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States Rights!

[ 136 ] December 18, 2014 |

Remember friends, conservatives are always about smaller government and leaving people alone to live their lives as they want:

Two neighboring states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s laws legalizing recreational marijuana.

The Colorado attorney general’s office says the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court. The attorney general’s office says the lawsuit alleges “that Colorado’s Amendment 64 and its implementing legislation regarding recreational marijuana is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

In other words, right wing states decide to launch a lawsuit based upon a culture war against a liberal state (or however you want to define Colorado). Nebraska and Oklahoma are claiming that they are suffering because of the marijuana arrests no one is forcing them to make based upon their borders with Colorado. For Oklahoma, this makes almost no sense since I am sure very, very few people buying legal marijuana in Colorado are crossing it’s small and remote border with the Sooner State. Of course, the solution to this “problem” for the attorney general in these states is not to spend less money on stupid laws and reallocate that money to solving social problems. It’s to spend more money on a frivolous lawsuit. Which pretty much sums up modern conservatism.

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Still Working…

[ 54 ] December 18, 2014 |

All,

We’re trying some things with respect to getting rid of the interloping Zales ad.  IT is having some trouble replicating, so if anyone with an engineers eye is suffering the problem and can explain, please don’t hesitate to use e-mail on far right sidebar.

Management

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Fred Hiatt, Ladies and Gentlemen

[ 58 ] December 18, 2014 |

Fred Hiatt again proves his acumen at idiocy:

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

Ha ha ha ha ha.

I love how the Embargo hard-liners will ignore all evidence as to its effectiveness of the Embargo, not to mention the many other nations with leaders far more diabolical than the Castro brothers that we have very close relations with. If there’s one thing the U.S. has had in the last 55 years, it’s leverage for political reforms in Cuba! What’s better is bitterness of Hiatt and the WaPo editorial board that the U.S. has established relations with Vietnam:

Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give Ms. Sánchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise.

The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.

Yes, if only Vietnam was still isolated, it would have totally converted to a liberal democracy!

I also note how the editorial sort of kind of left China out of this analysis. Gee, I wonder why.

Personally, I think Obama is playing 18-dimensional chess here because if Cubans are going to have greater internet access as part of the deal, the CIA can finally undermine the Castro regime through a foolproof tool: cute cat videos.

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The War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs Is Also A War on the Fourth Amendment

[ 25 ] December 18, 2014 |

I am working on a longer piece about how Sotomayor has emerged as the leading civil libertarian voice on the Court.  But in the meantime, read Lithwick on the case that came down Monday,  in which the Court held that a search of a motorist who was not in fact doing anything illegal was nonetheless “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment.  Sotomayor, alas, was the only dissenter.  Her opinion merits quotation on several points:

Departing from this tradition means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down. Traffic stops like those at issue here can be “annoying, frightening, and perhaps humiliating.” We have nevertheless held that an officer’s subjective motivations do not render a traffic stop unlawful. But we assumed in Whren that when an officer acts on pretext, at least that pretext would be the violation of an actual law. Giving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands this authority. (“There is scarcely any law which does not admit of some ingenious doubt”). One wonders how a citizen seeking to be law-abiding and to structure his or her behavior to avoid these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters could do so.

[...]

Of course, if the law enforcement system could not function without permitting mistakes of law to justify seizures, one could at least argue that permitting as much is a necessary evil. But I have not seen any persuasive argument that law enforcement will be unduly hampered by a rule that precludes consideration of mistakes of law in the reasonableness inquiry. After all, there is no indication that excluding an officer’s mistake of law from the reasonableness inquiry has created a problem for law enforcement in the overwhelming number of Circuits which have adopted that approach.

[...]

While I appreciate that the Court has endeavored to set some bounds on the types of mistakes of law that it thinks will qualify as reasonable, and while I think that the set of reasonable mistakes of law ought to be narrowly circumscribed if they are to be countenanced at all, I am not at all convinced that the Court has done so in a clear way. It seems to me that the difference between qualified immunity’s reasonableness standard—which the Court insists without elaboration does not apply here—and the Court’s conception of reasonableness in this context—which remains undefined—will prove murky in application. See ante, at 11. I fear the Court’s unwillingness to sketch a fuller view of what makes a mistake of law reasonable only presages the likely difficulty that courts will have applying the Court’s decision in this case.

