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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 32

[ 11 ] May 23, 2016 |

This is the grave of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.

2015-07-28 14.49.54

Muhlenberg, a son of the founder of the Lutheran Church in America, was a Pennsylvania minister and supporter of the American Revolution. He served in the Continental Congress in 1779 and 1780 and then in the Pennsylvania House from 1780-83. A big supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Muhlenberg was elected to Congress for the first four terms of the body’s existence. During that period, he is most famous for being the first Speaker of the House, serving from 1789-91 and again from 1793-95. The list of other people to hold that post is highly varied, including Henry Clay, James Blaine, James Polk, the detestable Robert M.T. Hunter, Schuyler Colfax, and Sam Rayburn. Recent holders of the position have included Nancy Pelosi, the Crying Man, a child rapist, a defender of Belgian colonialism in the Congo, and the bought man of Charles Keating. Today, the position is held by The Last Serious Man in Washington.

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg is buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


When “Public Interest” Means “Oppressing Workers”

[ 102 ] May 23, 2016 |


Scott referred to this in his post yesterday, but PIRG’s statement opposing the new overtime rule is outrageous and entirely appropriate given its founding, history, and mode of operation. The argument itself is pure Lochner (public interest indeed!)

Doubling the minimum salary to $47,476 is especially unrealistic for non-profit, cause-oriented organizations. Organizations like ours rely on small donations from individuals to pay the bills. We can’t expect those individuals to double the amount they donate. Rather, to cover higher staffing costs forced upon us under the rule, we will be forced to hire fewer staff and limit the hours those staff can work – all while the well-funded special interests that we’re up against will simply spend more.

The logic of the rule, as applied to non-profit, cause-oriented organizations, makes no sense. A person of means – in service of a cause to which they feel deeply committed – can volunteer to work for our organization for free for as many hours as they wish, but a person of lesser means – who is no less committed to the work we do – cannot agree to work for our organization for less than $47,476 without having their work hours strictly limited in order to keep our costs affordable. This raises First Amendment concerns.

Yes, paying people overtime is a violation of their First Amendment rights! If this theoretical and entirely non-existent individual who wants to work for low wages specifically for PIRG and finds themselves limited to a mere 40 hours a week of this work, there are clearly no other outlets for their speech! Of course, this is complete garbage. Said individual could always donate the extra pay she made back to the organization, for instance.

PIRG is an utter disaster of an organization. It identifies an always available source of labor–young people, usually college or immediate post-college students, who don’t have a good job lined up and want to do some good. That’s actually a good thing–I wish other left-leaning organizations could find a way to take idealistic people and put them to work doing some good. But all PIRG uses them for is door-to-door fundraising. PIRG has no interest in building organizing skills in these people, no interest in long-term movement building, no interest in helping these people advance to long-term investment in either the organization or larger progressive causes. You can work there for years and advance no further than supervising other fundraisers. All it does it burn out those idealistic people.

I suspect most of us here have known people who worked for PIRG and many of you have probably considered it yourself or even done it. I considered it at one point, but the idea of going door to door asking for money is incredibly distasteful to me. But the working conditions are awful and the pay is low. The complaints listed by former workers here are almost always the same and would be recognizable for people 25 years ago. PIRG is basically a scam to fund a lobbying organization on the work of self-sacrificing true believers. In other words, it shares a lot in common with a religious cult.

None of this should be surprising because Ralph Nader, founder of PIRG, has always hated unions in his own shop.

As it turns out, Nader as a nonprofit entrepreneur has had his own experience with union organizing — from the employer’s side. In one case, unhappy workers at Public Citizen were persuaded to drop their drive to hold a vote on affiliating with the United Auto Workers, and an in-house union was created that over the years won important benefits and worker protections for employees. But in another case, labor-management relations weren’t so smooth.

Amid a dispute with the staff of one of his flagship publications in 1984 over its editorial content and a bid by staff members to form a union, Nader responded with the same kind of tactics that he has elsewhere condemned: He fired the staff, changed the locks at the office, unsuccessfully tried to have one employee arrested, and hired permanent replacements.

