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Well-qualified law school applicant pool declines by 61%

[ 32 ] June 23, 2017 |

Paul Caron, who just became dean of Pepperdine’s law school, crunched some numbers in regard to the LSAT scores of law school applicants over the past seven years. The results are startling.

I’ve converted Caron’s percentage figures into raw numbers. In 2010, 87,900 people applied for the fall term. 35,863 of them had LSAT scores of 160 or higher. (160 is the 80th percentile on the test.). Approximately 53,500 people have or will apply for admission to ABA law schools this fall.* About 14,065 of them will have LSAT scores of 160 or higher. This is a 61% decline. Meanwhile, the total number of applicants with LSAT scores below 150 (the 50th percentile) has increased from 12,300 to 18,725.

So while the law school applicant pool as a whole has declined by 39%, the decline in better-qualified** candidates has been 56% greater than the decline in the total applicant pool, while the pool made up of weakest candidates has increased by more than 50% in absolute terms, and by 150% as a percentage of the total applicant pool.

All this is obviously bad for law schools. Whether it’s bad for the legal profession in particular, or society more generally, is a more complicated question.

*Prior to 2016, LSAC published applicant totals for the fall term only. Starting last year, it started publishing all-term applicant totals. I’ve compared all-term to fall-only applicant totals for 2015 and 2016, and adjusted the projected final 2017 totals accordingly, to exclude people applying to terms other than the fall.

**On the one hand, LSAT scores are only rough proxy for applicant quality. On the other hand, when the percentage of applicants with below 50% percentile LSAT scores grows from 14% to 35%, it’s safe to say the quality of the applicant pool is deteriorating badly.



[ 108 ] June 22, 2017 |

Moving this comment from Epidemiologist to the top, regarding the arrests of disabled people by the Capitol police:

This is a friendly reminder to share this stuff widely.

Personally my FB is still really mixed and is not blowing up nearly enough about this bill being released and the treatment of protestors. You can help change all that! You can also help the ADAPT members’ civil disobedience and the abuse they received in response have the greatest possible impact to actually save lives by making sure people see it and know about it. This is a great example of a really powerful moment, complete with images, that crystallizes the issues and that no one should get to not know about by the end of today.

Everyone here is someone’s smart friend or their political junkie acquaintance. You have credibility with people around you that you may not even know about. You should spend that social capital now to try to fight evil and save lives. Words like “unAmerican”, “evil”, and “murder” are not hyperbole here. Personally my favorite hashtag is #cowardcaucus. How helpful of the Republicans to make it relevant again the day they released this bill by refusing to look people with disabilities in the face.

Bill Cosby to hold sexual assault workshops

[ 50 ] June 22, 2017 |

Because America 2017 this is a real headline.

First powerpoint slide:


Framing effects and health care

[ 91 ] June 22, 2017 |

Jon Chait makes an interesting point about how McConnell and Co. are taking advantage of social psychology to ram through their health care bill:

If the bill passes — which, at this early moment in the lightning-fast process, seems quite likely — it will be because McConnell took advantage of the anchoring effect. The starting point is a brutal, cruel piece of legislation with massively unpopular features. (The public overwhelmingly opposes Medicaid cuts, which are the bill’s most pronounced effect.) It will reportedly draw public opposition from at least some holdout Republicans. At that point, the holdouts will be able to wrest relatively small concessions from McConnell.

These concessions will have outsized political impact. They will be new and newsy, and reporters will be drawn from the old story — the outlines of the bill — toward the newer developments. The major coverage of the bill will likely focus on changes in the proposed law that make coverage more affordable. The overall law will still make coverage less affordable overall, but that large fact will remain in the background.

Social scientists call this this “anchoring effect.” People tend to have hazy ideas about what is sensible or fair, and have a cognitive bias toward “anchoring” their sense of the correct answer by whatever number is presented to them initially. In one typical experiment, people in job interviews who start by mentioning absurdly high sums, even as an obvious joke, could get higher offers.

The Senators who negotiate those small changes will attract outsized attention, and their public imprint will disproportionately shape coverage. This effect might wear off over a longer period of time, but it can well succeed in the compressed time frame McConnell intends to permit.
That is how a House bill that seemed to be dead was quickly resurrected. Representative Tom MacArthur proposed an amendment, and his amendment, however tiny, represented movement. The movement, not the overall contours of the bill, dominated both news coverage and the vulnerable members’ thinking. In the end, the revised version of the House bill reduced the number of insured Americans by 23 million rather than the original 24 million. It was the 1 million fewer, not the 23 million remaining, that mattered most when it counted.

