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Why Taming the Exploitation in Supply Chains is Entirely Possible

[ 39 ] June 9, 2016 |


I realize it’s 2016 and no one cares about issues. Instead, in our own lefty version of the 24-hour news cycle, we would rather have 1000 comment threads on the personality-based politics of the Democratic primary, even though given the structural reality of American politics, it barely matters who the nominee is. Meanwhile, any discussion of the actual issues that create inequality and oppression in American and global life are shunted to irrelevancy, or at the very least framed through the personality-based politics of the election year.

Nonetheless, I’m going to write another post about supply chains anyway.

On Tuesday, I laid about my statement of 10 principles to tame the exploitation of global supply chains. These I think are a very solid set of ideas that we can work toward making part of any progressive movement, assuming we actually care about policy goals and not just personalities.

Brian O’Neill wrote about my ideas and suggested, correctly, that I am not presenting some pie-in-the-sky scenario, but actually am creating actionable goals that could someday become law.

To me, these seem like a no-brainer, and I think the political arguments against them won’t hold much water. Let’s look at a few of those.

The “It’s More Than They Make Now” Argument. This is a common one, especially among otherwise sympathetic lefties. The idea is that if you are in a sweatshop in Dhaka, you are maybe making more than you would be in a village in the countryside. This is possibly true. It also ignores the violence, lack of social safety net, and breaking of traditional bonds that comes with it, of course. But the argument, the “race to the bottom” is that if make it less profitable for the multinational in Bangladesh, it’ll go somewhere else. That’s true if you work on a country-to-country basis, but not if you do so from the top down. If companies have to treat workers well in Mexico or Senegal or Vietnam, they won’t be able to go anywhere else. You can have the benefits of the global economy without worrying about making your entire country a hellhole for employees.

The “It’ll Never Get Passed” Argument. On the surface, this does seem to be a pie in the sky argument, but there’s really no reason for it to be so. I don’t see where the massive opposition will come from. After all, this isn’t going to cost Americans jobs- just the opposite. It staunches the flow by making it , if not more profitable to manufacture in America, at least not prohibitively expensive. There are no real economic arguments against it, except the “corporate profits will be less” one, but come on. That only works when you paint them as job creators. That won’t fly. It works politically when you can ramble about job-killing regulations, but we’re talking about adding more regulations to countries that have “taken our jobs.”

The “Why Should We Support Their Unions When Ours Are Getting Killed Here?” Argument. This is a fairly persuasive one, at least emotionally. After all, American labor standards have been ruined over the last generation. But that’s due in part to the globalized economy which incentivizes businesses to pull out, and incentivizes states (who didn’t really need it, in many cases) to strip away more worker’s rights in order to keep or attract businesses. This creates pliant workers, who are worried that if they don’t acquiesce to everything, they’ll be out of a job. But this stops the race to the bottom, and in doing so, I think, can reinvigorate the American union movement.

I don’t think it will be easy, nor do I think it will create an international brotherhood, and nor do I think that we’ll see the glory days of the labor movement come roaring back. But it is, in many ways, a simple fix to the deep cruelty of the global economy, both here and abroad. A very complicated and time-consuming one, and a long battle, but one that this nascent progressive coalition can fight, by rallying a large and diverse group of activists, from anti-globalization turtle-huggers (whom I love) to the bluest of the blue collar. It’s a winning issue.

Right. The arguments against these goals are morally bankrupt and impossible to defend. Who thinks 10 year old should be working! OK, some idiots do but really, not many people. Who can oppose people not dying on the job? Who thinks that there shouldn’t be accountability on these issues? Obviously the details are tricky and the legal framework to implement these principles is not passing the current or next Congress. But creating sets of principles and urging progressives to make them part of their worldview and political goals–especially given how forgotten foreign workers are even among the American left–is really important to moving the conversation forward. I hope I can do a little bit of that.


