The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Archive for April, 2010

Red, Blue, or Yellow in the UK?

Posted by demkid on April 29, 2010

Next Thursday, voters in the UK go to the polls to elect 650 Members of Parliament, who will serve in the House of Commons.  This vote comes almost 5 years to the day of the previous election that saw the Labour Party win for a third consecutive time, albeit with a reduced overall majority.  This year, things are looking even bleaker for Labour, who are now the third party in most polls, behind the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  However, there is hope that Gordon Brown’s party can maintain the largest number of seats in a “hung parliament,” and still hold onto key leadership positions next month.  I’ve been learning quite a bit recently about the election process in the UK, the key players involved, each party’s chances, etc., and it’s all been quite fascinating, especially for a political junkie like myself.  Elections across the pond certainly aren’t the same as elections in the States, particularly when one compares the length of the entire campaign (about a month in the UK vs. well over a year in the US).  However, there are important similarities, and certain aspects of the American process are even being mimicked over there.  First, let’s explore what this “hung parliament” is all about:

Now, according to Wikipedia, “a hung parliament is one in which no political party has an outright majority of seats.” That’s fairly normal in Germany, Italy, and the Republic of Ireland. But a hung parliament is a rarity in the United Kingdom.

The most recently elected hung parliament in the United Kingdom followed the February 1974 general election, and it lasted until the October election that year.

Many Americans, who grew up in a system of checks and balances, may not think that a hung parliament sounds like such a bad thing. But the British, who expect their government to be able to actually do things, are repelled by the very notion.

If voters in the UK are, in fact, “repelled” by the notion of a hung parliament, this will clearly favor the Conservatives, who are ahead in the polls.  There is very little chance that the Liberal Democrats, by far the smallest of the three major parties, will be able to gain enough MPs to have an outright majority of seats.  A lot of this has to do with how the electoral system in the UK is structured, and it has been a big issue in the recent Leaders’ Debates.  As in federal elections in the United States, the system for Westminster elections is first-past-the-post, that is, the candidate who gets the most votes in their individual constituency wins, regardless of whether or not they gain an outright majority (over 50%).  In a competitive 3-party system as the UK has now, first-past-the-post arguably discriminates against smaller parties (in this case, the Liberal Democrats), who don’t have the same resources as the larger parties to compete in every constituency.  As an example, the Lib Dems got 22% of the popular vote in 2005, but gained only 9% of the seats in Parliament.  Interestingly enough, the Lib Dems are likely hoping for a hung parliament, as they would then be the party to build a coalition with one of the other two main parties.  A hung parliament would also lead to a larger discussion of election reform, with may result in a different electoral system being used in future UK elections.  The Lib Dems, for instance, advocate a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, where several constituencies are combined and voters rank the candidates.  Members are elected once they pass a certain number of votes, known as a quota.  Labour favors a system called the Alternative Vote (AV), which wouldn’t be as drastic a change as STV, but would serve to bring more legitimization into UK politics, because MPs would have to get over 50% of the vote.  For a great discussion of the various systems, and how each would affect the current Parliament make-up, see the BBC News page, here.  The BBC also has a great Election Seat Calculator, which attempts to show how seats would change in a new parliament based on percentage shares of votes, but see’s Labour Danger: Uniform Swing Calculations May Underestimate Risk to Incumbents.

As I mentioned, the Brits seem to be borrowing certain aspects of the U.S. electoral process this time around:

First, the Brits staged televised debates among the leaders of the three parties. “This abject submission to American-style politics turns British traditions upside-down and inside-out,” warned the newspaper.

Next, the Brits adopted the “Yankee innovation of instant ‘dial groups.'” So, “no sooner had the candidates ceased speaking than kibitzers in a TV studio concluded that the indisputable winner was the heretofore little-known leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg,” wrote The Boston Globe.

The New England newspaper worried that “Britain’s parliamentary system is being subverted. Thanks to practices borrowed from American presidential campaigns, a two-party race has become a three-party affair and instead of choosing a stodgy party, as they are accustomed to doing, British citizens are being asked to vote for a charismatic prime minister.”

