviser.”) But Sanders should quash this kind of thing right away.

Donald denialism

[ 169 ] December 24, 2015 |


A striking number of people are still assuming one or more of the following things:

(1) Donald Trump either doesn’t want to be president or doesn’t believe he can win. Thus his campaign isn’t what it superficially appears to be (an attempt to win the GOP nomination and then the presidency) but rather something else: a publicity stunt, an ego trip, a branding exercise, or what have you.

(2) Trump is much less likely to win the nomination than Rubio or Cruz.

(3) Even if (1) and (2) turn out to be wrong, Trump would have next to no chance in November.

I think points (1) and (3) are both clearly wrong and are also — not wholly by any means, but to some significant extent — products of denialism, in the sense of the rejection of disturbing conclusions because they’re disturbing. Point (2) is much more plausible, but the extent to which the available evidence supports it is, in my view, exaggerated.

As for (1), this theory certainly had some initial plausibility, given, among other things, that Trump’s announcement of his presidential run looked by conventional measures more like an outrageous publicity stunt than a typical campaign kickoff:

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing their problems,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting.”

He promised that as President Trump, one of his first actions would be to build a “great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall”.

Of course this was just the beginning of a long series of statements that, again according to conventional wisdom, would have killed the campaign of an ordinary candidate. But what became clear over the summer, and is even clearer today, is that such gestures, far from derailing Trump’s campaign, are making it stronger.

In any case, the theory that Trump’s campaign is a publicity stunt in the manner of Herman Cain’s or Ben Carson’s antics always suffered from the flaw that Donald Trump was already vastly better known among the American public than any of the people he was and is running against. (What do you suppose the ratio was in June between people who could tell you three things about Trump and three things about Marco Rubio? My guess would be about 100 to 1.). Furthermore, the truism that there’s no such thing as bad publicity is not actually true. If Trump’s campaign is actually a publicity stunt, the sort of publicity it has gotten him has, to this point, cost him some very valuable things.

As to the argument that Trump doesn’t actually want to be president because it would be a lot of work, that strikes me as denialism in its purest form. Trump has spent the last six months criss-crossing the country, giving dozens of speeches, countless interviews, etc. Trump lacks many qualities, including most notably any sense of shame — this is a man who has more than once used a national media platform to announce that he would like to have sex with his daughter — but the claim that he lacks the energy and ambition to put in the work to become and then be president is just bizarre.

The claim that Trump is much less likely to win the nomination that Rubio or Cruz is based on both standard political science models of prediction, and a couple of common sense observations about his behavior to this point.

In regard to the former, Trump is, to put it mildly, completely unacceptable to the party elites, and, generally speaking, the relevant models predict that “the party decides.” But, as Scott has acknowledged, there are good reasons to be uncertain whether the standard models will necessarily hold in this case, especially since such models are based, necessarily, on interpreting the meaning of a very small number of precedents, in a rapidly shifting social and media environment. In short, the Trump phenomenon seems to have several characteristics that make predictions based on past performance shakier than they were otherwise be.

Political science also tells us that national polls prior to any primaries tend to be highly unreliable, and therefore Trump’s current huge lead in such polls doesn’t necessarily mean much. This is certainly a valid point, but again, Trump is an unusual candidate. He is both far better known and produces a far more intense response, both for and against, than the typical fall front runner for a party nomination. Thus there are good reasons to suspect that his lead in the polls, which has lasted for many months now and is growing, is more significant than it would otherwise be.

The relevant common sense observations are that Trump to this point is spending very little of his own money, and that he hasn’t done the sort of on the ground organizing that Barack Obama used to such good effect in 2008. These points also have force, but they also have some obvious rejoinders. First, why would Trump spend his own money before he needed to? Candidates spend money early in a campaign to buy media coverage above all. Obviously, any such spending on Trump’s part would have almost no marginal value, since he has carefully constructed his campaign to bring him more free publicity than the rest of the GOP field combined. (Hence the endless stream of outrageous statements etc.).

Second, the kind of ground game Obama put together in 2008 made sense in the context of his candidacy — one in which as late as the fall of 2007 he was a relatively little-known underdog. Again, the contrast with Trump could hardly be more stark. Perhaps Trump doesn’t have, or yet have, the kind of campaign infrastructure necessary to win primaries as opposed to polls, but as of now this is more of an assertion of faith than anything else.

