Monday, November 30, 2009

Get Rid of Law School

I’ve come to think that law school is a huge rip-off. You go to school for three years, accumulate a pile of debt, all to earn the right to take the bar exam. So I have an alternative.

In order to be a lawyer, you should have to do two things: pass the bar, and do a one year apprenticeship. It should not be a requirement to go to law school, although people who had a burning desire to could I suppose.

My system has several advantages. First, it makes aspiring lawyers able to consider a broader arrange of options. The debt incurred while attending law school makes considering jobs like public defender impossible. Under my system, it’s possible that someone could become a certified lawyer with no debt. Instead of spending so much time thinking about how to pay debt down, a person can think about what area of law he really wants to do.

Second, my system breaks the stranglehold prestigious schools have on the legal profession to a degree. Now, people from Harvard law get the best clerkships and legal jobs because, well, they went to Harvard and they must be better than the rest of us. These of course are often the same people who gamed the system prior to law school. They took the easiest majors possible and avoided hard classes like the plague, all in an effort to get the highest GPA possible. If it sounds like I’m saying someone at Harvard Law who majored in brown-nosing wouldn’t make a better lawyer than someone with a lower GPA who majored in engineering and Arabic, I am. And my system solves for exactly this situation. The person with the legitimate majors in this scenario would likely find himself in a less prestigious law school with fewer career options available to him even though he would be just as good as, if not a better lawyer than the one who went to Harvard. Now, both men will be judged on their mastery of the law and apprenticeships instead of where they went.

Third, my system is better for women. Many women plan to take time off from the workforce to rear children at some point. They would often like to do so in their late twenties or early thirties. Assuming a person went to law school straight from undergrad, she would be 25 or 26 when she graduated. If she wanted to have children at 28, she’d have only two or three years to gain experience and move up the ladder. In fact, there’s very little chance she could make partner, or gain a position of significant authority with just two years of experience. Now assuming she passes the bar and apprenticeship when she’s 23, she has an extra two or three years of experience. Those years could make all the difference in determining whether a woman builds up enough seniority to be able to come back in a position of authority.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When White America Catches the Cold, Black America Catches Pneumonia

Young black males are faring the worst in this economic crisis. So reported a Washington Post article yesterday. The current unemployment rate for them is 34.5% compared to 10.2% nationally.

There are a couple of factors that explain this. One is that working class and poor blacks often worked in sectors like construction and manufacturing that have been incredibly hard hit. That factor explains why young white men also have a higher unemployment rate than the national average.

But there also seems to be discrimination at play. The article reported that black men with a clean record fare no better than white men recently released from prison. Whites were more likely to get hired for jobs than blacks with the exact same qualifications. Do any of you readers have another explanation for why these things are true apart from racism? I’d really like to believe racism isn’t a factor here.

This does have important implications regardless. Unemployed black young men who feel like their race disqualifies them from getting jobs are more likely to turn to crime, or the underground economy. Policymakers must do something to improve employment prospects for this demographic for both moral and political reasons.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Should the Government Regulate Sin?

When the civil rights acts passed in the 1960s, critics argued that government shouldn’t legislate morality. In that particular instance, I’d argue that they were only stepping in to allow people to enjoy their constitutional rights. But how much government should legislate morality is nonetheless a question worth asking.

It seems that most of the time, legislating purely for moral reasons is almost necessarily hypocritical. Let’s consider the example of prostitution. Prostitutes and “Johns” can both receive criminal penalties for transactions. But I’m not sure it’s right to throw people in jail for having sex for money. In many cases, the woman is poor and desperate and simply trying to make a living. By contrast, plenty of rich women from elite colleges end up marrying a man solely for his money. In essence, they are agreeing to be the man’s sexual partner in return for a life of material comfort. That sounds an awful lot like prostitution to me. In fact I would even go so far as to say the rich woman is worse morally. The poor woman sells her body because she needs the money and has few other options. The rich one just doesn’t want to work at anything, and thinks that vacations to Europe, and dinners at fancy restaurants are her birthright. It’s galling to me that we would punish the poor woman, but not the rich one.