Victorians and Disabilities

[ 31 ] June 9, 2016 |


This is really interesting. Just a quick excerpt of a pretty lengthy discussion:

According to “Nineteenth-Century Disability,” the Victorian era laid the groundwork for a belief system still operating today known as the “medical model of disability,” which “sees disability as a personal tragedy that needs to be fixed or overcome through medical intervention.” Seeing disability through a tragic lens, however, sparked interest in the experiences of people with disabilities and made them more visible in the 1800s.

“The 19th century was the first to portray disability as the cause of individual suffering, and many disabled persons expressed their lived experiences in writing or art,” says Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, a researcher who contributes to “Nineteenth-Century Disability,” in an interview via email. “Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was deaf since childhood and an invalid for a few years; she shared her experiences in several essays, including her ‘Letter for the Deaf,’ in which she suggests conquering the ‘struggle’ over the constraints of deafness required first acknowledging the limitations of a deaf person’s social surrounding. British missionary John Kitto (1804-1852), deaf since age 12, was self-educated and wrote several books on religion and his travel experiences. American painter William Dunlap (1776-1839) painted a series of self-portraits depicting the permanent blindness in his right eye.”

As people with disabilities started telling their stories in the public arena, they also were photographed in ways that suggests their disabilities were crucial to their identity, explains Virdi-Dhesi, who has a doctorate in the history of science from the University of Toronto.

“Disabled persons were captured in photographs with the objects of their disability clearly presented,” she says. “Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) is depicted in a mezzotint holding an ear trumpet to his ear. A black-and-white photograph of Elizabeth Margaretta Maria Gilbert (1826-1885), the founder of the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, shows her wearing a cape and shaded glasses. And amateur painter William Agnew (1846-1941), who was born deaf and mute, painted several scenes illustrating Queen Victoria conversing in sign language with a subject. These examples push forth the notion that disability in the 19th century was not always perceived negatively, to be hidden, or as though disabled persons were living in misery.”

Ear trumpets were among the myriad inventions that came out of the persistent belief that, even with the help of political or social institutions, it was the disabled individual’s responsibility to strive to become more “normal.”

And in case you think this is just the distant past:

“The Americans with Disabilities Act is an enormous improvement for people with disabilities,” Bourrier says. “And medical technology has done a lot to improve the lives of people with disabilities in the 20th and 21st centuries. But I also think that in some ways, because the Victorians lived with so much disability, they might have had a more fluid and compassionate understanding of it. Today, if we’re able-bodied, we tend to think of disability as something that will never happen to us. But the truth is we’re all, scarily enough, one car accident away from becoming disabled. Victorians might have had a better understanding of the fragility of the body.”

Today, as it was then, money determines whether, say, a double amputee ends up using a skateboard to beg on the street or has access to the most advanced motorized wheelchairs or prosthetics. And we still celebrate narratives of overcoming and compensation—think of any sports drama like “The Karate Kid,” in which the title character goes on to win the karate tournament in spite of a seriously injuring his foot. Politicians that promote the idea of “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” are eager to cut public funding for disability checks and health care, because any challenge can be overcome with a can-do spirit, right? According to compensation stories like “Daredevil,” you might even have special powers that give you an advantage.

“We still have the overcoming and compensation narratives today, and they aren’t very helpful,” Bourrier says. “The more you look at the Victorian era in the present day, the more you see the way we regard people with disabilities today is not that different. What’s so interesting about the Americans with Disabilities Act is that it gives disability rights to people who have all sorts of conditions—like morbid obesity, clinical depression, ulcerative colitis, work injuries, or heart disease—that we wouldn’t necessarily traditionally see as a disability. It’s anything that impairs your day-to-day life. Most people eventually have a condition like that.”

The University: Brought to You by the Same People Who Brought You the Housing Bubble and the Great Recession

[ 55 ] June 9, 2016 |


Hiltzik is of course right on every point:

But Katehi’s activities point to a disturbing trend in higher education, especially among public institutions such as UC: Universities are getting cozier with businesses and industrialists, and less discerning about the pitfalls of these relationships, which include accepting donations with strings attached. What’s worse is that universities are adopting the corporate model of profit and loss as though they’re businesses themselves.

