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[ 58 ] August 25, 2015 |


Having demonstrated that that, discounted to present value, a law degree from an American law school is worth on average just under one million dollars, Michael Simkovic has turned his attention to a genuine social crisis: the billions of dollars in lost earnings suffered every year by prospective law students, who have made the serious, and eminently preventable, mistake of not enrolling in law school

The blame for this multi-billion dollar catastrophe is easy to ascribe: ongoing bad publicity, based on a sensationalist media environment, that promotes TV shows like “Suits,” which I’ve been told is about document reviewers being paid $15 per hour to be basement-dwelling helots for law firms that use them for casual and mind-numbing labor, and Legally Blonde, a film which has been compared The Seventh Seal in regard to the existential dread in which it envelops the viewer.

Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.

What can we learn from this?

Accurate, informed, and balanced news coverage does not happen of its own volition, particularly in a world where sensationalism and negativity attract eyeballs and sell advertising. …

Luckily, a spate of bad PR is a far from insoluble problem: Read more…

Is Biden Running A Good Idea? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 278 ] August 25, 2015 |


I’m guessing — hoping? — that the Joe Biden rumors are more slow-news-month smoke than fire. I do know that the idea still doesn’t make any sense.

First, as Tomasky notes, between the lack of a policy rationale and the late entry the primary effect of Biden mounting a primary campaign would be to amplify media narratives that the Clinton campaign is floundering, the email faux-scandal is a thing, etc. A late-entry vanity campaign would be much worse than if he entered the race on a normal timetable.

In fairness, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Biden does have a potential policy rationale:

In 1984, he worked with Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond and the Reagan administration to craft and pass the Comprehensive Control Act, which enhanced and expanded civil asset forfeiture, and entitled local police departments to a share of captured assets. Critics say this incentivizes abuse, citing countless cases of unfair and unaccountable seizures. In one case last February, Drug Enforcement Administration officers seized $11,000 in cash from a 24-year-old college student. They didn’t find guns or drugs, but they kept the money anyway.

In 1986, Biden co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including the infamous crack-versus-cocaine sentencing disparity. A crack cocaine user with only five grams would receive five years without parole, while a powder cocaine user had to possess 500 grams before seeing the same punishment. The predictable consequence was a federal drug regime that put its toughest penalties on low-level drug sellers and the most impoverished drug users.

Biden would also play an important role in crafting the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which strengthened mandatory minimums for drug possession, enhanced penalties for people who transport drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director was christened “drug czar” by Biden.

His broadest contribution to crime policy was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, commonly called the 1994 Crime Bill. Written by Biden and signed by President Clinton, it increased funds for police and prisons, fueling a huge expansion of the federal prison population. As journalist Radley Balko details in The Rise of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, it also contributed to the rapid growth of militarized police forces that used new federal funds to purchase hundreds of thousands of pieces of military equipment, from flak jackets and automatic rifles to armored vehicles and grenade launchers.

The “crime bill” also brought a host of new federal death penalty crimes, which Biden celebrated in his defense of the bill. “Let me define the liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” he said to Sen. Orrin Hatch, “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties … the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 100,000 cops. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 125,000 new state prison cells.”


Joe Biden, in other words, is the Democratic face of the drug war.

Yeah, that seems like a great idea in 2016.

As Bouie says, a Biden run would substantially tarnish his legacy, and while he wouldn’t win he could tarnish the Democratic nominee in the way that other rival campaigns wouldn’t. It’s a terrible idea.

The Confederacy and Communism

[ 19 ] August 25, 2015 |


Good article by Andre Fleche on the connection between the Confederacy and an early version of anti-communism, which in the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions in Europe was very much on the minds of the southern planter elite, particularly since a lot of refugees from those wars came to the U.S. and supported the Union during the war.

Trigger Warnings — What Am I Supposed to be Upset About Exactly?

[ 256 ] August 25, 2015 |

For whatever reason, whenever when of those overheated articles about campus p.c. and mollycoddled students appears, a mention of trigger warnings and the alleged inability of students to deal with any uncomfortable material are very likely to show up. As Aaron Hanlon points out, this doesn’t make any sense:

As I’ve explained elsewhere, however, I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.

