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No Rats Allowed

[ 19 ] December 8, 2014 |

Jimmy Durante promoting the National Recovery Administration.

I am consistently amazed at FDR’s propaganda network. I can only imagine what conservatives would say if Obama tried something like this.

….From Michael Hiltzik’s book on the New Deal:

Ickes groused about having been forced at a movie theatre to sit through a film clip featuring “a most disgusting exhibition put on by a low-class comedian as NRA propaganda” before the main show began. (The unnamed comedian was Jimmy Durante.)

“It would hardly appeal to the lowest order of human intelligence,” Ickes recorded in his diary, “and I am wondering if this sort of thing is being put on extensively. If it is, it will do the NRA more harm than good.” Frances Perkins, overhearing Ickes complain, volunteered that she had heard that “movie audiences in New York City were booing NRA propaganda.”

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Law school applications continue to decline

[ 34 ] December 8, 2014 |

The first applicant data are now available for this law school admissions cycle. They indicate that applications will be down for the fifth straight year, although it appears the pace of decline is likely slowing. The less than completely bad news, from the perspective of law school and university administrators, is that the year over year decline in applicants (8.5%) is considerably smaller than the comparable decline at the same point in the previous two cycles. If this pattern holds — that is, if the year over year decline in applicant totals lessens over the course of the entire cycle — the final number of applicants may be down only slightly, or may even flatten out completely, compared to last year. (On the other hand, applicant totals declined by 38% between 2010 and 2013, so a repeat of the 2013 numbers is likely to still be a very big problem for a number of schools.)

Assuming for the moment that the current 8.5% decline holds for the entire cycle, this will yield a total of 49,600 applicants (ABA law schools admitted 60,400 applicants four years ago). Given the tuition-dependent structure of most law school budgets, it’s no surprise that admission standards have been declining even faster than applicant totals, with the result that while 55.6% of all applicant were admitted to at least one school ten years ago, last year that total had risen to 76.9%, and that number was probably a percentage point or two higher for this fall’s entering class.

If we assume that the trend toward open admissions policies at the bottom 50 or so schools continues, and that 80% of all applicants are admitted somewhere, this will yield 39,670 admissions, which in turn, given the consistent tendency of 86% to 88% of all admitted applicants to matriculate at some school, produces a predicted first year class of 2015 of approximately 34,500.

This would mean that, while the 201 ABA law schools operating in 2009-2011 matriculated a total of 153,900 1Ls in those three years, the 203 ABA law schools (yes, the ABA is still approving more law schools, while none have as yet closed) operating in 2013-15 will matriculate a total of 111,975 in those three years — meaning that the average school will have gone from having (leaving aside attrition and the fractional complexities created by part-time four-year programs) 766 JD students to 552: a 28% decline.

And because schools have been offering larger and larger “scholarships” (tuition discounts, subsidized by students paying full boat) to more and more of their students, the decline in tuition revenue is on average probably even larger. And of course “on average” is a deceptive concept: while schools near the top of the legal academic hierarchy have for the most part neither reduced their class sizes nor their effective tuition rates, many of those in the middle and toward the bottom are getting hammered by declines in tuition revenue of 40% and 50% (many low ranked schools depend on tuition for 90% to 97% of their operating revenues).

It’s not surprising that all this has resulted in hiring freezes, aggressive buyout programs, and straight-up layoffs of staff and even tenure-track and tenured faculty at some schools. What is perhaps a bit surprising is that no school has actually closed yet, or formally merged with an erstwhile competitor.

This can probably be explained by two factors:

(1) As Thomas Jefferson’s (the law school, not the president, after which it was so aptly named, considering his habit of borrowing money he couldn’t pay back) recent bond restructuring illustrates, creditors won’t shut down a free-standing law school if there’s any reasonable prospect that the school’s income stream going forward will be more valuable than its — usually modest — liquidation value. And that income stream will still consist of millions and even tens of millions of dollars of annual tuition revenue, courtesy of unsecured loans, provided unwittingly by taxpayers to people who need to demonstrate to such schools that they have the ability to sign their names to government loan documents.

(2) University central administrators don’t want to incur the reputational costs of closing a law school, at least until it becomes perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon used to say, that no amount of restructuring and economic “recovery” is going to stop the red ink from flowing in the foreseeable future.

