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Obama’s Latest Jobs Speech: “Stop the political circus,” says the Ring Master.

President Obama and I agree on at least one thing: “Washington hasn’t always put [Americans’] interests first.”

Ain’t that the truth.

With Republicans vying for his job, the economy persistently sluggish, and unemployment relatively unchanged since the Bush Administration, President Obama took to the podium to make “the big speech” before a special Joint Session of Congress to lay out his job plan.

This is not his first job plan. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a month where the news has not talked about an Obama job plan.

  • In November of 2008 (“After more than two weeks of virtual silence on the economy, President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team burst on the scene with new ambition and urgency Sunday, demanding swift passage by Congress of a massive two-year spending and tax-cutting recovery program.”)
  • In January of 2009 (“President-elect Obama countered critics with an analysis Saturday by his economic team showing a program of tax cuts and spending like he’s proposed would create as many as 4.1 million jobs, far more than the 3 million he has insisted are needed to lift the country from recession.“)
  • In March of 2009, after its passage (“President Obama on Friday touted the benefits of his economic recovery plan […] the recently passed $787 billion stimulus package.”)
  • In July of 2009, after the plan failed to stop unemployment from climbing to 9.5% (“Obama, a Democrat, is trying to restore economic growth to the US but his $787-billion economic stimulus plan […] failed to stop the unemployment rate from rising to 9.5 percent.”)
  • In December of 2009 (“President Barack Obama says his administration needs to “get America back to work” as quickly as it can, and he‘s putting together a list of proposals aimed at doing just that.”)
  • In February of 2010 (“President Obama hit the road again Tuesday to promote the new job-creation program he described as his No. 1 priority, […]”)
  • September of 2010, just one year ago (“U.S. President Barack Obama will announce on Monday a six-year infrastructure revamp plan with an initial investment of $50 billion to jump-start job creation, a White House official said.”)
  • In February of 2011 (“The Obama administration outlined an “innovation strategy” for US job growth Friday, […]”)
  • In May of 2011 (“Obama, GOP unveil competing plans for job growth.”)

That’s a lot of talk, but not a lot of change. But don’t lose hope. The President has another plan for you. 

I’ll give him this: Obama’s got a lotta plans. But he isn’t making much headway. Unless, of course, you have managed to convince yourself that he actually staved off a worse disaster.  Maybe, but even President Obama sells his plans not as fingers in the dike, but as reversals.

Anyway, in America we don’t believe in treading water–we believe in winning. Why else would we keep score? 14 million people can’t be wrong–the plans just aren’t working.

So what is he proposing, this time?

Where we agree

First, there are a couple things he said that I liked…assuming he means them:

Economic Growth is  Driven by Business

Those of us here tonight can’t solve all of our nation’s woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers.

Great! But why have all of your plans up to now been focused more on funding the public sector, increasing the debt that must be paid by taxes from individuals and the private sector, and not just decreasing the cost of doing business for “businesses and workers,” as per your speech? Why wait until the 11th hour to come to Jesus?

Infrastructure Helps Business and Employs Construction Workers

Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world.

This is inexcusable. Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?

I like upgrading our roads. But what’s new about this from promised infrastructure fixes over the last three years? What happened to the spending you’ve been talking about since 2009?

OK, so, maybe I agree, but I’m a little distrustful of his sincerity. And that the money is actually going to get the economy going again. Employing workers to build roads and bridges will get cash into the economy, but it alone won’t employ 14 million people, most of who are not construction workers.

Where  He’s Wrong

On the other hand, there are several places that I just flat out think the President is wrong.

Federal Money to Rebuild Schools

And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating. How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school — and we can give it to them, if we act now.

The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows; installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country.

I’m all about education (even if, as a high school drop-out, I’m not a huge fan of public ed), but I don’t agree that this has anything to do with getting the economy going or creating jobs. Yes, every kid should go to a good school, but no, that has nothing to do with the economy, or with the federal government. That’s the states’ job, and the only thing it does is redistribute money from state A to state B.

So, Mr. President, rather than increase our taxes (or the deficit, but it’s the same thing, in the long term), just let us keep our money in our states, and we’ll fix the schools ourselves.

Federal Money to Hire Teachers

Again, with the education thing.

Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work. These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher. But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop. Pass this jobs bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong.

My problem with this is the horribly faulty logic and the blatant pandering to the education unions.  As economist Arnold Kling explains “it assumes that state and local governments need more money in order to keep teachers. They do not. They could reduce compensation and maintain hiring or even increase it.”

