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Tomorrow on Today: “Ted Bundy: Monster, or Merely Misunderstood?”

[ 28 ] March 12, 2014 |

There are many, many potential stories, from fluffy to serious, that a major news organization can plausibly consider covering. “Were the many children Jerry Sandusky was convicted of raping really easily manipulated money-grubbers? Views differ!” does not strike me as one of them.

…in comments, Froley reminds us that the conservative producer pushing these Sandusky conspiracy theories was the talk-radio crank DFW wrote about so memorably.

Which “We” Are You Talking About, Mickey?

[ 33 ] March 12, 2014 |

While I’m sure there are plenty of hilarious bits, the price that someone would have to pay to get me to watch this would seem to be prohibitive:

Among other reasons to oppose reform, Coulter said: It would help Democrats.

“You want the Democrats who want more immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, because they need brand new voters, just warm bodies, more votes,” she said. “Amnesty goes through, and the Democrats have 30 million new voters. I just don’t think Republicans have an obligation to forgive law-breaking just because the Democrats need another 30 million voters.”

The debate was ostensibly between a conservative and a liberal — Kaus said he voted twice for President Barack Obama — but the two speakers shared the same view on immigration. Although they discussed a variety of topics, immigration became the principal focus — and not exactly in the softer tone many Republicans have been attempting on the issue to avoid alienating Latino voters.

On that front, Kaus wasn’t much different from Coulter.

“Democrats have a perfectly good reason to be for amnesty, which is craven ethnic pandering that’s going to ensure our power for the next two generations, but what is the Republican excuse?” Kaus asked while talking about Republicans who support reform.

The greater part of Mickey’s career over the past decade has been an effort to find friends and publications that he can’t embarrass. Seems to be working.

HT Joseph.

True lies

[ 86 ] March 12, 2014 |

I have a piece in The Week about True Detective.

What sort of moral responsibility do artists have not to exploit, and thereby perhaps propagate, moral panics? The aesthetic power of The Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will has not absolved their creators for choosing to exploit racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. Our shameful history of panics and persecutions over the imaginary satanic ritual abuse of children should have been treated by artists as talented as the makers of True Detective as a cautionary tale, rather than as an opportunity for further invidious myth-making.

Keep slinging crack rock

[ 132 ] March 12, 2014 |



One of the most predictable responses to any criticism of a heretofore socially respectable entity is that the critics have hidden and disreputable motives. The critics, it’s said, want to sell something, and/or get publicity for themselves, and/or advance their careers via perverse contrarianism, or what have you.

There are two problems with this charge: it’s too easy to make, and it’s almost always irrelevant.

Nothing illustrates the ease with which it can be made better than how easy it is to level the exact same charge on the critics of the critics.

Consider this especially ludicrous example: a professor at an 11th-tier law school, featuring sky-high tuition, a per se open admissions policy (the school admitted 83% of its applicants last year, which probably represents close to 100% of the pool of functionally literate applicants not sporting serious criminal records), catastrophic employment outcomes for graduates, and plunging enrollments (the student body has shrunk by a third over the past three years, from 525 to 350) — that is, someone employed by exactly the kind of law school that has no business staying in business if critics who claim there is a crisis in legal education in America are correct — begins an article contesting that claim by questioning the motives of the New York Times for publishing stories about the struggles of recent law graduates.

The Times, per Prof. Reich-Grafe, only published these stories because it was trying to attract readers. It should be unnecessary to point out that the explanatory power of this startling insight is somewhat undermined by the fact that the exact same claim could be made about literally any and every story the Times (or for that matter any other publication) decides is fit to print. It should also be unnecessary to point out that the Times’ purported motives in this matter would not be considered by any halfway sane person to be nearly as questionable as Prof. Reich-Grafe’s own, given his “positionality” in regard to what he refers to as the “supposed” crisis in American legal education.

In any case, the charge of disreputable motivations is not only all too easy to make, it’s also irrelevant to the merits. Law school critics and defenders may or may not be greedy self-interested publicity whores, but whether they are or not has no relevance on the extent to which their various arguments are correct. Those arguments should be evaluated not on the basis of the supposed motivations of those who make them, but on the basis of whether they’re good arguments on their own terms.

On this score, Prof. Reich-Grafe’s piece is frankly embarrassing — a series of egregiously assumed can openers, tied together with pseudo-empirical guesswork, and injected with enough optimism bias to float a Madoff-sized Ponzi scheme — in sum an argument so flimsy that it can be (and was) demolished immediately by an anonymous scam blogger, on a site normally dedicated to pointing out to prospective law students that Legally Blonde does not provide a sound basis for the decision to spend $250,000 to get a law degree.

