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The Pseudo-Scandals of the 90s Never Die

[ 134 ] May 19, 2014 |

In one of what are sure to be hundreds of similar articles should Hillary Clinton run for the 2016 Democratic nomination, Justin Sink has some random not-quite-thoughts about her husband to share. This is the most depressing:

Pushing back against suggestions from Karl Rove that Hillary might have suffered brain damage in a 2012 fall, Clinton came across as fiercely defensive and a little too hot. He also took a detour into the past, invoking the Whitewater controversy as an example of what he saw as a similar politically-motivated and factually-hollow crusade by conservatives.

“I’m still waiting for them to admit that there was nothing to Whitewater,” Clinton said. In fact, 15 people were convicted of crimes

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relating to Whitewater, including close family friends such as Jim and Susan McDougal.

To state the obvious, what Clinton meant was that there was nothing to Whitewater as it pertains to Bill Clinton. A special prosecutor wasn’t appointed because Jim McDougal was suspected of wrongdoing. If the the break-in at the Watergate had been ordered by a former classmate of Nixon’s at Duke Law for reasons unrelated to Nixon’s campaign and unknown to Nixon before or after the fact, according to Sink apparently it would still be a “Nixon scandal” and he would have no reason to object to the Post‘s coverage.

Whitewater was always, as far as Bill and Hillary Clinton was concerned, a 100% non-scandal. But much of the press seems determined to never let go.

Why does law school cost so much?

[ 156 ] May 19, 2014 |

According to the Dr. Pangloss of the legal academic status quo, it’s because of reasons:

The critics do not seem to realize that it is expensive to create an effective modern law school. The actual cost of doing it right is vastly underestimated. At HYS [Harvard, Yale, Stanford] for example sticker tuition is now north of 50K per year but that is, as far as I can tell from publicly available information, about one third of the actual cost spent per student each year. Other lower ranked schools have to try to get the job done with far less, of course, and most are effective in doing so. But it is no surprise, is it, that the schools with the most resources continue to dominate in the rankings?

Diamond has a Ph.D. in political science, but that experience doesn’t seem to have given him much in the way of empirical inclinations: There are many plausible and even screamingly obvious reasons why the richest law schools are the highest-ranked law schools, but “because they provide the most effective legal education relative to the original abilities of their students” would not be anywhere on that list, given that there isn’t a shred of evidence for the proposition that elite schools enhance human capital, as the economists say, more effectively than less gloriously endowed institutions.

Speaking of empiricism and endowments, let us turn to some actual law school budgets, past and present, and ask in a longitudinally-inclined way how much the cost of legal education has risen in recent years, and why. In what follows, all dollar amounts have been converted to constant, 2012 dollars.

School A is a hyper-elite law school at the very top of the legal academic hierarchy.

School B is a strong regional law school, which has always been ranked in the 30s and 40s since the advent of the pestilential USN rankings 25 years ago. (There are currently 202 ABA-accredited law schools).

The figures below are derived from the operating budgets for fiscal years 1996 and 2012 for School B. For School A, the figures are derived from its FY2012 operating budget, and from a reconstruction of its FY1996 budget, based on its tuition revenues and endowment income in that year, which I assume together made up the same percentage of its expenditures in FY1996 as they did in FY2012. (School A’s endowment tripled in real terms between FY1996 and FY2012. In 2012 School B’s total endowment was equal to 8% of School A’s. The schools are roughly the same size in terms of total student enrollment. Per student expenditures are calculated on the basis of all law students, both JD and non-JD.)

School A

Total expenditures per student in FY2012: $101,902

Total expenditures per student in FY1996, in 2012 dollars: $49,750

School B

Total expenditures per student in FY2012: $51,472

Total expenditures per student in FY1996, in 2012 dollars: $25,544

Basically, operating costs per student doubled in real terms at both schools over this 16-year stretch, so that Strong Regional was costing as much to run per student in 2012 as Hyper Elite had cost in 1996. During this time, Hyper-Elite’s operating costs per student have risen from 50% more than tuition to twice as much as tuition. Meanwhile, at School B, due to massive tuition hikes, the ratio between tuition and operating costs actually declined significantly between 1996 and 2012.

