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Rent

[ 68 ] April 18, 2014 |

Now that the plutocrats are creating a new bubble based upon exploiting renters, the price to rent has exploded, with renters spending 19% more of their income to put a roof over their heads than they did between 1985-2000.

Theoretically Progressive Media Company Typically Anti-Union

[ 120 ] April 17, 2014 |

I am so not surprised that self-proclaimed friend of labor Media Matters wants a union-free shop:

Media Matters for America is apparently resisting an effort by Service Employees International Union Local 500 to unionize its staff.

Last week, the union filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board, indicating that the nonprofit media watchdog organization rejected an effort by the union to organize MMFA’s staff through a Card Check election.

But the filing does indicate that MMFA is not automatically accepting Local 500′s attempt to represent it’s staff. The nonprofit media watchdog group has hired the law firm Perkins Coie, which specializes in representing management in labor disputes, to represent it before the board.

This is like theoretically progressive academics opposing graduate student unions. If you don’t support unions when they affect you as an employer or manager, then you don’t support unions. If Media Matters receives any funding from organized labor, I hope those unions put some serious pressure on MMFA to accept the card check.

Carter and Keystone

[ 84 ] April 17, 2014 |

Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and other Nobel Peace Prize winners are right about Keystone.

Former president Jimmy Carter has joined a group of Nobel laureates who oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, warning President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change.”

Of course, Carter has about as much policy influence as Bill Moyers these days. But the Nobel winners are correct. Regardless of the actual climate impact of this particular pipeline, Keystone is the defining event on climate for President Obama. It tells the world whether the U.S. is a real leader on this issue or not. Rejecting it would say that the president is putting the world’s climate ahead of economic relations with a close ally. Approving it would say that the U.S. is never going to take world leadership on the issue.

Innovations In Leftier-Than-Thouism That Always Happens To Be Rightier-Than-Thouism In Practice

[ 164 ] April 17, 2014 |

Shorter Lambert Strether: I’m baffled that anyone would think that reducing the number of uninsured, such as the net increase of 9.3 million with coverage, is an actual goal of health care policy. Even though I certainly used to think that when people thought my Republican talking point would be proven right! As Megan McArdle says, any good news can be preemptively rejected. Anyway, if only we had Hillary Clinton to enact Hillary Clinton’s health care plan rather than Obama enacting Hillary Clinton’s health care plan we wouldn’t have had any of these problems.

Shoe Strike

[ 26 ] April 17, 2014 |

Chinese workers making shoes for American manufacturers are on strike:

More than 30,000 staff at the Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) factory in Dongguan city have been striking for several days in protest at unpaid social insurance payments, said US-based China Labour Watch, adding that police had beaten and detained several protesters.

China is facing labour unrest as its economic growth slows and as factories in its southern manufacturing heartland report a shortage of workers, prompting rising demands from staff.

Yue Yuen says on its website that it produces shoes for foreign brands including Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance.

Once again, there is no good reason why international corporations should not have liability for injustice committed against workers making their products. Every cent of money not paid to the Chinese workers is profit for the corporations. Given the harsh downward pressure apparel companies place on their contractors to keep prices low, they incentivize ripping off the workers. This system exists to absolve western companies of any responsibility for what happens in the factories, even though they choose where to contract the work, what prices they will pay for the product, and how much they will sell it for. This is an unjust and morally bankrupt system that can be fought by western citizens and governments demanding accountability, including the application of a broad set of international laws that companies must follow regardless of where they site their work or who they contract it out to. Without this, the race to the bottom around the globe will continue.

The end of the law school scam and the limits of transparency

[ 136 ] April 17, 2014 |

Three years ago this week I published a piece in the New Republic, outlining the various ways in which the graduate employment rates law schools advertised were deeply misleading. At that time, only a handful of mostly elite schools published meaningful employment data: by contrast, the standard practice was to report a nine-month employment rate that aggregated all employment, legal and non-legal, full-time and part-time, temporary and long-term, school-funded and real, into one impressive-sounding percentage. (Indeed until that very spring law schools were even allowed to get away with excluding graduates who they claimed were not seeking employment from their calculations).