As for the argument that Trump has little or no chance to win the general if he gets the nomination, this wouldn’t seem to need much of a rejoinder, given the fundamentals of contemporary American presidential elections. While I agree Trump would, as of now, be a distinct underdog to Hillary Clinton, any GOP candidate is going to start with a floor of perhaps 45% of the popular vote, and somewhere north of 100 electoral votes.

In sum, I would argue that much of the confidence that Trump can’t win the nomination is based on wishful thinking/denialism, while the good arguments to that effect, based as they are on traditional models of American presidential elections, are not as compelling as they would otherwise appear to be, given the highly unconventional nature of both the Trump campaign and what might be called the Trump moment.

A case study

[ 24 ] December 23, 2015 |


Case Western Reserve is a well-regarded private university in Cleveland. It’s undergraduate school is highly-ranked among “national universities,” its medical school is a top research institution, its engineering school is considered excellent, etc.

Case’s law school, by contrast, is merely respectable. The relevance of this is that it’s hard to argue that the law school lends prestige to the university, rather than vice versa. Given this, it’s not clear why the rest of the university should be subsidizing 35% of the law school’s operating budget.

That, however, appears to be the current situation. The law school’s revenues have plummeted in recent years for two reasons: total JD enrollment declined by 43% between FY2008 and FY2015, while over this same time effective per capita tuition fell by 41% in 2015 dollars. The result is that, while the school was getting about $24 million in JD revenue seven years ago in constant dollars, last year it pulled in around $8 million.

This seems hard to believe if one only looks at the law school’s listed tuition, which rose from $35,220 to $47,728. But perhaps more than any other school in the country Case has spent the last few years drastically cutting its real tuition, as opposed to its sticker price. In 2007, 55% of JD students at the school were paying sticker; last year that figure was 11%. Among the 45% who got a discount off sticker in 2007, the median discount was $11,000. Last year, the median discount among the 89% who weren’t paying sticker was nearly $33,000. The result is that effective per capita tuition at the school has fallen from around $34,000 (2015$) in 2007 to about $20,000 last year, while enrollment has nearly halved.

This has produced an enormous operating deficit. CWSU puts its budget documents on line, from which we learn that in FY2013 (the most recent year for which there are actual expenditure figures), the law school was getting about $4.8 million in restricted and unrestricted endowment income combined, along with $2.8 million in other sources of revenue, exclusive of tuition. Let’s bump that $7.6 million figure up to $8 million for FY2015. These budget documents also reveal that the school is getting around $2 million per year in net tuition revenue from about 100 LLM and SJD students (How the law school manages to get several dozen foreign — apparently mostly Chinese — students to spend several months of winter near the shores of Lake Erie every year, acquiring advanced degrees of, to put it mildly, dubious value, is an interesting question).

So the school seems to be generating about $18 million per year from all sources of revenue. It spent nearly ten million more than that in FY2013, after excluding the $9.5 million in tuition discounts from its nominal spending (for clarity’s sake I’m not counting nominal tuition that’s not actually collected as revenue or tuition discounts that reduce nominal revenue as expenses). Hence the 35% operating deficit, which has to be covered by the rest of the university.

Now on one level CWRU’s law school has clearly done the right thing, either out of principle or necessity (most likely some of both). The school has slashed both enrollment and real tuition, while maintaining and even slightly increasing admissions standards. Of course, given declining demand, the only way to accomplish the latter was to do the former, but plenty of schools have tossed admissions standards overboard in order to keep the loan money flowing at something like the accustomed rates.

Still, it seems unlikely that CWRU’s central administration is willing to keep letting its law school stick the rest of the university with around ten million per year in unpaid bills. (I can picture a scene in which the university’s president or chancellor or consigliere or what have you plays the role of Ricky Roma when meeting with the law school’s two deans: “You are supposed to make us money. Not lose us money. Make it.”)

