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Blessed are the hedge fund managers

[ 82 ] January 12, 2012 |

I’m pretty sure that’s somewhere in the Bible. Possibly toward the back.

QUESTIONER: When you said that we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy, I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?

ROMNEY: You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God. The American people, I believe in the final analysis, will reject it.

QUESTIONER: Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?

ROMNEY: I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

Asking any questions about the distribution of wealth in America today undermines the notion of one nation under God? As Greg Sargent notes the NBC interviewer gave him not one but two chances to back off a position that would have made J.P. Morgan blush, and instead Romney just cranked it to 11. If his campaign people can’t brainwash him into displaying a bit more of the common touch than Louis XIV he’s going to get steamrollered in November.


The function of a gadfly

[ 367 ] January 11, 2012 |

Glenn Greenwald wrote a post this morning which was in part about the failure of the progressive blogosphere to condemn the ongoing murder of Iranian scientists, given the very strong possibility that these murders are being carried out by Israel, and the less strong but still significant odds that the U.S. has some involvement in these killings, ranging anywhere from direct participation to tacit approval.

Now on one level this criticism can easily be seen as unfair. As Greenwald himself has noted, not every progressive blogger is obligated to comment on whatever issue any particular progressive blogger considers the most important issue of the moment. Furthermore, Greenwald can be read to be implying that certain prominent bloggers, such as Scott, are failing to comment on this particular story because they’re running interference for the Obama administration, which would no doubt prefer as little attention as possible be given this story, at least on the left side of the political spectrum.

That of course is an unpleasant implication, and I know I would be quite irritated if it were directed at me, especially to the extent I believed the implication was false. (Scott responded promptly and straightforwardly to that potential implication). Still, what Greenwald is doing in cases such as this one seems to be valuable, despite the potential or real unfairness generated by his rhetorical style. Here’s why: Until I read Greenwald’s post this morning, I had been paying almost no attention to the ongoing killing of Iranian scientists. Now I certainly hadn’t avoided writing about the story consciously: I simply hadn’t paid attention to it.

This, when I reflect on it, was a real mistake on my part. After all, five years ago I was involved in a very public and nasty exchange with Glenn Reynolds, when he merely advocated doing something which, for the last couple of years, has actually been happening. In other words, this is a story I should have followed closely, and commented on, given the (justified) outrage I expressed five years earlier. Why didn’t I?

The answer is uncomfortable. I didn’t follow this story because, at bottom, this story puts “my team” in a bad light. Now again, this wasn’t a conscious decision. I’ve leveled plenty of criticisms at the Obama administration, on all sorts of issues. But I have no doubt whatsoever that, if the serial murder of Iranian scientists had been happening in the course of the McCain administration, I would have been all over this story, in part because, given the sources of opinion I read regularly, I would have been much more aware of that story, which, for the same reasons I haven’t been paying attention to it, hasn’t been prominently featured by those sources.

In its most extreme form, this kind of selective bias is manifested by a willingness to openly praise acts that are substantially identical to acts one condemned in the strongest terms when they were carried out by one’s political opponents:

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians.

These sorts of extreme examples of intellectual inconsistency are of course especially common in war time (which is no doubt why the celebrants of perpetual war are most prone to engage in them). On a less extreme level, everyone is at the very least prone to pay considerably less attention to shabby or shameful or even seriously criminal behavior when it is perpetrated by one’s friends and allies rather than one’s enemies and opponents. Glenn Greenwald’s hectoring of liberal bloggers to maintain intellectual and moral consistency without regard to who’s political fortunes are being advanced or harmed is valuable precisely because all of us are inclined not to do so.

A few quiet little murders

[ 23 ] January 11, 2012 |

I can only imagine the pride with which University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, must peruse the front pages of our national newspapers, now that he can read on a regular basis about the wholesale adoption of one half of his splendid plan to “quietly kill radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists.”

It is of course an open question of whether and to what extent the U.S. government is involved in this series of murders:

A former senior intelligence official involved in efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program told ABC News that assassinations of top Iranian scientists were usually assumed to be the work of Israel, but that the Israelis would never confirm or admit responsibility.

“Every time we ask,” said the official, “they just smile and say, ‘We have no idea what you are talking about.’ ”

The U.S., for its part, has officially denied any involvement in the deaths of Iranian scientists. A White House spokesman called the accusations “absurd” after Mohammadi’s death. The CIA is known, however, to have recruited scientists as spies.