Students already are losing out. They’re not only saddled with an increasing share of the direct costs of their education, but are offered a narrower curriculum as universities cut back on supposedly unprofitable humanities and social science courses in favor of science, engineering and technology programs expected to attract profitable grants and offer the prospects of great riches from patentable inventions.

In one of the most extreme examples, the State University of New York at Albany moved in 2010 to ax its French, Italian, Russian and classics programs. That left the institution looking like a glorified vocational school for engineers and research scientists.

But the issues swirling around Katehi, a Greek-born engineer, have exposed the same rift within UC Davis, where members of the science and engineering faculties defend her as an effective supporter of diversity in science and technical education, and members of the humanities faculty tend to see her as an avatar of the “privatization of the public university,” as three dozen humanities faculty members put it in a letter to the Davis Enterprise newspaper.

These developments, however, are based on fundamental misconceptions of the purpose and the economics of higher education.

For most of the post-World War II period, it was well understood that universities, whether public or private, operated under a model distinct from business. That began to shift in the 1980s and 1990s as American culture became fixated on the virtues of private enterprise, says Christopher Newfield, a literature professor at UC Santa Barbara and a leading critic of the corporatization of academia.

“Until then, the private sector wasn’t the model for the public sector,” Newfield told me. “But the prestige of the private sector now requires imitation by the public sector. It’s almost as if we’re intimidated.”

The corporatization of higher education is destroying it, high paid administrator by high paid administrator, exploited adjunct by exploited adjunct. For years, people have said that universities should be run like a business, as if that would be a good thing. And now they are run like businesses. Therefore, resources are concentrated at the top, dissent from mere employees like professors is not tolerated, students pay more and more to be taught by overwhelmed and tenuously employed professors, and dictates from the top tell universities to train students for precisely the jobs state corporate leaders want to hire in right this minute as opposed to training them to be flexible members of the workforce and society for the next half-century. It’s a disaster and it gets worse every year.

Dear folks who supported Sanders as much as I did — it’s called a mirror, look in it

[ 429 ] June 9, 2016 |

The primary fight was well fought, and it pulled the congenital centrist to her left, but at this point, all that matters is this:

The Norotious R.B.G.: 83 years old
Anthony Kennedy: 79 years old
Stephen Breyer: 77 years old

I’m not saying those ages should’ve had matter BEFORE we shifted into the general election — I think I made who I supported pretty fucking clear — but now that that shift has in fact occurred, we have to remember that sometimes principles are more important than parties, and presidents less important than ideals.

In short, we need to remember that the majority of what we’ve gained in the past seven years under an Obama administration has had far more to do with the composition of the Supreme Court than who occupied the White House.

I’m not saying you have to like it. I’m not saying you have to approve of anything. I’m not saying you have to kowtow to the chant of historic claims.

I’m just saying that if you let your personal disappointment pave the way for a Trump-nominated Supreme Court in which the gains in civil rights for the LGBTQ community are curtailed, in which Obamacare is scaled back, in which already restricted voting rights for minorities are further limited, in which abortion becomes a back-alley procedure again — if you let your personal heartache hurt all those people, can you really call yourself a liberal?

This is a serious question, and it ain’t about any particular candidates. It’s just something to think about before you start bawking/balking about who you’re voting for. This isn’t capitulation — it’s the future of civil rights for actual American human beings who are not you, as well as for the very definition of this country as a nation of immigrants.

We shouldn’t become a nation of nativist wall-builders — because if I remember correctly, even someone despised by the left once urged someone to tear down some wall, and it was the right fucking idea then, and it is, preemptively even, the right fucking idea now.

Life is difficult. Decisions are contingent and imperfect. Stop trying impose what has, in this election cycle, proven to be an assailable idealism on an election that requires defeating an opponent unlike any since Andrew Jackson.

I don’t want to support her either, or the DNC, or triangulation — but she’s not deflecting questions about whether she’d accept the support of the KKK and Stormfront, so all you Sanders supporters on my timeline considering flipping to Trump?

Fuck the fuck you.

Just — never mind, there’s no “just” here.

