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Harvard Law to 3Ls: We’ll Forgive You(r Loans)

[ 21 ] March 18, 2008 |

Looks like Harvard Law School is trying to sweep the changes that have improved the finances of its (and other Ivy) undergrads into the law school. The school announced today that it will forgive third-year tuition for students who commit to (and do) spend five consecutive years working in the public sector (and fulfill a bunch of other requirements).

The program defines public service as:

*Any full time job for a governmental unit, which includes federal, military, state, or local government, or the overseas equivalent.
*Any full time job for a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization or the overseas equivalent, with the exception of jobs at institutions of higher education.
*Any full time job for a political campaign


This is no small deal when one year of tuition = about $40k = about 1 year public interest salary for many young lawyers. Of course, the government jobs pay a bit more, but given that people emerge from law school with hundreds of thousands in debt and even the government doesn’t pay half of what firms do, Harvard’s initiative goes a long way.

I have to wonder how long it will be til Yale, NYU, and perhaps others, follow suit, and whether they even will find the money to do so.

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The Civil Union Question

[ 5 ] March 18, 2008 |

Yesterday’s Times article about the inequities of civil unions is indeed important reading. In many contexts, obtaining civil unions is an improvement on the status quo, but it’s also important that civil unions haven’t produced marriage-in-all-but-name but in practice seem to fall short of equality. For state courts considering the question, such inequities seem relevant to whether civil unions (as opposed to equal marriage rights) can be consistent with the equal protection of the laws, especially since the legislative entrenchment of gay marriage in Massachusetts makes assumptions that civil unions will provoke much less backlash than actual equality quite questionable.

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The Obama Speech

[ 21 ] March 18, 2008 |

What a colossal failure. I just don’t think there’s any way for Obama to recover from the fact that Victor Davis Hanson, Paul Mirengoff, Michelle Malkin, Kathryn Lopez, John Derbyshire, some dude living in his mother’s basement, and Atlas Shrugs remain unpersuaded of Obama’s worthiness to lead America.

. . . and the sanctimonious line of the day, as often happens when matters of race and history present themselves, comes to us by way of Treason-in-Defense-of-Slavery Yankee:

And yet, if I ever attended a church where the pastor said that we should “God Damn America” and resided in the “US of KKK-A” or the “United States of White America” that giant thundering sound you would hear is the congregation leaving en masse. . . .

. . . to set fire, one suspects, to a uppity sharecropper’s barn.

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More On Decriminalization

[ 14 ] March 18, 2008 |

Kerry Howley responds to my post on feminist-libertarian arguments for legalizing prostitution. Given Amanda‘s (also quoted by Ann) take, she has a fair point in noting that my isolated quote created a misleading impression about her post. I definitely didn’t read Howley as ignoring the realities of prostitution or focusing on (what she concedes to be unusual) women who become sex workers because they “love sex enough to make a career out of it.” Rather, I took her to be arguing that an additional problem with criminalization is the reinforcement of stereotypes about female sexuality and the problems inherent in legally constituting sex workers as victims. I don’t think either of these are trivial concerns by any means. I still don’t think, however, that they would be in and of itself sufficient reasons to legalize prostitution. I’m not sure that the constitutive effects are that strong in this case (although it’s a very difficult question to answer) and on the more tangible question I’m very much unconvinced that criminalization in itself is a major variable in pushing the most desperate women into sex work. (If data were to show that prostitutes in Nevada had a significantly different class profile than prostitutes in other states, I would re-examine the question.) And while the law is a crude instrument that in some measure has to treat differently situated workers similarly, this is something I’m willing to live with if the benefits outweigh the costs. The maximum hours laws struck down in Lochner may well have genuinely restricted the freedom of a few bakers who weren’t financially desperate and fully understood the risks and would have chosen to work the overtime even if they had more bargaining power, but when the health of workers is involved it’s fair for the state to base regulations on the rule, not the exception.

So I would be willing to support the criminalization of prostitution if I thought it worked (i.e. that it generally protected sex workers from exploitation.) Where I still pretty much agree with Howley’s bottom line is that I don’t think it does, and that singling out sex workers for unique “protection” (with futile attempts to ban some jobs outright rather than intelligent regulation) is difficult to justify without smuggling patriarchal Sex Is Sacred, Especially Where Virtuous Women Are Concerned assumptions into the argument. I still think the best alternative would be for states to experiment with different decriminalize-and-regulate approaches, backed up by strong federal enforcement of anti-trafficking measures. And I think we can all agree that he status quo in most states — the arbitrary enforcement of outright bans with more focus on sex workers than their clients — is indefensible.