On top of that, schools routinely published “average” salary numbers that didn’t reveal the percentage of graduates — often consisting of a tiny and completely unrepresentative sample — that these “average” numbers represented.

After pointing out how a closer look at the real numbers would alter radically the impression prospective law students would have on their potential six-figure investment, I argued what one would have thought was a non-controversial position:

All of this suggests the extent to which prospective law students need more and better information. Of course, such information will make law school look like a far worse investment than it does at present. Still, if we assume that the point of academic work is to reveal the truth, rather than to engage in the defense of a professional cartel from which law professors benefit more than almost anyone else, then this work needs to be done.

There was in fact tremendous resistance from the law school establishment to requests for more and better public information (This was information which all law schools collected every year already, but again with a tiny handful of exceptions didn’t publish. That the information was already collected made arguments that it would be costly to supply it to the public frivolous on their face. This didn’t stop lots of schools from making that argument, however). Today, the reason for that resistance is even more obvious than it was in April of 2011: the hypothesis that more transparency would produce a big decline in law school applicants has now been tested, with unambiguous results.

This fall, around 37,000 to 38,000 people will enroll at ABA law schools. Taking the higher end of the estimate, this represents close to a 30% decline in what law school enrollments looked like before the law school reform movement successfully pressured the ABA Section of Legal Education and the Profession — which has tended to be controlled by deans and faculty from low-ranked schools, who had the most to lose from increased transparency — into forcing schools to disgorge something resembling realistic employment numbers (the ABA still refuses to mandate any publication of salary data however).

The decline in applicants has been even sharper — nearly 40% — as law schools have slashed their admission standards to keep enrollments from cratering further.

Meanwhile schools have been cutting prices: it’s quite likely that average effective per capita tuition — sticker tuition minus discounts — is actually going to be lower in constant dollars for this fall’s entering class than it was for students who matriculated three years ago. The combination of far smaller entering classes and lower real tuition has forced many schools into serious cost-cutting mode, after decades of largely unrestrained extravagance.

Faculty-student ratios actually fell in half between 1978 and 2011 despite much larger enrollments, while administrative positions proliferated far faster than faculty lines. Faculty salaries nearly doubled on average in real terms, while administrative compensation skyrocketed in ways that made faculty raises look modest by comparison. Many schools replaced perfectly adequate facilities with increasingly palatial physical plants, in a sort of perverse amenities-based arms race for tuition dollars.

Of course all this had to be paid for, and it was, mainly by tuition tripling at private law schools and increasing five times over for resident students at public law schools. This has produced a situation in which the average educational debt of law students graduating this spring — that is, members of the last entering class before the law school reform movement began to have an impact on the structure of legal education in this country — is around $150,000, while the median salary, including salaries of zero, for this group will likely be well under $50,000.

Now that the party is mostly over, we can see that the push for transparency has accomplished a great deal. If — and of course it is very much an if — the market for legal jobs remains at its present level (the percentage of GDP dedicated to legal services in America has declined by a third over the past quarter century), then it’s possible that around three quarters of people enrolling law school this fall will get jobs as lawyers, rather than slightly more than the one half of all graduates who have gotten such jobs, liberally defined, over the past few years. (This article lays out and discusses the facts supporting the assertions in the previous three paragraphs).

This is being celebrated in some quarters as the epitome of a “great time to go to law school,” which, I suppose, is a reflection of among other things the effect of drastically lowered standards (Imagine if a quarter of all medical school graduates weren’t getting jobs as doctors, and this was treated as an advertisement for what a great time it was to go to medical school!).

But it does — or rather it would, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves — represent a great improvement over the recent status quo. Huge problems, of course, would remain, even in a world in which “only” 25% of law graduates weren’t getting legal jobs, since among other things the vast majority of entry-level legal jobs don’t pay anywhere close to enough to service $150,000 of educational debt on the terms under which that debt is supposed to be repaid.

