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Category: General


[ 91 ] May 30, 2016 |


Unfortunately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has started another round of deporting thousands of people who have undergone great risks to be Americans, especially Central Americans fleeing horrible violence at home.

In a climate of intense scrutiny and activism relating to the global refugee and immigration crisis, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has established a hotline to field tips on illegal immigrants. The immigration news that Homeland Security’s hotline is open means increased raids on immigrant families are expected under Obama’s immigration reform, and deportation of those families – largely from Central America – resulting from those raids.

Obama’s immigration reform focuses on identifying and deporting men, women and children who have entered the United States illegally since 2014.

The immigration hotline is open 24 hours a day and carries the threat of ‘rapid response’ teams to apprehend any illegal immigrants identified from news and tips given by callers, according to Philly News.

“As the Obama administration gears up for a priority crackdown on immigrants — mainly women and children from Central America — who have entered the U.S. illegally since 2014, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia has set up a 24-hour hotline for tips about immigration enforcement raids, and ‘rapid response’ teams to rally around those who are arrested,” reports Philly News.

Humanitarian and various religious and spiritual groups have rallied to protest against the immigration news hotline and the increased deportation raids likely to be enacted by the Department of Homeland Security as a result.

The establishment of the 24-hour hotline for tips on illegal immigrants is just the latest in a longer-term battle on immigration for the U.S. federal government. Obama’s administration faced a crisis in 2014 when tens of thousands of migrants – some men, but mostly women and children – arrived at North America’s southernmost border and crossed illegally.

The hotline is particularly disturbing, incentivizing neighbors to turn each other in or for whites to just make phone calls reporting any Latino they see. And the Obama administration really is sending some of these people to their deaths:

Renewed immigration raids against women and children fail to recognize the severity of situations faced by migrants, who have left Central America to escape death, the U.S. Catholic bishops said.

“Sending women and children back to Central America will not serve as an effective deterrent to migration because this is a humanitarian crisis and individuals from the region are being forced to flee for their lives,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said May 25.

Bishop Elizondo is an auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“These operations spark panic among our parishes,” the bishop continued. “No person, migrant or otherwise, should have to fear leaving their home to attend church or school. No person should have to fear being torn away from their family and returned to danger.”

I recognize that Obama does not have intricate control over the daily operations of the ICE and that federal bureaucracies have their own momentum that often lead presidents as much as presidents lead them. That said, Obama has not done a good job of controlling the ICE’s worst behavior, nor has he made it much of a political priority, even as he has taken executive actions in other areas to push for a more humane immigration system. So ICE agents treat some of these deportees horribly.

A group of south Asian migrants have said they were forcefully placed in “body bags” and shocked with Tasers by Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) officers as they were being deported from the US, allegations that have raised red flags for advocates and immigration attorneys.

On 3 April, 85 Bangladeshis, Nepalis and Indians were repatriated on an ICE charter flight that departed from Mesa, Arizona, after they failed to gain asylum or otherwise secure legal status.

Seven detainees who had been on the flight, have detailed their claims of abuse by ICE to the Guardian. According to those interviewed, about 15 deportees were placed in what they called body bags, believed to refer to the “restraint” or “security” blankets occasionally used by the agency. Some individuals were also said to have been shocked with a Taser, an allegation which ICE denies.

According to detainees who witnessed the bags being used, to place a detainee in a so-called body bag, a group of ICE officers would first pin them to the ground, sometimes face-down. The detainee’s body would then be tightly wrapped in the security blanket and fastened with a series of Velcro belts. Limbs restrained, the deportee could then be carried on to the plane.

ICE claims the deportees were resisting. And who could blame them. But these are violations of human rights on the same continuum as what led to extrajudicial rendition and the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. This behavior must be reined in, much as the behavior of police and security forces generally must be radically reformed, as demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.


Highlights of the Libertarian National Convention

[ 16 ] May 30, 2016 |

Mostly not inaccurate summary: Johnson by a head. Coverage devoid of word play @ Reason.