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Florida Primary Vote

[ 43 ] March 18, 2008 |

…regrettably, won’t happen this cycle.

I wouldn’t say that this changes anything much about the outcome of the Democratic race; Clinton had essentially no chance before this, and she still has essentially no chance. Obama will win the pledged delegates easily, delegates from the Florida straw poll will not be a decisive factor, and the vast majority of superdelegates voting to overturn this lead is Not. Going. To. Happen. (Obama is now almost certain to win the popular vote as well, although why this is supposed to be an important factor in a race in which obtaining the most popular votes per se isn’t the goal, states use radically incommensurate systems, and some states don’t even report popular vote totals I can’t tell you.) This latest example of Florida electoral ineptitude, however, may make the obvious apparent to a greater number of people.

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Bring the Gold

[ 0 ] March 18, 2008 |

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Of Course He Lied….

[ 48 ] March 17, 2008 |

Did Ahmed Chalabi lie in order to press the United States to go into Iraq? This is a silly question; of course he lied, and of course he stole, and of course he talked to the Iranians, etc. etc. These, believe it or not, are not his true sins; there are many opponents of brutal, authoritarian regimes who will lie and steal and manipulate in order to overturn or harm the governments that they oppose. Yes, he helped con the United States into a war, but that’s hardly his problem; 4000 dead and a $12 billion/month in expenses is America’s responsibility, not his.

Chalabi’s real sin was ignorance. First, he hadn’t the faintest idea of the actual situation in Iraq. He depended on exiles for all of his information, and displayed no apparent interest in determining the likely effects of a US sponsored overthrow of the regime. He failed utterly to build a base of support sufficient to control Iraq, a problem that the United States noted very quickly. In short, this would-be revolutionary figured out a way to make the destruction work, but gave no attention to the creation; in this he’s not too terribly different from his American allies. Second, Chalabi gravely underestimated the ineptitude of the people that he was lying to. If you’re going to con someone, you have to make sure they have what you want, and it turns out that Chalabi’s marksallies didn’t have the goods. It was not in Chalabi’s interest to have Iraq turned into either a) an US imperial outpost, or b) a democracy; he wanted to be the Iraqi Attaturk, an enlightened despot who would rule with US assistance, but not at the beck and call of the Americans. But this was not a possible outcome; too many Americans actually believed the democracy rhetoric, and those who didn’t had no use for a puppet that had its own mind. Rather than using, Chalabi got used, and it didn’t take a genius to see what was going to happen.

The moral of the story is that while it’s easy to play morons like Richard Perle, it doesn’t get you very far in the end.

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Listen to Me! I Worked for Scoop Jackson!!! LISTEN!!!!11!

[ 6 ] March 17, 2008 |

This paragraph is bad enough to be worth spending some time on:

I did not believe the American-led coalition could prudently leave Iraq the day Baghdad fell. Coalition troops were essential to support a new Iraqi government.

Translation: The people we turned Iraq over to would invite us to stay, whether anyone else wanted us or not. But they wouldn’t invite too many of us to stay, hopefully, because the entire point of this thing was to demonstrate that we could pound a small country to dust without working up a sweat. Incidentally, what is this “nationalism” you speak of? And what is this thing called “state coercive capacity”?

But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections.

Translation: The group of folks that I and my buddies had cobbled together may not actually have been in Iraq in twenty years, but that’s no reason to believe that they can’t run the place. I know Ahmed Chalabi; Ahmed Chalabi is a friend of mine, and he’s been telling me for thirty years now that he can run Iraq. Who am I to contradict him?

Our troops could have remained, under the terms of a transparently negotiated agreement, to help the people of Iraq build their own society, something we didn’t know how to do and should never have tried. After five years of terrible losses, they may now be getting that chance.

Translation: If only we had installed our puppets sooner, the Iraqis never would have noticed that they were puppets. We could have invaded Iran, like, four years ago! But now, fortunately, we’ve adopted a policy that runs 180 degrees counter to what I just suggested… hmm…. well, at least the hippies don’t like it.

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[ 26 ] March 17, 2008 |

Kristol smears Obama. It’s almost as if hiring a unscrupulous propagandist famous for thoughtful analysis of why the editors of your paper belong in prison for revealing illegal government behavior has its downside!