Legal education, we are told over and over again, is so expensive in large part because law faculty must have the leisure to produce “scholarship.” In theory, that means the million law graduates extruded by American law schools over the past 25 years have been subsidizing the production of what in the academy are termed “valuable contributions to the literature.” In practice that means those graduates paid their professors to write and publish things like Prof. Reich-Grafe’s article.

But a million law graduates is merely a statistic. Here is a glimpse into the life of a single one of them: someone who could have been one of Prof. Reich-Grafe’s own students (he attended a very similar law school):

I graduated from [ ] in 2010. I am approximately $215,000.00 in debt; I’m currently looking for work and have been struggling with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety as a result of this ordeal. After passing the bar in 2011 I tried to start a solo practice and did a little bit of lawyering during that brief endeavor, but very minimal. I helped another attorney out at one point, too, but just in a very limited way. I have not been able to find a lawyer job or any professional employment since graduation in 2010. My last job was as a cashier at a supermarket making $12/hr.

For more than a year I have been applying for various non-legal jobs, in an attempt to take advantage of my “versatile” JD. In particular I’ve applied for a broad range of HR positions I’ve seen advertised, and have even employed a recruiting agency to help with this search. Such positions range from entry level on up. During law school I took employment law and also clerked for two summers and during a regular semester for an employment law firm; I therefore have a lot of direct HR related knowledge. Here’s some correspondence I just had with the agency:

“Hi Emily – I know Gwen is handling the HR area, but I never heard back from her about those jobs that I mentioned to you I thought I’d be a strong fit for. I know I would be great in the HR arena, and am interested in this listing now on the BW site: [ ]. It notes that “We are looking for talent at every level…”; it also says: “…we are on the hunt for talented candidates with experience in a range of HR functions to fill those needs.” I have a wide spectrum of direct and detailed knowledge of HR related laws, both state and federal, and therefor I believe I’m a great candidate for one of the Human Resource Contractor positions.

Thank you.”

“Hi [ ],

I apologize that you and Gwen weren’t able to connect. I appreciate you reaching out and inquiring about the HR contract roles. Since our clients are paying us fees to fill these positions, they tend to be very picky in the experience they are looking for. Although I’m sure you are more than capable to handle many HR tasks and issues, they will be wanting to see direct HR assistant, HR manager, HR coordinator, etc. type experience in your background and resume. It is tough to make a strong argument for candidates who do not have those direct titles in their backgrounds for these positions.

I understand your goal of wanting to find work and we want to help in any way we can but we are not a great resource for someone looking to move industries, for example from Legal to Human Resources. Our clients are coming to us because they are looking for that direct experience, and although I am sure you are qualified for the roles, they are wanting that direct industry experience. Our clients have proven reluctant to hire JD candidates into non-attorney roles.

I hope my correspondent (I regularly get emails of this sort) can take some solace in the knowledge that the most advanced forms of legal scholarship have concluded that “the legal profession market is moving into the direction of close-to-guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates over the course of the next two decades.”

No, No, Arbitrary Executive Power Is For Terrorists

[ 27 ] March 12, 2014 |

Historical item:

Two months ago, Dianne Feinstein used her position on the Senate Intelligence Committee to enable passage of Bush’s FISA amendments, granting the President vast new warrantless surveillance powers.

Last month, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure confirmation of Bush’s highly controversial judicial nominee Leslie Southwick, by being the only Committee Democrat to vote for the nomination (The Politico: “Sen. Dianne Feinstein had emerged as a linchpin in the controversial nomination”).

This week, Feinstein used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to enable confirmation of Bush’s Attorney General nominee by ensuring that the frightened Chuck Schumer didn’t have to stand alone (Fox News: “Schumer’s and Feinstein’s support for Mukasey virtually guarantees that a majority of the committee will recommend his confirmation”).

And now, Feinstein is using her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee — simultaneously — to single-handedly ensure fulfillment of Bush’s telecom amnesty demands…

Contemporary news item:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA on Tuesday of violating the law and the Constitution of the United States by interfering in a committee investigation into Bush-era torture of terror suspects.

Feinstein said the CIA had removed documents provided to the committee through a special, segregated network set up by the agency for the committee to pursue its investigation. Among the documents removed was an internal review of CIA interrogation techniques conducted by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, which committee members have said corroborated committee findings critical of the agency’s interrogation program. In an interview with msnbc later Tuesday morning, CIA Director John Brennan disputed Feinstein’s allegations.