*  *  *

To my mind, the more administrable approach—and the one more consistent with our precedents and principles—would be to hold that an officer’s mistake of law, no matter how reasonable, cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary to justify a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. I respectfully dissent.

The second-to-last paragraph seems to be directed at the Kagan/Ginsburg concurrence, which urges that the holding be applied narrowly. I am not at all optimistic that this is how lower courts will in fact apply the holding in this way. It seems more likely that the case will be used to give more and more leeway to the police despite the paucity of evidence that legitimate law-enforcement objectives are being served. I also note that Scalia’s stated preference for clear, applicable rules has once again been trumped by the pot-smoking hippie exception to his various alleged principles.

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Putin

[ 160 ] December 18, 2014 |

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Although I am always skeptical of moment of journalists using moments of crisis to write of leaders, domestic or international. After all, oil is not going to stay down forever. Still, be real sad to see Putin suffer.

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The road toward open enrollment at American law schools

[ 77 ] December 18, 2014 |

It’s been almost exactly four years since the publication of David Segal’s original NY Times piece on the employment crisis overtaking recent law school graduates. Inside legal academia, Segal’s article was met largely with scorn, and in retrospect it’s easy to see why.

At the time, transparency regarding law graduate employment outcomes essentially didn’t exist, ABA law schools had just admitted their biggest first year class ever, tuition was at an all time high and still rising much faster than inflation (which demonstrated that law school was a fine investment because The Market), and any so-called employment “crisis” among law grads was obviously a temporary function of the recession, and was seriously exaggerated by bitter scamblog losers who went to bad law schools, and should have known better all along because Rational Maximizing of Individual Utility. Also, too, Caveat Emptor.

Today, well . . .

Elizabeth Olson and David Segal in today’s NYT:

The bottom of the law school market just keeps on dropping.

Enrollment numbers of first-year law students have sunk to levels not seen since 1973, when there were 53 fewer law schools in the United States, according to the figures just released by the American Bar Association. The 37,924 full- and part-time students who started classes in 2014 represent a 30 percent decline from just four years ago, when enrollment peaked at 52,488.

The recession was in full swing then, and many college graduates looked at law school, as they have many times in the past, as a sure ticket to a good job. Now, with the economy slowly rebounding, a growing number of college graduates are examining the costs of attending law school and the available jobs and deciding that it is not worth the money.

“People are coming to terms with the fact that this decline is the product of long-term structural changes that are just not going away,” said Paul F. Campos, a professor at the University of Colorado’s law school. “It’s kind of a watershed moment.”

Even after all this time, there’s a part of me that’s genuinely surprised that so many law schools are at present managing to lose so much money. I mean consider this “business” model: The government will loan anyone to whom you choose to sell your product the full price of that product, subject to essentially no actuarial controls. And here’s the kicker: you can charge whatever you want, no questions asked! You get the proceeds of the loans, the buyers and eventually the taxpayers take all the risk, and you can do whatever you want with the money.

Losing money in this situation should be pretty hard to do, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is no amount of money that can’t be blown on yachts with three helipads, bottle service, and university administration.

Anyway, even back in 2010 the warning signs should have been plentiful, as that largest first-year class ever, the size of which was necessary to pay for the helipads etc., was gathered in by cutting admission standards quite a bit from where they were a few years earlier. That process has since accelerated, with the result that, this fall, it appears that 80% of law school applicants were admitted to at least one ABA school to which they applied.