It’s simply “Fuck the fuck you,” like turtles, all the way down. If you’re so wounded as to prefer someone who won’t denounce Klansman and Nazis to preserve a key portion of his demographic in order to defeat Hillary Clinton, you’re profoundly broken.

Race to the Center of the Earth

[ 99 ] June 8, 2016 |


Meet Renee Elmers, scourge of the Burlington Coat Factory Mosque and so much else:

Tea Party activist Renee Ellmers defeated Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge by less than 1% of the vote in North Carolina’s second district.

A self-declared “product of the tea party,” Ellmers ran on an anti-health care and anti-stimulus platform: she compared President Obama to “Louis XIV, the Sun King” and asserted that his administration is establishing “a socialistic form of government.” She blasted Democrats for their “imperial ruling class attitude,” and referred to the economic stimulus plan as “massive government takeovers of the economy.”

Ellmers believes that Obama puts the country at risk because he supposedly refuses “to recognize – and tell the American people – [that] he understands radical Islamic terrorism does exist.” She also launched an ugly and bigoted campaign ad equating all Muslims with the 9/11 terrorists, [] arguing that the planned Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan is a “victory mosque” and a symbol of Muslim conquest:

Narrator: “After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and Cordoba and Constantinople, they built victory mosques. And now, they want to build a mosque near Ground Zero. Where does Bob Etheridge stand? He won’t say, won’t speak out, won’t take a stand.”

Ellmers: “The terrorists haven’t won, and we should tell them in plain English, ‘No, there will never be a mosque at Ground Zero.'”


Ellmers says she decided to run for Congress after she started campaigning against health care reform with Americans for Prosperity, a corporate front group tied to the Koch brothers. She told G. Gordon Liddy that the health care reform bill was “put in place simply to control our lives,” and maintained that “physicians are not going to be able to continue to practice” because of the reform law, which she said “is just a monster.”

According to Ellmers, insurance companies should be able to deny individuals coverage for pre-existing conditions. “Private insurance companies [should] decide how they’re going to handle the pre-existing conditions situation,” she said. Ellmers also attacked a requirement that insurance companies to cover maternity care and other health issues, calling such coverage “very costly.”

In a debate, Ellmers came out against emergency funding to protect the jobs of teachers, and suggested that diverting public funds towards private school vouchers through “school choice” would help prevent job losses among public school teachers.

She said that her plan to reduce the debt would be to cut taxes and end foreign aid. As a proponent of the “FairTax” she believes that the progressive income tax should be scrapped and replaced with a regressive national sales tax.

An avowed opponent of immigrant rights, Ellmers claimed that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer showed “the kind of leadership we have not seen in a long time” when she signed SB 1070, and suggested that Congress vote to defund the Department of Justice over their lawsuit against the draconian immigration law.

Ellmers told the conservative RedState blog that she is fiercely anti-choice and opposes the feminist movement. She was been endorsed by Sarah Palin, Concerned Women for America, and the Susan B. Anthony List.

And she was classy right to the end:

After Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers got out of her car to vote Tuesday, she greeted a woman by name and then told the woman she had “gained some weight.”

Ellmers continued walking by and said, “You’re eating a little bit too much pork barbecue. Whoo!”

The woman, Maggie Sandrock, is a former chair of the Harnett County Republican Party. Sandrock said she worked on Ellmers’ previous two runs for Congress, but is supporting Republican Congressman George Holding this time.

The good news is that Ellmers lost her primary campaign last night. The bad news is that she lost for being insufficiently wingnutty. But I’m sure that moderate center-right party Tom Friedman is hankering for will materialize any minute now.

The rent (and the tuition) is too damn high

[ 152 ] June 8, 2016 |


This is a first world problems post, but just because those problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.

There was muted rejoicing in the white collar salt mines of big New York City law firms yesterday, when Cravath, Swaine and Moore announced it was raising first year associate salaries from $160,000 to $180,000. For 50 years Cravath has been setting the “going rate” for the salaries top law firms pay associates, and this was the first bump in the rate in nine years. (Most of its competitors have already announced they’ll match).

Now $180,000 is by any measure what David Ricardo would have called a metric fuckton of money, if he were alive today and blogging while mildly intoxicated.