When the fired workers appealed the action to federal authorities, Nader filed a countersuit. Applying a legal tactic that employers commonly use to resist union-organizing efforts, Nader claimed that the fired workers were trying to appropriate his business. Nader spurned efforts by other progressives to mediate the fight, and he refused an offer to settle the litigation by simply signing a declaration that his workers thenceforth would have the right to organize.

But that’s not what Nader said at the time. In a June 1984 article in The Washington Post, Nader said his employees and others at nonprofit organizations don’t have a need to organize. “I don’t think there is a role for unions in small nonprofit ’cause’ organizations any more than … within a monastery or within a union” itself, he said. “People shouldn’t be in public-interest groups unless they believe in it and are ready to work for it.” Early on in his career, Nader said, “I worked weekend after weekend after weekend… Now people come here and say they want to fight polluters and unresponsive agencies, but not after 5 o’clock and not on weekends.”

Many employers, especially those who build small companies from the ground up, feel the same way about their businesses. But U.S. labor law is clear — two or more employees can file a letter with National Labor Relations Board noting their intention to try to form a union, and, in theory, they are immediately protected from firing and other retaliatory actions while the case is pending. In practice, however, years of litigation await workers who pursue these cases, even when management doesn’t pursue a countersuit.

In 1984, Tim Shorrock was exactly the kind of crusading journalist that Nader often attracted to his publications. At 33, he was just beginning a career as a reporter that would see him write about foreign affairs, human rights, labor issues, and progressive causes for The Nation and other publications. (Shorrock and I worked for the same publication in the mid-1990s, which is when I first heard his story about working for Nader. I hadn’t spoken with him for several years before contacting him for this article.) Shorrock considered the top editing job at Multinational Monitor a great opportunity. With a staff of two others — Kathleen Selvaggio and Rose-Marie Audette — Shorrock did everything from writing the stories to supervising the printing.

A son of missionaries, Shorrock had grown up in South Korea and Japan and retained an interest in America’s role in South Korea, which had yet to emerge from decades of U.S.-sponsored dictatorship. This interest led him to what proved to be a big story — the news that federal authorities were investigating whether giant contractor Bechtel had paid bribes to South Korean officials while then-Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger were top Bechtel officials. Shorrock says that Nader, who often read the magazine’s copy in advance, was unreachable when the magazine’s deadline came. Since Nader had also been absent at some deadlines in the past, Shorrock printed the story. Newspapers and television quickly pounced on the news, which portrayed exactly the kind of corporate malfeasance that Nader was targeting, and the attention raised the profile of Multinational Monitor. This was the kind of publicity that was supposed to attract fundraising for Nader’s anti-corporate cause.

But Nader wasn’t pleased. He was furious. Shorrock said that, at first, Nader seemed to be overreacting to what Shorrock saw as a misunderstanding about the final editing on a story that other news stories later validated. But then, Shorrock said, Nader started complaining that the story unfairly maligned Weinberger, who had been general counsel of Bechtel during the period when investigators were looking into South Korean bribes. In 1985, a U.S. News & World Report story on odd friendships in Washington mentioned Weinberger and Nader. The story said that Nader had recommended to Weinberger a former protege who later ended up as Weinberger’s deputy at Defense. Richard says today that Nader was a fearless opponent of the Reagan administration and elsewhere criticized Weinberger along with other Reagan appointees. Richard says that Shorrock willfully defied Nader’s instructions to hold the story. Richard produced an August 14, 1984, letter to subscribers that said that management had offered to bargain collectively with workers.

Threatening Ralph’s friendship with Cap Weinberger sounds like a good reason to crush unions to me.

In conclusion:

The Utopian Paradise of Rochester

[ 63 ] May 23, 2016 |


The scheme of the founder of the Gillette razor company to turn Rochester area into a futuristic socialist utopia is fascinating:


The primary goal when designing the architecture for Metropolis was to make each public space as beautiful as possible. When building a city of such large undertaking Gillette estimated that world renowned architects would fight for the chance to build a structure that would house an entire nation. Architects would each submit their designs to a bureau of architecture then the plans would be voted on based on their beauty and uniqueness as well as there practicality and longevity. Of all the thirty to forty thousand buildings in the city, no two need be alike in artistic treatment.

