Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Generation Communist Manifesto

Where Millennials Come From:

Imagine, as I often do, that our world were to end tomorrow, and that alien researchers many years in the future were tasked with reconstructing the demise of civilization from the news. If they persevered past the coverage of our President, they would soon identify the curious figure of the millennial as a suspect. A composite image would emerge, of a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops. Millennials, according to recent headlines, are killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, the diamond industry, the napkin industry, homeownership, marriage, doorbells, motorcycles, fabric softener, hotel-loyalty programs, casinos, Goldman Sachs, serendipity, and the McDonald’s McWrap.

The idea that millennials are capriciously wrecking the landscape of American consumption grants quite a bit of power to a group that is still on the younger side. Born in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, millennials are now in their twenties and thirties. But the popular image of this generation—given its name, in 1987, by William Strauss and Neil Howe—has long been connected with the notion of disruptive self-interest.

Over the past decade, that connection has been codified by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who writes about those younger than herself with an air of pragmatic evenhandedness and an undercurrent of moral alarm. (An article adapted from her most recent book, “iGen,” about the cohort after millennials, was published in the September issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It went viral.) In 2006, Twenge published “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” The book’s cover emblazoned the title across a bare midriff, a flamboyant illustration of millennial self-importance, sandwiched between a navel piercing and a pair of low-rise jeans.
Let me pause here to note: this is one of the best articles and analyses of Millennials and generational trends and cycles that I've read in forever. Jia Tolentino is a gem. Carry on.
I was born smack in the middle of the standard millennial range, and Twenge’s description of my generation’s personality strikes me as broadly accurate. Lately, millennial dreams tend less toward global fame and more toward affordable health insurance, but she is correct that my cohort has grown up under the influence of novel and powerful incentives to focus on the self. If for the baby boomers self-actualization was a conscious project, and if for Gen X—born in the sixties and seventies—it was a mandate to be undermined, then for millennials it’s more like an atmospheric condition: inescapable, ordinary, and, perhaps, increasingly toxic. A generation has inherited a world without being able to live in it. How did that happen? And why do so many people insist on blaming them for it?

Malcolm Harris’s anatomizing of his peers begins with the star stickers that, along with grade-school participation trophies, so fascinate Sasse, Twenge, and other writers of generational trend pieces. “You suck, you still get a trophy” is how Twenge puts it, describing contemporary K through five as an endless awards ceremony. Harris, on the other hand, regards elementary school as a capitalist boot camp, in which children perform unpaid labor, learn the importance of year-over-year growth through standardized testing, and get accustomed to constant, quantified, increasingly efficient work. The two descriptions are not as far apart as one might think: assuring kids that they’re super special—and telling them, as Sasse does, that they have a duty to improve themselves through constant enrichment—is a good way to get them to cleave to a culture of around-the-clock labor. And conditioning them to seek rewards in the form of positive feedback—stars and trophies, hearts and likes—is a great way to get them used to performing that labor for free.
This is exactly correct. Maybe all my ranting and raving here on this blog and in class the past 15 years plus is finally paying off. I've said over and over, as I've listened to my fellow Xer's and older Boomers bitch about the "entitled, give 'em a trophy" generation of millennials, that the stickers and trophies had less to do with entitlement and self-esteem, and more to do with social control. That the rat-control psychology which pervades public schools today, with its over-emphasis on standardized test scores, gpa's, benchmarks, and rote memorization, is destroying critical or creative thinking, and setting up a generation of automatons that is conditioned to constantly seek positive feedback (likes, shares, retweets, etc.) while their pockets are picked by older generations and the power-elite. Throw in Big Pharma and the fact that Millennials are the most over-prescribed generation in history, drooling in the corner while they gaze longingly at all their trophies, and you have total and complete social control. A generational control so complete, a reckoning no doubt is a brewing.

But what do I know?