Taking Your Ball And Going Home Preemptively Is Not Really a Strategy

[ 285 ] May 30, 2016 |


Salon‘s EDITOR’S PICK today is yet another random guy who wishes to confirm that he understands politics much less well than Bernie Sanders:

The idea that Bernie Sanders might mount a third-party or independent run has little basis in reality. Sanders himself has said as much. He’d have to fight a legal battle to gain access to the ballot in “sore loser” states or others that throw up barriers to third-party runs. And seeing how the Naderification of Sanders has already begun, it’s hard to see what benefit there is to Sanders to split the Democratic vote and help elect Donald Trump.

He’s actually right about two things, rare for this kind of thing. First, he’s right that Sanders considers throwing elections to Republicans to be really dumb. And second, he’s right that it’s really dumb to compare Sanders to Nader, for exactly this reason.

Alas, things get much worse from there.

There’s a salient point, however, that the Sanders campaign could foreshadow a party that flanks the Democrats on the left. And if there were ever time to lay the groundwork for a real labor party in the United States, it would be now.

“If there was ever a time for third party wankery in the United States, it’s when a self-labelled socialist has run a competitive race for the Democratic nomination, and lost to someone who will be running on what is probably the most progressive Democratic Party platform since 1972.” We’ve been through this recently so I won’t repeat the arguments, but wow.

The Sanders coalition, despite statements to the contrary, is not dominated by white men. Rather, according to the Reuters Polling Explorer, it revolves around a high level of support among 18- to 29-year-olds that translates across racial and gender lines. As the respondents get older (and more wealthy), his support wanes across all of these groups.

This argument isn’t right; race and gender, as well as age, are strong predictors of the vote in the Democratic primary. But it’s beside the point, anyway. If Sanders’s success in the primaries portends a new majority coalition, that coalition can just capture the Democratic nomination. If it isn’t, it can’t magically become a majority coalition by forming a third party.

The party has to see this, which may be one reason why on Monday, they gave Sanders so much control over the party platform. If they’re able to adapt to the change at least better than the Republicans adapted to the Tea Party, maybe they’ll be able to keep the coalition together and happy enough not to depose its leaders. The bulk of Sanders’ supporters could see it this way as well, that the Democratic Party is worth saving and shaping into something more palatable to the left.

This is, again, pretty much correct. I appreciate how much self-refutation was left in the piece; saves me a lot of trouble.

This wouldn’t be easy, of course, but neither is changing a party from within that, in its modern era, has only really made substantial progress on issues like LGBT rights, and is only recently starting to show signs of life on welfare and criminal justice reform. And given how the party rolled back progress made in the New Deal and Great Society to become more viable in the post-Reagan years, there’s no guarantee even a relatively modest trend of progress will continue.

Again, we should blow up the Democratic Party now more than ever…because it’s moving to the left? It is true that we cannot guarantee to an absolute certainty that the party will keep moving in this direction. But do you know what would stop this? A significant party of the left of the party leaving to indulge in counterproductive third party wankery!

Take the Democratic primary for Florida’s 23rd District seat, for an example of the disconnect between the two wings of the Democratic Party.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, aside from being a controversial figure in the primary, has also been a reliable Third Way Democrat. Wasserman-Schultz represents one of the safest seats in one of the most liberal districts in the country, even as she has made a number of questionable votes disagreeable to progressives.

Again, this is correct. DWS — a fairly conservative Democrat in a +11 D district, and unusually influential for a House member — is exactly the kind of Democrat who should be subject to a primary challenge from the left. And she’s facing a credible challenger, who Sanders has endorsed, showing the value of his campaign within the party. The lesson?

She’s being primaried by Tim Canova, a law professor who was, on Tuesday, endorsed by Sanders, and like some of the other candidates Sanders has endorsed, has far more in common politically with the Sanders coalition than the Clinton wing. In a more welcoming scenario to the challenger, Canova would face Wasserman-Schultz in the general, where turnout is guaranteed to be higher. If Canova won the seat, he’d caucus with the Democrats (like Sanders has in the Senate) while the party or coalition he represents builds itself up.

