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The law school employment crisis

[ 80 ] April 25, 2011 |

I have a piece in TNR that tries to answer what ought to be a straightforward question: What percentage of graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools are getting real legal jobs within nine months of graduation?

If a real legal job is defined as a permanent full-time job that requires a law degree, the answer appears to be something on the order of 30% to 35%. Of course this figure will vary enormously between schools, but given that the overall “employment” rate for their graduates reported by law schools is over 90%, it’s safe to say that the real rate is drastically lower than what individual schools are claiming it is, wherever they may be in the hierarchy.

The real rate is a problem for several reasons, the two most pressing being skyrocketing tuition and declining legal salaries. In constant inflation adjusted dollars, media annual law school tuition since 1985 has gone from $3582 at public schools to $17,757, and from $14,762 to $37,950 at private schools. (In other words public law schools cost more now than private ones did 25 years ago). The median law school debt incurred by students (not overall educational debt, let alone overall debt) is approaching six figures, and is above that already among private school grads (60% of ABA law schools are private).

Then there’s the salary situation. Legal services are being rationalized in ways that are driving down salaries, especially entry-level salaries. Accurate entry level salary information is very difficult to obtain (less than half of graduates report any salary information at all, and those that do are not anything like a representative sample), but it appears that only a minority of the perhaps one-third of law graduates who are getting real legal jobs are getting jobs with salaries that would allow a person to service a six-figure law school debt amortized over ten years (the traditional period) and still eat and pay rent.

Then there’s the matter of how many of the few legal graduates who are getting high paying real legal jobs are doing the kind of work they wanted to do when they went to law school. There’s a lot of data suggesting that associates at big law firms are currently even more miserable than usual, as firms increase billable hour requirements, as they attempt to maintain profits while under increasing pressure from cost-conscious clients.

One obvious question all this should raise is: Why does law school cost so much more than it did just a few years ago? It’s a question to which legal academics haven’t paid nearly enough attention.

The politics of birtherism

[ 30 ] April 23, 2011 |

A new CBS/NY Times poll finds that 47% of Republican voters say Barack Obama was born outside the United States. (Only a third say he was born in this country, while another 22% say they don’t know one way or another).

This can be interpreted in a number of ways. Jon Chait points out that part of the explanation could be low-information voters who don’t really care much about the issue but have some vague idea that questions have been raised regarding it. That’s true — I know several people who tend to vote Republican who fall into this category: they say they don’t care much whether or not Obama was actually born in the US, but they don’t understand why he doesn’t [sic] release his birth certificate and “end the controversy.” But the problem with this explanation is that barely a fifth of Republican voters express doubts about the issue, while nearly half claim to know Obama is lying about being constitutionally eligible to be president, which hardly seems like a trivial complaint.

My take on the matter is that the astonishing number of Republicans who claim to have gone Full Birther is evidence of the extent to which the GOP base has been even more fully taken over by the classic mindset seen among many members of marginalized minority groups — a mindset that is particularly prone to accepting exotic conspiracy theories, and demanding that others in the group accept those theories too, if they wish to fully share in the group identity.

It’s important not to under-estimate the role of Fox News in all this. Fox’s commercial success is based on its intense appeal to a quite narrow demographic: Old white men dominate Fox’s audience to a startling extent (the network’s median viewer is 65, nearly 99% are non-black, and the audience skews heavily male). That appeal is based in large part on Rupert Murdoch’s and Roger Ailes’s canny calculation that many members of this demographic now perceive themselves to belong to a besieged minority group, and many of these people are beset by the classic paranoia that is common among such groups. The genius of Fox is that it has transformed the cohort that has run the country forever – older white Christian men (see, e.g., it’s more than comprehensive coverage of the “War on Christmas”) – into an oppressed minority group, that buys into fantasies of conspiratorial oppression. Indeed, the modern Republican party is based in part on its ability to transform, on a national scale, whiteness into a distinct and defining social identity, which allows people who share it to bond self-consciously over that identity. Fox’s shameless flogging of the barely concealed crypto-racism at the heart of birther fantasies is of a piece with its overall commercial/ideological strategy, which could be summed up as selling identity politics for white people.

New and improved Kinetic Humanitarian Intervention now includes robot killing machines

[ 6 ] April 23, 2011 |

blade runner

Still not a war though.

