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David Brooks is not on a Path of Upward Intellectual Mobility

[ 61 ] May 2, 2015 |


One could probably observe the fact that David “vast, lavishly taxpayer-subsidized spaces for entertaining” Brooks’s scorching Burke-abject-morons hot take on the killing of Freddie Gray cites Robert “alas, not Paul” Samuelson favorably and drop the mic. But it’s probably worth explaining in some detail why Brooks and Samuelson’s vaguely fact-resembling assertion that $14,000 per year is spent on poor people in the U.S. is abject nonsense, and Annie Lowrey does the job very effectively:

First of all, Samuelson is citing Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who calculated that in 2011, spending dedicated to the poor averaged out to $13,000 per person below the federal poverty line — I’m not sure where the $14,000 and the 2013 are coming from. What counts as “spending dedicated to the poor” for the purposes of his tally? Any means-tested program, meaning Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, the child tax credit, the Supplemental Security Income program, welfare, housing assistance, Medicare Part D, grants for school districts serving low-income children, and Pell Grants.

But many of those programs aren’t just for families below the poverty line. Medicaid helps the disabled as well, for instance, and a huge chunk of its spending goes to doctors, hospitals, and administrators. Those school grants go to schools, not families. The earned-income tax credit goes to hundreds of thousands of families that are not below the poverty line. You don’t need to be below the poverty line to get food stamps, either. Dividing spending on all those programs by the number of people in poverty, then, is a daft way to measure public spending on anti-poverty programs.


One last point. Brooks uses some very tricksy, misleading math to show that the federal government has spent more and more on poor families in the past 30 years, to no avail. But over that time, government spending has actually drifted away from the families that need it the most. Robert A. Moffitt of Baltimore’s own Johns Hopkins University has found that aid to profoundly poor single-parent families dropped 35 percent between 1983 and 2004, while it rose 74 percent for those earning a bit more more. “You would think that the government would offer the most support to those who have the lowest incomes and provide less help to those with higher incomes,” he said, releasing his findings. “But that is not the case.”

Much more at the link, which will definitely repay your time. And when you’re done, more from Dean Baker.

…for whatever reason, Paul Krugman has decided to weigh in:


Last year was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and the date provoked a flurry of studies correcting some widespread myths; perhaps most notable was an enlightening report from the Council of Economic Advisers.

What needed correcting? Basically, the “nation of takers” narrative, according to which we have been pouring ever-growing sums into helping the poor while making no dent in the poverty rate.

The reality is that spending on “income security” — which includes virtually everything except Medicaid that you could construe as aid to people with low incomes — has basically been flat for decades, with a temporary (and appropriate) spurt due to unemployment benefits and food stamps during the Great Recession…


So it is somewhat disheartening to see the thoroughly debunked narrative still emerging in some of the Baltimore-inspired discussion.

Hack of the Day

[ 41 ] May 2, 2015 |


Nicholas Kristof.

“American schools are horrible” is something that most mainstream pundits feel compelled to say on every possible occasion. If the facts don’t justify the narrative, so much worse for the facts.

“This question has two parts, neither of which have anything to do with the other or the subject at hand. Also, this question has four parts.”

[ 48 ] May 1, 2015 |

So apparently Mallory Ortberg is still a national treasure.

Adventures In Supply And Demand, With Prof. Steve Diamond

[ 150 ] May 1, 2015 |


In the midst of the pathetic but undeniably entertaining comments-section meltdown Paul referenced yesterday, master of self-refutation Steve Diamond asserted that the data showed that law schools “have in fact produced too few lawyers.”

How is this possible when more than 40% of law school graduates are not getting real jobs that require bar passage? It’s not, and Diamond has nothing to offer on this point but…not even hand-waving, more like briefly lifting a pinkie finger. However, the blog length version contains an argument that’s a must-read for connoisseurs of the farcical and the illogical. Remember, as you read this, that Diamond believes that critics of the current model of legal education like Campos and Tamanaha are agents for the Cato Institute:

Well, there were approximately 425,000 lawyers employed in 1997 and 600,000 in 2014. That means over 18 years we added, net, about 175,000 new lawyers. Every year – except 2008 – that annual number increased. That tells me society wanted to employ more lawyers and when we add in the fact that lawyer incomes increased each year in that period as well, from a low in 1997 of about 73,000 to a high in 2014 of 133,000 it tells me society was willing to pay lawyers more also.