In other words, states aren’t firing teachers. Teachers are leaving for better paying jobs, or the states are paying teachers too much (and that’s an entirely different conversation than this one, which is, if you forgot–THE ECONOMY).

A reduction in the number of teachers only indicates that you need more money if the reduction comes from teachers quitting their jobs. If you are laying off teachers, that shows that you are making a choice to keep their compensation too high rather than have more on staff.

Get it? States aren’t firing teachers to make cuts–they are paying them more than they should. They could pay less, and employ more, but (again, enter the unions), that’s not going to happen.

Remember, I’m not saying that what teachers are paid is fair or enough. I’m saying that there’s no correlation, in spite of what President Obama is trying to trick you into believing–that states have fired teachers because of budget crunches.

If you aren’t a teacher, you must be an oil executive

Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both.

This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare.

Actually, it sounds a lot like class warfare. The 14 million people out there that are unemployed are, for the most part, not former teachers. In fact, education, up until 2010, was the industry that actually increased in employment.

Enter the graphic:

And that was just as of the middle of 2010!

Who are the big losers, then? You wouldn’t know it to listen to the President’s speech, but among the unemployed you can find former professionals and business service providers , construction workers (housing industry, not bridge building, though arguably, they could cross over, I assume), durable goods (like the auto industry) and retail (where shop).

Conclusion: Fail. Just like all the other plans.

I’d like to see the economy rise in the next year, because everyone would win. But what President Obama does get is that he doesn’t get it. Like one candidate said in the Reagan Library Republican Debate Wednesday night, “the President is a nice guy, but he doesn’t have a clue.” And, as another said, “its time to get out from behind the teleprompter.”

Yes, he can speech-ify, but speeches don’t amount to results, as we’ve seen for the last three years. I hope the Congress can find the morsels within the plan that will help, pass them, and move us forward.

On the whole, though, I’m not sanguine. As one Twitter level pundit put it, the speech was not expected to offer anything new. And it didn’t fail to deliver on that point.

[Read the full text here.]

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IT’S ABOUT TIME: U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ

NEWTON - MAY 22:  Law students take part in Bo...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The rest of the legal world, and the legions of recent law grads that are unemployed and underemployed, already know this: law schools lie.

Not directly, mind you. They just fudge the numbers. Now, finally, U.S. News, the leading source for the all important law school rankings, will  “encourage” law schools to come clean on the real numbers.

It appears that the magazine is going to take a closer look at law schools’ real success at landing jobs for graduates in ranking schools. On Thursday, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, noted in this blog post that the magazine will alter how it calculates employment rates in its rankings to more accurately capture the “current state of legal employment.”

And it’s about time they did.

How big a problem is it? Or rather, how big a problem is it getting to be? Check out this graph by Paul Caron and posted by Bill Henderson and Andrew Morriss at Legal Profession Blog:

See how the increase in schools not reporting starts to spike in 2010? I’d speculate that’s because it’s getting harder for schools to prove to applicants that they can count on a job right after graduation, this all while increasing tuition. There are just too many disgruntled lawyers out there. (I recently participated in mock interviews at my alma mater, and every single student noted dramatically higher tuition over the previous year and fears about their ability to pay).

Why aren’t law schools reporting the numbers? Because they lack the incentive. They’re focused on getting highly qualified students, the people who are paying tuition, not on making sure they send out highly employed lawyers. The ABA checks on bar passage rates, not on employment rates.

Hear it from Henderson and Morriss:

We would like to suggest to our colleagues in the legal academy that we are approaching an endgame.  Here is the reality:  prospective students are not being given an accurate picture of their future employment prospects.  Why? Because we are all focused on filling next year’s class with as many high credential students as possible, thereby protecting our school’s place in the pecking order.  Our focus is so shockingly narrow that, from the outside looking in, it appears that our intent is to deceive incoming students.  Brian Kelly’s letter to the deans essentially makes that point–law schools fall short on candor and ethical behavior.

A stinging indictment, but all too correct. Think it’ll make a difference, though? Will the law schools listen when their rankings take a hit from a change in the calculus?

I have a proposal to shift the incentive back to the law schools: start requiring them to assist in in the financing of their student’s legal education. I don’t mean scholarships or grants–I mean financing. Make them borrow the money, and make students borrow the money–if that’s what a student is going to do–from the law school.