Before we even see if Canova can succeed, we should instead talk about him winning as a third party candidate! Even though this is far less likely to succeed! What the hell?

Again, the Republicans are the obvious model here. Not every primary challenge mounted by movement conservatives succeeds. But they don’t walk away from the field after they lose one, let alone preemptively doing to. Hopefully Canova wins this time. If not, try again in two years. It’s not complicated.

This is a rare moment in American history where the opportunity presents itself for a party on the left. For Sanders, who has spent his whole life railing against the two-party system we have, lighting the fire would be a fantastic legacy for his campaign.

If by “fantastic” you mean “transform it from positive to highly negative,” yes. Either such a party would have a negligible impact, or its impact would be to hand national elections to Republicans. There is no third option. Again, to his credit, Sanders understands this stuff a lot better than you do. You should listen to him.

Who’s Ready for Some Pork Sashimi?

[ 93 ] May 30, 2016 |



Since the popularization of beef tartare in the 1950s and sushi in the 1980s, raw animal products have been a widely accepted luxury item in the US. But historically, raw pork was seldom, if ever, seen on menus, even in the most adventurous of nose-to-tail restaurants. In fact, there’s no other non-poultry meat that is so insistently served well-done. Recently, though, that’s started to change, albeit slowly and with great resistance.

“I’ve been serving and eating pork raw for years,” says California chef Chris Cosentino. “Pork has really nice intramuscular fat, so it has a great mouthfeel.” He serves a pork crudo, dressed simply with olive oil, Meyer lemon, mint, and radish, at his Los Angeles restaurant, Pigg. Meanwhile, at The Black Hoof in Toronto, a pork carpaccio is plated with maple blossoms (turns out they’re edible, too!), pine nuts, and pickled onions. And across the pond, at London’s Taberna do Mercado, pork tartare regularly makes its way onto the seasonal menu.

Raw pork may still be a restaurant rarity, but increasing numbers of chefs are starting to serve their pork cooked to medium-rare. Then again, many of them acknowledge that even faintly pink pork seems to freak the hell out of their diners.

The question is, should it?

Maybe? I mean, as much as I love rare beef and raw fish, I always thought that raw or rare pork was a good way to die. Was I wrong? Evidently.

The biggest misconception about raw pork isn’t necessarily that it’s dangerous, because, well, it can be. But exactly how dangerous it is—and why—is another matter entirely. Considering that the word “trichinosis” has been drilled into us since our childhoods, you might be surprised to learn that it’s a virtually nonexistent risk. Trichinosis is a disease caused by roundworms of the Trichinella genus. It is horrible and repulsive, if not usually fatal; this is a worm we’re talking about, after all. But it is also incredibly uncommon in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only 84 confirmed cases in the five inclusive years between 2008 and 2012—none fatal—and, interestingly, only 22 of those could be traced to pork. (Game seems to be much more affected by trichinosis than pork, so you may want to think twice before digging into a bear-meat tartare.)

It’s cliché to say, but you are significantly more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than afflicted by even a nonfatal round of trichinosis, at least in the United States. (Results from other countries vary; the USDA says that trichinosis is essentially extinct in countries like Denmark and The Netherlands, but in many countries it’s more common. China is usually good for a few outbreaks each year, and in some provinces, especially in the west, the incidence is as high as 4% of the total population.)

I may need more than one foodie article to convince me to try this. Thoughts? And if you are of the grilling type on Decoration Day, does this mean you are going to throw some pork on just to get it seared on the outside and serve it pink to the kids?