Even when we consider the man, legislating against prostitution on moral grounds is wrong. The man who takes the sorority girl for a wife so he can have a consistent sexual partner and some social respectability sounds like a John. The difference is that he can afford to “pay” the woman more. By that, I mean that a lot of the men who visit brothels can’t afford to take the woman to expensive dinners, or vacations to exotic locales. A lot of the men would probably prefer a consistent sexual partner, but can only afford a one-night stand. I’m not sure the men who visit brothels are morally worse than the ones who marry sorority girls for a consistent sex partner.

Even if we grant that people engaging in prostitution are immoral, does that give us a right to put them in jail? Do people who drink alcohol to excess, commit adultery, lie, and gossip about their neighbors, like so many people do, have any right to put people in jail because they think their activities are immoral? No. So when we endorse the notion of government regulating sin, we’re really saying that’s only ok as long as the government doesn’t lock us up for ours.

Now, you’re probably thinking, but what about murder? Isn’t it ok to prevent murder because it’s immoral? The most important reason we prohibit murder is that it causes a compelling direct harm to another person, i.e., they can’t exercise their right to life anymore. And that seems like a fine reason for government to prohibit certain behaviors. Even in the example of prostitution, you can argue that the woman is harmed in a compelling direct way as a prostitute.

Nor is saying the government shouldn’t prohibit certain behaviors saying that society has to condone every behavior. I’m fine with certain things, from drunken hookups, to adultery being cultural taboos. A good example is racism. There is no law against joining the KKK, or being a racist. People who join the KKK need not fear mandatory minimums. But the reason so few people do join, or behave as open racists is because such behavior is culturally unacceptable.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Communion Witheld From Patrick Kennedy

It’s come out this weekend that Patrick Kennedy’s bishop has asked him to stop taking communion because his public stances on moral issues contradict those of the Catholic Church.

I wonder how consistently these teachings are applied though. For example, the church teaches that all life is intrinsically sacred. Presumably, that also includes convicted murderers on death row. But has the church ever cut off communion to a politician who supports capital punishment? I haven’t found an example, although maybe some of you regular readers have some.

More to the point, I wonder if the church is making it impossible for Catholics to be Democrats and run for high office. In order to be nominated for President, or attain a party leadership post, being pro-choice is practically a requirement. But the church teaches that abortion violates its teachings about the sanctity of human life. So Catholic Democrats are between a rock and a hard place.

For the church, this wouldn’t necessarily be advantageous. It seems like the church would prefer to have Catholics influencing dialogue in both parties, and not just one. Kicking out Catholic Democrats who must be pro-choice because of political realities probably does deter some Catholics from running for office as Democrats. But that is one less Catholic to shape policy in the party.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How Much Does it Cost to be an Ambassador?

Now is a critical time for American diplomacy. We’re engaged in two wars, fighting a broader war on terrorism, trying to secure international cooperation on Iran, and coming up with a coherent international response to the economic crisis. At such a time, you’d think the government would want the most qualified people possible serving as diplomats, right? Well no, that doesn’t appear to be what the government wants unfortunately.

This article on the politico details all of the political appointments Obama has made to serve as ambassadors. These include some significant countries like France and Britain. Moreover, with how quickly things change in international relations, almost every country is now important. Those appointed for political reasons have often raised a great deal of money for Obama or the Democratic Party. To be fair, the Obama administration isn’t the first do to this. In fact, the split over the last couple of decades has been 70% career diplomats and 30% political appointments.

Apparently one response trotted out in defense of these political nominees is that they do have some understanding of international relations. For example, the ambassador to France’s father was also an ambassador. But I’m just not sure that’s good enough. If I’m going in for surgery, I don’t care if the person operating on me’s father was a skilled surgeon. I want to know if he is a good surgeon. In the same way, when I’m putting someone in charge of the military, I don’t care if his father was a soldier. I want to know his military record.