“Each and every building of “Metropolis” would be a complete and distinct world of art in itself. Every color and every shade of color would be found in their ceramic treatment. In some instances, there would be a gradual dissolving from a dark shade of color at the base to an almost white at the top of the buildings. In others, the general dissolving of one tint into another would give an effect that would combine all the prismatic tints of the rainbow. In others, a single delicate tint would be the predominating feature. Here, one would look as though chiseled from a block of emerald, another from jet, another from turquoise, and another from amethyst.”

Imagine a city sprawled over three counties with massive buildings each with their own unique world renowned architecture. This would become a world wonder in itself, and encourage people to move and live in the city. Coupled with effective infrastructure and an open public space, city living not only becomes a preferable option it became the only logical residence.

While covering our city in multi colored tiles or jade and emerald is a little far fetched the basic principle of his idea remains the same, city building should be unique and beautiful, adding to the city’s environment instead of subtracting from it.

Who Loses in Globalization?

[ 50 ] May 23, 2016 |


Above: More beneficiaries of free trade

There are some winners in globalization and a lot of losers. Among the winners are capitalist elites in nearly all nations. Among the losers are the working and middle classes in globally wealthy companies seeing their tenuous hold on a dignified life with hope for the future crushed under an onslaught of capital mobility. Take Mondelez, which makes Oreos and is closing a Chicago factory to move it to Mexico.

Wearing a blue Oreo cookie shirt, Michael Smith stepped to the microphone and addressed the person responsible for cutting his job. Smith, 59, worked at the longtime bakery for about 4-1/2 years before being laid off in March.

“We implore you to please reverse course on the Mexico decision that disenfranchises so many of us here in Chicago,” Smith said to Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld responded: “We take these decisions very seriously. We fully understand the impact it has on the individual and their families. We made this decision over a year ago. We did move approximately 600 jobs to Mexico to run upgraded equipment that runs much faster than the lines we have here. … Chicago will continue to be a cornerstone of our manufacturing assets in this country. … But we did make a decision that was predicated on our ability to make quality products at an affordable price for our consumers.”

Several of the comments and questions aimed at Rosenfeld highlighted her compensation, which she defended as being largely performance based, juxtaposed against a decision to not make the $130 million investment necessary to upgrade the Chicago plant and keep jobs there. Mondelez executives also have said moving the lines to Mexico — instead of upgrading the Chicago plant — saves the company about $46 million a year.

Rosenfeld received a total compensation of $19.7 million in 2015, a decrease of 6.5 percent from $21 million in 2014, according to recent proxy filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Brandon Rees, deputy director for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, was at the meeting to support a shareholder proposal for recyclable packaging, which failed. In his remarks, Rees also lumped in Mondelez’s decision to “offshore jobs to Mexico” as an example of the company being “penny wise and pound foolish.”

The AFL-CIO has joined the baker’s union in a boycott of Mexico-made Mondelez products.

Rees held up pictures of his daughters and asked Rosenfeld what he should tell them to explain why Mondelez would willingly cut much-needed jobs from Chicago.

“My suggestion to you is to explain to them that business decisions are often difficult and good companies take into account a variety of factors to make those decisions. And when they make difficult decisions, if they treat those who are affected with dignity, respect and fairness, then that’s what you can hope for from a quality company,” Rosenfeld said.

I’m sure those workers’ daughters will totally think of Mondelez as a quality company treating their parents with dignity, respect, and fairness. After all, the company’s CEO only makes $19 million a year. How much can you ask her to sacrifice?

If lawyers make too much money why is Matt Bruenig panhandling on the internet?