The going rate in 1975: $110,000

Three years TOTAL tuition for 1975 Harvard Law School grads: $40,700

Average rent in New York City in 1975: $778

Three years TOTAL tuition for 2016 Harvard Law School grads: $171,000

Average rent within ten miles of New York City in 2016: $3,519. Average rent in NYC and environs has increased by 50% since 2009 alone (the CPI has increased by 10% over that time).

Again, all these numbers are inflation-adjusted.

It’s a sign of how extreme wealth disparities and their social effects have gotten that a $180,000 salary in New York City can be considered in some sense (and not just the Republican sense) “middle class.”

The Sanders Story

[ 74 ] June 8, 2016 |


Personally, I thought the Politico story dishing on the Sanders campaign was pretty gross, partly for the reasons Scott delineated here. But I also thought Brian Beutler was pretty right on in his short account, noting that despite the outstanding campaign run by Sanders, which in a rational world would lead to lots of great jobs to the people who put it together, it’s not that way:

In the world we actually inhabit, where political operatives are more often judged by their loyalties and networks than by the number of feathers in their caps, Sanders supporters apparently feel they have to leak stories to the press that make the remarkable campaign they ran look petty and dysfunctional lest they be linked to whatever intra-party discord stems from the primary.

Reputations in the political world often bear no connection to observable, quantifiable accomplishments. If that weren’t the case, Sanders aides would’ve probably held their fire, confident that they’d be rewarded professionally for proving they could punch high above their weight.

And that’s a gross world.

Out of Sight Reading Group – Only you can save mankind from capitalist scum

[ 49 ] June 8, 2016 |

Extra credit – Identify this fellow.

This is the final Out of Sight virtual reading group type thing. Loomis is around to take your questions.

A random thought on corporations after finishing the book: This has become, or perhaps it has always been, about power, with profit as an excuse. At least, that’s the only way I can explain corporations’ constant assault on their consumer base. Who, in a world of an underpaid, unhealthy workforce, is supposed to buy all of the crap these companies produce? The handful of white collar sub-C suite drones who haven’t had their jobs outsourced? Good luck.

Maybe the idea is that when things get that bad, U.S.-based corporations will go to its pet Congress and demand a bailout. More likely, the average multi-national corporation is run by a bunch of dim-witted leeches and they haven’t thought that far ahead.

At any rate, it also made me wonder if there’s been any attempt to connect the consumer protest efforts with employee protest efforts. And what has become of the union/environmentalist collaborations of the past. Are those completely dead or is there a chance to bring that back?

As an aside, I’ve been staring at excel spreadsheets for the past three days so I apologize for any typos or gibberish. (Just this once.)

Old Rough and Ready

[ 90 ] June 8, 2016 |


I guess I will write a post on the election. The 1848 election, that is.

Zachary Taylor is an odd president to defend and I’m not really going to do that here, but this piece by the presidential historian Gil Troy in Politico is deeply odd and really maligns Taylor for a number of issues going on in American politics in 1848 that were out of his control or that just swept him along. Basically, it argues that Taylor was nothing more than an ambitious idiotic general who betrayed his party’s principles to seek power. Get it, he’s talking about an earlier version of Donald Trump. But this really doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you squint a lot.

Sure, Taylor was a general who had never voted before. But the Whigs always faced two major quandaries. The first is that their positions weren’t popular with the American people. We think of the Whigs, when we think of them, as the party of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, a party that wanted to use the power of the government to build infrastructure and capitalism, a forward-thinking set of policies that would make the United States an economic power. And to some extent, that’s accurate. But the Democratic Party was simply far more popular because most of the nation really liked the aggressive toxic masculinity of Andrew Jackson and frontier culture. This always placed the Whigs in an electoral bind. Henry Clay could not win the presidency, no matter how much he tried. Troy states that Taylor was the last Whig president to win an election. True, but he was one of only two. The other was William Henry Harrison, another military general that the party could use to gain popularity. And in order to win that election in 1840, the Whigs a) needed a major economic recession it could pin on Van Buren and b) to make compromises with anti-Jackson forces who thought the Democratic Party did not do enough to promote the expansion of slavery. In other words, Harrison’s VP had to be John Tyler, who was an utter disaster and did more than perhaps any other person to move the nation toward the Civil War in the 1840s.

