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Ann Althouse does journalism

[ 82 ] November 7, 2014 |

This was just brought to my attention. Not sure if serious, as the kids say on the Facebook:

[I]t’s a common journalistic practice to begin with an attention-getting anecdote that’s supposed to set up the sober, evidence-based analysis to follow, even though it’s often not all that connected. But this anecdote is just so weird, and it’s lacking in the details I would need to make sense of it even aside from whether it has much to do with the “law-school scam” topic.

Last April, David Frakt, a candidate for the deanship at the Florida Coastal School of Law was giving his job talk, we’re told, discussing “what he saw as the major problems facing the school: sharply declining enrollment, drastically reduced admissions standards, and low morale among employees.”

But midway through Frakt’s statistics-filled PowerPoint presentation, he was interrupted when Dennis Stone, the school’s president, entered the room. (Stone had been alerted to Frakt’s comments by e-mails and texts from faculty members in the room.) Stone told Frakt to stop “insulting” the faculty, and asked him to leave. Startled, Frakt requested that anyone in the room who felt insulted raise his or her hand. When no one did, he attempted to resume his presentation. But Stone told him that if he didn’t leave the premises immediately, security would be called. Frakt packed up his belongings and left.

First, we’re seeing the way social media can work within an institution. A speaker may be in a room, experiencing dominance and control over the group by standing and lecturing while they silently and seemingly politely listen, and yet a whole revolution could be going on in text. Objections to phrasings can be texted and twittered about. No one includes the speaker, who rambles along according to his plan. The audience — instead of interacting in the normal manner of human intercourse through the ages — summons an authority from outside the room, and this clownish character rescues the passive-aggressive audience from their oppression.

(If the lawprofs are modeling this insidious new form of classroom participation, they will get their comeuppance when students use it on them. The professor attempts to conduct a discussion, perhaps of some touchy issue like affirmative action or abortion, and the students look disengaged, but they are really having an intense discussion, hurling accusations around. The professor is a racist. The professor is a sexist. Next thing you know, the dean has been summoned, breaks into the classroom, and conducts and on-the-spot trial. Whoa! Get ready, lawprofs.)

Second, what did the faculty find so insulting that they demanded an intervention from an outsider? What would have been enough to propel Stone into the room to interrupt a candidate — mid-presentation — and kick him out? To threaten to call security?! It doesn’t make sense to portray this — as Campos does — as distress over the same old “law-school scam,” which is about the ratio of jobs to students and the high tuition, and so forth. Even if Frakt presented the statistics vividly and the economic situation at the Florida Coastal School of Law is dismal and disturbing, it would not justify the weird drama. The normal response would be to push the candidate with questions or to look at him blankly and, after the time for the talk was over or close enough to over, drift out of the room having decided to vote against him. It must be something more, and I’m irked at Campos for sticking this anecdote at the top as if it will make readers see the dreadful emergency that is the “law-school scam.”

Can somebody email me about what really happened that day? Without more, I would hypothesize that Frakt said some things about race and/or gender that got texted into what felt like a realization that racial/sexual harassment is going on right now. I would guess that Stone got a message that the school itself was condoning some kind of harassment and that he had an immediate duty to end it. Am I right?

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Does This Explain the Burned Taste?

[ 101 ] November 7, 2014 |

I’m not completely convinced that this is central to the Starbucks recipe.

A New York pastor has warned that Starbucks coffees are flavoured with the “semen of sodomites”.

Coffee chain Starbucks recently launched a new ad campaign featuring two well-known drag artists – American Idol star Adore Delano and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio.

Pastor James David Manning, of the ATLAH World Missionary Church in Harlem, claimed last week that Starbucks was “ground zero” for Ebola, which is being spread by “upscale sodomites”.