Over to you, Justice Jackson:

I regard it as a salutary doctrine that cities, states and the Federal Government must exercise their powers so as not to discriminate between their inhabitants except upon some reasonable differentiation fairly related to the object of regulation. This equality is not merely abstract justice. The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation, and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected.

Overtime Pay by Executive Order

[ 108 ] March 11, 2014 |

Some of our more third party oriented commenters like to say that Obama has done nothing for workers. Well….

President Obama this week will seek to force American businesses to pay more overtime to millions of workers, the latest move by his administration to confront corporations that have had soaring profits even as wages have stagnated.

On Thursday, the president will direct the Labor Department to revamp its regulations to require overtime pay for several million additional fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others whom many businesses currently classify as “executive or professional” employees to avoid paying them overtime, according to White House officials briefed on the announcement.

Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to change the nation’s overtime rules is likely to be seen as a challenge to Republicans in Congress, who have already blocked most of the president’s economic agenda and have said they intend to fight his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25.

Epistemic Closure: ACA Edition

[ 76 ] March 11, 2014 |

Julie Boonstra is one of the people peddling random anecdotes in political ads as part of the Republican campaign to deny non-wealthy people access to affordable health care. Her story was completely false — she claimed that the ACA would make her insurance “unaffordable” but in fact she’d save more than $1,000 a year. Her reaction is predictable:

When advised of the details of her Blues’ plan, Boonstra said the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true.”

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

Obviously, I don’t blame Boonstra so much as the Republicans cynically exploiting her ignorance.

So how are Republicans responding to people debunking their homages to Betsy McCaughey? With every hack’s favorite non-sequitur, civility trolling:

Taking to the floor, Reid, who is no stranger to the gutter, tried to drag Boonstra and other Americans who have complained about their experience with Obamacare in there with him, asserting forcefully that the ad was “absolutely false” and every single one of the anecdotal “horror stories” was “untrue.”

Heavens to Betsy! Reid is taking us into the gutter! So surely there’s some evidence showing that Boonstra is right and he is wrong? Not so much:

It strains credibility to believe that every single story being told about the harmful impact of the Affordable Care Act is totally inaccurate. As usual, Reid blames those responsible for the message, the individual American citizens funding the effort against the progressive agenda whom the Nevada senator once again accuses of distorting the truth.

Since I’ve seen Republicans operate for decades, it would be hard to imagine anything that would place less strain on credibility than all of their anti-AVA random anecdotes being made up. And the fact that Roff has no actual defense of the accuracy Boonstra’s claim — empirical evidence is such Kantian nihilism! — means that Reid’s credibility is fully warmed up and ready to go.

Psychiatry in Russia

[ 3 ] March 11, 2014 |

I am no expert on psychiatry. I do however have a great interest in American visions of the Soviet Union. Albert Maysles’ 1955 film “Psychiatry in Russia” is a pretty interesting entry in that category.


The Aqueduct?

[ 206 ] March 11, 2014 |

Kevin Drum has a post relevant to the current debate on Democratic economic policy. I agree with some of the individual points, but don’t really agree with the general framing. “Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes,” he argues. Well, depending on how much work “consistently” is doing I’m not sure if I disagree but let’s take the points one by one:

Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005

This isn’t an ideal example of a both-sides-do-it argument given that it passed with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But, still, it was terrible legislation, a lot of Democrats voted for it, and they didn’t filibuster it, so at least 3/4 of a point to Drum on this one.

They’ve done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies

Neither Obama nor Clinton were very aggressive on antitrust, so fair enough.

next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways

Uh, Democrats created a Bureau of Consumer Protection and Obama wanted to have Elizabeth Warren head it. Republicans are opposed to staffing it in principle. So both in absolute and relative terms I’m afraid I’m not buying this one.

They don’t do anything for labor.

Well, they appoint people to the NLRB who actually want to enforce labor law, which is far from trivial. But, yes, conservative Democrats have stopped card check and this is bad. So half point on absolute terms, zero points on relative terms (where are Democrats at the state level voting to take away collective bargaining rights?)

They’re soft on protecting Social Security.

Eh. I didn’t like Obama giving even nominal support for Chained CPI. But not only have Democrats protected Social Security when in office, but unified Democratic opposition was crucial to thwarting Bush’s plan (which, remember, was not merely to modestly cut benefits but to destroy the program altogether.) Anyway, Democratic support for Social Security could be stronger in absolute terms but relatively has been pretty good, and relatively there’s no comparison.