It’s true that giving a warning runs the risk of students avoiding or disengaging with the material out of fear of being triggered (in my three years of teaching, students have come to office hours to discuss sensitive material, but not one has left class or failed to turn in an assignment because of a trigger warning). If a student disengages, however, a professor still can (and should) follow up in a couple of ways. One is to have a private conversation with the student about the material, away from the pressures of the classroom; another is to take the student’s response as an occasion to check in with the student and make sure they have access to campus mental health resources. Few of the media voices catastrophizing trigger warnings seem to understand that professors’ interactions with students in the classroom and during office hours are some of the most important ways of catching mental health (or time management, or substance abuse) issues in our students that may need further attention. While the purpose of trigger warnings is not to screen for mental health problems, being attuned to how students are reacting to material, and prompting them to react to the hard stuff, can help us catch problems before they become real catastrophes.

For those of you who are imagining scores of students using professors’ trigger warnings disingenuously, as a way to get out of class or a reading assignment, this isn’t (for most of us) our first rodeo. Students use deception all the time, but an office hours summons is really all we need to determine whether the student might need help from a mental health professional, or was just trying to game the system. In most cases, however, when you warn students that something might be emotionally challenging or explicit, most of them do exactly what we do when someone tells us to watch out for something lurid: they become even more curious.

Yes, precisely. Trigger warnings are a means of teaching potentially difficult material, not a means of censoring potentially difficult material. I suppose there may be cases in which trigger warnings on a syllabus can be used by students as an all-purpose excuse not to engage, but that’s not a problem with “trigger warnings” per se. There’s nothing inherently censorious about them at all.

I, personally, don’t use trigger warnings on my syllabus — but if it works for instructors and their classes and students, fine with me. We don’t use them on this blog, but if they’re a felt need to another kind of blogging community — fine with me. Unless they’re imposed as a one-size-fits-all solution — and as Hanlon says, this is vanishingly rare — I don’t understand what’s supposed to be objectionable.

Immigration Reform for the 1 Percent

[ 10 ] August 25, 2015 |


I don’t have any particular problem with increased immigration for wealthy people necessarily, just like I support immigration generally. But reforming the EB-5 Visa alone so that wealthy investors can move here without doing anything for the vast majority of potential immigrants in other categories is a bad policy move and is in fact immigration reform for the 1%, as unions claim.

Keeping Rana Plaza Out of Sight

[ 17 ] August 25, 2015 |


A Bangladeshi court banned the making of a film about one of the survivors of Rana Plaza for fear that the international attention might cause Bangladesh to lose its apparel industry.

I’m skeptical that a film would garner more attention than the actual death of over 1100 people, but I think more importantly is that the sweatshop owners in Bangladesh are also the governing class. I don’t know about the individual judges in this case of course, but many apparel contractors are in the Bangladeshi Parliament. They are protecting their own economic investments here, just like they do so by forcing workers to labor in unsafe factories, killing union organizers, keeping wages as low as possible.

This just reinforces why we need global labor standards that hold the western companies accountable. If Walmart didn’t pull out of Bangladesh because workers died making their clothes, they aren’t going to over a film, unless it led to a real international movement against the company. Or they will pull out because Bangladeshi workers make too much money for the billionaire owners of the company. But if we hold the apparel companies legally accountable for the conditions of production, then there is no incentive to pull out at all. The incentive is to improve the factories so that workers aren’t dying. Otherwise, workers will just die in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, or wherever else. That needs to be the focus here. That’s how you build solidarity with the Bangladeshi workers while actually doing something to ensure that Rana Plaza doesn’t happen again.

Tuesday Odds and Ends

[ 15 ] August 25, 2015 |

Salads Are Overrated If You Ignore Most Salads

[ 73 ] August 25, 2015 |

355430Above: A salad.  Nutritous.

This is a very strange argument:

There’s one food, though, that has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.

It’s salad, and here are three main reasons why we need to rethink it.

Salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition. The biggest thing wrong with salads is lettuce, and the biggest thing wrong with lettuce is that it’s a leafy-green waste of resources.

I concede the point — if you arbitrarily limit your definition of “salad vegetables” to “vegetables that aren’t very nutritious,” then salad “has nothing going for it.” A diner salad consisting of iceberg lettuce and cucumbers covered in Kraft French dressing is indeed pretty much empty calories.