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Great First Paragraphs In Dissenting Opinion History

[ 96 ] November 6, 2014 |

Today’s award goes to Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, dissenting from the 6CA opinion that will ensure that the Supreme Court takes up the same-sex marriage issue squarely:

The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, the majority sets up a false premise—that the question before us is “who should decide?”—and leads us through a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism. In point of fact, the real issue before us concerns what is at stake in these six cases for the individual plaintiffs and their children, and what should be done about it. Because I reject the majority’s resolution of these questions based on its invocation of vox populi and its reverence for “proceeding with caution” (otherwise known as the “wait and see” approach), I dissent.

Well, in fairness, I can’t agree with the “engrossing” description, but otherwise yes.

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The usual suspects

[ 76 ] November 6, 2014 |

Jeff Toobin has a piece in the New Yorker pointing out that increasingly stratified economics of the legal profession reflect larger social trends:

In the legal world, the haves are doing better than fine. In 1985, average profits per partner in The American Lawyer’s list of leading law firms was $309,000 ($623,000 in current dollars); today, the profits per partner for roughly the same group is about $1.5 million. These numbers hide an even greater disparity. Those at the very top of the pyramid—firms such as Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Cravath, Swain & Moore; and a handful of others—are thriving as never before, with annual profits per partner in the multimillions.

But those at the bottom of the pyramid—recent law-school graduates—are struggling. A recent article in The Atlantic recited the grim numbers . . . [Yet] law schools have continued to cycle students through their doors and load them up with debt, in spite of the reduced demand for legal education (and for lawyers). Eighty-five percent of graduates now carry at least a hundred thousand dollars in debt. Even dubious operations, like the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in San Diego, have kept their doors (and palms) open.

It’s clear that the nation needs fewer law schools, for many that remain are only offering their students false hopes of employment in exchange for big debt. These students are getting the legal-education equivalent of the subprime loans that helped sink the national economy. In this case, though, the risk to the broader public is small, while the indebted students may struggle with the burden for the rest of their lives. (The vast middle of the legal academy—at the big state schools, for instance—is doing only a little better than the schools at the bottom. For a full view of the depressing facts, see the superb Law School Transparency Web site.)

As with law firms, the top law schools are doing fine. Graduates of the most highly regarded institutions may not have the cornucopia of options that their predecessors enjoyed a few years ago, but few, if any, will go jobless. These students have large loans, too, but they’ll be able to repay them. As in days past, they will migrate to the big firms, where, by and large, their prospects are bright. And the cycle will continue: the rich (in credentials, at least initially) prospering, and the poor struggling. So it goes for lawyers—and, it seems, for everyone else.

(The last paragraph overstates in my view the extent to which graduates of even the most elite law schools are insulated from financial disaster, but Toobin’s general point is correct).

Speaking of New Yorkers, here’s a nice illustration of the perverse economic structure of the system:

New York Law School is a large, perpetually unranked law school, occupying a fancy new building that it put up on prime Tribeca real estate.

The school charges nearly $50,000 per year in tuition, and estimates the nine-month cost of living for students as $23,591 — a realistic figure for anywhere within reasonable commuting distance — meaning that someone paying full tuition who finances the cost of attendance with federal loans will rack up around $273,000 in debt, including interest, by the time the first federal loan payment comes due six months after graduation. Even someone with a 50% scholarship who takes out federal loans will have $180,000 in non-dischargeable loan debt. (Last year, fully half of all NYLS students paid sticker tuition, and 96.5% paid more than 50% of the sticker price).

Job outcomes for 2013 grads:

56% of graduates did not get a legal job within nine months of graduation.

Nearly 30% had no full time work of any kind.

More than 100 of 562 graduates were completely unemployed nine months after graduation.

5.7% of graduates (at most) got jobs with salaries that would theoretically allow them to begin to repay in a timely manner the average graduate’s debt load, even with that debt being paid back on the government’s 25-year extended repayment plan.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the accounting ledger:

In FY2013 the school reported earning $106,725,026 in revenue. More than $71 million of this came in the form of tuition (slightly less than 10% of this tuition was redistributed to students receiving “scholarships,” i.e., cross-subsidized tuition discounts, paid for by their less fortunate brethern).