In 2007, after Iranian General Ali-Reza Asgari went missing in Turkey, the Iranian government said the intelligence official had been kidnapped by Mossad. The Israeli and Western media said he had defected, and was busy providing information on Iran’s nuclear program.

Two years later, award-winning Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He later resurfaced in the United States after defecting to the CIA in return for a large sum of money, according to people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials. A spokesperson for the CIA declined official comment.

Still, it’s rare for a legal academic to see his policy recommendations adopted so wholeheartedly, either by his own government or by a client state.

I have little to add to what Glenn Greenwald has to say about this, but I do want to address a related issue, which is the extent to which academic freedom does or ought to insulate academics from any professional consequences for their actions, in cases where those actions include things like enthusiastically recommending the murder of members of a very small group of specific individuals, especially in a case in which those murders then in fact take place, or playing a key role in bringing about, in flagrant violation of both domestic and international law, a formal system by which the U.S. government repeatedly tortured, under color of law, various prisoners in its custody.

Back when Prof. Reynolds so enthusiastically (and, in turns out in retrospect, quite successfully) first advocated murdering certain specific people, I asked whether one might want to inquire into whether advocating murder — not in some abstract, theoretical way, but in a very individualized, concrete, and one might even say personal manner — was an act that was absolutely protected by considerations of academic freedom. This wasn’t a rhetorical question: the matter genuinely interested me then, and, for obvious reasons, interests me even more so today.

When Prof. John Yoo returned to his academic sinecure after playing his part in transforming the United States government into an enthusiastic practitioner of the various arts involved in torturing captive and helpless human beings, I asked a similar question:

Now Yoo is now back at UC Berkeley, where he taught before joining the Bush administration. He is molding the minds of the next generation of lawyers. The school has no plans to do any inquiry of its own into Yoo’s behavior, or even to modify the professor’s teaching schedule, other than to keep the time and location of Yoo’s classes off the school’s Web site, in order to discourage protesters.

Yoo’s continuing and apparently permanent position on the faculty of one of the nation’s leading law schools does have some significant educational value for his students. For one thing, I am reliably informed that, when he’s not busy arguing that the president has the legal authority to massacre villages and crush the testicles of children, Professor Yoo teaches a very fine class in civil procedure.

In retrospect, I’m sorry I ever raised any questions regarding the potential limits of academic freedom in these cases. Such questions are, under the circumstances, a distraction. We live in a country where law professors advocate torturing and murdering people (unfortunately we have now sunk to a depth where it’s necessary to note that torture and murder remain crimes even when they’re committed by U.S. government officials in the course of performing their official duties), people are then duly tortured and murdered per their official and unofficial recommendations, and there are no subsequent legal or even professional consequences to anyone involved in any aspect of these proceedings. This illustrates the extent to which, in America today, even the most atrocious crimes are simply not crimes at all if they are committed by sufficiently important people:

If you’re a person of high social status and have good enough political connections, nothing will happen to you even if you commit the most serious crimes. This applies even more obviously to Yoo’s former White House employers, but the fact that it’s impossible in this country to levy even the mildest professional sanctions against a mere law professor illustrates the absurdity of imagining it might be possible to ever actually prosecute the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Censoring ourselves: Legal academia and the code of silence

[ 48 ] January 9, 2012 |

This is a story about one way in which a code of silence is enforced in legal academia. That code is unwritten, informal, and unacknowledged — and all the more powerful as a result. Most legal academics have internalized it so completely that they would deny such a thing exists, and moreover they would do so sincerely. This code, in other words, is an example of the most powerful and effective form of censorship, which is self-censorship. Read more…


[ 143 ] January 8, 2012 |

That is all.

OK one comment: Tebow is a unique player. I’m not saying he’s a good NFL QB, or that he’s even going to have decent career. A third of his passes look like wounded ducks, he often misses guys who have three yards of separation, which would normally be a complete disqualification for playing time all by itself, there are long stretches in most of the games he’s started where you’re certain this guy is simply nowhere close to being an NFL-caliber QB, and yet . . . 316 (or is that 3:16?) yards on 10 total completions in a playoff game? Yeah the Steelers defense was an injury-riddled mess, but still.

It’s fun to watch a player who is completely different than the standard mold, especially in the corporate, incredibly conservative, bland as Pat Boone covering the Carpenters NFL.

Denver’s going to get killed next week, but it’s been a fun ride.

So here’s to you Mr. Robinson

[ 11 ] January 5, 2012 |

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.

— Flaubert —

From the ABA’s web site:

Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III is Member-in-Charge of the Northern Kentucky offices of Frost Brown Todd LLC, a regional law firm with offices in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Indiana. He currently serves as President of the American Bar Association for a one-year term which began on August 8, 2011.

