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A debate between the war parties

[ 56 ] October 22, 2012 |

Tonight’s debate will among other things serve as a reminder that there is no longer an anti-war party, or even anti-war wing of a party, in American politics, at least among those political parties whose existence is acknowledged by the people who define the borders of acceptable public discourse. It’s completely impossible to imagine a “serious” presidential candidate saying anything about our current wars even remotely like what George McGovern said to his fellow senators in September of 1970 regarding the Vietnam War:

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land-young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.”

There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.

And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: “A contentious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”

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What the world needs now

[ 31 ] October 22, 2012 |

If you guessed “another folk singer” you are incorrect.

James Shadid, a federal judge in Peoria, IL has a dream: He wants to start a new law school at Bradley University (h/t LSTB). Now the state of Illinois already has nine law schools, and indeed the University of Illinois itself is a mere 90 miles from Peoria. So it’s not as if kids who grow up on the shores of the Illinois River have to undertake a heroic quest to reach their long-cherished goal of attendance at an actual ABA-accredited law school: a fairly short drive down I-74 will do the trick.

But it’s true that Peoria itself (pop. 115,007) doesn’t have a law school yet. This troubles Judge Shadid, who graduated from Bradley 33 years ago, and John Marshall Law School shortly after that, and who exhibits severe symptoms of Baby Boomer Delusion Syndrome. It also troubles Gary Roberts, dean of Indiana University-Indianapolis’s law school, and another Bradley alum:

[Roberts] says the absence of a law school in Peoria means not just inconvenience for local would-be students, but added expense in that they have to pay room and board to study law. And whereas wage-earners in other, bigger cities can earn law degrees at night, that’s impossible in Peoria.

“There’s this large lacuna in the middle of Illinois where people can’t afford law school,” Roberts says. Roberts says the study showed that U of I law grads tend to head to Chicago or out of state, often to seek high-paying jobs, to better pay off massive tuition loans. But if tuition were kept relatively low at a Peoria law school, grads would be less beholden to big loans and more apt to seek work hereabouts, Roberts says.

This brings to mind a headline from America’s most trusted news source.

There’s a large lacuna in the middle of Dean Roberts’ analysis, namely any evidence that there are people ready, willing, and able to pay for legal services “hereabouts” who are having difficulty securing such services because of a shortage of lawyers in the greater Peoria metropolitan area. This hypothesis is implausible in the extreme.

Another gap in the data that needs filling is the answer to the question of how many people who live in or near Peoria aren’t going to law school because, if there were a law school in Peoria, the savings produced by not having to pay for room and board would convince them to do so. Let’s do a little math here. Approximately .1% of the US population lives within a 45-minute drive of downtown Peoria. Assume this population contains an average number of potential law students. This means about 45 people who live within commuting distance of our hypothetical law school enroll in all ABA law schools in America, combined, each year.

According to Roberts, the marginal value generated by Bradley’s law school would be generated largely by the fact that it would allow people who live within a reasonable drive of Peoria, who currently aren’t enrolling in law school because of cost considerations, to choose to enroll at a new law school in Peoria because they wouldn’t have to pay room and board. (Of course these people still have to incur expenses for room and board — what Roberts means is that they won’t have to borrow money for these expenses because they will be gifted to them by long-suffering parents, or shorter-suffering domestic partners).

On average, how many people per year are going to fit this description? Three. (This is an estimate. It might be five). So the theory is that these three people per year who aren’t going to law school now because of cost will go to this new law school where they won’t have to pay living expenses, and will subsequently get jobs as lawyers in or near Peoria, thereby ameliorating the lawyer shortage in the Peoria area.

The other justification for starting yet another law school is that this school will burst the shackles of Langdellian pedagogy, by sending its third year class off into the world of legal practice:

Instead of taking classes during the third and last year, students would be placed in legal settings – with private attorneys, with county prosecutors and public defenders, or with corporations’ legal teams – to assist on real cases.

I’m no expert but I suspect it’s illegal for students to work for private attorneys or corporations for free, and that it violates ABA rules to give academic credit for paid work. Beyond that, this innovative idea is of course merely a more elaborate version of the growing trend all across legal academia to turn the third year into an outsourced apprenticeship while still collecting another year of tuition.

Now for whatever reason I’m feeling optimistic this morning, and I doubt this proposed law school is actually going to come into being. What’s interesting to me are the motivations of people like Shadid and Roberts. They don’t appear to be in any position to profit from this school, at least in any pecuniary sense. (Indeed as a dean at competing law school Roberts’ straightforward economic interest, however tenuous, would be to oppose this project).