But Democrats should be able to take advantage of some other psychological tendencies to make the GOP pay at the ballot box. As famously demonstrated by Kahneman and Tversky, prospect theory could be summarized as, “people hate to lose more than they like to win,” or, alternatively, “people value keeping what they have more than they value gaining something they don’t yet have.”

Here’s a classic example: Suppose you are given $1000. Then you are presented with the following option: you can get another $500 for sure, or flip a coin, and, if you call it correctly, get another $1000. Now a risk neutral person will (if we assume no declining marginal utility associated with the sums in the example) be indifferent between these two options, since $500 more for sure is statistically identical to a .5 chance of winning $1000.

Now change the example in this way: You are given $2000. You must then either give $500 back, or flip a coin, and if you lose the coin flip you have to give $1000 back, while if you win you keep all $2000.

Statistically speaking, these scenarios are identical: the expected value of all four options is $1500. But a large majority of people consistently chooses the sure thing in scenario A, while an equally large majority chooses to flip the coin in scenario B. Why? Kahneman and Tversky found that people are on average much more reluctant to give something back that they already have than they are to gamble on acquiring a statistically identical gain. In other words, people are risk averse when considering potential gains, and risk seeking when contemplating potential losses.

This suggests that, politically speaking, it should be much more difficult to alter the status quo to give people health care than to alter it to take it away. Which in turn suggests that the GOP attack on the ACA is going to be a political disaster for them (with due caveats for voter suppression, dark money, white identity politics etc.)

Elite institutions aren’t egalitarian

[ 136 ] June 21, 2017 |

You would think the title of this post would qualify as a straight-up tautology, but that apparent fact doesn’t stop a thousand stories from being published about how we can attack economic and social inequality by getting more poor kids into elite colleges and universities.

The latest entrant into this genre comes from the University of Michigan, a great public university for which I have a lot of affection. I got a hat trick of degrees from the place in the 1980s, when you could pay your tuition by mowing lawns in the summer if you were willing to walk to school uphill both ways in the winter. (Not really: UM was the most expensive public school in the country at the time. Still, in-state undergraduate tuition was around $4,000 per year in 2017 dollars).

Anyway, I’m betting the U got a bit embarrassed by this fascinating story published in the Times in January, which among many other things revealed that Michigan students born in 1991 — roughly the class of 2013 — came from families with a higher median income ($154,000) than at any other highly selective public college in the nation. (You can use the story’s interactive feature to look up all sorts of income stats for thousands of colleges and universities).

So last week Michigan announced that it was going to provide free tuition to in-state undergraduate students from families making less than $65,000 per year (This is just about the median for family income in the state. Note that family income tends to be around 20% higher than household income, which is the more commonly cited figure).

UM President Mark Schlissel surprised the audience inside the Michigan Union by announcing the creation of the Go Blue Guarantee to kick off the meeting Thursday, prior to the Regents’ vote on the budget for the upcoming year.

Schlissel became emotional when talking about the opportunities the initiative would afford for low and middle income families after the Board of Regents approved the budget with a 7-1 vote.

“We now guarantee those with the most need can afford a University of Michigan education,” Schlissel said. “The Go Blue Guarantee cuts through the complexities of financial aid to help us reach talented students from all communities in our state. I’ve always believed that talent is ubiquitous in our society, but opportunity most certainly is not.”

“I think about the seventh grader in Ypsilanti or Detroit or Grand Rapids whose mom or dad can say to them, ‘Work hard. Do well in school. You can go to the University of Michigan,'” Schlissel added. “There are a lot of folks now that can’t really say that because they don’t know if they can afford it. Now there’s a whole rising generation in our state that can aspire to our great university. I’m extremely, extremely proud of that.”

Now I think this is a fine thing to do. Still, it’s going to cost the university almost nothing, for reasons that should be sobering. Michigan estimates that the Go Blue Guarantee is going to cost an estimated $12 to $16 million per year, which works out to $277 for every student enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus. That campus has a $7.5 billion operating budget, and an endowment which is probably north of $10 billion at the moment. So the cost of this initiative isn’t exactly a rounding error, in the same sense that the football coach’s salary isn’t a rounding error, but it’s not as if the administration is going to have to dig around in the couch cushions either. And of course the initiative itself will provide a prime opportunity for yet more fundraising.

The reasons guaranteeing free tuition for in-state students whose families make less than $65,000 is going to cost almost nothing are:

(a) Such students were already paying little or no tuition, because of a combination of federal Pell grants, state, local, and private scholarships, and university-provided need-based aid; and, crucially,

(b) Only a small minority of Michigan students come from families making less than $65,000 per year.

