Happy Halloween

Prisons and Immigration

So, this is a little disturbing.  Sure seems that the lobbyists behind private prisons in Arizona had more than their share of influence behind Arizona’s new immigration law, which will presumably fill up private prisons with illegal immigrants.  Sometimes, democracy sucks.




Nastiest election season ever!

Who knew those Libertarians at Reason could have such a great sense of humor.  This is terrific:

Artificial Turf

The Boys U-11 Rec league Blasters play their final game of the Fall season this morning on an artificial turf field.  It’s amazing how much different it makes the game.  Damn, does the ball carry on that carpet.  Passes that are good passes on grass, go sailing out of bounds past teammates on the turf.  I do love the fact, though, that the league never has to close this field for fear of damage after rain.  Anyway, it reminded me of this recent NYT article on the growing use of artificial turf in professional soccer.   My short-take: I just hope (and assume) it simulates grass a lot better than the WRAL soccer complex in North Raleigh.  From the Times:

The professional sport that first embraced artificial turf — Major League Baseball in North America — has now come close to eliminating it.

But soccer, after decades of fierce resistance, now appears to be headed in the opposite direction, a shift made clear as Nabil el-Yaagoubi walked across French club AS Nancy’s pristine new field on a sunny afternoon and lifted it up at the corner as if he were lifting the corner of a living room carpet…

It is a bold move, inspired, despite the approximately €1.5 million installation cost in Nancy, by long-range savings, by the desire to stage concerts and other events in the stadium and by the need for a solution to the annual challenge of trying to produce a high-quality field in a difficult climate. Professional clubs in Russia, Northern Europe and Alpine nations like Switzerland and Austria have already widely adopted artificial turf to improve cold-weather playing conditions. Nancy is hardly Siberia but can get chilly and rainy.



Remember that number.  That’s about the figure that a number of midterm election models predict for a gain in Republican House seats regardless of anything actually done by the Obama administration. Though Political Science prediction models use various approaches, all rely on data that is incredibly generic: e.g., presidential approval, the current balance of Congress, real income growth, etc.  So, without a single thing about health care, cap and trade, the Tea Party, etc., we could expect Democrats to lose about 45 seats (and more than 50 in some models).  So, when you hear all those pundits going on (and read stupid journalists’ accounts) that all point to health care, Obama’s failure to communicate, cap and trade, Tea Party enthusiasm, the truth is that these factors really can only be considered responsible for what will be a very small portion of the Republican seat gain.

Ezra Klein makes a similar point:

But since I’m interested in the counterfactual, let me offer it: How many seats do the Democrats lose in a world where everything is the same — that is to say, health-care reform passed, and it was an ugly process — but unemployment is 5.5 percent? How about in a world where unemployment is the same, but health-care reform was never attempted, and the Obama administration instead sought a price on carbon?

I.e., it’s the economy, stupid.  And Chait:

I’ve been emphasizing the role of structural factors like these in determining the midterm election. The point is not that structural factors determine everything, and that policies or communication or other tactical decisions have no impact. The point is to center the discussion around a realistic baseline. Political pundits generally ignore structural factors and interpret elections as either a contest of tactics or an ideological mandate. (Generally the former style prevails before the election, the latter style after, so that in October we read that one party’s brilliant system for contacting voters in Ohio or a candidate’s boneheaded gaffe will determine the outcome of the election, and afterward we read grandiose pronouncements about an electorate embracing the winner’s political philosophy.)

In any case, without dismissing the post-election punditry altogether, it’s worth keeping in mind beforehand a clear sense of what sort of result we would expect if the president’s policies and political strategy made no difference at all. That’s about a 45 seat loss.

Keep that in mind Wednesday morning.  Of course, if Republicans manage to pick up 65 seats in the House, you can say that there really was a good bit going on beyond structural factors (but even then, 2/3 would be structural factors).

