• Lunchtime Photo

    Is it just me, or does this guy seem like maybe he’s not enjoying his visit to Times Square that much?

    September 13, 2018 — Times Square, New York City
  • Here’s How a Quiet Seminar Program Changed American Law

    Henry Farrell points us today to a fascinating new paper about the effect of the law and economics movement on the decisions of judges. It’s based on attendance at the famous Manne seminars, created and run by Henry Manne, dean of the George Mason School of Law during the 80s and 90s. About half of all federal judges attended these two-week seminars, and the authors of the paper used computer-based linguistics analysis to figure out whether attendees changed their attitudes after their attendance. Long story short, yes they did:

    We find that judges significantly increase their use of economics language after attending the Manne program….We find that, post Manne attendance, judges render conservative verdicts in economics-relevant cases. Further, using the 100% sample of machine-coded circuit cases, we find that Manne attendees subsequently are more likely to rule against regulatory agencies, for example the EPA and NLRB….. We show that the difference in sentencing harshness between Manne and non-Manne judges is highest after the 2005 Booker decision gave more discretion to judges in sentencing. We find that Manne attendance is associated with disparate sentencing. The results are consistent with judges learning a theories of simple deterrence and the use of stereotypes as being economically efficient.

    As an example, here’s a chart showing judicial attitudes toward regulatory cases involving the NLRB and the EPA. Judges who attended the Manne seminars showed an immediate change, ruling more often against both agencies after returning from the seminar:

    In 2005, the Supreme Court gave judges more criminal sentencing discretion in the case United States vs. Booker. The authors looked at sentencing decisions pre- and post-Booker for judges who had attended the Manne seminar and those who hadn’t:

    As soon as they had the discretion, Manne-trained judged immediately began handing out more severe sentences than other judges. The authors conclude that using simple economic models to guide legal decisions does indeed make the judiciary more conservative:

    Economics-trained judges significantly impact U.S. judicial outcomes. They render conservative votes and verdicts, are against regulation and criminal appeals, and mete harsher criminal sentences and deterrence reasoning. When ideas move from economics into law, ideas have consequences.

    Economics likely changed how judges perceived the consequences of their decisions. If you teach judges that markets work, they deregulate government. If you teach judges that deterrence works, they become harsher to criminal defendants. Economics training focusing on efficiency may have crowded out other constitutional theories of interpretation. Economics training accounts for a substantial portion of the conservative shift in the federal judiciary since 1976.

    I think the main lesson here is not that Henry Manne was evil or that economic reasoning is wrong. The main lesson isn’t about good or bad in any sense. Rather, this is just a great example of how to influence politics. There are lots of ways to do it, and some of them are quieter than others. In this case, Manne didn’t conduct his seminars as a fire-breathing libertarian. In fact, he apparently conducted them in a fairly evenhanded way designed to appeal to judges who view themselves as neutral arbiters. But aside from not being completely evenhanded, his primary influence came from simply introducing judges to a different way of thinking, and doing it in a persistent, persuasive way. If you can do this for enough judges, and if you can make your ideas easy to apply, you can make big changes. Henry Manne did—and if he could do it, so can we. It just takes a lot of patience.

  • Listen to Hillary, Dammit

    Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA

    I hate to pick on Michelle Cottle, who I like, but columns like these about Hillary Clinton just piss me off:

    In these furious, final days before the midterms, Democratic candidates need to be laser focused on their message to voters. They need to be talking health care and jobs and other issues of intense, personal concern to their electorate….And yet, there was Mrs. Clinton, in an Oct. 9 interview with CNN, sharing her take on the need for Democrats to — as Michelle Obama might have put it — go low with today’s Republicans. As Mrs. Clinton sees it, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”

    She is hardly alone in this assessment….It is, however, extremely likely to electrify the Republican base, in whose collective lizard brain Mrs. Clinton still looms large — the ultimate boogeyman to be invoked whenever a Republican politician is having trouble exciting his constituents, or when a Supreme Court hopeful needs to shore up his endangered nomination. For a G.O.P. desperate to get its voters to the polls on Nov. 6, what could be more welcome than “Crooked Hillary” jumping in to inflame partisan passions?

    For chrissake. If there’s a human being on the entire planet who’s earned the right to spout off about the need to crush the Republican leadership into Soylent Green and then distribute it in sacks to the poor, Hillary Clinton is it. After three decades of calmly putting up with an Augean stable’s worth of lies and attacks and assorted other forms of vicious bullshit, if she says it’s time to fight back, maybe we should listen.