[ 527 ] May 23, 2016 |


Updated below

I don’t have any comment on the substance of the Matt Bruenig/Demos kerfuffle, but I do have something to say about this:

This GoFundMe was to raise funds for me, Matt Bruenig, and my family. I reside in the District of Columbia. I had a little gig at Demos Think Tank until I lost it on Friday due to my rude tweets at Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress. I started this GoFundMe to replace the income I would lose as a result of the termination. I had counted on that income to handle the costs of a child on the way (leave and child care) and I am grateful that my comrades have come through to keep me financially stable in light of the unfair situation.

Apparently outrage at Bruenig’s firing from his “little gig” was intense enough to net him nearly $25K in a few hours, before he shut down his GoFundMe appeal.

A couple of years ago, Bruenig made some shall we say naive (I’m trying to be nice) arguments about why “lawyers” make way too much money.

After I pointed out that quoting a median income of $113,000 for “lawyers” was misleading for a bunch of reasons, (short version: (a) more than 40% of current law school grads are never becoming lawyers at all, which seems very relevant to the question of whether people with law degrees make too much money; (b) the $113,000 figure doesn’t include the large plurality of lawyers who are self-employed rather than salaried, and the mean earnings — the median is much lower — of the 50% of lawyers in private practice who are solos are $49,000) Bruenig wrote a reply in which he claimed, shall we say rather implausibly, that I was making these arguments to protect the income of law professors.

He also said this:

Campso’s next move is to say that new graduates aren’t the same thing as established lawyers. After my mind was blown by this observation, I regrouped and then thought of this: people getting legal credentials now will be established lawyers in the future and the more credentialed people we can flood into the market, the more long-run downward pressure on these exorbitant salaries there will be.

Right now, it is objectively great that supply is outpacing demand for lawyers, especially for entry-level lawyers. That means downward wage pressure and less money spent on lawyers. But I am saying we need to ramp it up further. We need absolutely merciless downward salary pressure on lawyers until they reach a much more reasonable and decent median salary. This is a long-run project, but one worth undertaking, and one reducing credentialing requirements will aid. We might have to sacrifice some of those sweet rents Campso lives off of, but it’s worth it.

Bruenig graduated from law school in 2014, and got a job as a lawyer for the NLRB. This outcome is in roughly the 99th percentile of desirability for recent law graduates. While an entry-level NLRB lawyer has a salary of “only” around $70,000, it’s a fantastic job outcome because of the hours, the work, the benefits, and most of all the job security. The large majority of the 15% of law graduates who get big firm jobs with big starting salaries — and essentially 100% of law graduates with Bruenig’s political commitments — would trade places with Bruenig in a New York minute, because:

(a) They’re probably getting paid little if at all more per hour

(b) Their work consists of something like trying to help somebody pave over Lake Tahoe

(c) They have crummy benefits (relatively minor factor but still); and, most germane to the issue at hand

(d) They can be fired at any moment for essentially any reason, and almost all of them will in fact be fired eventually (“asked to leave”), or quit voluntarily, because the conditions of their employment — hours, Lake Tahoe etc. — are literally unendurable to them.

And that’s for the 15% of grads who get big-money jobs. As for the 85% who don’t, almost all of them would consider Bruenig’s day job a unicorn-type outcome.

It’s apparently not such a great outcome for Bruenig, even though his wife is a staff writer for the New Republic[edit: she’s now an assistant editor for the Washington Post], and their household income is surely north of $100,000, even subtracting whatever income he got from moonlighting for Demos. Of course people are free to make charitable contributions to somebody in Bruenig’s shoes, although I suspect that he wouldn’t have gotten $25,000 out of his new fan base so quickly if he had been a little more straightforward about his actual situation. They might have been even less inclined to donate if they had known he thinks (or perhaps thought?) “lawyers” make way too much money, and that he has one of the best jobs a lawyer can get.