But why the hell would you limit the definition of “salad” to this? Salads that use a base of spinach, kale, field greens, cabbage and carrots — very nutritious! Many other ingredients you could add to this — tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, artichokes, hearts of palm — also more nutritious than iceberg lettuce! Many or all of these ingredients are almost certainly available in your plain vanilla local supermarket.  Combine decent olive oil, some combination of vinegar and lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, and your favorite herb and you have a good dressing. Most salads are nutritious and tasty as both main courses and side dishes.

Saying that salads are bad because one particular salad isn’t very nutritious makes exactly as much sense as saying that since iceberg lettuce isn’t very nutritious vegetables are massively overrated.

In fairness, point #2 is much more sound: the word “salad” on a chain restaurant menu often entails a dish with not more more in nutrients and more calories than a burger and fries. But the framing of the article is deeply strange.

Book Review: Neil Foley, Mexicans in the Making of America

[ 6 ] August 24, 2015 |

Border Showdown

U.S. border agents stop Mexican immigrants crossing into United States, 1948

Neil Foley has written what I believe to be the first comprehensive history of Mexicans in U.S. history. It seems ridiculous that no one has written something like this before but I’m pretty sure it is true. Mexicans have played a very important role in much of American history but in a nation where race in the public mind means black and white (Black Lives Matter interrupting an event at Netroots Nation primarily about Mexican immigration and the oppression of those migrants seemingly without blinking an eye to the irony of it was a classic example of this; that so few people talking about it even mentioned this point even more classic) and in a nation where until the last few decades they have primarily lived in states faraway from eastern centers of power means that for the most part we don’t think of Mexicans playing a big role in American history generally. That’s a mistake.

Some of this history are stories you know. The Bracero Program. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the theft of land and power from Mexican communities when they were unwillingly citizens of a new nation. The United Farm Workers and the rise of the Chicano movement with leaders as diverse as Reíes Lopez Tijerina, Corky Gonzales, and Cesar Chavez. These are the stories you expect to hear and any good overview will cover them.

But much of the book you will not know. I thought the best chapter was on World War II. Foley discusses the braceros in some detail, calling the program Mexico’s biggest contribution to defeating the Axis in World War II while detailing the enormous exploitation these workers faced. But there was a lot more going on in the Mexican-American community. A lot of Mexican-Americans were caught between two nations when it came to the war. Some wanted to fight, others didn’t. Some Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. with the express intent of joining the Army. Some tried to go back to Mexico and join the Mexican military so they wouldn’t die. Mexicans in the U.S. were subject to the draft whether or not they were American citizens and many of those drafted could not speak English and were sent to units without any other Spanish speakers, where they faced discrimination and punishment for not following orders they couldn’t understand. This all led to a pretty sticky diplomatic situation between the U.S. and Mexico, with the question of whether Mexicans should be classified as white or Indian central to it.

This question of how to classify Mexicans in a nation that saw race as black and white (with indigenous people a minor third category) also became important in issues around the segregation of Mexicans in schools, which contributed to the larger post-war move against school segregation. Desegregation cases against Mexican discrimination went back to the 1930s and a lower court decision in the 1946 Mendez v. Winchester case paved the way for the Brown decision in 1954, with a district court ruling school segregation unconstitutional and the Ninth Circuit backing it up, but only on the grounds that California didn’t actually have a law allowing for the segregation of Mexicans. But the language used by Earl Warren in Brown was quite similar to that original district court decision.

I also loved how Foley discussed the fantasy Spanish heritage in New Mexico. I witnessed this first hand during my time in the state. Essentially, after the Mexican War, with the arrival of white elites to New Mexico, racial hierarchies changed and the old Spanish-Mexican elite found their racial status severely threatened. Part of the response was to claim that in fact they were not Mexican or mestizo at all but rather pure-blooded Spanish, which in almost every case was (and is) certainly not true. This attempt to claim whiteness was only partially successful at the time and the Anglo elite certainly wasn’t going to give up their newfound power. But this fantasy Spanish heritage has incredible legs, with families still insisting upon it today, partially to delineate them from both recent Mexican migrants and the many poor Latinos in the state, as well as from the state’s sizable Native American population. I didn’t have any tolerance for this at all and would openly state it was a myth when I taught History of New Mexico in graduate school. I had students drop my class for this. It’s understandable, the need to claim whiteness in a new nation where that matters so much. But it’s also pretty racist and classist, especially given how it is deployed today.