    Beyond that, her remarks barely merited any coverage anyway, so she was hardly hurting anything. And that’s too bad, because I’d say Hillary has learned a thing or two. This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party anymore. Not for a long time. This is the Republican Party of Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. They care about nothing except kowtowing to the rich. They lie constantly about everything. They launch vile personal attacks a dozen times a day. They gerrymander and pass ID laws and refuse to let students vote and do anything else they can think of to make it harder for Democrats to cast ballots. They do all this without a smidgen of guilt and their base loves it.

    But for some reason, a simple acknowledgement that Democrats could stand to be a little less civil about this produces the heebie jeebies: “There are also plenty of Americans, including many of the independents and swing voters the Democrats are working so hard to woo in this cycle, who feel queasy about the depths to which public discourse has sunk and are not eager for an arms race of unpleasantness. Having Mrs. Clinton proclaim political civility dead until her team wins again is unlikely to prove an inspirational message for these voters.”

    Yeah. Maybe so. Then again, all of these independents and swing voters don’t seem to feel all that queasy about the Niagara Falls of malice and degeneracy produced on a daily basis by Republican candidates and cable talkers. Maybe, just maybe, they can handle the bare truth about all this from Democrats.

    As I said the other day, this isn’t carte blanche to be an idiot. Every district is different. But on a national basis, Democrats need to add to their repertoire. Sure, they should talk about “health care and jobs and other issues of intense, personal concern to their electorate,” but they should also declare war on the Republican Party and its constant lies, its all but overt racism and xenophobia, and its endlessly debased behavior.

    Or, more to the point, Democrats should simply fight the war that’s already been declared against them. How many black eyes do they need to get before they figure out that electrifying their own base is a far bigger concern than worrying about a Republican lizard brain that long ago fossilized into an organ of pure hate and venom? If Tucker Carlson decides to turn it up to 11, who cares? What matters is that maybe Democrats should turn it up to 10.

    POSTSCRIPT: As for the business of Hillary defending Bill, here’s my advice: just ignore it. I mean, Al Capone’s mother probably thought he was a good boy. What do you expect from relatives? This crap has been litigated in public for two decades now. It’s time to declare it over and spend our time on more pressing matters.

  • Jobs in America, Updated

    Just to remind everyone, here’s the list of jobs from yesterday that I found a bit odd:

    • Fisherman
    • Teacher
    • Ferry boat driver
    • Hydroelectric mechanic
    • Rancher/Rodeo organizer
    • Minister
    • Barber
    • Tribal chief
    • Cinematographer
    • Football coach
    • Peanut farmer
    • Boutique owner
    • Blackjack dealer
    • Bing Kong elder
    • Case manager at refugee agency
    • Barbeque owner
    • Manager at lunch meat manufacturer
    • Hotel worker, aspiring comic artist
    • Oil field worker
    • Airplane mechanic
    • Volunteer hotline operator for transgender peer support
    • Bakery operations manager
    • Border patrol agent
    • Wildlife biologist

    Surprisingly, you guys figured out pretty quickly what was strange here. After circling around the answer a bit, commenter clawback got it: “Seems like office work is grossly underrepresented here.”

    Now, if your goal is to take pretty pictures and produce interesting vignettes, it makes sense that you might skip right past all the office jobs. But this kind of thing happens a lot, especially in pieces about what “real people in the heartland” are thinking these days. And that’s where it’s really annoying. I’m too lazy to look this up, but I’d guess that something like a quarter to a third of the workforce is made up of urban and suburban office workers: accounting clerks, web designers, paralegals, tech writers, telemarketers, stock brokers, financial analysts, DMV clerks, copy editors, etc. To read all these stories about wildlife biologists and tribal chiefs and barbeque owners, you’d think that all these ordinary 9-to-5 jobs either didn’t exist or were beneath notice.

    Anyway, I recommend the Times begin a new project: Exactly the same as the old one, but consisting solely of “documenting moments large and small, quiet and indelible” in the lives of suburban office workers. Any photographer can take a great picture of a fishing skiff at dawn, and any writer can create a moving portrait of a middle school football coach in a low-income neighborhood. Now do the same thing for folks who work under fluorescent lights in glass and steel office buildings and spend their free time hauling the kids to soccer practice and making dinner. That’s a little more challenging, isn’t it?

  • Khashoggi Coverup Story Still in Progress

    Still all smiles!State Department via ZUMA

    This is remarkable:

    The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies, according to analysts and officials in multiple countries.

    That’s from the Washington Post and it’s presented as straight news. The leadership of Saudi Arabia has been appalling for a long time, so it’s not especially surprising that they’d order the murder of a political activist they found annoying. But even the most cynical critic of American foreign policy has to be gobsmacked that our president is all-but-publicly casting about for some kind of semi-acceptable coverup. I guess there’s no need to keep it discreet since he knows that no matter how preposterous the story is, Fox News and congressional Republicans will just shrug and then get back to the important business of confirming corporate-friendly judges.