Most of the rest of the school’s income came from the fruits of its financial investments, made possible by the collection of tuition revenues over many years. Note that NYLS has a very small endowment relative to its revenues — $32.3 million at the end of FY2013. These funds are of course almost all restricted by the terms under which they were donated. Such restrictions don’t apply to the “donations” students (or more accurately taxpayers, via federal loans) make in the form of tuition payments.

As of the end of FY2013 NYLS owned, outside of any endowment restrictions, more than $158,000,000 in publicly-traded securities, and $110,000,000 in other securities. In addition, the school has been engaging in the most straightforward (from an accounting perspective at least) financial speculation, in the form of interest rate swaps. Gambling on these financial derivatives cost the school $17,548,000 in losses in FY2012, while earning it $13,038,000 in FY2013.

Where is all this money going? Apparently, to a handful of favored faculty members, who, even by the standards of contemporary law schools, are drawing stupendous salaries and other forms of compensation.

Consider Prof. Marshall Tracht. Prof. Tacht entered legal academia 20 years ago, published three law review articles on the way to getting tenure at Hofstra (and apparently not much else since, besides teaching materials and brief notes for practitioners), then moved over to NYLS in 2008.

I asked a couple of colleagues who write in the areas in which Prof. Tracht specializes if they had ever heard of him. They hadn’t. Nevertheless, Prof. Tracht was paid $451,477 by NYLS (or more precisely by NYLS’s students, or more precisely yet by the taxpayers who unwittingly lent those students the money that in due course found its way into the professor’s accounts).

Five other NYLS faculty members (not counting the dean, who was paid $468,635) were paid between $327,892 and $383,499 in FY2013.

What possible justification could there be for this sort of thing? Let’s round up the usual suspects:

(1) NYLS must compete for top scholars in order to preserve and enhance its scholarly reputation.

NYLS has no scholarly reputation in the legal academic world.

(2) NYLS must compete for top scholars in order to preserve and enhance its place in the law school rankings.

NYLS place in the law school rankings is that it is unranked, i.e., tied for last place with about 65 other schools.

(3) NYLS must compete for top scholars in order to attract students who will want to study under various luminaries of the profession.

See (1) and (2) supra.

(4) NYLS is merely charging what the market will bear, and distributing the proceeds of these efficient market transactions to key employees on the basis of institutional self-interest, which, in an efficient market, results, in the long run, in socially beneficial outcomes.

This sounds somewhat more plausible if you say it to yourself in a robot voice.

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Thursday Links

[ 33 ] November 6, 2014 |

Some afternoon links:

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Racism and Republican Victory

[ 222 ] November 6, 2014 |

It’s pretty difficult to argue that racists are not a huge part of the Republican coalition. Every since the moment Obama won the presidency, white racial resentment has been flowing out of American conservatives and that is a hate well that remains uncapped.

Although birtherism is a complex phenomenon in its own right, Landrieu — like Bush before her — was referencing a much broader problem facing Obama, as well as herself, and the Democratic Party as a whole. You’re not supposed to call it “racism,” because racism means KKK mobs in hoods, and police siccing snarling dogs on young children, and we’re not like that anymore — see, we’ve got armored vehicles and sound cannons now!

But 40 years of data from the General Social Survey — the gold standard of American public opinion research — say otherwise. They tell us that Southern whites overwhelmingly blame blacks for their lower economic status, ignoring or denying the role played by discrimination, past and present, in all its various forms, and that the balance of Southern white attitudes has barely changed at all in 40 years. At the same time, attitudes outside the white South have shifted somewhat — but still tend to blame blacks more than white society, steadfastly ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary — such as 60 years of unemployment data, over which time “the unemployment rate for blacks has averaged about 2.2 times that for whites,” as noted by Pew Research. It is only Democrats outside the white South who have dramatically shifted away from blaming blacks over this period of time, and the tension this has created within the Democratic Party goes to the very heart of the political challenge both Obama and Landrieu face — a challenge that is not going to simply go away any time soon.