From Reuters, via the Chicago Tribune:

Young lawyers with huge educational debts and no jobs in a depressed U.S. legal market should have known
what they were getting into, the president of the American Bar Association said on Wednesday.

William Robinson, in an interview at the ABA’s office here, responded to recent criticisms from Congress, the media and law students targeting the role of the trade group in fostering high expectations about legal jobs.

Robinson, a lawyer in Kentucky, said anyone entering law school has already completed an undergraduate degree or more.

“It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago,” he said.

College graduates are capable of making “an independent decision and a free choice” to go to law school, he said.

Read more…

Why give yourself two chances to win a game when you can have one?

[ 35 ] January 3, 2012 |

Ooooh, Andrew Luck might throw an interception! Don’t give the best player in college football a chance to win the game when you can depend on a freshman kicker not to shank a mid-range field goal.


Mark Richt may be the dumbest football coach in history

[ 44 ] January 2, 2012 |

Which is kind of like being the sleaziest lobbyist on K street.

Situation: Georgia needs a FG to win in OT, starting from the 25 first and ten. First down: two yard rush. Second down: QB centers the ball, losing three yards in the process. Third down: 43-yard FG attempt by a kicker who was 6-16 on kicks of 40 yards or more.

Update: And while I’m ranting, Meathead Bielema punts on fourth and five from the Oregon 37, because “field position” is so crucial in a game where it makes the difference between a 91-yard TD run and an 80-yarder.

Update #2: OK to be fair going for it on fourth and one from the OU 17 was the right move.

UPDATE [SL]:  Even though it devastates my once-decent chances of winning the LGM pool, part of me is still happy that this Hall of Fame-caliber example of irrationally playing not to lose cost his team the game.

The law school scholarship game

[ 18 ] January 2, 2012 |

One of the most significant developments in the law school world over the past few years has been the explosion in so-called “merit scholarships.” The definition of a scholarship can be tricky: traditionally the term was used to describe money generated by endowed funds given to a school for the purpose of offsetting attendance costs, but now it tends to be used more generally to mean any discount off the advertised price of attendance, from whatever source. In fact at present the vast majority of “merit scholarships” offered to prospective law students don’t come from endowment income, but rather from tuition cross-subsidization. (Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, who are in the unique position of not really competing with other law schools for students, claim all their financial aid is need-based. Need-based financial aid at other law schools ranges from skimpy to non-existent. I’m not going to discuss in this post the dubious practice of handing out “merit scholarships” that come with continued eligibility requirements that, because of law school grading practices, guarantee that many recipients will lose those scholarships after their first year).

It works like this: Read more…

It’s funny because it’s true

[ 28 ] January 1, 2012 |


Standardized time and protecting the integrity of our Republic (and ultimately the purity of our precious bodily fluids).

UPDATE from davenoon:

Yglesias’ parable bears more than a slight resemblance to actual debates about Daylight Savings Time, which was initially part of the Standard Time Act. After Gore Vidal’s grandfather introduced a bill to repeal that part of the act in early 1919, a variety of religious groups joined the utility and energy interests chimed in, urging a return to early evening darkness. One group explained noted with “certainty that this iniquitous law will give deep displeasure to God” — a God who evidently had nothing in particular against standardized time zones but who might be inclined to unleash a plague of locusts if children had an extra hour’s time to play baseball during the summer. God had created the Sun so that everyone would know when it was noontime. For the government to declare otherwise would be “complete blasphemy.”

The beginning of the end for the law school bubble

[ 13 ] December 31, 2011 |


I suspect that in retrospect 2011 will be remembered as the year the law school bubble finally began to burst. It began with David Segal’s first big piece in the New York Times on the lengths law schools were going to in their attempts to hide the actual employment situation from prospective students, and it ended with numerous schools rushing — in the wake of several active and prospective class-action lawsuits — to put something resembling actual employment and salary data up on their web sites.

A commenter asks a $6.4 billion dollar question:

I used to believe that in ten years (which can pass in the blink of an eye), tuition will go from its current level of $45,000 to $73,000; the number of law schools would go from 200 to about 220 and the “% of law grads getting real lawyer jobs” would go from its current 50% rate to about 25-30%.

In other words I assumed that we were far from that critical point.

But now I wonder.

Could we see some of the really notorious low ranked school (e.g. that one that rhymes with stooley) have trouble filling all their seats this year? That would be such an incredible development if true.