Jia Tolentino makes the point, however, that the economic crises this generation has witnessed in childhood and adolescence (Great Recession, Occupy Wall Street, the housing burst, endless foreign wars) may fundamentally be turning it against capitalism itself. And that eventually the solipsistic technological pacifier everyone seems to be sucking on, which diverts our attention away from said social problems, crises and misery, is eventually going to burst. And social media is going to crumble, and the all those psychotropic meds will be thrown away. And when the shit hits the economic fan and riots break out, it might be the Millennials leading the overthrow of the fat prostate Baby Boomers and their power-elite, once and for all. Read these three paragraphs closely:
Young people have curled around their economic situation “like vines on a trellis,” as Harris puts it. And, when humans learn to think of themselves as assets competing in an unpredictable and punishing market, then millennials—in all their anxious, twitchy, phone-addicted glory—are exactly what you should expect. The disdain that so many people feel for Harris’s and my generation reflects an unease about the forces of deregulation, globalization, and technological acceleration that are transforming everyone’s lives. (It does not seem coincidental that young people would be criticized for being entitled at a time when people are being stripped of their entitlements.) Millennials, in other words, have adjusted too well to the world they grew up in; their perfect synchronization with economic and cultural disruption has been mistaken for the source of the disruption itself.

This idea runs parallel, in some ways, to the assessments of Twenge and Sasse and other conservative commentators. But Harris’s conclusions are precisely the opposite of theirs: instead of accommodating the situation even further, he argues, kids should revolt. “Either we continue the trends we’ve been given and enact the bad future, or we refuse it and cut the knot of trend lines that defines our collectivity. We become fascists or revolutionaries, one or the other.” It’s a near-apocalyptic vision. But the polarization that permeates American politics—stemming, in part, from a sense that extreme measures are necessary to render our world livable—is especially evident among millennials, some disaffected portion of whom form much of the racist alt-right, while a larger swath has adopted the leftist politics shared by Harris. In the 2016 Presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders won more young votes than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.

“The newfound popularity of socialism among millennials is an alarming trend,” Sasse writes in “The Vanishing American Adult.” He provides a syllabus that he hopes will steer people away from such thinking, and toward an intellectually mature adulthood, and he dutifully includes “The Communist Manifesto,” so that his hypothetical pupils can properly grasp how wrong it is. It seems more likely that a young person who opened “The Communist Manifesto” tomorrow would underline the part about personal worth being reduced to exchange value and go off to join the Democratic Socialists of America, which has grown fivefold in the last year. One of its members, a Marine Corps veteran named Lee Carter, was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in November. He was born in 1987. “Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” the critic and theorist Fredric Jameson wrote, fourteen years ago. These days, the kids find it easy enough to imagine both.
Word. As a Gen Xer...someone whose childhood and adolescent memories are of an Evil Empire of Communism coming to take over the world (which no longer exists), of drop and cover drills in school for nuclear annihilation (so we'd be curled up in little balls when vaporized), and of our forebears' Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll lifestyle, replaced with sex that can kill you just as we hit adolescence...all I can say to Ms. Tolentino, Mr. Harris, and other millennial thinkers, is welcome to the terror dome.

Your enemy is the title of this blog, and its stranglehold over your generation (mine, my kids' iGen, etc.) is owed a reckoning.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Generation Grumpy

Generation Grumpy (1962-1971): Why You May By Unhappy If You're Around 50.