The result? Rather than force students to go out and get education loans to pay upfront–from the government, from banks, from their parents– requiring law schools to carry the loans would have the students pay them back to the schools. Suddenly, the school has a very real interest in making sure they are finding jobs, not taking on more students than they can help to employment, are gearing their education towards employment, and are vested in the employment prospects of their students.

A little radical, you say? Maybe so. But right now, the cards are all in the law schools’ hands, and they aren’t playing fair.  It’s time for  them to come clean on  law students’ prospects upon graduation.

via U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ.

Killing the golden goose in Wisconsin

Greed: what is it good for?

In my other life, I play a member of one of the major political parties, and I regularly engage in issues, campaigns, and debates on a partisan level. In all of my activities, however, I try to maintain a level of civility that encourages healthy debate and discussion that allows for, when appropriate, compromise.

Right now, however, I find myself viewing the events in Wisconsin, the antics of the union antagonists, and it merits little in the way of compromise.

What happened in Wisconsin?

If you haven’t been paying attention (or, perhaps, you have been away from your t.v., internet, and radio, like these guys), allow me to sum up what’s happening, very briefly: Wisconsin, like a lot of states, is having budget problems aggravated by expensive pension liabilities growing faster than the money going into them. Rising costs, falling tax revenues.

Governor Walker, to fix the problem, is proposing that government employees, including teachers, pay into the pension funds, just like the rest of us do in the private sector. Further, to prevent the problem again, he’s changing the teacher’s right to collective bargaining.

As Governor Walker explained in an email to government employees,

Collective bargaining units will have to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers will be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units will not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.

And, taken together with the contributions to pensions and healthcare funds, it’ll save Wisconsin $30 million over three months and save 1,500 jobs this year.

The Empire Union Strikes Back

Naturally, unions representing the teachers, as well as a lot of unions not representing the teachers, protested. And the state legislators tasked with solving the budget problem? They fled the state for Illinois:

Inside the rotunda

Image by Jessie Reeder via Flickr

Fourteen Democrat state Senators have fled the state, forcing the state legislature to delay the vote by preventing a quorum. Holed up in Illinois, they have a list of demands they want met, including the right for unions to continue as-is with their collective bargaining agreements. Governor Walker wants to limit the wages that union bosses can insist on by tying it to the state’s consumer price index, or putting it to a public vote, and removing their ability to bargain for pension benefits. Only one of those Senators is needed to give the Wisconsin Senate their quorum and allow for the vote to proceed.

The fact is that the state doesn’t have the money. They either have to fire people, raise taxes, or government employees have to pay their share of their retirement, just like the rest of us with 401ks do.

In other words, the protests are, in large part, based on greed, not real concern for the general welfare. Unions are afraid of losing their ability to extract disproportionate shares of the state coffers for themselves and their members, so they’re doing all they can to bring the state to its knees. It has nothing to do with what is good for the state; it’s all about what’s good for the union.

Facts are facts

As it has been said more and more often, lately, “reality is not negotiable,” and these unions are not seeking the general welfare of the state. Rather, they’re looking out for numero uno–themselves. The money has run out, but they don’t care. They want their benefits, and it doesn’t matter that the state doesn’t have the money for them.

A friend articulated it well:

My employer sells widgets. Widgets have not been selling very well- so my employer doesn’t have as much money as he use to. My employer says to me “Look I’m out of money, so you have an option- take a pay cut or work somewhere else”

If you work in the private sector, that’s the end of story.

But if you work for the government (which, coincidentally, means you make pay above the average of the private sector…way above average. One study found that average pay for public sector work is $39.60, while the same job in the private sector pays only $27.42).  Then, you call the union rep, or the union rep calls you, and you go protest…during work hours.

Yeah. During work hours.

Despite the obvious–that we’re in a recession and if you want more benefits from the government, then your neighbor is the one who will have to pay for them–there are those out there who aren’t willing to give up primo benefits given to them for nothing.

And yet, there are very real questions about who is helping who when the union calls a protest:

There are deeply divided opinions and shifting allegiances over whether unions are helping or hurting people who have been caught in the recent economic squeeze. And workers themselves, being pitted against one another, are finding it hard to feel sympathy or offer solidarity, with their own jobs lost and their benefits and pensions cut back or cut off.