Some Memorial Day Links with All the Gravitas You’d Expect from Me

[ 23 ] May 30, 2016 |


  • Chuck Tingle continues to knock the wind out of the sails of folks like the Rabid Puppies by pounding them in the butt with kindness. (Thanks to OI for the link!)
  • Edgy edgelord writes a review of a movie he hasn’t seen yet (Ghostbusters, of course). Karen24 got me to read 3 paragraphs of it, so now you ALL have to. I’m not gonna suffer alone, people.
  • Here is my latest piece, “Alone is Home.”
  • Yes…it’s more “Ghostbusters” stuff. Here Ashley Lynch writes about MRA-types hatin’ on it, despite the fact that, you know, it hasn’t been released yet.
  • Megan McArdle has got some big old ovaries, I’ll say that much. She’s hopped on the “Trump is the fault of everyone but the folks who are voting for him train” and she’s riding it straight up her own butt.

On a serious note, Happy Memorial Day and a sincere thanks to all who serve or have served.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 33

[ 76 ] May 29, 2016 |

This is the tomb of James Garfield:

2016-03-23 15.22.20

Garfield grew up in Ohio, raised by his widowed mother. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts, moved back to Ohio and entered politics as a Republican. He served in the Ohio state senate from 1859-61 and then volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War. He rapidly rose to the rank of major general, fighting at Shiloh, among other battles. However, his war service ended in late 1863 when he was elected to Congress in 1862; nearly a year between the election and the start of the next legislative session was the norm at that time. In that year, he also fought effectively at the Battle of Chickamauga. After he left for Washington, he became a protege of Salmon Chase and aligned himself with abolitionists who felt that Lincoln was moving too slow on slavery, particularly in following Thaddeus Stevens’ advice to confiscate the lands of treasonous plantation owners and redistribute them to their former slaves. In the early years of Reconstruction, Garfield continued his alliance with the radical Republicans, hoping to impeach Andrew Johnson and being shocked and angry when that failed.

But by 1870, Garfield was rapidly moving toward a more conservative position. While he supported the 15th Amendment, he did not support the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, critical to Grant’s suppression of the KKK, because he worried about the effect upon habeas corpus. He became a classically Gilded Age hard money supporter, deriding greenbacks.

Like other politicians of the period, Garfield also had shady financial morals. He was caught up in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. Although it did not seem that he directly accepted Union Pacific money, he certainly was aware of the scandal and was personally offered money. At the very least, he knew about the entire scandal as a powerful congressmen and did nothing at all about it. This did not hurt him in the future. He got himself elected to the Senate with the support of the state’s powerful senator John Sherman and quickly became a dark horse for the Republican nomination in 1880. Ulysses S. Grant, who was actively seeking a third term after taking four years off, James Blaine, and John Sherman were the early favorites. When none of the three could win a majority of delegates, support began to move toward Garfield. He won election that fall over Winfield Scott Hancock. Horatio Alger wrote his campaign biography; you already know what Alger emphasized in it.

The major issue Garfield faced as president was the division between the two factions of the party, a division made clear to him as Grant’s supporters refused to support him until the very end. This of course would help lead to his assassination by the disgruntled office seeker Charles Guiteau in 1881. Some have claimed Garfield would have made a good civil rights president, but I am skeptical. He would have been good for African-Americans on patronage and he did propose some educational programs, but the general feeling within the Republican Party for aggressive action to protect black rights in the South was very low in 1881. Even if he had survived the full four years, it’s unlikely any bill would have passed for him to sign and probably not likely that he would have spent much political capital on it, although I guess we will never know.

Garfield’s tomb is big enough but it’s the inside that is really amazing. 1881 was Peak Gilded Age. Money was flowing and Garfield was part of that monied elite by this time. His policies had helped make a lot of wealthy people wealthier. So they went all out for Garfield. I visited the grave before and have been inside, but when I visited this March, the inside was closed. But these pictures other took will do.


Here is the statue of Garfield inside the tomb, with the sun reflecting on the glorious man, reminding us all of his awesomeness. In the background, you can see the ornnateness of the entire thing, which includes up to the high rotunda. That’s even better seen here:

Final Destination II

Here is the actual grave:


James Garfield is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.