As people get older, they tend to become more at peace with their finances, survey research shows. But not the current crop of middle-aged Americans.
Let’s call them the Grumpy Middle.
They are unhappier than previous generations. And they’ve been this way for years.
Typically, people 45 to 54 are more likely than others to say they are “pretty well satisfied” with their financial situation, according to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey. Then the generation born between 1962 and 1971 started to reach their current age range — and bring their longstanding economic dissatisfaction with them.
This is essentially the older half of Generation X (1961-1980) and completely unsurprising. This is my demographic, and these are literally the attitudes of almost everyone I know in my cohort.
Following the Grumpy Middle over time in the survey reveals that they have been less happy than other respondents as far back as the early 1990s, when most of them were in their 20s.
Americans in their 20s and 30s have always expressed a higher degree of anxiety, but this is the first time in the survey that the dissatisfaction has crept so far up into middle age. The General Social Survey does not dig deeper on this and ask why. And other variables that touch on personal happiness don’t suggest people born between these years are more unhappy over all.
No, but as they note, we were this way when we were in our 20's in the 1990's and experiencing the the first real generational shift away from the Boomers in terms of economic future and attitudes. I can remember (though can't find at the moment) a survey in the early 90's that showed we were the first generation in history to say we wouldn't do as well as our parents, and how shocking that was to the clueless Boomers who were busy then (and still are) raiding the economic pantry and leaving scraps for everyone else. E.g. this latest tax re-write scam, pushed mainly by aging Boomers, will leave my kids' generation (iGen 2001-2020) trillions of dollars in debt.

I guess we were too busy being ironic slackers and listening to grunge or whatever, but the economic insecurity signposts were certainly there more than 25 years ago. And we are now the classic middle child, sandwiched in between the Boomers (1943-1960) and Millennials (1982-2000).
Back in 1994, when the baby boom generation was filling in the 45-54 age group, a male full-time worker made $1.29 for every dollar made by other male full-time workers. Women in this age group were also the top earners, although female pay was not as disparate; they made $1.13 for every dollar made by other female colleagues.
The Grumpy Middle got to college around the time the drinking age was raised to 21 and were too young to enjoy all of the benefits of the booming 1980s economy, but old enough to have worked with older colleagues who could regale them with tales of how great things were for white-collar workers in the 1980s.
And now they’ve reached their peak earning years, only to find they are no longer peak earning years.
Glad to know it's not just me. I mean, I do know a few people in my generation that are living large and would find this article to be completely foreign. But for most people I know and have grown up with and am still friends with, generationally-speaking? This is us. 

Thanks Obama (or Nixon, whatever).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Harass Is One Word

The Confusion in Responding to Sexual Harassment:

As accusations of sexual misconduct against famous men accumulate, the sheer quantity of dispiriting news is starting to create a confusing blur. The task of responding to sexual harassment and assault feels simultaneously more urgent and more daunting than ever.
Society is out of practice at this task; the same culture of silence that protected harassers also suppressed the public response to their crimes. Many people struggle even to know which questions to ask, and worry that if they ask the wrong ones, they might become part of the problem.
There is a temptation to simplify matters by viewing all harassers and their offenses as equally awful, or, alternatively, as equally misunderstood. But to be fair and effective, any system needs to make distinctions: to sort Harvey Weinstein from Roy Moore; and Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer from Al Franken.
The legal system, while quite different from the court of public opinion, offers principles and reasoning that we can use to evaluate each case as it flares.
It's difficult to get people to understand this, that sexual harassment, like sexual assault, lays on a continuum of seriousness and degree of damage, and is not, by any measure, a black and white issue. Sexual assault, for example, between intimates (so-called "date rape") is fundamentally a different crime than stranger-to-stranger rape. Yes, both are crimes, and yes both are rape, but the continuum regarding mens rea runs the gamut. 