Rather I suspect their motivations are more benign, which in a sense makes those motivations more dangerous. What’s going on here, I think, is that these Bradley alums want their alma mater to benefit from the “prestige” of having a law school. The benefits they would get from this project are psychic, which makes it easier for them to interpret their own motivations as genuinely altruistic. They really believe they would be doing their university and its surrounding community a service by starting a law school.

This idea, which to those of us who have passed over to the other side of this implicit debate is obviously insane on its face, seems to them eminently sensible. After all, look how well things have worked out for them personally. In other words, they really believe their own propaganda, which is the mark of a fully internalized ideology. And people like that are way more dangerous than self-conscious scam artists, because they have moral righteousness on their side.

George McGovern

[ 79 ] October 21, 2012 |

George McGovern has died. That McGovern suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon is as good example as any of everything that has gone wrong with politics in this country over the past 40 years.

Some team or the other beat the Yankees

[ 163 ] October 18, 2012 |

Having the best pitcher and hitter in baseball might have had something to do with it.

In all semi-seriousness, the ARod situation is going to be extremely awkward going forward. Traditionally, a player in this circumstance would insist on a trade and would get one, but unless NY is willing to light about $100 million of his contract on fire he can’t be traded.

UPDATE [SL] The happiest day of the year, Yankee elimination day!

Congrats to the Tigers, who I’ll be rooting for in the World Series. And I’ll also be giving $50 to Planned Parenthood, my usual bet with Howard that I’ll be doubly happy to pay up on.

In Obama’s America

[ 59 ] October 18, 2012 |

Shorter literal William Kristol:

When The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is written centuries hence, the date October 17, 2012, will occupy a prominent place in the narrative. On this day, a playoff game between the Yankees and the Tigers in Detroit was called not because of rain, but because of … the threat of rain. Just as today’s “liberalism has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism,” so, in Obama’s America, Major League Baseball cancels games not because of rain but because of trembling in the presence of the threat of rain.

OK he’s kidding.

Right?

The magic of the market

[ 67 ] October 18, 2012 |

Master of the Universe emeritus Vikram Pandit has gotten bounced from his perch as CEO of Citigroup, but, unlike most unemployed Americans, he won’t have to worry about how to pay the bills until he can find another job.

Citigroup’s stock today is worth about a tenth of what it was trading at when Pandit took over. Indeed the company exists today only because the U.S. government saw fit to deploy many billions of taxpayer dollars to keep it from going bankrupt in the fall of 2008, after Citi and friends caused a global financial meltdown through their grotesque mismanagement of their clients’ assets.

As a token of the firm’s gratitude for the role he played in all this, Pandit is walking away with approximately $260 million in compensation. (In America in 2012, this is known as “letting the market reward performance.”).

This heartwarming success story ought to be appreciated in the context of the latest statistics regarding the distribution of wealth in America. In what follows, I’ve used the consumer price index to transform all the figures into current, inflation-adjusted dollars:

*Median household income in the US was approximately $51,000 in 2011. This means half of all households lived on $4,250 per month (before taxes) or less.
*One out of five American households, or about sixty million Americans, lived on $20,000 or less, or $1,667 per month before taxes.
*Forty years ago, median household income in the US was $47,000 per year. The poorest fifth of American households lived on $19,500 or less.
*Over the past forty years, America’s gross domestic product has tripled. When taking into account population growth, this means Americans are on average more than twice as rich as they were in 1972. But the word “average” is tricky: as the old statistics joke has it, if you’ve got one foot in a campfire and the other in a bucket of ice water you are on average comfortable.

Obviously neither average American families nor poor ones are appreciably better off in economic terms than they were four decades ago: Household income for most Americans in general, and the poorer half of the population in particular, has barely budged since the early 1970s.

So where have all those trillions of dollars in increased wealth gone? Consider: in 1972 the 95th percentile of household income was $127,500. In 2011 it was $186,000. So what Paul Ryan thinks of as the very bottom rung of the “upper middle class” is doing somewhat better for itself.

But when we look at people even Mitt Romney would think of as “well off” we get a real glimpse into where all the money has gone. In the late 1970s the richest 10,000 American families had an average annual income, in 2011 dollars, of $5.8 million per year. Today this same group’s income has increased more than five times in real terms, to an average of $30 million per year (thanks to the mysterious wisdom of The Market, Vikram Pandit has been smack in the middle of this cohort).

It wasn’t always this way in America. Between 1950 and 1965 the nation’s economy boomed – but so did median family income. Indeed, every dollar of increased GDP during these years resulted in an eighty-one cent increase in median family income, which rose from under $30,000 to nearly $50,000 over that time span, where it’s been stuck ever since.