School B’s outputs, as measured by total legal employment percentage for new graduates, median salary for new graduates, bar passage rates, and law school ranking, did not improve between 1996 and 2012, either in absolute terms, or relative to other law schools. School A’s outputs did not improve between 1996 and 2012 by three of these four metrics, in either absolute or relative terms: median graduate salaries did improve in absolute (but not relative) terms.

What accounts for this extraordinary increase in operating costs at both schools?

This question can be answered with some precision for School B: by far the biggest factor has been the increase in personnel costs, and this in turn has been mostly a product of employing far more people.

For example, at School B, per capita tenure track faculty compensation increased by slightly less than 20% between FY1996 and FY2012, while non-tenure track faculty compensation increased by 16% (This means that if everything else had been held constant, operating expenses at School B would have been less than 10% higher in FY2012 than FY1996). But while per capita compensation increased relatively modestly, the number of faculty skyrocketed: the tenure track faculty was 45% larger in 2012, while the non-tenure track faculty increased by 64%. These increases were dwarfed, however, by the increase in non-teaching administrative staff, which nearly tripled. (For example, the office of career services grew from one full-time and one part-time employee, to six full-time people. By 2012 School B employed five people whose full-time job was various types of fund-raising; in 1996, one person had been engaged in this work).

While the same granular longitudinal comparison can’t be done for School A, School A did more than double the size of its teaching faculty between 1996 and 2012, so it seems likely that much of the doubling of operating costs at the school was driven by the same personnel factors that caused costs to double at School B. (Capital improvements also played a significant role at both schools, i.e., the so-called “amenities arms race.”).

What sort of improvements, if any, in regard to providing an “effective” legal education did this spending orgy produce? The answer of course is that we don’t know. As I noted above, increased spending at each school has seemed to have no effect on measurable outputs. Note too that a linear relation between increased spending and increased pedagogical effectiveness would mean that the legal education provided by School A in 2012 was four times as “effective” (whatever that is supposed to mean) as that produced by School B in 1996.

In sum, how plausible is it that these increased costs have been even minimally defensible, in terms of any conceivable cost-benefit analysis, from the perspective of the graduates of these law schools? To ask that question is to answer it.

SEK’s Game of Thrones Recap: “Mockingbird,” in which things are binary, or they aren’t

[ 66 ] May 19, 2014 |

Things were very much black or white in this episode, except when they weren’t.

But mostly they were. I mean:


Also, I apologize for not getting the podcast up already, but it’s been a long weekend at Chez Kaufman. Fortunately — I kid, I kid — we have two weeks until the next episode airs, so we’ll be all caught up before the next one.

Sunday Book Review: The Way of the Knife

[ 33 ] May 18, 2014 |

Mark Mazzetti’s Way of the Knife tracks the development of the dual Joint Special Operations Command and Central Intelligence Agency campaign against Al Qaeda. Mazzetti tells of how the War on Terror changed both organizations, making each more lethal while at the same time compromising substantial elements of their original missions. Mazzetti’s book, one of many that describes the development of the SOF and drone campaigns, focuses not only on the organizational competition, but also on a variety of “colorful” personalities in and around the war.

The Pointy End of the State

This is essentially an organizational history of the SOF and UAV components of the War on Terror, and of how the demands of fighting an unconventional adversary transformed two organs of the US national security state. After 9/11, the Bush administration and the rest of the “deep state” grasped for means to strike back against Al Qaeda. The invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq constituted one prong of this response, but these invasions were clumsy tools for solving the much more narrow problem of targeting and defeating the Al Qaeda network itself. Invading Afghanistan could force Al Qaeda to move, and invading Iraq (in the fantasies of the neocons) could set fire to a series of cultural and political changes in the Arab world that would make Al Qaeda impossible, but neither could destroy the network as it then existed.