Similarly, what some of these celebrities, politicians and actors have been accused of is different from what others have been accused of. But the simplistic, knee-jerk reaction to lump all of these men into the same category, to demand that the victim "automatically be believed," or to even hint at questioning the motives or veracity of the allegations, is to create a kind of black/white myopia that is setting us up for a "red scare" counter-reaction that promises to be equally as simplistic and troubling.
Until recently, all of those accused, no matter the severity of their offenses, faced the same consequences: generally none. Protected by their power and authority, they kept their careers and reputations intact.
As that begins to change, some worry that we might bungle the job. “Taking harassment seriously also requires making serious distinctions,” Jonah Goldberg, a conservative columnist, wrote recently for The Los Angeles Times. “And yet Franken’s name is routinely listed alongside Moore’s and Weinstein’s.”
Masha Gessen, writing in The New Yorker, worried we may be on the verge of a “sex panic.”
Jane Curtin, a comedian who is a friend and former colleague of Mr. Franken’s, compared the current atmosphere to McCarthyism. “It’s just like the red menace,” she said in an interview with The Times. “You don’t know who’s going to be next.”
Many of those accused have lost their jobs, but for the most part, they are not facing legal consequences. 
Many have, yes, but the distinction between sexual harassment/assault allegations in the world of politics, and allegations everywhere else, is striking. In the world of politics, the allegations themselves are politicized and partisan tribalism used to insulate the accused and demean the accusers. That Rubicon seems to have been crossed in the 2016 election and is still rampant today, in both major parties. But everywhere else accusations surface, the free market seems to be meting out justice in a much more effective manner.
As more men are tarred as bad actors, and once-cherished public figures become pariahs, imposing responsibility can feel uncomfortable, even alarming.
People worry that we are sliding down a slippery slope to neo-puritanism, or in the throes of a witch hunt for sexual impropriety. Perhaps it will turn out that we are. But social science research suggests that this discomfort is a natural consequence of shifting social norms, not necessarily a sign that the changes are going too far.
Humans are wired to conform to group judgments. Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School, argued in an influential paper that we rely more on our peers’ opinions than on actual laws to determine what behavior is right or wrong.
In the famous “conformity study” by the researcher Solomon Asch, a majority of participants chose to select a clearly incorrect answer to a question rather than defy the group and cease being a peer in good standing.
Actually, this misrepresents the Asch study (along with Milgram, Zimbardo, et al). Those experiments were more about obedience than they were conformity. What they discovered is that the power of the social situation can be made powerful enough to get otherwise intelligent people to suspend what they know to be right in order to go along with authority figures and group norms (the motivation for the experiments was understanding Nazi Germany and how so many people participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust). 

It sounds like conformity, but they were measuring something much more sinister: the power and willingness of normal people to go along with authoritarian leaders, even those suspected of being illegitimate, and to engage in behaviors up to and including doing harm to others.
Meanwhile, the old norms of gender roles and hierarchies have not disappeared, and may conflict with new demands for accountability. There is no safe harbor of conformity to be had.
It would be convenient if doing the right thing were easy. But bringing long-hidden harms to the surface cannot help disturbing the status quo. Accounting for years of wrongdoing is costly, and dismantling hierarchies that fostered harm can lead, in the short term, to chaos. Now society must decide how many of those costs it is willing to bear.
Again, yes and no. I think in this privileged world of media, Hollywood and politics, whose perpetrators and victims are largely privileged white men and women, there may indeed be a "reckoning" going on.

But there has been little to no coverage of sexual assault in low income communities, among victim populations who are disproportionately women of color, and in non-glamorous industries like domestic work, fast food, retail or construction. Also missing: the male victims of sexual assault and harassment. 

These stories of Hollywood actors and Big Media celebrities doing bad are salacious but un-relatable for most people. The one thing Big Media loves to do is navel gaze, so when it's one of their own under accusation, the coverage is relentless.

Frankly, until the every-day stories of assault and harassment in the every-day work world start getting the same coverage, there will be little, if any, "national reckoning" or norm changes or cultural shifts taking place. Because also lacking in any of these lurid stories, or the lurid social media reaction to them, is the call for strengthening sexual harassment and assault prevention and education. In social media, the torch and pitchfork crowds demand heads, and then more heads, and the issues of stopping or preventing harassment/assault are ignored.