During the post-war boom, as America got rich, most Americans shared in the wealth. Over the past several decades, the nation as a whole has gotten vastly wealthier, but the vast majority of Americans have seen little or no improvement in their economic circumstances. Instead, crony capitalists like Pandit have profited from a political system that’s more interested in bailing out irresponsible financiers than it is in doing anything about the economic circumstances of people who can’t list “almost wrecked the world economy” as a professional accomplishment.

Division series previews

[ 52 ] October 12, 2012 |

Here’s LGM’s official ALDS and NLDS previews:

American League:

Baltimore v. New York:

Much as we would like to see this series pushed to five games, the Cinderella story ends with a three-game sweep by the Evil Empire. We foresee big series from ARod and Granderson in particular, while Derek Jeter racks up a range factor that brings back memories of Nap Lajoie in 1917.

Detroit v. Oakland:

This will be a tough five-gamer, with Justin Verlander making the difference for the Motowners in the first and last game of the series.

NL:

Cincinnati v. San Francisco;

Look for the Redlegs to storm out to a two game lead, only to have San Francisco push the series to a decisive fifth game, which will be taken by Cincinnati.

St. Louis v. Washington: On paper, this is an easy win for the Nationals. Baseball isn’t played on paper. St. Louis in four.

Politics as entertainment

[ 137 ] October 8, 2012 |

margie

This Andrew Sullivan post takes the view that the first debate has come close to handing the election to Romney. That claim — based largely as far as I can tell on the results of one three-day post-debate tracking poll — seems like a huge exaggeration, but it does highlight the essential absurdity of the whole “debate” rigamarole.

Obama has been president for four years. Mitt Romney is understood even by most of his supporters to be a political opportunist of the first order, who will use an occasion like one of these deeply phony infotainment pseudo-events to say whatever he needs to say to maximize his chances of getting elected.

That anyone — even what are described delicately as “low-information voters” — would base any part of their vote on a candidate’s performance (le mot juste) in one of these things is a sobering thought.

Time for another drink!

A blizzard of special snowflakes

[ 22 ] October 3, 2012 |

I have a Salon piece inspired by Erik’s Duke-bashing post.

The great issue of our time

[ 130 ] October 2, 2012 |

Has, somewhat surprisingly, not yet been addressed by LGM.

I have a couple of biases to declare, namely that I root for the Tigers and against stupidity, which naturally leaves me feeling torn on the Cabrera-Trout issue. (A friend of mine points out to me that exactly the same people who were arguing for Ichiro as the 2001 MVP because fielding and baserunning are so important are the same people arguing for Cabrera today because those things are too hard to quantify).

A couple of notes:

(1) It’s important not to exaggerate the scientific precision of a stat like WAR — the levels of uncertainty involved in the calculation mean that, for example, if I had a vote I would pay almost no attention to the fact that at least one version of WAR concludes that Cabrera isn’t even the most valuable player on his team this year (Verlander, by the way, has had an almost identical season to his MVP-winning 2011 year, minus the gaudy W-L record). But the gap here is enormous — basically according to advanced stats the gap between Trout and Cabrera is equal to the gap between Cabrera and an average-quality major league regular.

(2) Trout’s WAR numbers would be even higher except he missed the first 10% of the season getting into playing shape in Triple AAA after missing most of spring training with an illness. As it is he’s still having one of the best half dozen or so post WW-II seasons by a position player per this metric. And it’s certainly the greatest rookie season ever.

Slaves of DC

[ 28 ] October 2, 2012 |

“Your great-grandfather was a former governor of this state,” she said. “Your grandfather was a prosperous land-owner. Your grandmother was a Godhigh.”

“Will you look around you,” he said tensely, “and see where you are now?” and he swept his arm jerkily out to indicate the neighborhood, which the growing darkness at least made less dingy.

“You remain what you are,” she said. “Your great-grandfather had a plantation and two hundred slaves.”

“There are no more slaves,” he said irritably.

— Flannery O’Connor, Everything That Rises Must Converge —

I was talking to a journalist yesterday about the law school mess, and she mentioned interviewing a couple of people in front of American University’s law school, which according to the school’s virtual tour of its facilities is in one of DC’s more desirable areas:

Located on tree-lined Massachusetts Avenue in the District, WCL is minutes from downtown D.C. yet close to parks, trails, neighborhood restaurants, shopping, and some of the nicest residential neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area.