The government responded in two ways. First, the CIA militarized existing capabilities, breaking a series of norms and taboos that had held since the 1970s. Effectively, the CIA got back into the business of killing people, only now with makeshift drones and highly trained operatives. But Donald Rumsfeld was unsatisfied with an outcome that left the CIA in control of the sharpest parts of the war against Al Qaeda. Rumsfeld and the neocons around him had, since the 1970s, harbored a distrust of the CIA. Rumsfeld also sought to bring killing capacity directly under his own control at DoD. They didn’t believe that the CIA was culturally equipped to fight Al Qaeda, and in any case knew that DoD could draw on far greater resources.

This resulted in a significant boom for Special Operations Forces, which received substantial resources and bureaucratic attention. Under Stanley McChrystal, JSOC became nearly autonomous from the rest of DoD, with its own intelligence collection capabilities, procurement system, and command structure. McChrystal believed this was necessary in order to develop an organization as quick and as flexible as the terrorist groups it was fighting. JSOC required organic assets and autonomy in order to operate effectively in conditions of minimal and quickly shifting intelligence.

This lack of coordination created problems with the rest of occupation forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. JSOC would conduct raids in the middle of long-term pacification operations without notifying local forces, which severely disrupted the ability of other units to build rapport with the local population. However, it also gave JSOC the agility to fight AQ networks in both theaters of operation.

It goes without saying that Rumsfeld was less interested in civilian control as an abstract principle than in having them under his direct control. As it detached itself from the enormous Pentagon bureaucracy, JSOC became more like the CIA. However, JSOC operated outside the conventional (albeit limited) means for maintaining executive and Congressional oversight of the intelligence community.

Over time, the CIA responded to the increased effectiveness and assertiveness of JSOC by increasing its own degree of militarization. Before 2001, killing people was not the primary mission of the CIA. Today it is, both because of the demands of civilian policymakers and because of competition with DoD. The two organizations eventually developed cooperative arrangements, such that JSOC could loan assets to the CIA when legal concerns prevented the former from operating. The raid that killed Osama Bin Laden involved just such an arrangement. Private contractors also played a role, with both JSOC and the CIA taking advantage of relationships with private firms and individuals associated with the broader intelligence community.

Drones, SOF, and Obama

There’s no question that there have been organizational payoffs. Both JSOC and the CIA are better at killing people than there were in 2001, and probably better at identifying the appropriate targets. It’s altogether less than obvious that the CIA is good at anything else. Mazzetti suggests that the CIA’s militarization makes it less capable in carrying out traditional intelligence tasks. He doesn’t write very much about the NSA, but it’s possible that part of the explanation for the NSA’s growing mission set lies in the reduced capacity of the CIA to carry out its traditional tasks.

Although this structure emerged from roots in the Bush administration, it really came into its own under Obama, as it became clear that the administration would (eventually) prefer a smaller footprint in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The CIA could offer Obama an alternative to two problems. First, killing people eliminated the pesky need for putting them in prison. Dead terrorists could tell fewer tales, but neither did they need to go to Gitmo. Second, the CIA and JSOC gave Obama ways to fight terrorists (and ward off domestic critics) without retaining large scale forces abroad. Accordingly, Obama and Panetta were more than willing to allow JSOC and the CIA to continue and expand their campaigns.


From an institutional point of view, both the development of modern JSOC and the militarization of the CIA are interesting stories, with potentially important lessons. With respect to the former, 9/11 and the support of Rumsfeld offered Stan McChrystal the opportunity to fashion something radical and new; an organization that could take advantage of the combination of very high human capital (the extremely talented and skilled members of US special operations forces) with the latest technological and intelligence advances. Shorn of much of the Pentagon bureaucracy but still maintaining access to its enormous resources, the new JSOC could do truly remarkable things when set loose. Whether those things comported with a broader, long-term view of American grand strategy is a different question.