That growth in the average (mean) annual wage paid to lawyers is significant, too, because it outstripped inflation and the growth in GDP. This suggests that lawyers have market power. No wonder Cato and the Koch Brothers are upset.

Where to begin?

  • I like the classics, and the use of mean (rather than median) incomes in this kind of context is bullshit from the school they burned down to build the old school.  I’m sure the next Santa Clara Law grad to get a job at Starbucks will be happy to know that he and Howard Schultz have a average (mean) income of more than $10 million a year.
  • The fact that more lawyers have jobs in 2014 than in 1997 is a compelling rebuttal to the zero people who have ever argued that every law school in the United States should be shut down.  As a rebuttal to the argument that there shouldn’t be dozens of law schools where an investment of $200K or more gets you a less-than-even chance of getting any job that requires a law degree and a tiny chance of getting a legal job that would justify the debt load, it’s neither here nor there.
  • But this isn’t even the best part.  According to Diamond, critics of the current legal educational model are stooges of Cato and the Koch Brothers (who also want to bring back Jim Crow.)  The reason that the plutocrats are critical of law schools, according to his new theory, is that lawyers have too much bargaining power. So they have sent Campos et al. out in the world to…substantially tighten the labor market for lawyers.  Producing many fewer law degrees would totally serve the interests of the Koch Brothers because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!  The progressive position, conversely, is to flood a market (that by any relevant measure is already massively over-saturated) with JDs who owe massive amounts of money to banks, which would be great for labor interests because…hey, isn’t that Kohoutek?

It’s not exactly news that Diamond is a pair and a three of a kind short of a full house, but even by his standards this is awesome.

Against Truth For Power

[ 117 ] May 1, 2015 |

Wherever there’s a powerful source with a ludicrously implausible story to tell in order to justify its unjustifiable actions, the Washington Post is there to put it uncritically on the front page. (Have they hired Judy Miller yet?)

Thankfully, the State’s Attorney has a more rational view of the case, and godspeed.

a history of the “rough ride” technique for torturing suspects (or, as in the case of Gray, not-even-suspects.)

NHL Round 2

[ 40 ] April 30, 2015 |


As a setup…well, let me turn things over to my partner. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call him Deacon of American Literachoor, Michael “the Greek except without the racism” Berube:

I think the lessons of our first-round LGM NHL playoff predictions, 2015 edition, should be clear. I made four predictions about the Eastern Conference playoffs based on whim, desire, whimsy, anecdote, unexamined prejudice, whimsicalness, and a hurried review of the participants that didn’t even manage to describe the Tampa Bay lineup correctly.

Scott made four predictions about the Western Conference playoffs based on knowledge, observation, statistics, evidence, puck possession ratios divided by turnover multipliers, and actual information about actual players.

The results? I said Rangers in 5, and the Rangers won in 5.

I said Canadiens in 6. The Canadiens won in 6.

I said Capitals in 7. The Capitals won in 7.

And I said Lightning in 6. The Lightning won in 7. Seriously, you didn’t think they would lose three games at home?

Scott can tell you more about his appalling 1-for-4 performance (perhaps he just couldn’t believe that his Flames would send the Canucks packing?). The important thing, for me, is that my vastly underinformed predictions held up so well against the predictions of someone who is substantially more knowledgeable about the actual game and the actual players in this actual season.

And now, peoples, you know why 90 percent of sports commentators have their jobs. Ignorance and glibness– an unbeatable combination. Boo-yeah!

And for those of you who complained about the Steely Dan lyrics lacing our predictions: you can speak your mind, but not on my time. Next year, I will seed my hockey commentary with Billy Joel lyrics, and you will come crying, crying, I say, “come back, clever soulless Steely Dan lyrics, all is forgiven.”