Big picture

One of my favorite things about Matt Yglesias is his tendency to look beyond petty and transient political disputes to the bigger picture.  I think he does a great job on this post about how voting for health care reform may have hurt the Democratic majority:

I would, however, add the obvious point that passing important laws is thereason you try to win elections in the first place so I don’t think “you might lose the next election” is ever a very good reason to avoid passing one.

If you want to look at a really poor use of a congressional majority, try to recall the 109th Congress of 2005-2006. You probably can’t remember it because they didn’t do anything. And the Republicans lost their majority anyway. Or maybe they lost their majority because they didn’t do anything. Either way, they didn’t do anything and the nature of political majorities is that they all vanish sooner or later. Suppose they’d done something better and had held on for two more years to do nothing as the 110th Congress. What would have happened then? Well, they would have lost in 2008, right? So . . . so what?

Now obviously you don’t want to risk a congressional majority over something trivial. But the Affordable Care Act is not a trivial law. It’s one of the most important laws of the past thirty years. So then the question becomes, was it important in a good way? I think it was. And that’s the job of a congressional majority—to pass important bills that change the world for the better.

Yep.  Come Tuesday, many Democrats who voted for ACA will be voted out.  They can at least take pride in helping pass historic legislation which will genuinely help millions of Americans.  On that same day, many Democrats who voted against ACA (Larry Kissell? Mike McIntyre?) will also lose their jobs, but what will they have to show for it.

Really– don’t go to law school

Given the number of law school recommendations I write, I’ve long seen the high numbers of people going to law school who should not.  It’s amazing the number of people who go to law school who have no real interest in the law, but just think it is a guarantee to a good salary in three years.  Increasingly, there’s no such guarantee:

The job market for lawyers is terrible, full stop—and that hits young lawyers, without professional track records and in need of training, worst. Though the National Association for Law Placement, an industry nonprofit group, reports that employment for the class of 2009 was 88.3 percent, about a quarter of those jobs were temporary gigs, without the salaries needed by most new lawyers to pay off crushing debts. Another 10 percent were part-time. And thousands of jobs were actually fellowships or grants provided by the new lawyers’ law schools.

The big firms that make up about 28 percent of recent grads’ employment slashed their associate programs in 2009 and 2010, rescinding offers to thousands and deferring the start dates of thousands more. Worse, the profession as a whole shrunk: The number of people employed in legal services hit an all-time high of 1.196 million in June 2007. It currently stands at 1.103 million. That means the number of law jobs has dwindled by about 7.8 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs has fallen about 5.4 percent over the same period.

At the same time, the law schools—the supply side of the equation—have not stopped growing. Law schools awarded 43,588 J.D.s last year, up 11.5 percent since 2000, though there was technically negative demand for lawyers. And the American Bar Association’s list of approved law schools now numbers 200, an increase of 9 percent in the last decade. Those newer law schools have a much shakier track record of helping new lawyers get work, but they don’t necessarily cost less than their older, more established counterparts.

I definitely have seen many of my student apply to these newer law schools that have no reputation and you really have to wonder just how successful their graduates will be.  There’s plenty of students I have no problem recommending for law school– due to either a strong and genuine interest in the law or a clear career goal of which a law degree is typically a necessary step– but far too many people go to law school for lack of any better ideas.

Why Republicans never actually cut the deficit

Chait is awesome on this stuff. If I had more time to waste, I think this would make a cool diagram:

The loop begins with Republicans gaining power on the basis of promising to cut unspecified programs, or perhaps programs accounting for a tiny proportion of the federal budget. That is the stage of the cycle we are currently in. Then Republicans obtain power and have to confront the fact that most spending programs are popular, and so they must choose between destroying their own popularity by taking on programs like Medicare, or failing to materially cut spending. So they settle on tax cuts instead of spending cuts. Then eventually their supporters conclude that they have been betrayed by their leaders, and cast about for new leaders with the willpower to really cut spending this time.