We shall see if that time is now approaching. In any case, it’s good to see that the law school reform movement has produced at least some significant pressure toward the eventual rationalization of the economic structure of American legal education.

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Drink Like a President

[ 36 ] December 8, 2014 |


Dwight Eisenhower liked his booze and you can drink your booze Ike-style. If you like egg nog, here is Eisenhower’s personal recipe.

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Violence and the racialized failure of the American state [Guest Post By Lisa L. Miller]

[ 16 ] December 8, 2014 |

We are very pleased to present this post from our friend Lisa L. Miller. Lisa is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. Her research is on the political dynamics of crime and punishment, social policy and law, and constitutionalism. Her most recent book is The Perils of Federalism: Race, Poverty and the Politics of Crime Control (2008 Oxford University Press) and her new book project is entitled, The Myth of Mob Rule: Violent crime and democratic politics. She has published in Perspectives on Politics, Law and Society Review, Policy Studies Journal and Theoretical Criminology, among others. She is a former Visiting Scholar at All Souls College, Oxford University, and a former Fellow at Law and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

The refusal of grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, to indict the police officers that killed Michael Brown and Eric Gardner has led some conservative commentators to direct attention to the so-called “Black on Black” crime problem, a much greater threat to Blacks than the police. The reaction from advocates for racial progress is to reject such attempts to connect these phenomenon, and to re-focus attention on state violence.

This is a mistake. The use of lethal force against Black Americans by the police or the state more generally, should not be untethered from the heightened risk of criminal violence that Blacks experience. Doing so simply reinforces the assumption that the primary tool for ameliorating racial inequality is to further constrain the state, which exercises its criminal justice authority disproportionately against African-Americans.

But this view misses the larger problem of racial inequality in the U.S., which is the failure of the state to act affirmatively to successfully protect Blacks, to the same degree as whites, from a wide range of causes of early death. Understanding the link between the disproportionate exposure of Black Americans to one of these causes – murder – as well as to state violence reveals a far more tragic reality than a singular focus on the police suggests, and that is the racialized failure of the American state.

What is a failed state? There is no single definition but, at a fundamental level, failed states are unable to deliver on the most basic of positive goods: security from violence. The United States, as a whole, fails to protect its citizenry from the risk of murder to the same degree as other rich democracies. But for Black Americans, this failure is astounding. The risk of being murdered is seven to eight times as high for Black men as white men, and three to four times as high for Black women as white women. More starkly, at the height of murder risk in the 1990s, the lifetime risk for Blacks was one in twenty-three, compared to one in 160 for whites.*

This exposure to violence is coupled with heightened exposure to other forms of physical risk, including police harassment, arrest, imprisonment and execution, often for offenses, such as drug violations, that they are no more likely to engage in than whites. Sociologists Becky Pettit and Bruce Western estimate that, for men born between 1964 and 1969, approximately three percent of whites and an astonishing twenty percent of Blacks had served time by their earlier thirties. It is not hyperbole, then, to say that African-Americans, far more than their white counterparts, experience devastating under-protection and over-enforcement of, the law.

Some will object to characterizing this as an instance of state failure, and return again to “Black on Black” crime. But why is this a meaningful phrase? It implies that Black victims of murder are somehow implicated in their own victimization, simply because the perpetrators of the crime are from the same race. This is sophistry. The vast majority of murders are intra-racial and crimes committed with greater frequency by whites – such as mass shootings – are never referred to as white-on-white crime. The simple fact is that some American communities are much more likely than others to experience murder and its collateral consequences, and this differential experience does not fall randomly across the population but, instead, is deeply racialized.

From the perspective of state capacity and responsibility, the race of perpetrators is immaterial with respect to its obligation to reduce the levels of violence to which a people are exposed. In nearly twenty years of research on the political dynamics of crime and punishment, I have found that security from violence, from fellow citizens and from the state, are essential public goods, and that the persistent exposure to risk of such violence, no matter the source, is a first-order political problem that citizens of all races expect the state to ameliorate.  The fact that both types of violence fall so disproportionately on African-Americans calls into question the very legitimacy of the American state.