Interesting thoughts from former Pentagon analyst on the politics of drone warfare.

Flattery will get you everywhere

[ 11 ] April 22, 2011 |

This reminds of this:

UPDATE [SL]: Speaking of which, let’s not forget this special day.

Greenspan shrugged

[ 54 ] April 15, 2011 |


One thing I feel ever so slightly-guilty about (in what is apparently a very non-Objectivist way) is that I’ve never been able to summon the energy to read any Ayn Rand. Given the salience of her views to a large wing of the contemporary GOP, I feel this involves a certain dereliction of intellectual duty.

Maybe I can just see the movie.

Speaking of anachronistic baseball institutions

[ 16 ] April 9, 2011 |

Who's who

Scott’s observations about Murray Chass not cottoning to newfangled statistics or the computer geeks who frighten and confuse him came to mind when I was in a Barnes and Noble this afternoon, and saw copies of Who’s Who in Baseball on the magazine stand. The cover of the thing looks exactly as it did 30 years ago, and the inside is also exactly the same: the editors have decided to stick with the identical stats I remember from the days when the Bee Gees ruled top 40 radio. For example, among the abstruse new stats that still haven’t found their way into Who’s Who’s batting statistics are “walks,” “slugging percentage,” and “on-base percentage.”

Which raises the question, who is plunking down $9.95 for a compendium that has about 2% of the information available for free (in far more up to date form) on a site like Baseball Reference? Apparently the nostalgic tendencies of baseball fans extend to the products of the publishing industry.

Bill Kristol to Barack Obama: You’re the wind beneath my wings

[ 6 ] April 7, 2011 |

PC police cost another white male his job

[ 92 ] April 6, 2011 |

Wisconsin — land of union thugs and activist foie gras-consuming judges — has claimed another victim of liberal orthodoxy

From the WSJ:

Brian Deschane – the 27-year-old son of a prominent lobbyist – was demoted on Tuesday following a public uproar over his appointment to a cushy job earning $81,500 per year working in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.

But check out the two candidates Deschane beat out to get the position as head of environmental and regulatory affairs in the state Department of Commerce:

The first, Oscar Herrera, is a former state cabinet secretary under Republican Gov. Scott McCallum with a doctoral degree and eight years’ experience overseeing the cleanup of petroleum-contaminated sites.

The second, Bernice Mattsson, is a professional engineer who served since 2003 in the post to which Deschane was appointed.

By contrast, Deschane has no college degree, little management experience and a couple of drunken-driving convictions. His father represents a trade group that gave more than $121,000 to Walker and his running mate.

Herrera and Mattsson didn’t get far in the process.

“Neither candidate was interviewed,” said agency spokesman Tony Hozeny.

A superbly qualified white man has been fired from his job because of the whining of a couple of affirmative action hires, which is to say that once again The Market and Meritocracy have been crushed beneath the jackboot of socialist hegemony.


[ 12 ] April 6, 2011 |

I just did a quick Nexis search, and discovered that the query “(Paul Ryan) and serious” produced 314 hits in the last 48 hours.

Browsing through a couple of dozen of them I discovered that Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a serious proposal, which seriously engages with our serious budget problems.

Now here’s what puzzles me: chairs of congressional committees issue legislative proposals all the time. This proposal obviously has no chance of going anywhere. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and privatizing Medicare (the centerpiece of the whole thing) is no more likely to be approved by either entity than a proposal to change the motto on our currency to From Each According to His Abilities; To Each According to His Needs would get serious consideration if Sarah Palin were president and the Tea Party had 52 senate seats.

So why are “we” (meaning, I suppose in the first instance the Village) all talking about this?

. . . Reading the comment thread in Scott’s post below, it suddenly seems clear that having a “national conversation” about this Winger fever dream is a classic goal post shifting move, whereby the Catfood Commission suddenly becomes David Broder’s the ghost of David Broder’s favorite example of moist, tender and flaky moderate consensus goodness.

Worth a thousand words

[ 44 ] April 5, 2011 |


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Tax documents show unwed mother Bristol Palin earned more than $262,000 for her role helping raise awareness for teen pregnancy prevention in 2009.