The Extremely Poor and the States

[ 20 ] May 29, 2016 |


You want to read Christopher Jencks’ review of a new book on the extreme poor in America. It’s a serious indictment of federal policy in dealing with the poorest of the poor, part of a much broader problem of states having leeway to take federal money earmarked for particular programs and divert it to the general fund if they can find ways not to pay it out.

The most obvious explanation for the increase in extreme poverty between 1996 and 2011 is that jobs were harder to find in 2011, but that is only half the story. Until 1996 single mothers with no income were eligible for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Edin and Shaefer argue that extreme poverty rose after 1996 because Congress replaced AFDC with an even less generous welfare program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Because TANF benefits are much harder to get than AFDC benefits were, parents who cannot find a job are more likely to find themselves penniless.7

Prior to 1996 each state had its own AFDC program, with the federal government paying about half the cost in rich states and far more than half in poor states. States could set their AFDC benefits as high or low as they wanted, but in each state the eligibility rules had to meet a variety of federal requirements, one of which was that all legally eligible applicants were entitled to benefits. A state could not turn away eligible applicants because the legislature wanted to use the money for some other purpose or because a caseworker thought an applicant had loose morals.

All states still get federal money to cover part of TANF’s cost, but they now have more leeway in deciding how to spend such money. They can divert federal TANF funds to programs like financial aid for college students and pre-kindergarten programs, for example. Such programs are worthwhile, but they do nothing to help poor single mothers pay their electric bill or their rent. States also have almost complete freedom to decide what applicants must do to qualify for benefits and retain them. States can also shorten the federal time limit on TANF eligibility.

If states cut the cost of TANF by reducing the number of recipients, they can use the savings for other purposes. That gives state officials a strong incentive to discourage TANF applications. Potential applicants may have to spend weeks applying for jobs before they can apply for TANF. Or they may have to produce documents that they cannot find or do not know how to get. Understaffed welfare offices can create long lines that discourage applications. Many TANF applicants also report having been turned down with no explanation at all.

I am writing a review for another publication that touches on this issue of diversion of federal money and it’s simply hard for me to believe that federalism is an effective form of govenrment. Having this much state control over funding, wages, benefits, educational policy, etc., is disastrous, leading to huge disparities between states on all sorts of matters. The ability to states to exercise this much leeway, basically stealing federal money for its general fund and then justifying cutting taxes on the wealthy is a sign of the deep dysfunction plaguing the United States.

Waste Workers

[ 20 ] May 29, 2016 |


Tonight, I put out my trash and my recycling. What will happen to it tomorrow morning when the workers come pick it up? Almost no one thinks about this. Especially when it comes to recycling, we are convinced of our own good behavior to an extent that we usually assume that something goods come of it. But the reality is that these are hard, nasty jobs with employers who often heavily exploit the workers and provide highly unsafe working conditions. The Teamsters have organized some waste workers, but many remain unorganized. This report on waste workers in New York, where you have a panoply of private companies who contract with the city and therefore a mix of union and non-union shops, is pretty disturbing.

IN THE BEST SCENARIO, A WASTE collector will suffer chronic back pain, joint fatigue and sleep deprivation. In the worst, his life is what Thomas Hobbes might have called “nasty, brutish and short.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists refuse collection, both public and private, as one of the 10 most dangerous occupations in America based on fatalities, far more than those of police or firefighters. When one accounts for physical degradation and quality of life, the statistics become far more perilous.

New York City’s Department of Sanitation is among the most respected in the country. Its workers, who are Teamsters, work no more than eight hours a day, are paid close to $80,000 a year and enjoy generous benefit packages. They collect 10,500 tons of refuse each day from city residents and institutions.

In comparison, the private carting industry in New York City is a largely unregulated enterprise where more than 100 carting companies, large and small, compete to pick up the refuse of 100,000 businesses. In one night, some 20 trucks from different companies could visit a single city block, bringing with them all the concomitant emissions, traffic and safety concerns.