Not only is the Democratic Party split between two dominant views — one in the white South blaming blacks more, the other outside it blaming discriminatory practices in white society more — the minority group within the party, white Southerners, is far more unified in its views.

In the white South, 42.4 percent blame blacks exclusively, compared to just 18.8 percent who blame discrimination, and 38.8 who blame both. That’s a lopsided 69/31 split between the two exclusive positions. Outside the white South, 27.7 percent blame blacks exclusively, 34.4 percent blame discrimination, and 37.9 percent blame both, a much narrower 45/55 split between the exclusive positions.

What all the above boils down to is that blaming blacks for being poor remains broadly popular in America today, and that taking note of continued discrimination is not. A modest majority of Democrats outside the white South disagree, and this creates a political fault line that Republicans have repeatedly exploited across the decades, with no end in sight. When conservatives get too crude — as was the case with Cliven Bundy, for example — this threatens to upset the apple cart, and appearances must quickly get restored. But it’s the crudity, not the underlying attitude of blaming blacks, that has fallen out of favor. This would hardly surprise a Southern gentleman of this or any other century. It’s just the way things are supposed to be. Always have been. Why ever change?

Of course, this racism has manifested itself into policy to restrict African-Americans voting. Five members of the Supreme Court are fine with this racism–the extent to which each of those justices personally share in the racism probably varies. Did that racist decision matter on Tuesday? To some extent, almost for sure, with several states such as North Carolina having close elections that disfranchised voters could have impacted. These laws may well have won that North Carolina seat for the Republicans. There’s little reason to believe new measures to stop brown and black people from voting are coming from the states, especially knowing they have a sympathetic Supreme Court.

This all reinforces Chait’s apocalyptic piece noting that Democrats will either face continued gridlock or “annihilation”
if Republicans win the presidency in 2016. While I’m a bit hesitant to go quite that far, his final point is scary.

Only that sort of freakish event would suffice. And Democrats might notice that, since winning back Congress requires a backlash against the president, their “positive” scenario requires first surrendering to Republicans’ total control of government. As long as Democrats hold the White House, Republican control of Congress is probably safe — at least for several election cycles to come.

The second conclusion is simpler, and more bracing: Hillary Clinton is the only thing standing between a Republican Party even more radical than George W. Bush’s version and unfettered control of American government

Things do change. But any Republican president winning in 2016 is almost sure to be significantly to the right of George W. Bush. And that is truly frightening.

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Knowing That Pundits Don’t Know What They’re Talking About Is A Huge Strategic Advantage

[ 134 ] November 6, 2014 |

A useful summing up on McConnell:

But at a time when McConnell is likely poised to take over as Senate Majority Leader, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge his political acumen. Not acumen in winning reelection, but acumen in masterminding the Republican comeback after the huge Democratic wave elections in 2006 and 2008. His master plan was simple — hang together and say no. And, by and large, it worked. McConnell is not the most charismatic politician of our time, but he is arguably the sharpest mind in contemporary politics on a strategic level.

[...]

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It’s been ugly. But in most voters’ mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats. It was a very counterintuitive strategy, but it was well-grounded in the best political science available. And it worked.

Most political coverage is premised on some potentially noble lies about how the public will punish politicians who subvert basic institutional norms or prevent popular things from being done. McConnell’s evil genius is to see that it’s all nonsense. The public generally doesn’t pay attention to the details of political squabbles. For all intents and purposes nobody in Congress pays a real price for obstructionism; even if the popularity of the party is dragged down it doesn’t affect the election chances of the vast majority of members. By the same token, Republican statehouses can refuse the Medicaid expansion and Obama will get more blame than the Republicans who turn it down, and so on. This cold strategic logic presents a serious problem because the structure of American government requires certain norms of comity to function in most circumstances — we’re about to get a lot of grim lessons about the superiority of parliamentary systems that don’t massively dilute and misallocate accountability — but this isn’t McConnell’s problem.