The most recent data for The Candie’s Foundation that’s posted online by research firm GuideStar shows compensation at $262,500 for the now-20-year-old daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

Bristol Palin was 18 when she was appointed as a teen ambassador for the New York-based foundation in 2009, months after giving birth to son, Tripp. She and the 2-year-old boy’s father are no longer together.

Don’t follow leaders

[ 95 ] April 5, 2011 |

Anyone who has blogged or indeed done any form of journamalism for very long has published things they regret, so it’s a bit unfair to focus too much on particular lapses of judgment by a good writers, especially whenever such authors, like Job and Robert McNamara, abhor themselves and repent (sort of).

So the point here isn’t to bash anyone in particular, but rather to focus on the substance of the claim that it makes sense to trust Barack Obama’s judgment over your own because he’s supposedly smarter, better informed, better able to understand the the consequences of his actions, and more far-sighted than you are.

On at least one level I would like to believe this is true — few people are completely immune to the attractions of authoritarianism, and it would be pretty to think that our leaders are at heart good parents, who want only the best for the sometimes wayward children they protect and defend.

But I would also like to think that when I became a man I put aside childish things, and a child-like trust in the authorities is one of those things.

So in general I don’t trust Barack Obama’s judgment over my own, and I see no reason to do so. The reasons given for doing so really come down to two: he’s smarter and better-informed than I am (I take “better able to understand the consequences of his actions” and “more far-sighted” as just specific examples of, respectively, having better information and being smarter).

But is this true? In what sense is Obama “smarter” than me (or you?). It’s become a platitude that intelligence comes in many forms, but it’s a platitude precisely because it’s true. Now it so happens that Obama’s demonstrated forms of intelligence — doing well in school and being a fluent writer — are ones we share. It also happens that the value of that kind of intelligence for the purposes of political leadership, while not negligible, tends to be overstated by fluent writers who did well in school. (In terms of sheer analytical intelligence, two of the top three presidents were probably Wilson and Nixon, who are also two of the very worst). Anyway, the claim that Obama can be trusted to make good decisions because he’s “smart” depends, to put it mildly, on a great deal of faith-based reasoning in regard to both his general intelligence and especially in regard to the degree to which the specific sort of intelligence he possesses translates into being a good leader.

Then there’s the claim that Obama is “better informed.” This could mean he’s better informed in general — better educated and possessing greater relevant experience — or it can mean more knowledgeable regarding the specific issue at hand. The first claim is weak. Obama’s education was a typical one for members of the professional classes in contemporary America, and his relevant experience for the office of the presidency was unusually slender for someone in his position. So, in my view, “trusting” Obama about Libya or Guantanamo or anything else comes down to the claim that he is privy to information that makes his judgment more trustworthy than yours or mine. Now obviously this is by nature an untestable proposition — the evidence for it being the kind of evidence that ex hypothesi isn’t available to you and me — but it’s worth noting that this is precisely the same claim that was made for why people should trust George W. Bush to “keep us safe” by locking people up forever without trials and torturing some of them in the bargain.

It goes without saying that a president is going to have access to some information that isn’t available to ordinary citizens (it should also go without saying that presidents are constantly trying to expand the extent of that information gap). But in the end, decisions such as whether to place people in “indefinite detention” rather than charging them with crimes and putting them on trial, or whether to engage in unilateral warfare in the pursuit of this or that supposedly crucial national interest or universal value, are at bottom matters of principle more than of pragmatic judgment. And on that score, there’s not the slightest reason to think that Barack Obama’s judgment is to be trusted any more than George W. Bush’s was — especially given the striking similarities in many of their policies regarding the central political and moral questions of their respective administrations.

More on the constitutionality of US participation in the Libyan civil war

[ 37 ] April 4, 2011 |

Bruce Ackerman points out that Obama’s actions are arguably even more imperious than the constitutionally questionable actions of his predecessors, in regard to unilateral presidential decisions to engage in war.

As in the case of civil liberties abuses, this is yet another instance where progressives have as a practical matter almost no representation in the political process. Most Republicans have decided that their love for imperial adventures trumps their hatred of Obama (at least until something starts to go wrong), while most Democrats have either chosen to duck and cover, or have decided that Obama is so smart and wise and full of good judgment that they’ll put their objections aside.

On a related note.

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