The school’s full time faculty has decreased from 47 to 44 over the past five years, which, given plunging enrollment, seems like a very modest adjustment. All over American academia, the proverbial cash cows that law schools used to be in palmier days are increasingly suffering from the fiscal equivalent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Whether a cure will be found remains to be seen.

h/t inchininosan

A Christmas carol for the new gilded age

[ 44 ] December 23, 2015 |


Recently New York University, the real estate investment consortium disguised as the nation’s most expensive undergraduate school, has been getting some bad publicity, for engaging in orgies of spending while some of its students are forced to turn to prostitution to make those pesky tuition and rent payments.

Apparently undeterred by grumblings from the tenantry, the school’s administrators have decided to bestow an especially thoughtful Christmas gift on their newest member:

New York University is known for bestowing lavish perks on its leaders. Its new president, Andrew Hamilton, will be no exception.

Anticipating his January arrival from the University of Oxford, where he has been vice chancellor, N.Y.U. has been completely renovating a 4,200-square-foot penthouse duplex with four bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms and an expansive rooftop terrace. The apartment is in a landmark building at 37 Washington Square West in Greenwich Village, and it will be Dr. Hamilton’s residence, a university spokesman said.

Described by the university as “swanky” in its prior incarnation as a ceremonial presidential home, the apartment will be more opulent after the transformation, which includes moving a staircase and some existing walls and installing a new kitchen. The cost? At least $1.1 million, possibly double — raising questions as N.Y.U. and other universities are under pressure to control costs and high tuition.

The 19th and topmost floor of the building will be turned into a master-bedroom suite, where Dr. Hamilton will have private exits — one from the bedroom and one from the bathroom — onto a terrace overlooking Washington Square and, to the south, the financial district skyline, according to documents filed with New York City. . .

Documents filed with the city certify the project’s expense at $1.1 million, or about $260 a square foot. Contractors and architects suggested that the final sum could be double that, not including interior decorating.

“I think realistically it would be in the $500-a-foot range,” said Cesar Trevino, whose company, InTrevco, specializes in residential construction in New York. A Manhattan architect familiar with these kinds of projects, Ted Porter of Ryall Porter Sheridan Architects, estimated the price of a midrange renovation in New York at $400 to $600 per square foot.

The potential cost was enough to raise questions from Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, the chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, whose district includes Greenwich Village.

“I don’t think it’s atypical at any university that there are changes to the president’s residence,” Ms. Glick, a Democrat, said. “The question is, how much did it cost and was that unseemly? Certainly to the average person, and perhaps to the people who are paying their kids’ tuition, which is already pretty eye-popping, that would seem like a high figure.”

The New York Times disclosed in 2013 that top N.Y.U. administrators and faculty members had been extended loans at extremely favorable terms — in some cases forgiving them over time — for vacation homes in the Hamptons and on Fire Island, where John Sexton, the departing president, had a $1 million university loan for a beach house.

He also has the use of a university-owned Washington Square apartment, where he will remain after stepping down to rejoin the faculty. In addition to his base pay as president, which ranks in the top 10 nationally, he is entitled to a $2.5 million payout this year based on his length of service and $800,000 in annual retirement benefits.

And a merry Festivus to you too:

The one thing that everyone who has read A Tale of Two Cities remembers is the Reign of Terror. The whole book is dominated by the guillotine — tumbrils thundering to and fro, bloody knives, heads bouncing into the basket, and sinister old women knitting as they watch. Actually these scenes only occupy a few chapters, but they are written with terrible intensity, and the rest of the book is rather slow going. But A Tale of Two Cities is not a companion volume to The Scarlet Pimpernel. Dickens sees clearly enough that the French Revolution was bound to happen and that many of the people who were executed deserved what they got. If, he says, you behave as the French aristocracy had behaved, vengeance will follow. He repeats this over and over again. We are constantly being reminded that while ‘my lord’ is lolling in bed, with four liveried footmen serving his chocolate and the peasants starving outside, somewhere in the forest a tree is growing which will presently be sawn into planks for the platform of the guillotine, etc., etc., etc. The inevitability of the Terror, given its causes, is insisted upon in the clearest terms:

It was too much the way… to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown — as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it — as if observers of the wretched millions in France, and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain terms recorded what they saw.

And again:

All the devouring and insatiate monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realization, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a spring, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms.

In other words, the French aristocracy had dug their own graves.

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