Naturally, since the Mexican-American population has risen so quickly in recent decades, much of the book focuses on the last fifty years. Foley frames this as the “Decade of the Hispanic” in the 1980s giving away to what he calls “Fortress America” of the 1990s and into the 21st century. He comes across as a bit more pessimistic about the present than I am, but then again he makes a pretty good case. He follows the political arguments around immigration in the 1980s and how that shifted toward the more partisan politics of the present, including the labor movement turning from its traditional anti-immigration stance to a strongly pro-immigrant movement. But the 1986 amnesty and rapid growth of Mexican migration led to the 1990s backlash personified by Proposition 187 in California, which placed the issue front and center in the national debate and destroyed the Republican Party in California, as well as the militarization of the border, construction of the border wall, and all the other attempts to keep Mexicans out, which ended up just driving many of them to their deaths crossing the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Not knowing too much about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to those in the country undocumented, I was interested to understand why Reagan bucked his conservative allies to push this, which was about his close ties to the California agricultural interests who had always demanded cheap and disposable labor of color, as well as his desire to build a free trade zone that eventually became NAFTA.

Certainly in the present, with Donald Trump leading a national freakout about “anchor babies” and the future of the white race “the nation,” it’s hard to feel confident. Most of my confidence comes from demographic changes and the age of the xenophobes, along with what happened in California when a growing Mexican-American reacted to racist white politics by making the Republican Party toxic and moving the state significantly to the left. But demographics are no guarantee of the future and with a potential rise in violence against Mexican-Americans in the short-term, along with no solution in sight to our broken immigration system that deports good hard-working people who want to be Americans, it’s a bit hard to retain much optimism. Either way, Mexicans aren’t going anywhere. They are now a permanent part of the American landscape and centering their experiences in American history is going to become more central in understanding this nation, as well as Mexico.

This is a good book that you should read if you are at all interested in integrating the history of Mexicans into the broader national debate. Readable and recommended.

New Orleans: What Climate Change Adaptation Looks Like

[ 82 ] August 24, 2015 |


One point that many on the social justice side of the climate change issue repeat over and over is that the impacts of climate change are going to be felt primarily by the world’s poor. The wealthy will be able to move to the last livable areas if need be while the poor will be stuck in poverty, driven off, forced to deal with the desertification, rising sea levels, flooding, etc. In other words, it will look like New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. David Roberts:

Which brings us back to Katrina.

The debate over whether the hurricane was strengthened by climate change — which tends to be the focus of any attempt to link the two — is utterly beside the point. We know events like Katrina are going to become more common in coming decades. And what Katrina reveals is that adaptation, in this world at least, is a cruel joke.

The failure of New Orleans to properly prepare for a foreseeable hurricane has been written about a great deal and there’s no need to rehash it. One key factor in that tale is the role played by the extraordinary inequality and segregation within the city, which made lawmakers and taxpayers loath to spend money on shared resources.

So when disaster struck, all of New Orleans’s submerged dysfunctions rose to the surface. There was shockingly little solidarity. Wealthier white people fled; poorer black people were trapped. The authorities were grotesquely racist in every stage of their response, nowhere more unforgivably than in the way police treated dislocated black residents. It was a nightmare in slow motion and an uncomfortable experience for everyone who watched it unfold on television. This was a wealthy city in the wealthiest country in the world. And this is what happens?

What’s it going to look like when climate change brings storms, droughts, and floods to more and more places, more and more often?

Perhaps New Orleans isn’t a fair example. It’s unique in many ways, not all of them good. New York seemed to handle Hurricane Sandy at least somewhat better. But even there, residents in lower Manhattan made out a whole lot better than residents of Rockaway, Queens. And what city in the world has more social and economic capital than New York?

This is not inevitable of course. We can make reducing inequality part of our climate change strategy and we should. But we sure aren’t doing that right now and there’s no evidence that we will.

And not surprisingly, white people think New Orleans has recovered splendidly! African-Americans? Not so much. That’s in no small part to the racialized response to this natural disaster that is part of most natural disasters and which will probably be the case for climate change exacerbated disasters as well.


[ 82 ] August 24, 2015 |

Shorter Republican Party: Anti-immigration policies cannot fail, they can only be failed.

C-SPAN Famous

[ 3 ] August 24, 2015 |

Anyone who wants to watch my appearance on CSPAN’s BookTV, you can do here at the link. I don’t think it goes away, but it might at some point. So watch it.

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