The second problem the Whigs faced was that they were a national party and therefore did not want to talk about slavery. At all. That was the only way they could remain a national party. That worked pretty well in the 1830s. But after Tyler and Polk, that was no longer tenable. By 1848, with the Mexican War and its overt theft of Mexican land to expand slavery ripping the nation apart, the Whigs were on the verge of collapse. Anti-slavery Whigs were starting to join third parties. The Whigs were tottering in the South because to win office in the South by 1848 meant supporting slavery expansion. Taylor didn’t betray Whig principles so much as demonstrate that the Whigs had no uniting principles by 1848. Sure, he was promoted by the party’s southern interests, but he was the ultimate pretty candidate who stood for nothing politically. He also required northern Whig votes to win the nomination.

Also, Taylor was a much better option than the odious Lewis Cass, who the Democrats nominated. Cass was basically Franklin Pierce with moderately less drinking. Cass notoriously stood for nothing except for a) whatever suited his current political needs and b) whatever southern extremists wanted from him. He was also old and in terrible health. Troy paints Cass as this experienced operator, as opposed to the unqualified Taylor, but sometimes experience is not necessarily a good thing. Cass was excellent at political survival and ambition, but even at the time everyone knew that was his total sum value, except to the slaveholders. It was the slaveholders who ensured that Cass was the nominee in 1848.

And in fact, as president, as brief of a period as it was, Taylor wasn’t too bad. Most importantly, he took a very moderate position on post-Mexican War questions. Yes, he was a slaveholder and was going to look after his own interests in this regard. But he also supported immediate statehood for New Mexico and California as free states, infuriating southerners, who called for secession against the Taylor government. Taylor responded by saying “taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang … with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico.” He threatened to send troops to New Mexico to protect it from Texas’ ridiculous land claims that extended to the Rio Grande. Would he have signed the various laws making up the Compromise of 1850? Probably. But this is hardly a Donald Trump maniac we are talking about here.

None of this is to defend Taylor, per se. But honestly, you can make an entirely fair case for him as the best president between John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln. That’s because the bar is extraordinarily low, but note that you are talking about Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan here. If you are counting, that’s a genocidal maniac, the founder of the Democratic Party whose policies in advising Jackson drove the economy into the ground, a geezer who died a month into office, a man who named John C. Calhoun Secretary of State and made slavery expansion the official policy of the U.S. government, a man who stole half of Mexico to expand slavery, a hack who signed the Fugitive Slave Act and was worse all every post-Mexican War issue than Taylor, an alcoholic doughface who recognized William Walker as the legitimate ruler of Nicaragua, and another doughface whose response to secession was to leave a secessionist in office as Secretary of War for another two months. I mean, holy hell. Maybe there’s a case for Van Buren over Taylor, I don’t know. Probably not. It’s really bad. The problem of American politics in 1848 wasn’t Zachary Taylor. It was the slow collapse of the American political system over slavery.

“But there are some deeply held positions that cannot just be ignored”

[ 41 ] June 8, 2016 |


One of the top candidates for national monument status as the Obama administration ends is Bears Ears, in Utah. It seems like a really neat and endangered place. Neat because it is beautiful and filled with amazing Native American archaeology. Endangered because Cliven Bundy types are going in there are raising hell, looting sites. They are also threatening armed resistance to a national monument.

But some lawmakers have suggested that unilateral action by the president, under the 1906 Antiquities Act, could provoke the same sort of resistance that led to the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year.

“There is a lot of conflict that has escalated into being on the precipice of violence that is unnecessary and unwarranted,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who opposes the designation.

But it’s Orrin Hatch providing the real leadership here.

“I would hope that my fellow Utahans would not use violence, but there are some deeply held positions that cannot just be ignored,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the veteran Republican lawmaker, said in an interview.