I’ve watched two of the Leaders’ Debates, and I actually found them much more appealing than the dull presidential debates over here.  I think the thing that’s really made them work has been the interaction between the candidates.  For each question (either from the moderator or a member of the audience), each party leader was given a chance to respond, and then each had the opportunity to make a further response on that question or to something one of his opponents had said, in the same order.  The moderator generally stayed out of the discussion, and let the candidates challenge (or attempt to challenge) each other.  If there was a particular time limit for each response, I clearly wasn’t aware of it, either because the candidates were so good about keeping to the time, or it wasn’t as strict as we see here, where the moderator always seems to be cutting the candidates short.  It looks like these debates have clearly helped the Lib Dems, who have a very likable leader in Nick Clegg, and the also youngish David Cameron has also performed particularly well.  I do think that they can do without the dial/focus groups, however.

With the election now a week away and with the debates now over, we’re into the home stretch.  It looks as if Labour is in serious trouble, especially after Gordon Brown called a retired dinner lady he had talked to a “bigot,” not realizing he had a microphone on.  We’ll just have to see how well the Lib Dems can do, and if they take more votes away from Labour, or from the Conservatives.  There’s some great analysis (as per usual) by Nick Silver where he looks at various forecast models, some of which that show the Conservatives either very close to, or gaining, an overall majority in Parliament.  However, the current fivethirtyeight projection has the Conservatives at 299 seats, still 27 short of that magic number.  It’s difficult to imagine this election turning out well for Labour, but let’s hope they do just well enough (along with a strong showing by the Lib Dems) to keep the Tories from a majority.


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Earth Day Turns 40

Posted by demkid on April 22, 2010

A year ago, I briefly wrote about the origins of Earth Day and the current state of the environmental movement.  I talked about how Earth Day has lost much of its meaning, primarily because the environment isn’t high on the list of issues that concern the public, and thus, politicians are slow to respond.  Even though this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary, little, if anything, has changed in the level of environmental consciousness.  I still fear that it will take a large disaster to force people to think about the environment as they did back in 1970.

The Washington Post has a good article today that goes into more detail about the origins of Earth Day.  Also discussed are the huge environmental successes that came out of the early movement, and the current “midlife crisis” that it’s facing:

But today, American environmentalism is struggling in a new kind of fight.

The problems are more slippery: pollutants like greenhouse-gas emissions, which don’t stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to environmental causes.

“I don’t think we’ve come up with a good way in the conservation movement of making it real for people,” said Arturo Sandoval, who was 22 when he organized activities across the West on the first Earth Day.

In 1970, “you could say, ‘Have you been down to the river lately?’ And people would say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t even let my kids go there,’ “said Sandoval, now 62 and still working on environmental causes in Albuquerque. “Global warming, to most people, is an abstract issue.”

Sadly, I don’t see a significant percentage of Americans caring about the conservation movement in the near future.

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The Rankings Game

Posted by demkid on April 16, 2010

I’m glad so many of you have enjoyed viewing the new 2011 US News Law School Rankings that were posted on Tuesday, some 30 hours before they showed up on the US News site.  Yet again, someone in NYC managed to purchase a hard copy of the magazine well before its official release date, although the time between leak and confirmation was a bit less than last year. 

It’s clear to see how much these rankings are like crack when I look at the number of page views this blog has received in the last few days.  We’re a nation that lives on numbers, whether they come in the form of rankings, public opinion polls, restaurant reviews, or fantasy sports statistics.  We find soccer boring because games are low scoring and the most cited stat is time of possession.  We need to have winners and losers, and we need to know how good something is compared to its counterparts.  To many, these law school rankings mean everything.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the rankings game, because they come out each year and matter so much to so many.  Schools whose ranking has gone up are quick to make this fact known on their websites.  Schools whose ranking has gone down discredit the system as being flawed.  No school can ignore the fact that its reputation depends significantly on the yearly ranking it receives, as many students make their selections almost solely on this number. 

Fair or unfair, it’s the way it is.  Many have attempted to challenge US News by coming up with other ways of ranking the schools, and while these methods may, in fact, be better, the US News methodology maintains its monopoly, and will be the big dog for years to come.  I hadn’t really examined the main arguments against the US News system before, so I took a little time to educate myself.  I started over at the TaxProf Blog, where Paul Caron, as he does every year, ranked the law schools solely on the basis of their academic peer reputation scores.  These scores make up the largest component of the total, and are good because they aren’t manipulable by the individual schools.  However, these scores surely depend to a significant degree on the overall US News rankings themselves, and therefore they don’t fluctuate very much, even when there are improvements in a school’s faculty and/or student quality.  I was then curious about the factors that are manipulable by the individual schools, and was surprised to read this piece by Brian Leiter.