They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can’t even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one.

Both fair.

So we’ve established that the Democrats are suboptimal, not a controversial claim. But what about the positive achievements? Unlike Reed, he doesn’t simply ignore them, but he does yadda yadda them:

Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor. They support increases in the EITC and the minimum wage. They support Medicaid expansion. They passed Obamacare. They support pre-K for vulnerable populations. They expanded CHIP. But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.

First of all, a lot of this — especially the ACA — is far from marginal in its impact. And second, there seems to be sort of a shell game going on here where the imprecise terms “working” and “middle” class are used to dismiss the impact of Democratic Party achievements. (Drum also leaves out unemployment insurance, which is highly relevant to both the lower and middle classes.) Note, too, that to the extent that the Medicaid expansion has had a more marginal impact on the working poor than it might have, this was because of a Supreme Court decision by a Republican-dominated Court that Drum was inexplicably fine with despite its very thin textual and precedential justification. And, speaking of the Supreme Court, for middle class issues like consumer protection and workplace discrimination who controls the Supreme Court matters a great deal, with Democratic nominees predictably being far better.

So while I think Drum makes some fair points, his bottom line is overstated.

60 years ago this week

[ 43 ] March 11, 2014 |


Three months later to the

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R.I.P. Joe McGinniss

[ 20 ] March 11, 2014 |

When I was teaching The Selling of the President 1968, I sent McGinniss an email asking if I could ask him questions. He responded that he’d be more than happy to answer any I had, as well as any my students might have, which led to a series of exchanges between him, me and my kids.

People that generous with their time are rare, and should and will be missed.

Did the Left Get More Out of Nixon Than Obama? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 126 ] March 11, 2014 |

There are a depressing number of howlers in Thomas Frank’s interview with Adolph Reed.  Much of the content repeats arguments made in his earlier pieces, so I won’t add to what to what I’ve already written.  But Reed’s defense of Nader does not get off to a good start:

My response to them was, the vitriol was a signal that they were looking for a scapegoat because their flawed candidate couldn’t even carry his home state. I mean, if he could have carried his home state he would have won the presidency.

I’m amazed that people keep repeating such abject nonsense with a straight face. I’ll take it seriously as soon as someone can point to anyone making that argument urging the Republicans in 2012 to throw tons of money into Massachusetts and Michigan. But I suppose it makes this inevitable:

That any public figure, especially a politician or a figure in a movement, is going to be like a hologram that’s created by the array of forces that he or she feels the need to respond to. That’s how it was that we got more out of Richard Nixon from the left than we’ve gotten from either Clinton or Obama.

The first sentence is actually pretty much right. But the second, as Erik noted recently, is wrong even on its own terms. Reed’s version is better because at least he doesn’t suggest that Nixon was a liberal. But the argument that he was forced to be a liberal is still wrong. The Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act passed not merely with veto-proof majorities but with unanimity or near-unanimity in each house of Congress. They weren’t laws that the environmental movement “got out of Nixon”; he didn’t get push them through a closely divided Congress or something. He wasn’t particularly relevant to their passage and couldn’t have stopped them if he wanted to.

But even if we assume that this liberal legislation that passed while Nixon is in office represents more for the left than the ACA, ARRA, the repeal of DADT, etc. — which I think is absurd, and in none of these pieces does Reed bother to try to defend his assertion that no law signed by Obama represents an accomplishment the left can like — one also has to consider what the right got out of Nixon. Where’s the Rehnquist or Burger or Powell Obama appointed to the Supreme Court? What important liberal bill did Obama veto? Taking an appropriately broad view, the idea that the left got more out of Nixon is indefensible, and seems to rely on the tautological argument that if Barack Obama supports it can’t be “left” (and the fact that this doesn’t apply to Republican presidents is instructive indeed.)

And as a coda, my jaw duly dropped at this question from Frank:

The two-party system is so frustrating for someone like me. I often wonder why the Republicans don’t ever make a play for disaffected Democrats. They certainly could have in 2012 and they had almost no interest in that.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you see the two parties, in a time in which there’s an unusually large gap between them (and not just because the Republicans inexorably march to the right), as largely indistinguishable branches of “neoliberalism.” You speculate about why a party that is far, far to the right of even mainstream Democrats on most important issues (economic as well as cultural) has no interest in making a play for the small minority of Democrats who see Obama as the soulmate of Reagan and Thatcher. Personally, I’m inclined to think the question answers itself…

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