I'll defer to former congresswoman Patricia Shroeder, who said the goal of sexual harassment education should be to get men to understand that "the word harass is one word, not two." Until we start educating men, male employees in the workforce, and our boys and adolescent males still in school about what is and isn't appropriate behavior, no celebrity having their head handed to them is going to change a thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face

States Suspend Professional Licenses for People Behind on Student Loan Payments:

Fall behind on your student loan payments, lose your job.
Few people realize that the loans they take out to pay for their education could eventually derail their careers. But in 19 states, government agencies can seize state-issued professional licenses from residents who default on their educational debts. Another state, South Dakota, suspends driver’s licenses, making it nearly impossible for people to get to work.
Georgia, incidentally, is one of the 19 that suspend professional licenses for debt collection.
As debt levels rise, creditors are taking increasingly tough actions to chase people who fall behind on student loans. Going after professional licenses stands out as especially punitive.
Not to mention counter intuitive and brain dead. On what planet does it make sense to take away the very means these people have to repay their debts for not repaying their debts? Other than these 19 idiotic states?
Firefighters, nurses, teachers, lawyers, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists and real estate brokers have all had their credentials suspended or revoked.
Determining the number of people who have lost their licenses is impossible because many state agencies and licensing boards don’t track the information. Public records requests by The New York Times identified at least 8,700 cases in which licenses were taken away or put at risk of suspension in recent years, although that tally almost certainly understates the true number.
With student debt levels soaring — the loans are now the largest source of household debt outside of mortgages — so are defaults. Lenders have always pursued delinquent borrowers: by filing lawsuits, garnishing their wages, putting liens on their property and seizing tax refunds. Blocking licenses is a more aggressive weapon, and states are using it on behalf of themselves and the federal government.
And here are the morons and their rationales:
Tennessee is one of the most aggressive states at revoking licenses, the records show. From 2012 to 2017, officials reported more than 5,400 people to professional licensing agencies. Many — nobody knows how many — lost their licenses. Some, like Ms. Otto, lost their careers.
“It’s an attention-getter,” said Peter Abernathy, chief aid and compliance officer for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, a state-run commission that is responsible for enforcing the law. “They made a promise to the federal government that they would repay these funds. This is the last resort to get them back into payment.”
LOL. I'm not sure if this clown has been lobotomized or not, but read that sentence again: "the last resort to get them back into payment" by taking away the very license they need to make payments. Is this something unique to Tennessee logic or, no wait, it's elsewhere.
Two years ago, South Dakota ordered officials to withhold various licenses from people who owe the state money. Nearly 1,000 residents are barred from holding driver’s licenses because of debts owed to state universities, and 1,500 people are prohibited from getting hunting, fishing and camping permits.
“It’s been quite successful,” said Nathan Sanderson, the director of policy and operations for Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The state’s debt collection center — which pursues various debts, including overdue taxes and fines — has brought in $3.3 million since it opened last year. Much of that has flowed back to strapped towns and counties.
Uh huh. So this goof and the one above actually think it's "successful" and a "real attention-getter" (sic) because in some cases debt collections, unrelated to these actual license suspensions according to the Times, are up. 

Frankly, guys like this should lose their jobs and then spend some time rethinking their bottom-feeding "profession" and the lame rationales they use to defend it. Debt and tax collectors are part of a scummy industry that has a long history of such addled defenses like "someone has to do it" and "we're just following orders." Much like the Nuremberg defense, people have been trying to rationalize away this kind of behavior since, well, at least Biblical times. You'll recall, even back then, the only time Jesus allegedly got pissed and went ballistic was with the money changers and debt collectors. Not even the dudes who were crucifying him earned his wrath like the debt collectors did.

For thousands of years they have literally been the worst of the worst. But hey, keep rationalizing bro.
Sanderson countered that people did not have to pay off their debt to regain their licenses — entering into a payment plan was enough.
But those payment plans can be beyond some borrowers’ means.
Tabitha McArdle earned $48,000 when she started out as a teacher in Houston. A single mother, she couldn’t keep up with her monthly $800 student loan payments. In March, the Texas Education Agency put her on a list of 390 teachers whose certifications cannot be renewed until they make steady payments. She now has no license.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who has worked to overturn these laws, called them “tantamount to modern-day debtors’ prison.”
It's not tantamount to, it IS a debtor's prison.  