In this sense, thinking about risk more broadly – rather than zeroing in on the risk of police violence – draws into sharp relief the differential exposure of Blacks and whites to the positive goods that the state helps to produce. Whites have little understanding of the historic and contemporary role of the state in producing many of the social conditions that insulate them from serious injury and death. But, as political scientist Ira Katznelson describes in When Affirmative Action Was White, few areas of society are untouched by broad social policies that shaped the opportunities and social conditions of white Americans and that have made society much more secure for them.

That Blacks were often excluded from such goods – directly or indirectly – is a function of the long attachment to racial hierarchy that animates much of our history. That Blacks continue to be at significantly heightened risk of violence reflects the persistent racialized failure of state institutions to work proactively to provide the same protections from violence to which whites are privilege.

While this approach may seem even less likely to come to pass than reforming police, it offers an opportunity to reconnect the fundamental political and socio-economic conditions into which people are born, with specific actions of the state. In fact, the economic crisis of 2008 dramatically highlighted the role of government in contributing to conditions that create greater inequality, as well as those that ameliorate such inequalities. Americans are easily seduced by anti-statist arguments, but in the current political economy – with a stagnant Congress and ineffective leadership in both parties – it is becoming clear that the greatest threat to American democracy is not that the state does too much but, rather, that it does too little, failing address the fundamental needs of citizens. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the life course of African-Americans, for whom violence at the hands of other citizens and violence from the long arm of the law are all too common.

Limited and fair application of the use of force by the police is a crucial component of the democratic state. But restricting ourselves to this understanding of state obligation in relation to racial progress misstates the depth and breadth of racialized risk in the United States. If the economic, social and political conditions in which African-Americans live constituted a distinct nation, there is little question that our government would characterize such conditions as evidence of an ineffective state, one that leaves its citizens unnecessarily exposed to the kinds of risks that modern democratic states have very effectively reduced.  Only through popular demand for a more robust, proactive state, one that can address the causes of violence and reanimate trust between citizens and government, can we extricate ourselves from failure and become the successful state for all citizens that we imagine ourselves to be.

*Lifetime risk calculates the likelihood of being murdered if the homicide rate remained static at the year of one’s birth. While this is an artificial calculation – homicide rates wax and wane and have not remained at their peak for decades at a time – it nonetheless provides a powerful way of understanding just how significant a risk homicide is for Blacks, compared to whites.

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Veronica Lake

[ 68 ] December 8, 2014 |


This is an excellent long-read on the brief career and spectacular flame out of Veronica Lake.

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Who Grows Your Food?

[ 15 ] December 8, 2014 |

PRODUCT OF MEXICO | Day 1 | Labor camps

The food industry, along with the apparel industry, has long led the way in labor exploitation. Throughout the 20th century, agricultural interests went to extreme lengths to keep labor costs down, which meant paying them as close to nothing as possible, crushing any organizing efforts through violence, winning exemptions from labor law, and creating arrangements to bring in immigrant workers who lacked all rights. In the era of capital mobility and subcontracting agreements, food companies can now use the same types of arrangements that allow Walmart and Gap to get clothes made at factories that burn or collapse without any corporate consequence to acquire the food we buy. All the corporations care about is one thing–keeping costs down. How that is done is up to the contractor. Don’t ask, don’t tell. But make sure you do what is necessary to keep those costs low.

The Los Angeles Times published an outstanding piece of journalism yesterday investigating the labor conditions of huge vegetable farms in Mexico that export produce to the United States. It will not surprise most readers here that the conditions are nothing more than rank labor exploitation, on par with the worst working conditions in the history of the United States and those today of Honduras, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and India. You obviously need to read it all, but just real quick:

The Times found:

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

Basically, big American vegetable sellers contract with farms in Mexico. Those companies might claim they care about labor sourcing but we all know that’s a lie. Those farms then recruit poor Mexicans, largely indigenous people from southern Mexico, with promises of payment. They then house those workers in hovels, refuse to pay them, underfeed them, don’t provide them with bathing facilities, etc. All so you can eat tomatoes for cheap in January. See that image above? This is the “housing” of the people who grow the produce you eat from Mexico. Which is a lot of your produce, especially this time of the year.

The only way the companies care about this is when all their efforts to hide production from American consumers fails. Then they develop strategies to avoid culpability and stall reporters long enough for everyone’s attention to be turned to some other issue. It’s quite effective, even when their documents on how to do this are leaked.