Still, it’s real progress. In a sense, one could say that we have reached the end of the law school scam — in the sense that young people who enroll in law school today have every opportunity to avoid being misled about the prospects that await them. Of course this is no excuse for continuing to engage in aggressive sales tactics that sound more like a condo time-share pitch than a disinterested scholarly evaluation of the evidence.

In other words, we’re moving toward a situation — we’re not there yet, mainly because of the cultural lag in recognizing what has been happening to the legal profession, i.e., the Legally Blonde Syndrome — in which law students will be no more prone to overestimate their career prospects than Ph.D. candidates are now prone to overestimate their odds of getting a tenure track job (I”m assuming here that the latter don’t tend to indulge in too much optimism and confirmation bias, although I have to admit that this assumption isn’t actually based on anything other than my own optimistic wish that this is the case. My co-bloggers and many commentators are in a position to confirm or correct this impression, and I hope they do so).

That is all to the good, but, in terms of genuine reform, it’s very much half or perhaps a third of a loaf. Genuine reform goes far beyond even optimal transparency (which is still far away in the law school world), because the crisis of the American law school is just a particularly sharp example of a far broader crisis: that created by an economy that simply doesn’t produce anything like enough appropriate (halfway decent-paying, skills based) jobs for our increasingly educated, and increasingly disaffected, younger generations.

The real scam, in other words, is the contemporary structure of our society. Making that transparent is a goal towards which the law school reform movement is playing its own small part.

Divorcing Design from Money

[ 150 ] April 17, 2014 |

I love fashion, I love interior design. I gave up on fashion magazines years and years ago because I think women’s magazines are pretty awful for women. But beyond that, I think the world of fashion is too wedded to money. It’s too wedded to that cadre of socialites you see in the back of “Vogue.” Fashion–let’s face it–is made for people who can’t be rich or thin enough.  And it breaks my heart because I love beautiful clothes. Fashion designers are artists–I want to just enjoy their art…but, c’mon, I can’t afford their art. And, like interior design, the socialite and celebrity-infused culture of fashion feels very far-removed from my life.

I’ve yet to give up interior design magazines. However, I’ve given up on the articles attending the spreads. Fawning, vapid articles about uber-rich people who don’t seem to have anything resembling normal lives. I don’t want that. I just want to hear from the artist–why did you choose that couch? How do you make a tablescape? And, you know, there’s some of that, sure. But, again, even that can feel alienating for a middle class/upper middle class (I don’t know) layperson like me. I simply couldn’t afford to  make the design choices that you see in “House Beautiful” or “Elle Decor.”

So, where do you go from here if, like me, you enjoy great design but you don’t enjoy its attendant money-infused snootiness?

In America, even the air is racist

[ 6 ] April 17, 2014 |

It turns out that the quality of the air you breathe might be related to the color of your skin — even after adjusting for income.

Great job, air!

“There is No Southern Baptist Position on Abortion”

[ 112 ] April 17, 2014 |

So said a Southern Baptist Convention newspaper on January 31, 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Question: What is the Southern Baptist position on abortion?

Answer: There is no official Southern Baptist position on abortion, or any other such question. Among 12 million Southern Baptists, there are probably 12 million different opinions.

Question: Does the Supreme Court decision on abortion intrude on the religious life of the people?

Answer: No. Religious bodies and religious persons can continue to teach their own particular views to their constituents with all the vigor they desire. People whose conscience forbids abortion are not compelled by law to have abortions. They are free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their personal or corporate faith.

The reverse is also now true since the Supreme Court decision. Those whose conscience or religious convictions are not violated by abortion may not now be forbidden by a religious law to obtain an abortion it they so choose.

In short, if the state laws are now made to conform to the Supreme Court ruling, the decision to obtain an abortion or to bring pregnancy to full term can now be a matter of conscience and deliberate choice rather than one compelled by law.

Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.