“AS A WORKER, YOU ARE TREATED like the truck. You are treated like a machine,” said Carl Orlando, a former sanitation worker for Liberty Ashes who says he has worked in all aspects of the industry, from hauling garbage to office work to customer relations. He and several former co-workers have sued the company, accusing it of wage theft and other pay violations.

“There’s no training. There’s no safety meetings. There’s no gear. There is no taking days off. There’s no benefits. They don’t even pay overtime,” he said.

He, like others, stressed that not all private waste companies are the same, and that they vary widely in how they treat workers. But in his experience, the so-called “low-road” companies routinely put workers’ safety in jeopardy.

Like many workers in the industry, Orlando said he was paid for a fixed number of hours no matter how long he worked — something he and others say incentivizes dangerous habits. He said he was paid for a 10-hour day but routinely had to work 12-, 13-, even 14-hour shifts to complete his route.

“You want to get through it as quick as possible, because you don’t want that truck on the road as people are trying to go to work, and you have one truck out there trying to do the work of three,” Orlando said. “I’ve driven all night, didn’t stop for any red lights, went from one side of the street to the other, on the wrong side of the street, and I still couldn’t get it done.”

Wage theft is a common accusation against such companies. Three other workers — Marco Flores, Antonio Santos and Oscar Tudon — filed a class-action lawsuit against Five Star in July 2015 for unpaid wages.

The suit alleges the men “were not paid overtime premium pay for hours worked over forty (40) hours per week, did not receive wages for all hours worked, had meal breaks automatically deducted from their wages regardless of whether they actually took the full break, did not receive prevailing wages when they worked on public works projects, did not receive wage notice or proper wage statements.”

Workers say the companies have other means of skirting their obligations, too.

Juan Feliz worked for Mr. T’s Carting for close to 10 years. In 2013, at the age of 35, he was diagnosed with lung and throat cancer. He now speaks through a voicebox after surgery left a hole in his trachea.

After his diagnosis and first surgery, Feliz said his bosses treated him differently.

“When I went back to the company, I was treated worse than the garbage I was supposed to pick up,” he said.

Feliz said the company asked him to change doctors. Then he said the boss, Peter Toscano, told him he would have to wait for further treatment.

“Toscano said I had to wait until next year because I had exhausted my funds,” Feliz said.

As his medical bills piled up, Mr. T’s Carting suddenly asked Feliz to do something it never had before: take an off-site drug test. He typically took drug tests on site, according to a judge’s ruling.

He agreed to the off-site test, but it was scheduled for a cold day in January. As Feliz tried to get to the facility, he had trouble breathing. Blood started pouring from his tracheal tube, and he canceled the appointment. He rescheduled again, but when he arrived there was a long wait, and he left to pick up his 9-year-old daughter from school.

Mr. T’s fired him, accusing him of refusing to take the drug test. When he tried to collect unemployment, the company rejected his claim. Feliz filed an appeal.

Better conditions for these workers should be part of our civic responsibility. They are picking up our trash and recycling. We owe it to them that they don’t get hurt or die doing it.

Recipe Reviews: New York Times All Feta Edition

[ 23 ] May 29, 2016 |

Recently I tried two New York Times Cooking recipes. They were both terrific.

First up is Greek Chicken Stew with Cauliflower and Olives. Unsure was to why this was called a stew; I think of it more as a braise. It’s not something I’d just pop in a bowl and eat with a spoon. It’s a thick, tomato-based braise. I’d serve it over rice or some other grain or starch.

Anyway, this is a wonderful, healthy, fuss-free “stew” that starts with a base of caramelized onions and builds layers of flavors with the addition of red wine vinegar, olives (I added a tiny bit of brine along with the olives), cinnamon and parsley. It really is a lovely melange of flavors. Feta cheese is an optional garnish but I wouldn’t leave it out as I think it adds a tangy contrast to the stew’s savory warmth. I served mine over rice.