BTW when I first read Bruenig’s complaints about lawyer incomes, I assumed they were based on some sort of efficiency-based argument that legal services would be more widely available if lawyers got paid less. This is actually not true — again, the mean earnings for a solo practitioner are already less than $50,000 per year — but at least it’s a superficially plausible basis for the claim. But far from it. From my exchange with him two years ago:

Campos: Amazingly, you expressly deny that you want to lower the wages of lawyers for utility-regarding reasons. Apparently you’re simply offended that lawyers on average make more money than the average working person! Given that, what *should* the median wage of practicing lawyers be? The same as that for the working population as a whole? Less? More? And what’s your justification for your goal, assuming you’ve thought this through to the point where you have an answer to this absolutely central question.

Bruenig: I never argued I was interested in improving access to legal services. You imputed that argument into me for some reason when I have never written it anywhere. I just want lawyers to make less money. That’s the only thing I have ever argued.

Update: Someone who knows Bruenig sent me the following, which I’m posting with the writer’s permission:

I write as a longtime admirer of your work puncturing the sacred nonsense of the powerful, in the hope that you might see Matt Breunig in the same way.

I did not think your post on his professional situation was constructive, and it came at the cost of a high degree of privacy invasion. Breunig told me personally that the reason he launched the gofundme thing was that both he and Liz had to take unpaid leave for the baby, and he was planning on relying on the Demos income for that. To me, that’s good enough–evaluating where precisely he falls in the distribution of young lawyer wellbeing is outside my province. And hitting back at some obvious trolling beef you and he had from years ago isn’t all that great a payoff. The only reason I personally didn’t donate was that I didn’t find out about the whole mess until after he closed it.

Breunig has done excellent work deploying cogent analysis to decimate the received wisdom of the fake social scientists of the right and center–the pinnacle of the DC establishment on domestic policy. We’re worse off for however much his influence has diminished.

I think you should take down the post–not because you’ve crossed some sort of clear line, but simply out of decency.

The Crucial Questions for Getting to Universal Health Coverage

[ 22 ] May 23, 2016 |


This is a really valuable discussion. Pollack uses “single payer” as a synecdoche for “European-style health care,” and I continue to think it’s obvious that the hybrid European systems are vastly more likely destinations for the American system than single payer. But that doesn’t really matter, because most or these questions are equally pertinent to a transition to any system of universal or near-universal coverage. Politically, #6 and #7 are the key roadblocks leading to the questions in #10.

Today In Developments That Perhaps Could Have Been Anticipated

[ 50 ] May 23, 2016 |


Far be it from me to challenge the unimpeachable integritude of the NFL’s leadership, but:

At least a half-dozen top NFL health officials waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease, congressional investigators have concluded in a new report obtained by Outside the Lines.

The 91-page report describes how the NFL pressured the National Institutes of Health to strip the $16 million project from a prominent Boston University researcher and tried to redirect the money to members of the league’s committee on brain injuries. The study was to have been funded out of a $30 million “unrestricted gift” the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.

After the NIH rebuffed the NFL’s campaign to remove Robert Stern, an expert in neurodegenerative disease who has criticized the league, the NFL backed out of a signed agreement to pay for the study, the report shows. Taxpayers ended up bearing the cost instead.

The NFL’s actions violated policies that prohibit private donors from interfering in the NIH peer-review process, the report concludes, and were part of a “long-standing pattern of attempts” by the league to shape concussion research for its own purposes.

“In this instance, our investigation has shown that while the NFL had been publicly proclaiming its role as funder and accelerator of important research, it was privately attempting to influence that research,” the report states.

Speaking of egregious misconduct by the NFL’s leadership, I think it’s enormously unlikely that the 2nd Circuit will hear Brady’s appeal en banc, but the NFLPA is dragging out the heavy artillery.

Replication Crisis in Psychology: Part Four

[ 14 ] May 23, 2016 |

Parts one, two, and three.

On: How should scientists respond to failed replications?  What kinds of responses contribute to a progressive science?

Another major news story surrounding replication in the last few months was the failure to replicate the ego depletion effect.  It’s an interesting case because the psychologist famous for naming and discovering the ego depletion effect, Roy Baumeister, both demonstrated some exemplary behavior in response to a replication failure, and has maybe also engaged in the kind of motivated reasoning that might be dangerous (at least in the absence of the exemplary behavior).