No one can know precisely when the current model of American legal education will collapse, or whether that collapse will be sudden, or take place in the social equivalent of slow motion. But the crash is coming. Here’s the cyber-equivalent of an Escher drawing in regard to this question. First, a post from Top Law Schools, in which a Michigan State Law School 3L offers to take questions (Note that MSU is, to the extent such a definition makes sense, an ideal representative of an “average” ABA law school, in that it’s currently ranked 95th-99th out of 200 ABA-accredited schools. We are, in other words, a very long way from the bottom). Naturally, he’s asked if he and his law school friends and acquaintances have jobs. His response:

I do not have a job. Several of my friends have jobs lined up (two in large firms, two in a medium-sized firm, one with a corporation, etc). However, I have a lot of friends (I’m counting 8 just off the top of my head) who graduated last year and they all have jobs now. Of course this is all anecdotal…I don’t know what the percentage of employed 3Ls is. It’s a pretty dismal market (as I’m sure you know) but, honestly, I’m not too worried about it. I’ve received an outstanding education at Michigan State and I realize I may need to wait until after I pass the bar to find a job. It sucks but it is what it is. It’s just gonna take some flexibility and patience I think…through no fault of my own or MSU.

Obviously the placement is great in Michigan and pretty good in Chicago (especially if you spend 1L or 2L summer out there). Our DC placement is pretty rad too because we have a semester program down there. There’s a large MSU alum group in DC as well.

Here’s the other half of the drawing.

For all I know MSU just threw its NALP stats up on the internet this week (perhaps in response to the Law School Transparency Project’s request to all ABA schools that they do so), so this student doesn’t even know these stats are now available. Or perhaps he doesn’t want to know what they are. Under the circumstances, this would be a perfectly understandable defense mechanism.

The short version of these statistics can be summed up in less than 30 words: Nine months after graduation, MSU Law School had determined that 33 of the 348 graduates of its 2010 class were employed as attorneys in positions that paid $60,000 or more. The average law school debt of the 85% of the class that graduated with such debt was $108,444.

In the wake of those two sentences, it really shouldn’t be necessary to continue the autopsy in any greater detail, but those of a morbid disposition can linger over such factoids as the specific employment status of the 150 graduates listed as “employed” in the private practice of law. This group includes 12 solos, 69 [!] graduates employed full-time with firms of 2 to 10 attorneys, and nine more employed part-time with firms of that size — and one of these was listed a temporary employee. Think about that: part of what counts as “employed as an attorney” for the purpose of all those NALP figures is part-time temporary employment with a firm of ten lawyers or less . . . but again, what’s the point of lingering over the crash site’s gory details? Better to simply note most of the people at the scene were killed, a few escaped with injuries of varying severity, and one guy walked away without a scratch (he must have been the one paying attention in Drivers Ed).

A side issue about which I’m genuinely curious: what’s with the huge numbers of graduates who are listed as taking jobs with firms of 2-10 attorneys? Fully a third of the national class of 2009 who are listed as working in private practice nine months after graduation are in this category, and at lower-tier schools the percentage is much higher. Conversely, at elite schools practically no one is in this group. Intuitively, one would think it would be quite difficult to get a real job with an enterprise that would on average have to increase its total attorney workforce by 20% just to hire you. I suspect that many jobs in this category are semi-imaginary: that is, they are temporary contract positions, featuring low hourly pay and no benefits, or (often unpaid) clerking gigs that in palmier days were filled by law students, or they represent a couple of equally unemployed classmates banding together to start a “firm.”

Anyway, the juxtaposition of the MSU 3L’s post and the newly published MSU placement stats raises the fundamental question of just how much real transparency, when it arrives (and we are still far away from that point), will affect the decisions of people who will have to decide whether the kind of tradeoff represented in those employment and indebtedness stats makes any sense for them.

We have a long way to go, but, on the last day of 2011, we are a lot closer to answering that question than we were on the previous New Year’s Eve.

Which reminds me: Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

The Military Bowl

[ 35 ] December 28, 2011 |

Given Northrop Grumman’s generous sponsorship arrangement, it’s disappointing this isn’t called The Military Industrial Complex Bowl.

Anyway, it’s about time that a football game paid a little bit of attention to the men and women of our armed services. For one thing, I’m sick and tired of the NFL’s and the NCAA’s constant hyping of the works of Susan Sontag and the Mark Rothko. We get it — intellectuals and artists are the true heroes of contemporary life. Now stop shoving that message down our throats and give a little bit of credit to the people who keep us free to enjoy neurotic self-referential literature and paintings that don’t look like anything recognizable.

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