Next up is Roasted Feta with Honey, which is every bit as off-the-chain as it sounds, in addition to being criminally easy to make. Basically you slap some olive oil on a brick of Feta, bake it for awhile, then slap on some honey (the recipe calls for Greek thyme honey; I used plain and sprinkled on some  thyme), and broil it ’til it becomes brown and bubbly and creamy. Finally, you serve it with freshly-ground cracked black pepper. I served mine with crudite and pita chips. It’s heavenly.



It’s Like, How Much More Mariners Could This Be?

[ 32 ] May 29, 2016 |

Every once and a while, as a Mariners fan you might allow yourself some measure of optimism. It’s Memorial Day weekend, you’re in first place, one of the two other teams you figured would contend for the division has failed to launch, and you have the second-best run differential in the league. Your optimism might cause you to get excited when, down a run in the bottom of the ninth to a dreadful Minnesota team, you get runners on first and third with none out. Then you remember that the Mariners’s ability to find new ways to lose in inexhaustible. Like, say, getting two runners (including the tying run on third with one out) gunned down on an idiotic too-clever-by-three-quarters delayed steal play:

And what’s worst about this is that it deprives me of what otherwise would be a world-historical opportunity to troll Denverite. I didn’t know when a 1,000 to 1 ninth inning comeback would happen, but I did know with absolute certainty that the closer responsible would be on my fantasy team…

Another comment on legal scholarship

[ 94 ] May 29, 2016 |


The massive increase in the cost of American legal education has been driven largely by a massive increase in the size of law school faculties. (Student-faculty ratios fell by half between 1978 and 2013.) The most common justification for this increase has been that larger faculties allow for lower teaching loads, which in turn allow more law review articles to be written.

The main problem with this justification is that a huge amount of the stuff that gets published in law reviews is “scholarship” in name only. (See for instance this illuminating little tale).

What follows is another example from the flagship journal at a more or less respectable law school. In other words, this is a relatively prestigious publication venue in the context of the 800 [!] or so journals now published by American law schools, and publishing in it is exactly the kind of thing that lower teaching loads etc. are supposed to encourage.

This article’s thesis is that the US News rankings have played a critical role in causing law schools to hike tuition so sharply in recent years. This is because the rankings reward schools in various ways for spending more money, which thus leads to invidious and inefficient forms of competition. So the hypothesis that the rankings have caused tuition increases to accelerate certainly seems plausible.

Anyway, according to the article, “twenty years” of rapid tuition increases have now collided with the sudden contraction in the economic prospects of young lawyers that supposedly began with the Great Recession, to produce the current crisis in legal education.

The article’s author, Victor Gold, was dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles from 2009 until last summer, and he doesn’t pass up an opportunity to take potshots at certain people who made his job harder:

Of course, a number of law professors publicly also weighed in on the crisis, achieving national notoriety by accusing legal education of being a scam and charging that law schools were pursuing a failed educational model. While long on critiques, they were short on practical suggestions. One could only imagine the angst these professors suffered every two weeks when they had to cash paychecks produced by what they believed to be such a bankrupt system.

(Citations not provided).

Here’s a practical suggestion: Stop paying law professors to publish useless articles that fail to meet even the most minimal academic standards.

Suppose you were teaching an undergraduate class on the economics of the American health care system, and a student wanted to write a paper arguing for the proposition that the Affordable Care Act has driven up the cost of health care. What’s the VERY FIRST QUESTION you would ask the student? My guess is: Have you compared the rise in health care costs before the passage of the ACA to the rise afterwards? Because if health care costs have risen more slowly since the passage of the ACA, that’s going to be a big problem for your thesis.

But Victor Gold isn’t an undergraduate: he’s the William H. Hannon Professor of Law at Loyola Los Angeles. And it apparently doesn’t occur to anybody, and in particular it doesn’t occur to the editors of the Syracuse Law Review, to ask questions such as, if your thesis is that the US News rankings have played a critical role in causing tuition to go up so rapidly over the past twenty years, have you checked on how fast tuition was going up before the rankings supposedly began to bend the law school cost curve upward? (The annual US News rankings began in 1990, and were first extended beyond 25 schools in 1994).