How small is hard to say exactly, but given that per the tax records used in the NYT story two thirds of all undergrads came from households in the top 20% of family income, and only 3.6% came from families in the bottom 20% of income, it seems likely that no more than one in seven or eight Michigan in-state undergrads would qualify for the Go Blue Guarantee (and as noted, these students were already paying fairly minimal if any tuition).

Now why do so few Michigan students come from genuinely middle class — let alone working class or poor — families? It’s not because Michigan is an expensive school: for such students, it isn’t, except in the sense that spending four or more years in college is always expensive at least the short term, even for people paying little or no tuition, because of opportunity costs.

It’s because Michigan is a very hard school to get into: the median SAT/ACT test scores for matriculants are in the 98th percentile, and their median GPA was 3.83, i.e., almost straight As. And of course upper class students are far more likely to have very high test scores and excellent high school grades than students from less privileged backgrounds.

All of this is to say that elite institutions are by design, conscious or otherwise, replicators of existing class hierarchies, and must be so by their very nature. Making extra efforts to find exceptionally academically talented and hardworking kids from non-privileged backgrounds is nice — again I’m all for such efforts — but such efforts have nothing to do with genuine egalitarianism, because they are ultimately the opposite of that.

There is something both pitiful and disturbing about Schlissel’s advice to “work hard, do well in school, and you can go to the University of Michigan.” For the vast majority of kids who are given this advice, this is flatly false. They can’t go, because they don’t and will never have the ability to get admitted to a highly selective college. They don’t both because the vast majority of people don’t have this ability — that’s literally what it means for a college to be highly selective — and because, even among people born with the potential for academic excellence, those born into privilege will have countless advantages, big and small, in the social competition to achieve academic distinction.

But even if the latter fact were magically eliminated or less magically ameliorated, the former circumstance — that the vast majority of people are never going to get into elite colleges — would remain completely unchanged.

And none of this even touches on a host of issues surrounding what sorts of advantages people of different class backgrounds do or don’t get by attending an elite, or semi-elite, or wanna-be elite college. (Regarding this point, see Elizabeth Armstrong’s and Laura Hamilton’s excellent Paying for the Party).

In a country in which the ruling political party’s economic mantra might as well be “fuck the poor,” the message that if you’re a poor kid from Ypsilanti — this is also a code for black naturally — you should work hard so you can go to the University of Michigan for “free” counts as a progressive political position. It really isn’t, but I suppose for the moment it will have to do.

This is now completely normal

[ 167 ] June 16, 2017 |

Donald J. Trump‏Verified account @realDonaldTrump 45m45 minutes ago
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
16,864 replies 10,438 retweets 29,261 likes
Reply 17K Retweet 10K Like 29K

The man in question is Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein, who is the person who has the authority to fire Robert Mueller.

Note: Trump and Rosenstein have both said that Trump decided to fire Comey before he got any recommendation from Rosenstein.

I would be very surprised if Trump doesn’t fire Rosenstein, so that he can appoint an even more pliable lackey to rid him of this turbulent prosecutor.

Shooting at congressional baseball practice

[ 267 ] June 14, 2017 |

Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip, Is Shot at Ball Field
By CHRISTOPHER MELE 7 minutes ago
The shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where members of a congressional team regularly practice, left at least five injured, an official said.
The police said on Twitter that a suspect was in custody.

Mr. Brooks described a scene of chaos and of players taking cover wherever they could on the field.

He said that members of a security team exchanged gunfire with the gunman, who was armed with a rifle. The gunman said nothing as he opened fire, Mr. Brooks said. About 50 shots were fired, congressional sources said.

Speaking of senile hackery

[ 76 ] June 8, 2017 |

Even the Liberal Alan Dershowitz is spouting a bunch of nonsense about how, since the POTUS has the legal authority to fire the director of the FBI, exercising that authority can’t be obstruction of justice by definition.

This makes about as much sense as arguing that since the president has the legal authority to command the armed forces, ordering the army to kill his political opponents can’t be murder.

Now the intersection between the criminal justice system and the office of the president is a murky area in the law. For example, t’s not clear whether a sitting president can be indicted for a crime while he’s in office, or if he can pardon himself. (It would be nice to think that there’s currently no formal resolution of these issues because the people who formulated these rules were innocent enough not to consider the possibility that anybody could be shameless enough to pardon himself). It’s certainly possible that the federal courts would hold that the POTUS can’t be prosecuted for obstruction of justice while still in office. But, as a practical matter, there isn’t the slightest doubt that Congress has an essentially un-reviewable power to decide what constitutes obstruction of justice for the purposes of impeachment and removal.