    I try not to let my depression and discouragement become too obvious. A lot of it is due not to current events, but to the temporary fatigue and tiredness I get from the chemo drugs I take. I know that. But damn. Between Kavanaugh and Khashoggi and the degeneracy of the Republican Party and just the unbelievable fact that Donald Trump is president of the United States,¹ I barely feel like getting out of bed anymore.

    ¹I mean, WTF? Donald Trump? Seriously?

  • Jobs in America

    I’m just going to admit up front that this post is kind of dumb, but the New York Times recently ran a piece called “24 Hours in America: documenting moments across the country, large and small, quiet and indelible.” It does not pretend to be a representative look at jobs or anything else, but something about the list of jobs struck me anyway. Here they are:

    • Fisherman
    • Teacher
    • Ferry boat driver
    • Hydroelectric mechanic
    • Rancher/Rodeo organizer
    • Minister
    • Barber
    • Tribal chief
    • Cinematographer
    • Football coach
    • Peanut farmer
    • Boutique owner
    • Blackjack dealer
    • Bing Kong elder
    • Case manager at refugee agency
    • Barbeque owner
    • Manager at lunch meat manufacturer
    • Hotel worker, aspiring comic artist
    • Oil field worker
    • Airplane mechanic
    • Volunteer hotline operator for transgender peer support
    • Bakery operations manager
    • Border patrol agent
    • Wildlife biologist

    I realize it’s almost impossible to guess what’s on my mind, but is there anything about this list that seems a little odd? Like something very common is missing? All guesses are welcome in comments.

  • Ryan Zinke Fires Annoying Inspector General

    Ryan Zinke, moral standard for our nation's youth.Lou Maheda/Planet Pix via ZUMA

    Here’s the latest from the most corrupt administration since … um, forever:

    At last count, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was the subject of 14 separate government investigations. (A new record!) But that number could soon be zero. That’s because Zinke just fired the Department of the Interior’s acting inspector general.

    The news doesn’t stop there. Not only did Mary Kendall, the acting inspector general, not learn she was being replaced until The Hill broke the news this morning, but her replacement will likely be able to fill the role without needing to go through Senate confirmation.

    Kendall—who’s served as acting inspector general at the DOI for ten years, and previously spent a decade as deputy inspector general—is being replaced by Suzanne Israel Tufts, a Republican lawyer who worked on the Trump campaign, and then was appointed to the role of assistant secretary of administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Tufts will not need to undergo Senate confirmation to fill the new role, as she was already approved by Congress for her job at HUD.

    That’s one way to get those annoying ethics pests off your back. Just fire the inspector general and replace her with a party hack. That should do the job nicely.

    I assume, as usual, that no Republican in Congress will see anything wrong with this.

  • Getting the Kids to Vote

    Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal via ZUMA

    Here’s something I don’t get. Maybe it’s because I’m dumb. Or maybe it’s because I live in California and I don’t see the same TV ads as everyone else.

    But here it is. We liberals spend a lot of time griping that young people don’t vote. Fine. So how do we get them to vote? So far, I’ve seen various PSAs that explain how easy it is to vote; how you don’t want to let old people decide who runs the country; how easy it is to figure out which candidates are good, etc. And I guess that’s all fine. But various groups have been running PSAs like this since television was invented and young people still don’t vote.

    So here’s what I don’t get. Why isn’t, say, Barack Obama, recording a PSA that really gives young people a reason to vote? A PSA that:

    • Specifically says “vote for a Democrat, any Democrat.”
    • Specifically goes after Trump and Republicans and figures out a way to convince 18-year-olds that Republicans are idiots.
    • Specifically talks about issues that a young, disengaged voter might care about. Free videogames for all! Whatever. Our problem is not getting college students to vote, it’s getting high school grads to vote even though they don’t care about climate change, abortion, or social justice.
    • Makes a game out of it. I dunno. Create some app that makes it fun to round up your friends to vote. You get points for every Democratic friend and negative points for every Republican friend. Sure, this sounds dumb, but it’s not the dumbest app I’ve ever heard of.

    Here’s the thing: progressives don’t want kids to vote just because it’s their civic duty. We want them to vote for progressive candidates. In today’s world, that means Democrats. So run ads giving them all good reasons not just to vote, but to vote for Democrats. Hell, it might be the first time some of them even learn there are two political parties.

    That’s the end of the rant. What am I missing here?