In fact law school tuition didn’t start shooting through the roof 20 years ago: it’s been climbing steeply for at least 60 years – but the rate of increase has actually declined sharply during the US News era:

Median private law school tuition in 1956: $475 ($4,181 in 2014 dollars).
Median private law school tuition in 1974: $2,350 ($11,285 in 2014 dollars).
Median private law school tuition in 1994: $15,965 ($25,503 in 2014 dollars)
Median private law school tuition in 2014: $43,398

(I’m using 1956 rather than 1954 because I have data for the former year but not the latter. I’m using private law school tuition because about 70% of American law students attend private schools, and because the tuition situation at public schools is more complex, since varying percentages of students pay resident and non-resident tuition at various schools).

Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1956 and 1974 in constant dollars: 169.9%
Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1974 and 1994 in constant dollars: 126%
Percentage increase in private law school tuition between 1994 and 2014 in constant dollars: 70.2%

The decline in the rate of increase would be even more striking if we had long-term historical numbers for effective tuition — sticker tuition minus “scholarships,” i.e., discounts off sticker price. This is because the gap between sticker and effective tuition has grown rapidly in recent years. (I estimate that, between 1991 and 2012, effective tuition as a percentage of sticker tuition declined from about 90% to about 80%).

Now these numbers don’t logically preclude the theory that the US News rankings have caused tuition to rise faster than it otherwise would have, since you could always argue that the pronounced slowdown in the rate at which tuition has been increasing would have been even more pronounced if not for the effect of the rankings. This is precisely the argument sophisticated right-wing polemicists make when they grapple with the awkward fact that the rate of increase in medical care costs has slowed under the ACA.

Of course the less sophisticated ones simply ignore the data, and screech that the ACA has caused medical care costs to explode. But I bet – or maybe I’m just hoping — that it would be difficult to get that argument published in a putatively academic journal.

Bad Arguments of the Left

[ 213 ] May 28, 2016 |


Normally this sort of thing wouldn’t even be worth linking to, but given the current political battles on the left, I will make an exception. I am as big a believer in the need for socialism as anyone. The working classes should be united against economic exploitation and the class warfare from the plutocrats in the New Gilded Age. However, arguments that the left need to stop paying attention to identity politics in order to fight the class war only adds to the oppression of everyone who is not a white male.

Ultimately, though, the left should seek to move beyond identity politics for the simple reason that it is compatible with neo-liberal economics. Identity politics can co-exist with the corporate boss who makes more money in a week than his cleaner takes home in a year – as long as the chances of being the boss are assigned proportionally among different ethnic groups, sexualities and genders. Individual winners and losers remain as remote from each other as ever; they are simply sorted in direct proportion to their numbers in society. The ultimate aim of identity politics is to ‘tune up’ the elite rather than to abolish it.

By emphasising difference over commonality, identity politics also makes it harder for the left to establish a mass politics based around shared economic interests. By seeking constantly to divide people up into smaller and smaller groups, identity politics forestalls the creation of a sense of unity around issues of economic justice. And because it is obsessed with difference, the divisions are potentially endless.

An assumption that white men invariably occupy an economically privileged position seems to be another unfortunate assumption among those pushing for greater diversity in the professions. Most equality drives today explicitly exclude class. White males are certainly over-represented in many of the most prestigious professions in both Britain and the United States. But this is an over-representation of a very particular class of white male. White men from the working class are not – by a long stretch – ubiquitous in the elite. In fact, they encounter economic hurdles at least as difficult to surmount as the barriers of gender and racial equality faced by their contemporaries.

You may be shocked to know the writer of this article is a white male.

Yes, it’s true that corporations can indeed support gay marriage without hurting their bottom lines. Doing so is still contributing to the reduction of injustice in the world. That’s a fundamentally good thing.

And don’t even get me started on the incorrect use of “neoliberal,” which sadly on the left just means “capitalism” or “rich people” or “things I don’t like” instead of its actual meaning.

These sorts of white male arguments should be shunned and ridiculed, even as we should also fight for economic justice.

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