White House Correspondents' Dinner a.k.a #nerdprom

Last night I switched on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the middle of President Obama’s speech. Watching it last night I was less impressed with Obama’s performance than with Jimmy Kimmel. However I did not realize how much I had missed, and also how much setup there was at the beginning. Without the context to build on the jokes the speech was just not as funny as when I watched it in its entirety this morning. The hot microphone setup at the beginning was hilarious. Definitely better than Kimmel’s performance, so I embedded the video above.

Sovereign Debt & White House Burning

Yesterday my law journal had our symposium on the sovereign debt crises. I live tweeted the event using my iPad using hashtag #cjil. I had never live tweeted an event before but it was actually a great way to be more aware of what was being said and to have a series of short notes about it after the fact. The one difficult part is realizing that the information is being synthesized for an audience that isn’t there, so one has to be aware of how much context to provide.

I think the most surprising thing I learned was how France and Germany view China as economically superior to the United States. The panelists pointed out that this was statistically not yet true but that in spite of this the Chinese are held in higher esteem. It made me wonder whether this was a result of the wars under the Bush years or maybe the French and Germans really enjoy their iPads as well and see they are made in China. I also wonder how much of it is also based on the fact that Europe is more accepting of state economic control whereas Americans view that kind of regulation with suspicion.

I think the highlight of the symposium was Simon Johnson’s keynote address. Johnson eloquently laid out the problem facing our country, and noted that the majority of Americans do not understand our national budget. He pointed out that many people on Social Security or Medicare do not believe they participate in a government social program and they think that a large percentage of the American budget goes to foreign aid. Johnson suggests that a single-payer healthcare system is an inevitability if America is to compete with the rest of the world because the current cost of healthcare keeps rising and functions as a private tax that is destroying American business. Also of note was the fact that Johnson endorsed ending the Bush tax cuts completely. He had no problem calling out Newt Gingrich and Alan Greenspan as a cause of the problem. These fiscal conservatives had no problem engaging in deficit spending to fund tax cuts and it is unsustainable.

Ultimately Johnson seems to be a pragmatist. He cemented himself into that increasingly lonely place on the American political spectrum that we call the center. The national debt is a mounting problem but it is not insurmountable, yet. A little bit of what Governor Malloy would call shared sacrifice could go a long way to creating a sustainable budget for the future. Otherwise we too may end up like Greece. After the last debate on the debt ceiling I thought I was a bit tired of the debate on national debt. Simon Johnson brought fresh perspective to the issue and also provided some rays of hope on a hopeless issue. The question is whether there will be politicians bold enough to tackle this problem, because if they are not then it is my generation that will be dealing with the consequences.

Simon Johnson and James Kwak on NPR (Plus Bonus Video)

To go with the reading list I also want to make sure everyone is aware of the media appearances of two of the speakers at the Connecticut Journal of International Law symposium on Friday. Simon Johnson was featured on NPR’s Planet Money podcast on Tuesday. There he discussed why it might be better to let all the Bush tax cuts expire. Tomorrow morning Professor James Kwak will be on Where We Live with John Dankosky at 9:20 a.m. You can listen live online or on the radio. I’ve also dug into the archives and embedded a bonus video below that features Adam Davidson and Simon Johnson explaining the concept of GDP.

Sovereign Debt: The Reading List

To coincide with the symposium that my law journal is holding on Friday I will try to make several posts on sovereign debt. I am not an expert in the topic but I have read much and over the weekend I sent out an unofficial suggested reading list to my fellow law journal members. The selection of readings and audio programs are ones that I’ve listened to and found helpful, so I hope you enjoy them as well.