Look, I don't like people skipping out on their debts anymore than the next guy, particularly if they are going into hoc over things like credit card or gambling debts, or gaming the system via bankruptcy scams, etc. But student loans, frankly, should be forgiven, across the board, in one fell swoop. You want to jump start the economy? Forgive the more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt which saddles more than 44 million Americans to an average debt of $37,000. Wipe it out and watch the economy explode in growth.

But you know why we won't? Because the U.S. continues to stand alone in the world for penalizing people who want to better themselves educationally. We are the only country on the planet that saddles people with crippling debt for the "crime" of wanting to get smarter and have brighter futures and careers. It disincentivizes education for millions who won't risk taking on the debt. And ultimately, it's just another form of social control that leads to vast uneducated masses who do what they're told (and vote accordingly). The one thing the power-elite fears the most in this country is an educated populace (and the subsequent revolution that might bring with it).

I know, I know, I can hear the "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" crowd locking and loading right now: "that's a decision they made, why don't they work their way through school like I did, why should they get away with it?" Right, let's keep them just as uneducated and stupid as you are.

I enjoyed watching this exchange the other day, Senator Orrin Hatch lecturing his fellow senators over how back in his day, a hundred years ago, he worked as a janitor to pay his way through law school and didn't need "the damn government" to help him do it.  Classic. He forgot to mention he was on a full scholarship (socialism!) to law school and only swept halls at nights for beer money.

Frankly, you couldn't even qualify for a student loan to go to law school on what a janitor makes today, let alone pay for it outright. But this is the kind of bootstraps thinking that runs the country today when it comes to education and student loans (and healthcare and ...). 

And the fact that state governments are actively involved in denying people the right to work, because of student loan debt, makes medieval Dickensian England look modern and progressive. 

Jesus was right: there is a special place in hell for you debt collectors. See you there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Today In Stupid

Been in a lull around here lately. I should be writing about sexual harassment, politics, Hollywood, the outrage-industrial complex, pretty much anything serious. But instead, these two stories will have to suffice.

First, parents angry (angry!) at college administrators because they banned alcohol at fraternities and sororities, and that's "ruining their child's" college experience.

Mr. Thrasher, during an interview at The Chronicle’s offices on Monday, said he had heard from other parents who were not as supportive, some of whom had told him that "you’ve ruined my so-and-so’s cultural life."

That sort of backlash, which is sometimes acknowledged privately by college leaders, points toward the role that parents may play in acquiescing in or even encouraging high-risk drinking by students.
Mr. Coffey’s death came at the start of Parents Weekend at Florida State, when students’ families are invited to the campus. At one point during his presidency, Mr. Thrasher said, he was appalled to see parents drinking to excess at a local bar with students, some of whom appeared underage.
"They were doing shots," he recalled. "They were doing the whole deal. I was flabbergasted by that."
Can you imagine being so stupid, so brain-dead as a parent, that you would bitch out your son or daughter's college leaders for banning alcohol at parties? Worse, can you imagine being so idiotic that you go to a parent's weekend and start doing shots with undergraduates, including maybe your own kid, out at bars?

It makes you wonder how junior ever got into a decent school with parents as dumb as this (although the school in question is Florida State, LOL).

Speaking of dumb, THIS GUY:
Police said Dwayne Pope told them he had only three shots of champagne before he was pulled over Sunday after a chase that reached speeds of 155 mph.
But when he stepped out of his car, Alpharetta police saw a man with bloodshot, watery and glassy eyes, according to a police report.
C'mon man. Three shots or three BOTTLES?
An Alpharetta officer was traveling southbound on Ga. 400 near Mansell Road about 3 a.m. when Pope’s car flew past her at more than 105 mph, according to the report. The speed limit for that highway is 65 mph.
LOL. Can you imagine the officer's reaction? What the what?