It would take time for the Southern Baptist Convention to become a tool of the conservative movement. As Seth Dowland detailed in a 2009 article in Church History, it was not until the late 70s that evangelicals spoke out strongly against women’s rights, abortion, or gay rights. Carter won with significant evangelical support and even fervor in 1976. In 1980, he lost those voters. What happened? A core of conservatives connected with evangelicals over the decline of the family and helped people make connections between these core values we see as inherently evangelical today and other problems they felt in the 70s. Jerry Falwell himself made no statement at all about abortion until 1975. In fact, the Catholic response against the Roe decision made many anti-Catholic evangelicals see Catholic anger as a reason to support the decision. The journal Christianity Today strongly supported feminism in a 1974 editorial and most evangelicals openly supported the Equal Rights Amendment in its early years. The success of people arguing that both of these things were attacks on women and the family turned people fairly rapidly, it is true. The anti-gay campaign led by Anita Bryant was far more about fear mongering about its effect on children than any biblical basis that was only stressed later. But this earlier history can’t be erased, no matter how much evangelicals would like to try.

Dowland argues that was the threat of these three issues to the gendered order evangelicals held dear that turned them to political conservatism, but also suggests a top-down manipulation by Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Tim LaHaye, Anita Bryant, Francis Schaeffer, and a relatively few other major figures.

In other words, all of this is way more complicated than the pat media narratives suggest.

It’s a Carrier!

[ 56 ] April 16, 2014 |

I display some frustration:

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy.  And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

Documentaries

[ 195 ] April 16, 2014 |

What are the best documentaries of all time? Sight and Sound is about to release a poll around this issue. Richard Brody has his choices, of which I’ve seen 2: Night and Fog, which belongs, and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever seen although I’m not sure one of the best.

I don’t know that I’m quite qualified to answer this question. There are a lot of bloody documentaries out there and I’ve seen a lot of them, but then a lot of really important ones I haven’t seen. I think it’s more interesting perhaps to think about what makes a good documentary. Brody’s take:

What these selections have in common is the idea of history, the construction of history cinematically, and the manifest personal involvement of the filmmakers in that construction. The ultimate subject of all great documentaries is the presence of the filmmaker at the events on view or under consideration—and when, as in Wiseman’s work, the filmmaker is subtracted, it’s a conspicuous subtraction, as if by way of an onscreen equation. The implication of the past in the present, the ongoing effect of the past in the present, is another crucial documentary idea—the contextualization of reported events by means of visual archeology and intellectual analysis, the unfurling of the filmmakers’ own thought process by way of that analysis. That’s the source of these ten movies’ vital, dynamic, and ongoing inspirations for other filmmakers, as well as for these filmmakers’ own later works. The past in the present, the future in the present—the essence of the great documentary is in the cinematic conception of time, the disjunction between the real time of filming and the times that it implies. Rule of thumb: the greater and more wondrous that disproportion, the greater the film.

I’m not as smart as Brody, so I’ll be a bit less lyrical. I like documentaries that throw you off kilter. That certainly can consist of the interplay between past and present as Brody says, but it doesn’t have to be. What I dislike about documentaries–and what annoys me about how people talk about interesting documentaries–is the idea that the tell the truth. So often, when I watch something like Jennifer Baichwal’s Act of God, which is about people struck by lightning and closes with the experimental guitarist Fred Frith telling his story of his strike with a 5 minute guitar improvisation, the commenters are angry because they just wanted to know SOME FACTS ABOUT LIGHTNING!!!! There’s the strong sense that documentaries serve as either how-to manuals of understanding the world or as crusading films exposing evil. I’m more sympathetic to the latter, but most of them aren’t very good films. I don’t necessarily want to know more about a topic when I come out of a documentary. I want to have my way of thinking about the world transformed. And sometimes this happens. Here’s 11 I think very highly of as I’m sitting here. Not definitive, even for me.

Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955). Maybe the best documentary ever. Even among Holocaust films there’s a lot of competition there, but that’s a very powerful film.

Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006). What is nature? Following the photographer Edward Burtynsky as he photographs Asian pollution, both artists involved challenge the viewer. It’s 2 stories, with Baichwal as important as Burtynsky. Wonderful for the intelligent Environmental Studies student interested in social justice. Plus anytime we can start a film with a 8 minute shot of row after row after row of Chinese factory workers doing the exact same thing, we are on the right path.

Grin Without a Cat (Marker, 1977). The best film about what the 60s represented and how they declined. No one played with the complexity of truth and memory more than Marker.

Louisiana Story (Flaherty, 1948). Probably my favorite of the older style of documentary that provides a lot of narration and a main character that may or may not have any real relation to how these people actually lived. But again, who cares about some arbitrary line of accuracy.

Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005). Speaking of the complexity of truth, I’ve had multiple people who did not know each other question whether Herzog was really telling anything resembling the truth here. Which is great. Timothy Treadwell is an anti-social weirdo with major problems. So is Werner Herzog. And it’s not like Herzog is even all that sympathetic. So there are two stories from two dislikable people going on at the same time. Entertaining and seriously makes the viewer question the relationship between people and the wild.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010). I usually try to limit films to one per director on these lists, but Herzog tells an incredibly compelling story about life and art 10,000 years ago. The past and present merge in this beautiful film. I was completely compelled from start to end.

Louie Bluie (Zwigoff, 1985). Documentaries about musicians are usually somewhat entertaining but don’t often get to the point of being really compelling. Louie Bluie is an exception, about a very cranky and hilarious old man and his amazing musical and visual art (including his “found art” (a term I hate) pornographic alphabet book.) Astounding.

The Times of Harvey Milk (Epstein, 1984). An exception to the political documentary problem of earnestness, as Epstein tells a story of movement just beginning to rise in American culture at a point where it is just beginning to go through its biggest crisis.

When the Levees Broke (Lee, 2006). Spike Lee’s finest film. Some complain that he gave credence to people who thought the government had blown up the levee to force black people to suffer the brunt of the disaster. Sure, that didn’t happen. However, it actually did happen in 1927. And given how horribly the government has treated African-Americans in New Orleans basically forever, those people had good reason to think that was possible. Again, documentaries aren’t about telling a single truth, whatever that even means in a case like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The Beaches of Agnes (Varda, 2008). The best autobiographical documentary I’ve seen. A great filmmaker making a film about a great filmmaker.

The Battle of San Pietro (Huston, 1945). Almost forgot about my favorite World War II film, where Huston spares the viewer nothing of the horrors of a minor battle in a necessary war. Made the military so uncomfortable that Mark Clark added an intro on the vital importance of this battle so the public wouldn’t get so upset by it.

Pretty recent set of films, but then we are living in the golden age of documentaries.

The Ludlow Centenary

[ 14 ] April 16, 2014 |

ludlow-camp-attacked

Next week will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. While it seems like a long time ago, in the New Gilded Age, it remains disturbingly relevant because the conditions that created such horrors in 1914 are returning to the United States of 2014. The historian Thai Jones gives an overview of the event and closes with this:

Observing from the vantage point of a half-century later, Howard Zinn saw two ways of understanding Ludlow. “If it is read narrowly, as an incident in the history of the trade union movement and the coal industry,” he wrote, “then it is an angry splotch in the past, fading rapidly amidst new events.” A second, more expansive view, he believed, revealed the true significance of the events of 1914: “If it is read as a commentary on a larger question—the relationship of government to corporate power and of both to movements of social protest—then we are dealing with the present.”

The export of manufacturing jobs abroad has produced an undoing of memory. Today, the nation is divided by the kind of severe income disparities last seen during the Gilded Age, and yet the traditions of labor militancy and resistance to corporate ferocity that flowered in the era of heavy industry have been largely forgotten by both workers and employers. But Ludlow is the terminus of capitalism’s regressive path. If our future is shaped by the further degradation of labor rights, there can only be more massacres and new monuments.

Indeed.

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