I quoted her the school’s graduating class of 2011’s appalling employment statistics — 300 of 467 graduates didn’t have a legal job, loosely defined, nine months after graduation — and described how the average member of that class had around $200,000 in educational debt (officially the class averaged $151,000 in law school debt, but with accrued interest this gets kicked to around $175K, plus undergraduate debt isn’t counted in that total).

But of course even those grim numbers are probably fluffed by things like this, sent along to me yesterday by a helpful reader:

District of Columbia Court of Appeals Senior Judicial Internship Description

Judge Blackburne-Rigsby sits on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Congress established the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as the highest court of the District of Columbia in 1970, and the court is the equivalent of a state supreme court. As the highest court for the District of Columbia, the Court of Appeals is authorized to review all final orders, judgments, and specified interlocutory orders of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. To learn more about the Court of Appeals, please visit:

http://www.dcappeals.gov/dccourts/appeals/index.jsp

The Judicial internship provides an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand about the court, and hone your legal writing and research skills. Judge Blackburne-Rigsby has two full-time Judicial Law Clerks, with whom the senior judicial intern will work closely. The intern’s major responsibilities will be divided between substantive legal research and writing at the appellate level and record review. Please note that this is a non-paid position. The start date will be mid October 2012.

Qualifications: Recent graduate with excellent legal research and writing skills as well as the ability to multi-task.

Time Commitment: Must be available to work a minimum of 30 hours per week.

Interested graduates should send a cover letter, resume, transcript, writing sample and references to:

LaVerne Atiba
Judicial Administrative Assistant to
The Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby
District of Columbia Court of Appeals
430 E Street, N.W., Suite 208
Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: 202-879-2731
Email: Latiba@dcappeals.gov

I would very much like to know how The Honorable Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, who is already provided by the District of Columbia with two full-time assistants who perform most if not all of the less pleasant tasks associated with her sinecure, believes it’s honorable to take advantage of the desperation of new law school graduates in this fashion.

Does it occur to her Honor that this sort of thing just creates one more barrier to entry to the legal profession to everyone but the children of privilege? Most people, after all, can’t afford to work for free while plugging a resume gap with a phony “judicial clerkship” that is likely to swell the employment stats collected by some lucky law school’s office of career services (what do you want to bet that this “internship” ends up getting counted as a full-time “long-term” position requiring bar admission?).

At least if a Georgetown or GW grad snaps it up, he or she will get kicked $15 per hour from the school. American, despite its enormous class and its $50,149 annual tuition, is apparently sufficiently penurious that it could only afford to pay for “part-time short-term” positions for 21 of the 27 of its 2011 graduates it was employing in February of this year. Thus a 2012 graduate of the school is consequently less likely to provide Judge Blackburne-Rigsby with a year’s worth of free labor than is an unemployed alum of one of the school’s more prosperous legal academic neighbors.

Purity of Essence

[ 88 ] September 27, 2012 |

This post is going to sound like under-theorized musing not as some sort of rhetorical device, but because I’m sincerely puzzled by the following question (triggered, obviously, by the last several posts and the comments to them):

Why does what any individual chooses to do with his or her vote in a presidential election ever matter in any way?

It’s obvious that at the most straightforward level of analysis my presidential vote doesn’t “matter,” if “matter” means “have an effect on the outcome.” Statements like “voting for Gary Johnson makes it more likely Romney will be elected” are true at the level of individual action in the same way that the statement “if I (Paul Campos) call up the Denver Nuggets today and ask them for a tryout that will increase the chances that I’ll make the Nuggets’ roster.” Probabilistically, this statement is true. Practically, it’s meaningless, since the odds that I’ll make the Nuggets’ roster no matter what I do or don’t do can quite safely be treated as identical to zero with no loss of practical predictive value.

I’ve sometimes wondered if this truth in the context of national elections creates some sort of collective action problem or paradox, at least in terms of any vaguely utilitarian framework of analysis, since the utility of casting a vote to any individual voter is surely negative, unless one starts tacking on caveats about psychic benefits, the potential secondary effects of otherwise completely impotent social gestures and the like.

Following such a line it’s possible I suppose to make arguments about how one’s individual vote, and in particular one’s public posture regarding that vote, could have various ripple effects that went far beyond its immediate practical effect on electoral outcomes, which again is always and everywhere pragmatically identical with “none whatever.”

Indeed without such an argument, it’s hard to see how any individual vote in a presidential election is ever anything more than the kind of “pure” (which is to say in practical terms completely ineffective) act of self-expression which those who self-consciously engage in casting protest votes are often derided for engaging in.

Continuing . . . I personally don’t believe in utilitarianism as either a descriptive or normative matter, so I don’t think a utilitarian justification for individual voting behavior is necessary. But I doubt one can be successfully maintained.

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