Even putting aside the fact that this formula, with its various weightings, is impossible to rationalize in any principled way, the really striking fact about the U.S. News methodology is surely the following: More than half the criteria-over 54%–that go in to the final score can be manipulated by the schools themselves, either through outright (and undetectable) deceit, or other devices (giving fee waivers to hopeless applicants, employing graduates in temp jobs to boost employment stats, etc.).

This year, for example, everyone seems to be talking about Duke’s 100% employment figure at graduation.  That’s right…every single one of Duke’s ’08 grads had jobs when they graduated (and in an economic downturn, no less!).  I guess we’ll have to take them at their word, because US News doesn’t check these self-reported figures.  It’s also interesting that Chapman University entered the Top 100 this year (for I think, the first time ever), and this could be why: “Chapman University reported 91.1% of its graduates employed at graduation, more than any school ranked between 47 and 100 in U.S. News.”  Even the seemingly non-manipulable figures, like academic peer reputation, can have serious issues:

Some readers may recall that Loyola LA took a plunge last year, when their academic reputation score dropped from 2.6 to 2.3, something which almost never happens.  It turned out the explanation was simple:  U.S. News stopped listing the school by the name everyone in the academy knows it by–Loyola Law School, Los Angeles–and simply listed Loyola Marymount University.  After last year’s fiasco came to light, U.S. News agreed to list the school for purposes of this year’s survey as Loyola Law School again and, lo and behold, its reputation score was 2.6 this year.  If such apparently trivial alterations can affect results so significantly, how much confidence should one have in the reputational results?

For more fascinating tidbits on the US News rankings, I’d highly recommend all of the other posts over at Leiter’s Law School Reports.  While I now have a better understanding of the numerous problems associated with the rankings, I still won’t complain if and when my school continues to move up!  A little data manipulation, and it’s sure to happen!

Posted in Education, The Law, USD Law | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

USD Law Jumps to 56th in 2011 US News Law School Rankings

Posted by demkid on April 13, 2010

Well, immediately after my last post, I did a little searching.  It looks like the attempts to prevent leaks of the print version of the 2011 US News Law School Rankings have failed.  This year, I’m going to give credit to Above the Law, as they posted links to the new rankings within the last hour (via Top-Law-Schools).  I’m going to consolidate the scanned pages (from holybartender’s Flickr stream) below, for your enjoyment.  But now, my analysis:

The University of San Diego School of Law has continued its rise in the latest version of the US News Law School Rankings.  In the 2011 version, USD Law has jumped from #61 to #56, and is now on the cusp of Tier 1 status.  This small rise follows a huge jump in the 2010 rankings, when USD had the highest leap of any school, moving up the rankings from the 82nd position. 

For the second time, US News has published separate rankings for part-time JD programs, and USD’s program now ranks 10th, a small drop from a tie for 7th last year.  US News has changed its methodology for part-time rankings in the current version, as they are now “based on a 5.0-scale peer assessment survey, median LSAT scores and median undergraduate grade-point average for fall 2009 entering part-time students, and an exclusive part-time J.D. curriculum index that measures the extent to which a law school offers a rich part-time program to its students.”  Georgetown University still has by far the best part-time program in the country, but USD Law continues to have the best program West of the Mississippi.  USD Law remains in the Top 50 for school diversity, with an Asian American proportion of 17%.  Also, USD has the 6th-best tax law program in the country, as ranked by faculty who teach in the field.

Congrats to the faculty, staff, and students at my alma mater, and continued thanks to Dean Cole, who has made a significant effort to address the criticism associated with our drop to 82nd in the rankings, two years ago.  Last year, I hoped that we would be well into the 50s this year, so with a bit of continued luck, we could find ourselves as a Tier 1 school in the not too distant future. 

As I mentioned, here are the pics of the new 2011 rankings.  Our San Diego counterparts, California Western and Thomas Jefferson, remain in Tier 4.  I will post an update of the big gainers and losers from last year after I have more time to analyze the rankings.  However, here is how California schools faired: Stanford is 3rd (no change), Berkeley is 7th (from 6th), UCLA is 15th (NC), USC is 18th (NC), Davis is 28th (35th), Hastings is 42nd (39th), Pepperdine is 52nd (55th), Loyola is 56th (71st), Santa Clara is 93rd (85th), and USF is 98th (NC).  New to this year’s rankings is McGeorge (98th), and a big congratulations should go to Chapman University, now ranked 93rd, and perhaps ranked in the Top 100 for the first time in the school’s history (but I’d have to verify that.) 