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A Chubby for Chalabi

[ 0 ] March 17, 2008 |

Just so you know, Richard Perle really wishes we’d turned Iraq over to the Iraqi National Congress — which is to say the people who loaded the Bush administration’s trencher with all the bullshit they could gobble with a gigantic wooden spoon.

Having noted that, I’m not even sure that Perle’s offering is the worst in this lame NYT anthology of five-year reflections on the war. Danielle Pletka, for example, suggests that she’d have thought twice about the war if she’d realized the Iraqi people would suck so much at being free.

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The Chamber Of Commerce Court

[ 8 ] March 17, 2008 |

Jeffrey Rosen’s article about the pro-business court — the Chamber of Commerce’s “litigation center filed briefs in 15 cases and its side won in 13 of them” — is very much worth reading. It’s worth being reminded, again, that although court watchers tend to divide the Court into symmetrical groups of “liberals” and “conservatives” there’s no Marshall or Douglas or Brennan on the current Court, as evidenced by the Chamber’s enthusiastic support of Ginsburg and (especially) Breyer. It’s instructive that the Court’s two Democratic appointees are no more liberal than its two Rockefeller Republicans.

I do think some parts of the general assessment of the Court that starts this analysis should be qualified:

What should we make of the Supreme Court’s transformation? Throughout its history, the court has tended to issue opinions, in areas from free speech to gender equality, that reflect or consolidate a social consensus. With their pro-business jurisprudence, the justices may be capturing an emerging spirit of agreement among liberal and conservative elites about the value of free markets. Among the professional classes, many Democrats and Republicans, whatever their other disagreements, have come to share a relatively laissez-faire, technocratic vision of the economy and are suspicious of excessive regulation and reflexive efforts to vilify big business. Judges, lawyers and law professors (such as myself) drilled in cost-benefit analysis over the past three decades, are no exception. It should come as little surprise that John Roberts and Stephen Breyer, both of whom studied the economic analysis of law at Harvard, have similar instincts in business cases.

This elite consensus, however, is not necessarily shared by the country as a whole. If anything, America may be entering something of a populist moment. If you combine the groups of Americans in a recent Pew survey who lean toward some strain of economic populism — from disaffected and conservative Democrats to traditional liberals to social and big-government conservatives — at least two-thirds of all voters arguably feel sympathy for government intervention in the economy.

Seeing the Supreme Court as an adjunct of a social consensus is a more accurate reductionism than seeing the Court as a valiant defender of powerless minorities, but it’s a little problematic. The Court, because of the appointment process and its own inherent institutional weaknesses (especially its reliance on other political actors to enforce its commands), is unlikely to stray outside a broad range of political acceptability for long. But on many important issues, a social consensus doesn’t exist, and as long as the Court has some support among powerful elites it has more range of action than the idea that the Court follows the opinion polls might imply. In the long run, this is likely to mean a Court that’s more libertarian than the median voter. And while talk about restoring a “Constitution in Exile” is overblown, just as the late Rehnquist Court was more socially liberal than the Republican-controlled Congress so is the current Court likely to make it more difficult for Democratic Congresses and presidents to enact desirable regulations and (especially) to enforce existing ones, even if these laws are broadly popular. Indeed, as the article demonstrates the Republican-dominated Court heps Republicans in Congress greatly, as it makes it harder to do thing like enforce civil rights legislation without forcing conservative legislators to modify the legislation and take the hit.

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[ 0 ] March 17, 2008 |

I have no idea if the public babe-in-the-woods routine of Jim McGreevy’s wife was, in fact, false. But the story does remind me that I’m always a little puzzled by confident assertions (I don’t mean to single out that particular post, just using it as an illustration) about how families will be affected by someone’s bad actions or what the bad actor’s wife should do about it. None of us, unless they knew them, has any idea what Silda Wall knew or what she should do or whether it would be best for their daughters if she took them back to North Carolina. She seems to be an extremely smart person and I trust her to make her own judgments. The idea that people think they can know about the relationships of total strangers is bizarre.

And this has always been a locus of unfair commentary about Hillary Clinton. She’s been frequently attacked — mostly by people who are indifferent or hostile towards feminism — as a betrayer of feminism for staying with her husband. And, of course, had she left she would have been roundly attacked by many of these people as selfish, cold, unforgiving, etc. etc. had she left. You can never win, especially if you’re a woman. Which is why minding one’s own goddamned business about how consenting adults conduct their own relationships is generally a sound principle.

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