With respect to the CIA, I think that it would have been more helpful to approach the question from a factional point of view than a generational. Obviously, the two are related; factions often map imperfectly onto generations, as was the case with fighter and bomber factions in the USAF. With the CIA, it seems that the shift happened too quickly to suggest that the organization was simply responding to outside pressures. Rather, I imagine that factions within the CIA were entirely comfortable with a more militarized posture, and that the combination of the failure to predict 9/11 and the competition from JSOC gave these factions the ammunition they needed to push the organization in the way they wanted.

There’s also the question of how this matters for the flexibility of US airpower institutions. Debate over whether drone strikes remain more appropriately in the DoD or the CIA continue. It’s less than obvious that the DoD is better than the CIA at drone strikes, at least in terms of collateral damage. Putting DoD fully in charge of drones is attractive from an international law point of view, as it drags the campaign from the shadowy intelligence world into the much more visible defense world. However, some of the most recent evidence suggests that CIA does a better job of conducting due diligence with respect to developing intelligence prior to strikes, and to conducting the strikes themselves. It’s surely interesting that the United States is undertaking what amounts to a strategic air campaign without making the traditional Air Force (or Navy) its focus.


This isn’t the only book on the development and growth of the SOF and drone campaigns during the War on Terror, but it’s a good one. Mazzetti maintains a respectful distance from his material, but while he’s clearly impressed with how effective

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JSOC and the CIA have become, he’s obviously less committed to the idea that this has served the strategic interests of the United States well. This comes through effectively in his portraits of the various private contractors who’ve become associated with the intelligence community. But Mazzetti’s account also suggests concern with how both campaigns have escaped effective civilian oversight, both through bureaucratic means and through Congressional disinterest. It’s worth your time.

Mt. St. Helens Day

[ 37 ] May 18, 2014 |


On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens underwent its cataclysmic explosion that reshaped the mountain
, reminded Americans about the amazing powers of volcanoes, and blew a little 6-year old nerd’s mind. We lived south of Mt. St. Helens so in the leadup to the big eruption, we only had ash a couple of times and that just a dusting. But my family all comes from eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and Idaho so I saw tons of pictures when the eruption turned day into night. This was a pretty huge event for everyone in the Northwest. We saw images of the destruction in school for years. When IMAX theaters first came out, the big film to see in the Northwest was the Mt. St. Helens film.

I have visited the blast site a couple of times, once maybe in the late 80s and once maybe in 1994 or so. It’s been a very long time. I may have to alleviate that this summer. It’s an amazing thing to see.

All Money to the Top

[ 92 ] May 18, 2014 |

Who could have guessed:

At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning Washington research group.

The study, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities.

The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than 2 to 1. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically.

“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”

Why, it’s almost like university administrators advance their careers on undermining tenure-track faculty, expanding administrative spending, and forcing their students into debt while acquiring outsized salaries for themselves! In other words, for everyone who says we need to run higher education like a corporation, that’s exactly what’s happening.

I’m sorry, but no (?)

[ 118 ] May 18, 2014 |

Sorry to interrupt your Sunday evening with this little trifle of a post, but is this author just dreadfully wrong (about “The Shining”)?

He posits that Jack is ultimately a sympathetic character, just a fatally-flawed guy who’s struggling with his demons. Granted it’s been a long time, but I remember Jack Torrance as a character who desperately wants to think of himself as good, but who really, deep down, just isn’t. Jack Torrance came across– to me– as the ultimate bullshitter, and the way I recall things, there was no one he bullshitted more than himself.

Am I crazy?

Check Your Privilege Before You Wreck Your Privilege. Or Make Me Vom.

[ 213 ] May 18, 2014 |

This just in..

Repulsive Privileged Young Prick Who Doesn’t Understand What Privilege Is Writes About Privilege.

Worst Defeat Since Poltava?

[ 41 ] May 18, 2014 |

Tonight, Stockholm will be in flames:

Swiss voters rejected a 3.1 billion- franc ($3.5 billion) order for Gripen fighter jets, a setback to Swedish defense company Saab AB.