As I argue in Out of Sight, these conditions are precisely why central to our demands for a just world must be international labor standards enforceable in U.S. courts. Anything else will keep workers in these conditions. If Subway wants to use tomatoes grown in Mexico, fine. But those tomatoes have to be produced in conditions that stand up to a basic test of human rights. If wages are stolen, workers threatened, bathing facilities not provided, etc., then workers should have the right to sue for recompense in American courts. Subway, Safeway, McDonald’s, etc., must be held legally responsible for the conditions of work when people labor in growing food for them to sell.

This has to be a legal framework. Mass movements are useful only in the short term because we will move on to the next issue. One month it is protesting war, the next it is sweatshops, the next it is police violence. There are too many injustices in this world to rely on mass movements. People only have so much time. Only through a legal framework can those people who do devote themselves to this issue full time have a framework to enforce worker rights in the long term.

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Teddy Bear Martin Luther King, and Other Pathologies of Winger Thought

[ 132 ] December 8, 2014 |

Good one from Tomorrow.

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The market at work

[ 92 ] December 8, 2014 |


New England 23
San Diego 14

Game situation:

San Diego at 8:41
S.Gostkowski kicks 65 yards from NE 35 to end zone, Touchback.
1st and 10 at SD 20 (8:41) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to D.Brown to SD 44 for 24 yards (D.McCourty, B.Browner).
1st and 10 at SD 44 (7:56) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short left to M.Floyd [A.Ayers].
2nd and 10 at SD 44 (7:49) (Shotgun) P.Rivers sacked at SD 43 for -1 yards (sack split by Chr.Jones and S.Siliga).
3rd and 11 at SD 43 (7:06) (Shotgun) P.Rivers right end to 50 for 7 yards (D.McCourty).
4th and 4 at 50 (6:28) N.Novak punts 38 yards to NE 12, Center-M.Windt, fair catch by D.Amendola.
SD DRIVE TOTALS: 4 plays, 30 yards, 2:23
New England at 6:18

How much do these guys get paid to figure this stuff out?

Is this money being well spent?

This paper examines a single, narrow decision—the choice on fourth down in the
National Football League between kicking and trying for a first down—as a case
study of the standard view that competition in the goods, capital, and labor markets
leads firms to make maximizing choices. Play-by-play data and dynamic
programming are used to estimate the average payoffs to kicking and trying for a
first down under different circumstances. Examination of teams’ actual decisions
shows systematic, clear-cut, and overwhelmingly statistically significant departures
from the decisions that would maximize teams’ chances of winning. Possible
reasons for the departures are considered.

Bill Belichick has read Romer’s paper.

Speaking of labor markets, game announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collingsworth, who according to the Internet get paid $5 million and $2 million respectively, did not consider San Diego’s decision to punt in this situation worthy of any comment.

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The Rolling Stone Mess

[ 188 ] December 7, 2014 |
  • While the it was grossly irresponsible of Rolling Stone to start the piece with specific allegations it apparently made almost no effort to corroborate, it’s also worth noting at this point that we don’t know about whether or not “Jackie” was sexually assaulted.  It has not been proven to be a complete hoax.
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Today in Police Violence

[ 56 ] December 7, 2014 |


Seattle cop handcuffs a drunk black woman and throws her in the back of a police car. She tries to kick at him. He punches her in the face and breaks her orbital bone. Seattle’s city attorney urges charges to be pressed as the cop committed a clear felony. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg refuses. Cop goes scot free. Woman spends four days in jail because the cop says she assaulted him and messed up his jaw, even though he was determined to have no injuries after an examination. The charges against the woman were dismissed.

This is not the first time Satterberg has refused to charge a police officer for violence against a person of color. In 2011, he refused to charge a Seattle police officer for shooting and killing a Native American woodcarver, saying the law protected the police with few exceptions.

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Happy Bertha-Day!

[ 126 ] December 7, 2014 |

I’ve written before about one of the most ill-conceived infrastructure projects in the country currently–a plan to build a deep bore tunnel under downtown Seattle so highway 99 (currently an elevated freeway as functional as it is unacceptably dangerous) can, theoretically, bypass downtown Seattle efficiently. If this project managed to be completed on time and under budget, it would not come close to justify the project; it will be useless for a majority of users of the viaduct today, as its most common use is to get to and from downtown. Given that the technology in use was experimental–the kind of tunneling machine they’d be using had never been used for a tunnel this size before, and the condition of the soil so close to Puget Sound raised serious concerns–the odds of a such an outcome were, already quite slim for such megaprojects, were surely slimmer than usual for this one.