Oh, well, violence is completely unjustified unless the federal government does exactly what we want. If they don’t, well, those deeply held positions just can’t be ignored, so fire away!

I actually do worry that the creation of the monument will lead to hate looting, just to do it, by the good people of Utah. Not that I don’t think Obama shouldn’t name the monument. I do believe he will, in part because it is supported by most of the Native American population. But don’t underestimate what Bundy types will do in order to preserve their tradition of looting the West for private interests.

Is Implying That Only Straight Conservative White Men Can Be Impartial Judges Racist? Views Differ!

[ 74 ] June 8, 2016 |


You may remember Jeffrey Lord from such classics as “3 police officers beating a handcuffed African-American to death with a 2-pound blackjack in Jim Crow Florida did not constitute a “lynching” and Shirley Sherrod was lying when she made this characterization” and “but voting against a conservative Supreme Court nominee in 1991 is totally a lynching.” By all rights, you would think he would be a footnote in the history of the wingnutosphere. But because of the felt needs for “balance” and Donald Trump’s tendency to say do whistles with an air raid siren next to a megaphone, Lord has found a niche as a CNN election commentator. This has gone as you might have expected, with assertions that Gonzalo Curiel is the REAL RACIST:

During a CNN panel discussion on Tuesday, former Reagan aide Jeffrey Lord argued that Donald Trump’s widely condemned comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel were not, in fact, racist and were instead pointing out racism.

“Will you denounce what Trump said as racist?” asked fellow panel member Van Jones.

“It wasn’t racist,” replied Lord. “He’s calling attention to racism.”

Both sides only one side does it, and it’s the Democrat Party!

The Trump campaign is going to be a test of the media’s attempts to apply “balance” to even the most dishonest and repellent arguments. It will be interesting to see who tries to normalize Trump’s racism and who doesn’t.

Why haven’t any ABA law schools shut down yet?

[ 32 ] June 8, 2016 |


A specter is haunting law schools: the specter of bankruptcy.

Not literal bankruptcy — educational institutions eligible for federal student loans can’t as a practical matter ever file for bankruptcy, because doing so makes them ineligible, and federal loans are the lifeblood of higher education in the US in general, and of law schools in particular (around two-thirds of the average law school’s revenue is in the form of such loans).

Rather, I’m using bankruptcy in the metaphorical lay sense of going out of business. Given the the steep decline in applicant totals over the past five years, why haven’t any ABA schools shut down? (There are dozens of non-ABA-approved law schools, mostly in California, and some of them do close from time to time, but they are the equivalent of Wildlings beyond the Wall, and nobody really knows anything about them).

Now in fact one ABA law school has gone out of business, practically speaking: Hamline University allowed its law school to merge with the freestanding William Mitchell School of Law, but since the new law school is going to be approximately the same size as William Mitchell was before the merger, this was effectively a face-saving way for Hamline to close its school.

But, that aside, all the other 204 ABA schools are still operating. Why?

For one thing, total enrollment hasn’t declined as sharply as applicant totals, because a number of schools are now pursuing de facto open admissions policies. While applicant totals fell by 40% between 2010 and 2015, total JD enrollment fell by only 23%. A bit this is a lag effect of the somewhat larger 2013 entering class that hadn’t graduated yet — first year enrollment fell by 29% over this time — but applicant totals appear to have bottomed out, at least for the present, with 2016 marking the third straight year in the 55,000 range, down from 88,000 in 2010 (and 100,000 in 2004).

Still, by this coming fall total JD enrollment is going to be about 30% lower than it was six years earlier.* Why hasn’t this sunk any schools yet — Hamline excepted — especially considering that this 30% average masks wide variations between schools, with some schools suffering enrollment declines of 50% or more?

There are, I think, a couple of related answers to this question.