Read more…

The End of the Post-Brown Dream, Cont’d

[ 93 ] May 23, 2016 |


Today’s decision, given Rodriguez, means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only “separate” but “inferior.”

So far as equal protection is concerned, we are now in a dramatic retreat from the 7-to-1 decision in 1896 that blacks could be segregated in public facilities, provided they received equal treatment.

As I indicated in Keyes v. School District No. 1 Denver, Colorado, there is, so far as the school cases go, no constitutional difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Each school board performs state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when it draws the lines that confine it to a given area, when it builds schools at particular sites, or when it allocates students.

Milliken v. Bradley (1974), Douglas J. (dissenting.)

Poor, black and Hispanic children are becoming increasingly isolated from their white, affluent peers in the nation’s public schools, according to new federal data showing that the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubled between 2001 and 2014.

The data was released by the Government Accountability Office on Tuesday, 62 years to the day after the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools are “inherently unequal” and therefore unconstitutional.

That landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education began the dismantling of the dual school systems — one for white kids, one for black students — that characterized so many of the nation’s communities. It also became a touchstone for the ideal of public education as a great equalizer, an American birthright meant to give every child a fair shot at success.

But that ideal appears to be unraveling, according to Tuesday’s GAO report.

The proportion of schools segregated by race and class — where more than 75 percent of children receive free or reduced-price lunch and more than 75 percent are black or Hispanic — climbed from 9 percent to 16 percent of schools between 2001 and 2014. The number of the most intensively segregated schools — with more than 90 percent of low-income students and students of color — more than doubled over that period.

The Horror

[ 524 ] May 22, 2016 |

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersBoth Sides Do It!

I hope that Ralph Nader has rendered this kind of thing politically inconsequential, but for Chrissakes:

If you look at an electoral contest between the most progressive platform a Democratic presidential candidate has run on in a long time and an orange-hued Mussolini and you conclude that they’re essentially the same because “corporate,” I’m not sure what to tell you. But I guess it does help to explain why Stein, who seems to have real political talent and could make a real contribution to progressive politics, prefers empty wankery instead.

Speaking of Saint Ralph, I see the “public interest” organization he founded continues to share the attitude he’s always displayed towards people who work for him.

Midrats on Jutland!

[ 2 ] May 22, 2016 |
SMS Ostfriesland(2).jpg

SMS Ostfriesland. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia.


I’ll be sitting in on Midrats 5pm EDT to talk about the Jutland Centenary. We’ll also be discussing all things battleship…


Replication Crisis in Psychology: Part Three

[ 9 ] May 22, 2016 |

See parts one and two.

On why replications fail (presuming that some of them fail not just because of variations in study protocols and sampling error):

I don’t know that at this point the answer to this question is controversial, exactly, but you do still see arguments that seem to have not fully absorbed them.

One I think is well-known to the general public at this point, and that is the problem of publication bias.  Most of effects psychology studies are pretty small.  In other words, our ability to successfully predict (or push around) how people behave is small compared to what we don’t know in advance, or what’s random.  When people talk about effect size, they’re talking about a ratio of what we can explain or predict to what we can’t.  The smaller the effect, the bigger the study you need to detect it, and most psychology studies probably aren’t big enough.  If a study that’s too small to detect the real effect “succeeds” and achieves significance by the p < .05 standard, then by definition it’s overestimating how big the effect is.  In a publishing scheme with a strong bias for publishing positive findings, when you consider the whole population of published papers, as the likelihood of individual studies finding an effect goes down (because the effect is small and the study is too small to detect it), the proportion of false positives in the literature goes up.  Even though most people know this by now, it’s sometimes difficult (and I can testify to this from experience) to apply it to your own work.  Your first efforts at experiments are so likely to be null results that it’s correspondingly tempting to see significant results as hard won and real.  It’s very hard to correctly see yourself as not just one octopus who has correctly predicted the World Cup, but one among a population of octopi, who, if being randomly tested, will generate an improbable sequence that matches some arbitrary criterion some of the time.
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