Although the total number of applicants who were admitted in 2014 isn’t yet available, the 80% figure can be deduced by observing that 54,527 applicants resulted in 37,924 matriculants. In 2013 86.8% of admitted applicants ended up matriculating somewhere: this latter percentage tends to be very stable. If we assume the same percentage of admitted applicants matriculated in 2014, that would mean the overall admission rate for ABA law school applicants will have looked like this over the past decade:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.8%
2014: 80.0%

Here’s how this looks at the individual school level. I randomly looked up the percentage of admitted applicants at 13 schools: the holy trinity of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and then ten schools ranging from the sub-elite to the sub-basement. The first percentage represents applicants admitted in 2004. The second is the same figure for 2014:

American: 24.6% 49.7%
Boston College: 16.6% 43.9%
Brooklyn: 23% 53.2%
UC-Hastings: 19.5% 49.2%
UCLA: 13.6% 28.1%
Florida Coastal: 35.6% 77.7%
Fordham: 19.3% 35.5%
Hofstra: 26.3% 61.2%
Illinois: 23.1% 41.9%
John Marshall: 35.7% 72.9%

Harvard: 11.3% 15.4%
Stanford: 7.7% 9.1%
Yale: 6.5% 8.9%

So even the high rent district has felt a slight sting, though it’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the outer suburbs.

As to when and where this will all end, applications are down another ten percent so far this year.

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Tales of the American Working Class

[ 34 ] December 18, 2014 |

Another taker who should just buck up and embrace the creative economy:

So my daughter gets WIC. We get food stamps. The car’s paid for, and so is the house. If the house wasn’t paid for I don’t know where we would be. On the days both T.J. and Devon work, we put 150 miles on the car. Devon’s job is only 19 miles roundtrip, so when it’s just her working, it’s not so bad. But gasoline runs about $100 to 150 a week. Utilities are around $300 a month in the summer, lower in winter, about $250. The county office is supposed to help with utility bills but they make it impossible. You have to go to the office and sign up. You can’t do it by phone or the Internet. They call you to go in, and you have to take a class on energy efficiency, and take all your bills and proof of no income. We had help twice about two years ago. We got some help through a church once; they’ll help with a bill if you’re working.

We still have Internet through the cable company and cable with it. The rest of the money goes for everything that is not food, diapers, toothpaste — those luxuries. And we have two loans to pay off, besides the school loans — $175 a month and $140 a month. Devon and I both took out loans when we were working and making good money. It seemed O.K. at the time.

Money is just a real strain on everything. T.J. feels as if he is the only one bringing home money. I don’t bring in anything, so I don’t have much say. I can suggest things now and then but it’s not my money. I’ve got no cash, nothing at all. I did get a $5 pair of Walmart sweatpants a few months ago, and I still have work clothes, but I don’t buy anything. I’ve sold almost every piece of my mother’s jewelry, including my grandparents’ wedding rings and things my dad gave her, to pay for bills over the last few years, especially when my daughter and I weren’t working.

At night, we don’t do much. I made a big pot of chili the other day so I didn’t have to cook last night. We reheated that. I had washed the air-conditioning registers and vents. T.J. took them down, and I washed them in baking soda and vinegar and bleach. So we put those back up, watched some TV and took care of the baby. We don’t really go to many places. I like to read but I’ve read everything I have now, and there is not a lot of time.

I do still fill out job applications. I would love to get back to work. I never thought I would go this long without working, without making any money. But bad luck (and some bad decisions that were not necessarily known to be bad at the time) can happen to anyone, and when it just keeps coming, it’s hard to get out from under things.

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A Great Leftist Film

[ 106 ] December 17, 2014 |

wolf_wall_street2

I finally watched The Wolf of Wall Street last night. No leftist has ever made a stronger indictment of capitalism. Nor an indictment of capitalism with more cocaine and sex. That it is not a leftist movie and in fact is totally apolitical only makes it stronger. I also find people fretting over Scorsese’s own position amusing, an issue which Andrew O’Hehir writes well about.

It’s not really one of Scorsese’s very best films because it is a good bit too long, but it is right there with Hugo as his best of the 21st century. Of course these days he’s too busy chronicling the heroes of his generation with lame documentaries, but when Scorsese tries, he’s still one of the greatest living directors.

In any case, I’d be hard pressed to give a reason why capitalism is a moral disaster than what is portrayed in this film.

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Foreign Entanglements: Havana!

[ 0 ] December 17, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Greg Weeks and I talk through some of the implications of today’s Cuba announcement:

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But He Totally Bully Pulpited the Overton Window!