Chart of the day

Via Yglesias:

Let’s be really clear here (especially in following up on my previous post): Americans are not rejecting Democrats and becoming more favorable towards Republicans.  They are simply rejecting Democrats period.  It just so happens that Republicans– who Americans don’t actually particularly like– happen to be the only alternative to the Democrats at a time when many people feel they simply have to vote against the party in power due to economic frustrations.  That’s it.

How to mis-interpret a poll

So, the NYT has a new poll and the headline is all about how “The Obama coalition is fraying.”

Critical parts of the coalition that delivered President Obama to the White House in 2008 and gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 are switching their allegiance to the Republicans in the final phase of the midterm Congressional elections, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Catholics, young people, women, are all less likely to vote for Democratsin 2010 as compared to 2008.  Hello– everybody is less likely to vote for Democrats this time around.  Furthermore, telling me that women are less supportive of Democrats in 2010 than in 2008 doesn’t really tell me anything.  If womens’ support for Democrats dropped off more than mens’ support did, that would actually tell me something.  Of course, the report does not contain that or similar comparisons.

Furthermore, while the “groups” may be “switching their allegiances” this is very mis-leading, as it suggests that all these women, young people, etc., are moving from Democratic to Republican.  Much more likely– as this is all based on “likely voters” is that those persons pre-disposed to Obama and the Democrats will be disproportionately staying home on election day.  It’s really not that complicated– I expect a little more out of the Times.

Obama as Herbert Hoover

I found this recent column from the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg really helps put Obama’s position in perspective.  When FDR came into the White House, the Great Depression was already over three years old.  When Obama came in, the bad times were just starting– he’s been here for the fall.  Sure, Obama has tried to do much more than Hoover, but when the economy suffers most of its collapse under your presidency, your going to get the blame regardless of why it happened.   In many ways, I think this excerpt really tells you pretty much all you need to know about Obama’s popularity as president:

Under Bush, the wages and incomes of average families actually declined. But when Obama declared his candidacy, in February of 2007, unemployment—the most politically salient of economic numbers—was below five per cent. When he accepted the Democratic nomination, in August of 2008, it was still “only” 6.1 per cent. When Lehman went under, it was 6.2 per cent. Only after the Democrats won the election did the full impact of the disaster kick in. On Inauguration Day, the jobless rate was 7.7 per cent. A month later, when President Obama signed the stimulus bill, unemployment was 8.2 per cent, and by the end of the year it was in double figures. The most recent report, for September, puts it at 9.6 per cent.

Of course, without the stimulus, that unemployment figure would have probably fallen far worse– to about 12% or so– but in the real world politicians just don’t get credit for seeing only one million jobs lost instead of two million.   Anyway, when it comes time to explain the midterm election results on Wednesday, I’ll be thinking about those figures above as much as anything.

Stop voting for judges

Of course if you have judges on the ballot for your election (as I do) you should inform youself and make the best choice possible, but the truth is having judge as an elected office is not good for judges or for justice.  If there was one thing all the students in my criminal justice class could agree upon at the end of the semester, it was that electing judges is no way to have a criminal justice system.  Radley Balko nicely spins this out (and more) in a Reason column:

But there is one change that could at least stop the bleeding: less democracy. As New York Timesreporter Adam Liptak pointed out in a 2008 article, America’s soaring incarceration rate may be largely due to the fact that we have one of the most politicized criminal justice systems in the developed world. In most states, judges and prosecutors are elected, making them more susceptible to slogan-based crime policy and an electorate driven by often irrational fear. While the crime rate has fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, polls consistently show that the public still thinkscrime is getting worse.

In response to these fears, legislators have increasingly eroded the discretion of prosecutors and judges (already subject to political pressures) in charging defendants and imposing sentences. Under the theory that more punishment is always better, lawmakers have imposed mandatory minimum sentences, made parole and probation more difficult, and decreed that mere possession of drugs above a certain quantity is automatically treated as distribution. The democratic demand for such policies may be clearest in California, where it is relatively easy to pass legislation through ballot initiatives. Such initiatives have led to some of the toughest crime policies in the country—andnearly twice as many prisoners as the state’s prisons are supposed to hold.




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