Cynics have long claimed their government is for sale to the highest bidder. Stories like this do not help in refuting them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Do Women Want (in the workplace)?

I just ran across an interesting post from the New York Times about gender and level of satisfaction with one’s job. A study found that women need to make far less money than men do in order to find their jobs fulfilling.

Part of the explanation could be that women tend to work jobs more in fields like education or healthcare where they can see themselves making a tangible difference in another person’s life. So a woman making $50,000 as a teacher who gets to see her students develop might really feel satisfied. But a male investment banker getting that salary can’t credibly claim he’s doing anything useful to help others. In fact, he might feel bored by using excel spreadsheets hours on end each day, or reading through memos to make sure every comma is in the right place.

Plus society has traditionally judged women less on how much they make. A man who’s not making as much as he might like often has most of his self-worth wrapped up into his compensation because that’s how he’s been raised. Women on the other hand have not traditionally internalized that message. Given the strength of feminist ideology in the past couple of decades though, I wonder if girls growing up today will continue to follow that pattern.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will Sarah Palin Go Rogue in 2012?

Sarah Palin is out with her new book, and touring to promote it. She even made a stop on the Oprah show—this would of course be the same Oprah who supported Obama for President last year. So now is as good a time as any to consider her chances for 2012.

I still think they don’t look good. True, Republicans tend to view her favorably. But the space she can carve out in the Republican primary field is in the religious right. I don’t see the fiscal conservative wing or national security hawks going to a less-than-one term governor of Alaska for their first choice. There will likely be too many other choices.

But with the religious right, she’ll have to contend with the charismatic Mike Huckabee, and possibly someone like Tom Coburn or John Thune who are both popular with social conservatives. It is difficult to see her winning a stunning victory in Iowa or South Carolina, where evangelical voters dominate. And I don’t see her playing too well in New Hampshire, so that leaves her without a victory in one of the crucial early states.

I think Palin would be a disaster in the general election, and can only win if the economy is in a depression. Otherwise, she’ll alienate too many moderates and well-off suburban swing voters with her very conservative views. Team Obama would probably be happy to face her.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama Needs to Do More About Jobs

Despite the hundreds of billions in stimulus and the massive bank bailouts, the employment numbers are getting steadily worse. Some have urged that the government should explore more direct methods of job creation, such as simply hiring more people to work in government agencies. I think there is merit to the idea.

At the rate things are going, it looks like many workers—especially the young—will be without jobs for a while to come. That means they will not develop the skills they need to be employable in the future, and that they will have large resume gaps which simply make them less attractive to employers. So having government directly create jobs may simply be an investment in the future. Employees with skills and work experience will be more productive in the future and pay more in taxes.

Besides, it’s better to create “make-work jobs” than give the money away as welfare. People on welfare don’t develop skills. They’re also looked down upon in society. It’s easier to help people with healthcare when people see potential beneficiaries work hard. The only other alternative is not to help those struggling in this economy out at all, which is unacceptable for both moral and political reasons.

Politically, Obama and Democrats understandably want to tread carefully. If they have the government go on a hiring binge, they risk being called socialists. But that sort of name-calling won’t be any worse than having unemployment numbers continue to climb.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Civilian Trial For Mohammed

Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in civilian court. Is it a good idea? I think so.

It upholds American ideals which hold that everyone is entitled to a free and fair trial. Now, many of you might argue with good reason that Mohammed isn’t entitled to constitutional rights because he isn’t a citizen. But that isn’t sufficient to deny him a public trial in my mind. It seems the ability to publicly confront one’s accuser and have an open trial derive not from a particular amendment in the constitution, but rather from our national ideals. Even Timothy McVeigh, who mercilessly killed 168 innocent people without cause got a trial, and millions of dollars spent on his legal defense.

Moreover, it is a tangible demonstration of American ideals. We don’t just espouse ideals and then forget about them the second they’re inconvenient. The right to speech becomes meaningful not because we protect it for people who sing “God Bless America,” but because we protect it for people who espouse the most repugnant views like the KKK. In the same way, the right to a trial is meaningful when we give it to people we hate like Mohammed.