Out of the California schools, the biggest gainer was Loyola, which jumped 15 spots, into a tie with USD, and the biggest drop was Santa Clara, down 8 spots.  More congratulations should go to Pepperdine, and even though they only gained 3 spots, they are now just 1 overall score point away from Tier 1 status.  Similarly, USD Law is 3 overall score points away from the Top 50.  USD continues to have a high peer assessment score (2.9 and the highest of any of the Tier 2 schools.)


Update: After reviewing last year’s rankings, here are the biggest movers.  Biggest gains go to George Washington (20th from 28th), UC Davis (28th from 35th), Georgia (28th from 35th), Wisconsin-Madison (28th from 35th), Arizona State (38th from 55th), Colorado-Boulder (38th from 45th), Florida (47th from 51st, tier change), Miami (60th from 71st), New Mexico (67th from 77th), St. John’s (72nd from 87th), Loyola-Chicago (78th from 87th), and Hofstra (86th from 100th).  There are 7 new additions to Tier 2, including Syracuse University at 86th and the University of Hawaii-Manoa, which gets the award for biggest gainer and is 72nd after not being ranked!

Biggest losses go to Alabama (38th from 30th), Yeshiva (52nd from 49th, tier change), Kentucky (64th from 55th), Seattle (86th from 77th), Richmond (86th from 77th), Santa Clara (93rd from 85th), Missouri (93rd from 65th), and Depaul (98th from 85th).  Clearly the biggest dropper was the University of Missouri.  Schools that dropped from Tier 2 are Buffalo-SUNY, Marquette, and South Carolina.

A quick glance at the top of the part-time rankings shows that the new methodology had a significant impact on the rankings of a few schools.  These would be Yeshiva (4th from 18th), Houston (10th from 18th), Rutgers-Camden (15th from 28th), Santa Clara (16th from 25th), Denver (18th from 9th), Seattle (20th from 12th), and by far the biggest change was the gain made by SMU, moving to 13th all the way from 46th.  Not sure how that happened, but I’m sure they’re particularly happy down there in Texas.

Posted in Education, The Law, USD Law | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

It’s That Time of Year Again…

Posted by demkid on April 13, 2010

Time for the 2011 US News Law School Rankings!  A year ago, we here at the Bright Coast were one of the first sites to leak the 2010 rankings before they were released in print or online.  It wasn’t actually a “leak” per se, we simply found where someone had posted the scanned rankings, and consolidated them all into one easy-to-read blog post.  Of course, last year’s rankings were particularly meaningful to us, because our school, the University of San Diego School of Law, made the biggest jump out of any other school.  After being linked to on some extremely popular blogs, our rankings post was viewed tens of thousands of times in the first couple of days alone, and it remains our most popular post to this day. 

If this were last year, the updated rankings would have already been posted on this site.  However, the people over at US News decided to ruin all the fun.  Instead of releasing the print version first (or at least releasing it to newsstands so that certain individuals can snag a copy and scan the pages), it was decided this year that the rankings would be released online well ahead of time:

Our new America’s Best Graduate Schools rankings will be published online on April 15. Highlights of the graduate school rankings are scheduled for publication in the May issue of U.S.News & World Report, available for newsstand purchase on April 27, and in the America’s Best Graduate Schools guidebook, on sale April 20. The most comprehensive version, including all the extended rankings and the most complete data, will be available only in the premium online edition at

So, to prevent the kind of leaks that happened last year, the rankings will be online a good five days before any print version is released.  No fun!  It seems that unless a true insider decides to leak the rankings (and how would that be verified?) ahead of the online release, everyone will have access to the 2011 rankings at the same time.  That time looks to be tomorrow night, at midnight, on April 15th.  Can we expect anything new from these rankings?  Robert Morse says this on his US News blog:

This year, we have improved and modified both our part-time J.D. and part-time M.B.A. program ranking methodologies. U.S. News‘s new part-time law rankings are based on a 5.0-scale peer assessment survey, median LSAT scores and median undergraduate grade-point average for fall 2009 entering part-time students, and an exclusive part-time J.D. curriculum index that measures the extent to which a law school offers a rich part-time program to its students. U.S. News‘s previous part-time law school rankings were based solely on the number of times a part-time program was nominated to be among the 10 top programs.

Being that USD Law had the 7th-ranked part-time J.D. program last year, it will be interesting to see how things change now that they are using this new and improved methodology.  In any case, if I happen to see any reliable leaked rankings before midnight tomorrow night, I’ll be sure and post them here.  If not, I’ll post the new 2011 rankings here shortly after midnight.

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