In short, the claim that the president can’t obstruct justice by doing an otherwise legal act is, if not quite frivolous in the formal legal sense, an obviously specious argument. It’s the kind of argument that should get somebody the lowest grade they give out these days at Dershowitz’s law school, which I understand is something like an A almost minus. To present it as a self-evident truth is either the epitome of bad faith, or a product of McCain-level cognitive deterioration.

Banana Republicans

[ 65 ] June 7, 2017 |

And what does the Mouth of Sauron the Republican National Committee have to say about James Comey’s prepared testimony?


Comey’s statement more than arguably lays out President Trump’s commission of obstruction of justice, although to be fair Trump also denies knowingly “sleeping” “with” “Russian” “hookers.”

How low can this country sink? I guess we’re going to find out.

Cleek’s revenge

[ 294 ] June 6, 2017 |

I woke up this morning, and I wanted Hillary to run.

This is:

(a) The worst first line for a blues song ever.

(b) Every RWNJ’s least lurid fantasy involving Hillary Clinton.

(c) The actual mental state of your faithful correspondent.

I don’t know about the other two, but (c) is a true and correct answer.

I want Hillary to run because I have come to viscerally hate the right wing in this country, and Hillary running (and winning — this could be tricky I guess) would make them the maddest and the saddest of all the possible 2020 outcomes.

True confession.

Now I don’t even like Hillary Clinton. Never have. I don’t like her centrist inclinations, her deep affection for the status quo, her often lousy political instincts, etc. etc. etc.

But what I like even less is the rampant sexism that is so obviously driving the hysterical reactions among both leftier than thou types and plenty of mainstream liberals to Clinton’s decision not to exile herself permanently from public life. Apparently, that she has the temerity to continue to participate in contemporary politics, by commenting on current events and so forth, is just too much for these people.

Combine that with the veritable fact that a Clinton presidency in 2021 would fill the entire right wing in this country with rage and despair to a degree that’s almost unimaginable, and that’s good enough for me.

Mass workplace shooting in Orlando not terrorism-related

[ 73 ] June 5, 2017 |

Therefore CNN will give it approximately .172% as much coverage as it gave and is continuing to give the London Bridge attack, even though the odds of an average CNN viewer being killed in a non-terrorism related shooting are approximately 17,531% higher than the odds of that viewer being killed in a terrorist attack.


Also, too, Maggie Haberman made a good point about Trump’s twittering:

And calling them “tweets” minimizes them. They’re statements from the president made on Twitter.

Apparently there’s now a bot that turns Trump’s tweets into official White House statements. Hours of fun for the whole family!

Backwards Christian soldiers

[ 183 ] June 2, 2017 |

Two days before his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump greeted a pair of visitors at his office in Trump Tower.

As a swarm of reporters waited in the gilded lobby, the Rev. Patrick O’Connor, the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Queens, and the Rev. Scott Black Johnston, the senior pastor of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, arrived to pray with the next president.

From behind his desk on the 26th floor, Trump faced the Celtic cross at the top of the steeple of Johnston’s church, located a block south on Fifth Avenue. When Johnston pointed it out to Trump, the President-elect responded by marveling at the thick glass on the windows of his office — bulletproof panels installed after the election.

It was clear that Trump was still preoccupied with his November victory, and pleased with his performance with one constituency in particular.

“I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” Trump interjected in the middle of the conversation — previously unreported comments that were described to me by both pastors.

They gently reminded Trump that neither of them was an evangelical.

“Well, what are you then?” Trump asked.

They explained they were mainline Protestants, the same Christian tradition in which Trump, a self-described Presbyterian, was raised and claims membership. Like many mainline pastors, they told the President-elect, they lead diverse congregations.

Trump nodded along, then posed another question to the two men: “But you’re all Christians?”
“Yes, we’re all Christians.”

Marge: I have a responsibility to raise these children right and, unless you change, I’ll have to tell them their father is… well, wicked.
Homer: [to Lisa and Bart] Kids, let me tell you about another so-called wicked guy. He had long hair, and some wild ideas, and he didn’t always do what other people thought was right. And that man’s name was…
Homer: I forget. But the point is…
Homer: I forget that, too.
[to Marge]
Homer: Marge, you know who I’m talking about! He used to drive that blue car.

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