Killing the Golden Goose

Greed, I’m telling you. It pits you against your neighbors, against your employees, against your state, and against your country. While you receive higher wages, free healthcare, and a pension you didn’t contribute to, your neighbor is paying higher taxes to fund those benefits, looking for a second job, and hoping they don’t get hit by a car, because the insurance policy just expired, the insurance policy they can not afford.

In other words, you’re killing the goose that provides the golden eggs.

It’s unfair, and it’s immoral. But it’s the facts. When the union demands benefits far and above those the state can afford, not to mention far and above what the average person has in their private sector job, the state can, and should, require that government employees pay their fair share.

Greed: what is it good for?

(h/t to My Soapbox, Sen. Dan Liljenquist, the NYT, the MacIver Institute, and the Reason Foundation)

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Opening up the books on post-grad employment

Remember graduating from law school?  Remember studying for the bar, and then taking the bar, and then that long wait for results?  And, if you were in my class, just starting to realize that the economy’s nose dive affected the legal industry, too, there was during all of that the constant hunt for a job.  Because those student loans weren’t going to pay themselves, see?

Rewind four years earlier: when this writer was considering which law school to attend, prime among my considerations what the employment rate of graduates within six months of graduation.  Let’s assume I had been accepted to an ample  set of choice schools (though none in the top 15, which would make this whole discussion moot, anyway), and I was trying to decide which school would give me the best opportunity to pay off those then only anticipated student loans.  With the average law school debt load ending up somewhere between $100k and $140k, the ability to repay the loans is among the prime considerations in selecting the school.

Enter the law school employment office and their oblique “employment statistics.” Two Vanderbilt students are taking on the system:

In a paper published at SSRN, [Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee] argue that summaries for each law school in the ABA’s official guide can be confusing. Prospective students looking at the summary table for a law school will see the number of grads employed in law firms, but they won’t be able to tell whether they were working as attorneys, law clerks, paralegals, contract attorneys or administrators, Lynch and McEntee write. The national summary report, however, shows that 6.9 percent of all law school graduates in the class of 2008 working at law firms actually held nonlawyer positions.

Similarly, would-be students who check out the number of graduates employed in business and industry will find that “in-house counsel [are grouped] with short-order cooks at Waffle House,” Lynch and McEntee say.

So let’s say I’m in-house counsel.  And I am grouped with short-order cooks.  Nice.  At least I have an office.

Is that fair?  (not that I am being grouped with short-order cooks, but that prospective student’s are basing their decisions on it).  Essentially, when the prospective student looks at those numbers, trying to evaluate the prospects for post-graduation employment, they want to know where alumni have ended up.  Based on how the numbers are now, little do they know that the stats are cooked to show a favorable impression of the school.

Personal experience supports this.  As I approached graduation and was trying to find out where my fellow students were going, as well as were they had gone in years past, and even after graduation when I asked where we had all landed, at each request I was met with opaque responses citing “confidentiality.”  I’d buy that, except that the graduation survey that I was hounded to complete, even before I was fully employed, explicitly listed me with the option of either being employed, or not employed, but gave no option for partial employment or non-law related employment.  Even when I expressed my hesitancy to complete the survey because it did not seem to reflect my experience, the employment counselor pressed me because “it helps the school’s recruiting to show employment, and besides, this is only for statistical purposes.”

And what might those purposes be? Recruitment.  Only.  As if it were so benign.

Which brings me back to Lynch and McEntee, our enterprising Vanderbilt 2Ls. They say that

[…] law schools hide their employment data in aggregate form, the National Law Journal reports. “You may know that 50 percent of graduates got jobs at law firms, but you don’t know what types of firms and types of jobs they got,” McEntee, a 2L, told the publication.

The two students have created a website called Law School Transparency where they hope to publish more specifics. They want to describe in more detail where law school graduates end up working each year and how much value they received from their degree.

In particular, they want each school to provide information about each student nine months after graduation that includes employer type, employer name, position name, whether bar passage is required or preferred, full-time or part-time status, office location, whether the student worked on a law journal, and salary.

Lynch and McEntee aren’t asking for each student’s grade point average or class rank out of privacy concerns, but they believe law journal information will suggest whether students were at the top of their class.

It’s a great idea, and it may do something to open the law school market up to better education, better employment offices (as in, they actually try to help all of their students, not just the top 10% who are headed to the big, shiny firms), and better networking.  Competition is good for everyone, and opening the windows to transparency will only enhance prospective students’ ability to make informed choices.

I know I would have been more discriminating if I had known more about my school’s employment office before I paid down my deposit.

(via ABAJournal)

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