Now, there are some tricky issues. How can we make sure the jury is fair? How can we ask them to weigh complicated evidence such as confessions that may have been induced under torture? It will indeed be hard to find a jury who’s never heard of 9/11. But that’s not sufficient reason not to have a trial. After all, everyone had heard of Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombings. As for complicated evidence, we ask jurors to weigh testimony from experts, or DNA evidence all the time. There are definitely some issues with national security issues that I’ll write about in the future.

But for now, the Gadson Review gives a thumbs up to trying Mohammed in civilian courts.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obama's Options in Afghanistan

President Obama has yet to settle on a plan for Afghanistan. And little wonder. This is perhaps the toughest decision he’s had to make of his presidency. Most people agree that status quo isn’t working, so that leaves him with essentially two options.

Option 1: Give General McChrystal all the soldiers he asks for, which is about 40,000. This would leave over 100,000 total in Afghanistan. The question becomes what our final objective is. Is it to eliminate the Taliban completely? Is it to stay there until it’s a fully matured liberal democracy? Also, where will these soldiers come from? It seems like it could be third or fourth tour for some.

Option 2: Drastically draw down troops, and make greater use of drones. This will make it unlikely that we’ll be able to defeat the Taliban. Maybe we could make a deal with them in this situation? But that would doom many recently empowered elements of the population like women to a life of submission.

What do you think we should do? Take today’s poll.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2010 Midterm Elections

If you read the latest Gallup poll, you know that the generic Republican is now ahead of the generic Democrat. Do the numbers show that Obama is vulnerable, and that Democrats are in danger of losing power in Washington?

I think not for two reasons. First, remember that House races are localized. It doesn’t matter what the vote is nationwide, it matters who wins in specific districts. It may even be theoretically for one party to win the national popular vote and still not win control of congress in the same way that someone can win in the Electoral College, but lose the popular vote and still be elected president.

Second, the polls are close. The latest Gallup poll has Republicans leading Democrats 48%-44%. The elections are going to be held a year from now. Plenty can change in that space of time.

But even if Democrats lose Congress, that does not mean Obama is finished. It is typical for the party in power to lose seats in the midterm elections. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both lost seats in Congress during their first midterms, and went on to be effective presidents. For Obama, the key will be the economy. If he can show voters that the economy has tangibly improved by the end of 2011, then I think he’ll be a good bet for reelection.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Abortion and the House Healthcare Bill

Some Democrats are unhappy with the version of the healthcare bill passed in the House last week. One provision they are upset about is the abortion amendment offered by pro-life Democrats that would prevent government money from being used to subsidize private insurance that pays for abortion.

I understand the frustration of some feminists. Access to abortion is really important to them. But I think the greater good, even for the very poor women they want to help is to pass a bill.

If a bill pays for abortions in any form, it will probably lose pro-life Democrats, which could doom passage. Also it forecloses the possibility that any group within the Republican base could support universal healthcare. In order for universal healthcare to continue for decades, people from both parties have to buy-in, or the party that doesn’t will simply try to repeal universal healthcare when it is in power.

The faction of the Republican Party most likely to support any universal healthcare in my judgment is the religious right. Stay with me here. Many evangelicals come from middle class families that stand to be hurt by rising insurance premiums in coming years. Moreover, many do believe the Bible requires them to be compassionate towards the poor.

So here’s a question feminists should answer before they block a healthcare bill that doesn’t cover abortion: because a woman can’t get an abortion, should we also say that she can’t get a mammogram?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Public Option Just Might Happen

A healthcare reform bill made it out of the House last week. And things are looking up in the Senate, where a Daily beast article reports that Joe Lieberman will not join Republicans in filibustering a bill with a public option.

That means that there is definitely a chance now for a public option if Lieberman really doesn’t filibuster. No way, the public option gets 60 votes, but could it get 51? I think so. Nelson, Landrieu, Bayh, Lieberman, and Baucus will probably not support a bill with a public option. But that is only five votes. In fact, this might be an ideal situation for Democrats. They can get the public option, and moderate Democrats from red states can say they voted against the plan, and not suffer the wrath of voters in 2010.