The 22-plane contract, which Switzerland awarded 2 1/2 years ago, was opposed by 53.4 percent of voters, the government in Bern said on its website today. That’s in line with the latest survey ahead of the vote, which showed some 51 percent of people polled opposed the transaction.

“The people have spoken,” said Susanne Leutenegger Oberholzer, a Social Democrat member of parliament. “We surely don’t have the money for such unnecessary acquisitions.”

Here was Bill Sweetman singing the praises of the Gripen E a few weeks ago:

The conundrum facing fighter planners is that, however smart your engineering, these aircraft are expensive to design and build and have a cradle-to-grave product life that is far beyond either the political or technological horizon.

The reason that the

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JAS 39E may earn a Gen 6 tag is that it has been designed with these issues in mind. Software comes first: The new hardware runs Mission System 21 software, the latest roughly biennial release in the series that started with the JAS 39A/B. Long life requires adaptability, both across missions and through-life. Like Ed Heinemann’s A-4 Skyhawk, the Gripen was designed as a small aircraft with a relatively large payload. And by porting most of the software to the new version, the idea is that all C/D weapons and capabilities, and then some, are ready to go on the E…

However, what should qualify the JAS 39E for a Gen 6 tag is what suits it most for a post-Cold War environment. It is not the world’s fastest, most agile or stealthiest fighter. That is not a bug, it is a feature. The requirements were deliberately constrained because the JAS 39E is intended to cost less to develop, build and operate than the JAS 39C, despite doing almost everything better. As one engineer says: “The Swedish air force could not afford to do this the traditional way”—and neither can many others.

It’s an ambitious goal, and it is the first time that Sweden has undertaken such a project in the international spotlight. But if it is successful, it will teach lessons that nobody can afford not to learn.

Apparently the Swiss can afford not to learn it, at least for the time being.

Given the relatively close vote, it should be noted that it’s not impossible (if not necessarily likely) that Wikileaks vigorous campaign against the Gripen may have had a decisive impact. Wikileaks is, of course, deeply concerned with all corruption associated with any defense contracts that aren’t tendered by Rosoboronexport. The failure of the referendum means that Switzerland will continue to make due with its F/A-18 Hornets, which will make Boeing happy the next time the frame comes up for upgrade. It’ll also mean that Boeing, Eurofighter, Dassault will fight hard for the next potential Swiss contract.

A Man Not to be Trusted

[ 125 ] May 18, 2014 |

Tim Geithner.

What matters

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more than his dishonest self-justifications is his record, which is also quite bad.


[ 15 ] May 17, 2014 |

For your Saturday evening Soviet naval aviation needs:

The Sharks, Postseason Frustration and “Choking”

[ 130 ] May 17, 2014 |

Since I am, in an extremely rare development, 10-2 in my playoff picks so far (the Habs got me last round), I guess I should keep going.  Going with my simplistic method of choosing the best possession team unless there’s a very good reason not to,  I’ll confidently pick the Rangers and say that there’s essentially nothing to choose between the Blackhawks and Kings, but if you’re one of those compulsive types who just has to bet, I dunno, Los Angeles. I’ll add Berube’s picks when if/when I get ‘em.

Meanwhile, I have a long, long quasi-defense of the Sharks and “choking” that will hopefully raise some points of general interest to sports fans…

When the San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 lead to their downstate rivals in the first round of this year’s playoffs, it was the cruelest blow yet inflicted on the fan base of a perennial contender that can’t get over the hump in the post-season. When a team becomes only the fifth team the history of major North American team sports to lose a 3-game series lead to top off a decade of playoff frustration, it’s hard not just turn to the traditional characterizations of sportswriters. Responding to Sharks forward Logan Couture saying that the loss was “the type of series that will rip your heart out,” Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s excellent Puck Daddy blog wrote that this “assumes the team has heart in the first place, which is something it clearly doesn’t. It has panic, doubt, confusion, lack of confidence and delusion by the bushel, but nary a postseason atrium or ventricle.”

At this point, is it fair to call the Sharks “chokers”? It’s not just a sample of one or two series at this point. How can we put them in historical perspective?

Read more…

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