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NPR: Unionbuster

[ 10 ] November 6, 2014 |

Our valued commenter Bruce Vail has an important piece at In These Times on the Baltimore NPR station hiring a notorious unionbusting firm to ensure its workers do not have a voice

Jonathan Rogers, Chair of the WYPR Board of Directors and an executive of Merrill Lynch, the stock brokerage unit of Bank of America, told In These Times that the board had approved the hiring of Jackson Lewis but denied it was an attempt to defeat the union.

“We felt it was in the best interest of the station to ensure that the concerns of the organization were heard,” in the course of the NLRB process, Rogers says. Asked whether he was opposed to recognizing the union, Rogers replied, “My personal feelings are irrelevant.”

Marc Steiner disagrees. A former WYPR executive who now hosts a program for a competing radio station in the Baltimore market, Steiner was ousted from the station in 2008 after a showdown with current WYPR President Anthony Brandon over control at the station. He counters that the personal feelings of the board members are very relevant.

“The Board is made up of corporate executives and wealthy people, most of whom do not understand public radio,” Steiner says. “It is really run, or at least it was when I was there, more like a commercial station.”

Steiner says that WYPR workers he has spoken with wanted a union in part “to ensure a firewall between those corporate interests and programming. Unless things have changed [since I worked there], programming is under constant pressure to mold what is heard on the airwaves to interests of underwriters.” He also reports hearing consistent complaints about heavy-handed management techniques and substandard pay levels—many complaints revolve around Brandon’s perceived autocratic style of management. on the job.

Look, we hired this union busting firm but not because we wanted to stop our workers from unionizing. We wanted to make sure our corporate voice was heard through the kind of legal shenanigans that only a union busting firm can provide. Now please give us more money during the next pledge drive.

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The JP Morgan Chase Whistleblower

[ 44 ] November 6, 2014 |

Good to see Taibbi back to doing what he does best:

Fleischmann is the central witness in one of the biggest cases of white-collar crime in American history, possessing secrets that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon late last year paid $9 billion (not $13 billion as regularly reported – more on that later) to keep the public from hearing.

Back in 2006, as a deal manager at the gigantic bank, Fleischmann first witnessed, then tried to stop, what she describes as “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations.

Thanks to a confidentiality agreement, she’s kept her mouth shut since then. “My closest family and friends don’t know what I’ve been living with,” she says. “Even my brother will only find out for the first time when he sees this interview.”

Six years after the crisis that cratered the global economy, it’s not exactly news that the country’s biggest banks stole on a grand scale. That’s why the more important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the Justice Department took to silence her.

She was blocked at every turn: by asleep-on-the-job regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission, by a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and, finally, by officials like outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, the chief architect of the crazily elaborate government policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-up. “Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” Fleischmann says.

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Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap?

[ 21 ] November 6, 2014 |

Looks like he’s on the Highway to Hell.

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A Chicken in Every Pot

[ 90 ] November 6, 2014 |

Andrew Lawler provides an excellent history of chicken’s rise through the 20th century from minor part of the American diet to American companies feeding the world with it. The modern chicken is a technological marvel, with all the advantages and horrors that comes with it.

Also, I find it a little disturbing that the average American eats 100 lbs of chicken of year.

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What’s Going on with the Mexican Cartels?

[ 13 ] November 6, 2014 |

Benjamin Smith has your day’s must read about the status of the Mexican drug cartels and what seems to be the Mexican government’s attempt to create a sort of super-cartel to keep the peace. There pretty much is no positive angle in any of this, be it the effects on the Mexican people, the possibility of a state-cartel alliance, or anything related to how it effects the United States. Depressing, but important and with excellent analysis.

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