It was a year ago that “Bertha” the tunneling machine stopped working, around 1019 feet into her planned 9270 foot journey. Since that day, the news about Bertha has been, alternatingly, vague, implausible optimism and alarming admissions that reveal how uncertain the future of this project actually is.  From January to April, we went from “Bertha will start drilling again next week” to “We plan to begin drilling again in March 2015, once we dig a vertical pit to access the machine so we can fix it.” Various theories about why Bertha stopped working were presented as fact, only be to later be revealed as mere speculation. In April, the plan was to complete the new tunnel to Bertha by September, conduct repairs over the Winter, and resume boring in March. It’s now December, the tunnel to Bertha is only 60% complete. This has yielded an admission that drilling might not resume in March–we might have to wait until April for that. As grim as the news is, it’s actually quite lucky the machine broke down where it did, as a Popular Mechanics article reported:  “To be honest, if Bertha was going to break down anywhere, that’s about the best possible place it could have happened on the job—they’ll get her fixed,” Amanda Foley, North American editor of Tunnelling Journal, told me in an email.” Further alone, she’ll be under skyscrapers; access of the sort that’s being attempted now will become difficult to impossible. This raises the stakes a great deal for fixing whatever is wrong with it, of course–it’s not at all clear how the project could be completed if it gets stuck again further down the line. David Kroman has a well done account of Bertha’s (first?) lost year.

The point of all this, of course, was to produce an alternative to the unsafe viaduct freeway. Damaged by a 2001 earthquake, it’s a another Cypress Street waiting to happen.  Which is what makes Bertha’s anniversary news –that the segment of the viaduct near the vertical tunnel sunk and additional 1.2 inches in two weeks in November alone particularly alarming. Earlier this year WSDOT told the council that the viaduct’s sinking over an additional inch may cause serious safety concerns. So the WSDOT spokesman’s line here–“don’t worry, everything’s safe, and we’re going to try and figure out if it’s actually safe ASAP” isn’t terribly reassuring.

One of the many ironies is that this project is a direct consequences of the viaduct’s unsafe condition; other than that it’s an ugly-but-highly functional piece of infrastructure. In addition to being the worst available option for replacing the viaduct’s functionality (a cut and cover tunnel and a surface replacement+enhanced transit option would have served far larger percentages of the population of vehicles utilizing the viaduct today), it was the worst available option for safety as well, as both of those project would have enabled the viaduct to be torn down sooner. The failures of the project to replace it are both ensuring it’ll probably remain up longer, while quite possibly making it less safe in the interim.

Transit advocates are often accused, absurdly, of engaging in a “war on cars”. If we were indeed committed to such a war, I’m not sure we could have come up better with anything than this. The overruns will likely cannibalize WSDOT’s budget, including all manner of road repair and construction projects (some of which are necessary and useful) for the foreseeable future. If, as appears increasingly likely, the viaduct must be shut down before the tunnel is ready, transit will become even more crucial for accessing downtown, and far fewer cars will be able to do so with any efficiency at peak travel times.  Meanwhile, Sound Transit’s tunneling project for light rail, using well established, off the shelf tunneling technology and conservative cost estimates, chugs along ahead of schedule and under budget, and Seattle just voted itself a tax increase to fund more bus service.


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Politics of the New Gilded Age

[ 65 ] December 7, 2014 |

There’s a reason that corporations love state regulators and state politicians–they can easily buy them for cheap. Such is the politics of the New Gilded Age, when politicians are as openly for sale as they were in the first Gilded Age. The energy industry is just openly purchasing Republican attorney generals, especially in fossil fuel heavy states like Oklahoma. Companies write the bills and lawsuits, their hacks submit them without even bothering to change the wording:

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office. The attorney general’s staff had taken Devon’s draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general’s signature. “The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House.”

Mr. Whitsitt then added, “Please pass along Devon’s thanks to Attorney General Pruitt.”

The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.

The whole story really goes into detail on how beholden these politicians are to the energy capitalists. Only a real citizen movement to retake our democracy will stop this from continuing. We did it a century ago in the Progressive Era that ended the first Gilded Age. We can do it again. But we have a long ways to go.

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