Rangers over Caps in 6. Canadiens over Lightning in 7. Just because.

I will point out that I salvaged myself a .500 record with my Eastern Conference picks, but nonetheless quite terrible. We’ll see if we can do better:

Flames v. Ducks I should give due credit to Vox’s Brad Plumer, a Canucks fan who emailed me before the series to observe that “Willie Desjardins is a WHL coach who makes WHL decisions,” and the Flames had a big edge behind the bench. And this was indeed the x factor I missed. Desjardins was rightly criticized for not giving enough ice time to the Sedins, who just destroyed Calgary’s hobbled top line in the first game of the series, but the ice time he gave his awful bottom defensive pairing at the expense of his one very good and one decent pairings might have been even more destructive. (It was Sbesia and Bieksa who were on the ice in the interminable shift that led to the Russell goal and a stolen road win for Calgary in Game 1, which was ultimately decisive.) Hartley went for the jugular from the opening faceoff, while Desjardins spent the first half of the series going 1-2-3-4 1-2-3 like it was a game against Carolina in January, and combine with the emergence of Sam Bennett and the Irrelevant Micheal Ferkland it was enough to put the Flames over the top. Will it be enough against Anaheim? I can’t see it. Bourdreau’s not going to get taken to school like Desjardins, and the Ducks are both a better team than the Canucks and a much better matchup against Calgary. I still think Anaheim isn’t quite as good as their record and would like to have had a crack at them with Giordano in the lineup, but especially with this roster I see more of a Hobbesian state of nature series. I hope to receive another email from my mother criticizing me for my lack of faith after this round. DUCKS IN 5.

Rangers v. Capitals
I don’t think either team bowls your over with their rosters, although certainly I think the Blueshirts have more talent than their mediocre possession numbers this year indicate. Given what is otherwise a fairly even matchup, I have to go with King Henrik. RANGERS IN 7.

Hawks v. Wild Hell of a series. Dubnyk did come to earth a little in the first round, although he was fine, but St. Louis’s goaltending was so bad it was beside the point. Nobody well ever mistake Darling or Crawford for Tony Esposito, but they are much less likely to just blow games outright, and I think will give the Hawks enough to get to the conference finals one more once. HAWKS IN 7.

Lightning v. Habs Although they underwhelming in the first round — and, by the way, the Red Wings would be insane to let Babcock get away given what he gets out of that roster every year — I think the Lightning a lot more 1-though-18 than Montreal, and Stamkos will get it going eventually. The wildcard, of course, is Carey Price, who has played at a Vezina level for two straight seasons and can certainly win a series in which Montreal gets outplayed (cf. round 1.) I don’t think he’ll be enough against Tampa’s superior firepower, though. Besides, everyone knows that the winner of the Calgary/Vancouver series goes to the finals, so the other half of the 2004 series has to live up to its end of the bargain, right? LIGHTNING IN 6.

The Peer Review Process Is Only As Good As the Peers

[ 39 ] April 30, 2015 |

Although, really, editors should know better than to rest on sexist claptrap if that’s what they get:

Evolutionary geneticist Fiona Ingleby was shocked when she read the review accompanying the rejection for her latest manuscript, which investigates gender differences in the Ph.D.-to-postdoc transition, so she took the issue to Twitter.

Earlier today, Ingleby, a postdoc at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, posted two excerpts of the anonymous review. “It would probably … be beneficial to find one or two male biologists to work with (or at least obtain internal peer review from, but better yet as active co-authors)” to prevent the manuscript from “drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically biased assumptions,” the reviewer wrote in one portion.

“Perhaps it is not so surprising that on average male doctoral students co-author one more paper than female doctoral students, just as, on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile a bit faster than female doctoral students,” added the reviewer (whose gender is not known).

Well, yes — this is why Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan should have recused themselves from the same-sex marriage cases. There is only one objective, disinterested standpoint, and it’s the white, male, heterosexual, Christian one.