The officer followed Pope past the Mansell Road exit, activated her emergency lights and siren and attempted to pull Pope over. 
It didn’t work. 
Pope eventually reached 155 mph and was weaving in and out of traffic and braked several times without stopping, according to the report. 
Out of nowhere, police said Pope braked abruptly near the Northridge Road exit and went from 150 to 0 mph in a matter of seconds. 
Pope, who police said smelled of alcohol, told the officer he hadn’t heard the sirens or seen the blue lights.
I guess if you're driving 155mph, you probably don't see or hear much of anything.

It's amazing dude could reach those top speeds being that drunk, as opposed to comatose or whatever. But hey, you do you bro.

Thankfully he didn't kill anyone, but I'll bet he woke up with a whopper of a hangover, and looking  back at him in the mirror is all kinds of jail time + fines.

Moral of the story? Freixenet is not your friend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Fact Checking SCOTUS

It's a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Easy To Find:

The decisions of the Supreme Court are rich with argument, history, some flashes of fine writing, and, of course, legal judgments of great import for all Americans.
They are also supposed to be entirely accurate.
But a ProPublica review of several dozen cases from recent years uncovered a number of false or wholly unsupported factual claims.
The review found an error in a landmark ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts used erroneous data to make claims about comparable rates of voter registration among blacks and whites in six southern states. In another case, Justice Anthony Kennedy falsely claimed that DNA analysis can be used to identify individual suspects in criminal cases with perfect accuracy.
In all, ProPublica found seven errors in a modest sampling of Supreme Court opinions written from 2011 through 2015. In some cases, the errors were introduced by individual justices apparently doing their own research. In others, the errors resulted from false or deeply flawed submissions made to the court by people or organizations seeking to persuade the justices to rule one way or the other.
I've been bitching for years about the inaccuracies in some opinions. Ever since "the efficacy of social scientific research" was proffered in Trop v. Dulles (1958) almost 60 years ago, the court routinely "weighs" the scientific evidence without determining the validity of said evidence
Sometimes justices seem almost amused by that lack. When presented with potentially critical empirical evidence in a major gerrymandering case this month, Chief Justice Roberts joked that “it may be simply my educational background” before describing the material as “sociological gobbledygook.”
The president of the American Sociological Association offered to have a team of sociologists sit down with Chief Justice Roberts after his “gobbledygook” comment.
I remember reading that and thinking the same thing: I'd be more than happy to email you, Chief, and help simplify the "gobbledygook" for you, just hit me up.

In fact, that would be the easiest solution (and once rejected decades ago): hire a team of researchers and analysts analogous to the Congressional Research Office or Congressional Budget Office.
In the 1980s, the legal expert Kenneth Culp Davis proposed that the court create an outside research organization, akin to the Congressional Research Service, to do research on its behalf. However worthwhile, the idea went nowhere.
Perhaps a more viable idea is one that Mr. Davis rejected: establish a group of technical advisers to the court. A small team of social scientists and statisticians could help justices sift through empirical evidence. There is no shortage of scholars with Ph.D.s who would be eager to do that work for the court.
The court could take steps today, without any institutional change, by hiring clerks with empirical training instead of only recently minted J.D.s. Or if there is an immediate and specific need that the current clerks can’t address, justices could have the ability to hire experts to assist them with specific issues.
Most of the errors found in the ProPublica piece aren't earth-shattering or reasons to reverse, necessarily. But we talked about this one the other day in class, on the topic of sex offenders:
In a 2002 opinion, Kennedy wrote that untreated sex offenders commit new sex crimes at a startling rate, “estimated to be as high as 80 percent.” The statistic came from a magazine article, which did not provide a source. The article’s author has admitted to legal scholars the number was a guess. Studies of sex offenders indicate the true rate is a small fraction of the one Kennedy used.
The source of Kennedy's "80% of sex offenders will recidivate" was non-peer reviewed article in Psychology Today, which is a great magazine to thumb through when you're standing in line at the grocery store, but it's right next to The National Enquirer (literally and figuratively) in terms of scientific validity.