90% of ABA law schools are located inside larger universities, and universities are clearly reluctant to close law schools, even though as of now the large majority of law schools are losing money for their parent institutions. (As for the free-standing schools, they’ll stay open as long as the value of an income stream of federal loan money minus operating expenses is greater than the liquidation value of the enterprise to its creditors). This reluctance is itself a product of several factors:

First, some observers have noted that in the 1980s and 1990s a number of universities, including some prominent ones, closed their dental schools, and they’ve wondered why the same fiscal logic hasn’t yet been applied to law schools. The answer is that (a) dental schools, like medical schools and unlike law schools, are inherently expensive operations, what with equipment, labs, clinical requirements, etc.; and (b) there are no TV shows or movies about dentists; and (c) there are no dentists in the state legislature.

In short, closing a law school is a pain in the ass for central administrators, because having a law school is “prestigious,” and universities these days are obsessed with prestige, because of the rankings nonsense. In addition, a bunch of politicos are graduates of your school, and these people can and will hassle you if you try to close their alma mater, thus violating the prime directive that guides your professional identity as a modern university administrator, i.e., avoiding conflict with connected guys/gals.

Second, it’s actually not all that difficult to slash a contemporary law school’s operating costs. In fact, given the current financial structure of postgraduate education in America it should be practically impossible to lose money running an ABA law school.

Consider that at present the federal government will loan the full cost of attendance — not just tuition — to anyone a law school chooses to admit, and that furthermore law schools can charge whatever they want in terms of both tuition and their cost of living estimates.

Imagine if you were running a car dealership, and the government would loan the full cost of any car you sold to whoever wanted to buy one of your cars, and that furthermore you could charge whatever price you wanted for your merchandise. It would be very difficult to lose money in that business, but obviously it wouldn’t be impossible.

You could, for example, double your sales force and triple your administrative staff, while selling the same number of cars. You could allow some of your sales people to never come into the office, and do their pitches by Skype or pre-recording. Jeff Harrison describes a few of the numerous holders of the Donald Trump Chair:

Many law professors hold this esteemed position. It is for those who sell nothing to unsuspecting buyers. Here is what I mean. There was a fellow at a law school at which I once taught. He was up for tenure and that meant class visitation. The visits took place over a 2 week period. Near the end of that time, a student asked me why Professor Trump was giving the exact same lecture every day. Yes, he had one particular presentation he had down pat and he went to that one whenever a visitor appeared.

And then the was the Trump professor who did his summer teaching by way of a prerecorded course. This way he could be paid for both teaching and research in the summer, a custom made side deal. One year, though, the same guy needed an extra course in the regular school year to qualify for a sabbatical. All of sudden the prerecorded course, that was offered at the same time it was always offered, was listed as occurring during the spring semester and our boy gets his sabbatical with no additional effort. He may be recruited by Trump U — the experts in something for nothing.

A friend of mine who is a high school principal tells me that whenever he has to contract the parents of a student whose parents work at the university he call them at home. He asked me, “what is this working at home thing.” Some people do work at home but some people are able to actually teach at home. One particular Trump professor, likely hired because he was the grandson of a political celebrity and former Harvard professor, managed to teach his students from home after creating a course that involved supervising students who were teaching high school students about law. Yes, no need to come in to do research or to teach. Nice (non) work if you can get it.

All of us have minor Trump appointments in the form of confercating — going to conferences that are actually vacations. I am happy to say that the new dean at my school has a rule that you actually must do something at a conference before the School will fund it. God forbid! Great idea but there is still the moral hazard of a 5 minute minute panel appearance or recycling the very same work you reported on 23 other times.

Of course if cars were sold in this way they would become insanely expensive, to the point where a lot of people would stop buying them, despite the no-questions-asked financing. At that point a lot of sales people and even some administrators would get fired. But it would be easy enough to keep all the dealership open, as long as the feds were willing to keep picking up the tab.

In sum, even under today’s conditions (much smaller enrollments, bigger discounts off sticker tuition) it will be fairly straightforward for the vast majority of law schools to take steps to stop losing money: just spend half as much money, in real terms, as they’ve been spending recently. Doing so would in many cases simply return them to the financial structure under which they operated not very long ago, so it’s not as if somebody has to invent the equivalent of a cold fusion reactor to pull off this feat of financial engineering.

*Another way of thinking about this is issue that declining enrollments have had the functional effect of closing three out of every ten ABA schools, assuming constant per school enrollment levels.

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