Ambition and Social Control

[ 69 ] April 30, 2015 |


David Simon on Martin O’Malley:

The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley. He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart. Everyone thinks I’ve got a hard-on for Marty because we battled over “The Wire,” whether it was bad for the city, whether we’d be filming it in Baltimore. But it’s been years, and I mean, that’s over. I shook hands with him on the train last year and we buried it. And, hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him. It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.


But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.

How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.

Call Me Crazy, But I Think We Might Want to Consider the Possibility That He’s a Complete Fraud

[ 53 ] April 29, 2015 |

I wonder what America’s foremost civil libertarian and the Real Progressive Choice in 2016, Rand Paul, thinks about arbitrary police violence in Baltimore?

The thing is that really there’s so many things we can talk about, it’s something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.

But he did lead an ineffectual filibuster against a specific use of drones that isn’t happening, so…Rand/Ron ’16!

Beer-Like Product Gets Marketing It Deserves

[ 96 ] April 29, 2015 |

That’s it, I plan never to buy Bud Light again. Or ever before, but still, this boycott will be painful for the company.

When You Don’t Have the Law or the Facts, Pound Theories of Judicial Restraint You Don’t Believe

[ 101 ] April 29, 2015 |


When someone who signed Shelby County starts with the “let the people decide” routine, you know the substantive arguments are a loser.

In addition to the hand-having to a conception of judicial restraint that nobody on the current Court actually believes in, Roberts decided to try his hand at backlash theory. You may be surprised to learn that I do not find him convincing:

In a related example of sophomoric democratic theory, Chief Justice John Roberts repeated a familiar argument that for the Supreme Court to decide in favor of the rights of gays and lesbians would be counterproductive for gays and lesbians. “Closing the debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted,” asserted the chief justice. “People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it’s imposed on them by the courts.”

This has been a common refrain whenever a previously disadvantaged group wins constitutional victories in the courts. The only problem is that the argument makes little sense in theory and has been proven wrong in practice. There’s no evidence that the public is more hostile to social changes produced by the courts than by legislatures. And it’s particularly strange to assert this hoary claim in the context of same-sex marriage. The courts have long played a major role in states ending marriage discrimination, which has led to predictions that the backlash would increase opposition to same-sex marriage. What happened, of course, was the opposite — public support for same-sex marriage has only increased.

Admittedly, there are a few states where a Supreme Court decision striking down bans on same-sex marriage would be unpopular. But these are also jurisdictions where, absent judicial intervention, ending marriage discrimination would probably take decades. Making gays and lesbians wait that long for their fundamental rights to be recognized in order to prove an almost certainly erroneous point about democratic procedures is not very attractive.

The Elected Judiciary and Campaign Finance

[ 23 ] April 29, 2015 |


Today, the Court upheld the Florida Supreme Court’s rule that candidates for judicial elections cannot solicit funds. Another interesting element of the case is that it’s the second appearance of the Sebelius tax power coalition — Roberts joined the four Democratic nominees as the swing vote. Roberts’s opinion for the Court had an amusing passage about the hysteria Kennedy’s dissent applied to this very modest rule:

By any measure, Canon 7C(1) restricts a narrow slice of speech. A reader of Justice Kennedy’s dissent could be forgiven for concluding that the Court has just upheld a latter-day version of the Alien and Sedition Acts, approving “state censorship” that “locks the First Amendment out,” imposes a “gag” on candidates, and inflicts “dead weight” on a “silenced” public debate. But in reality, Canon 7C(1) leaves judicial candidates free to discuss any issue with any person at any time. Candidates can write letters, give speeches, and put up billboards. They can contact potential supporters in person, on the phone, or online. They can promote their campaigns on radio, television, or other media. They cannot say, “Please give me money.” They can, however, direct their campaign committees to do so. Whatever else may be said of the Canon, it is surely not a “wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech.”

Ginsburg’s concurrence
outlines a standard for evaluating restrictions on judicial elections that makes more sense going forward, but it’s good that Florida was given at least a little leeway here.

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