Yet his opinion, and that statistic in particular, was then cited over and over to justify the expanding use of civil commitment of sex offenders...a statistic which had no basis in reality (the actual recidivism rate for sex offenders and child molesters is about 5%).

Facts matter, and Roberts could go a long way towards improving the heft of the court's rulings if we could be more confident the data being used to justify their opinions was, in fact, valid.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Congressional Drug Dealers

Drug Czar Nominee Withdrawn:

President Trump’s plans to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic were disrupted on Monday as he came under pressure to abandon a nominee for drug czar who championed legislation undercutting the government’s power to go after pharmaceutical companies that contribute to the crisis.
Even as the president promised to announce a major initiative to stem the wave of opioid abuse as early as next week, Mr. Trump said he would consider scuttling the nomination of Representative Tom Marino as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Mr. Marino, Republican of Pennsylvania, pushed the legislation sought by lobbyists for the drug industry.
“He’s a good man,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference on Monday in the Rose Garden. “I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him, and I’ll make that determination. And if I think it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change, yes.”
The president also suggested that he might favor rethinking the law that Mr. Marino helped pass. “We’re going to look at that very closely,” he said.
Basically, putting this Marino guy, along with his drug-happy colleague Marsha Blackburn, in charge of drug policy in this country is like putting the proverbial fox's in charge of the hen house: they authored and shepherded through congress a bill that protected opioid distributors from legal challenges and investigations by the DEA; a bill the DEA says undercut their authority to stop the epidemic and killed tens of thousands of people in the process. The story broke on 60 Minutes over the weekend.
Mr. Trump’s response came after a joint investigation by CBS’s “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post examined the influence of the drug industry in Washington. The legislation pressed by Mr. Marino was the result of a concerted industry campaign to change the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration in a way that would make it more difficult to stop the flow of painkillers to the black market. The law, passed last year, made it nearly impossible for the D.E.A. to freeze suspicious shipments of drugs, according to documents cited by The Post.

The law was a top priority of the drug industry, which spent $106 million lobbying Congress from 2014 to 2016. Mr. Marino, who received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees representing the industry, according to The Post, was one of the leaders in pushing the bill. Congress passed it with many legislators unaware of its real effect, and President Barack Obama signed it into law, also unaware of its import, according to former administration officials cited by The Post.
Uh huh. This bill passed the Congress by unanimous consent, both houses, both parties, and was signed by Obama, and NOT ONE person read the damn thing or knew what protections they put in place? Protections which shielded the distributors in their criminal activity and allowed the opioid crisis to kill tens of thousands of people? 

Not surprisingly, Obama's AG Eric Holder claims he was unaware of the bill's importance and the change in DEA policy to back off these drug distributing companies, thus making Holder either A. an egregious liar, or B. the most incompetent AG in history (we'll go with B to avoid the debate).  

Watch the 60 Minutes stories. One of the agents even co-opts my phrase "drug dealers in lab coats" that I've been using for over a decade.

The good news this morning is that Marino withdrew his nomination due to the firestorm of protest on social media (including tweets by yours truly). 

As usual, and at the end of the day, I repeat my refrain "follow the money." It shows you how Big Pharma in this country is nothing but a drug cartel of criminals in suits and lab coats, the size of which puts to shame the Escobar brothers or the Medellin gangs of lore. And their infusion of money (hundreds of millions of dollars) into congressional campaigns goes beyond quid pro quo. It defacto makes Congress nothing more than a collection of drug whores and pimps for an industry that is actively killing nearly 65,000 U.S. citizens each year. 

And it's every single member of congress, from every single party, including the independents. It is, quite literally, ALL of you.