Now, any healthcare bill that gets through the senate will have to be reconciled to the House version. But I expect Pelosi to be able to not lose any more votes on a substantive House bill. So after all the doubts expressed on this blog and elsewhere, we may have the public option after all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tuesday's Election

Republicans won big last night in Virginia and New Jersey. What does that say about shifting public moods, or what’s going to happen in the 2010 midterm elections?

Not much I don’t think. Each race had its unique features. Many observers said that Creigh Deeds ran a poor campaign, focusing entirely too much on a controversial 20-year old master’s thesis written by his opponent, Bob McDonnell. In New Jersey, Corzine had a difficult tenure that left many openings for his Republican opponent.

In short, I think these two races offer too little information from to extrapolate on broader national trends. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is Lieberman Just Bitter?

The fact that Joe Lieberman is set to block the public option has many liberals irate. In this post, I also took him to task, and questioned the logic behind his move. But I’m not sure there’s an ulterior motive here.

Some are now saying that Lieberman opposes the public option purely out of spite. He is angry that he could not win the Democratic nomination in 2004, and that he lost a primary for his Senate seat in 2006. So now he’s getting payback.

The problem is that Lieberman also opposed many of President Clinton’s proposed reforms back in the 1990s. Was he bitter then?

Also, remember that Lieberman is not the only holdup on the public option. Senators Bayh, Landrieu, and Nelson have also expressed concern about the public option. I have said before why I think a public option is good, and hence why they are wrong, but I don’t think it’s fair to ascribe malicious motives to any of them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New York Special Election Reevaluated

The Republican nominee has now withdrawn, and in a twist, has decided to back the Democratic nominee. I’m not sure who will win on election day. But I have reevaluated the opinion I expressed in an earlier post about this race.

I thought that the move by conservative leaders to move against a moderate was misguided at best. And that would be true in most circumstances, but it isn’t necessarily here. In the Senate, I would say this sort of action is almost always bad. Especially now when the Democrats theoretically have a filibuster-proof majority. A Republican who votes with her party some of the time and still caucuses with it is a net asset.

But in the House, each vote becomes marginally less important, since there are more members. One more seat would not make it any easier for Republicans to pass legislation. And it would still be unlikely for them to be able to stymie President Obama’s initiatives.

Moreover, remember that this is a special election. Whoever’s elected will only be in Congress for a year before the next election. So I think there’s value for the Republican Party in sending a message that a person has to toe the party line on certain issues to get party support.

Now let me add several caveats. First, as I said before, the Republicans shouldn’t even think about doing this in the Senate right now. Second, Republicans should not do this in a truly moderate district. In one that’s split 50-50, they should allow for some deviation on certain issues to maximize chances of electing a Republican. Third, it’s probably best not to do this in a regular election law, when these things get more media coverage. Other voters in other parts of the country could gain a more negative impression of the Republican Party as being hostile to moderates. But in a special election like this, most voters nationally aren’t paying attention.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Obama's Basketball Game

Obama is in hot water for something other than healthcare. And he is in trouble with someone other than conservatives for once. Some feminists are upset that a recent White House basketball game included no women.

I can see their argument. The logic goes that a lot of times, patriarchy is not entrenched by mean spirited men who wake up every day thinking about how they can keep women down. Rather, they unconsciously entrench male privilege by excluding women from social outlets like golf games where males can gain more face time and exposure with the boss.

But I can’t help seeing Obama’s point of view too. It’s unlikely that he is going to use these basketball games to choose who the next Secretary of the Treasury is. He probably just wants to play a game once in a while to relax with people he knows play at his level, which is high for a forty-eight year old. Should he have a pollster pre-approve every last recreational activity he does? Is that a fair burden, even for someone as admittedly political as the President? Should he have gender quotas for every activity he does?

What do you think? Take today’s poll?