Sovereign Debt — Pre-Symposium Reading List

National Debt for Beginners – Simon Johnson and James Kwak (Planet Money 2009) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99927343&ft=1&f=94427042

For background on the various terms and concepts that are used Simon Johnson and James Kwak have a great page with links at http://baselinescenario.com/financial-crisis-for-beginners/

When Irish Eyes Are Crying – Michael Lewis (Vanity Fair 2011) — This article provides a great backgrounder on what is happening in Ireland with focus on the impact of their housing/construction bubble. It also provides perspective on the impact of Ireland guaranteeing its banks and how the Irish people reacted to that.

http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2011/03/michael-lewis-ireland-201103.print

455: Continental Breakup – Ira Glass and Alex Blumberg (This American Life 2012) — This is an hour show that does a great job explaining what is happening in Europe. If you want to get caught up on Europe you should listen to this (though it’s now a few months old). The focus here is mostly on Greece.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/455/continental-breakup

Obama v. Boehner: Who Killed the Debt Deal? – Matt Bai (NY Times 2012) — This article explains the negotiations between Barack Obama and John Boehner and is a fantastic political backgrounder on national debt in the United States.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/obama-vs-boehner-who-killed-the-debt-deal.html?pagewanted=all

The Way Greeks Live Now – Russell Shorto (NY Times 2012) — This article shows the impact of Greece’s financial crises on its country and people.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/the-way-greeks-live-now.html

France and Germany A Love Story – Zoe Chace (NPR Planet Money 2011) — This goes over the tension between France and Germany and their reaction to the financial crises in Europe.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/10/21/141512746/france-and-germany-a-love-story

Longer Version: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/10/18/141478551/the-tuesday-podcast-france-and-germany-a-love-story

It’s the Economy, Dummkopf! – Michael Lewis (Vanity Fair 2011) — This article tells the story of the crises on the German side, with lots of Lewis’s usual flair and embellishment (or for some reason that is unclear we really needed lots of paragraphs about the role of shit in German culture).

http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2011/09/europe-201109

459: What Kind of Country – Ira Glass (This American Life 2012) — This episode of This American Life visits towns in the United States and does a good job of explaining the impact of austerity in individual cities and towns.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/459/what-kind-of-country

Europe Turns on the Bat Signal – Zoe Chace (Planet Money 2011) — This episode is a nice quick explainer on the role of European Central Bank and explains the idea of quantitative easing.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/12/06/143231194/the-tuesday-podcast-europe-turns-on-the-bat-signal

Should you go to UConn Law? (Or Any Law School)

Maybe.

As Malcolm Gladwell once aptly pointed out, there is no perfect Pepsi, there are only perfect Pepsis. In other words the answer will depend on who you are and what you want to accomplish. If you are working and think that law school will simply be a vehicle for career enhancement in some fashion, I would probably not go. The legal job market is flooded and unless you are in a low paying job it is unlikely that your starting law job will beat it salary wise. Furthermore salary increases will be blunted by the massive student loan payments you will have to make after the fact. UConn Law bucks this trend slightly by offering a competitive in-state tuition and I think it is not a good idea to pay full price for any law school.

The second question turns on the intrinsic value of law school. You will learn many practical skills such as the rules of civil procedure and how to read the tax code. You will learn how to write motions to dismiss, bluebook, and meet with clients. Your reading and analysis skills will reach levels you never could imagine. Arguments, evidence, communication all will function differently afterwards. You will make friends and meet people from many different walks of life. At UConn I’ve met professional athletes, journalists, and marines. I’ve also forged fantastic friendships that I will carry with me into the future.

Finally the question might come up as to whether law school is right for you. If you want to be a lawyer then you really have no other option. If you are looking to pursue a career outside law then the answer becomes opaque. If you are looking to make a lot of money then the answer is definitely no. People looking to make lots of money should go into private equity, banking or entrepreneurship. If you are looking to save the world you should read Ross Garber’s piece on funding for legal aid in Connecticut. Legal aid jobs are few and far between now.

I hope this provides some answers. Law school provides a lot of intrinsic value, and if you are looking for that like I was, then you will be happy at the end. If you are looking for money or think it is the ticket to saving the world, then you might be disappointed at the end. If you just really want to be an attorney there is no question you will be happy at the end (or at least once you finally get your first job).

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