[ 55 ] December 17, 2014 |

Thank you Ted Cruz:

Over the weekend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to battle with Democrats, but his gambit backfired and ironically gave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Barack Obama an unexpected Christmas gift.

It began on Friday evening, when Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were close to securing an agreement to quickly vote on the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Cruz, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), blindsided Republican leaders by objecting and dragging out the process as they demanded a vote to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

What Cruz didn’t count on was Reid instead seizing on the occasion — which forced the Senate to stay in session for procedural votes — to move forward with starting the confirmation vote clock on a whopping 24 Obama nominations that otherwise might have been jettisoned. The Texan’s tactic angered numerous Republican colleagues.

“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, according to Roll Call, blaming Cruz. “I haven’t seen Harry smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”

I’ve said before that I wished more movement conservatives shared the bizarre fetish for third parties that some people on the left have, which would produce a much better political world. But at least Cruz and Lee seem to be bringing some of this strategic illogic to legislative tactics.

Of course, there’s a bigger related story — namely, the effects of the postmature decision to end the filibuster for judicial nominees:

If there’s one thing from 2014 that will define President Barack Obama’s legacy after he’s left the White House, it’s the number of lifetime judges he put on the federal bench.

In its final act of the year, the Senate blew through a dozen U.S. district court nominees on Tuesday night. That puts Obama at a whopping 89 district court and circuit court confirmations for the year, and means he’ll wrap up his sixth year in office with a grand total of 305 district court and circuit court confirmations — a tally that puts him well beyond where his predecessors were by this point in their presidencies.

President George W. Bush confirmed just 32 district court and circuit court judges during his sixth year in office, according to data provided by Alliance for Justice, a progressive advocacy group focused on the federal judiciary. President Bill Clinton confirmed 65 judges in his sixth year. In total, Bush confirmed 256 district and circuit court nominees after six years in office, Clinton confirmed 302, and President Ronald Reagan confirmed 295. Those numbers include a handful of Court of International Trade confirmations.

Senate filibuster reform played a major role in Obama’s spike in judicial confirmations this year. Democrats changed the rules last year to require a simple majority, or 51 votes, instead of 60 votes to advance most judicial nominees. They made the change in response to Republicans abusing the filibuster rule to block several of Obama’s nominees — even noncontroversial picks.

And tying the two together, as Bernstein points out this was made possible by a much broader group of Republicans engaging in Cruz-style tactics that managed the enormously difficult task of convincing even Pat Leahy that the filibuster for most judicial and executive branch nominees had to go. It’s not quite the same thing — thinking that Senate Democrats had no breaking point at all was an understandable mistake — but Republican overreaching consistently played into Reid’s hands for the last two years.

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Ebola-infected land shark threatens holiday moviegoers with weaponized cannabis

[ 89 ] December 17, 2014 |

Eternal hysteria is the price of vigilance.

Most of the country’s largest theater chains have decided not to show Sony’s “The Interview,” according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The decision follows a strange warning on Tuesday from anonymous hackers that people should avoid going to theaters where “The Interview” is playing.

The comedic film is still scheduled to come out on Christmas Day. Sony (SNE) does not plan to pull the film altogether, but the studio has indicated it won’t object if theaters decide not to show the film, a second source said.

Among the top chains that have decided to not show the movie are Regal (RGC), Cinemark (CNK), Carmike Cinemas (CKEC), Arclight and Southern.

Another smaller chain, Bow Tie Cinemas, has also dropped its plans to show the film.

“It is our mission to ensure the safety and comfort of our guests and employees,” the company said in a statement.

Also:

The shockwaves from the Sony hack have finally reached Hollywood’s development community, as New Regency has pulled the plug on the Steve Carell movie “Pyongyang,” which Gore Verbinski had been prepping for a March start date, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap.

Based on the graphic novel by Guy Delisle, “Pyongyang” is a paranoid thriller about a Westerner’s experiences working in North Korea for a year.

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The Embargo Cannot Fail, It Can Only Be Failed

[ 111 ] December 17, 2014 |

Shorter Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio: “How dare Obama discuss ending the embargo on Cuba when it’s probably only a few years away from causing Fidel Castro’s death and therefore being vindicated?”

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